AU ABROAD

Festival Review: Lollapalooza Berlin - Tempelhof Airport, Germany (12.09.15 & 13.09.15)


Photo: Stephan Flad.

Lollapalooza branched out into Europe for the first time over the weekend, taking Berlin's Tempelhof Airport by storm. The sold out event drew huge numbers of music fans down to the defunct airport (one of the coolest festival venues I've been too, I'll add) for some brilliant sets by artists who've been away for a little while, some of the biggest names touring at the moment and some recent festival favourites. Having attended Lollapalooza in Chicago last year, I felt like I was going into this one at least a little prepared, but Berlin's festival game was another beast in itself.

The weather was perfect, with temperatures not exceeding 26 degrees on either day and once the sun went down, that cool rush of night air swept across the airfield for much needed refreshment. Lolla Berlin went completely cashless, meaning there was no cash facilities at all on site. You had an account linked to your wristband that you could top up via credit card on site, with all food and drink vendors accepting payment via a wristband swipe only. It made for an efficiently run festival in this way, even though queues for food were one of the only downsides to the event. Still, with beers going for €4 - €4,50 (cocktail jugs going for around €6,50 - €8,00), the prices weren't too unsurprising.


Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images.

The festival site itself was huge and it was mindboggling to think that Lollapalooza only occupied one corner of the airfield. Four stages were lined up to one side, while the food alleys, Kidzapalooza, the Lolla Fun Fair and other attractions took to the other. Main Stages 1 and 2 conveniently faced inward of each other, so traipsing between them was never an issue. To get to Perry's from Main Stage 1, say, would see you walking a decent way. You made it work though, as there was plenty to see along the way. The VIP area was the airport's original entry hall, with bars set up behind the check in terminals, a separate cocktail lounge and hall hosting the after-show parties and Rolling Stone covers decking the windows of what would've been offices throughout.

Now: music. For those who've attended any of this year's European summer festivals, Splendour in the Grass or indeed any of the big-hitting festivals this year, a lot of the Lolla Berlin artists will have been familiar. Nevertheless, the quality shone through and brought some fun highlights. Saturday afternoon programmed MS MR, Everything Everything, Glass Animals in consecutive fashion on the Alternative Stage and Main Stage 2, a great blend of sounds tailor-made for this type of festival crowd eager to soak up the last of their summer season. Hot Chip (below) dominated their Alternative Stage set on Saturday with "Night and Day", "One Life Stand" and other hits bringing out some excellent live highlights.


Photo: Frank Hoensch/Redferns.

Torn between CHVRCHES and Bastille, I decided to go with the Scots on Saturday, purely because they were unable to perform at the Adelaide leg of the Laneway Festival last year. They came through and I now understand why they're such a hot ticket as a live band. Earlier, FFS had drawn out a crowd that was more enthusiastic than I had originally anticipated; the love for the collaboration between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks has really taken off in Europe and the back and forth between both bands on stage is great fun to watch. Weaving in cuts from both bands' catalogues in with FFS material was perhaps an unavoidable set list move, but it doesn't feel like it's been done to placate any particular fan base. It all works.

The first evening of Lolla Berlin introduced me to Hamburg 'tecno-rap' collective Deichkind (below), who brought a show unlike anything I'd seen previously. Approaching the set with no real expectations, I felt like I'd wandered into a rave party that was just reaching its peak. Easily enjoying one of the biggest crowds of the festival at this point, the group wove samples in with spitfire lyrics and penetrating percussion that had the crowd thrashing back and forth at one moment and yelling lyrics and dancing madly the next. With members flying back and forth across the stage, the Deichkind show was a spectacle in itself.


Photo: Matze Heischler/Mit Vergnügen.

The Libertines headlined the Alternative Stage on Saturday night, while Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took over Main Stage 1 and Fatboy Slim did his thing over at Perry's - a real mix of main headliners for fans to get around. I took the opportunity to see The Libertines (my first time) and considering they'd only recently cancelled two shows in the UK before this date due to 'health reasons', I felt lucky they were even here. It was the first show the band had done since the release of Anthems for Doomed Youth and on the surface, they looked like they'd locked in to a great and healthy live dynamic. Pete Doherty and Carl Barât proved to be charismatic without outshining one another and as a whole, The Libertines pulled off a successful date. Over on Main Stage 1, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis brought some Seattle fun to Berlin, throwing down hit after hit. "Thrift Shop" dropping early in the set got the crowd going mental, while their 1.5 hour set would see them touch on newer material as well. Say what you will about them, but Macklemore knows how to draw and maintain a crowd.

Sunday saw crowds come out early, Lolla Berlin's second day arguably being the larger of the two. Wolf Alice, Coasts and Dawes manned stages early in the day and were successful in holding their own with crowds reaching the high hundreds, impressive considering the main consensus was that a lot of after-partying had gone down well into the early hours post-Lolla day one. Run the Jewels (below) made their German debut at the festival, taking to the Alternative Stage in the afternoon. Theirs is a set that is well-honed and executed near flawlessly and both Killer Mike and El-p looked so geniunely appreciative of the response they received.


Photo: Jakubaszek/Getty Images.

"The girls were singing louder than the guys," Killer Mike exclaimed, following a rendition of "Love Again". "Y'all are raunchy and gangster as fuck!" For a hip-hop show, these guys bring out the heavier side of it in a live setting - the crowd was whipping up circle pits like they were at a metal gig, throwing up their pistol fingers and fists in RTJ solidarity, ensuring the men of the minute were aware that everyone was fully in league with them.

Norwegian producer Kygo enjoyed a solid festival crowd over at Perry's Stage and as the sun burned down on the punters, many of who were probably a few pills in at this stage, his set looked like one of those dance music videos - you've got the gorgeous girls swaying in slow motion, while rows and rows of sweaty guys are throwing themselves back and forth to every beat produced. Kygo might not be quite Avicii levels, but give him time - the potential is definitely there. My Morning Jacket and Belle and Sebastian brought some decent moments for the Lolla-goers who were keen on some quality instrumentation and live atmosphere; the latter inviting crowd members on stage while rolling out some music that made any fan nostalgic.

By the end of the evening, SEEED had Main Stage 2 punters in a frenzy a la Melbourne Ska Orchestra and while I wasn't able to see all their set, the German collective was quick to draw anyone who happened to be passing by in. Tame Impala and Muse, on the Alternative Stage and Main Stage 1 respectively, were up at the end of the evening, splitting huge numbers of psych, groove and rock fans pretty much down the middle. Martin Garrix, who DJed the Sunday afterparty at midnight, sent flames up into the air during his headline set at Perry's, not to be outdone - the crowd loved it.

Muse, if nothing else, have clear aims when it comes to how they envision their stage shows to be rolled out. I've been a fan of this band for years now (you can read our interview with them from Lollapalooza HERE and was excited to see how Drones material would play out live. The heavier aspects of the album, from the riffs to the heightened percussion, drive hard live and in that respect, I don't think I've seen the band play as hard before. At least, not in a very long time.


Photo: Stephan Flad.

The crowd rolled with every musical punch: "Psycho", "Reapers" and "The Handler" from Drones were killer, while 'oldies' in "Apocalypse Please", "Hysteria" and "Stockholm Syndrome" brought some great sing along moments. Matt Bellamy has continued to develop - he's less of the grandiose/Freddie Mercury-channelling frontman that I remembered from their last Australian tour, but he's got a new type of swagger about his stage presence. Loose, but executing those famed guitar skills precisely, the 37-year old still goes incredibly hard. Vocally, he wasn't at his best, though with the newer material, I'm not surprised at the difficulties he'd have reaching the higher end of his range in a live setting. It was a textbook stomper headline set that one would expect from Muse, even if you could predict what was coming next.

For Lollapalooza Berlin, bringing this type of line up out for 2015 was a safe way of ensuring its impact in its first year. With next year's dates already announced, I wouldn't be surprised if the festival undergoes some logistical changes to adapt from this year; while it's going to be impossible to see everything, ideally I'd say expanding this event to a three day festival would probably be of huge benefit. However, as one of the last festivals of the European summer circuit, the 2015 event worked well, despite some hiccups early on. They threw down the gauntlet earlier in the year with their initial festival announcements and for the most part, Lolla Berlin delivered.