Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 18 November 2022
Synästhesie was the first (and so far, only) large-scale music festival I’ve attended in Germany, and despite the flaws, I had a great time and intended to return. It didn’t happen in 2020, and I ended up returning my ticket in 2021 (due to covid anxiety, not a refusal to get vaccinated!). This time, despite some continued but milder covid anxiety as well as social anxiety and stress, I decided to push myself and give it a try.
I showed up a bit later than intended and found a long line waiting to get their wristbands. Lesson learned: always show up early on the first day when there’s a one-time check-in. And then I had to contend with the coat check being by the Maschinenhaus and Kesselhaus, but half the bands I wanted to see being in Frannz. All the venues are in the Kulturbrauerei complex, but it’s about a five-minute walk between the two main areas, and in temperatures below zero, that was not a fun journey to make four times, especially with the roving hordes of drunken revelers taking advantage of the half-prepared booths for the impending Christmas market that takes place in the same space.
I missed the first act I wanted to see, Emerson Snowe, by a longshot, but was still able to catch Gloria de Oliveira at Frannz. She sang, played keyboards, and triggered the samples, while her rather timid-seeming band played steady bass, minimalist drums, and ethereal guitar. I was reminded of the softer, lighter moments of The Cocteau Twins, particularly in Oliveira’s strong and idiosyncratic voice. I was enjoying the set until they played a couple songs that were so slow and sparse that the crowd got bored and started talking over the music. Admittedly, they were losing my attention as well. They seemed to leave the stage early after apparently misunderstanding the festival staff telling them to play their last song.
I trekked back to the main venue and tried to find a spot in the Kesselhaus to see Tricky. He took his time getting on stage and was accompanied by a highly rhythmic guitarist, a very funky and active drummer, and a vocalist that he let take more parts than he sang himself. In fact, it might’ve been a full ten minutes before he sang or said anything. I loved their grooves but found the set confusing. When Tricky sang, I could barely make out a single word, and he spent so much time simply moving around without apparently doing anything that I felt like I was missing something. On top of that, he seemed not to be having the best night. He cut one song off after just about a minute, and not long later demanded the stage lights to be turned off, leaving him and the band to play in near darkness. It was a weird vibe. I’ve never quite been able to get into Massive Attack or any other trip-hop band, and this didn’t help me get any closer.
I left early and went back to Frannz to see Sonic Boom, AKA Peter Kember, onetime member of Spacemen 3. Despite having just released an album with Panda Bear of Animal Collective, he said he would be playing his 2020 album All Things Being Equal straight through with no encore. I thought he might be joking, but as he started into the third song, I realized he wasn’t. He appeared with just his electronics and a laser light show, so there wasn’t exactly much happening, and I hadn’t found the album particularly captivating, anyway. It was rather crowded and I was bored, so I bailed.
I took a chance and went up to the Maschinenhaus to see Suns of Thyme. It was also quite crowded, but I found myself thoroughly enjoying the music. The band have been on hiatus for six years and this was their first show back together. By no means would that have been apparent from the performance: they were tight and full of energy. They played psychedelic hard rock with great driving grooves. Each of the instrumentalists played solidly and the balance among them was good. I was impressed.
When they finished, I came back downstairs to the Kesselhaus to see Die Nerven. I’d expected them to already be well into their set, but they were at least 20 minutes late. They eventually appeared while Beethoven’s “Ode an die Freude” played over the PA. They launched into “Europa” from their recent self-titled album, and appeared to be playing the album straight through. They were loud, forceful, and taut, which I intially found intimidating. I found myself enjoying the instrumental work more than I’d expected, and the heavy and dark energy about them made more sense when I realized their lyrics were all piercing socio-political critiques. The songs rocked hard and I let myself get into it. It’s been ages since I’ve seen a noise punk band like that!
The band cajoled the audience for being tame and sleepy, but I quickly realized that I was also quite tired, perhaps in part from seeing Stereolab the night before. The intensity took a toll on me, too. So I left early.
Gloria de Oliveira: B-
Suns of Thyme: A-
Die Nerven: B+