Reeperbahn Festival 2012: Review and Photo Essay

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Saskatoon indie bands invade Germany for weekend of rock, beer and all-night sex galleries

Last month, Slow Down Molasses was invited to perform at Germany’s legendary Reeperbahn Festival, September 20-22, 2012. The festival is said to be one of Europe’s largest showcase festivals with 20,000 people crowding the bars surrounding Hamburg’s infamous Reeperbahn. Having been warned by friends in Berlin that Hamburg is nothing like, nice, chill, laidback Berlin, we had some idea what to expect.

Arriving late in the afternoon to our venue for the night, Albers bar, it quickly became evident that no one was exaggerating. The Reeperbahn is a two kilometre long line up of strip clubs, dive bars, fast food joints and beer-to-go windows.

You can drink in the street, so no matter what time of day it is there are drunks wandering from bar to bar, beer in hand.

Reeperbahn 2
Reeperbahn 3

After a rambunctious night playing at Albers bar alongside Vancouver country upstart Dustin Bentall and Toronto’s afro-punk soul diva Saidah Baba Talibah, we had a full day to explore Hamburg and check out as bands as is possible.

The day started at Canada House for our Winnipeg pals (and a highlight of Saskatoon’s MoSoFest) Cannon Bros. As per usual they charmed everyone, with a brilliantly scrappy set of indie rock jams. Next Levi, Jeanette and I wandered the crowds of the Reeperbahn, randomly securing an invite to a PIAS Germany party on a boat traveling through the canals and habour of Hamburg. Stumbling into free drinks and new music makes for a nice first proper day at the festival. We floated along the canals with England’s Skinny Lister performing appropriately boat worthy set of energetic Celtic songs and sea shanties.

reeperbahn skinny lister

From the boat, we went in search of Michelle Records and free, in-store performance from Canadian buddies Evening Hymns. The wander there was an amazing relief from the Reeperbahn. It turns out Hamburg is genuinely lovely city as long as you get away from the Reeperbahn for a bit.

Reeperbahn city centre hamburg

With the Evening Hymns show over and the main Reeperbahn club shows just starting getting going, Levi and I decided to do our best to see as many bands and as many venues as we possibly could. Starting off with a wonderful and bizarre show from The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodrigues-Lopez, made even more bizarre the venue supposedly being a former Nazi bomb factory – the building was suitably terrifying and imposing. From there we ran and caught the end of Scotland’s We Were Promised Jetpacks, who put on a suitably noisy and epic show, before running of to see indie darling Best Coast play an uninspiring set in front of a packed house. Fortunately Crocodiles were just starting up a few blocks away, so we made our way to their venue and as anyone who saw them at Sled Island a couple year ago knows, their shows are the furthest thing from uninspiring. Noisy psych guitars, Krautrock rhythms, catchy as hell choruses, and stage destroying rock out to end the set. Nice work, guys. We ended the night catching The Wooden Sky and Evening Hymns play a combined set in theatre just off the Reeperbahn. Both bands left the packed house wanting more and moved the party to the street out front of the venue, playing a couple songs completely acoustic to end the night.

Reeperbahn evening hymns and wooden sky

The next day we had an afternoon show at Canada House alongside our hometown pals, Foam Lake. We arrived at the venue to meet up with SaskMusic’s Derek Bachman and watch as the venue was quickly filling up. By the time Foam Lake played it was hitting capacity with the European crowd eating up every last minute of Foam Lake’s set. Once we hit stage any remaining space in the venue was filled up. It’s bizarre being halfway around the world in a city you’ve never been and getting to play to one of the most enthusiastic, receptive crowds we’ve ever played to. Huge kudos to SaskMusic and Canadian Blast for putting these events on.

reeperbahn foam lake

With our show out of the way everyone went their separate ways to either sleep our check out shows. I managed to catch The Wedding Present perform their devastating 1991 album Seamonsters in full before seeing a bit of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and finally catching Cold Specks play to a packed theatre. A nice way to end a ridiculous weekend.