You may have guessed: I’m back in my homeland. For good, for now. Six days after settling back in Hamburg, I left the world’s most beautiful city again, for the unspectactular 12,000-inhabitants town of Scheeßel, Lower Saxony. Unspectacular, that is, on 361 days of the year. During the other four, it is invaded by 70,000 youths willing to live in the mud for a weekend’s lengh, drink beers through funnels, shower sporadically, and pee into strangers’ tents.
Headlining the 2011 Hurricane Festival were Foo Fighters, Incubus and Arcade Fire, the latter a major reason for me to go. Other acts for which I would temporarily give up my usual standard of living included, first and foremost, Arctic Monkeys, who I hadn’t seen since 2007, My Chemical Romance (same here), Band of Horses (who I’d never seen before), Bright Eyes (same here), Kasabian, The Vaccines, and many more.
I left Scheeßel on Monday morning without major losses (except my nerves, which I lost once while queuing for an hour to get my wristband, and again while being nearly smashed trying to get into the first block for My Chem), but with considerable gains, especially my new-found love for Elbow, which most of my camping group shared. It was my fourth Hurricane Festival in total and in a row, and as every year, I decided I won’t be back next year, even though 2011 may have been the best Hurricane I’ve ever had. Here’s some reasons why.
This year, we had loosely organised a group of about 25 people to camp together in the new ‘Green Camp’, meant to bring together people who cared a litte more about the environment and general noise than the average festival visitor. While we were being laughed or yelled at in the beginning – one guy looked in through the fence exclaiming ‘Yuck! Green campers!’ – eventually most people envied our comparatively clean ground and the fact we had a whole set of showers and toilets to ourselves, as the ordinary folks were unable to enter our area without the required green wristband.
The festival was opened by Letlive, who supposedly had a reputation as a great live act and were bound to support Enter Shikari at a Hamburg gig this September which I may attend, but as the gig took place in the cosy red tent instead of the green mainstage usually hosting the opener, I doubt many took notice. I don’t recall why I missed them, however, I managed to hit the red tent about 10 minutes before You Me At Six, the follow-up act, finished. I only attended their gig because I have a younger sister who is obsessed with them, and even though I hated their uninspired alternative-rock soup, I tried to get some idea of why she was that much into them. I have to say I was not too successful. It may have something to do with that slightly chubby singer (not pictured) who is a year younger than me or so.
After the gig I tried to find a friend at the simultaneously running Twin Atlantic show on the main stage, and after they had finished, I even succeeded. We caught up with our other friends and saw Portugal. The Man together. Luckily, I was not the only person who failed to understand everyone’s fascination with them. It was the third fucking time I have seen them live and I still don’t get it. Maybe they are just not a festival band. Or just not my taste in music.
Me and a friend stayed at the blue stage to see Kaizers Orchestra, who I had wanted to see live since watching a gig of theirs on TV years ago. I wasn’t quite as impressed this time, but still they rocked out pretty much, and the Norwegian lyrics certainly were something else for a change. I’m always thankful for anything original, especially when it comes to the Hurricane Festival. Let’s say, their bookers definitely value their traditions, which is why I’ve seen The Wombats three times in the four years I’ve been going there. And Foo Fighters were also headlining for the second time.
On my way back to the campsite I walked past the green stage, where Kashmir were playing, and I noticed I may well be missing something if I didn’t stay, but I had to make some food, so I revelled in their darkly indie rock until it was barely audible anymore from the campsite.
I had planned to return for Elbow, and to their later regret, none of my campmates wanted to accompany me. I was way too late, plus had to leave early to secure myself a spot in the white electro tent to see Chase & Status. By now I’ve realised I did everything wrong. The three songs I could catch were among the best and most uplifting music I have heard in a while, my favourite ‘Neat Little Rows’ being one of them. It was also the first time I missed Manchester since I’d left it on June 9th, due to Guy Garvey’s lovely Mancunian accent. Later we discovered ‘One Day Like This’ on the Hurricane mixtape someone in our camping group had made, and spontaneously falling in love with it, we played the song on heavy rotation in our pavilion for the rest of the festival. As my dad taped me the TV footage from the festival, I enjoyed some of Elbow’s performance while ironing earlier today, and the same song brought me to tears. But as you will read later, I’ve done a fair bit of weeping at the Hurricane anyway.
I wanted to see Chase & Status largely because they were one of the very very few acts at the Hurricane that were new and piping hot, had not been returning to the festival for years, or become irrelevant ages ago. Their aggressive, rap-fuelled rave-rock was a surprisingly well-working mixture that at times reminded one of The Prodigy. Having lived in England for the past half year I can’t judge their fame in Germany, but the tent was full and the crowd jumping. Which does not necessarily mean they had ever heard the band before, because Chase & Status didn’t leave anyone much of a choice other than getting down.
The plan had been to stay in the tent for Crystal Fighters, then meet my friends to see Arcade Fire together. That plan would have allowed me to see 20 minutes of the Spanish/English group’s set, but in fact they did not start until I had to leave for the meeting point at 11. Shame really, but as I had seen them before, it didn’t kill me, although Crystal Fighters were another of those bands that were both new and interesting. Of course, meeting in front of the stage 25 minutes before a headliner’s gig was way too late, so we saw little of the actual Arcade Fire and watched most of it via the huge screens. Of course, each of their songs is perfect and their show involved massive visuals thanks to another screen on stage, and well, you can say about Regine’s hair what you want, but her smile is disarming. But despite all this, this was one of the bands I had been most looking forward to, and from where I stood it was about as exciting as watching the show on TV. Which I had done before. So yeah, Arcade Fire, will you please play the Alsterdorfer Sporthalle in autumn (or next spring), as you have not properly toured with ‘The Suburbs’ yet (and I mean properly, not this arrogant festivals-only-and-then-maybe-the-capital-of-each-European-country way of touring, you’re not The Strokes), and I swear I am willing to pay the 40 euros that will cost me. Gladly.
Even though my friend and I were so dead tired we couldn’t even stand anymore, we made it into the white tent – which was only possible because The Chemical Brothers had started playing the blue stage by now – after the show to catch at least some of Digitalism before our legs failed us. I was thus in no mood to enjoy this only relevant German band at the moment, especially as their singer had an awful German accent, but I suppose it would’ve been fun, under different circumstances.
The sun shone bright in the morning, so we thought Chucks would be a good choice to hit the festival area by 1pm. Waiting around for a friend who never showed, we caught some of Pulled Apart By Horses‘ set. I had hated them at the 2009 Reeperbahn Festival, but this time their post-hardcore suited my mood better. Seconds before we finally started for the blue stage to see Cloud Control, it started raining. Rain capes were drawn and put on, and we felt all ready. But we were not. Not at all. Cloud Control played exactly one song until the rain got so hard they had to cancel the show, otherwise the monitors would have gotten wet. So we were all soaked from head to toe and despite cheering on and on we were not granted another song. My Chucks did not dry for the rest of the weekend. I expect Cloud Control to properly tour as well in the near future. Or I will just spontaneously move back to Manchester to catch them and Arcade Fire in autumn.
While I was able to go back to my tent and change, my unfortunate little sister had stood through the rain so she could attend All Time Low‘s performance from the first row. Like You Me At Six, I only watched them so I could have my say on her obsessions. OK, well, the case was slightly different. As a teenager I had once sported an All Time Low sticker on my eastpak myself, when they were 19 and nobody knew them, but I had clearly not foreseen this. Apparently they had gained a huge following, even here in Germany, in the meantime. Then again I think 2011’s Hurricane had an unsually high number of pop punk aficionados because they had originally booked Blink 182 as a headliner, until the band decided to postpone their appearance until 2012. So I stood through their performance, which was little more interesting than their rip-off music itself, expect for guitaro Jack Barakat’s smexy photo poses perhaps, to catch up with my sister and take her to The Vaccines. But no. She had to get changed. I ran into a friend who would go to the red tent with me, where after some waiting we were informed that my favourite new band of the year had had to cancel because they had missed their flight. Damn it! The only consolation was we could see Friendly Fires in full length. And a pretty good consolation it was. Not even The Vaccines are as entertaining as Ed McFarlane’s hip shake. Besides, he bathed in the audience already during the opener ‘Lovesick’ (see photo at the very top). Despite the unusually bright afternoon sunshine spoiling the light show a bit, they laid down on of the best performances of the weekend. Even McFarlane’s shirt was forgiven.
Due to lack of connection, I could not call my sister, and queued up on my own for another band that had stood by me in my youth: My Chemical Romance. To secure a spot in the first block, and as I had nothing else to do, I queued already when the previous act, Gogol Bordello from New York, laid down their polka-punk. I had found it enjoyable two years ago when I first saw them play Hurricane, but this time they were plain annoying. Maybe it was because I was pressed in among hundreds of drunken youths. When the time came and the block was opened again, the pressure was so strong some of the shorter girls in the crowd had to give up, despite long waiting, and flee sideways through the barricades. I had formulated my letter of complaint, only to find that the next day when Arctic Monkeys caused similar crowds to queue up for the first block, the security had followed my unspoken advice and formed little blocks out of the queuing masses to prevent a panic. So when I had finally been let in, I witnessed the ‘new‘ My Chem, minus dropped out drummer Bob Bryar, with a red-haired Gerard Way and the band clothed in white uniforms instead of the former black ones, performing much of their latest output ‘Danger Days: True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys’, plus every other song being taken from either ‘Three Cheers …’ or ‘The Black Parade’, entirely omitting their obscure debut which in the fan scene is known simply as ‘Bullets’. I don’t know if it was my lack of teenage enthusiasm, which had been replaced by a music critic’s skepticism, or just the fact that most of the band where now husbands, dads and Green-Day-esque stadium rockers, but their show failed to thrill me as it used to. Then again I had liked their new album, but not been fan enough to learn the lyrics or even song titles, so I felt lost whenever a newer song was played. On the other hand, it was painful to learn that many a fan seemed unable to sing along even to their 2004 hit ‘Helena’. But I guess I am not fan enough anymore to care, either. They have recently played in both my hometowns and I never even bothered to go.
After My Chem I ran over to the blue stage as fast as I could, where Kasabian were set to begin the very minute MCR would finish. Of course, this time it was unfortunately only second block for me, but I somehow managed to take photos as well, and there were still the screens to inform me of Tom Meighan’s gorgeous new hairdo. The only thing more gorgeous was probably one of the two new songs they played: the title track to upcoming album ‘Velociraptor’, one of the few songs in the world to have you dancing the very first time you hear it. (Think the last time I did that was when I stood in my parents’ kitchen in 2005 hearing Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good …’ for the first time.) Everything else was, of course, plain perfect as well. Kasabian are simply one of the best live bands and one of the best bands around. As a Hamburger, I was merely amused, but not offended by the fact a clearly drugged Tom Meighan constantly addressed the crowd as ‘Hamburg’, babbled something about the Reeperbahn, and eventually dedicated the track ‘L.S.F.’ to Hamburg because ‘the Beatles had sex in your city’. Think he will be glad to be back in November, to play the actual Hamburg at Große Freiheit 36 off the actual Reeperbahn.
We ended the day at the red tent, where I miraculously still got in to see Bright Eyes – you have to know that at times it was entirely impossible to get in for hours because it was overcrowded. Or that’s what I heard, because I always got in, arriving always well in advance. Although I was understandably tired when Oberst’s band started at 1am, I made it through the gig, and even in a good mood. This band had been especially important to me because I knew they were generally hard to catch, being about as likely to tour Germany as The Strokes (who haven’t played Hamburg, as far as I know, since 2002). Conor Oberst hit the stage in an odd kind of hobbit cape which looked like it had been fabricated for a primary school theatre performance, and refused to take it off. He, too, seemed drunk at least, talking himself into a little anti-twitter rage when technical problems forced him to interrupt the performance for a minute or two. Actually, I think their heart-warming set would have made for a great festival finale. I have always had great last bands at the Hurricane, with Nada Surf in 2008, The Whip in 2009, and The Strokes in 2010. This year, it was ‘only’ going to be Klaxons, but hey, no high-level complaining please. (I am well aware that this turn of phrase may not exist in English. I’m just offering some fresh ways of putting things ;-))
I started Sunday with coffee, rain and a 200 metre sprint to the T-Mobile stand to have my phone’s battery charged before the queue contained 50 people. After ten minutes they couldn’t accept iPhones anymore. None of us could help thinking, ‘If you don’t have an iPhone, you don’t have an iPhone’. For my old Motorola there was plenty of space. I met some of the others in the red tent after that, where we had congregated to watch Everything Everything, another Manchester band fuelling my nostalgia. Just like at last year’s Dockville Festival, they didn’t exactly make themselves remembered, mostly by their ugly jumpsuits, if anything. The hooks of tracks like ‘My KZ, ur BF’ or ‘Schoolin’’ remain unforgotten though.
I slipped out of the near-empty tent – it was still only 12.30 – to grab my phone, then returned for Tame Impala, who were even more boring live than they are on record. Their 90s looks and anaemic stage presence, along with long instrumental passages, didn’t exactly invite us to jump around like crazy to fight the creeping cold of the noon rain. Yes we were in a tent, but it had open emergency exits all the way round, and even amidst the crowd it wasn’t exactly warm. Luckily Darwin Deez were on next, the reason why we attended Tame Impala in the first place. Otherwise we would not have gotten in to the tent anymore. As always, they had the best outfits and even greater dance moves that good old Friendly Fires the previous day, and this time we learned that Darwin Smith can even rap. They left us all exhilarated and stupidly grinning, as you would expect.
I stole away to the campsite and then returned for Band of Horses. It was raining again, which was good, so I could secretly let my tears roll as soon as the first note of ‘The Funeral’ asounded. Just the day before a friend had told me how she’d cried during Arcade Fire, making me realise I had no idea when I had last cried at a gig, apart from my first Indelicates show, and that was in 2007, so there must have been some emotional outbursts since. At least that question has now been answered (and the answer is no longer Band of Horses).
Then I did something really really stupid again. I went into the red tent to see The Kills. I don’t even like them very much, I just thought it would be a good chance to check them out live. They were cool, but especially musically didn’t really kick in. Moreover, I had wanted to see The Hives live forever, who were playing at the same time, but of course now that I had the chance, I didn’t really cherish them anymore, and eventually made the fatal decision of going back to my tent. What I should have done, though, was queuing up for the first block, because Arctic Monkeys were on next. So when I eventually returned after the annoying Pelle Almqvist had stopped relentlessly yelling at the audience to cheer for him (not them), the queue for the first block was of horrendous size. I tried to somehow press my way into the second block, but everything just sucked. I could hardly see the Monkeys at all, who I loved to death but obviously not enough to queue up early. I hated myself and wished they, at least, would tour properly soon, for the first time since 2007. Of course the set was great, the only bad thing being Alex’s skin (and that they didn’t play ‘The Bad Thing’). Some surprises awaited us setlist-wise, namely lack of the singles ‘Cornerstone’ and ‘My Propeller’ and unfortunately also my ‘Suck It And See’ favourite ‘Black Treacle’; instead they played the awful ‘Still Take You Home’ as well as ‘If You Were There, Beware’ and, to my delight, ‘Pretty Visitors’. I started crying during ‘She’s Thunderstorms’, when he sang ‘She does what the night does to the day’, one of his best lines ever, and I occasionally cried some more during the rest of the set. But undoubtedly the best bit was when they got Miles Kane to play guitar on ‘505’. Especially as we had all seen it coming, but it was still so beautiful that it actually happened. I had had to miss Miles’ gig because it was at the same time as Darwin Deez, but I heard rumours that he played an acoustic gig somewhere next to the stage instead of on it. Why ever that was.
I had clearly had a bit too much euphoria and wine during the Arctic gig, so I jumped my way to the red tent, awaiting my last band of this year’s festival, the amazing Klaxons who everyone had forgotten about by the second album. The tent was not too crowded – most people were probably watching Foo Fighters – so I could easily slip into a great photo-taking position. Also I had an excellent view of ex Dirty Pretty Thing Anthony Rossomando at synths. Dancing-wise, this gig was close to the unforgettable The Whip performance in 2009, only this time I had forgotten to take my sunglasses and was entirely exposed to the strobes. Which spoiled my fun merely a bit. The lack of people to afterparty with was worse, as the only handful of people staying till Monday were unavailable for different reasons and I crouched into my tent earlier than expected.