A green tag – for the covid check-in – and the official festival ribbon around my wrist, I dove into the crowd. Looking around, the Synästhesie Festival was haunted by the usual suspects – the leather-jacket-wearing edgy hipsters who probably play bass in some underground band as well, the middle-aged white-haired German Krautrock fans sporting worn-out tees from bands that used to be cool, and the occasional tween who looks like they might as well be standing in line for a girl in red show but is the first to start headbanging at the beat of the drum.
Old and New Voices
The opening day Gurr’s Laura Lee took to the stage with her solo project. Her bandmate Andreya Casablanca would have also been part of the line up but had to cancel because of health reasons. She was replaced by 70s psych rock by the Mexico City originated outfit Sei Still. While we certainly loved the energy the two musicians conjure with joint forces; their new projects do not lack musical expertise nor the punchy wit of Gurr’s lyrics. Especially Laura Lee & the Jettes left a lingering impression. Dressed in a long white gown, the blonde shreds out rock-heavy riffs.
The lineup of the entire festival is refreshingly gender-balanced. On day two, I stumble from one raging female voice of dark indie rock to the next one. Warming up slowly with the intimate set by beloved newcomer THALA, the by then still half-empty Kesselhaus listens carefully to the dreamy lyrics. With the guitar strapped around her neck, the singer performs several songs from her debut Adolescence. Live, her anyways charming songs about the pitfalls and euphorias of coming of age, resonate even more. It is the biggest stage she has played to date, she exhales into the mic in between songs. But I’m sure THALA will set foot on even larger stages to come.
Bodies and Noise
During the THALA gig, the people in the audience seemed to maintain the initial Covid care and spread across the venue, giving each other space. Regardless of the several checks, the pandemic is still on the mind of the most and mine likewise, at least until I stepped foot in the small adjacent Maschinenhaus, where Errorr were playing. In grave contrast to the rather quiet melodies of THALA, this band has left all regard for eardrums behind. Tearing up the stage with noisy hard rock, they serve as a great warm-up for the headbanging, mosh pitting acts to come.
Before entering the dark room I hear the noise and feel the heat seeping through the curtained entrance. I thought making my way through crowds was something I actually missed on some level. Turns out I romanticized squeezing through leather-jacketed shoulders, picking up nuances of different body odor, and having a quarter beer spilled over you by accident.
Down the Rabbit Hole
I find myself nodding along to the unintelligible lyrics howled in the dark. Tucked between a bleach-blonde and some dude who looks like he crawled out of a 70s era time machine, the heavy sound of Errorr is almost like a noisy cleansing from worries. I guess when the bass and the drums are loud enough, there is no room in your head. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what the show was like aside from what I heard. As a rather small person, I did not manage to catch a glimpse at the musicians, so the faces behind the enjoyable noise will remain a mystery. Maybe that aided the effect the music had on me. The only thing I saw was the fitting video projection of old basement tunnels (and of course the back of plenty of heads) as Errorr invite into the dark underground realm Synästhesie is loved for.
My highlight of the weekend’s noisy lineup was the high-energy Berlin-based trio Jealous. On the stage in the adjacent building, they cooked up thunderstorms of noisy rock. Playing under a triangular light installation, the band tinged in red light burned through their set. There may or may not have been crowd diving and a small but vigorous mosh pit. Heated up after the show, the audience had to make their way through the Christmas market in the making at Kulturbrauerei – a somewhat ironic contrast. Amongst half-constructed mulled wine and bratwurst stalls the festival crowd rested their eardrums having a beer on the metallic green kid-sized chairoplane.
The Green Tag
By this time of the night, most audience members seem to have gotten used to mingling. It’s like riding the bike they say – you never really forget it; you are just out of practice. The green tags on the wrist provide some security, yet there are also still careful attendees enjoying the festival with masks. Synästhesie seems like a small haven of noisy music with a crowd of tested, vaxed, and registered people slowly regaining trust in events. But the growing number of Covid cases in Germany is still echoing in my head.
Looking at the stats right now, it seems like Synästhesie might be one of the last events of that scale to happen before stricter Covid regulations are enforced again. That last-night-on-earth kind of energy radiated from the hardcore dancing to the noisy bands. And it hopefully provided a safe release for energy and frustration.
All-Time Favorites and Unexpected New Loves
One of the shows I was particularly looking forward to, was the performance of the Berlin-based South African-born musician Lucy Kruger. On stage with her band The Lost Boys, she put on a captivating show. Her records the Sleeping Tapes and Transit Tapes cannot transport the energy the artist has on stage. Noisier than on record, a little more daring but nonetheless incredibly nuanced, Lucy Kruger sings and plays the guitar. While on stage, she takes her time, leaving the audience aching for the next word from her lips, and makes eye contact with the people in the crowd as if her music was solely dedicated to you individually. For Half of a Woman, she asked Laura Carbone to share the stage with her. Even though I had already seen the singers join forces at a previous gig, the intensity of their intertwined vocals caught me off guard.
Other highlights of main stage included The KVB, whose creative electronic beats and visual art projection made even a severe non-electronica fan like me dance, and thhe marvellous Anika. Anika is one of those singers whose live presence changes the way you listen to her music. Backed by an all-female band, the artist played her songs with a mixture of brooding gloom and bright confessional nostalgia. In between songs she whispered things into the mic, talking to the audience, so fast and so quiet that I am sure less than half got what she was saying. But that didn’t matter because Anika’s presence itself was enough to charm.
Island in the Storm
Synästhesie festival, once again, left a lingering impression – and not just on my eardrums. In the familial atmosphere of the crowd, you will surely run into some familiar faces of Berlin’s underground indie rock and Krautrock scene. It feels like a secret insider tip yet attracts enough people to create festival energy. After last winter left many socially scarred and burnt out, Synästhesie felt like a safe haven of regained human interaction and cathartic dancing to deafeningly noisy music. Especially with the impending winter and the restrictions at the horizon, the experience was a freeing one even though it was inevitably haunted by the ghosts from the last lockdown and the visions of the next.