Festival Season 2011 (5): Reeperbahn Festival, Hamburg (DE)

There is simply no better way of ending the festival season than Reeperbahn Festival. It traditionally takes place on the last weekend of September (and I’m terribly busy, thus the late posting) and I’m pretty sure I once called it something like ‘Hamburg’s humble litte attempt at SXSW’ing’. Its main qualities are: spoiling you with some of the hottest new artists from all over the world – and I mean new as in ‘their first EP is out next week’ – as well as chasing you club-hopping for miles all over St. Pauli, though the longest distance between two clubs is less than 2 km – and ruining your weekly rhythm by starting on Thursday, so when you think the weekend must be over it’s actually only Sunday.

I may have to explain a few more things. First of all, Reepfest, as we call it (and no, it’s not pronounced ‘Rapefest’, just like Reeperbahn does not mean ‘raper barn’ … think of the way a Geordie would say ‘rape’, that’s more like it) is not just a music festival. It always comes with art exhibitions, readings and some business nonsense called ‘Reeperbahn Campus’ (‘seminars’, presentations, and the horrifying ‘networking lounges’) that always makes me wonder who would pay 170€ for that, but don’t mind me …

The other thing concerns the specific industrial structure of St. Pauli and explains why the first show I attended at this year’s festival took place at a table-dance club.

When looking closely, you can see the poles on either side of the stage …

You recognise a tourist in St. Pauli by a couple of things, but mainly by the fact he’ll stop at the sight of a sex shop/sex cinema/strip club/prostitute. But just like anything else that’s specific to St. Pauli, this industry gets slowly driven out. But that’s a whole different story.

So another thing that’s specific to St. Pauli is the bouncers’ reading, or in German, Türsteherlesung. A bouncers’ reading may at first sound curious to some, or even contradictory, but only until you’ve seen the unique performance that Mark, Henning and Viktor lay down. It’s not a coincidence they regularly draw a crowd of hundreds (!) to the Molotow: Some of the stories written by nightlife are almost too good to be true.

So the first band I saw were a Belgian outfit called The Tellers, playing at the beautiful Prinzenbar. The blokes themselves were moderately attractive and their up-beat indie pop/rock was, well, solid, but not outstanding. I could spare the time to see about 15 minutes of their set. Anything more might have gotten a tad boring, so I made sure I got in the queue at the Imperial Theater to catch a seat (!) for the upcoming Brasstronaut show. They were my only must-see for Thursday, and actually one of the few bands where sitting during the set looks like a good idea. It allows you to lose yourself in their brass-and-piano-driven dream pop even better. Also I should perhaps explain that the Imperial Theater is a theatre in fact and they are currently staging Edgar Wallace’s ‘The Terror’, so maybe the props were a bit spooky, but that’s just one of the things you have to love about Reepfest, right?

I'm glad I didn't have to stand up there … those figures on stage freaked me out!

After the usual slight fuck-up at some after-show parties and competing events, I was fresh and ready for Friday. My first band were Der Ringer, a local act that’s been on my agenda for a while now. Their spheric indie/electro continues a Hamburg tradition of thoughtful German lyrics, only theirs are genuinely touching instead of over-intellectualised, so I’d definitely say to watch out for these young lads.

At least as cute as their music sounds: Cloud Control

Next stop was a club with the beautiful name Uebel & Gefährlich (= Nasty & Dangerous), located in a former bomb shelter. Here was where I watched parts of the set by Apparat Band. I just recently heard from an English friend that he knew Apparat and I was instantly proud that there were other German musicians of international fame, apart from just Rammstein. I’m really not very deep into the electro scene that is. What Sascha Ring and his band played was not very electronic anymore, which maybe contributed to how very much I liked their music. I’ve been listening to some of his freshly pressed release ‘The Devil’s Walk’, but not enough to judge it yet.

Up next where Cloud Control at the neighbouring Knust. I’ve previously told you of how their performance at Hurricane drowned, and was quite happy to have the positive-spirited Australians back playing a whole set this time, as the songs off their appropriately titled ‘Bliss Release’ were bliss in fact.

Moving faster than the light: Alexei Perry of Handsome Furs.

I could just stay at the club, for the next artist were Handsome Furs. I had wanted to see these two for some years now, having met them last time they played at the Molotow when I was in charge of the catering. Back then I had been unable to attend the show itself, but this time nothing kept me, and their energetic set did not disappoint. It was in fact hard to take a proper photo, as especially Alexei Perry darted up and down behind her synths at the speed of light. Somehow I found a flash that gave the pictures some kind of aesthetic touch.

We ended the concert-going part of the night at the Docks, watching the first bits of The Rifles‘ performance. I even caught one of the early songs from back when I still liked them. The only thing that keeps me emotionally attached to this group is the fact they were the first band I ever saw at the Molotow, which has been my second home for years and I will never get over the fact that exactly 5 years after that Rifles show, they played the Molotow again – and I was in England. :,-(

I was about to say that the best part of Reeperbahn Festival is the after-show parties, but that’s just not fair. However, they do add a lot to the fun of the whole thing. Especially as this year, they had a Silent Disco aka Headphone Disco on one of the outdoor stages. I may have talked of this phenomenon in the Hurricane article; however, I’m sure it came without photos. This time, though, I managed to catch some impressions of people dancing with idiotic smiles to music only they can hear, gazed at by laughing tourists who crawl along Spielbudenplatz, guarded by the buildings of Reeperbahn and their fluorescent lights. There was a sense of peace to this that is hard to explain.

The city is our playground. (And I may be a copywriter after all.)

It is also a bit hard to explain why my friend and I ended up in the audience of Ray Cokes’ Reeperbahn Revue the next day, being broadcast live on NDR without my knowledge, but yeah, it was her idea, and we got free cd’s and beer. Ray Cokes, for those who don’t know, was a 1990s MTV presenter. Now he is 53 and apparently very horny. But he’s English, so I don’t mind ;-). We had a great laugh and oh, the entry was also free for wristband holders. Here‘s a link to the show; it’s entirely in English, there’s performances of amazing artists such as Dikta from Iceland, Francis International Airport from Austria, and Yoav, who is from everywhere it seems, and we are trying to write a song made up of lines by the audience. And there’s free drinks served by Jesus and Mary. I’ll surely be back next year!

After that I met up for dinner with the lovely guys in Airship, who were to play later that evening. They’re a band from Manchester who I ironically met in Hamburg the day after I returned from Manchester. However, after that I first had to carry out a tiny family reunion at the Große Freiheit 36, because some friends and my sister for some reasons planned on attending the Audiolith label night in its entirety, spending the whole day at that bloody club to watch German electro punk.

Captain Capa instantly made you want to call for an early emo revival.

I only came for the first act of that night, Captain Capa, because they were shiny and new and I had seen everyone else off their label a hundred times, and if not, that’s probably because I didn’t want to. Moreover, by singing in English, unlike most of their labelmates, the young duo sounded more like a heart-wrenching version of 2007’s Cobra Starship (I still think ‘The City is at War‘ is a modern classic) than like wannabe Deichkinds such as Frittenbude and what-have-you.

Captain Capa were convincing for the first couple of songs, then I got bored (my attention span is –) and left for Dear Reader at next door’s Grünspan. I liked them, but didn’t catch more than the last couple of songs. Then again, that was enough. I mean, club hopping is half the fun at festivals like these. Besides, it was already time to return to the Knust and see Airship. Considering they only just released their debut album a couple of weeks ago, they were surprisingly secure on stage and not for no reason seem to get constantly compared to Biffy Clyro (maybe also because they toured with them).

One of my better festival snapshots goes to Airship

I then had to quickly hurry over to the Molotow to catch Fixers, one of the bands I’ve been most looking forward to, and also one of those annoying acts that just have one EP out. Of course I had brought my bike along to make sure I didn’t waste time walking to venues. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of Striving Vines, but this time for the first time the door guy told me the club was packed and I couldn’t get in. (I hear people moaning about that a lot in relation to Reepfest and I always thought that was because they were trying to see only the big acts, but I personally hadn’t even known Striving Vines before my exhaustive listening sessions preceding the festival, so I reckon I’d just been lucky so far.)

The first of my two highlights: Fixers from England

But at least now I had some time to slip into the Molotow and catch a spot in the first row, mainly because I always feel sorry for the band when people don’t dare to move up close. Besides it’s a good photo-taking position.

Also, the Fixers gig put me in the curious situation when you’re one of two people in the club who actually know the record and sort of try to half sing along just to piss everyone off because they’ll think they’d been missing something. To be honest, my knowledge of Fixers is also the result of those pre-listening sessions, my best idea ever. I mean, it’s sort of frustrating to listen to those five or six songs over and over, knowing you won’t get much more before January, but then again they don’t seem like they’ll get old very soon. While their latest single ‘Swimmhaus Johannisburg’ reminds me of a chilled-out version of Baddies, they usually navigate somewhere between Vampire Weekend, Friendly Fires and Caribou, though I doubt that gives you an actual idea of what they sound like. All I know is they’ve got hooks that make me want to kneel down.

My own little personal heart definitely belongs to this band.

I was actually going to buy that EP after the show, even though I had to run to get to My Heart Belongs To Cecilia Winter in time, but as there was no merchandise, I’ll probably just wait till January and get the album (I don’t usually buy EP’s).

I don’t know how I managed, but I arrived at the Prinzenbar before My Heart Belongs To Cecilia Winter had started. Of course the place was packed, merely leaving me to stand by the bar in the back, but as the set proceeded people left and I could press through. I mean, I doubt anyone in there was more obsessed with them than me; I even stuck around until they gave me a setlist. I still don’t realise why no one seems to know this band. OK, they are Swiss, and the opening song ‘I Made You A Tape’ featured the unforgettable line ‘Switzerland is a hell without a fire’, but for some reason their flamboyant singer’s pronunciation is perfectly American.

One of the babyfaces in Flashguns.

Anyway, I had been living with and loving their debut album ‘Our Love will cut through Everything’ for a year and seeing them live actually just made me love them more. I mean, how can you resist someone who comes on stage wearing feathers and a mask of golden glitter? And the girl even spoke Swiss German between songs, whereupon the singer told us we were allowed to laugh. Oh, and yes, those figures in the back are angels of stone. Only they aren’t props this time. It’s the Prinzenbar, baby ;-). And did I speak about an emo revival? While Cecilia Winter’s music rather reminds one of Arcade Fire in an emotional outburst, they have definitely come up with lyrics and especially an album title that makes me nostalgic for that part of my youth when bands would name their songs ‘I’ve got a dark alley and a bad idea that says you should shut your mouth (Summer song)’.

And this was almost the end of my festival. Well, almost. I was going to see 206, but then it was just too late and the Jäger too far away, so I ended up at the Molotow again (like every night, and not just during Reeperbahn Festival), where they almost wouldn’t have let me in either, and saw the rest of Flashguns‘ performance. They came with a certain hype – almost everyone I’d talked to said they wanted to see them, including the guys in Airship – and certainly didn’t disappoint, but I had just seen two of the most exciting bands of the moment and I wouldn’t say Flashguns went down as one of those. Yet. I mean, judging by their faces, these guys are about 15, and for their tender age they definitely know how to play long blues-y solos.

So despite my tiredness and lack of alcohol level, I kept it up for a while at the Silent Disco once more and spent the rest of the night and morning at the Molotow, then rode my bike home at about six, which always proves it’s been a good night. And also makes me feel glad that I’m back in Germany. (Looking at it like this, I’d always trade in Youtube videos for longer opening hours.)

Good night, Reeperbahn Festival! See you next year…

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