4th to 5th September 2020
NCN 2020 Day 2 with Saigon Blue Rain, LizardPool, Ost+Front, Traum’er Leben, Rome (solo), Ad:Key, Empathy Test, TC75, In Strict Confidence, Orange Sector, Peter Heppner, Hekate
The second day greeted us with grey clouds and some line-up changes. COMO VENTO - the original opener of this festival day - had to cancel. Also KIEW could not make it due to the death of a family member. Instead Tino Claus, who already played with AMNISTIA, stepped in spontaneously with TC75.
With those changes we were at the Cultural Park long before the first gig. Fortunately we were greeted right after the entrance with a friendly “You don’t want to go in without a coffee?!?” Of course not. How could we! So we sat there with a most delicious Latte Macchiato in our hands, talking happily about all those wonderful gigs the day before while getting more and more excited about the second day.
Saigon Blue Rain
Our first show of the day was SAIGON BLUE RAIN. This Paris-based band was founded in 2012 by Ophelia Lecomte and Franck Pelliccioli. They describe themselves as “Ethereal Wave” and I could not find a more fitting term for this beautiful and atmospheric music with a clear Cold Wave vibe. It surely wasn’t easy to play in front of a half-empty Amphi theatre with most people sitting down. Indeed, Ophelia has a rather introverted performance style that might not exactly motivate people to stand up. Instead, it invites to pause a moment and listen. And those who listened were immediately enchanted by her magical and vibrant voice. But don’t get me wrong. Saying “ethereal” and “introverted” I definitely don’t mean boring. SAIGON BLUE RAIN have their dreamy songs that feel romantic and wistful. But they also have their danceable and vigorous songs as well. And I just loved how Ophelia seemed to live every single emotion of their songs to the fullest - from beautiful melancholy to despair and even rage. Indeed a set with a variety of different intense moods - further enhanced from time to time by the perfectly fitting male backing vocals. // www.saigonbluerain.bandcamp.com / www.facebook.com/SBRofficial
From this I went over to the culture stage, actually the only time I watched a show there this weekend. I felt safer at the Amphi stage where I knew there is a lot of space and a clear one way route. But I was surprised to find that even in the small area of the culture stage everything felt well-ordered and it was easy to keep a distance to each other.
Somehow I always associate the culture stage with beautiful acoustic shows and this is exactly what I got from TRAUM’ER LEBEN as well. This dark folk band from Hannover was founded in 2005. Since then Jay and Bia already released 8 albums. With two acoustic guitars, percussion and their two different and perfectly complementing voices they created a wonderfully versatile atmosphere. There were songs to simply enjoy and dance and songs that were surprisingly dark and epic considering the rather stripped down instrumentation. If you like the darker parts of Neo Folk, this is definitely for you! // www.traumerleben.de / www.facebook.com/traumerleben // Setlist: 01. Noch brennt das Feuer / 02. Endzeit / 03. Solaris / 04. Cutting Earthworms / 05. Das Abendland / 06. Der alte Turm / 07. Rome / 08. Gesetze / 09. The Endless Rain / 10. The hipper they are / 11. Destiny / 12. Verräter / 13. Steh auf! / 14. Germania / 15. Heiligste Stätte
Speaking of acoustic gigs and stripped down set ups… I then went back to the Amphi stage to see the solo set by Jérôme Reuter a.k.a. ROME. Singer-songwriter, Neo-folk or simply “Chanson Noir” - many terms can be found for this versatile project from Luxembourg. Did I already say the day before that it is daring to play a purely acoustic set on the main stage of a festival? Well, this was definitely even more courageous. “Solo” really meant no one but Jérôme. Voice and acoustic guitar. That’s it. But I think it is exactly the focus on the basics that made this gig so very fascinating. I was quickly spellbound even though I must admit I didn’t know most of the songs. Jérôme’s warm voice and beautiful guitar play created such a strong atmosphere and let me drift away too far away worlds. And so the reaction of the crowd was enthusiastic as well. Still, Jérôme seemed to be quite humble and shy - probably thanks to the unusual huge setting for a solo gig. In fact, he ended his set quite ahead of time, even though not without playing an encore after we asked for it loudly. This truly was a most beautiful and somewhat otherworldly experience. // www.facebook.com/romeproject
Being one of the most promising bands of the last years, EMPATHY TEST feel already well established and well-known even though they just started 7 years ago. The London-based synth pop band around Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf released their third album ‘Monsters’ this May. And while - as with most bands - their tour plans were ruined by the current pandemic, now they managed indeed to play a few shows under the name ‘Socially Distant Tour’. I was glad to catch them at their first show in Gelsenkirchen already which was actually my first concert after half a year. And now I was more than thrilled to see them up close instead of from the distant ranks of the circus tent. Before EMPATHY TEST entered the stage, the presenter of the NCN told us that she just promised Isaac this show would be even better than their show in Dresden the night before. Well, I had heard many amazing things about Dresden from some friends. So this surely was a high expectation to live up to…
They started right with the title track of their newest album and I was immediately ecstatic. ‘Monsters’ really has everything I love about their music. A unique and most intriguing style, much attention paid to the details without ever overloading the songs, combined with captivating rhythms added by Christina Lopez’ live drums - in the studio as well as on stage. And of course the masterful and simply amazing vocals by Isaac Howlett which were just as versatile and perfect on stage as in the studio. It was actually this album that turned me into a huge fan of EMPATHY TEST and so I was more than delighted that they played the whole album. Including my current favourite track ‘Doubts’ which is already astonishing on CD, but live becomes even more impressive thanks to the intense performance by Isaac.
Of course, there were also some older songs included in the setlist like ‘Seeing Stars’ to which Isaac told us, he had actually hoped that it might be dark by this time. Well, while we did not see any stars, I enjoyed instead seeing the people all around the Amphi theatre, smiling and dancing. The whole gig had a wonderful enthusiastic feeling - on the stage as well as in the audience. A driving and exciting energy. All three - Isaac, Chrisy and Oliver Marson at the keys - obviously enjoyed the show very much. Indeed, at some point Isaac recounted the story with the promise of the NCN presenter, telling us he replied with a sceptical “unlikely”, then adding that she was right: “This is better!” After all songs from the ‘Monsters’ album were played, more older songs followed like the well-known ‘Losing Touch’ and ‘Vampire Town’ which I heard live for the first time and enjoyed immensely.
When the last song ended I was surprised that it was already over. Despite EMPATHY TEST playing 16 songs, time just passed by quickly and I would have liked at least ten more songs. Truly an exceptional band whose gig left me with a most wonderful and positive feeling. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the postponed ‘Monsters’-tour can take place next January and February. // www.empathytest.com / www.facebook.com/empathytest // Setlist: 01. Monsters / 02. Empty Handed / 03. Making Worlds / 04. Skin / 05. Bare My Soul / 06. Stop / 07. Holy Rivers / 08. Incubation Song / 09. Seeing Stars / 10. Fear of Disappearing / 11. Doubts / 12. Love Moves / 13. Demons / 14. Losing Touch / 15. Vampire Town / 16. Here is the Place
In Strict Confidence
With IN STRICT CONFIDENCE a true classic of the dark electro scene followed. Since their formation in 1991 this band around Dennis Ostermann released many dancefloor hits. And indeed, this gig was originally planned as a vintage set, that is a set consisting only of songs from before 2005. Yet upon entering the stage, Dennis already announced that thanks to the unusually long time slot, they would play some more current songs as well. So the biggest difference to the other gigs was indeed the stripped down set up. Where usually there are up to five musicians on stage, this time it was only two with synthesizers and vocals. But this was more than sufficient for a wonderful show of their trademark dark and danceable electronic music with the rough and deep voice of Dennis Ostermann. What remained as well was the video screen. I think this too is one of the trademarks of IN STRICT CONFIDENCE - the very aesthetic and artful videos that accompany most songs.
As I had seen IN STRICT CONFIDENCE last year right at this stage, everything felt pleasantly familiar while many good memories of last year’s NCN came up again. Once more, the whole Amphi theatre was dancing happily greeting many well-known classics like ‘Engelsstaub’ or ‘Zauberschloss’ with loud cheering. A surprise to me was ‘Industrial Love’, one of the songs that definitely belonged to the vintage part of the set and which I had not yet heard live. In fact, I would have liked more songs like this. As much as I love the other songs, I had heard them live at the last NCN gig and many other gigs already. It seems, IN STRICT CONFIDENCE do not tend to vary their setlist a lot during the years which is a pity considering how many more amazing songs are to be found in their vast discography.
Other than this, it was an enjoyable and entertaining gig and so again the audience asked loudly for an encore. And indeed IN STRICT CONFIDENCE returned to play ‘Somebody Else's Dream’ - one of my favourites thanks to the dark and desperate refrain - before finally closing with the catchy tunes of ‘Herzattacke’. // www.instrictconfidence.com / www.facebook.com/instrictconfidence // Setlist: 01. My Despair / 02. Used And Abused / 03. Kiss Your Shadow / 04. Forbidden Fruit / 05. Mercy / 06. Seven Lives / 07. Set Me Free / 08. Morpheus / 09. Industrial Love / 10. Engelsstaub / 11. Zauberschloss / 12. Somebody Else's Dream / 13. Herzattacke
And then it was already time for the final show. It is insane how quickly those two days passed by. Yet the headliner of the Amphi stage promised to be a real highlight. What can I say to introduce PETER HEPPNER? Hamburg-based, well-known from WOLFSHEIM and his collaborations i.e. with SCHILLER and JOACHIM WITT, Echo-winner - twice, and releasing solo albums since 2005. But if I could do it here I’d rather introduce with showing you this unique voice and amazing lyrics. Well he doesn’t need much introduction in our scene anyway. And so of course the Amphi stage was crowded with people - or as crowded as possible under the given circumstances. But wherever I looked the seats where occupied with people who all stood up immediately when PETER HEPPNER and his band entered the stage.
I think, in the following one and half hour I cursed several times the person who decided to book PETER HEPPNER as last headliner. What an emotional final! To me this amazing voice combined with the intricate music is simply perfect to let myself fall, fully immerse in the songs and simply open up. I just love how the music almost seems to float by while at the same time being rich in beautiful details. While many songs tend to get stuck in my head and are absolutely danceable, still it never feels simple or pompous. I guess, PETER HEPPNER indeed perfected the art of creating deep and meaningful pop music. And all this with lyrics which made me pause several times thinking how he manages to find exactly the right words to put complex thoughts and emotions in just a few short lines. To me it was like I felt the burden of the last 6 months all at once with a mix of wistfulness and relieve. Just like during ‘Meine Welt’ (“my world”) whose lyrics always carried a childlike hopefulness for me, yet this time felt even more intense as I started imagining how I would definitely draw my own world without a pandemic…
And it went on like this. ‘Good Things Break’ reminding me of the volatility of many wonderful moments, ‘Once In A Lifetime’ giving me the feeling of strength and determination, ‘…und ich tanz’ ‘ describing perfectly why in those times I need music more than ever. In this way PETER HEPPNER’s songs invited us to dream and feel. The setlist was a wonderful mix of songs of the current albums ‘Confessions & Doubts’ and ‘TanzZwang’, some of his collaborations as well as songs from his former band WOLFSHEIM. And it felt like the whole audience was spellbound, celebrating the new songs as well as the older ones. Yet, when ‘The Sparrows And The Nightingales’ started, the even more ecstatic reaction of the crowd made me think “They just made a whole Amphi theatre very, very happy.”
When the set closed with ‘Die Flut’ of course everyone was loudly asking for more. And indeed we got two encores with two songs each. The second encore really was something. First ‘Kein Zurück’ with my favourite lines that have actually accompanied me since my youth, always reminding me to live now and not to postpone my dreams. With the ongoing pandemic this seems to be even more important. And then finally the traditional last song of the set ‘Das geht vorbei’ (“this will pass”). While the first part feels really hopeful putting troubled times into perspective, still the part about perfect things suddenly being gone reminded me a lot of what happened to all my wonderful plans for this summer…
Well I always loved PETER HEPPNER’s music. I always thought that his concerts were magic and touching in the best way. But I must admit, this time I was absolutely blown away - definitely thanks to the unusual situation we all find ourselves in which made this concert exactly what I needed. In the end, this was the most emotional concert for me on this already intense festival weekend and I could not have wished for a better conclusion. // www.phwerk.de / www.facebook.com/peterheppneroffiziell // Setlist: 01. Unloveable / 02 Alleinesein / 03. Meine Welt / 04. Once Again / 05. Good Things Break / 06. Once In A Lifetime / 07. Just One Word / 08. All Is Shadow / 09. Sedate Yourself / 10. …und ich tanz’ / 11. The Sparrows And The Nightingales / 12. Fremd in diesem Land / 13. Viele schöne Stunden / 14. Nothing Ends / 15. Was bleibt? / 16. Leben… I Feel You / 17. Wir sind wir / 18. Die Flut / 19. Herz (Metropolis) / 20. Künstliche Welten / 21. Kein Zurück / 22. Das geht vorbei
And then it was already over, my strangest and shortest festival summer ever. A few minutes after the band left the stage, the presenters of the NCN Special entered the stage once more. They asked the whole festival crew to join them and thanked them while the whole audience cheered and applauded whole-heartedly. Well-deserved. I can hardly imagine how difficult it is to organise such an excellent festival during a pandemic. Rearranging everything, planning everything new with a budget lower than ever and then all that waiting and hoping to get the permission by the responsible authorities.
And I must say even as a quite careful person, I really liked their hygiene concept. They communicated everything clearly. And even though some people forgot to wear their masks while moving through the seats in front of the stages, in general I did feel safe. Sure, staying at home would have been less risky. But I doubt this was much more risky than taking the public transport in Hamburg where I live… And while it might have felt strange from time to time to keep the distance to each other, I am so grateful we could enjoy this festival together. It truly felt like returning home. So again a heartfelt thank you to all those who made this possible. See you next year!
All pictures by Nastja Iz