That was Reeperbahnfestival 2018 like – to me

No excuses, I told you about Hamburg’s Reeperbahnfestival last year and let you know that and when it is happening again. Hope you were there and enjoyed it as much as I did this year. It is been and gone and it was superbe. That was Reeperbahnfestival 2018 like – to me:

For a dedicated follower of music, the Reeperbahnfestival on St. Pauli (yep, ON is correct), Hamburg’s famous harbour quarter, is heaven – and hell at the same time, especially when you can throw in a good dose of OCD like myself. It has clearly become what the festival has been modelled on: Germany’s, if not Europe’s answer to the US’ SXSW festival. This is where music’s movers and shakers, fans and makers meet up. I said it before but like to drop it in again, just for good measure: Face the impossible with nonchalance, you will and cannot do everything at the festival even if you only concentrate on the music side of it.

For me, additional torment was in store this year, as I could only make it to the Reeperbahn by Friday afternoon. By then, the festival had been in full swing for two and a half days already. Plus I had work commitments and quite frankly: Yes, I did get sidetracked in parties and chats, in drifting and laughter, in soaking in the atmosphere in general. But that is as good a feature of the Reeperbahnfestival as any. And then the storm hit: On Friday afternoon the festival organisers decided to close down the open air venues such as Heiligengeistfeld and the Spielbudenplatz. It was just too risky. The weather did peak up again in intervals but generally myself as loads of other people seemed not so inclined to walk a lot between the venues and stayed put. And yet, it was fabulous. Thank you Reeperbahnfestival!

That was Reeperbahnfestival 2018 like - to me
Views of St. Pauli

Meeting up with my friend and colleague Sandra Zettpunkt at the well-trodden and established music venue Molotow, slapbang on the Reeperbahn, and missing each other because we used different entrances, we both enjoyed The Babe Rainbow’s set on Friday late afternoon immensely. The venue was packed, the audience was jumping, beer was consumed in large quantities already and was it any wonder, when an Australian band gave a tremendous and exhilarating and sunny and completely “down under” performance? Theirs is an amazing mix of funk and pop and psych and och, anything, melted into their version of Australian laid-back good feel. That was a brilliant start.

Time to eat, to snatch a drink and to wander around a bit and make our way to St. Michaelis, Hamburg’s landmark church, locally referred to as Michel. To be on time for Okkervil River‘s performance seemed crucial, as there was already a long queue. Stunned by the interior of this huge and impossibly imposing church, I almost missed the band turning up. Will Sheff did not look out of place under a painting of Jesus, albeit his brown suit and the glasses and greeted the audience warmly. Also clearly impressed by the church, he mentioned however, that on arrival, Okkervil River were dumbfounded because, hey, the acoustics are mighty and their set was not suitable at all for a big echoing space like this. Experienced musicians they are, though, they quickly adapted their set and everyone was treated too some classic early material, quite a few songs – to my delight – from their album “Away” – and then a few from the latest “In The Rainbow Rain”. The opulence of the latest album maybe did not allow for more songs in this environment. There was funny banter, a solo and acoustic excursion of Will Sheff through the pews of the church (even asking a dedicated fan for some lyrics he had forgotten) and some fantastic cover versions. A fairly long set for a festival and the pews became ever so hard to sit on and quite frankly I would have preferred a more intimate, more interactive environment for Okkervil River. But they left happy and so did the audience. The moment, a full moon was casting its light through one of the church windows to the sound of Okkervil River, is something I will never forget.

That was Reeperbahnfestival 2018 like - to me
Okkervil River at St. Michaelis

We got sidetracked to a party which was very enjoyable and pitied the people queuing up for Muse – the surprise act – for hours and missing out on so much. After all, not everyone got in, the venue was quickly full. Now, it is not that I have something against Muse (cough), but I was not too heartbroken to have to give their gig a miss. In all fairness, they were introducing the first songs of their new album and their live performance is said to be great.

Indeed we went for the packed and swaying and hopping Mojo Jazz Cafe to give Uns, a Berlin band, a listen. Fashion sense of the eighties combined with the Neue Deutsche Welle Sound of the same decade, huge dance and magic potential and a good laugh or two shared between the band and the audience inbetween made this very worthwhile.

The evening ended for us in the gorgeous Prinzenbar where Liza Anne and a very tight backing band (unnervingly all dressed a bit like little Playmobil builder figures) played her new sounds. I remember Liza Anne as a folksy, indie singer not unlike Sharon van Etten and was meeting the change in her music – now fast, loud, trashy, rocking – with quite some hesitance. Was there a commercial reason for this change? I would not approve at all, at all. But I had read beforehand that Liza Anne just wanted to get it out of her system, the anxieties, the depressions and clearly, the new songs were just doing that. Tremendously enjoyable.

That was Reeperbahnfestival 2018 like - to me
Liza Anne at Prinzenbar

Next day, more bands (don’t tell me what I missed out on, I cannot be everywhere at the same time because work was calling on top).  Yes, I had a super time meeting everyone from work too, so happy as Larry, we were moving on much later than anticipated, to maybe see Metronomy. Fat chance, should have queued up for that some time ago. A great stint of Field Division, a band on of my favourite labels Bella Union, had been on my radar for quite some time and they delivered their Americana tinted cloud with silver lining songs with heart and soul. Check. Wonderful.

Something completely different now at Angie’s Nightclub, a venue of some disreputable distinction (no shit, Sherlock, on the Reeperbahn? You don’t say.) and quite the suitable backdrop for the seventies’ to eighties’  or rather plasticky clad Lomboy from Brussels. The front woman clearly has been all over the world and brought bits into her music from everywhere as well. The languid, francophile music kept everyone nicely on their feet and dreaming away. Oh yes, did I mention that? France was the country represented on this year’s Reeperbahnfestival. Yes, and I did miss Halo Maude who performed astoundingly according to Sandra. But here’s the plan: Forget the plan. After a short visit to the famous Golden Poodle Club, we galloped to Nochtwache, the cellar club of Nochtspeicher and were expecting a late night treat like last year, something wild and quiet and jazzy and trippy and got Chris Garneau. Now, I would have been happy with the announced Canadian singer-songwriter, indie folk to tone down after a long day and make me weep a little bit. But no.

Great guitar, great drums, but the somewhat whiney, keyboard accompanied songs of Chris Garneau did not do it for me (think Marc Almond, kind of). But that’s just me. The numerous visitors seemed to enjoy it whole-heartedly.

And shock and horror, that was it in terms of gigs. Plenty of parties going on still but the instrument cases were being packed. There is always a next year. I have told you so!

 

 

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 – a feast of a festival

Much looked forward to, our annual family outing to one of the finest festivals I know is already over and done with again. Last Saturday saw us driving excitedly to the C-Mine in Genk, Belgium, a former mine building, now converted to part museum, part art exhibition centre and part very fine venues to enjoy this year’s Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 – a feast of a festival.

The fun starts when you arrive: Plenty of free parking, a short stroll to the building that houses the venues, a friendly and easy entry procedure. This year there was an additional venue upstairs, the Compressorenhal, the newcomers were moved from the foyer to a separate room and then there were of course the standing only venue with gallery and the big theatre with seating. Everything as expected: Fine food and drinks at reasonable prices, super friendly staff and a line-up to die for.

Sadly the problem with overlaps of the performances that will make you miss quite a few acts you would like to see or has you rushing in and out of performances, still remains. I would say, it probably has become worse. It so happens that we never made it up into the Compressorenhal to see Wartaal, Bonfire Lakes and Holly Miranda. Especially the latter I would have loved to see but Holly’s set was at the very same time as Mercury Rev’s. Pity for the very talented musician to have everyone flocking off to see Mercury Rev.

It also means that you have way too little time to fully enjoy the bustle and the fine catering…well, a couple of Krieks and original Belgian chips had to do the trick.

On arrival we had a short gander at Bed Rugs from Antwerpen who delivered an engaged set of songs to unfortunately not yet many in the audience. I thought their music, though well-crafted and with heart in it, was a bit all over the place but was very happy with the last song we heard, a guitar-laden psychy tune.

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 - a feast of a festival
BlitzenTrapper

But then it had to be off for us, Blitzen Trapper from Portland, US, were starting their set. Americana in the purest sense garnished with typical country lyrics, in some songs not unlike The War On Drugs oeuvre, there was a very professional band who also seemed very down-to-earth and likeable. The audience was still not quite awake yet, sadly, but I think, Blitzen Trapper did not take it to heart and were enjoying their set and were way too polite to comment. I am only guessing here but given the day that was in it (warning strikes of the US, UK and France in Syria), people were probably expecting a bit of a political comment from this so very American band but Blitzen Trapper remained on neutral ground.

A short peek into Catbug‘s set on the newcomer’s stage…she was playing to a full room and entertaining with singer-songwriter compositions. Quick bite to eat and we were ready for Mick Flannery from Ireland.

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 - a feast of a festival
Mick Flannery

Even though – can you ever be ready for Mick Flannery‘s bitter, bitter songs about heartbreak and hopelessness? Yes you can if they are delivered with such wit and warmth and amazing guitar and piano playing plus the stories in-between. Mick Flannery probably would not think of himself as a stage person but his performance is very compelling. Could have heard a needle drop if the girls behind would have stopped chattering (in the best possible way, about the music, but nonetheless). Mick Flannery was attending his merch stand, selling, signing and talking afterwards and came across as not only a very gifted songwriter and musician but just a normal guy which we all were very impressed with. If you can catch him on his continuing tour through Europe and the US, do!

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 - a feast of a festival
This Is The Kit

I would have loved to see more of Douglas Firs from Gent in Belgium because I really like some of their more sombre songs but alas, we had to be in time for This Is The Kit who I had already missed once last year at another festival. I expected good songs, performed to a high standard but This Is The Kit’s gig left me gobsmacked, utterly gobsmacked. Those beautiful songs reach another dimension live due to the immense craftsmanship of each one in the band: Kate, Rozi, Matt and Neil. (We have Rozi Plain – please pay attention also to her fantastic solo releases on Lost Map – not in the picture, that stage is just too wide and we were too close).  Added to that their playing together in such a tight way was absolutely amazing. You could ask Kate for a song, she’d wangle it in and the band played it perfectly.

Kate’s and Rozi’s duo singing was bliss. Kate’s absolutely masterful on fingerpicking guitar, banjo and of course singing and even whistling a tune. The diverse and on the point drumming of Matt, the melodious bass of Rozi and to top it all off the guitar mavericks of Neil who was allowed to show off during the last two songs – I know….I am ranting but I am not exaggerating. The set even contained my favourites “Misunderstanding” and “Bullet Proof” and both had me in tears. The audience was oh so quiet (in a good way), so my whooping was of course making me stand out like an eejit, but hey. Kate later was at the merch stand with Ben and both were again so kind and friendly and witty. Ah, true musicians do not need to be divas, I know, but it is still very refreshing to see.

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 - a feast of a festival
Mercury Rev

The Academic had started a fresh set in the standing only venue which seemed to be going down well but there we had to rush again: Mercury Rev were beckoning with a very different set. Celebrating the 20th birthday of the album Deserter’s Songs, the songs were played by Jonathan Donahue, Grasshopper and Jesse Chandler in an acoustic and intimate way with many a story told around the making of the album and the situation Mercury Rev were in at the time. Apart from this being very interesting, touching and funny at the same time – Jonathan is a great storyteller, the actual songs went straight to your heart. I barely moved through the whole set. The audience did get a good dose of electric guitar though from Grasshopper during the songs, fresh from his new Sterling Stingray!

It was amazing to see Mercury Rev live. Some might have missed the typical Mercury Rev big, embellished, dramatic performance but boy, this toned down performance certainly had me by the guts.

We finished off the evening by saying hello to the very courteous Jonathan, Grasshopper and Jesse at the merch stand (their wares were selling like hot cakes) and a short look-in to Slumberland who were entrancing with two drum kits and synthesisers.

We had a very special evening thanks to the artists we saw and heard.

Certainly want to see all of these acts again and thank you Little Waves, see you next year!

 

 

Marble Sounds

Sometimes Belgium is the butt of jokes…I guess because it is such a small country and so confusing to many and also seems a by-word for European bureaucracy.

I could sing the praises now and elaborate on the diverse landscape, the friendly people, the cartoons, the architecture and ooooh, the food, never mind the beers. And do not even get me started on chocolate.

But of course this is a music blog and I dare you to give me a country that size with so many musicians…(yeah, alright, Ireland and Wales, you’re not competing here:-))

Many get it confused but Jacques Brel is as Belgian as pommes frites, even though he did flee to Paris. (Which reminds me to highly recommend the small, but beautiful Jacques Brel Museum in Brussels to you!)

My first interview ever as a shy teenager was with Luc van Acker, enfant terrible of the Belgian music scene, later with The Revolting Cocks. And what a lovely man he is – sorry to ruin your bad reputation here, Luc.

There followed many, many bands after him, that went on the whole unnoticed outside Belgium – shame! Then came dEUS and thankfully changed that.

Before this becomes a novel, remind me, I wanted to tell you about Marble Sounds.

When their beauty of a song “Leave a light on” earwormed itself into our ears, souls and hearts in the cold winter time of 2013, they had landed. Last year they still had day jobs though, however, their jobs are all to do with music and media. Else and with families it would not be possible to do what they do.

Such as releasing two albums (Nice Is Good & Dear Me, Look Up), touring relentlessly, collaborating with other musicians and working on a new album (yippee!) as well as having toured China (sic!) last autumn and last but not least building up a huge fanbase all over the globe (ah, the merits of the internet).

Some facts about Marble Sounds:

Marble Sounds are Pieter Van Dessel – vox, guitar, keys; Gianni Marzo – guitar, vox; Frederik Bastiaensen – bass; Johan De Coster – drums and  Brecht Plasschaert -keyboards.

They hail from the Flemish region in Belgium and are based in Brussels.

You can find out more on their website www.marblesounds.com which also leads you to their up-to-date Facebook page.

Now, they call what they do simply pop but let me rephrase that to indie pop ranging from the very delicate to the outright rocking! Their albums are sheer listening pleasure and yes, they are a brill live band, too.

Their songs stand the test of repeated and intense listening because they are layered very nicely and the lyrics are profound and melancholic. So, there you have it in a nutshell.

Sure, I could blather on, but why don’t you just listen to an interview I did with Pieter Van Dessel in the lashing rain in the beautiful Ardennes at the wonderful La Truite Magique Festival (I wonder if his shoes ever survived the muck) for which I would like to sincerely thank him again.

Here’s the interview (excuse my shouting, there was a soundcheck going on in the background):

And I am not going to leave without some music by Marble Sounds of course!

The famous “Leave a light on”

 

And my favourite rocker is not available online, so I’ll give you “Dance Clarence Dance”

If you want to see and hear the original “Marble Sounds”: It is a work of art, a sculpture in Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels.

And that’s it from me, good night, and leave a light on!