It’s one of the last festivals of the season. One of the last summer moments to hang around watching bands with your friends without a roof above your head, too. It’s Lollapalooza time.
The new location for this year’s edition, Rennbahn Hoppegarten, felt like a smart choice after last year’s super packed weekend at Treptower Park made it almost impossible to move around at peak times. While the weather definitely felt a bit more chilly than 12 months ago, the crowd had a lot more space to discover and had no trouble getting from one stage to the next.
While all things happening on the actual festival site felt like a huge improvement in terms of organization, the only downside of it all was public transportation. You heard the stories. Things got messy big time, especially during the first day with people waiting for a really long time to arrive and/or leave. Not ideal when you want to spend a nice weekend checking out a bunch of bands with your mates and a safety issue gets into the way. But – on the second day, lessons were learnt and a tiny bit better.
Luckily, apart from the transportation issue, Lollapalooza had a few musical highlights that made us all forget some of the trouble. Slowly easing into the festival’s first afternoon wasn’t on everybody’s to-do-list though. Certainly not on Wanda’s who made sure drinks were spilled, lyrics shouted into your neighbor’s ear and hugging strangers somehow felt appropriate all of a sudden. Although the band failed to live up to their usually highly energetic performances, things got a bit wild for a moment at least.
German rock institution Beatsteaks, however, didn’t waste a single minute of their set in their hometown and played a more than worthy set in front of a loving audience. Just having released their new album Yours, the band seemed more than happy to be back onstage and gave the crowd a taste of what they had been cooking up in their studio lately without neglecting old favourites.
The mainstream gap
While one of the main stages was hosting national rap big player Marteria and his massive show next, everybody looking for a smoother Saturday evening gathered to watch one of UK’s finest singer-songwriters Michael Kiwanuka instead. With the sunset beautifully colouring the sky, Kiwanuka didn’t need any extras onstage, except for his songs, to create thrilling and heartfelt moments. If you were able to ignore Marteria’s fireworks in the background, you were in for a treat.
Well, Mumford & Sons have come a long way since they emerged on the music scene and their once stripped-down folk songs full of beauty and vulnerability became big hymns for stadium sized crowds. Just like the huge audience they faced at Lollapalooza Berlin this year. It’s hard not to like the four genuinely nice guys with their humble attitudes and fine songwriting, but once they try to act like a rock band onstage, pyrotechnics and massive sing-along-songs included, the real magic is gone. Not that the crowd seemed to care. They were too busy clapping along to the songs that often try too hard to please the listeners.
Django Django provided just the right kind of feel-good-vibes in the sun and groovy songs to dance along to on the second day of Lollapalooza. If you still felt a little worse for wear after the musical marathon of day one, the band made sure to get you up on your feet again with their collection of catchy tunes and even a few brand new songs making it onto the setlist.
Wait, did someone say catchy? Since Metronomy have gained a reputation for being exactly that the secret dance-off continued with their performance only a bit later that day. Somehow, the so-called ‘Alternative Stage’ seemed like an odd choice for most bands there, Metronomy being no exception, but with a line-up that offered more and more mainstream acts this year, it doesn’t seem all that weird anymore. But it also makes you the question the ridiculous stage labelling since basically 90% of the Lollapalooza line-up consist of pretty popular bands.
If you were planning to grab a bite or queue for a drink, you made a good choice doing so while German folk/pop four piece Annenmaykantereit were playing because hardly anybody wanted to miss their show. Somehow, the band appeals to everyone from teenage girls and young men to your neighbour next door and most likely your parents, too. Bummer. Not for the band, but for the songs which struggle to strive for something beyond the ordinary mass appeal. They might be charming but also horribly predictable.
Turning up the volume
Luckily, the Foo Fighters were there to save Lollapalooza from becoming too mediocre, too pleasing and let’s face it, too sweet with all this sugary pop for our eyes and ears. The level of noise and the amount of roaring guitars had been missing from the festival’s line-up for almost two days until the Foo Fighters appeared ready to steamroll the whole place with their insatiable energy. So they did. For over two hours. Contagious until the last note and with Dave Grohl kicking everybody’s asses, yet giving beautiful and entertaining speeches throughout the evening. It’s a surprise no-one dragged him and the band offstage with all the energy that was still up in the air when it was time for them to go.
Still, the fact that it needs such rock dinosaurs to bring an edgy note to the festival tells a lot about the state of today’s music landscape (especially the rock scene).
Whoever decided to put The xx on right afterwards – what a silly move. You could’ve sent a huge crowd home buzzing with excitement, yet, you chose to switch on the snooze mode instead way before Monday morning would give us the same thing all over again. Lullabies that just felt too dull after one of the greatest rock bands had delivered an outstanding performance. Although The xx have gotten groovier on their latest releases their enegry is just too… well, how to best say it? Maybe ‘restrained’.
In a lot of ways, Lollapalooza Berlin felt like the perfect weekend to escape from the city and to enjoy music with a bunch of like-minded friends in a truly wonderful environment and relaxing atmosphere. However, it would be great to see the festival taking more risks when it comes to its line-up, especially considering its long history and musical roots. For the majority of time it feels like ‘playing safe’ as there is barely any possibility to actually discover new music. You even find yourself in the situation where you have to pick between two big players.
It’s a luxury problem that is based on the principal of maximum economic efficiency by creating a ‘What you expect is what you get’ feeling.
The only unpredictable elements ironically remained the logistical ones. Bigger is not always better and the dedication to the masses lacks of something quite essential: soul and credibility. There is no additional benefit which might make such major festivals interesting for occasional music sympathizers but not for dedicated music lovers.
Lollapalooza is not the only festival that has been suffering from these kind of problems. What is more important than a great line-up is people’s safety, though. Always. And it’s kind of symbolic that they invested a loooot of money for the big headliners and a publicity campaign but forgot to take care of simple aspects. And it’s kind of interesting to see that each year brings new issues, partly even the same. Let’s hope next year won’t make the same kind of headlines again and show some serious improvement in this regard. The music festival industry is at a critical point and even the big players have to be a bit careful at least.