Bi Nuu, Berlin, Germany
23rd March 2019
Dark Spring Festival 2019 with Giant Waves, The Foreign Resort, Whispers In The Shadow, GoldenApes, Children On Stun, Then Comes Silence
There’s an extra flurry of excitement surrounding Berlin’s DARK SPRING FESTIVAL 2019, as it marks the ten year anniversary of this assured, one day event. The excellent Bi Nuu club proved to be the perfect venue again, it had even had a bit of a facelift, and a credit to all who worked at the club on the night, to make it smooth running, good natured and professional yet relaxed and casual. Six bands were chosen for this special night, and as always they offered both geographical and musical diversity…
There are three good people in GIANT WAVES, unfortunately we only got two of them tonight, perhaps the additional member got lost somewhere on the trip from Russia - but no problem on the whole. After a somewhat superfluous instrumental intro, they get stuck in and the opening song is both bold and meaty with a cracking chorus. The venue is already half full, and people start to trickle in to see what the fuss is about. The band are clearly enjoying themselves, which is always a bonus, and it’s never easy to be the first band on. Musically, there are periods of monotony that are cleverly constructed so that when it breaks it really jolts you from whatever reverie you were in, and at times there are hints of THE CURE at their most playful, with good pop sensibilities on offer. Interest wanes occasionally, perhaps some tightening up of the set is required, but hard to criticise on the whole, especially under clearly difficult circumstances.
The Foreign Resort
If ever a band currently on the circuit has “future headliners” written across them it’s Denmark’s THE FOREIGN RESORT. And the audience reaction to them this evening does seem to reinforce that. It’s impossible to resist the levels of energy, joy even, that these three create when playing, and importantly, they have the songs to back it all up. From the moment the band appear, the stage is theirs, and they have a neat trick of swapping guitars and sides of the stage between songs that would look clichéd in anyone else’s hands, but here looks like the best idea ever invented. Musically, there’s a mixture of post-punk, new-wave and alt-rock, but actually, why try and label it - when it’s this good, it really doesn’t matter what you want to call it. And special mention must go to the drummer - like all exceptional percussionists, he is part of the kit, graceful yet pumped, standing, sitting, eyes closed, whatever he does, it’s utterly mesmerising. The songs are cherry picked from new and old albums, and there’s excellent use of pace and variety to make this an unforgettable set. I’m not a believer in the perfect album or the perfect show, but this was as close as you can get to perfection, and clearly THE FOREIGN RESORT should be climbing rapidly up the ladder at festivals and reaching more and more people as soon as possible.
Whispers In The Shadow
Frontman Ashley is a busy guy, when not recording and touring as THE DEVIL AND THE UNIVERSE or one of his side projects, he’s back in the main job, leading powerful Austrian dark rock band WHISPERS IN THE SHADOW. And the band are on fire tonight. Indeed there’s an almost frighteningly electric vibe throughout the performance, as if something big has just happened or is about to happen. It’s good to see, and feel, this level of emotional out-pouring from a stage, and whereas it’s an entirely different atmosphere than the one created by the previous band, it captivates the room, and it challenges by being at times aggressive, yet also hauntingly melancholic, despite the smoke, barrage of guitars, and the bewitching shapes thrown by the singer. There’s a good choice of material for the band to choose from, and it’s a sturdy and well thought out set, a darkness that always has light peeking out in cracks here and there. And the band interact with each other that makes them feel like a unit, connected, in this together, working as one to create this atmosphere. It’s breathtakingly good.
Berlin’s GOLDEN APES are such a part of DARK SPRING FESTIVAL it would feel somehow bereft if they failed to play. Never part of the furniture though, there’s always a feeling that every show they play here is a special one, as though they still need to earn the right to be on this stage. But there’s something odd going on. Like the intensity shown by WHISPERS IN THE SHADOW, the band seem to inhabit a place on an entirely new level tonight, a strong sense of camaraderie, even though each member appeared lost in a fugue of absolute concentration. The songs are raw, yet graceful, loud yet subtle, weary yet packed with coiled energy, and the performance felt just like that - a performance, not a set of songs. A real collective swirl of sound and light and emotion to create a whole that is hard to achieve and almost impossible to maintain. Yet they did, and all credit to them, for this was an exceptional show on a night where everyone it seems stepped up their game and gave something memorable and unique. Even a somewhat rapid stage exit before the encore failed to break the spell, and I think if the night had ended here, the audience would still have left more than satisfied. At this point festival organiser, Golden Ape, and general good-egg Christian Lebrecht gave a short speech of thanks to all those involved in the running of the event, and showered the from rows with ticker-tape. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so happy.
Children On Stun
The UK’s CHILDREN ON STUN have a history that involves tragedy (the death of Simon Manning in 2015) recording and live successes, and splitting up/ reforming on a fairly regular basis. Yet here they are, and judging by their tsunami of energy from the first blast of the first song, they are indeed alive and well and very happy to be here. It takes a couple of songs for the audience to really get what’s happening as singer Neil Ash throws himself around the stage like a teenager on a sugar-rush before deciding the stage simply isn’t big enough and ploughing headlong into the crowd to continue his performance. It’s all great fun of course, perhaps just not what was expected after the chin-stroking intensity of the previous two bands – but hey, it’s all about variety and these 90’s veterans deliver a set that owes more to punk than anything dark or gothic. Indeed, there’s something of THE MARCH VIOLETS (from where the band’s name originates) in the ramshackle hurtle of amateur dramatics, post-punk squalling, and occasional rumbles of dark atmospherics. Unfortunately, any punk/ DIY comparisons rapidly dissolve when the new single has to be abandoned due to technical problems with the pre-recording. Tsk tsk. Soldier on good people! You can do it! But a marvellous cover of ‘I Wish I Was A Dog’ nailed their credentials back to the mast so all was good in the end. An exhausting, and generally engaging, performance.
Then Comes Silence
By the time headline act THEN COMES SILENCE appear, it’s late, you suspect feet are sore, heads are spinning and weariness sets in - so it’s a credit to the Swedish quartet that they revived the crowd’s flagging energy levels with a set that was dark, powerful and at times wonderfully immersive. They look good too, all face paint, and twitchy movements through the fog, and musically there’s a deep vein of traditional gothic throughout - but much more. The dark dynamics are all in place, but the heady rush at times pushes the songs into much more interesting territory than merely aping Goth-rock of old. And hovering around the edges of some of the songs, subtle hints and hauntings, this is not just in your face dark and dreary, there are moments of real beauty in and amongst the pain and desperation. And what is clear is that, as with all the bands tonight, the sound, lights and effects, have all been maximised to create just the right set of circumstances and just the right atmosphere for each style of music and preference of the players. It’s a credit to all those involved. THEN COMES SILENCE easily demonstrate their worthiness to be crowned as headliners tonight, and it’s an exhilarating journey through their world.
For those of us still standing, excellent after-show DJ’ing was provided by Thomas Thyssen, Jurgen Jakob and Black Ossian. Ten years in and no sign of slowing. Long may this magical festival continue, it remains one of the highlights of each and every year.
All pictures by Victoria Alexeeva