It was all I could do to contain my excitement as I boarded the 7am plane bound for Hamburg, Germany. As I took my seat amongst the professional music journalists, uncharacteristically subdued from reviewing bands just mere hours before, it dawned on me the enormity of what I was taking on. Since its inception eight years ago, the Reeperbahn Festival has expanded to serve up for our aural and visual delectation, over 350 international newcomers running the musical gamut from folk, pop, rock, to hip-hop, classical and soul, alongside more than 50 events showcasing film, literature, art, conferences and guided tours. I was going to be taking my place amongst 2,800 industry experts, also flying in from 35 countries, and realised I had better buckle up baby, as it was going to be a busy time ahead.Usually to be found directing and producing her documentaries in far flung locations such as San Francisco, Tokyo and Timbuktu, Eva Stotz was preparing to catch a train from her home city of Berlin to join me in Hamburg. Instead of packing the usual flight cases with heavy filming equipment, she had decided to travel light and experiment with shooting from the hip using the FiLMiC Pro App on her iphone, clipped to a Manfrotto Monopod, coupled with an iRig Mic to capture sounds.
Armed and ready with Eva’s new filming set up, my notebook, pen and camera we hit the notorious red-light district of the Reeperbahn, on the hunt to capture the off beat and left of field that tickled our fancies and sparked up excitement. The festival was spread across 70 venues, clustered within and around the Reeperbahn. A plethora of free open air stages, beer slinging bars and sizzling sausage stands took over its centre. Music seeped down the artery streets, washing the area in sounds from noon till the early hours. With such an abundance on offer, it quickly became clear which had us covering our ears and running for the hills crying out “dear God nooo!!!”, while others had us jumping up and punching the air, shouting “hell yeah!”.
LFNT: We found ourselves up close and personal to the Israeli band LFNT, as they took over the postage stamp sized stage, less than an arm’s stretch away. Relishing the attention from the sardine packed crowd, they ripped into their short and definitely not sweet set from their debut album Tales of a Drunken Man. Packing out the spit and sawdust bar to the gills, lead singer Ran Nir urged one and all to step right up and stamp the floor in unison. As he sweated rakish charisma across us, the keyboard player cut loose and played for all he was worth. As they finished up and caroused into the night, we were left in no doubt that great things are destined for them in the rock and roll hall of fame.
Kate Nash: Having announced boldly that she has taken control of her musical direction, and self-released her third album Girl Talk, there was a palpable buzz in the air surrounding Kate Nash’s performance. We all so wanted her to stand tall and shine brightly, as a beacon to young girls searching for alternative role models to the barely-clad, booty shaking, fawning pop muppets. But alas, it was not meant to be. Despite the all female band, and rallying calls over sexual inequalities in the music industry, Kate’s stage presence could not muster a truly dangerous punk swagger and edgy attitude. We left disappointed, feeling it had been a show of psychobilly style over substance.
James Blunt: The choice of James Blunt as the headliner had us all scratching our heads. We could not fathom, after selling over 17 million albums, and capturing the yearning hearts of countless housewives, why he would wish to play at the small-scale Schmidst-Tivoli theatre? The plush decor provided an intimate setting, emanating ghostly wafts from its dining tables, conjuring images of variety shows from bygone eras. James bounded on stage and cut straight into previewing songs from his latest album Moon Landing. He raced from tear-inducing pathos on the piano, to surprisingly virile guitar strumming solos, adding a frisson of guilty sexy pleasure to the set. However we never managed to get past the ultra smooth polish and professional delivery, to feel we were sharing in a genuinely soul baring exchange.
In stark contrast, we arrived with minimal expectations at the club headCRASH, and were instantly plunged into the mellifluous sounds of FilosofischeStilte. We stood in a darkened room, spines tingling as the red strobes picked out a hazy figure, emerging from the smoke. Standing alone on a bare stage, lost in the solitude of composition, he effortlessly interwove his hands like poetry in motion, over a small Roland SP404SX sampler. He teased us with pulsing drum and bass notes, surprised with sparkling light electronic tones, before splintering into hip hop beats, to sculpt a soundscape of his own making. At just 20 years old and hailing from the Netherlands, Luuk Graham aka FilosofischeStilte, is causing a stir with his Ill Chronicles EP. Stumbling out into the night air, stunned and in awe, we could see why DJ Broadcast Magazine have singled him out as one of the most promising artists of 2013.
Josef Salvat: Sydney-born and now London resident Josef Salvat has been spreading intrigue with his launch singles This Life and Hustler. Curious to delve deeper into his dark and twisted desires, we joined the devotees sat on the floor, with crowds outside pressed up against the window pane, watching on in their adoration. Josef struck an angular pose, instantly commanding our attention, and then proceeded to move jerkily, writhing in a possessed manner reminiscent of Jarvis Coker. The music draws heavily from the right side of the 1980s, harking back to Kraftwerk, Gary Newman, The Human League, updated with an electrically charged over current of sleazy, salacious beats matched with anguished lyrics. There is much press hype building steam under Joesf’s wings, with weighty comparisons to Morrissey and Lana del Ray. We eagerly joined them to throw our hats into the ring, and watch with bated breath as he soars to greater heights.
Robert Delong: In our final early hours, we followed the crowds streaming away from the Reeperbahn, to catch a ride on the U-Bahn underground train to the legendary Knust music venue. Word had got out that this was a show not to be missed. Diligently pushing through the throngs, we took position at the front, eager not to miss a single precious moment. The stage was set, with miked up drum kits and samplers a go go, and a console joystick and wii remote for added reverb effects. Robert ran onto the stage, wearing his trademark black t-shirt emblazoned with a neon orange X, and proceeded to shout, squeal, bang and thrash about. Initially swept away by the anticipation, I came to a standstill as I realised he was playing like a child in a toy shop, clinking and clanging everything that caught his eye. Lacking in any finesse or subtlety, this was the soundtrack for a bull in a china shop, leaving us bemused by what the fuss over the emperor’s new clothes had been about.
After a final hug from Eva I headed on my way back to London. Arriving at the check in I was left in no doubt that I was about to board a rock star plane. The queue stretched out before me filled with the bands I had been reviewing the night before, sporting an assortment of dark shades, stone washed skinnies, fedora hats, biker jackets and a natty line in pattern knitted jumpers only young Hoxtonites can carry off.
‘My goal is to be one with the music. I just dedicate my whole life to this art’ –Jimi Hendrix