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Berlin Festival 2013: Stick a pitchfork in me

As Friday wears on, we cope with bad sound, diagnose Bosnian Rainbows' frontwoman and encounter a Mad Man in singer-songwriter form.

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Photo by Tania Castellvi

Deputy editrix Rachel here, speaking for the young whippersnappers. Or rather, the late twentysomethings with grandfatherly music tastes and burgeoning tinnitus. Speaking of which, the German Tinnitus Awareness Organisation has a booth here. I’ll have to remember to donate a few bucks tomorrow, if My Bloody Valentine hasn’t reduced them to smoking rubble.

Anyway, I’m staking out the Pitchfork stage for the afternoon. It’s a rather puzzling lineup. As far as I can tell, Pitchfork didn’t even review the Bosnian Rainbows debut, which might explain why their stage gives the band such short shrift. The sound is terrible, rendering Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’ galactic guitar pedal board and his band’s synth collection into featureless mud. Through it all I can gather that since finding himself a girl (Teresa Suarez aka Teri Gender Bender) the former Mars Voltan has indeed eased up on the musical masturbation (or at least relegated it to furtive bathroom sessions with a crumpled Sweetwater catalogue). I only count one overly lengthy guitar solo and two or three time signature changes over the entire set, which for him is practically Ramonesian restraint. 

Perhaps he’s content to be overshadowed by Suarez, who’s a compelling stage presence even if she does perform the last song entirely in the photo pit where only about two percent of the audience can see her. Her dance moves bear enough resemblance to clinical OCD symptoms – repeatedly pulling at her hair, bashing herself in the face with her mic, picking at a random spot on the floor for a minute straight – that I’d be worried for her if it weren’t for her adorably excitable Spanish-language banter, punctuated by a grin wider than the giant bear mouth framing the stage.

Afterwards, I do a quick lap and catch bits and pieces of The Sounds and NYPC, enough to gather I haven’t missed much since 2005. By the time I get back Conor O’Brien, last seen confessing to Exberliner about his deathly fear of prawns, is walking on in shades and a 1970s dad getup. I squeeze in with the rest of the bespectacled females in the front row; thinking I’ve got Villagers’ demographic pinned, I glance behind me only to find a sea of Gen-X dudes. Ah, the Blur fans: it’s about time. One of them is a friend of mine, who explains, “This was the first band I wanted to see.” Makes sense – they’re the first five-white-guys-with-guitars configuration of the evening.

Somewhere around “Nothing Arrived” I realise that O’Brien totally reminds me of Pete Cambell from Mad Men. Same baby face/receding hairline; same clipped intonation; same slightly affected mannerisms. And like Pete, he’s into maintaining control at all costs: he only takes off the sunglasses twice, during the climactic parts of “The Waves” and “Ship of Promises”, and even then his band never seems like it’s in danger of truly rocking. Still, it’s a decent set, hewing pretty closely to the recordings and getting unexpectedly funky on “Earthly Pleasure”, and the sound’s OK thanks to what looks like a fancy in-ear monitoring system, appropriately fussy for the band’s fussy-ish chamber pop. 

This is unfortunately not the case with Get Well Soon, the next band up: I count at least twelve instruments on stage, and I can’t make out any of them. Konstantin Gropper’s doing his best Bowie, complete with suit and haircut, getting all theatrical in front of what’s either a sparkly asterisk or stylised pot leaf. He sings a duet with a charming-looking backup singer whose voice I can barely hear, pounds on some keyboards and standalone toms, belts out big single “Roland, I Feel You”… but the audience, save for a number of diehard Germans doing ballet moves, is already thinning out faster than Conor O’Brien’s hair, heading to the main stage for tonight’s heavy hitters. 

Side note: Like last year, there are Tic-Tac reps handing out breath mints all over Tempelhof; that and a decided lack of camping make this the least smelly music festival I’ve ever been to. Plus, the top-heavy lineup means that even six hours in, I can enter the toilets without gagging. Woo hoo indeed.