Thursday, 27 September 2012

Review: Dirty Beaches in the Maze

If you start queuing for something half an hour before the doors open and you know more than half of the people who have turned up will have to go home empty-handed again, would that not make you truly appreciate the event? Well, as it turns out that was not what visitors at yesterday's Maze festival event had in mind.

Alex Zhang Hungtai, aka Dirty Beaches, is what I would call a genius. I might be going out on a limb here but to me, what he creates musically and artistically, is simply a cut above the rest. His sound structures, layered and fuzzed out, with his moody effect vocals may not be new but nobody does that like him. He seems immune to the influence of others and creates his own musical world that appeals to your usual electro-psychedlic crowd as much as fans of experimental noise and ambient alike. The prospect of experiencing West Germany transformed into a labyrinth and the wonderful music of Dirty Beaches together sounded like absolute heaven to me.

So what is the Maze? In a nutshell, it's a cultural event and a sociological experiment in one. The rooms of West Germany have been kitted out with wooden frames that in turn have been transformed into "walls" with the help of colourful string. You can walk through some of them, others will appear as barriers and will make you take alternative routes, like in a maze. Additionally, pieces of art are strewn throughout the labyrinth. The idea is that people have to think more about where they position themselves in the room and that there is an element of surprise thrown into the evening. For example, apparently there is a secret "door" in one of the "walls" but I don't think anyone found this out last night. And you don't really know where or how the band is going to play until the actual performance starts. It is curious but can be daunting at times, too. Nobody is keen on going to the back of the maze in case they get stuck there for the rest of the evening.

This latter aspect of the Maze turned out to be somewhat of a problem. Dirty Beaches is a big deal and the previous show at Kater Holzig proved this. This time round, you had to be there 15 minutes before doors opened to grab one of the limited spaces available to the event. At quarter past nine, the show was sold out and the majority of the hopeful attendees were turned away, probably heading for the aftershow party at Das Gift. So when the capacity is limited to just over 100 every inch of space needs to be used and the crowd distributed evenly. The promoters had their hands full making people move to the back of the maze. I managed to position myself fairly far at the front, keen to be able to leave early if need be. With no spare oxygen in the room, this would possibly come in handy later on.

Since nobody that I knew had managed to get into the gig, the one-hour wait until the band took their positions seemed to last a lifetime. I was getting tired and people around me louder and louder. When Dirty Beaches started with a mellow number, the chit chat just wouldn't stop. The attention deficit crowd had a hard time concentrating. I tried to make out whether to attribute this lack of concentration to the overwhelming atmosphere of the maze or to the predominantly young and immature crowd. Just when I was getting sufficiently irritated by two young girls having the talk of their lives, a lady in front of me took charge and told them to shut up while giving evil looks to those pushing from behind. Goodness, I was so thankful for her initiative. Not that the loud talking around us ever stopped but I was grateful someone was feeling the way I was feeling. The music Dirty Beaches produced was so intense and even more impressive than at Kater Holzig, yet people was sniggering at his singing, were talking and smoking, were just not quite as appreciative as I would have imagined, given how much effort they had put into seeing this man and his side-kick play.

Amazingly, I still truly enjoyed the gig, I really did. I love how some groups were finding new ways to get through the Maze to yet unclaimed territories, how the light played with the strings of the "walls", how the musicians were sectioned off, and most of all how great it sounded. The immature audience could not take this away from me. This was one amazing musical and artistic performance. Dirty Beaches and the Maze - one incredible combination, even if it meant only a limited number of people could enjoy this.

PS: It was way too dark for my poor phone camera to take pictures. Therefore, no pics in this review. If you have some and would like to contribute, email us!

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