Berlin Festival – Germany
Come Saturday, and the festival was able to maintain its 100% great weather record, with blue skies and balmy temperatures providing the ideal environment for live music consumption. After wandering around the wonderfully weird Art Village for a while, I stumbled across Is Tropical on the Pitchfork Stage, who sounded a bit like what Kings of Leon might if they’d accidentally discovered synths minus their instruction manuals. Quickly moving on, Alin Coen Band provided soothing relief, with the pleasant, vaguely jazzy vibes of the band complementing Coen’s piercing vocals nicely.
Thankfully, due to the Zippo Encore Stage’s schedule being pushed back around 90 minutes, I was able to catch the entirety of Matias Aguayo and the District Union. Born in Chile but having played an integral part in the Cologne scene since the 90s, Aguayo’s music felt like a perfect marriage of those two cultures, mixing Latin percussion influences with a distinct club sensibility to create propulsive, beat-driven tunes designed to set the body in motion. Add in his playful vocals, a rascally stage presence, and tasty analog synth textures, and it made for the perfect mix to ease us into the long night ahead.
On the other side of the Coin of Self-Seriousness were Savages. Bringing to life the post-punk revivalism of their excellent debut Silence Yourself, the London-based quartet’s performance was driven by moody, swaggering basslines, frenetic drums, and suitably distorted licks. While you might wish they’d lighten up a little, it’s undeniable that they have an imposing and captivating stage presence, dominating the crowd’s attention for the entirety of their slot.
Up next was My Bloody Valentine, returning to the city in which they recorded their debut EP in 1984.Walking out onto a stage where amps outnumbered band members by at least 5 to 1, the band received a rapturous reception, and set immediately to work in justifying the crowd’s adoration. Powering through a well-balanced set of cleansing noise that included the likes “Only Shallow” and “When You Sleep” as well as cuts from m b v, their first album in 21 years, Kevin Shields and co. were clinical amongst the haze, blending layers upon layers of blissful guitars with ethereal vocals and swaying drums, all at crushing volume.
Then it was time for Björk, whose closing show was both her only German gig and final stop on the lengthy Biophilia tour. Ahead of the performance, the audience were asked not to take any photos or make recordings, a request that would prove to be as much for the crowd themselves as for those onstage. For what transpired was the kind of show not to be rewatched later but witnessed firsthand, a perfect storm of outlandish visuals, phenomenal percussion, soaring choral harmonies and self-effacing dance numbers. And that’s without mentioning the force of nature that is Björk herself: wide-eyed with enthusiasm even after over 20 years in the biz, pitch-perfect despite being at the end of a long tour. Containing the choicest cuts from Biophilia, which had a vitality live not found on record, as well as classics like “Joga”, “Army of Me”, “Hyperballad” and “Declare Independence”, the show was basically perfect.
By the time I got to Club XBerg at Arena, the Ed Banger showcase was in full swing courtesy of the bombastic electro and glossy house of Breakbot, who spun tracks solo as well as with the help of a deliciously funky backing band. While Busy P followed up with a megamix of the label’s banger-laden back catalogue, Claptone kept the mood sexy from behind his trademark Venetian mask with his slinky amalgam of disco and house. Needing a breather, I regrouped in Glashaus, where Disco Chinesisch‘s elaborate game of DJ relay was perpetually on the go, essentially consisting of a bunch of local DJs trying to outperform each other in a game of ‘pick the perfect 90s R&B song’. Feeling refreshed for one last twist of the ‘ol hips, I returned to the Mainstage just in time for the beginning of Justice‘s DJ set. Unsurprisingly, the Parisian duo absolutely killed it, working the packed crowd into a frenzy with a mix of their own tunes and pop classics from any decade you care to imagine. As it sent us us off into the dawn on a wave of euphoric nostalgia, it also functioned as a symbolically apt way to cap off the festival as a whole: a mix of carefree fun and upbeat vibes, featuring a host of past pop royalty and a smattering of their potential future heirs. Bring on Berlin Festival 2014!
Photography: Stephen Flad