After Norman’s extensive announcement post for the little festival Alinæ Lumr, you could imagine I was quite excited to go. So when the time finally came, I sat on the train from Berlin to Storkow, a tiny town in Germany I had never heard of or been to. Slowly moving out of Berlin, the names of the towns seemed to become more and more German while the city streets faded into vast corn fields. One hour and a half later I found myself in a group of 20 backpacked people on a deserted platform in the no-mans-land. The only thing indicating action nearby was the giant festival banner directed at festivals-goers stranded at the station.
A short walk through empty streets and closed beauty salons later, I distinctly heard music trickle into my ears. One more corner and I found the smallest marketplace I had been to in a long time. Framed by cafes and shops the small square forms the center of Storkow. This weekend it was decorated with several food trucks and tents.
Tucked away behind the marketplace, only marked by a chain of white flags dangling in the wind is the festival office where locals, as well as, festival-goers line up to get their – surprisingly pretty – festival bracelets. In front of me in the queue, a family with children, an elderly couple from the area, and some contemporary fashion enthusiasts probably from Berlin.
The afternoon was sweetened by Fenster member John Moods’ mellow guitar play and crooned vocals. While the local youth was mingling in the corners of the stage, most of the festival visitors enjoyed their beer sitting in front of the stage. As it was still early in the afternoon, only an elderly woman and a few children built up their confidence to dance to the guitar melody. Later on, the friendly lady and her friend who came to visit from Guatemala told me, that she is enjoying the festival a lot but sadly won’t be able to see the later showcases. No wonder then, that she already wanted to get moving during the first show of the day.
Like many other festivals, we have been to so far Alinæ Lumr cares about sustainability. Food is sold in reusable tin cups or wrapped in paper. I did not spot a single pair of plastic cutlery or a plastic straw; instead, food is served with wooded forks and knives, which work just as well. The one-euro deposit on each drink cup makes sure that even the tipsiest visitor will return their cup upon finishing it. Organic wines and soft drinks round up the well-composed drinks menu. The only blood-red thing to be found, is the ruby-red Merlot. The food trucks though serve exclusively meat-free dishes adding to the sustainability. And telling from the lines at the (vegan) burger truck, I do not think anybody missed their dose of minced cow on the crispy bun. Instead, chickpea curries, vegan chicken alternatives in Sushi rolls, and other vegan goods from eastern parts of Europe satisfy the hungry music lovers.
At the Castle
Charlotte Brandi who played the 7:30 pm slot left the food stands empty. The stage in the tiny castle of Storkow filled up around seven already with excited listeners. I had a chance to catch up with the German singer and songwriter to chat about the festival and her music. Charlotte was previously part of a synth-pop duo called Me and My Drummer and has finally released her first solo record The Magician earlier this year. 2019 marks her second time performing at Alinæ Lumr but for the first time, she will grace the cozy castle stage on her own.
‘I am very impressed by this year’s line up’ she comments. ‘It is amazing to see acts like Sophie Hunger from the UK or Curtis Harding go after me. The Alinæ Lumr team is very picky with who they invite and that makes for a tasteful line-up every year – not just because I am playing’, she jokes.
The friendly festival staff does anything to make the experience as comfortable for the artists as it is for the visitors. Charlotte Brandi has noticed several times how much passion the team has and how badly they want everything to run smoothly. ‘The last time I was here we ran out of water at some point. It was a really hot day and somehow nobody knew how to come by some more. I watched the team members sweat blood and tears working to get water to the backstage. When you notice somebody getting this upset about something going wrong you really see how passionate they are about the festival. Exactly this passion I feel, they put into every detail at the Alinæ.’
With many female artists, Alinæ Lumr does not only promote gender equality in the music industry but also the local music scene. Musicians like Charlotte Brandi, John Moods, Voodoo Beach and Fenster are all based in or around Berlin. ‘The festival unites the best of Berlin and the surrounding areas sprinkled with some extra spice from the international acts’, Charlotte says. ‘It is almost like a huge high school reunion. A lot of the musicians are people I see around town at the neighborhood bakeries or cafes. It is great to get the change to once again properly celebrate their creative work.’
‘Even though I usually prefer playing a good solo gig, the Alinæ Lumr has a great concept for appreciating the artists. The pace of the crowd is perfect and you can get around to see every show just on time. I also love the stage at the castle, the vibe is great and it is nicely secluded.’
This year Charlotte Brandi is performing songs off her new record. What was supposed to be her acoustic side project next to Me and My Drummer, turned into a full-time job when the duo split up. ‘Realizing that after we split up the band all I had left was my name to work with was crazy. I was intimidated and excited at the same time. Finally, I could make music just my way. So in the end, the new album turned into a fusion of timeless acoustic sounds with some electronic elements. I did not want to completely lose that side of music.’ And the two sides magically come together to a well-rounded orchestral pop and rock-tinged sound with dreamy synth elements. With the title, The Magician Charlotte Brandi hints at the magical power music possesses. ‘Music can make wishes come true. That is also why you have to be careful with what you put out because it tends to come back around’, she laughs.
‘For me entering into the music business was sadly easier as a duo. When I was younger I could not have handled the criticism, rejections, logistics, and the organization. Especially as a woman in her 20s – yes, I say that purposefully – it can be incredibly hard to fight your way through. Men, on the other hand, I feel they bond easily and support each other. It is kind of like a brotherhood of musicians. Of course, I don’t have insight into their perception of it but what I have seen and heard from my fellow female artists, I feel confident to say in the end it is just a little harder as a woman.’
Good thing the Alinæ Lumr has invited many young female artists like Amilli and Núria Graham. Maybe with support from festivals like this, it will be easier for them in the future. Luckily, Charlotte Brandi has also learned how to stand on her own feet now and does so with grace. Her show at the Burg Stage was an energetic and passionate performance that, at the same time, felt like a gig among friends. Relaxed she made some jokes with her bandmates and the audience, just to make her voice soar across the old brick walls of the castle in the next second.
Other highlights from Friday included Berliner Trio Soft Grid. They enchanted the festival audience with improvisational eleven-minute long pieces. Live, the heavily synth-ridden dark electronic and rock fusion grew to a different level of intensity. The garden venue dipped in the light of the sinking sun turned the experimental second album Agency, which refuses to be placed in a category, into a cinematic performance.
Cari Cari, an Austrian duo, made a few visitors look clueless when Stephanie Widmer brought a long skinny wooded instrument onto the stage. But the questioning faces waned soon after she tickled the first deep and echoing sound out of the traditional Australian instrument, the Didgeridoo. Known for their raw and energetic performance, they did not disappoint that evening. Cari Cari shredded out powerful bluesy rock anthems that might as well be the soundtrack to the next Tarantino movie – as they like to put it.
At the Marketplace
Saturday kicked off with equally festival enthusiastic musicians. At four, Spanish singer and songwriter Núria Graham made the conversations die down. The Irish-Catalan musician simultaneously has fierce power and fragile tenderness in her voice. With the turquoise fender guitar, she unleashed soul-tinged chords while her reddish hair was bouncing to the rhythm. The band accompanying the solo artist shared her enthusiasm. A majestic Gibson bass-guitar adorned the bassist’s neck and made the venue vibrate. Yet, the keyboarder was probably the biggest showman swaying and grooving behind his instrument.
‘This is my first time in Germany’, Núria admits as I catch up with her after the gig. ‘It can be tough playing in a country for the first time. Usually, not many people know you. But the show was great. I noticed that people in Germany are way quieter than Spanish audiences. They don’t dance and talk that much during a concert and they really seem to listen to the music.’ Especially at the Alinæ Lumr, this was the case. It is a festival for people who appreciate the music more than the big party festivals usually turn into.
‘Getting out of Spain, live shows and festivals are very important. Some of these people have never heard my name so I have to put on a good show to stay in their memory. Especially at festivals where many artists play.’ Núria recognizes. ‘Here it is easy. Everything is very well organized and calm, unlike some other festivals. During my set, I got the feeling that people respected the music a lot.’
Sharing is Caring
The Storkower Festival provided a great base for the singer to establish a German audience. Núria Graham is about to release her third LP at only 23 years old. She has been around the industry since a tender 16 years of age. ‘For me maturing in the industry was not a challenge. I have never been very big and I am trying to take things slowly. It takes off a lot of the pressure. Of course, touring can be exhausting but I do not like routine anyways’, she laughs.
The title of her third album is not quite ready yet, but her sophomore record Does It Ring A Bell has shown that Núria Graham is not afraid of singing about personal experiences. ‘It is not hard for me because nothing is ever really personal. Most of the struggles we experience are universal and shared by many people. So I feel by sharing mine I can give other people something to relate to –as other artists have done for me.’
‘Writing music is like a conversation between a present and a future self. When I listen to my old songs I travel back in time to those exact moments, which can be hard but it also helps me understand myself a little better. When writing songs, in a way, I just feel like I am talking to myself.’
Following into the footsteps of Núria was Tiflis Transit whose show tricked the festival guests into the steaming hot Saal – the only indoor venue of the festival. The day before I had already spotted the singer casually strolling around the festival ground listening to the showcases and lining up at the eastern food truck. Small town festival perks – the artist can enjoy the other concerts as well. Another local artist Blumfeld, is probably the oldest band on campus. Formed at the beginning of the 90s, the musicians still visibly enjoy playing concerts. Dressed to the occasion in a flower shirt, lead singer Jochen engaged the audience with jokes and chants. Yet, however, their lyrical skill was not able to keep up with the poetic songwriting of many other musicians.
Magic At the Mühlenfließ
Back at the Mühlenfließ another German band was preparing for their set. Voodoo Beach is not a song gone astray off one of Jimi Hendrix’ records but the name of the Berlin-based four-piece. Even though guitarist Iggy has an affinity for the legendary musician, the song was not inspired by his classic ‘Voodoo Chile’. Instead, it was the title of the first song drummer Josephine and Singer/Guitarist Vivi wrote in collaboration. Vivi adds, ‘when we recorded the single I was reading a Jimi Hendrix biography. The title just seemed to fit the dark and moody vibe of the track we made.’ So how did a song title turn into the band name? For Iggy Voodoo Beach was the first track he heard from the, then, Duo and he immediately associated the name with the band. And like that, it stuck. The song, by the way, is one of the only remaining tracks still sung in English and got renamed Sea Salvation.
The band only started writing German lyrics a while back, as they noticed that writing in their native tongue gave the songs the final kick. ‘Ever since we started writing in English’, John adds, ‘we are more critical with our lyrics. Playing for German audiences they usually do not pay that much attention to English lyrics, yet when Vivi sings in German they really listen. That also means that we want to create the right images with our texts. We cannot hide behind the easy rhymes of the English language. In German, we have to be honest and direct.’
The fusion of 70s inspired rock and edgy German lyrics makes for a thrilling mix. ‘The Alinæ Lumr has been a lot of fun so far and very well organized.’ Voodoo Beach say about the festival. After having had a rather quiet summer, the cozy Storkow seems like the right place for a gig. For Pine playing festivals or concerts is mostly a question of indoors and outdoors. ‘I think our sound works better in a closed venue than open air.’ She admits. ‘But also’ the bassist John adds, ‘it is a question of day or night.’ Luckily, and fitting the rather gloomy vibe of the music, the Mühlenfließ was only sparsely lit by few light bulbs. Packed to the last inch I had to fight my way to the front to see the four-piece rock out on stage.
Phine behind the drum set was driving the beat forward allowing Iggy and Vivi to play elaborate melodies and riffs on their electric guitars. John danced around the stage bass hanging from the neck as if it were a bendy dance partner. Their short but spicy show included all of the songs from the debut EP OZEAN and put these musicians high on the one-to-watch-list.
On the way back from the venue the crowds gathering around the market place grew bigger and bigger. Foxwarren, Andy Shauff’s project, attracted the music lovers. Stacked up to the food trucks, I almost did not manage to try the vegan version of tuna sushi, which was a small delight. The musician’s pensive melodies contrasted sharply with the previous band’s rock hymns. With synth-ridden songs off the self-titled record, Shauff created a more romantic and calm vibe – needed after the energetic and eardrum bashing performances.
What already sounds like enough music to fill the entire weekend was just the beginning of the night. Special guest Fenster dropped by to visit John Moods and to jam on their fourth LP The Room. By then the Saal had luckily cooled down a little but was quickly warmed up again by the crowd. But even with all of these amazing shows, I was especially excited to see Curtis Harding. I had been following the American soul musician since a concert he played about four years ago in Munich. So I was excited to spot him on the line-up. His second album Face Your Fears is a calmer and more reflected record than the previous Soul Power, which was loaded with soul/rock fusion that made the audience’s feet move. I did miss the raw energy I experienced at my first show a little bit, but Harding’s soulful vocals moved me once again. Drawing from the deep roots of the genre the singer grew up singing Gospel with his mother. And it shows. His voice, at times smooth as honey, at others raspy like a chain smoker’s, climbed highs and reached depths and echoed in my ears until the end of the night.
I already went to the Alinæ Lumr festival with the expectation of witnessing a cozy and very special festival – thanks to Norman. And I was not disappointed. The friendly vibe spread from staff to visitors and artists and it seemed to connect the audience and the bands closely. Like a comfy gig among friends the entire festival flew by leaving a sweet taste. After a weekend of music, Storkow returned to its daily small-town life, while the regional train to Berlin was plastered with backpacks. But I did not leave without taking a little piece of Storkow with me. On the way back in the empty streets a trustful neighbor put out homegrown plums for the by-passing. The tiny metal box next to it collected 2€ donations for a box filled with fresh fruit representing the open, friendly and honest vibe of this town and the festival perfectly. Goodbye Alinæ, hopefully see you next year.
All Photos by Liv Toerkell for NBHAP.