fueling the zeitgeist / pop-kultur berlin in review


pop-kultur festival was nothing if not true to its name. taking place at the infamous berghain and its surrounding venues, pop-kultur was a rotating cast of the leading figures in contemporary electronica; a stack on stack of your standard music festival events. all packed into a mere three days of evening and nighttime gigs, the festival gave you exactly what you expected — almost to a fault. here’s why.

2015 was pop-kultur’s inaugural year. it got off to a pretty good start, too. an impressive line up was dominated by the musical zeitgeist: the frontrunners of the past few years were all in attendance. or at least, that’s what it seemed like at first glance. kiasmos, owen pallett, matthew herbert, lapalux, neneh cherry — check, check, check. nordic duo kiasmos played a stunning live set. it was clear they were who everyone was here to see: the berghain was packed to the rafters and their set was a perfectly apt nod to their debut self-titled album. having already heard this performance once at mutek, it was disappointingly familiar, but no less beautiful. the crowd was noticeably more subdued for owen pallett’s indie-pop meets classical performance with the stargaze orchestra. it was phenomenally moving, all fragile voice over subtle song. matthew herbert was a crowd favourite, and pantha du prince wowed with a collaborative effort with the triad. lapalux and inga copeland each played of course, there’s nothing quite like hearing artists play at the berghain main room — it’s as special for them as it is for us, and that shows in their performances.

but for all the perfectly curated artists, there were a great many repeat offenders (matthew herbert alone made 3 appearances) and a great deal more that were relatively unknown. no problem, of course, locals and up-and-comers are always welcome, but for me, it seemed like there was a lot missing — where were the likes of arca, FKA twigs, christian löffler, gidge, elderbrook, jacques greene, dominik eulberg, or even ryan hemsworth, who would feel right at home at this kind of festival? the real issue with the unfamiliar or unknown artists wasn’t just that they were unfamiliar or unknown, though. the problem laid in the way the festival was organized: no full passes or even entire day passes were sold. at all. the festival was broken up into “modules,” divided by their venue location at the berghain. one was restricted to purchasing tickets for individual modules — that meant that if there was an unfamiliar artist you thought maybe you’d be interested in seeing, you had to purchase a separate ticket to their module (with its own separate queue on the night of, i might add). if that seems exhaustingly complicated, trust me, it was. in the end, it meant that many missed out on discovering artists simply because of a convoluted ticket process.

maybe it’s that pop culture is just less interesting. maybe i’ve been to too many music festivals this year. maybe i’ve outgrown it. but so far, berlin’s festivals has disappointed me. i’ve been told that i’ve got unrealistic expectations. i don’t think that’s true: is it asking too much that my festivals wow me? that i get something special from them that i won’t experience elsewhere? pop-kultur was fun. there were performances that i liked. but there was nothing about it at all that gave me that ache to experience it all over again. pop culture and pop-kultur somehow seem entirely standard — and i guess i’m just looking for something special.


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