Live Report: Nocturnal Culture Night, Sept. 2, 2011

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written by Bruce
October 26, 2011 | Category: Events

As you might have noticed, ID:UD went on hiatus for a few weeks in September while Alex and I were on vacation; he went to China, I went to Europe. Now, I may not have seen no fancy-pants wall, drunk counterfeit liquor, and gotten into hair-raising motorcycle crashes like my compatriot, but I did manage to see a whole mess of bands and finally get a taste of the fabled German festival culture. Here’s a field report on one of two festivals I managed to see – the sixth iteration of Nocturnal Culture Night – which will focus on the act I was most excited to finally see, my beloved Kirlian Camera.

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by my friend and Canadian expat living in Berlin Daevina, aka DJ Devi Doll. Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut, and considering getting to the festival entailed taking a train from Berlin to Leipzig, then transferring to an intermittent rural-bound train, disembarking at a small station and wandering across a few fields to find the festival site, D’s language skills proved almost as invaluable as her excellent company.

Anyway, we arrived at the site relatively on-time considering we’d had a lengthy delay waiting for one of the trains. The site was in a small, wooded park which seemed perfectly suited to the folksy, family-friendly atmosphere. Sure, there was booze aplenty flowing, but there were also multi-generational families getting into the camping thing (the festival ran for three days but we were only there for one), and loads of craft tables. Much more in line with various folks festivals my parents took me to as a kid than any gothy club night or concert I’d ever been to.

Nocturnal Culture Night

We got there just in time to catch the lion’s share of No More’s set on the secondary stage. Like most people on this side of the Atlantic, I know of No More pretty much exclusively by way of their influential 1981 minimal wave hit “Suicide Commando” and really wasn’t sure what to expect beyond that. I was pleasantly surprised by a set of solid tunes which stretched into new wave, made some nods to krautrock and availed themselves of a theremin rather well.

D and I made mental notes to research No More’s catalog a bit more carefully in the future, and retreated to the vendors’ stalls to avoid Gothminister (ick) and start putting away large quantities of delicious rose wine. Normally I have no truck with wine, but when you’re in a German forest surrounded by bearded dudes crafting chainmail and people playing lutes (the market area had a whole medieval theme), you go with the flow, and bottles of freshly pressed fruit wines of countless varieties seemed a better fit with the Bacchanalian reverie than the usual can of lager.

Nocturnal Culture Night

I'm seeing dragons - this IS some strong wine.

Anyway, up next on the smaller stage were Whispers In The Shadow, whom I’d never heard of. As they took the stage I remarked to D that there were subtle but crucial distinctions between a Andrew Eldritch hat, a Carl McCoy hat, and a Wayne Hussey hat, and that the lead dude from Whispers looked to be rocking the latter. This proved to be telling, as the influence of The Mish (by way of Pornography and a tinge of gothic metal) was markedly tangible in Whispers In The Shadow’s set. Technically accomplished psych-goth on the slower end of the spectrum, though only a couple of numbers got off the ground as far as actual tunes go.

It was then time for Tyske Ludder on the main stage, whose first North American show I’d been lucky enough to see a year and a half earlier at Kinetik. They were in characteristically impressive and aggressive form, and managed to whip the audience, including two adorable little kids sitting at the foot of the stage, into a frenzy. It doesn’t get much cuter than tots windmilling to “Panzer“. Anyway, Jay Smith of Deviant UK came onstage to lend his Numanesque vocals to his solid collab track with Tyske, “For Their Glory”, and the band included a rousing rendition of their bitter kiss-off to American military imperialism, “March”, making for another great outing from these crack German commandos.

I was sad to have to pass on [:SITD:]‘s set on the smaller stage, but I’d be seeing them the day after (more on that later), and we were able to dash to the very front and center of the stage in order to see the reason I was willing to travel all the way from Berlin to the sticks and back in one day: Kirlian Camera. As regular ID:UD readers know, I’m fully obsessed with Kirlian and the entirety of their catalog, back to front. The partnership of KC mastermind Angelo Bergamini and divine chanteuse Elena Fossi has produced some of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful music I know of over the past ten years, and after the trans-Atlantic flight (I was still rather jetlagged at this point), train rides and earlier acts it was finally setting in that yes, I’d somehow managed to pull this caper off and was about to see KC.

Nocturnal Culture Night - Kirlian Camera

Elena emerged while the stage was still being set up to do an acapella soundcheck, using a verse and chorus from “Eclipse”. The crowd instantly joined in, nearly drowning Elena out. Ten or fifteen minutes later the entire band emerged, clad in the red-crossed balaclavas which have been their trademark uniform for the past several releases. Their set began with a series of songs from their nearly-released new LP, Nightglory, highlighted by the incredible title track which was released as a single some months ago. Much of the new material follows in a vein similar to “Nightglory”, including the defiant and somewhat-psychotic “I’m Not Sorry” and a grinding and majestic Ultravox cover – no, not their decades-old cover of “Vienna”, but a brand-spankin’ new version of “Hymn”. It’s useless for me to even feign objectivity when it comes to Kirlian, but even in my gibbering, fanboyish state I was markedly impressed by how on the mark Elena’s vocals were, both in terms of control and power. Adding in a fantastic live mix (and the rose wine), I had as perfect a set of conditions to finally see Kirlian live as could be imagined.

After a reworked tune from Elena’s Spectra Paris side project, Kirlian swooped into a mix of hits from the last decade as well as a selection of the reworkings of their classic 80s material which they are forever tweaking. Given Kirlian’s comparatively small footprint in North America, it was incredible to be at the front and center of a devoted crowd of fans singing every word of “Edges”, “Blue Room” and “Odyssey Europa”. With that track, KC departed the stage for the first time. Given that their biggest hit (“Eclipse”) had already been played, I was intrigued to find out which directions any encores would go in. Up first was their rave-up version of “Comfortably Numb”, followed by the stone classic “Heldenplaatz”.

Nocturnal Culture Night - Kirlian Camera

At that point pretty much anything and everything I’d reasonably hoped Kirlian would have played had been (my left-field wishes were for “Ascension” and “Absentee”, but I couldn’t imagine either of those happening), and I certainly didn’t expect a second encore consisting of 1991′s “In The Endless Rain”. Its lilting, almost impressionist melody seemed like the perfect note with which to close an incredible performance, but the crowd was having none of it. There are rote encores which are to be expected, but then there are legitimate “They really want more? Crap, we’d better get back out there” ones, and Kirlian retaking the stage for a third time was definitely the latter. There’d been plenty of calls for “Erinnerung”, and the spotlight-shy Angelo duly took his place at the mic to recite August Stramm’s harrowing poem of self-interrogation. The crowd still wasn’t letting them off the stage after that, and after a quick huddle the band reprised “Nightglory”. It looked as though further calls for more would have been heeded once the band figured out what else they could play, but unfortunately power to the main stage was cut off.

Nocturnal Culture Night - Kirlian Camera

After having all possible expectations of how one of my favourite bands would fare live, um, eclipsed, I needed to recuperate. I opted to hang back from the smaller stage for the final band of the evening, instead propping myself up at an absinthe bar which offered a good view of the stage and even better company. Sipping on a drink as storied as the green fairy while watching Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, a band with a heavily decadent atmosphere, seemed as good a choice as any. ORE have always been fine in my books, but I felt as though they stepped things up a notch with 2010′s Songs 4 Hate & Devotion, where their “neo-folk songs about sex” theme attached itself to some excellent, mid-tempo compositions. Thankfully their set was heavy on tunes from that record, and ORE’s sweetly depraved lullabies proved to be the perfect way to close out the festivities.

Nocturnal Culture Night - Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio

While the festival was due to continue the next day, Daevina and I had to make our way back to Berlin that night (starting with a 4am train) in order to hit up another festival the next day, of a decidedly more electronic cast…

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