Damian: We have to marvel at the sophisticated level of camping that the average German festivalgoer achieves. Listeners to the Incendiary shedcast will have heard us tell tales of fussball tables, sofas, DJ systems, party tents and even, at one point, a fridge. When these guys go away for a weekend they certainly don’t pack light. Perhaps that explains why the camping area mostly resembled a car park this year. Hundreds of cars all lined up neatly next to one another, extremely well organized and arranged.
Damian: We have to marvel at the sophisticated level of camping that the average German festivalgoer achieves. Listeners to the Incendiary shedcast will have heard us tell tales of fussball tables, sofas, DJ systems, party tents and even, at one point, a fridge. When these guys go away for a weekend they certainly don’t pack light. Perhaps that explains why the camping area mostly resembled a car park this year. Hundreds of cars all lined up neatly next to one another, extremely well organized and arranged. I tell you, I half expected to find parking meters stationed every couple of hundred metres. I don’t know how they do it, but we have a lot of admiration for them. We have trouble blowing air beds up, as shedcast listeners can attest to. All of this incredible camping material results in the camping ground becoming a sort of extra festival ground in the wee small hours of the morning. Campfires are lit, BBQs are stoked, songs are sung, games are played and occasionally fireworks are lit. Late night entertainment at Haldern is a joyous spectacle to behold, especially when somebody’s musical instrument gets obliterated. Of course, late nights often turn into late mornings and the Saturday morning always starts off a little later than the other days. This year, however, people were crawling out of their tents a little bleary eyed and looking like they really would have liked an extra hour in bed. The reason? It was hot. Really hot. Lying inside a polythene heat absorbing structure is something that the average human simply can’t tolerate and so there was only one course of action. We headed, en masse, to the Haldern Pop bar.
The Haldern Pop bar can comfortably accommodate around 50 seated patrons and it can hold around 100 or so standing, assuming they’re all comfortable standing very close to one another. Around 5 times that number turned up in time to catch The Black Atlantic play their second show of the weekend. Needless to say, we didn’t get in.
Instead, we sat outside where the overspill gathered and took up seated positions wherever they felt like it; on windowsills, in doorways, on kerbsides, even in the middle of the road. One bloke even sat in a fountain but we were slightly worried about his sanity, it must be said.
Richard: The name Black Atlantic may lead you to expect some gloomy introspection but the band are full of hope and reverent love for all Nature’s copious bounty. This was reverence all the way, even down to the “hand drawn” record covers.
Damian: You can sense the A&R men at work here, “Oooh, they sound a bit like Fleet Foxes. They sold well last year. Let’s sign em up.” The band played a very sedate, low-key set full of wistful harmonies and country/folk stylings.
Richard: You know; all that gentle, slightly sticky stuff that reminds you that you really should listen to Pet Sounds once in a while.
Damian: And they went down rather nicely with a tall glass of cool liquid and a small salami brötchen for breakfast. The crowd really fell for them; in fact quite a number of them ended up walking off with signed green vinyl records. They closed their set in fine style too. Seeing as there were more people watching from outside the bar than could fit in it, they ventured into the great outdoors carrying a guitar and a tambourine, where a large circle formed immediately around them. There, in the warmth of the sun, with a breeze blowing gently through the trees, they sang a song about monsters and everybody sang along with them. It was a beautiful moment.
Richard: Next was Holland’s Moss, whose records have failed to ignite real interest before. We weren’t expecting much but to say we were won over by the end of the gig was an understatement.
Damian: I ended up dancing in the street. Thankfully I wasn’t doing any David Bowie or Mick Jagger impersonations though.
Richard: There must be a couple of very astute people in this band, as Moss are adept at blending certain ideas into the music without their muse feeling stilted or compromised. (I couldn’t help thinking about Bob Pollard and Klaus Dinger at times during their set, but not in a bad way). And as a live band they display more grit, verve and sass than on their records, which always sound too crafted for my tastes, despite their way with a good melody. Maybe they should go and record on the hoof in a shed or something, Captain Bob style.
Damian: I just thought it was nice to hear an indie band from the flat lands who have a bit of soul and groove in them. Watching a bunch of people staring through a window (again, we couldn’t get into the place), straining to get a glimpse of the band yet still shaking their behinds and tapping their feet in unison was a strangely comical moment and one that I enjoyed immensely. Moss deserve another look, that’s for sure.
Richard: From here on in the day’s events became fractured to say the least. The Saturday became a day of meetings, missed bands and a lot of walking. Luckily the day also had two of the best musical moments we’ve ever witnessed so we can just about forgive getting completely lost in a village looking for Nils Frahm.
Imagine, for a second, 20 or so sweating teenagers & assorted oldsters running round a traditional German village looking for a pianist. But that’s what happened. Ludicrously, laughably, annoyingly, it turned out that the home studio that Frahm was playing in was not actually in the village, rather in a house next to… yes, the camp site. In fact, about 40 feet away from camp Incendiary. Once we’d found where the bloody place was and asserted that yes, Mr. F was indeed in there we had to wait outside the studio door, as the gig was being recorded. Oh and Neil had embarked on a 25 minute number… Once in we suddenly realized the temperature was something above body heat. And they’d closed the doors behind us… And yet, none of that mattered anymore, for as soon as Frahm began to play you felt as if you were in a completely different world.
I’ve always had a soft spot for sensuous piano sounds, especially the stuff by the likes of Harold Budd, and Frahm’s style isn’t a million miles away. What he does have that is entirely his own is a lightness of touch and an ability to spin the most delicate and elfin of sonic webs. More surprisingly he’s also a hell of a showman, and possesses a devil-may-care charm that would see him being a bloody good cabaret turn. On top of all this he possesses some stamina; because to listen, let alone play in that heat was pretty damned difficult. After two intensely beautiful and profusely sweaty numbers we filed out, lightheaded and listened in the foyer (which had an excellent view over the camp site). As the early afternoon took its hold and the sun bathed the multitude of tents in a dazzling amber glow it seemed that Frahm was sound-tracking a moment of utter primeval stillness, a moment that made you realize that this earth is a lot older, wiser and more fearfully beautiful than any human intelligence could even begin to contemplate, let alone express.
Damian: While you were in the sauna, I was stood in front of the Hauptbuhne, watching the wonderful Portugal, The Man (we missed The Young Rebel Set.)and while I still maintain that that’s one of the most ridiculous band/artist name’s I’ve come across I heartily recommend you all to check him/them out. He, as in the one who’s probably Mr Portugal, as it were, is quite a schizophrenic performer in that every song is a song of two halves. The first half of each song will introduce an upbeat, happy tune that will have you dancing in the aisles, or the field in this case, and then the second half of each song turns into an almighty wig-out session. Honestly, there’s something for everyone here. Danceable? Check. Sing-a-long moments? Check. Rock star jumps, kicks and other shapes? In abundance. White noise, feedback and extended guitar solos? Yep, more than a handful and you get the added bonus of watching a man trying to play the largest guitar known to man. I’m not sure if the main Mr Portugal is a diminuitive fellow or if he was, in effect, holding a double bass across his chest but the guitar body seemed to stretch from his neck to his knees. It was huge. And so were the songs. This was a big, bright, sparkly performance that put me and the couple of thousand people who could be bothered to turn up in the heat into a great mood.
I understand that Everything, Everything performed admirably in the tent, but that’s just hearsay because sadly we saw absolutely nothing of them. I hung around the field watching a drunk grasshopper crawling across the bar before Fanfarlo turned up to entertain us all but unfortunately they fell victim to some sound problems and an endless farting noise accompanied them for a song or two, which was quite unfortunate.
It must be said, the sound quality at the festival, both in the tent and on the main stage, improved dramatically this year and apart from the rare bit of feedback there weren’t many issues with the sound at all. Hence I think we should blame Fanfarlo as everybody else seemed to get along fine. Still, they kept our spirits up enough.
It was at this point that we really lost our way, somehow managing to avoid all signs of Frightened Rabbit and Helgi Jonsson, but we did manage to congregate over at the mirror tent in time to watch The Low Anthem, who took instrument swapping to such ridiculous lengths that I thought they were playing a bizarre variation of musical chairs for half an hour.
Richard: It took me a while to warm to them. The girl playing a recorder irked me first (that Sunday school thing again) and then there was the man who had a trucker hat and a ‘tache that made him look like a Mexican bus driver. My interest was waning it has to be said (despite the music which was, on reflection, excellent) only for it to be jerked back into life as the band, evidently tired of playing at a village fête, let rip with some excellent grumbly tunes that had a great Tom Waits / Bo Diddley feel to them. Why can’t they do this all the time?
Damian: I had a great time with them. They inject just enough spite and grumblyness into their songs to stop them coming across like just another whimsy folk band. They’re traditional, that’s for sure, but they’re not afraid to tear it up a bit when needed. You should check ‘em out. They’re a lot of fun.
Richard: Blood Red Shoes gave an energetic performance on the main stage and had enough sass about them to get a crowd going on a hot afternoon.
Damian: They certainly make a big enough racket for there just being the two of them on stage.
Richard: The band is quickly becoming a cabaret act though – maybe through the sheer mental weight of touring? – and they need to get that weird, haughty “otherness” back that made them so appealing and inspiring a few years ago. Then back to the Spiegel Tent beer garden to watch Ireland’s Villagers on the big screen (fresh air and unrestricted access to the pissers now being the priority over any questions of watching bands in the flesh). Villagers have a fair bit of whimsy about them, and there’s also that wistful melancholy in their music that hints at their extreme youth. They all look like they’re playing hooky from college too, and the singer had moments where his demeanour of wide eyed innocence could also be taken for complete stage fright. No matter, the band possesses some powerful tunes, which have enough clarity and simplicity to make them a big act, (if they so wish).
Damian: I think we’ll see their star ascend quite a bit in the next year or so. They tapped into the crowd immediately and the atmosphere in the tent built to a pretty exciting level. The band enjoyed it, you could tell, the crowd enjoyed it and it’ll be very interesting to see where they go from here.
Richard: Interviews meant we missed Efterklang again and only caught bits of Bear in Heaven who were really great if a tad academic at times, and Sophie Hunger, who I really wanted to see. Hunger is interesting. To this day I still don’t know whether I like her record, listening to it more out of an appreciation that there’s a restless intelligence and forceful personality at work somewhere amongst the sometimes perfunctory electronic sounds. The same could be said for the snatches of the gig we witnessed. It was at one level unappealing and also pretty mesmeric, like an inspirational maths teacher giving a lecture to a bunch of drama students.
Damian: Timing issues meant we had to give The Tallest Man On Earth a wide berth, but that was primarily to do with the fact that we simply had to see Sleepy Sun.
Richard: This lot are pretty bloody inspirational, possessing a real burnt out cool that it is impossible to manufacture. In an age of “authentic” folk rock their nihilist dusty blues is the real deal and they know it. Another plus is that they are loud to a satisfying level and aren’t too reverent with their music, kicking it about the tent as if it was a football. The last track Open Eyes was stunning; their massive sound swallowed the tent and spat it out. They’re a million times better live than on record and that is quite something given the brilliant nature of their debut.
Damian: I thought they were awesome. I don’t mean that in a crappy, generic American teenager way. They really blew me away! They’re just so powerful, so much so that I simply couldn’t face Yeasayer on the main stage, choosing to hang around in the cold and wait for Dan Deacon to set up in the tent.
Richard: We were expecting big things, and we weren’t disappointed. The sound-check was mental enough and Deacon (wearing an Iron Maiden tee-shirt, three quarter length shorts of the most unattractive cut, and large glasses that either once belonged to Deidre Barlow, or Christopher Biggins, or both), requested a little “funky music” to further excite his impressionable followers on. Off he went, only to return to a tent that was packed with people seeking release in the dark from both the memories of a hot sun and the overload of high quality reverential folk rock that had been the day’s sonic diet. Deacon, playing on the dance floor behind a makeshift booth – as is his wont – began to build up a crowd that soon just went completely utterly berserk. Dance-offs, saluting the glitter ball, hands in the air, talking about the Lion King, all that cheesy stuff that normally has me running for the hills took on an aspect of something more akin to a punk gig. German kids went bananas, and near enough wrecked the place with a display of remarkable good humour. What makes this slightly unprepossessing fella’s show irresistible? Whether it was the good natured orchestration, pre-determined signal to expect the expected between performer and crowd, or whether Deacon plugs into an essential element of Modern Youth’s psyche (longing for release in a safe environment?); it’s hard to say. No matter it worked 100% and by the end we as a bunch of thirty-forty somethings were screeching, laughing and hugging and caring not a jot about anything, just like back in 1988. Wonderful.
Damian: I don’t have much time for dance music. I hate techno. I honestly couldn’t care less about this kind of thing and yet….and yet….this was one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life. At home I’d find the music pretty much unlistenable. It’s all electronic farts and whistles as far as I’m concerned but, here, it was something else entirely. It had power. It had precision and it was crafted in such a way that made it impossible to ignore. The atmosphere was electric. It was almost primal in its ferocity. People jumped, hugged, kissed, danced and moved around in unison. People held strobe lights as if they’d been handed the world cup. Grown men fought each other to try and grab hold of a glowing green skull, for fuck’s sake! Why? Because they simply felt like they HAD to. They had no choice. The spiegel tent turned into a massive love-in. An entire audience, reacting as one, sharing an incredible, INCREDIBLE moment together. I was so moved I burst into tears. I couldn’t control myself. It was, in a nutshell, priceless.
I don’t know if I’ll ever witness something like it ever again. I’d be afraid of seeing Dan Deacon once more, in case it doesn’t reach the heights that this show did. Please, please, if you get the chance, go and see him and take your friends. Everybody in the world should experience something as remarkable as this at some point in their lives. It was incredible.
At the end a boy of no more than 17 turned to me and said, “Just go and hug him man.” There was a queue of people waiting to do so and I think that works as a better review than anything we could ever come up with.
Richard: After this it was impossible to watch anything, and even though The National did play a great, angry and euphoric set it just felt like showbiz reasserting itself. Better to sit round the roaring campfire backstage and chat with the old & new friends that this remarkable festival has a knack of bringing together.
Damian: Haldern, we shall return.
Richard and Damian were talking to a wandering Austrian of no fixed abode