Clash explores Hamburg's riches, one venue at a time.

It’s taken a decade for the powers that be to grant Reeperbahn festival permission to put on a show in St. Michaelis Kirche – credited on Wikipedia as the most famous church in Hamburg, considered ‘one of the finest Hanseatic Protestant baroque churches’, and broached by our guide on every possible occasion – and Clash couldn’t be more grateful they came through.

“I woke up this morning, in a pool of my own vomit,” William Fitzsimmons informs a four figure strong crowd in said holy arena, “I felt like an idiot. And I’ll be doing that exact same thing tonight.”

One of just two artists booked to play the exquisitely assembled interior, former Clash Next Waver Luke Sital-Singh being the other, Fitzsimmons’ confession plays up the contrasting nature of our stay; en route to the religious attraction we witness a guy on a bike wanking in a park, afterwards we are headed to an aesthetically brutal, physically mammoth WWII bunker to watch Metz play. But for 20 minutes we’re fully engaged in an environment that mirrors the grandeur of Beauty and the Beast, embracing the soft tones of the Illinois native.

Now in its tenth year (tote bags aside a detail not hard pushed by its organisers) Reeperbahn festival plays out on and around a street of the same name in the St. Pauli district: Hamburg’s red light ends, if you will (you will, signs for sex priced at 39€ are prominent, ugly though not intimidating, on the main drag).

Like the SXSW model its schedule refrains from gig exclusivity, stretching instead to a conference of talks with titles like ‘Female Is Not A Genre’ and ‘Ten Years Of YouTube – What’s Hot?’ (both sadly missed on account of a walk through of St. Pauli’s football ground and an only partially cringe inducing ukulele boasting Beatles tour); New Order in Conversation also features on the line-up.

Elsewhere marking 2015 as a distinctive year for the festival is ‘Aus Finnland!’ (‘From Finland!’) the inaugural streamlined showcase this year spotlighting Finland. “Finnish music is currently – more so than ever – on a fast rise towards international recognition on a large scale,” notes the director of Music Finland, Tuomo Tähtinen on the official literature.

21 year old Noah Kin here most grabs our attention (he plays four shows across two days, our enthusiasm isn’t just a happy accident); possessing qualities akin to contemporary rap heroes like Kendrick and Kanye (give it time), Kin’s Saturday night performance at Angie’s boasts a healthy crowd and ample interaction; K-X-P’s Rock Café stint is similarly engrossing, their particular brand of techno meets loud rock, smoke filled stage and black hoods informing the bar’s heavy mood.

It’s an interesting precursor to Denai Moore, perhaps, whom we watch next in the St. Pauli Kirche sat atop cardboard boxes (there are chairs but we’re late). Near solo on stage, Moore’s voice booms across the room, her audience fully enchanted. Songs like ‘No Light’ sound huge and grant comparisons to Adele, Florence Welch and Lauryn Hill.

Lucy Rose’s preliminary show (she will perform later in the night backed by a full band) likewise makes the case for seated musical excursions; the most intimate of occasions, half the full house takes to the floor with the rest not much higher. There’s something resolutely more personal in this set up that makes us wonder if the traditional slouched-at-the-bar pose should make a swift exit (unlikely, but can you imagine?).

Intent on making it a collaborative set list, the pin drop volume sees Rose invite audience participation throughout; the kindest moment arrives courtesy of a request for a song that presumably barely made it past 2009. “I’m married now and my husband hasn’t even heard this song; I use the word tsunami,” she protests before gently vocalising the inner most thoughts of her teenage self, tsunami and all.

Off schedule a tour of the Karoviertel area makes good on the volume of record stores promised: Hanseplatte purely stocks releases of those native to or resident of the city while not far Groove Shack’s front of house provides the backdrop for Noah Kin (naturally). Round the corner (Hamburg rapper) Samy Deluxe’s catering venture Gefundenes Fressen entices with desserts like The Blacker The ‘Chocolate The Sweeter The Juice’ and album cover doused doors; no toilet queue has ever been so sweet.

Finally it comes down to one of the festival’s bigger names to woo us. “Most of the time his concerts are quite amusing, sometimes he even performs naked,” confirms the (ultimate lifeline) festival app of Mac Demarco. On Friday night he remains, for the most part, covered up, various band members surrounding him in various stages of dress; general tomfoolery ensues as newbies are crowdsurfed, spit fights fought and tracks like ‘Chamber of Reflection’ prove there’s a crooner in Demarco yet. Embodying the anti-prom king – hands sweetly clasped over his crotch, hips swaying – a mix of tunes old and new gage the mood and fill the auditorium with the necessary vibes.  

Come 2017 the Elbphilharmonie might just be finished (the city’s staggering new concert hall was due for completion six years ago), but have faith when we tell you the city isn’t scarce of showstoppers. 

Words: Zoe Whitfield
Photos: Lisa Meinen, Nina Zimmermann, Florian Trykowski 


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