Monday 12 September 2011

Review: Berlin Festival Day 2

Did I really have to go to the festival on day 2, now that I had seen Health the day before? Good question. It turned out, yes, it was well worth going again.

We spent most of the day hanging out with our friend who was in town for the festival. Therefore, we unfortunately missed Tune-Yards but I am certain she did a wonderful job as always. By the time we had picked up our AAA wristbands ("We are on the Bloody Beetroots guest list" "Well, are you now? I have heard this one before!" Goodness, what an attitude!), Beirut were about to come on to the main stage. We could see straight away: a lot more people had showed up for the festival this day and the atmosphere was more lively than the previous day. 

I have been a Beirut fan since the first album and I am an avid supporter of the theory that Zach Condon is indeed a musical genius. But last time I watched Beirut, when he performed at Astra, I wasn't impressed. Of course, Astra being Astra, the sond and set-up of the gig weren't ideal either, but the band also didn't seem as enthusiastic as their music calls for. Jazz and Balkan influenced chanson-like pop songs, melancholic but uplifting at the same time. You really want the performer to convey this feeling. And this time round they did. Beirut came with an array of instruments, incl. a tuba, a double bass, a horn, two trumpets and an accordeon, just to name some. They had also brought along a sense of humour and it appeared that the group thoroughly enjoyed itself. Fascinated and drawn in, I watched the whole set, which I don't necessarily do at festivals. The audience was extremely appreciative, and for a split second I thought there was even going to be an encore. In the meantime, I received a text message informing me that Pantha Du Prince were convincing everyone on the other stage. I wish I could have split myself in two.

We caught a little bit of Boys Noize, a single DJ playing Prodigy influenced techno music, on the main stage. He had already played last year and let's just say it's not my thing, to say the least. Eugh. But everyone was dancing. It was impressive. We made our way backstage to grab a beer and a banana and spend some more time with our friend who we'd come for in the first place. When we tracked back to Hangar 5 to see The Bloody Beetroots, we passed by the main stage, where Beginner was playing. I am not too familiar with hip hop, especially German hip hop, therefore, I don't know why Absolute Beginner go under the name of Beginner these days (or since 8 years I have been informed). But I recognised them straight away. I hadn't heard their songs in 10 years and yet it was so apparent this was Absolute Beginner. How about that.

The Blood Beetroots & Dennis Lyxzén
It was time to see the group we had come for. On the one hand, my friend sings for The Bloody Beetroots these days, on the other hand, I had heard so much about this group, good and bad, from various sources, that by now I was extremely intrigued to watch the madness for myself. The first thing that I noticed was the average age of the audience in front of Hangar 5 stage, I guessed around 19 years of age. We considered this funny. After all, the Bloody Beetroots reference a lot of music from the 90s and this means that the audience is basically too young to understand these references. This puts in interesting spin on the concept and performance of the Bloody Beetroots. For instance, Dennis Lyxzén, once singer of cult hardcore band Refused, has been called in by the band to sing on their rendition of New Noise, a Refused song. His part in the group has since been extended to three songs he performs with the Italian disco noise outfit. But of course, most of the audience won't recognise him. Similarly, they had previously engaged Justin Pearson, of The Locust and Swing Kids, to sing and perform with them on an Australian tour (btw: this month Pearson is releasing a book about that tour). From what we had been told, we imagined punk influenced electronic madness and a crazy live show. Looking back, people have either been exaggerating, have not been to real crazy punk shows or this was not their best night. I am not sure. But essentially, the Bloody Beetroots wore suit jackets and masks not unlike those of The Locust. They played songs that were more standard techno than I expected but did sample music from various genres. I really appreciated the live drummer onstage, but the interspersed guitar playing didn't appear natural. I can see how it added to the dynamic but at the same time, an extra technician was needed to put the guitar on the band member and off, and on, and off. Dennis Lyxzén gave his all and it was great to see how he is still a top notch performer, and a professional I guess. But overall, I was thoroughly disappointed in the gig. I think my expectations had been too high and I had been promised something else to what we were delivered.

We left the Bloody Beetroots early to catch some Mogwai, a band close to my heart for many years. There couldn't have been a bigger contrast. I instantly felt at ease when I heard Mogwai's tunes. We took a seat outside the hangar and just soaked in the sounds and projections. It was the perfect musical end to the festival.

The festival was not yet over for us, however. There was a spontaneous birthday celebration to join in the dressing room of the Bloody Beetroots. Some champagne and sweets later...

This was my second year at Berlin Festival and I enjoyed every minute of it. If you are not a festival person, like me, you should definitely consider putting this in your calendar for next year. It's the festival for non-festival people. Can't wait for next year!

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