Music: Letter from Leipzig: The Pop-Up Fair

Pop-Up, Leipzig Mai, 10th to 13th, 2007

Not really an easy thing to do, to describe what the Pop-Up thing is. We might start with some facts, but this would not tell the whole story. Pop-Up is an independent/alternative music trade fair and festival which took place for the sixth time in the central German city of Leipzig. The city belongs to the biggest cities of the former East. This time the fair had more than 100 exhibiters and the spectrum included small fanzines to bigger record labels, web-portals to vinyl only labels, and free local radios to professional music distributors. During the weekend of the fair, a festival as part of the fair was taking place at several clubs in the city. And during the day of the fair showcases present new artists almost every every hour plus some panel dicussions on topics related to music.

Even though I knew from previous years that one should allow more time, I only got to a fraction of the whole programme. On Thursday, the 10th, a public discussion took place, hosted by the Leipziger Volkszeitung, one of the better German local dailies, tackling the subject of "creative io industries" and the specifics of the location factors of Leipzig.

It is probably not worth it to summarize the discussion as half of it went by with the mere introductions of the participants. They included a very smart junior professor of the local Leibnitz Institute who had done his homework and managed to throw around some cutting edge scientific termini and even applied the category of "sexy" to describe the specific qualities of a place. The certain Dr. Lange might surely know what the dynamics are of Berlin fashion fair initiatives transformed into trendsetting events, but he did not seem to convince that he dug the spirit of come-together of the Pop-Up fair.

The representative of the cities department of culture, Mrs. Kucharski-Huniat, did not supply anything substantial to the discussion, or maybe it bypassed my consciousness. If anbody has been doing a job for 13 years she/he must take a sabatical or have a change of perspectives. It not enough to simply appreciate the Pop-Up event, even though she might belong to more progressive people at the cities administration. By the way the city does not support the fair other than supporting the local cultural center, the Werk II, a transformed industrial structure which hosts the event. We assume they could do more and better.

A bit more interesting was another Mr. Lange .. Sebastian, the appointee for the matters of Pop-Music of the south German city of Manheim. Lange was able to describe the following phenomena: While the EU-money investments in Mannheim helped to stimulate a movement from above (which eventually led to the foundation of the so called Pop-Academy), Leipzig has a substantial grass-roots movement in terms of "creative industries", which is looked at with a certain envy. (Even that was nothing too original as similar things were writen in an article of the Leipzig local Time-Out type magazine the "Kreuzer", as I found out later).

Two representative of these grass roots initiatives were also present at the the discussion table: The owner of the the Elses Erika, a local music club known beyond the city's borders, Mr. Drewes and a Mr. Hartman, representing the "Designers Open" an annual designer/show/exhibition/fair. All in all hardly anything enlightening, besides it is still unclear (but overdue) if the city of Leipzig is regarding indie-alternative-live-music and the micro-economic tail of agencies, labels and promoters as "culture". (Which part of the cities adminitration is responsible, culture or economy?). As the city itself offers enough spaces, the access to those might be less bureaucratic compared to other places, but calling this support seems an exaggeration.

Besides all this, it seems that the organisational team of Pop Up is not very eager to receive the city's funding possibly because so much publicly funded culture in Germany seems so often to be run by those who know little more than writing applications for funding. In this case the pop up people might be aware of the constriction of freedom wich comes along with funding, and the chance of getting corrupted.

As I said before, I hardly managed to get hold of the framing program of the festival, even though I was aware one should not only attend the actual days of the fair. However, I went to a reception at the local Polish Cultural center who were putting on a buffet and concert at the above mentioned "Elses Erika". The concert of Warsaw band "This Car is on Fire" left hardly any impression - some sort indie-alternative Rock with pop-song ambitions, which made me listen carefully only at one short moment when the performance got a bit intereresting, not sounding like the rest of it. Anyway the club was packed, so I assume that means quite something for a Polish band or the good promotion. The songs were sung in English, if my memory serves me right.

Friday's day hours, as with every year, were reseved for workshops held by the VUT the indie record label association of Germany, which has more than a 1000 members. The workshops tackle all kinds of questions label owners come across and are held by professionals working in their respective fields. This year's subjects dealt with financing, budgeting and controlling of record productions and record companies work and challenges in the times of internet and Web.2. The quality of the workshops I attended were outstanding and made the trip to Leipzig worth it just for the those.

In the early evening the same VUT-association welcomed the interested public to another free beer, meet and greet for McCornac Ballroom, a dark spacy club with a pub-like charm and a reasonable stage, right off the long Karl-Libeknecht street in the south of the city, where obviously most of the nightlife happends.

Later we went to another club on the street, the "NaTo", to see the first label showcase of the fair. There, the duo Klotz + Dabler (Ex-Lessie Singers Almuth Klotz) and the semi-legendary ensemble "Die Zimmermaener" played, hosted by the similarly legendary Hamburg label "What so Funny About", run by the Alfred Hilsberg. His label activities started right during the earlies 80's, full of the fresh power of mostly German sung Punk and New Wave. Indeed, a stronghold of the indie culture turned into a professional enterprise. The Leipzig Fan/Magazine "Persona Non Grata" has dedicated their recent edition to the Hillsberg's label and his current roster by including a label sampler. The cd contains, besides others, two tracks by the northern version of the legendary Kraut outfit FAUST (around Jean-Herve Peron). If anybody is intersted to know what "Pop"-music out of Germany is, wants and can here you go. Definitely nothing to be ashamed of, comrades!

Well, the Klotz and Daubler duo with their German lyrics made a lot of fun and a German version of "Wish you were Here" too. Everything quite grown up, mature, and slightly trashy. Definitely worth the support of the Goethe-Institute.

The Zimmermaenner come as a big ensemble with 6 7 people on stage. A band who had released "What So Funny About" in the earlie 80's and then went into oblivion. They are praised for intelligent German lyrics, which gladly are not to intellectual. Just whenever it threatened to become embarassing text-wise they managed it so well to keep the standard well, that's the reflex with German sung music. They were so cool, and groovy, elegant and sophisticated and entertaining if you dug their humor and attitude, which wasn't that difficult.

The Zimmermaener tour and new album "Fortpflanzungssupermarkt" ("reproduction supermarket") are definitely a major pop event in Germany this spring. Who else has managed to have song titles which translate into "Why I am deceiving my girlfriend with my wife so often" or write songs about the city of Paderborn? Grand theater, cool people!

The actual day of the fair, the Saturday, was a big ant-hill-like event taking place at the former factory halls of the Werk II located in the district of Connewitz, also in the south of the city.

The nice thing about the Pop-Up fair is the mixture of record fair, merchandise stands and more or less charming presentations of more or less professional and more or less successful activists from the alternative pop-music industry/circuit. Everything comes very cheap as the fee for the stand is 70 euro for the exhibitors, who numbered about 100-120 this time. The visiting public is diverse and the "normal" visitors, who have free access, as opposed to the PopKomm in Berlin, are courteous and well informed!

In parallel, showcases are presented and expert discussion rounds are launched. As an activist for Eastern-European music I was invited by the makers of the "parismoskau" club, to join a discussion on Polish music. Other participants were Alexander Pehleman of Greifswald's Zonic Magazine (north-east Germany) and Dawid Bargenda from Wrocla/Breslau (Poland). The first part was dedicated to more historical aspects and Pehlemann and I were talking about how we gained access to the Polish scene and eventually came to listen, collect, support and spread music from Poland. A second part covered questions of the actual situation to which mostly Bargenda contributed as he is doing public relations for the Brave-Festival in Wroclaw and works for the Warsaw ABC label - another label which is run by an artist driven by the necessity to release their music by themselves. I guess we were all quite happy with that presentation.

The day went on quite busily and ended with a Vodka and fingerfood reception held at our stand and hosted by the people running the "parismoskau", Bernd and Katarzyna Admamek-Schyma and the internet music and media magazine is run by Manfred Tari who was one of the founding members of the late 80ties Fanzine-Kongress which eventually developed into the PopKomm fair.

Our stand neighbors of the Eastern-Europe faction, Kulturaktiv e.V. an association foucussiog on the fostering of cultural exchange with the contries of the East, forced another couple of shots of Becherovka upon us. I resigned from further concerts but instead went to a cool little restaurant with friends and the heroes of the Munic DiskoB-lable/Chicks on Speed Records, who apperantly hadn't had any sleep as they were having their own label night on Friday.

Without question, many other stories could be told about the events around the Pop-Up event. We are looking forward to the next time, say a dutiful thank you to our hosts and wish good energy for further editions. Great job! And surely one day another brain of cultural science or economy will explain, why it is that the Pop Up fair probably did more for the reputation of the city of Leipzig than the soulless - and helpless cultural marketing with gala dances and Bach-concerts (which surely is not wrong) that are the result of city marketing initiatives.

Henning Kupper is the proprietor of Lollipop Shop Records and has been a supporter of East European bands for some years. His latest release is of Korai Orum from Hungary.

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