The problem with festivals isn’t that we’re lacking for choice. But in the fast food court of summer festivities, the offerings tend to be arrayed in hard-edged silos.
Here’s the dance music one, and it’ll be a rave.
Here’s the rock one, and it’s just going to be about guitars.
Here’s the experimental one, and everything is likely to be a big long drone in some cavernous distorted reverb.
This one is only for J.S. Bach. And so on…
Pop-Kultur’s name alone implies a different frame around music. It’s experimental, but it’s also pop. It’s death metal, glam rock, pogo. It’s electronic media and technology interwoven with punk rather than an uncomfortable rival. And most appropriately, it comes in the venue and the city that have been of late hopelessly typecast: Berlin. Berghain.
So, be glad for once, you don’t have to hear about 808 bass drums, or dark rooms, or the wall, or the 90s. This is a different Berlin, maybe the next European capital. It’s a festival program that acknowledges the cross-genre magnet the city has become, people playing against genre and type and even specific media.
What you do get is something that could (should?) become a template for the scene. With backing from the local government, there’s actual discourse happening at this event – you know, like talking and thinking and stuff, those activities often forgotten in the summer music season.
And it’s a mad mix. Mute founder Daniel Miller talks to composer Owen Pallett talks to New Order’s Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris. Underground heroes like Bernard Sumner, Sven Regener, and Andreas Dorau talk about their books and their stories. Elijah Wood is DJing (really).
Those offerings join a full discourse program, backed by local government funding.
And in the lineup, we see a bit of the kind of personalities that can dress music across Europe and internationally in some new garments, ones less restrictively tailored-tight.
Matthew Herbert is surely the perfect poster child for work that stretches the song format to its limit – pop, layered with electronic technique and brewed thick with concept. He’ll premiere his new record “The Shakes,” which following the darkly operatic “One Pig” brings a brighter, pop-ier sound to Berghain, one sometimes even reminiscent of the likes of Talking Heads (smart lyrics, snappy not-so-Western percussion).
Hyperactive rhythms meet musical theater hooks meet engineers-on-speed production meet surreal everyday imagery. This is arguably what is missing from the grade-level-dropping corporate pop of today.
And there’s a colorful set of videos to help you through that new record. Here are a few (more at his site). If ‘One Pig’ was terrifyingly heart-aching (like hosting a breakfast buffet with Wilbur), ‘The Shakes’ is frighteningly, ADHS-and-anti-depression meds on overdrive cheery and active. But it’s never dumb. One track is even appropriately called ‘Smart’:
And yes, Mr. Herbert can still do pop opera melancholy, here in a sweet dreamy reverie:
There’s American Bianca Casady (also known as CosoRosie when workign with sister Sierra), and her new project Bianca Casady & the C.i.A. Before I say anything, here’s the grimy punk-ish video that combines a band practice with photography by JM Ruellan.
Casady’s work combines performance media with exhibition. Her sounds, like a great disarming photograph image, have a punch-you-in-the-gut immediacy.
It’s worth revisiting her 2011 work ‘Holy Ghost,’ which straddles media and form – opera with a “let’s put on a show” directness.
Kiasmos is to me one of the more evocative groups running the festival circuit this summer. (The Icelandic duo pairs the composer Ólafur Arnalds with Janus Rasmussenfrom.) The best way to go inside their technique is this intimately-shot set from London. Hello, Novation KAOSS Launchpad etc.
You can catch their entire performance from SONAR Festival, which was a clear highlight for a lot of people I spoke to – proof that a set can get rave-y without losing its sensitive, human side. I could do with a bit more rhythmic sophistication sometimes (I know, I know, festival stages and their tastes), but the textures are unmistakably cinematic and lovely.
Swiss artist Sophie Hunger does something special, too – pop punk rock that isn’t just stripped-down DIY grunge, with more sharp songwriting and idea making.
Berlin-based weirdo psychedelic quartet Fenster will bring their dreamy, distractedly-lovely sounds to the festival. And of course, their latest music also doubles as soundtrack to a wild, low-budget sci-fi adventure film they’re calling Emocean.
At a time when that can all get too serious, they have a sugary, tripped-out silliness that pervades all they do. I’m with the YouTube commenter on “God help me but this is growing on me.”
Just hope you don’t wind up with them in a car sharing service. Seriously.
With fantastic, silky string arrangements set to disco, Ebony Bones brings irresistible, in-your-face funkiness. Everything comes from her own imagination – she is producer as well as artist, which, requiring so much from both in this idiom, isn’t always commonplace.
Electronic Beats did an extensive interview with her, and that question of self-production figures, too. Inspiring stuff. You’ll find the complete record on iTunes / Apple Music / Spotify, etc.
Her music has a social soul, too, with records inspired by the turbulence of the Brixton Riots. And here in the capital of Fortress Europe, it seems social unrest transformed through strong voices couldn’t come to Germany at a better time.
And some interesting newcomers:
Andrra to me is amazing – the Albanian artist has gorgeous, more traditional vocal lines riding the cresting wave of a flurry of dissent. There’s a churning electronic sea of clashing timbres and rhythms. It could be an awkward combination – like accidentally leaving two tracks on at once. But instead, her poignant and delicate solo vocals (heard elsewhere on her SoundCloud) seem to find some mature ease as they head off against the chaos.
Ava Bonam is what happens when a pianist/guitarist/vocalist is also a tech person – densely-produced walls of arrangement, a woolen blanket of sound. I especially like ‘sūrya’ here:
Tollcrane comes from Karachi, Pakistan, by way of Red Bull Music Academy – this is what dark electronica can sound like from that corner of the world:
And lastly, while I have no idea what it will sound like, I’m intrigued to hear my friend ANIKA take her vocal performance together with Marco Haas aka T.Raumschmiere.
Finally, from London, NTS Radio host and singer Chloé Raunat returns us to pop roots aplenty, “post-punk, synth pop, krautrock and psychedelic disco.” Nice self-referential acronym, too: “Choosing Acronyms Randomly = C.A.R.”
C.A.R. label Hypermagic would like to give away a couple of these CDs. So, tell us in comments a favorite “pop” song (that can mean absolutely anything you’d like), and you could have one of a limited edition of 100 cassette tapes. Because here at CDM, we may have “digital” in our name, but we also produce records with less technology and release on tapes. Everything goes.
To win those free cassettes, just Like us on Facebook and then tell us what songs you have on repeat – “pop” meaning whatever you like it to mean.