Last week, rooted in the heart of Kulturbrauerei, Berlin saw the first digital viewing of Pop-Kultur, the German festival polished in pop culture excellence. Honouring the authenticity of art by celebrating a wide range of contemporary acts both homegrown and international, Pop-Kultur stepped into the digital realm for the first time since its start-up in 2015, offering its 6th edition online. Hosting 36 visuals of work, the three-day event which began on last Wednesday showcased all the commissioned digital work, films, talk session, interviews and performances from different musicians, collectives and communities.
Hosted by Musicboard Berlin GmbH, Pop-Kultur is like no other, helping push boundaries whilst celebrating the many cultures from around the world. Representing the rawness of experimentation whilst allowing artistic liberty to be the star of the show, Pop-Kultur sublimely captured the ethereal and regalness of many talented acts across the globe. From the fantastic sounds of Mavi Phoenix, Noga Erez to The Notwist and Ace Mahbaz this year’s line up exceeded the expectations of excellent. Compiled into a three-part film spread out over three days all debuting at the same time, the festival catered to those whose creativity palettes needed feeding during the current world pandemic of the coronavirus.
The structure of the festival, which included audio descriptions, subtitles and simple languages was free of charge allowing the online viewing audience to be encircled by the realms most precious and most authentic artists. Before the online extravaganza, I flew out to Germany, Berlin, for an exclusive first look press day to get a sample of what was to come.
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PART I - 26.8.2020
PART I of Pop-Kultur kicked off with a majestic pre-recorded performance from the 90s inspired Berlin duo MADANII & LLUCID. Delivering mellow vocals to their hit song ‘Dandelion’, the pair followed their session with a brief chat about their music, art and the pressure of creating during COVID. Up next was the Afrofuturistic commissioned work of Fathoeburger from the Hamburg musician Preach. Covered in silver paint and a moon backdrop, Jesseline Preach the One Mother co-founder explained the meaning behind Fathoeburger. “A Fathoeburger is a futuristic version of Preach, and since the future is where I’m at right now, I’m Fathoeburger, and Preach is sleeping” she explains. “For our visuality, our feelings and our moods are a bit rebellious; you can’t tell what’s going on. In another two weeks, we might look different; we don’t have one fixed look”.
Followed by the ‘Art and Music in Times of Crisis’ featuring music consultant Milena Fessmann, club owner Pamela Schobeß, musician Max Gruber, psychological psychotherapist Dr Nicole Bührsch and co-founder of Powerline Agency Wieland Krämer, the talk discussed the current economic crisis that’s affecting the world and how the culture of art and music will move forward in the future. This part of the festival I found the most interesting due to the relevancy surrounding today’s climate.
The highlight of PART I for me came courtesy of Yugen Blakrok who displayed her digital work in the form of a music video to her song Ochre. Speaking about the motivation behind her music, she explains: “The inspiration for my lyrics is a combination of life experience. What’s happening out there in the world, how I feel about it, how I’m reacting to the world, how the stars are moving just everything that’s happening and how you process it. Whether it’s a conscious or subconscious effort to write these words that make sense and in a later stage, I look at them and try to make sense of what’s going on, I work a lot with the subconscious, but I’m also very open to receiving, you know everything can talk from plants to trees to rocks”.
The rest of the show included a photo film montage from Hendrik Otremba, a live session from The Notwist, the RambaZambaTheater house band 21 Downbeat, a talk session about Ping Pong Hayat and the Art of Staying Alive and much more. Despite the pressures of coronavirus, Part I proved that this year’s edition was a step in the right direction for the festival.
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PART II - 27.8.2020
Opening Part II was the incredible all-girl rock group, 24/7 Diva Heaven with an electrifying performance of their song ‘JT’ followed by the commissioned work of Rafael-Evitan Grombelka. As one of the managing partners of the sign-language team Skarabee, he delivered a fantastic sign-language interpretation performance to ‘Kein Bock Auf Frühstück’ by Erregung Öffentlicher Erregung. Up next was the ‘Do It Yourself: African Music Festivals’ talk featuring music consultant Pamela Owusu-Brenyah, artist Olajumoke Adeyanju, musician and festival organiser Wale Davies and concert promoter Elena Schulz-Görner. Speaking on the concert culture in the African diaspora and the different African music festivals successfully curated around African music, I found this conversation liberating and refreshing especially given the current climate we are in.
Austrian artist Mavi Phoenix delivered an electrifying performance of his song ‘Boys & Toys’ whilst queer music band SADO OPERA graced the stage with a mesmerising, extravagant and eccentric one-take performance of there song ‘Share the Blame’. Speaking about their approach to the show Katya from the band explains: “The concept behind the project that we decided to do for Pop-Kultur is our dream of the live show that could have happened and inviting the viewer to be a guest with us on stage. It’s something like virtual sex experience”.
Giving off Blondie vibes, the band managed to capture the essence of freedom and creativity which is fitted well with this year’s theme. She continues “We decided to see what if we perceive the camera, not as a border but indeed something that is opening new possibilities for us as artists? For us, it was important to do it in one take so that it delivers the feeling of a live performance more”.
One of the highlights of PART II of Pop-Kultur for me came courtesy of Eden Derso; the Ethiopian Israeli rapper who presented the powerful Black music video for her song ‘Tamid.’ In conversation, she explains:
“My album title ‘Keter Shakuf’ means in Hebrew’ transparent crown’. I feel like in society, especially in Israel, the beauty and the royalty in Black skin has been dismissed, and I want to remind all my people, all my ladies, that the crown is still here, and I still see it. When I and DJ mesh were working on the album, I was a soldier, so I was one week at the base and one week at home. When I was at the base, he used to send me beats, and I used to write on them and then when I was home, I was going all the way to Tel Aviv to record them”.
The video spoke deeply to me as it made me understand the importance of representation for Black women and how we deserve to be loved and admired as equally as everyone else.
Another highlight for me came from acoustic sounds of Jessy Lanza; a chord progressionist. Running you through some of her favourite chord progressions, her mellow rendition of Angel of Mine by Monica was a sweet ending to day two. The rest of the show included a Digital Residency Tel Aviv-Berlin: Echo & Tellavision, Chikiss presents Silent Cinema in Modern Sound, Theodora and The Düsseldorf Düsterboys.
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PART III - 28.8.2020
The final day of Pop-Kultur saw a grand closing to match the grand opening kicking off with a performance from Isolation Berlin followed by the digital work of Cartel Madras, the energetic duo from Toronto. Showcasing the music video for their song ‘Working’, the duo explained the true understanding of their art and what it means. “Goonda rap is our way of paying tribute and homage to the subgenres of hip-hop that have existed before us and synthesising those sounds and those influences and those artists that have been key in us developing who we are as musicians that we listened to growing up, and creating Goonda rap was our way of paying tribute to what has happened before our time”.
Following the sound of Cartel Madras was the digital work of JOJO ABOT who showcased a video for her song ‘Dokuidzidudu’. Delivering neo-soulish sounds with an Erykah Badu resemblance, JOJO ABOT undoubtedly stood out as one of the highlights in the final show. The show continued with digital work from Claudia Basrawi & Ted Gaier with Argumentepanzer, Mueran Humanos with the retro 80’s styled and inspired video fanzine of Laguna Cementerio and a very futuristic offering from Evija Vēbere with the video for Vienradzis.
Another highlight for me was the final talk of the event surrounding the Speaking of Sampling featuring Azadê Peşmen, Enis Maci, Jesseline Preach & Leyla Yenirce. Discussing the technology behind sampling as well as the problem of authorship and the legal issue surrounding it, the talk really helped me understand the complications and experiences most people in the music industry face from sampling. As the final show drew to a close, we saw the fantastic animated drawings from King Khan and their commissioned work Rat-Tribution Now, the digital offerings of Goethe Talent Residency: Mpho Sebina & S.Fidelity, a wild and electrifying performance from Super Besse closing out the show and festival a backstage first look and performance from the one and only Eat Lipstick.
Being able to experience the show first hand was something I’d never forget. Despite switching to being virtual, the power and spirit of the festival were very much alive. I’ll be looking out for all the contributing artists and their work to enjoy in my spare time and I’ll definitely be looking out for Pop-Kultur 2021.
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Words: Shakeena Johnson
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