After a lively yet calm first day, the second day of Tempelhof Sounds, Berlin’s newest open-air pop-rock festival, saw larger crowds, louder shows, and generally more of a party atmosphere. Unsurprisingly so – the event kicked off early afternoon Friday when most people were still at work or in school and the 10 pm curfew made it complicated for some to make it on time following a long week.
Speaking of “calm”, turns out this impression is as subjective as any; while, to my perception, a swaying crowd of about 25,000 languidly hummed to the Florence + the Machine tunes, several residents in the vicinity of Tempelhofer Feld reported an earthquake. Experts were summoned and it was established a 1.4 Richter earthquake indeed was felt not far from the festival site. Apparently, the stomping of the feet of the many people onsite caused the slight (but very much reported) tremor a mile away.
One person’s easy night out is another person’s upheaval. I wonder what will come out in reports today since Saturday night at Tempelhof turned out to be considerably more seismic than Day 1. After all, one Matthew Bellamy was born for seismic success.
While in reality, the closest buildings to Tempelhof are more than a mile away, the desire not to disturb anyone (or provoke a petition for the festival to be moved, a common occurrence in the German capital) means the program starts, and ends, early. It is around 1 pm, but there are already thousands of folks roaming the stands or frolicking in the sun. Solid food and beverage choices, decent pricing, and a back-to-back lineup tailored to diverse tastes get about a fifth of pass holders to decide on spending the entire sunny Saturday onsite. This is a possibility a good event should offer anyway.
At exactly 1:45 pm, the Avalanches step on the main stage (Supersonic). Hoping for a band performance, we realize too late that Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi will only host us to a DJ set. As per usual, the duo does their job well, though on this occasion they appear to be about 15 hours early. Their house samples sound as fresh as ever but would fit much better at an early morning after-party since the audience doesn’t look like they are in the mood for clubbing. For a lazy and hot weekend afternoon, soft rock seems appreciably more appropriate. “They haven’t even played ‘Since I Left You’!”, exclaims my photographer exasperatedly after the show.
We leave the festival grounds and return just in time to enter the fan pit for Maxïmo Park at the Echo stage. It’s 5:30 pm and the grounds are practically full. Though the difference in attendance is only about 5,000 (cca 25,000 on Saturday, vs cca 30,000 on Saturday), the crowd itself feels completely different. There is a lot more sweat, cigarette smoke, and squeezing, so much so that we decided to listen to all shows from outside the fan area. Five thousand people don’t sound like a massive difference at an event like this, but the organizers planned very carefully, foreseeing the event for 35,000 people maximum and measuring the fenced area accordingly. A 20 percent increase in headcount made for a much better party atmosphere, but also long lines and some awkward squeezing; ultimately, such is the nature of large-scale events.
Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith is in his usual great mood, sporting a bowler hat and a plain white t-shirt with the word “peace” stamped across in black. The English alt-rock trio effortlessly draw in a crowd of over 10,000, entertaining thoroughly with their snappy, uptempo tunes. Smith is also quite chatty and keeps engaging the masses with his warmth and humor. After announcing the song “The Kids Are Sick Again” in his broken but charming German, much to everyone’s delight, he continues with a caps lock introduction to the new single, “Great Art”.
“We’ve got a new single! Unbelievable! This song is about hating right-wing people! Alright!,” he screams while greeted with a boisterous cheer. “Going Missing” and “Our Velocity” are ideal danceable tunes and everyone is engaged. That is, until we realize we’re about to face a touch choice” stick around to end on a high note with “Apply Some Pressure”, or run over to the Supersonic stage for Alt-J’s “Every Other Freckle”. Having all bands playing literally back-to-back, without a minute of pause in between, had to take its toll at some point.
We choose Alt-J. Sorry, Mr. Smith. Tut Joe Newman’s hypnotic cooing is, at least in the case of this single, unmissable. Turns out we made a good call, as the fan pit closed exactly a minute after the show began; too many people were trying to squeeze in and for a good reason. At times it is hard to believe there are only three people on stage during an Alt-J show: Augustus Unger-Hamilton’s evocative keyboards follow Newman’s mesmerizing vocals seamlessly as the band’s unique tunes ebb and flow while the crowds swing to the subdued rhythm. Their music might be devastating and quiet, but heard live, it ascends to the sky and comes across as almost joyous.
The 60-minute set features predominantly songs off their most famed release from 20212, An Awesome Wave, and the people are grateful for this since they know all of them. “Tessellate”, “Matilda”, “Something Good” and “Taro” all soar. It is a great testament to the band’s work that everyone dances and very few festival-goers leave the show to wander or rest, though it’s 80 degrees and refreshment is needed. “Breezeblocks” is a fitting closer and a prolonged loud cheer sends the Loiners off.
Just prior to the beginning of the event, an interesting interview Rbb24 did with the festival chief, Stephan Thanscheidt is released (in German). A seasoned organizer, Thanscheidt explains how important diversity was to the idea of Tempelhof Sounds. The promoters want to that ensure up-and-coming performers will get a chance to perform, too, as well as groups featuring female members or even leads (which comprise nearly half of the roster).
For this reason, the pre-headlining slots are saved for the English glam-blues-rocker Barns Courtney, whose electrifying stage presence sets the tone for what’s to come. Courtney is so self-assured and full of energy that his persona alone manages to chip away some 3,000 people from the Sophie Hunger performance. Our friends, along with another 20,000 folks, rush to see the Swiss-born, Berlin-based singer-songwriter. However, we need to save our energy for the bombastic finalé of the night, so we stick with Courtney, who dazzles the fans in the front rows.
It is 10 past 8 pm, but it’s already next to impossible to approach the Supersonic stage. Fans old and new rub against one another until the curtain falls down and four men wearing metallic masks resembling a cyberpunk rendition of a V for Vendetta emerge wearing hoods and prancing against a backdrop of burning letters. The celestial glam rock chords of “Will of the People” explode immediately and the 3+1 live band members of Muse reveal themselves shortly thereafter, presenting their latest single about a “fictional” oppressive system earnestly. The screams and stomping are likely to cause more than just a 1.4 Richter tremble this time.
Matthew Bellamy, also known as one of the most spectacular all-around musical talents of our age, has fully grown into his role as a postmodern revolutionary. Over the past two decades, he has evolved from a frustrated teenager into a conspiracy theory and alien aficionado, then into a political criticizer, now completing his transformation into a prophet of social rebirth. On the band’s upcoming, 9th album, he “imagines” a world in which the people are downtrodden by greedy rulers, but are just about to rise up, led by an enigmatic hacker called – Will.
I’d be dishonest if I wouldn’t say his on-the-nose lyrics are no match for his early works of unbridled, if glamorous, aggression, but the sheer energy and virtuosity with which the trio deliver their larger-than-life hooks makes us only crave more. A friend recently commented that Muse have long completed their path to “stadiumation”, something instantly obvious during their shows. This is a spectacular thing, though. Many famous bands spend their entire careers straining to compose tunes that require wide-open spaces and gigantic crowds; most of them never succeed or, if they do, we’re talking just a handful of “stadium rock” songs that are then worn out to perpetuity.
Bellamy, however, appears to have been born to play stadia. A phenomenally talented pianist and guitarist, he also boasts his 4-octave vocal range with such ease, that it is impossible to look away. Even when the lyrics falter (let’s never speak of the compliance/defiance/self-reliance rhyme again), the show itself is so grandiose, so utterly absorbing, that no doubt regarding Muse’s already legendary status remains. One supersonic riff after another, the crowd keeps losing it. “Hysteria” is thunderous from start to finish, “Pressure” skyrockets when Bellamy sings “Don’t push me!”, and “Psycho” thrills with its massive riffs. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dom Howard are in top form. Not a note is missed and each song sounds like its studio version – only LOUDER!
When Bellamy asks the crowd: “Was anyone here even born in 2001?!”, I was confused, as the mean age of those present is around 35. Nevertheless, when a beautiful rendition of Origin of Symmetry’s “Citizen Erased” launched, practically nobody sang, and the majority started chatting or, worse, went to the toilet. Only then did I realize that in the eyes of many, Muse became a must-see act only after 2006, that is, after they released their first four albums, widely considered to be their best. “Plug in Baby”, “Time is Running Out” and “Starlight” are the only singles from their peak acclaim era that get a singalong. I will get over this realization. As long as this astounding band does well, I am happy.
Mayhem permeates the entirety of the 90-minute show. To top off Bellamy’s insane vocals and musical prowess, there are shooting flames, a 30-feet tall metallic mask with a hood turns ominously from side to side, toward the end showing a vile full of liquid about to blow off (this is real and I have no better way of explaining this bizarre sculpture). There’s not a soul in front of the stage that’s not either in or on ecstasy. The eccentric setup just adds to all this excitement.
The encore is reserved for an interesting new song, “Kill or Be Killed”, and “Knights of Cydonia”. As Bellamy runs up and down a piste installed just for them, a crowd of nearly 30,000 cries out with joy. It’s barely 10 pm and we are all exhausted. This is what festivals should be about.
Day 3 will see a takeover by Interpol, Anna Calvi, and more, with the Strokes as final headliners.