Thursday 13 September 2012

Review: Berlin Festival

Berlin Festival is becoming the capital's music scene's annual meet-and-greet event. Every year, we meet more music industry executives from around the world there, some of whom fly in just for the festival, disregarding the Berlin Music Week leading up to the festival weekend. It's a curious trend but one that means that a performance at the festival carries more weight for a group than some may think. This is now also being backed by visitor numbers: after security issues in 2010 and low attendancy in 2011, the festival organisers could open the gates with confidence this past Friday - all weekend tickets had been sold prior to the start of the first day. It looks as if the involvement of the festival promotion giant Festival Republic is starting to pay off.

As a large-scale urban event, Berlin Festival sets itself apart from other festivals and manages to draw the connection between club culture and open air music. The audience is therefore not your average festival goers but instead consists of trendy urbanites that do not own or need wellington boots. Even the police seemed to have chosen their youngest and best looking policemen as festival security. While the festival moved to its current location on Tempelhof airport in 2009, the organisers really picked up the theme this year by giving the stage a plane design and having airplane elements all over the site. We even spotted a group of young ladies in flight attendant uniforms with suitcases. Other components to the festival have not changed, like the Art Village, silent disco, high quality food, and sponsored games.

If you look at the line-up for the first Berlin festival in 2005, you will notice that it was heavy rock music driven. These days, the choice of performing artists appeals to a wide audience and fans of many genres, like hip hop, electronic dance music, or folk. To be honest, I was missing some more rock, for me the music that works best open air. And thus the festival line-up did not really convince me over the course of the weekend. But no doubt, there were some real gems in there.

Friends - This Brooklyn group write fantastic dance songs, however, for me, the energy did not come across at all in daylight and open air, neither did I see much audience participation. The sound was soso.
Little Dragon - See Friends above, but on the bigger main stage.
Tocotronic - The German legendary student band rocked out so much harder than I expected. They've still got it.
Grimes - Forced to perform with a minimal set-up due to "an act of god", as the insurance people like to call it, this was not very energetic and a little disappointing that way. Must make sure to check her out in a more appropriate setting in future.
Miike Snow and crowd
Ghostpoet - Suprise of the festival for me. The Mercury Prize nominee of 2011 convinced us with stellar hip hop fusion, great sound, and a good performance on the small Berlin Music Week stage. A delight.
Sigur Rós - What can I say? This dreamy Islandic elf music is exactly the type of thing I would enjoy in my living room while reading and bores me at a large open air event. That is not to say they weren't good - I just don't have the attention span.
Miike Snow - Killed it. OMG. I never thought much of this group, even though they a sweet guys. But my mind has been changed. Hangar 5 was overflowing and people were dancing and the guys in the band gave such a fun and varied performance. Loved this.
The Killers - If you like Meatloaf. I don't, so we left after 2 songs.

Crocodiles - The City Slang protegés have a new drummer, and play everything hard and rock now. Super fun, great set, made their friends proud. I wish more people would have trecked out early in the day to catch this.
CRO - Who would have guessed but this was really good fun. Pop songs sampled with German hip hop on top. So many people had showed up in front of the main stage for this; what an atomsphere! Really good fun and a nice surprise.
Bonaparte - I cannot believe they were allowed to perform their usual 18+ show at a festival in the middle of the day. Insane. The circus that is Bonaparte did not convince with a terrible sound but with stellar entertainment. Though I was hoping for more sing-along hits. But who cares when it's Bonaparte?
Franz Ferdinand - Probably the gig of the festival. I thought they may have gotten old. I thought this may have had its day. But FF know what people want: hits! And that's what they give 'em. And rock out so hard while doing it. Absolutely fantastic.
Paul Kalkbrenner - Was playing in the background as I made my way off the site as quickly as I could.

Given the many changes that Berlin Festival has undergone over the years, I am curious to see where the direction of the festival is heading in coming years. Will it go down the dance route further or go back to its rock roots a little? Will it grow onto the airfield? Or will it move altogether? Either way, I will probably be there - not because of the line-up or the airport setting but because of the unique social opportunities it presents. Simple as that.

Matching tranny shoes

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