Popkomm, Berlin, Oct 08 thunderfinger goes to Popkomm
In which Indie/Alternative guy Thunderfinger visits Popkomm Berlin, listens to some music, talks to lots of people, and officially declares it a mixed-bag ...
Commercial shows are a bit like travel - you need to suspend tendencies towards fussiness or fixed ideas if you're going to get through the experiences with any plusses - and it was with that attitude, a modified go-with-the-flow that I aimed to set out ... for what exactly?
There is a trade show in a big hall for sure and there are related shows all over Berlin but where everything was I didn't know. Finding out turned out to be fairly hit and miss.
The Opening Party
Um, yes, totally by accident, I was wandering past a big venue when I saw marquees and such which announced the opening party. First I heard of it. I went to an information booth and asked whether I was invited. The answer was yes and I was given an invitation which I later presented to one of the phalanx of people guarding the door. I didn't get in the first door though. I was directed to another door about five feet away. Once I went through that door I ended up in exactly the same place as if I'd gone through the first door. Curious.
Inside there was something called the GEMA lounge which was a lofty, big room, with a stage at one end, several bars around the edges, and a mezzanine area which had a lot of cameras set up ready for shooting. We were greeted by pretty girls carrying trays of wine and beer and some others carrying trays of nice food - good start. There are a lot of men in suits around at this stage. Considering that GEMA is the performing rights association and that they are powerful enough in Germany to have brought in a blank tape levy and something on blank CD's too I think (Even Big Music couldn't manage this piece of BS in places like the US and UK), that seems about right. GEMA are also the scourge of small clubs and woe betide you if your acts or DJ's are playing GEMA member works and you don't do your homework. What can happen is that your make-no-money nights can then be followed by a nice fat bill from GEMA.
Anyway, at this stage of proceedings, the tray people were the most interesting and friendly in the room. Music? I asked a well-groomed older woman. She said 'Turkish pop'. Turkish pop?? Well, OK, I have an open mind here even if the doorway seems slightly obstructed. Turkey is actually a joint sponsor or something similar, reflecting the large Turkish population in Berlin as well as Turkey's desire to be part of the EU. PR is everywhere.
The bands, once they got going, didn't appear or sound particularly Turkish. As they came on I didn't have a clue about any of them, as this being Germany, they were announced in German. Surprise!
This isn't an Indy festival so not unexpected also was a mainstream feel. There weren't any dancing boy or girl bands but these were quite slick commercial presentations. Most of the musicians were skilled and in some cases extremely skilled. Later on I managed to get a list of who they were: Einlass, Whitenights, Cosma, Final Virus, Emel, Brendan Crosskerry, Athena, and Jazzkantine.
Who was who, I mostly don't know now but I did hear the words 'Halifax, Canada' in connection with Brendan Crosskerry. They did a sort of blue-eyed Soul and were a very polished eight-piece and also had an extremely cute dancing backup singer on stage right. I was getting a trifle drunk at that stage so I fell in love with her and mentally wrote her little love poems with my eyes ... with the sort of result one might suspect. The next day I looked them up on the web and there was no mention or photo of anyone other than the said Brendan. Wanker, I thought.
... continues below ...
Earlier, there had been a German band who did a sort of neo-hippy/showband kind of thing and who had a virtuoso bass player along with a similarly skilled female lead guitarist who did all sorts of interesting out of the box stuff. The rain on this particular small parade was one of those annoying front men who was forever demanding that people clap their hands over their heads or applaud various band members or whatever. I guess some people must like this but I sure don't... later on I found out that they were Final Virus.
Then I went out for a smoke, met someone I knew except didn't remember them until they left, and gave my unattached wristband to a curious passing punter. Next stop the trade show.
Yup, the trade show
This was held at Messe Berlin in what feels like the edge of town. On the way I checked on a poster to see if I was going to the correct place. That was a pretty good idea I think, but guess what? Yup, no mention at all of where. After a long walk from the wrong station, and with not one poster or sign along the way, I got there and headed for the coffee counter.
Who was there? Country stands - more than I've ever seen before: France, Spain, Australia, Austria, - Austria?? That place is on the nose with Mstation after a female artist callng itself a bloke wasted clock loads of our time. Shouldn't generalise of course but then there was that bloke with his daughter in the cellar - Iceland, Catalonia (is that a country?), Ireland, Canada, Brazil, and more. Big Music was there in the form of Universal and Warners and there were a number of smaller labels as well. There were 'merch' companies, earplug makers, disc pressers, DRM and watermark people, magazines and online communities.
What were they doing? Hard to tell but it looked like mostly talking. To solve the problem of a hundred or so competing PA's there was no music playing at all.
I wandered around collecting interesting looking CD's from the country stands and having miscellaneous chats. Here's a summary .... earplugs need to be custom made to be any use - cost about E120.00. With cheap ones it's a matter of luck whether they fit or not ... 750 10" vinyl discs at E1.33 each with about 8 minutes a side ... Iosono put in 200 plus speaker arrays with a controller to place the sound in space. This can be done with MIDI as well and can be interfaced with a lighting system or even through a controller and Ableton Live ... around these parts, Germany is the big boy. A lot of the country stands would like to hand their artists into this environment ... There are a few online communities represented here but one which isn't but opens tomorrow with a big party is soundcloud.com ...
I went back on the Friday to check out a hall I'd missed which didn't prove very interesting except for a do it yourself vinyl disc-mastering machine for 3200 Euros. Back amongst the country stands I sat down with the Iceland people who turned out to be two classical musicians, and we chatted about what the future held in view of all the financial bullshit encircling the world, and circling their country particulary closely. They need foreign exchange so why not take Iceland Air or Iceland Express and, um, enjoy some snow ... along with personal warmth.
After an overpriced lunch I headed over to Tresor in a shuttle minibus to take in a demo of the Iosono surround sound system. The night before there had been a big party at Tresor which featured their system, but after I'd finished with the VUT party at Icon (hi Pamela, Lars, and Maria) I was having dificulty staying awake on the U-bahn and didn't go. VUT are an association that supports Indy artists and labels.
The Iosono system is quite impressive but so far at least there is still a big question of why as far as music goes. Immersive environments, sure, but with music it seems a bit like party tricks as there's no logical reason for what's going on - moving sounds around because you can. Maybe someone will get clever here. The setup is certainly clever and Iosono is apparently some kind of spinoff from the Frauenhof people - the same people who brought us the mp3 format.
All in all, there was no big news or anything big in the way of announcements. These events are really made for networking. If you're part of the foodchain you'll get to catch up with friends and gossip and maybe put together some pieces for that project you were thinking of. For the punter there will be lots of music they've not heard before and maybe some insights into how it all fits together. There needs to be a music room though. That's a neccessity. Whispers are that next year the trade show will move into town and there were complaints this year about communications including the fact that the tickets had public transport paid yet few people were told of this which was quite annoying.
And then the final night and another party I hadn't heard of but attended courtesy of friends. This had a DJ in the basement and an upper room where various performers appeared and where the quality was variable. There were drinks and food and altogether it was quite jolly. We were given wristbands as well that would get us into any of the many official Popkomm gigs that Saturday night.
We wandered around later and took in four places and observed enormous queues for another two - these were DJ club nights and the kids at the back weren't going to get in at all as no-one was going anywhere. So we finished up watching the Turkish band Gevende (I think) whose brand of prog bombast didn't go down all that well with our group but they certainly put their hearts into it. The other places were forgetable or even unpleasant: Why do people ever go to places like that in the Kulturbrewerie? Mostly, the clientelle looked outer suburban - not many cool kids.
It's been a fun week all the same. Communication problems aside, the bits and pieces to explore and the people to talk to made it somewhat fun. (thunderfinger)
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