Berlin Festival – Germany
As you enter the old main building of Tempelhof Airport, immaculately preserved and complete with a departures board listing the festival running order, as well as stewards dressed up as air hostesses wishing you “Guten Flug!”, the intentions of Berlin Festival 2013 are clear: it wants to transport you. Reinforcing the theme of travel was the line-up, full of bands seeking to take you back in time, if not space: Britpop giants whose sound arguably defined a decade; modern-day post-punk revivalists; ageless experimental divas; a label celebrating a decade of dominance; and 80s synthpop kings on the comeback trail. With two days of stunning weather forecast, a historic location, and a crowd desperate to make hay in the last of Berlin’s summer sunshine, the stage was set.
My Friday afternoon began with the widescreen balladry of Get Well Soon. Lead singer Konstantin Gropper , smartly-dressed in a three-piece suit, lent his rich baritone and doe-eyed swagger to proceedings, imbuing their songs with a sardonic wit and sense of foreboding that was compelling, if not a little repetitive. Meanwhile, Dumme Junge took the concept of ‘watch us press play on other people’s music’ to a new level, mixing electro and dubstep with an assaulting light show and arm guards that lit up when the wearer moved his arms around, which seemed designed to make up for any lack of musical performance.
Similarly, the aesthetically-focused set of Pet Shop Boys on the Main Stage was also all about the ‘experience’, with the majority of the backing music clearly automated in order to allow the duo to focus on their many (many) costume changes. That’s not to say the crowd didn’t eat it up; the Boys’ post-camp electro pop was well-suited to such an over-the-top performative style, and despite everything, the show was kind of fabulous. Classics like “West End Girls” and “Vocal” as well as a cover of The Village People’s “Go West” went down a treat.
At the other end of the spectrum (and festival area) was Tomahawk, the genre-bending project of Mike Patton that also counts percussive god (and part-time Berlin resident) John Stanier amongst its members. Stretching the limits of his vocal delivery and taking it to places that only he can, Patton’s onstage movements were like a liquid inversion of his voice, all groove and twist in contrast to his gruff barks and peircing yelps. Stanier on the other hand, looked like he was constantly fighting against a glue that bound him to his instrument, pounding out his unmatchably loud rhythms in a way that appeared compulsive and instinctive, and feeling all the more vital for it. Unfortunately, that’s about all you could hear, with the muddy sound of the Pitchfork Stage (a problem that would prove to haunt the stage for the rest of the festival) all but drowning out the guitar and bass players.
Closing the airport-based part of the festival for the night was the well-oiled hit parade that is Blur. I mean that in the best possible way: for close to 90 minutes the lads from London delivered a perfectly-executed set of their grade-A material, opening with “Girls and Boys” and running through “Beetlebum”, “Coffee and TV”, “Tender”, “Country House”, “Parklife” (which included the requisite Phil Daniels cameo, who came on clad in a German football jersey) and “The Universal”, among others, before climaxing with a comically short version of the already brief “Song 2”, ending right on the stroke of midnight. Needless to say, the crowd left for the shuttle buses feeling high in spirit and hoarse of voice.
The action continued a short bus ride away over at the Arena club complex, where the first night of Club Xberg got underway with Monkeytown affiliate Siriusmo, filling in for Röyksopp. It’s a shame that his considerable skills were seen by so few people, as the venue took its time filling up, but by the end of his mosaic-like set he’d drawn in a healthy crowd. Nearby, in the cosy Arena Club, Pilo laid on some 80s euphoria with a kick, full of relentlessly upbeat synths and thumping beats that had limbs flying and drinks spilling (thanks, random guy in army fatigues). Back at the Main Stage, French cult performer Miss Kittin graced the stage with a striking and charismatic live show, while Vjuan Allure held down the Glashaus with an array of elite beats and the help of an ensemble of dancers bent on coaxing the crowd into action. Exhausted, I had to call it quits a bit early, with one eye on the next day’s festivities, but by all accounts the much-anticipated sets from Boys Noize and Maxim delivered the excellence their pedigree would have you expect.
Photography: Stephen Flad