Dominic Storer If you've got sweet moves you can try your damnedest to make…
- Posted on Sep 26th 2011 2:00PM by Jonathan Dekel
Courtesy of Reeperbahn Festival
The Reeperbahn (with its infamous ladies of the night) still exists and, indeed, there are monuments, squares and museums erected in memory of the Fab Four, but today's Hamburg is one of both creative and economical boom. Interestingly, outside the city's gated walls, little regard is given to the dramatic rebranding of Germany's second largest city. Those, more or less, were the circumstance that six years ago led several key players in the city's vibrant music scene to join together to create the Reeperbahn Festival -- and, in essence, to position the city they love back on the creative map.
This year, the annual festival -- which aspirationally moulds itself after Austin's South by Southwest festival but is more kin in scope to Brighton's Great Escape Festival -- hoped to reach beyond Germany's self-sufficient borders by aiming to attract media, audience and industry from the UK, Scandinavia and, to a lesser extent, North America. The fact that it managed to succeed -- this year's edition was a near sell-out with more international visitors than ever before -- with a relatively unstacked line-up should prove that the organizers are onto something.
In that sense, the Reeperbahn Festival has proven itself worthy of the company of other destination festivals such as Iceland Airwaves. For one, both events rely heavily on the local arts scene to showcase a bustling community; both managed to lure exciting if not flashy acts to their shores to showcase their zeitgeist-baiting sounds in the heart of repurposed industrial complexes.
Take, for example, the heart-pounding syncopated rhythms of Friendly Fires, whose show in a former World War II bunker generated a sweaty mess of exuberant youth, gasping for air amidst lead singer Ed Macfarlane's jarring if hyperbolic dance extravaganza. Or California's EMA, who turned heads with their fuzzed-out noise-pop gems, including a surprise Violent Femmes cover. Others on the bill included Canadian electo-fuzz duo Handsome Furs and British blues-rock dandies the Duke Spirit, whose Saturday night set started a bit slow but moved into overdrive once singer Liela Moss shed both her shiny sportcoat, and let loose on a nearly packed house.
However, like the cranes that threaten the tranquility of the its church-dotted skyline or the unyielding march of gentrification that surges forth into the heart of the famed St. Pauli district, the city's new face is in harsh contradiction to its relatively free-thinking, left-leaning reputation. Events such as the festival are necessary in making sure that, for every gargantuan tower that is built, a hidden gem of culture accompanies it.
Such is the case for the dancing towers, an unmistakable duel-peaked landmark built at the mouth of the Reeperbahn which will also house the reformation of the Mojo Club -- the birthplace of German 'dancefloor-jazz' and tip-hop. Whether Mojo's owners can retain its independent spirit in the face of commercial exploration is yet to be seen -- the club reopens in September 2012 -- however, according to many in the industry, they have not lost faith.
It's this spirit that still permeates modern Hamburg and gives hope for the ideals required to nurture culture in the city. During the festival, an anti-gentrification protest (watched and eventually disbanded by riot police following a heartbreaking loss by the area's anti-fascist, politically left soccer team) turned into an anti-Reeperbahn Festival rave under one of the city's impressive statues.
Ironically, this spirit of rebellion is being highlighted, if not supported, by both the festival and the city, and it continues to be a constant struggle between residents and investing companies to gain control.
In the middle of this modern paradox lies the Reeperbahn festival, a corporate-sponsored beacon aiming to promote a city and a people at odds with the fine balance of commerce and culture. Sufficed to say, this is hardly the hard port city where the boys from Liverpool lost their virginity and played hour-upon-hour on uppers. Today's Hamburg is one of a fledgling megacity in battle with European ideals. A city where green energy contradicts big business practices, where artists and street art dominate an area formerly too dangerous to traverse, an area that's struggling to redefine itself to a world perhaps too self-involved to notice its gaining importance.
That being said, like Austin before it, using a music and arts festival to gain a yearly spotlight may be one of Hamburg's brightest ideas. It's just too hard to ignore change when it's right in your face.