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St Pauli Kirch Eydis Evensen 210922 christianhedel 6096

Reeperbahn Festival takes centre stage as part of Hamburg’s inspiring focus on culture

29 September 2022, 12:00

Supported by state-funding, Hamburg boasts a cultural agenda that’s exhilarating, and from a UK perspective, deeply enviable. But it’s the festival performances that really capture the imagination.

Founded in 2006 by Alexander Schulz after a trip to Austin’s SXSW, Reeperbahn is a celebration of exceptional new music and live performance, taking place around Hamburg’s entertainment district and named after the main strip.

Returning for its first full capacity event since 2019, the festival never missed a beat during the pandemic, creating hybrid events and trialling reduced capacity showcases for both 2020 and 2021.

Its endurance to weather the storm is greatly indebted to the funding programme delivered by the country’s government across the covid years. Supporting venues, events, institutions and personnel with €2.5 billion, they ensured that culture would not be a casualty. Around the St. Pauli area there was no shortage of venues to host the hundreds of artists showcasing.

Recent years have, however, taken a toll on the infrastructure of touring, with backline and stage crew now in short supply. While it may have caused logistical stress for organisers, it wasn’t noticeable from a fan perspective, as showcases ran with an amusingly stereotypical efficiency.

The renewed goal for Reeperbahn this year was to cement its position as the leading destination for international artists to showcase to European industry. Partnering with the USA, the festival aimed to further establish itself as a global player, differentiating from Eurosonic’s focus on European talent or The Great Escape’s commercial direction.

Florian Trykowski Opening2022 Stage Operettenhaus 22 Z2650

Its endurance to weather the storm is greatly indebted to the funding programme delivered by the country’s government across the covid years. Supporting venues, events, institutions and personnel with €2.5 billion, they ensured that culture would not be a casualty. Around the St. Pauli area there was no shortage of venues to host the hundreds of artists showcasing.

Recent years have, however, taken a toll on the infrastructure of touring, with backline and stage crew now in short supply. While it may have caused logistical stress for organisers, it wasn’t noticeable from a fan perspective, as showcases ran with an amusingly stereotypical efficiency.

The renewed goal for Reeperbahn this year was to cement its position as the leading destination for international artists to showcase to European industry. Partnering with the USA, the festival aimed to further establish itself as a global player, differentiating from Eurosonic’s focus on European talent or The Great Escape’s commercial direction.

Elbphilharmonie foto maxim schulz 9

Hamburg provides a backdrop steeped in culture. Coming from the UK, where our ever delicate government directed ballet dancers to retrain during the pandemic years and our chancellor just set fire to the economy, it was inspiring to see so much (actually budgeted) public money be put into supporting the arts.

In the centre of town, Jupiter, an empty department store on the main street, had been turned into a six-storey installation showing and selling the work of diverse creatives, while the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, a breathtaking feat of Swiss architecture, imposes over the city’s Elbe river. Speaking to Best Fit, Dr. Carsten Brosda, Hamburg’s Minister of Culture and Media, explained how the funding that was previously earmarked to support venues and events during the pandemic was now being rolled over to cover rising energy costs.

It’s an impressive message which carries into the ethos of Reeperbahn. The festival’s opening show focuses its speeches not only on the rich and vibrant culture of the city, emphasising this year’s partnership with the USA, but also its close ties with Ukraine. Ellie Goulding kicks things off with a bombastic rendition of new single “Easy Lover”, followed by the German cast of Hamilton, and 2019’s Anchor winner, the prize for best live act at the festival, Alyona Alyona.

As the ceremony wraps up, the Reeperbahn comes alive with a hefty schedule of showcases. In an underground venue next door South Londoner Wu-Lu, Miles Romans-Hopcraft, rips at his guitar, lashing through tracks from his outstanding debut LOGGERHEAD. Relentless, visceral and utterly gripping, it’s the perfect wake-up after ninety-minutes of performance formalities.

With all the venues in walking distance, jumping between shows is an easy feat. By the river in a stunning church, Icelandic composer and pianist Eydís Evensen calms the adrenaline with a soft and dreamy mix of expansive keys and string quartet. Five minutes in the opposite direction, back towards the neon and rampage of the Reeperbahn, Australian singer Hatchie delivers a set that escapes the polish of her records and feels intimately authentic, dynamic and arresting.

At the far end of the main strip, the Molotow venue collects four stages under one roof. It’s here on Thursday night that Aussie breakthrough post-punk doomers HighSchool pack out the backyard with an industry-rich audience. Hyped across the summer, their stark sound glares with confidence and style, living up to their promise. Shortly after, the packed crowd cram indoors to see Faroe Islands’ finest Joe & The Shitboys smash through a set of audience-bating, high-octane punk bursts that sting with a critical commentary and charm with effusive joy.

As the ceremony wraps up, the Reeperbahn comes alive with a hefty schedule of showcases. In an underground venue next door South Londoner Wu-Lu, Miles Romans-Hopcraft, rips at his guitar, lashing through tracks from his outstanding debut LOGGERHEAD. Relentless, visceral and utterly gripping, it’s the perfect wake-up after ninety-minutes of performance formalities.

With all the venues in walking distance, jumping between shows is an easy feat. By the river in a stunning church, Icelandic composer and pianist Eydís Evensen calms the adrenaline with a soft and dreamy mix of expansive keys and string quartet. Five minutes in the opposite direction, back towards the neon and rampage of the Reeperbahn, Australian singer Hatchie delivers a set that escapes the polish of her records and feels intimately authentic, dynamic and arresting.

At the far end of the main strip, the Molotow venue collects four stages under one roof. It’s here on Thursday night that Aussie breakthrough post-punk doomers HighSchool pack out the backyard with an industry-rich audience. Hyped across the summer, their stark sound glares with confidence and style, living up to their promise. Shortly after, the packed crowd cram indoors to see Faroe Islands’ finest Joe & The Shitboys smash through a set of audience-bating, high-octane punk bursts that sting with a critical commentary and charm with effusive joy.

Florian Trykowski Joe And The Sthitposts Molotow 22 Z3381

As the festival sinks into the weekend, Friday night brings even more crowds and with it long queues to see the names already picking up attention. In a dark bar on the main street, new 4AD signing HAWA does her best to manage a rowdy audience who are ready to dance. Her delicate RnB gets the tempo and delivery turned up, as she gives back as good as she’s getting.

The Nochtspeicher venue plays host to all the Anchor nominees across three nights of the festival. From the same corner, judges including Tony Visconti and Pabllo Vittar watch competing acts showcase in a consistent environment. It’s here that Canadian low-fi indie heart-acher EKKSTACY powers through his performance. Struggling after losing his voice earlier in the week, there’s a darkness and grit to his delivery and tracks from last year’s Negative album taking on a fresh urgency.

Sometimes showcase festivals and conferences can feel overwhelming, or the music can be lost in the fanfare. By putting art and culture at the centre of their city, Hamburg and Reeperbahn deliver a week of live music ready to restore faith in the power of performance.

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