I am not, it must be said, a huge fan of festivals. Being stuck in a field with a bunch of drug addled hippies, trying to coordinate a large group of friends, all with different opinions of who the ‘must see’ act is and suffering from hay fever, sunstroke, and diarrhoea contracted from dodgy veggie burgers sold to a captive audience at prices that would make Donald Trump’s eyes water, is not my idea of fun. However the Berlin Festival at the Alte Poststadion, almost, made a convert of me.
The madding crowd was of moderate size and, at least on day two of the festival, in a chilled out mood. All of the features that make festival going apparently such a pleasure, the queues for the bar, the piquant scent of the portaloos, obtrusive commercial sponsorship (Nil, Nokia, Vice) were in place but the large velvet jester hats had, thankfully, been left at home. The scale and setting were just right, the Lehrter bahnoff is not always the easiest place to make a quick escape from but at least doesn’t require hitching down the Autobahn with a rucksack full of bent tent pegs and soggy canvas. The two stages provided enough variety without overwhelming the crowd with impossible choices.
Resplendent in matching red tracksuits Datarock, the Norwegian multi-instrumentalists Fredrik Saroea and Ket-ill, hit the main stage around six p.m. Having recruited another three musicians to their ranks, they at times seemed intent on resurrecting the mouldy corpse of Jazz funk. They refused to leave the stage until we all danced ‘the running man’ and sang along ‘simon says’ style to FaFaFa (soon to be featured in a Coca Cola ad). The crowd duly obliged and the distorted math rock that found its way into the mix, along with the band’s obvious enthusiasm, meant their choreographed stage antics and colour co-ordinated appearance never seemed embarrassing – a risk given the early hour, the crowd’s relative sobriety and the deadening effects of daylight.
Here, in a nutshell, was the dilemma of festivalism. It is hard to determine whether the set was a genuine ‘peak experience’ for band or audience or just a showcase, one of a competing set of essentially disposable attractions from an outfit professional enough to conceal their indifference with a series of rehearsed ‘spontaneous’ gestures and enthusiastic stage craft. The jury remains out on this but in the case of Datarock the performance was seamless.
Over at the VICE stage The Presets were struggling with a ‘lack of power on the phantom sub’ as my companion for the evening’s festivities, Miss Kelli-Jean Drinkwater (the presiding queen of London’s clubbing demi-monde and hostess of the notorious Hoxton clubnight Antisocial) was posing for photographs and giving interviews. Asked by a VICE TV cameraman what she thought of their magazine she conjured the phrase “Hoxton assholes” before disappearing into the growing cloud of dry ice that was reflected in an assortment of over-sized mirrored aviator shades and tainting the crowd’s fashionable haircuts with the unmistakable aroma of liquid nitrogen.
The Presets hail from Sydney but have been living here in Berlin as they complete the final leg of their European tour. Julian Hamilton stationed himself behind a modest array of vintage synths as Kimberly Moyes hammered out a rhythm on the drums. Their sound had an arch, electro infected post-disco bleep fest feel which cohered around strong song structures reminiscent of the Faint. Lasers strafed the appreciative crowd who, it seemed, were not yet too fashionable to dance.
Stationed either side of the stage, stern faced security repelled a giant black inflatable ball, emblazoned with a Nokia logo, that was bouncing around the audience adding the festive mood. The classically trained duo, whose debut Beams (Modular) set the British scene alight in 2005, played a set fizzing with energy which included the singles Are you the one? and Down,Down,Down. Their remix album Resets is available as a digital only release from iTunes and is sure to find favour with dirty dancers and fashion victims everywhere.
We bailed early to catch some of the Go Team’s set on the main stage. Miss Drinkwater was distinctly underwhelmed by the Team’s energetic but not altogether inspired set. It was, she opined, music that she had tried hard to like but never really understood what all the fuss was about and sadly I had to concur.
The Team’s six strong line-up includes two drummers and whilst Ian Parton’s (the Team’s leader) avowed intention of creating music incorporating “Sonic Youth-style guitars, Double Dutch chants, and car chase horn music” promises some intriguing possibilities the reality didn’t quite catch fire as Kaori Tsuchida’s feisty stage presence was let down by her distinctly average vocal abilities. The sound of Funkadelic being heckled by the spice girls failed to find favour with my ears and as a melodica was produced they began to resemble a group of avant-garde cheerleaders rapping along to Martha and the Muffins. Mistaking their final track for the longest middle eight in the history of pop we fled back to the Vice stage. The Go Team’s new album, Proof of Youth (Sub pop) is, no doubt, sailing up the charts as I write.
Uffie and DJ Feadz were doing their Grime thing. The bouncy horse, vibrating in time on its coiled spring, at least appeared to be having a good time but the sense of a bargain basement Princess Superstar was hard to dispel despite the appreciative crowd.
The mediocrity of their set proved something of a blessing in disguise as it wasn’t hard to pull ourselves away for Peaches, headlining back at the main stage.
Joined by 2manyDJs as well as assorted members of occasional backing group The Herms, Miss Nisker promised (and delivered) a number of surprises during her intense set.
Rapping along to Lou Reed’s Vicious while the band set up, night was falling fast and the crowd were soon whipped into an expectant frenzy by Peaches lewd innuendo. Any fears that her highly sexualized schtick might have grown a little tired were quickly dispelled as Peaches made her appearance in a purple kimono, big hair and drag queen makeup.
Barely one song into her set and she was climbing the scaffold on either side of the stage and then, during Lovertits, balancing on the shoulders of the rapturous crowd.
Disrobing to reveal a Turkish Delight/ I dream of Jeanie combo of sparkly hot pants and halter top, she was joined by two sexy keytarists and then later, for Rockshow, strapped on a black flying V – demonstrating that the guitar remains one of the most potent sexual accessories in her toy cupboard.
All of her many costume changes were accomplished on stage, whilst singing and without missing a beat. The set culminated with The Teaches of Peaches and from the riser Miss Nesker commandeered a drumstick and smashing away at the cymbals, asked the crowd if we were ready for some magic, then proceeded to ‘swallow’ said drumstick whole.
Clad in a black cape, with her triple X logo, a triumphant Peaches reluctantly denied the hungry crowd an encore citing concerns over noise curfews.
My companion, confirmed that Miss Nisker still made her “panties go ping” but sadly the competing attractions of White Trash, a 3am photoshoot and Berghain conspired to keep us from the aftershow party.