Festival Season 2012: Reeperbahn Festival, Hamburg (DE)

King Charles during their free afternoon performance on Spielbudenplatz (© D. Prahl)


Unneccessary to introduce, Reeperbahn Festival has become Germany’s most important annual meet-up for the music industry that bands, delegates and fans from all over the world flock to. Ever growing in size, both regarding the number of venues and crowd sizes, this year’s sold out festival comprised 60 locations welcoming 25,000 visitors, all of this happening on or in the vicinity of the ‘red mile’ Reeperbahn in Hamburg-St. Pauli. Of course this was a must-not-miss event for our team of writers, and we threw ourselves into the three-day gig marathon with enthusiasm and cameras. Here is what we liked, disliked, discovered – and who we hung out backstage with …


Redheadess: The first band I went to see on Thursday were Capital Cities from L.A., who were playing Molotow with a capacity of 300. I’d just read the few words that were written about them in the festival booklet and decided to see what everyone was queueing for, half an hour before the band was supposed to play. And they surely didn’t disappoint me: Though the club was absolutely packed and hot as hell, and I was standing in the very back, I could see enough. With their ugly aloha shirts – all of them totally rocked –, a trumpet, and overdimensional sunglasses, they enchanted the whole audience with their summer feelings straight from California. They opened with an unexpected, almost happy version of Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares To You’ and closed with Madonna’s ‘Holiday’. Their own songs are electropoppy, danceable songs, the two singers Ryan Merchant (who reminded me of 2008-era Gabe Saporta) and Sebu Simonian brought their own dance steps on stage and made us sing along to catchy phrases such as ‘I Sold My Bed And Not My Stereo’ or ‘Love, Just Love Away’. It didn’t get boring once and suddenly the set was over. A perfect start to look forward to the rest of the festival!

What would Occupy say? Johann Van Der Smut playing in a branch bank. (© S. Prahl)

Redheadess: The most interesting venue for the weekend must have been the Haspa branch on Reeperbahn. It’s actually a bank, so it’s not really comfortable and doesn’t give you that concert feeling, but it’s interesting! The band I went to see there were Johann Van Der Smut, named after an Austin Powers character, who’d already opened for Kakkmaddafakka. They played some German indie-punk-pop stuff in the vein of 1000 Robota. Some lyrics found their way into my head and stuck there for a few more hours, and so did their faces – they showed up at Molotow later. It was a good set, with an audience interested enough to stay, but not enthusiastic enough to dance. I would’ve gone to see them on Friday, too, when they played Molotow Bar, but I had other bands to watch.

Blur? That’s a photoshop filter, innit? Graham Coxon took it easy. (© S. Prahl)

Redheadess: In order to be in the front for Kakkmaddafakka’s set, my friend and I went to Docks earlier to see Graham Coxon, who I personally wanted to see anyway. Before the set, as the host asked us who had heard of Blur, only a few cheers were to be heard and I was seriously appalled at so little feedback. It turned out to be a lot more people than those who had raised their voices, since the mood was so light that even Graham, after the first half hour, started smiling and joking around. For example, when one male fan in the first row, who knew every single lyric to every single song, shouted “I love you!!” a few times, Graham looked closer to check if that guy wasn’t that one stalker he used to have. Another boy had most definitely his night, if not his life, made by being allowed to toss the CD of his own band on stage (‘It’s only accepted when chucked!’) and into Graham’s hands, who promised to take a listen.

A crazy bunch (but you could tell from their name, aye?): Kakkmaddafakka from Norway. (© S. Prahl)

Redheadess: The last band to play the venue were Kakkmaddafakka from Norway, the indie-party-pop collective I’d already seen at Hurricane Festival. The sound was just fine this time, thank God. Once again, the five boys, two of them brothers, lured the teenage-girl front row and the rest of the audience in with their catchy upbeat songs, the huge flag, the three background singers/dancers, the hyperactive keyboarder Mr Jones and, in the end, a lot of naked torsos. They played one or two new songs that were just as good as the stuff from their debut, made the older songs stuck in my head for hours and hours after, and even covered ‘This Is How We Do It’ by Montell Jordan. Just as entertaining as the songs themselves were the instrumental intermissions, in which all eight of the guys were just randomly dancing around on stage so you didn’t even know where to look first. Kakkmaddafakka shows are just so much fun live and I still regret not having seen them at a headliner show but only at festivals so far.


Nobody told them landfill bands ought to split after album #2: The View from Dundee. (© S. Prahl)

Redheadess: As about six different bands started at 7:30 pm on Friday, I decided to go watch The View at Grünspan and found myself queueing when there was absolutely no need to queue. I easily slipped into the second row and soon found Pete and another friend of mine. The Scottish four-piece’s show was nothing special, to be honest, and I hadn’t expected anything special, either. While I had totally forgotten to ever listen to their last two albums, I spent the first 40 minutes waiting for a song I knew and was proper disappointed when they only played ‘Same Jeans’ and ‘Superstar Tradesman’ from their debut, and ‘Shock Shock Horror’ and even ‘Realisation’ from their follow-up ‘Which Bitch?’, probably their best album to date. Singer Kyle and bassist Kieren took turns at singing the lead, which was nice. And if you thought other people were hard to understand, please try to make out any word Kyle Falconer has ever said that night – because I couldn’t.

Others play gigs, they perform steamy hip-hop operas: Dutch collective The Kyteman Orchestra (© D. Prahl)

Belle Brummell: I can’t recall the last time I was truly awed at a gig – as in, open-mouthed and bereft of words – before I stumbled into The Kyteman Orchestra‘s performance at Fliegende Bauten, a venue I hadn’t been to before. After walking in from behind the left side of the stage I was greeted by an at least twenty-people-strong collective, including a brass section, a string quartet, a few rappers and a choir of about ten to twelve young people in the back of the stage. Clothed in sparse yellow light and artificial smoke clouds, they performed a breathtaking clash of classical music, hip-hop, jazz and soul, which at no point really seemed like a clash but much more, if surprisingly, like a coherent whole, all of it conducted (and I literally mean conducted, because this orchestra really deserves its name) by mastermind Colin “Kyteman” Benders. I sure did not know I needed this in my life, but boy, how I do.

Typical rock-pose for a duo, yeah! Canadian garage outfit Japandroids (© M. Weiher)

petepelican: Some duos are much heavier and more energetic on stage than four- or fievepiece bands. Japandroidsare one of them and when I saw the two big Marshall stacks in the background I knew it would get really loud. The two guys intruduced themselves as Brian and David and started the show with the words: “We have a short time so we’ll play as many songs as we can”, and so they did. They rushed through their set with loud, distorted guitar riffs and onrushing drums and gave us 50 minutes of pure garage rock. Towards the end they had a little “band meeting” onstage to add one cover song to their set, because they had been too fast. A good decision watching something new instead of fun. for the second time!

Paparazzi get the ‘soon’ look: Bonaparte’s Tobias Jundt with fans (or bodyguards?) outside Schmidt’s Theater. (© D. Prahl)

Redheadess: New York’s chart-crashers fun. played twice on Friday, the first time at Ray’s Reeperbahn Revue, where we almost missed them, the second time at Große Freiheit 36.
Arriving at Schmidt’s Theater, where the Revue took place, my friend and I came ten minutes late, and didn’t get in, even though Belle was occupying two more seats for us. We didn’t back down, though, and waited 40 minutes for something to happen, for people to come out so we could take their seats, or for the security to become nice and let us in for whatever reason. All that happened was Bonaparte band members randomly going in and out, messing around with each other and with the security girls. They’d already played the Revue, and we’d missed them, too, unfortunately. All it needed for us to become important enough to get in was my friend Annie mentioning her horse to singer Tobi (he remembered her and her horse from Highfield Festival, where they’d talked about it already), who then asked us why we weren’t inside. As we told him we didn’t get in because it was too full, he shooed us in, saying we’re with him, and that was it. We broke down on the first steps that led down to the stage, behind Bonaparte keyboarder Uri and drummer Mo cuddling, just in time to hear ‘Some Nights’ and ‘We Are Young’. And Tobi was our hero of the day.

Sticking it to the critic who referred to them as ‘Disney kitsch’: fun.’s Nate Ruess. (© S. Prahl)

After watching The View, I hurried to Große Freiheit 36, where I didn’t have to queue at all, to my surprise. Belle and Annie were already in first row, watching Redweik, a band from Germany that played before fun. The latter played a good set, singer Nate Ruess was either drunk or hyperactive or bursting with adrenaline or just really happy, you could see it in his jumping around, the winks, the grins. And the others were happy, too. They played more songs off their second album ‘Some Nights’, probably to please the crowd, and a cover of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ by the Rolling Stones. To Belle’s and my disappointment, once again they didn’t play ‘Be Calm’ off their debut, though it’s probably the most beautiful song ever made. Nevertheless, the set was wonderful, as last time where they played a secret show at Kampnagel, only with more people singing along to ‘We Are Young’ and nothing else. I mean, I’m happy with how big they’ve become because it means they’re touring overseas, but still I wish more people would just take the time to listen to the other songs instead of just coming to the show because they know ‘that one song from the radio’.

Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino: Away from her beloved Californian home aka “The Only Place”. (© M. Weiher)

petepelican: I had always enjoyed Best Coast‘s Californian surf pop and delightful lyrics so it was about time I’d see them live. As my only must-see act of the day they did a very good job entertaining me, but they weren’t their best on this day. But as I hadn’t expected much, I wasn’t disappointed. Bethany Cosentino’s voice was really great live but it seemed she wasn’t in the right mood (maybe jetlag or so?). They also played a lot of new stuff from the second album “The Only Place”, which I don’t like as much as the first one “Crazy for You” because some of the songs are a bit too boring and monotonous. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to see them at a smaller club than Grünspan someday. I think their music might work better there.

Pink light, pink lips: Kitsuné’s Chew Lips at their first ever Hamburg show. (© M. Weiher)

petepelican: Their first time in Hamburg will probably remain a memorable one for the members of Chew Lips, especially two of them. As the three entered the stage the singer had a severed fingertip and the drummer a broken nose (hard times in Hamburg, huh?). But that doesn’t prevent them to play an awesome dance-pop show with catchy synth parts and cool bass lines. And damn is the soundsytem good at Café Keese! It definitely worked perfectly for the music of Chew Lips. Every time the drummer hit her drum pad, the whole floor was trembling. When I stood in front of the nebulized stage and heard that awesome sound I only thought: How great to finally see some club shows after the long festival period! So all in all a really danceable set, but what else should you expect from a Kitsuné band?

Bonaparte at Ray’s Reeperbahn Revue: that was with clothes still on. (© D. Prahl)

Redheadess: After a quite unsuccessful wait for the fun. band members outside, we got back in at 12 in time to see Bonaparte play. Annie and I stayed in the back to have more space to dance, and we’d already seen them live a bunch of times this year, so we knew how the show would be going.
Once again, clothes were taken off, songs of all three albums were played, there was a lot of glitter, confetti and sparkling wine showers in the end. They played ‘Quick Fix’ and ‘C’est À Moi Qu’Tu Parles?’ as non-singles off their new album, and ended their set 20 minutes before they were supposed to. Singer Tobi completely lost his mind during ‘I Can’t Dance’, one of the better album tracks off their debut, proceeded to scream ‘DANCE! DANCE! DANCE!’ over and over again and then headed into the crowd with the first stagedive I’ve seen him do (which is a reason why they didn’t play that song the next day, since it was outdoors and raining, and he would’ve most likely slipped and fallen – thanks for the information, Pete!).
After the show, Annie and I really only wanted to take a picture with the band members scattered around the venue, while the stage was disassembled again. Dancer Claire and keyboarder Uri turned out to be really nice and welcoming, asked us for our names, told us they’d recognized us from wherever, told us where they’re from and how being in a band with people from all over the world worked out at all. We were practically thrown out by the Große Freiheit staff just a minute later, and not even Uri asking whether we could stay inside did help. He then gave up and joined us outside for one, or two, or three cigarettes outside, still clad in his stage clothes, lady’s boxing shoes (size 42), ripped pants, and a lot of glitter (‘This stuff’s everywhere, on my clothes, on my skin, at home, on my cat!’). We basically talked about everything: living in Berlin, being on the road, going out, his mental connection with drummer Mo, who he’d joined the band with in 2009, his cat, Annie’s horse, signing sessions, Ray’s Reeperbahn Revue, how many times they’d played that Friday (three, they were supposed to play even four shows!), when they’d be coming back (in December), school, church, food (he brought us sandwiches from the bus! That guy’s an angel!), costume designer Justus whom we’d never met though we were supposed to, washing costumes on tour, hats, policemen and -women, and even the silences in between weren’t awkward at all. Pete joined us sometimes in between and the time ran. We’d been talking to Uri for a good two and a half hours when the band decided not to go out at all but have a last beer inside. Well, okay, we thought, so this is goodbye. But no, Uri brought us inside through the back door without any trouble, backstage at the venue, just between the dressing rooms, where Mo and bassist Carlos were having a beer as well. And again we talked. About crazy hair, festivals, Carlos’s lampshade head (by that time, dancer Lulu had also arrived, all French with his chocolate croissant and a banana), dressing rooms, bus calls, future shows and so much more. We stayed with them until bus call, brought little Uri to the tourliner safely and then tried to realise everything that just happened. It took us a bit longer.

As always in stylish glittering clothes: The Asteroids Galaxy Tour’s Mette Lindberg. (© M. Weiher)

petepelican: At last the timetable had me heading into Docks, were The Asteroids Galaxy Tour should play as one of the last bands of the day. Having seen them twice before, I knew it would be good because they’re a great live band with lots of funky basslines, organs, trumpets and a lively singer with a unique voice. Well that was a good ending for a day of good live music, but that had been nothing: Later I met my friends, who were talking to the keyboarder of Bonaparte and he took us backstage for a beer!


A good kick-start into Festival Day 3: UK art-poppers Vinyl Jacket. (© D. Prahl)
The perfect setting for intimate orchestra-pop: Einar Stray playing St. Pauli Kirche. (© D. Prahl)

Belle Brummell: “Blessed” with a 3.30 pm slot at some tacky franchise bar on Spielbudenplatz, Newcastle outfit Vinyl Jacket still managed to draw a reasonably sized crowd. However, most people were either not drunk enough to dance yet, or just awkward standing face to face with the band in lack of a stage. It certainly wasn’t due to their fast-paced indie-pop tunes full of hooks and lovely two-part falsetto vocals that the crowd was so reserved. A thoroughly entertaining performance pointing at a bright future for these young lads.

Belle Brummell: After some failed attempts to gain entry to overcrowded clubs around ‘prime time’ (ca. 11 pm), I took some back streets to St. Pauli Kirche, which I had never been to and had some smaller problems finding. Finally having found the church, and then the right door, I caught a seat on the balcony from where I had a good view of Norwegian singer-songwriter Einar Stray and his fellow musicians. With their range of instruments, including piano, violin and cello, they conjured up a beautiful, haunting sound that worked amazingly in the church setting. I sat through the entire set without wanting to leave at any point, which says something for him (my already short attention span seems halved when it comes to Reepfest, as I usually try to catch as many artists as possibly).

The perfect one-week music crush: Icona Pop from Sweden. (© D. Prahl)

Belle Brummell: Sheer ignorance had led me to miss Icona Pop‘s performance at MELT! this year, but at Reepfest their promotion team made sure every single festival-goer was aware of the girl duo’s existence by spamming the whole Kiez with posters, stickers and buttons featuring the slogans ‘I Love It’ or ‘I’m A 90s Bitch’. However, in my case their hit single ‘I Love It’ had kicked in before, and they were marked as a “dance-to-in-order-to-stay-awake” band on my schedule, playing Café Keese at 00:45. I may still have to get used to the fact electro artists rarely do anything obvious on stage to produce their music, so in between ecstatic hands-in-the-air poses (on my part) I did notice they were merely providing vocals to playback. Sooner or later one of them would bend over a controller or laptop though and eventually, it all didn’t matter that much as long as the music was fun. I didn’t even mind the set was only 30 minutes instead of the promised 45, as I had to go see Electric Guest anyway, but in comparison to Icona Pop they turned out rather a bore …

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