What would Cologne be without its vital and diverse live music scene? Once again, c/o pop Festival presented a comprehensive range of contemporary pop music at music clubs and halls, extraordinary venues as well as various shops and boutiques all over Belgisches Viertel. Along with the c/o pop convention, the festival is a place where the music world comes together to discover fresh and exciting ideas, artists and sounds. NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION watched performances, visited panels and talked to speakers, crew members and artists to find out what the next years have in stock for us. Find out about our takeaways below.
1. It’s all about the atmosphere
A daunting prospect was outlined by Parookaville Festival co-founder Bernd Dicks at the Brands & Music day: festival goers are expecting an immersive experience with exciting gimmicks and little details to discover, which opens plenty of possibilities for brand advertisement. Though certainly proven right by ticket sales, it poses the question of which role the music plays in such an environment. The same day, French band LA FEMME showed that it can be done without big fanfare – the five-piece collective attracted a sizeable crowd to Gloria Theater. As the hypnotic Sphynx subsided, a connection between musicians and audience was formed that sent the entire room dancing to LA FEMME’s psychedelic, at times frantic, but always upbeat grooves, singing along with Clémence Quélennec’s pristine voice.
FRÈRE’s set at Christuskirche exemplified the other extreme. His music is best experienced live – the electronics, subdued rhythmic work and post-rock guitar textures that are woven into FRÈRE’s softly picked guitar tunes require space to breathe and evolve, and the light-flooded church was well-suited for that purpose. As the concert-goers attentively tracked singer Alexander Körner’s melodic arcs, the band surged and deflated in volume and intensity, a stark contrast to FRÈRE’s hushed, almost apathetic few words between songs.
2. The power of motion picture
If there is one act that masterfully combines visual and sonic experience, it must be Berlin supergroup MODERAT. Armed with a giant screen covering the entire backside of the stage at Tanzbrunnen, singer Sascha Ring noted that it’s only the second time they were playing during daytime. From the second song A New Error, the audience was in sync with the music, being set into motion by the rhythm of MODERAT’s dancier cuts, while raising their voices during singles like Reminder. But the most frenetic applause was due to their standout Bad Kingdom, whose rapid picture sequences rained down on the audience.
3. Dynamics and timbre
Of the many newcomers at c/o pop, only few manage to make a lasting impression – little musicians possess the creativity and technical proficiency to expand a niche into something varied. SOMME PARTEL are one of these bands. Their recent single Sister’s Silhouette is a red herring; Live, they are brimming with energy, alternating between melodic passages and feral noise rock. As Daniel Larsen took off his shirt for the last portion of their set, a rock opus followed that feverishly skated on krauty rhythms, only to segue into a lengthy harmonic final. At the end, SOMME PARTEL were about five minutes over time, but every second of it was worth it.
DER RINGER, whose development we tracked extensively over the past few years, have already mastered the play with dynamics and timbres, having evolved from the math-pop-infused indie rock of their first EP to the multi-faceted, synthetic sounds of this year’s stellar Soft Kill. Taking the stage at Studio 672, DER RINGER surprised with an improved vocal performance that sounded less held in tune by the effects on Jannik Schneider’s voice than artificially distorted into something synthetic, yet surprisingly emotional.
Meanwhile, at Club Z im Zimmermann’s, the set of BELLCHILD was in full swing. We caught the band launching into their second to last track, with guitarist and singer Henning Rohschürmann playing a chord on his electric guitar, then using his two pedal boards to manipulate the sound into ethereal, contorted textures. A manic energy developed between the three musicians that contrasted with the abstract, skeletal melodic foundation of their songs.
4. The power of performance
WOMAN winning the popNRW award in the category ‘Outstanding Artist’ came as no big surprise to us. At that point, the band’s irresistible groove, the pristine voices of singers Carlos Hufschlag and Manuel Tran and especially the latter’s impressive guitar work are second to none in the Cologne music scene. Their set at Hans-Böckler-Platz drew quite a big audience as they showcased songs from their new album Happy Freedom.
At the same time, the sweeping voice of PERFUME GENIUS filled the auditory of WDR Funkhaus. While the backing band appeared a bit lost on the large stage, Mike Hadreas bridged the gap between them with lascivious moves and an expressive vocal delivery. The sudden outcries that punctuated his verses mirrored the expansive dynamics of Slip Away, but PERFUME GENIUS were at their most haunting when they were at their most sparse – songs like Die 4 You created an eery vibe.
The young Viennese MAVI PHOENIX might stem from the Austrian trap scene, but her flawless English and visceral beats give her music a cosmopolitan quality rarely seen in hip hop from outside the Anglophone sphere. As she presented her eclectic oeuvre at Stadtgarten, LED displays highlighted lyrics from her songs and advertised her new EP Young Prophet.
5. Redefining the ways of music creation
At a panel on revolutionizing music education with new interfaces, programmer and live performer SAM AARON stunned the audience of the c/o pop convention as he coded a piece of music in less than two minutes using a software called Sonic Pi. Originally designed to teach primary school children the principles of coding, his open-source software has tons of potential to enrich the music community. ‘Sonic Pi is suitable for manipulating any kind of time-based performance’, he told us after the convention. ‘You could, for example, use it to coordinate a light show or projection that accompanies the music.’ The bigger vision behind it, though, is to facilitate exchange between creators. ‘If everybody used Sonic Pi, entire ideas could be exchanged by exchanging code’, AARON explained. It’s an exciting prospect that the mysteries of electronic music might be an open book in the near future, but only time will tell if people are ready to catch on.
All photos by Christian Isenbügel for NBHAP