From Shortparis to Agar Agar, Berlin's Pop-Kultur is a premier place to discover live music that's ahead of the curve...
Charlotte Hayne
17:50 23rd August 2018

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It’s Wednesday. You’re at work and everything is shit. The Summer of love climate change is at full scorch. Sitting in an office as steamy as a hamam bath, you’re on the fence about whether to head to a gig that night. Peering through the vapour, you email a friend. Um and ‘ah a bit. Delay the decision.

By 3pm this morning’s fresh white T. is hanging limp and heavy. You check out the artist’s bandcamp again. Will it be worth it? Back to email.

You make a move. But now your train line is down and the artist formerly known as ‘white t-shirt’ has morphed into a sweaty cape, doing a salsa against your love handles. The world is against you. Even at the venue, everyone is a little too cheerful, a little too loud, a little too annoying. This was a terrible idea.

And then. The music starts. It speaks to you. Your breathing changes. Your body loosens. You tune into the set, out of your stress, and decide that the world is actually a really great place and everyone in this room with you - also enjoying this moment - must be a fucking lovely person too. Happy you came. Happy they came. You spill out onto the street afterwards, nourished and glad.

That feeling of contentment after catching a surprise great gig? The warm fuzzy appreciation for something that you almost missed? That’s a bit what going to Pop-Kultur is like.

Set on-site in an old brewery in Berlin for three nights, acts play, talk and exhibit across 13 different venues. Making up a gig village, spaces range from a little bar with capacity for 40 to a 100 person comfy cinema to a 1000 strong stage where the acoustics reverb along your cochlea.

The size of the venues, combined with the ease of moving around between them gives everything an intimate feel. The crowd talk to each other, interact with the musicians and seem relaxed, open-minded and music savvy. People are here to see something new. There are easily as many locals coming by after work as there are visitors to the city who explore in the day, and gig at night.

In that respect, Pop-Kultur is less of a “city festival” and more of a gig-binge. They’ve taken all the good things about going to see a band or talk on the spur of the moment and made it work at scale. No queues, low fuss, understated on the admin and hassle but big on diverse music. Netflixing you in a good way - Pop-kultur are host, curator and pusher of your next music binge.

Don’t be led astray by the word ‘pop’ in their name - running a stylistic gamut that flirts in equal measure with thrashing metal, rose petal covered classical pianos and body immersive electronic soundscapes - the lineup programming is genre-inclusive.

Chelsea Wolfe opened Wednesday with the ultimate revenge-filled metal safari soundscape. Her gig was a booming call to your inner downtrodden wilderbeast. Vengeance will be yours and Wolfe will be your soundtrack. Next, enter a dark black box where you’re given ear plugs and stand in the middle, waiting. What follows is part-performance, part installation. Choose to move in between the layered sounds or sit and let their light and soundwaves wash over you. The commissioned work by band Hope and space choreographer Moritz Majce creates a sensual experience that makes sound and space palpable throughout the whole body. “We are in a black phase right now”. I believe them.

Thursday saw Swede Anna Von Hausswolff open with a performance of biblical gravitas. Glass clean angelic vocals announced the end of suffering and then distorted into a meaty prophetic doom. Moving between the mighty drones of Kallan to more folk-inspired early work, her depth and intensity combined with the acoustics of the kesselhaus to bring an actual tear to the person next to me.

And then a different kind of spell: the dark-folk timbre of Ava Bonham on voice and piano held an entire room suspended in neo-classical time. Whilst Ace Tee and Kwam.e were a nostalgic disappointment and Friday’s Grime trio YGG felt far away from their 2017 EP title “World Domination”, Neneh Cherry brought bluesy notes to the avant-electronic, oozing charisma and filling the 1000 strong crowd with her power and majestic energy.

With an inward focused sound, Laura Perrudin on harp and voice layered, synthed, plucked, and sung, all the while finding the spaces and quiet moments in her music, massaging the room to a crescendo.

Agar Agar (pictured above) brought their retro-fresh ever so ennui electro-energy to a packed room of fans. It’s 1984 and there’s a hole in my sock. But I don’t care. For a totally different kind of energy- Ms.Banks was one of the few grime artists playing, and whilst I’m not sure much of the mostly German crowd even knew what Grime was, she still killed it. More please. Her show and stage presence was lyrical, slick, celebratory and even gracious. She was there to sing, to hype, and after Mad ‘ting Sad ‘ting went off she ran a quick workshop on twerking. Lots of bright things to come.

Friday saw Russian quintet Shortparis set musical standards. Their post-punk, baroque-pop set was a ‘Paris is burning’ style effigy, signalling to all who have come before to take note. Into the dawn, the Pop-Hayat club night curated by Yesim Duman moved between futuristic techno, traditional house and vinyl-only disco. Geared towards a queer audience, BEARCAT, Duman and Nevalot showed how discourse can flow into disco. Uplifting 50s and 60s vocals rang out over fizzing beats. Sweaty and content, people made their way out of gig village as Pop-Kultur 2018 came to a close.


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Photo: Camile Blake