Monday, November 21, 2022

Synästhesie 2022 Day 2

Venue: Kulturbrauerei
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 19 November 2022

Unlike the first day, on Saturday I came right on time. I wanted to catch The Asteroid #4, who were announced as a surprise guest shortly before the festival. They’d just played a show at Urban Spree four days before that I skipped due to my already-busy concert schedule, so I was happy to get a second chance. I was a big fan of their 2020 album Northern Songs and their latest, Tones of the Sparrow (2022), is just about as good. The Kesselhaus stage wasn’t quite ready on time, and the band ended up starting a half-hour late for unclear reasons, but the wait was worth it. Their set was energetic and a warm mesh of psychedelic guitar effects. I was entranced by the drummer, who had more complicated rhythms than I expected. The vocals were mixed too low, but I could still hear the lovely harmonies.

I then tried to see Avishag Cohen Rodrigues at the Local Stage, which turned out to be a rather cramped bar, PANDA platforma, accessible via an inner courtyard. It was full and they were monitoring capacity, so I had to wait in the snow to get in, but thankfully not for long. I couldn’t see anything on the stage, but it sounded like the sort of bedroom electro-industrial music that Merchandise used to make. I was just beginning to make sense of it all when they left the stage.

I returned to the Kesselhaus to see Tess Parks. Her dusky voice and the haunted grooves of her band reminded me of Low and Mazzy Star. I again struggled to understand the vocals and I wasn’t quite able to get into the mood, but I enjoyed it anyway. The music was just a bit too languid and mellow. Normally I’d expect that to work for me, but I found it hard to find a good spot in the crowd and I ended up fairly distracted.

After her set, I tried to go up to the Maschinenhaus to see The Vacant Lots, but I literally could not get in the door. Apparently, no one was monitoring capacity at that time, but they had been at other times and should’ve been then. It was unbelievably packed. Once I realized I couldn’t get in, I tried to turn around, but got stuck against the rest of the crowd still trying to squeeze in. That was deeply uncomfortable. I eventually made it out and again settled in the Kesselhaus to wait for Tempers. I’ve enjoyed the darkwave synthpop of their recordings, but they couldn’t replicate the same energy on stage. They appeared as just a vocalist and a guitarist playing over multiple layers of backing tracks. For a moment I thought they might go in a more early Beach House direction, but they had none of the grace or melody, and they relied too much on their tapes. The sound was good, but they had no energy on stage and didn’t really engage with the audience.

I eventually admitted to myself that I was disappointed and bored, so I left and attempted to see Roomer at the Local Stage. It was again full, and there was a large crowd that wasn’t exactly forming a neat queue, so I didn’t stick around. Instead I went to the Maschinenhaus to see Roller Derby. They played a rather straightforward form of new wave pop. Compared to their recordings, the synth seemed downplayed while the two guitars came to the fore and set the mood. The lyrics and music were a bit too light and soft for my tastes, but they sounded good and they were generally upbeat, which helped me feel better after the series of frustrations I’d been running into.

Then there was Slowdive. Finally! They opened with “Slowdive” from their debut release, the Slowdive EP, and followed with “Avalyn”, the second (and third) track from the same EP. I wondered if this was going to be a gimmick, but they branched out from there. (I wouldn’t’ve minded if they’d played their early EPs straight through!) Their setlists haven’t seemed to vary too much since they reunited in 2014; they didn’t play a single song they hadn’t played when I last saw them in 2017, and there’s quite a bit of overlap with the strange show I saw at Levitation in 2016. But as before, I can’t really complain. Every single one of the songs was great, and the sound was huge and enveloping. The interplay of the shimmering guitars was beautiful, even if it’s quite a challenge to distinguish which performer was actually producing which sound. But that doesn’t bother me: it’s the sum total that matters, and when they reached full swing in “Souvlaki Space Station” and “When the Sun Hits”, it was pure bliss. “Catch the Breeze” was once again far superior on stage than the originally recorded version, and “Golden Hair” was extended as usual into a massive, soaring jam. I had my strongest earbuds in and it was right on the line of being uncomfortably loud, which made for a pleasant full-body experience, but I pitied anyone without hearing protection. The only weak links were again a few times when the drums seemed to stumble and the fact that the vocals, especially Rachel Goswell’s, were too low. I’m aware that that’s rather standard for a shoegaze band, but it does lessen the experience.

Slowdive’s setlist:
01. Slowdive
02. Avalyn
03. Catch the Breeze
04. Crazy for You
05. Souvlaki Space Station
06. Star Roving
07. Blue Skied an’ Clear
08. Sugar for the Pill
09. Alison
10. When the Sun Hits
11. 40 Days
12. Golden Hair [Syd Barrett/James Joyce cover]

Final Thoughts: I’m glad Synästhesie survived the pandemic, that they’re still going strong, and that they pull in a good mix of psychedelic bands from across the spectrum. I think it’s great to stretch their bounds and bring in a somewhat wider range of artists. That said, it’s hard for me to compare my experience this year with the loaded lineup I saw in 2019. There were also four stages that year compared to three this year. Of course personal taste and prioritization make a difference, but even that year, I complained that the second day didn’t live up to the first. This year I had more problems around overcrowding and simply not being able to get into the smaller stages. I might simply be more sensitive than I was three years ago, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. Even taking all that into consideration, I was less impressed than I wish I was. I was bored by too many bands relying too much on backing tracks and not really using the stage to its full effect. And again, the mixing could’ve been better, especially with the vocals. That’s a common complaint for me, especially at festivals, but it really makes a difference for me. I had a good time, but it really could’ve been better for the money.

Asteroid #4: A-
Tess Parks: B-
Tempers: C-
Roller Derby: B
Slowdive: A

P.S. Thanks to Luisa!

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