Alright then, festival season is here. The first open air events are opening their gates and as we at NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION headquarters are not really into hailing the obvious big players we decided to do things different this time and draw a little comparison between two smaller and parallel happening events we attended. Norman went to WAY BACK WHEN Festival in Dortmund and Henning visited the MAIFELD DERBY in Mannheim this last weekend in an attempt to create something like a double review. And as we’re all living in times of total transparency anyway, we decided to do so by giving you a little insight via our very private (but SFW) review chat. Enjoy our extensive talk about these two lovely little festivals.
Norman: Hey there, Henning. So, Mannheim for you. How did you end up here?
Henning: Hey. By good fortune, I guess? Enjoying both city and festival so far.
N: The MAIFELD DERBY is a quite established event in the city, right?
H: It is! Five years in a row, it’s birthday time! Although the festival is not as visible in the city as others.
N: Well, might be the same with Dortmund and the WAY BACK WHEN. The first three Dortmunders I told about the event had no idea of its existence. I think that’s also the main similarities between these two events (besides many acts from their line-up). It’s sub-culture in an unusual setting, right?
H: I guess so. But I‘m not that sure about wether people might not know it yet because of unusual settings or because they’re still rather young festivals. The MAIFELD DERBY is way more established than the WAY BACK WHEN already but still pretty young. But does that allow any judgement about the festival’s professionalism?
N: No, not really, of course. But since we’re always fighters for the minority it was naturally for us to support the idea of spreading high quality musical culture in cities that are a bit off the radar when you look at Germany’s music scene. Well, not for GET WELL SOON, right? They had a homecoming show at MAIFELD DERBY if I’m informed correctly.
H: Well, they’re not really from Mannheim but used to live and work in the region. To be honest: a lot of bands had that certain homecoming effect. There’ve been the ever present SIZARR, the currently up and coming INNER TONGUE or possible future hype DRANGSAL – it’s a bit like everyone knows everyone here, I had the impression. I guess that has a lot to do with the Popakademie (pop academy) here in Mannheim as well.
N: I think there was one local punk band from Dortmund at the WAY BACK WHEN but I’m not really sure, I must say. Anyway, how can we imagine the set-up for the Mannheim event. How many stages? And is it really set on a race track?
H: It’s not really a race track, but a whole equestrian sports arena – mainly for the fancy dressage riding I guess. It’s got four stages in total, most of them located indoors or at least protected. Two tents and the lovely Parcours D’Amour where one could take a rest in a stadium like atmosphere. The one outdoor stage was – surprisingly – not even the biggest. The biggest one was indeed a giant tent where you could almost smell the circus atmosphere. How about Dortmund?
N: Slightly different. WAY BACK WHEN is a traditional city festival with four venues placed in the inner city. Two main ones – the FZW Halle and FZW Club, a lovely theatre-like one called Domicil and – the personal highlight – the Pauluskirche. After all it’s a church. And if you have a church as a venue during a city festival you already won. In my opinion. It was quite easy to get from one venue to the other so that’s another plus and thank god we had our bicycles. I must say I enjoyed all venues and the sound and organization was always quite satisfying. And we both know that’s not a matter of course, am I correct?
H: True thing and I must admit the level of professionalism here at Mannheim’s MAIFELD DERBY seemed to be similar to Dortmund’s WAY BACK WHEN. All stages are set up within a short distance and although you had to get your way out of town by train mostly, that’s been okay because there were shuttle busses at night. But it is a slightly different concept then I see? MAIFELD DERBY is definitely not that ‘build’ into Mannheim but a little outside the city at the motorway. It’s different to Dortmund then, where established clubs and locations are used?
N: Yeah, although the FZW venue really marks the focus for the event. It’s also the place where bands usually play when they are in town. I mean, at least they got INTERPOL coming this summer. Okay, but let’s cut the whole organisation part and skip to what really matters. The music. I mean, we had similarities in the line-up but MAIFELD DERBY really had the big players. So I think we just start with the headliners, right? MOGWAI, JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ, ROÍSÍN MURPHY. Did you catch them all?
‘1,5 hour of mellow folk pop at night – that’s hard’
H: Nearly! I missed out on ROÍSÍN MURPHY cause I’ve become such a big fan of the Parcours D’amour that I wanted to catch a last reading that happened there (NAGEL – funny guy indeed, and hilariously drunk for a reading). MOGWAI were amazing, they literally blew away the tent. JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ is in my opinion not a good headliner for festivals though. I enjoy his music but 1,5 hour of mellow folk pop at night – that’s hard. What about Dortmund, concerning the headliners? I admit that I’m not even sure they had something like headliners but felt that they focussed on a variety of indie artists?
N: Yeah, most of the headliners were buzzing German bands. We’ll get there in a minute. Funnily, I missed the FINK show for exact the same reason that you mentioned with Mr. GONZÁLEZ. I just wasn’t in the mood for singer/songwriter melancholia on Saturday night. My alternative choice was TORA, these lovely guys whose latest video we recently premiered here on NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION. Surprisingly good, especially in the church. Here we got it again. The church. What a beautiful place. I could have spent the entire weekend there although it was closed as a venue on Sunday… well, for obvious reasons. Was there any act you really wanted to see but somehow missed?
H: I was looking forward to EAST CAMERON FOLKCORE but arrived late for that on Sunday noon. But apart from that I’ve been content with my choices. Because of the short ways it’s been easy to “consume” half sets as well – not a cool thing to do but anyways. What I really enjoyed was the mixture here in Mannheim: some big headliners, cool upcoming artists from Germany but also internationally, some really heavy stuff as well which I really enjoyed (ICEAGE – even good as a last band on Saturday) and like I mentioned: also little extras like readings. How did the WAY BACK WHEN build it’s dramaturgy?
N: The main focus was indeed on indie pop/rock and singer/songwriter music. I mean there was room for heavier stuff as well but a lot was dedicated to the more melodic side. It’s more for ‘music lovers’ as the organizers also state. I enjoyed a few of the more laidback stuff, I must say… SOAK was once again a pleasure and CHARLIE CUNNINGHAM was a nice surprise with his latino-infected sounds. Still, from time to time a bit more rock and roll would have been lovely. I must say, I personally found ICEAGE a bit too weird. It’s too abstract to have a proper punk-inspired pogo, right?
H: That’s right I guess and you could sense that in the audience as well. There’s been more straight punk bands here (BRAND NEW) but things like THEE OH SEES or ICEAGE are more for the ones that dig a little abstract vibe.
N: Talking about abstract. We need to speak about this since we both experienced it. FOXYGEN. I mean… what the actual fuck? I guess for 80 percent of the audience it must have felt a bit like a car crash. You need to look at it even if it is not a pleasant look. Well, that might have been a bit too harsh but it was really… well, ‘special’. Can you describe it?
H: Actually, ‘like a car crash’ nails it. I went through some phases there: first I was like, okay, that’s unexpected. Then I thought: I think this is pretty damn cool! Then there was a phase where I got annoyed by the – sorry – slightly sexistic use of fancy background singers and finally there was this embarrassing fake-rushing-off-stage and-quitting-the-band kind of thing. Did they do that in Dortmund as well?
N: Yes exactly. It was weird and I think nobody understood it. I mean, I barely understood what they were saying anyway. And that’s probably one reason why nobody got the ‘joke’. It was just too much, especially since the music was quite weird on its own anyway. Maybe they just break loose because it’s their final tour. But, let’s switch to the more optimistic subjects. What were your true highlights and the best performances at MAIFELD DERBY?
H: One that’ll be difficult to explain to our not-German readers was definitely GISBERT ZU KNYPHAUSEN. Basically a songwriter but with a full, crafted band and probably the best storyteller that we have here. Another would be ‘the package’: MOGWAI and ARCHIVE – a pretty cool package I must say and honey for my prog/postrock-loving ears. Aaaaand, I assume that we’ll name them both: WANDA. Go ahead, those guys can be put up on any stage at the moment: the crowd loves it. And the band loves it. And everyone loves each other. Right? Any other great performances?
N: Hell Yes. WANDA. I mean, seriously. These guys are currently conquering Germany in the most fascinating way. I won’t even start explaining this to our non-German readers. Let’s just say, we finally got our own OASIS (there, I said it) or maybe even SMITHS (there, I did it again). It’s just a really special band that speaks to the heart of the German audience like barely any other band can at the moment. And they are a stunning live band. My other personal highlight besides them were their fellow countrymen BILDERBUCH. Funky, sexy and singer Maurice Ernst (who was recently voted ‘Best Dressed Austrian Male’) is one hell of a frontman. I mean, seriously – what is going on in this country at the moment? I think the quality level of German-singing artists has been massively raised in the past 2,3 years, wouldn’t you agree?
‘A certain Germanness that’s cool and exciting’
H: Well, I don’t know if it’s the quality really – there’s always been great stuff out there. But what changes with these aforementioned is that – like you said – German-singing bands have become both good popstars all of a sudden AND are able to produce a certain Germanness that’s cool and exciting. But that calls for some big feature like the one we did with the Current German Singing Bands. We definitely should update that from time to time.
N: Agreed. So, anything that was a bit more disappointing for you? I must say, I’m a big MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY fan but the last two times I saw them they always had horrible sound. The drums are too loud and you can barely here singer Ryan. Strange waste of talent. THE SOFT MOON were really lovely but they had to fight with technical difficulties and after 20 minutes their sound starts to get a bit boring. But you won’t agree on that right?
H: Nope, THE SOFT MOON delivered a fine set and really went nuts, what I didn’t expected to be honest. These sound issues can be a real pain in the ass on festivals though. What disappointed me the most was FINK – we’ve had that before. For an artist that everyone tells me I should definitely go see live it’s been really nothing special. Maybe it’s just that he doesn’t fit festivals that much.
N: Could have been. I also didn’t enjoy ALCOHOLIC FAITH MISSION who just sounded like a ‘poor-man’s ARCADE FIRE.’ They might be nice guys but it all sounded so pretentious. And I must say if you know one song by the ALLAH-LAS you know every song by the ALLAH-LAS. Although it was a nice laidback closing act for Sunday.
H: I enjoyed it – you might be right about the lack of variety but that’s simply not how their music works. You can get sucked into it if you’re in the right mood. I’ve been.
N: Okay, yes they are not bad, I must say. Did you discover any hot new act our readers should know about?
H: Definitely a cool live act: ASTRONAUTALIS. Didn’t know what to expect to be honest but it’s a pretty decent mixture of Southern Rap and some bluesy rock in it. And man, the guy’s got some response from the crowd and seemed genuinely thankful. Not that I would have understood his lyrics that good in this setting but I definitely will check out on them. What was your hot new shit at the WAY BACK WHEN?
N: There’s a Hamburg-based duo called JOCO which I enjoyed at the church. Really sweet and tender piano pop. Check them out if you can. In the end I must say it was a really lovely curated event. And if you realize the fact that this was only the second edition of the WAY BACK WHEN I have even more respect for coming up with such a solid line-up for a small festival in that area.
H: Agreed on that! Much respect for putting up such a well organized and beautifully curated festival here in Mannheim. I’d prefer it over the big ones that we have here in Germany any time. Especially because it’s musically much more interesting.
N: Although I would think about adding an open air stage to the WAY BACK WHEN. Bands like ALLAH-LAS or TOPS were just destined to play in the spring sun. Although that might be logistically difficult. Still, I have a maximum of respect for arranging an event like this. And it’s great to see that there’s an audience for it. Germany can be much more than just Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne.
H: I can’t think of a better way of putting it. Nice closing words!
N: Indeed. Maybe next year we change the cities for the ultimate comparison. Until then. Good Night.