1397 words on Haldern
Finally, the Haldern Pop weekend arrived and with a bunch of friends I headed towards Haldern for this year’s edition of the festival. We received the usual friendly welcome and went on to put up our luxuriously large tent along with the fantastic (as in ‘fantastic idea’ but crappy product which broke after a few hours, I swear a friend of mine has one which looks the same but doesn’t break right away) folding table with seaths around our usual location on the campground.
Soon, we had indulged in some steaks, heard our ‘lovely’ neighbours’ music and learned about their inability to listen to complete tracks (which kind of drives me nuts) and went on to see Wintersleep (CAN) in the Spiegelzelt. Their music made a nice start for the festival.
They were followed by The Irrepressibles (UK) whom I really didn’t like. Plenty of people dressed up in white angelical costumes plus a lead singer wearing a cone head doesn’t make me particularly happy. Particularly when the music sounds like all the fancy ‘classical’ instruments the people brought there aren’t needed at all for the music coming out of this. This seemed more decoration than substance to me. Not to forget the clown-like aspects.
This ended the ‘chill-in’ day and at least the instruments in The Irrepressibles set the stage for a lot that was to come: It seems that this time there were relatively few bands who didn’t bring some violins, violas or other classical string instruments. Those seem increasingly popular in pop music. Whether or not that’s a good thing may be an interesting question to discuss.
After niceties like a bacon and eggs breakfast and some extra relaxing after that we did some shopping and picked up our remaining friend from the station. Bonus points go to the luggage shuttle operated there which simply drove his luggage the remaining two kilometres to the festival grounds while giving him (and everybody who picked him up as it turned out) a cold beer to enjoy on the way. Situations rarely end up more win-win than this, I suppose, particularly when the sun is shining and it’s rather hot.
The first band we saw was Port O’Brien (USA) whose album I found rather enjoyable. And their gig was great as well. Definitely worth seeing, particularly with that extra bit of energy you often get in live music.
Next up was Final Fantasy (CAN) whose playing we had already enjoyed at Haldern 2006 and since gotten used to its inherent quirkiness of electronic loops meeting a violin. Strangely, the usual announcer for the bands said he couldn’t remember any other single person bands playing on the main stage before (I do - Patrick Wolf did in 2004 and I’m fairly sure the same announcer guy was also doing his duties back then because he always seems to be doing that.)
Still, the music and its performance were nice, odd, enjoyable, quirky. It takes a bit of getting used to and could perhaps do with a bit more force in a place or two but it’s generally a good thing.
But the goodness didn’t stop here and Noah and the Whale (UK) came on next, delivering another superb gig, after which we needed a little rest and food.
Later in the evening on the main stage there was Patrick Watson (CAN) who didn’t just play a great gig with his band
but was also accompanied by a bunch of strings players at times and escaped the stage to wander through the crowds with a badass blinking speaker thingy.
Before heading back to the tent we looked at half of the Athlete (UK) who to me sounded as dated as they are and we also had a look at Gravenhurst (UK) in the Spiegelzelt on our way back who was a bit too slow (and IMO is better with a band), so we cut that short as well and called it a night.
In terms of general remarks, I - and similarly my friends - ended up thinking that the festival seemed more relaxed this year than in previous years. Despite being sold out, there were fewer and quicker queues and the festival area didn’t seem as crowded as it was in the previous years - we could easily reach comfortable viewing positions not too far from the stage without needing to be pushy. I’m wondering whether they reduced capacity or whether the relatively quiet style of many of the bands played a role in this.
I also don’t tire of remarking how friendly the festival is. Despite serving hundreds or thousands of people throughout the day, people at the food and drinks stalls are usually friendly to every new punter who arrives. Remarkable, particularly in Germany at a festival where you don’t have many other options. A new addition to the food on site seemed to be a small café with proper espresso and fancy fruit smoothies. The traditional crêpes stall with its particularly charming staff also didn’t disappoint either (spelling problems notwithstanding - heck it’s just a single accent in the word crêpes, yet at most 20% of the stalls in Germany manage to spell it correctly everywhere…).
After seeing Steffen off and having a refreshing swim in the local lake, we started the day with Dear Reader (SA). Two things to say here: The short one is that I wasn’t overly impressed by their album, but they were very good live. The long and remarkable one - which also came up in a public interview they gave after their gig - is that they are from South Africa. Which isn’t just my home away from home but which as far as I can tell is rather devoid of ‘indiepop’ music. Pop music in South Africa seems to have stopped in the 1980s - at least that’s the impression I get when turning on the radio there. As a consequence it’s surprising to see an ‘indiepop’ band from Jo’burg and it’s great to see them attract a bit of attention in Europe (and the U.S.).
Actually the interview with Dear Reader I saw afterwards was quite cool. Not only did they go into their background, cover art and the story about being inside an ice bear is a good way to hide as they’re apparently invisible to infrared cameras. And special kudos go to their drummer for presenting the worst German sentences he learned (amazingly accent-free) and for wearing a World/Inferno T-Shirt.
Next, The Maccabees (UK) played a no-nonsense and energetic gig,
followed by Grizzly Bear (US) who came with a full and rather dreamy sound who were then
followed by Bon Iver (US), who carefully stepped things up a little with a hint of hippie sound.
After this there was time for a brief look at Hjaltalín (ISL) in the Spiegelzelt whose music has a time and place which probably isn’t a tent right in the middle of a hot summer afternoon. But I had to return to the main stage anyway - for not to miss The Thermals (US) who remain one of my favourite bands (even though their latest album Now We Can See can’t really match its predecessors). Perhaps they were a bit too ‘professional’ and distant throughout the gig, but still, I enjoyed it a lot…
… and in a way that was the glorious end of the festival. While there were more bands playing, I wasn’t particularly keen on The Soundtrack of Our Lives (SWE) (freaky new album cover, btw) who seem to come from a different decade and who elicited a comment from a friend that German audiences always need a band with a bit of ‘stadium’ pathos. After them, Little Boots (UK) could be seen in the Spiegelzelt and seemed to be completely out of place. The closing ‘act’ were Fettes Brot (DE) who are shockingly popular in this country but whom I considered out of place as well with their well-trained dances and ‘funny’ Sprechgesang. So the very end of the festival was a bit unspectacular.
While I don’t think The Thermal’s latest “Now We Can See” tops “The Body, The Blood, The Machine” as my favorite album of theirs, I actually like it quite a lot, and think it’s holds up pretty well to their past work. I’m curious to know where you think it comes up short?
I’m not saying it’s bad, but it doesn’t match the other albums in terms of raw power and its ability to drag me out of my seat. It feels slower and more moderate overall – a bit too moderate for my taste.