Berlin Festival & Music Week – A Reflection

Art & Culture


Berlin Festival was a chance to see Blur, Bjork, Pet Shop Boys and My Bloody Valentine all on one bill in a disused airport, in a city I have grown to love and at times, temporarily call home (hipster prick) was too good a chance to pass up.

Couple that with Berlin Music Week and the cohort and I quickly hot-footed it onto the first Ryan Why did we did we do it to ourselves again Air out of London town. After discovering we were way over our baggage limit and subsequently looking like Michelin men for the duration of the flight we touched down into a welcome-ly sunny Berlin town.


Having shied away from the likes of WMC etc. in the past, deeming them to be nothing but an excuse to get shitfaced in the sun for a week (not that theres a lot wrong with that but yknow professionalism n all that. We keep that to one week a year at Sonar) we approached Berlin Music Week with genuine interest. Taking in conferences, First We Take Berlin (a week of new band gigs around the city), as well the Festival proper, the first evening is spent tucking into a lavish BBQ and range of entertainment. Whilst theres the usual old industry types with jeans too high up their waist and shirts tucked, its a nice energertic start to the conference, ‘networking’ and festival ahead.  

The talks/conference take on the form of wireless headphoned lectures in the splendour of the Postbanhof building. We join the head developer and founder of Event Brite chatting about the ever-evolving world of online tickets and event management. To a lot of people this may have been deadly boring but its something that has become quite close to my heart much to the dismay of the cohort and others around me. This chat is followed by The Death of Journalism discussion with the very excellent John Doran from The Quietus, and Alexandra Drner amongst others. A hugely interesting examination of the online world of journalism and the obsession with the news story. The chair Henning Lahmann is somewhat tiresome and argumentative instead of driving the debate forwards but its a minor gripe on an otherwise fascinating topic.  Next up TEN CITIES – a GOETHE Institut project – an interesting look into how piracy in some parts of Africa marks the success of a release and how spraying money can be a novel yet lucrative way to make money there. Forward to a boat on the Spree (the river that runs through Berlin) with bands and beer. Its a nice way to absorb new music, effortlessly floating along a sun drenched canal listening to – a cohort favourite – Ballet School plus Pool & David Lemaitre.
All in all an interesting insight and take on music conferences and one well be returning to next to check out the First We Take Berlin bands programmed throughout the week.


“The mother of all airports” is how star architect Sir Norman Foster once described Berlin’s Tempelhof airport.

Set on the old Nazi airport Tempelhof, de-commissioned back in 1998 for commercial flights it now serves as an open space for all Berliners to sailboard, ride bikes up and down, have allotments, BBQ most outdoor pursuits in a metropolis can be found here. Theres plans afoot to repurpose and redevelop the area flats and offices all around it, thereby reducing access and enjoyment. That appears to be a contentious and sensitive political topic in Berlin at the moment that we probably dont have time for with these limited words.

But back to the program, the festival is set within the architecturally incredible outside of the terminal building and loading bays and across two days and nights. Yes its industrial and at times a little concrete-y under foot during treks to different stages but what could be better really than the chance to see some, how do you say childhood bands, amidst a setting as striking as this in the middle of a city.

We join the festival as the Pet Shop Boys take the stage. Suffering from what sounds like digital audio issues it is nonetheless an entertaining show and the costumes are AMAZING. Youre reminded of their incredible back catalogue and regardless of sound issues how it amazing and relevant it still sounds. The new album was, according to interviews inspired by nightlife in Berlin and you can tell with the backdrop of shutters that flash open towards the end of the set a la Panorambar. Theres a few bizarre turns with the guest appearance on big screens at the back of EXAMPLE from the new album…

and the quite frankly unfathomable ATB sounding Vocal as a closer 

Other than that, theyre super cool. I realise it’s difficult to say that now having listened to Vocal.


Ah Blur. I missed you. I missed you on your comeback a few years back and thought I may never get to re-live my youth that one more time.Tonight you are amazing. You play Trim Trabb and other great oscurities. You are the most together as a band I have ever seen you. I promised I wouldn’t pogo to Song 2 at the end but I broke that promise and now my knees hurt. 

The customary wall of noise continues unabated. I wear ear plugs for the first time at one of their gigs and feel all the better for it afterwards… but maybe less exhilirated. Still they are great as ever. 


Bjork is quite simply incredible on the Saturday night. This show is the Icelandic amazingers final date on her Biophilia tour. She plays Crystalline (the best weve ever heard it), she plays an amazing Hyberballad in two parts, she plays a lot of Biophilia which sounds otherworld-ly, electro static drops from the roof, shes dressed in one of the most amazing outfits Ive ever seen her in and her choir are superb. Completely flawless performance in our eyes and ears.

Bjork isnt headlining which seems like a strange thing in itself, so we leg it over to catch Pantha Du Prince whos strangely hammering it out.

And then theres Fritz Kalkbrenner. God knows why hes headlining or what happened to Fritz over the last few years but I can say without doubt this is one of the worst things Ive ever seen. An ageing bloke behind a set of decks/computer/whatever you want to pass off as a live show on the main stage with a lack of any sort of a decent light show, the crowd has noticeably thinned since Bjork.  Hes gone all country techno and sings over his shockingly bad selection of tracks. If hes ever playing on the bill somewhere that you happen to be go, just to experience how bad the show is.

We seek solace and retribution in the arms Graf V. Bothmer: Berlin – Die Sinfonie Der Grosstadt – Symphony of a Great City A live soundtrack to an old film about Berlin

We sit down, we feel calm, it finishes and we leave feeling calm finally about our Kalkbrenner experience. Dont get me wrong Im sure hes a really nice bloke but christ theres selling out and then theres selling out.

There is a nocturnal side to Berlin Festival that continues well into the night at Arena down on the banks of the Spree. We dont – to our shame – make it to either night but they featured the likes of Justice and Boys Noize.


Berlin Music Week and the festival proper tend to get overlooked amongst the bigger players such as WMC, ADE, IMS, however it shouldnt be measured in the same way and has different merits. Emphasis is not so much on the electronic but other areas across the whole industry ie event brite, ten cities, the constant changing horizon of pr and journalism with open and frank discussion about whats working and whos struggling.

Berlin Festival is a great experience in an incredible setting. Perhaps the stages were a little too far away from each other but no doubt this meant the lack of sound clash this year.  Well worth the journey and something well return to again.

Oh and go check Fritz if you ever seem him on the bill… it’s certainly an experience.