Pop culture festival in berlin: sing-along mantra against anxiety

Comforting. Pop culture can do that, too. And casually facilitate social dialogue, beyond fake news and social division.

Stands for the here and now and music history: Neneh Cherry on Thursday at Pop Culture Photo: Roland Owsnitzki

What relevance does pop music actually have these days? Does it still offer opportunities to reflect on how one wants to live? Or is it, at best, a meaningless element in the lifestyle that everyone tinkers with?

An answer to this question could be sought last week from Wednesday to Friday at Berlin’s Kulturbrauerei. Pop-Kultur", probably the most "official", but certainly one of the most discursive of all local music festivals, took place here. This successor to the "Berlin Music Week" is organized by the Musicboard Berlin, a unique institution in Germany that is dedicated to promoting pop culture.

The support with public funds means not least that free spaces can be opened up here that are disappearing elsewhere due to commercialization pressure. In its fourth year, the diverse festival succeeded in doing just that. In addition to live concerts, there were films, performances, exhibitions, and talk shows – in a density that was sometimes overwhelming.

Special program highlights were the so-called Commissioned Works, commissioned works conceived especially for the festival. Here, too, the palette was broad: Hamburg avant-pop songwriter Sophia Kennedy staged a youth in Kentucky with "Sky Blue Cowgirl." Performance artist Pan Daijing, otherwise more active in experimental contexts, reflected in her work what pop means to her in the first place.

Well-reflected bad mood

Meanwhile, the Neukolln band Hope staged darkness together with spatial choreographer Moritz Majce. In darkness, not only abysses lurk, it can also be a comfortable cocoon. Apparently, the audience also imagined themselves in such a cocoon: in the partly completely darkened room, some people immediately lay down on the floor. Spread over the room, the musicians created two-dimensional post-rock. An impressive experience that recalibrated our perception of live music.

In the past years, there was sometimes the accusation that the Pop Culture Festival was a general store with a few headliners who had a lot of appeal, but were detached from anything specific to Berlin. This time, however, the question of where local pop culture stands was answered in many voices. The most diverse took place at the same time: alternative hip-hop by Viennese rapper Ebru Duzgun aka Ebow, well-reflected bad moods by Stuttgart punk band Die Nerven or unfolkloristic folklore by electronic artist Andrra.

The shimmering colorful kaleidoscope of the present was completed by performances of some legends.

This shimmering colorful kaleidoscope of the present was completed by performances of some legends: For example, the likeable Irmin Schmidt, keyboardist of the German avant-garde band Can, talked about his life on several occasions. And The Last Poets, New York pioneers of conscious rap, who recently released the album "Understand What Black Is" in the 50th year of their existence, also warmed up for their appearance with a talk.

The 70-year-old founding member Abiodun Oyewole and his comrade-in-arms Umar Bin Hassan didn’t seem to be drawn to bed, even though they had just hopped off a transatlantic flight. The two outdid each other at midnight in the best rap tradition with lively purrs ("How I once stole from the Ku Klux Klan and ended up in jail. And they didn’t believe me there that I was a Last Poet!").

Percussionist Baba Donn Babatunde, meanwhile, smiled to himself and nearly finished a bottle of whiskey. Their concert on Thursday evening then proved to be an ambivalent affair: on the one hand touching, not least because of the minute’s silence in memory of Aretha Franklin and the recently deceased Last Poet member Jalal Mansur Nuriddin. On the other hand, the band’s affinity for conspiracy theories ("AIDS is an invention of white scientists") and simple criticism of capitalism made it rather flat and somewhat anachronistic.

Trip-hop on the cutting edge

Neneh Cherry, on the other hand, managed to stand for the here and now and at the same time for a lot of music history. The Swede gained her first experiences as a teenager in the punk band The Cherries – and 40 years later she’s still great. Although she refrained from hits with the exception of "Woman" and "Manchild" and instead presented her new album "Broken Politics," which will be released in October, the audience is completely with her. Trip-hop at its best. The night before, Julian Knoth, bassist and singer with the Nerves, had played a great tense concert with his bandmates at the same venue. But at Cherry, he stood in the concert hall – and just looked happy.

The audience left similarly euphoric with the protest song revue that Berlin-based Australian songwriter Kat Frankie brought to the stage, supported by Hendrik Otremba (singer of the band Messer) and several guests. From classic protest songs, such as Ton Stein Scherben’s "Rauch-Haus-Song", the musicians spanned the arc to "Wenn ich ein Turnschuh war", the Goldene Zitronen’s migration commentary, which today sounds more topical than ever. And a cover of Michael Jackson’s "They Don’t Care About Us," performed by many artists, became great tennis.

There was also a great collective moment during the doors’ beautifully psychedelic performance. Singer Maurice Summen, at the same time head of the Berlin label Staatsakt – whose 15. The festival celebrated its 50th anniversary with concerts by Swutscher and International Music, among others, and encouraged the audience to sing along to a mantra against fear at the end of the festival. And that, as we all know, is the root of so much ugliness.

Comforting. And casually enable social dialogue, beyond fake news and social division. As long as music succeeds in doing that, it doesn’t really have to ask itself the question of relevance.

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