Dockville Festival: Music Baptism

August 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Careless in our summer clothes, splashing around in the muck and the mire.”

Thank you, Cold War Kids, I couldn’t have summed it up better.  Three days of rain and mud was the backdrop for my first European music festival.  Cold, wet, dirty, slippery, absolutely amazing.

Day One: Allegretto

After finally figuring out the intricate network of S-Bahn lines in Hamburg, I arrived at Veddel and was greeted by a mass of people  waiting for the shuttle bus that took us to the festival grounds.  Tents, sleeping mats, cartons full of beer cans, and a lot of excited chatter.  I smiled too; I had arrived in Hamburg earlier that day to rainy skies and a chilly wind, but after a few hours of reading books at the hostel lobby, the skies stopped their downpour and I was grateful.  I should have taken heed of all the people pulling on rain boots and duck taping trash bags over their feet.  I also should have invested in something more than flip flops.

It was muddy.  Very muddy.  Up-to-your-shins-with-no-way-around-it muddy, and the hour-and-a-half wait to get from the outside of the gate to the other side was full of dangerously full shopping carts, steep bridges, and quicksand-like characteristics of the evil brown that almost dragged midgets down to their deaths- no kidding.  But, hey, what brings you closer together with a huge crowd of strangers than getting dirty together and sharing drinks in long lines?  Very few things.

My agenda for the first day wasn’t too terribly pressing- Those Dancing Days and Editors were the only bands I had heard about.  I mud-skated my way over to the main stage, where a group of Swedish-sounding people were jamming and skipping around.  I leaned over to the person standing next to me to confirm their identity- yup, first item of my list could be checked off.  Full of energy, fun, and inspiration for the feet to tap.  After the set was over, I chatted some more with the guy in my rusty German, and he persuaded me to stay at the Grosschot stage for the rest of the night. Soon, his Irish-looking friend joined us, they started buying and sharing beers, and I had no intention of going anywhere else.

Dunkel Bunt played next: somewhere between pop, folk, electronic, and oriental music, to match their contradictory name .  I enjoyed it for the first couple of songs, but even with such a diverse range of styles, it somehow sounded similar to me after a while.  Johnossi came next.  Another tip of the hat to Swedish artists that night.  The crowd grew considerably and everyone was hopping back and forth, but I am not sure if that was due strictly to enthusiasm for the man, or to anticipation the Editors finishing up the night.

The headliners of the night came onto the stage just when the full moon broke out from behind the clouds, and it felt just like I was back at ACL.  A big, energetic mass of music-worshipers singing along at the top of their lungs and madly waving their arms around.  All of the mellow German hippies that spend their day blowing bubbles, sprinkling glitter onto each other, and drawing cat whiskers on their own faces merged with the standard scream-and-get-as-close-to-the-stage-as-possible audience to create  a fun atmosphere of groovy sways and pumped-up kicks.  There was mud flying everywhere as people jumped into puddles, and some fun accents as a bunch of Germans sand along to the British words.

Afterwards, my new friends and I made our way back across the perilous bridge and located the Nest stage behind an overgrown tree decorated with hammocks and a huge structure standing on unnervingly small beams of wood.  A lot of the smaller stages/tents were overflooded, so they had to shuffle some bands around, but after the initial delay, Active Stepper got on stage and rocked our world for an hour.  I believe that the world would be a better place if everyone lost their barefoot selves to techno remakes of rap songs and German pop ballads.  It was awakening, to say the least.

I stumbled back to the hostel dormitory a bit before 4 AM (thank goodness that Hamburg S-Bahns run 24 hours on weekends) and then spend a good while attempting to wash the  mud off my feet in a tiny sink mounted very high on the wall that only spurted hot water.  I lost my flip flops somewhere on the way home.  Somehow, the music was buzzing too loud in my head for me to notice.

All in all, a very good introduction to the adventure that would continue through the next two days… and only get better.

                        Proof of a good day

Day Two: Andantino

Other than hearing a few of Santigold’s legendary melodies on bad soundtracks and Crystal Castles’ compilation with Robert Smith, I didn’t know any of the bands listed for the day.  This realization led to devoting the first half of the day walking around and discovering Hamburg- in the sun!  Wandered around the Messe/Dammtor park, which had an impressive assembly of unique flowers, Japanese gardens with all of the inhabiting teens dressed up as Japanese cats and samuri, and winding paths to stroll on.  Stopped by Binnenalster, an artificial ‘lake’ that was currently the battleground for international yacht racing teams- a lot of Asians doing dance aerobics to warm up before all getting into the yacht with matching silver anime wigs and rowing their little hearts out.  Paused in front of the Rathaus, but the rap group set up on the stage outside quickly scared me away and reminded me that I had some real music to listen to a few metro stops away.  So… off to Veddel again.

Due to the sun, the place wasn’t sinking in on itself (though still muddy), so I took the opportunity to explore the grounds a bit more.  It’s really an awesome layout… huge camping ground, one big stage, and a few smaller attractions to the left of the main bridge, another big stage, few tents, and a nice hill to the right.  The two main stages were regular music festival stages, but the smaller ones mostly consisted of various random pieces of wood hammered together.  Very artistic, environmental, unique, and fun.  Everyone was still wearing rain boots, but today you could also see some skin- lots of summer dresses and alternative fashion, which made me feel like I was anywhere but Germany.  I found a nice place on top of the hill to sit down upon, and was visited by a ladybug that kept me company through the next two bands:

                              My spotted German friend

Black Mail, a reunited German band that has a lot of guitar melodies and verve, didn’t impress me much, but Beat!Beat!Beat! was actually pretty good.  Catchy alternative beats with an unusual combination of sounds but a comforting arrangement of vocals.  Definitely my favorite find for the day.

Went back downhill to hook back up with my German buddies, as I promised them that I would definitely be back there for Kakk Madda Fakka.  Dang, Norway.  Guess it’s a popular style in Germany, because flags with the dead horse logos went up all throughout the crowd. “Trash meets 60’s, Pop, Punk, and Ska” is what the program described them as… and that’s pretty accurate.  I wasn’t too thrilled, but their encore consisted of their take on Beyonce’s ‘Halo’… which made it all worth it.  Parts slow and sentimental, parts screamed out, parts simply KakkMaddaFakka-y.  If I ever find a good MP3 version of it, I am upgrading my wordpress account just so that I can share it with the world.

Casper, a German rapper with a ghastly voice, presented me with the perfect opportunity to leave the crowd and look at the indie art booths set up all around the music grounds.  Crystal Castles resulted in a huge dance mob, which I gladly joined in on.  This mysterious band that always stayed behind the bright flashing lights and didn’t say a single word to the audience was a good tempo to keep up with as the night fell and, suddenly, enough jackets couldn’t be found to throw over summer dresses.  The dancing continued with Santigold, the night’s headliner.  One word to describe her?  American.  Definitely not shy to strut her stuff (and neither are her pom-pom backup dancers), and the huge fake horse the dragged onto the stage was a hit with the audience- probably because it reminded them of Kakk Madda Fakka.  The house dances of Crystal Castles turned into constant club moves until her last short song ended the Big Stage portion of the day.  Time to retreat to the smaller tents for afterparties.

More bands were shuffled around, so I didn’t actually get to see Glasser.  I was a bit bummed, but then Peggy Sue got on the stage and I didn’t mind very much.  Two laid-back, completely casual girls from the UK with great harmonies and evident love for banging on the drums.  I Heart Sharks, a slower techno band from Hamburg came on next, but didn’t strike much interest after the two girls, so I called it an early night.  Home by 3 AM, with significantly cleaner feet.

Day Three: Capriccioso

Final day… EPIC.  One of the best days of this entire trip through Europe, and that’s saying something.  I left the hostel knowing that I would never wear those red Vans again, and I was ready to throw the pants out alongside them; it was mercilessly pouring out of black skies.   I felt ready to tackle anything, with all of my purse contents in individual plastic bags and a non-rain-resistant poncho thrown over me.

Got lost on the S-Bahn on the way there… but then you see rainboots and trash bags thrown over people, and you just follow them.  It’s actually a pretty amazing theme: solidarity through rain boots.  With every metro stop, more people get on, and you all exchange smiles and know that you will be listening to the same sunset that night.  And on the way back from the festival, when you are completely caked in mud and the rest of the Hamburg population stares at you like you just fought your way out of a grave, you take comfort in the fellow dirtiness and just smile at all of the clean people, knowing that your day was significantly better than theirs.

I spend the first two hours in the Maschinenraum, a huge red-and-white circus-like tent with soul-shattering acoustics.  Watched The Dash Woods, a young pop-rock band that somehow managed to not let their tunes get flat and  similar.  Cast a stern eye at the security guys that were tentatively planning on closing down the tents because of the downpour flooding their cables and electrical connections, then zipped up my poncho and marched through high slosh to join the significantly smaller-than-usual crowd around the main stage.  It might have still been pouring, but the devout Noah and the Whale fans don’t let such things get in their way.  I mean, both Noah and whales like water, right?

Have you ever noticed how many of their songs are about sun? (oh, ‘cos blue skies are coming)  And did you know that this band is truly magical? (It’s the first day of spring…) With every mention of the sun, the sky cleared a little bit. (Tonight’s the kind of night, where everything could change) By the time that they had finished their set, the sun was shining, the people around me penta-fied, and everyone was jumping up and down with exuberant grins on their faces.  Thank you, Noah.  Not only is your music earthy, fun, and even better live, but it causes miracles.

Biblical magic continued with Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros.  I was third row, middle, and in heaven for an hour.  After a sound check that took forever, Alex Ebert floated onto stage with his white cotton Jesus robe, and all of the German hippies went wild and started falling at his feet.  Of course, he completely propelled such lavish behaviour of worship by mirroring our hand-heart symbols and reaching out to us in our time of need.  He even threw off his Jesus sandals and jumped over the barrister to be on our humble level- this was about a foot and a half in front of me, and he stayed there for a few verses of 40 Day Dream, and he just stood there whispering the words, and my skin made contact with his robe, and then I really was in heaven.  The other highlight would be my section of people starting a sway dance which he tried to join in on mid-song, but got confused and lost his lyrics.  And adding a “one mud” verse to his Carries On.  And all of the times that he and Jade Castrinos were cute together, and the entire Dockville population cooed (with jealousy, no doubt).  He ended the set with Home, and the few raindrops that started with the first line grew into a heavy downpour at the same time as the song was done… you have cleansed us of our unclean music sins, Oh Sharpe, and we thank you.  Walk in peace.

Next hour was spend poking around more art tents in the storm and watching an entire wooden house randomly be put on fire as amusement (or maybe warmth).  And then I went back to he circus tent extra early because I was afraid that Zola Jesus, the primary reason I came to the festival, was already flooded out or she actually played the day before, or some other Dockville-style catastrophe.

I enjoyed May 68, a UK band with a rather charismatic head singer that produces dark 80’s pop.  Definitely interesting, definitely no still feet.  And then, a long breath held as men in lederhosen dragged on the next band’s music equipment on stage… when I saw the Zola Jesus sticker on the keyboard box, I let out a very hearty hoot.  I didn’t make it to her show when I was in Seattle, and I was terrified that I would not get to see her again because of the rain, but…  there she was, in her red hooded dress, intense eyes, and never-ending bundle of energy.  There is only one way that I could describe Zola Jesus, other than perfectfuckingamazing:  metallic sparrow.

                         Metallic Sparrow 

She never stood still.  She jumped around the stage, threw herself across the floor, crouched on the platforms, grabbed a handful of Red Bulls to give to the crowd, and stomped her feet the entire performance.  She soared over the fence separating stage and crowd right next to me, and by the time that I realized that her cape just brushed over my head, she was already on the other side of the crowd and then hopped back onto the stage as if muddy acrobatics is part of her everyday itinerary.  It was crazy; she is so small and light, and then she is pouncing on everything with this dark passion that would make any tiger turn around with his tail between his legs.  Her presence, the bass turned up so high that every note breaks your heart, her growling words and siren calls, the red fabric in an otherwise black room… it was transcending.  And beautiful and frightening and heavy- it was the sort of thing you can’t sway back-and-forth to or even tap your heel to, but the sort of thing where your head and knees are slightly bowed, and you try to push down harder on the ground in fear of falling down.

I was breathless by the time that she was done, and I didn’t even have the heart to listen to the festival’s …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead or Kele finales.  Just stumbled onto the shuttle back and turned my iPod on loud to Zola.  Upon getting back to the hostel, I threw all of the mud-covered attire away, steamed myself white again in the shower, and fell into a blissful sleep.

Dockville, you are a harsh friend, and I love you for it.  Thank you.

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