Kulturpark, Deutzen, Germany
4th to 5th September 2020
NCN 2020 Day 1 with Palast, Amnistia, Adam Is A Girl, Kälte, Goethes Erben, Fïx8:Sëd8, Suicide Commando, Mila Mar
2020 is a truly challenging year, for everyone in its own way. The whole event sector has been hit particularly hard. And of course I’m not thinking “only” artists here. I think event organisers, promoters, sound and light technicians, stage hands, and, and, and… True, the pandemic is a very real threat and the cancellation of all “normal” concerts and festivals felt simply necessary and imperative to me. Yet, as a “concert junkie” like me, it hurts seeing all those cancellations. And it hurts even more understanding just how many people, who usually earn their money with realising what always has been so essential to me, are now at risk of bankruptcy. But then again, there are some people who really gave me hope because they tried to find other ways. Making live music possible while still keeping the risk of the virus spreading low.
And while I watched my summer festival being cancelled, there was one festival that seemed to consider other options. Open air and always a smaller event which actually feels more like a family gathering, this truly seemed to have a chance. The NCN Event crew communicated early and very transparent. “No, we don’t know whether NCN 15 will happen this year. Yes, we are all still waiting for the definite decision from the authorities.” And then “We are already working on an alternative concept.” Wait! What? A glimmer of hope for my festival summer. On 17th of July it was clear. No NCN 15. Instead, we would get a smaller “NCN Special”. 1,000 people - including bands and staff. The tickets went on sale at three different time points and every single time the servers crashed under the load of incoming requests. All that even though not a single band had yet been announced. We were lucky. At the third sale we managed to obtain 2 tickets and I don’t think I have ever been so excited about buying festival tickets before.
Soon it was time to finally pack for our first and only festival in 2020. How did this work again? Did I really pack my ticket? My ID? My mask? Well, this surely would not be the same. And yet it felt so very much like returning home. So at Friday afternoon we finally entered again the Kulturpark Deutzen (Cultural Park in Deutzen, just half an hour drive from Leipzig). At the entrance we were checked for fever with forehead thermometers and IDs were compared with the names on the tickets. Every guest received two beautiful NCN scarfs that worked well to cover mouth and nose. And in many places arrows where showing in which direction to go so that people would not clash. The whole concept had been communicated well ahead. Masks were obligatory wherever ways were narrow and in front of the stages - until you found yourself a seat. There you were allowed to take down your mask and also to stand up to dance - of course only in front of your own chair.
This time there would be only two stages - Amphibühne (Amphi stage) and Kulturbühne (culture stage) - instead of the usual four stages. Everything was scheduled a little bit different. Two days instead of three. Less but longer time slots. Also much time planned for changeovers. And always two bands playing at the same time. Everything was well coordinated so that there was no need to hurry anywhere right after the gigs and even unexpected delays would hardly influence the time table. A very relaxed festival to ensure that people would be able to spread over the whole area and to keep a distance to each other.
Of course, the line-up was influenced as well by the current travelling restrictions. It was a little less international than usual with most - not all - bands coming from Germany and all from Europe. What did not change is that it felt very diverse. One of the many things I love about NCN is that it is the perfect place to discover new bands for me. Every year the line-up is truly different. Sure, some bands do return, but no line-up ever feels like a repetition. And everyone can find some music they like, whether it is dreamy dark wave, groovy post punk, catchy synth pop or powerful industrial… And there are always some true classics and well known “stars” of the scene playing next to promising and interesting newcomers.
And this is exactly how we started our NCN Special at Amphi stage - with PALAST from Berlin who released their first full-time album in 2017. While to me this was the first time that I have heard their music, it was quite obvious that in those few years they already managed to gather quite some fans. While most were enjoying the first show of the festival sitting down, at the front rows there already gathered a group with band shirts which was dancing happily. And within two songs they had me dancing as well. PALAST played a wonderful combination of groovy rock music with a certain 80ies vibe, catchy synth elements and infectious drums played live by Marc Engel (RABIA SORDA). All this with the charismatic voice of Sascha Pace who also added some driving guitar parts. And while songs like ‘She Can Dance’ or ‘Strong’ definitely get stuck in your head immediately and make it impossible to keep your feet still, their setlist also offered other tracks like ‘Crucify’. As Sascha told the audience the latter is the song with which PALAST began. It started much softer, with some parts focussing completely on the voice and creating quite an epic atmosphere. Finally they ended their set with the title track of their first EP ‘Hush’ which immediately became one of my favourite songs. Well, what an amazing start. They definitely left me with a feeling of “Damn, I want to see those guys again - in a real club with more space to dance!” // www.palastband.com / www.facebook.com/palastband
Adam Is A Girl
As second show there was another band from Berlin that I had not yet seen live. Even though this time I had already heard a lot about their music - along with a heartfelt recommendation of a friend. Just a few months ago their second full-time album ‘Now Or Never’ was released and the show started just like the album with the Intro ‘Before We Drown’ followed by the intriguing ‘Mercy Of The Waves’. This song already gave a good taste of what followed. The music an interesting and driving mix of synth pop with energetic live guitar and drums. And in particular: The most fascinating and powerful voice of frontwoman Anja Adam. Her vocal range as well as the versatility of her vocal styles impressed me immediately. The whole performance felt very charismatic, full of an engaging energy and at the same time so down to earth that I felt l could easily relate to all their songs.
I think my favourite live song was ‘Chase Her Down’ which focusses on a most captivating combination of drum rhythms and vocals. Then I remember well how Anja recounted the creation process of ‘We Are One’, how she was worried that this would become too much like a hit song and wasn’t all so sure about it. With some time passed, she actually liked the song a lot, even more when the whole #blacklivesmatter movement came up and she felt, that the song actually captures one of its core messages. And finally they ended their set with ‘Goodbye Berlin’, a very catchy homage to this unique city. As I grew up in Berlin, I became quite wistful during that song. Maybe it’s just my imagination. But in general the whole indie vibe of ADAM IS A GIRL together with their forthright presence reminded me a lot of my beloved home town. // www.adamisagirl.com / www.facebook.com/adamisagirl // Setlist: 01. Before We Drown (Intro) / 02. Mercy Of The Waves / 03. Up And Down / 04. Chase Her Down / 05. Downstream / 06. Your Silence / 07. Daydream To Nightmare / 08. Shadows / 09. Sky / 10. Soldier / 11. Sober / 12. Insomnia / 13. We Are One / 14. Goodbye Berlin / 15. Young Hearts
The next changeover was a bit more complicated than usual. GOETHES ERBEN were to perform a show in their chamber concert setting. And this did not only mean lots of beautiful decoration but also that they brought a grand piano. I was looking forward to that as I had already seen them performing in this setting several times and just hearing Sebastian Boettcher sound-checking with the grand piano and Benni Cellini (LETZTE INSTANZ) with the Cello made me happy. In addition, this time they were even accompanied by Jochen Schoberth form ARTWORK on guitar for some songs. At the same time I thought it quite daring to play a set like this at the main stage of a festival. Fortunately, with GOETHES ERBEN acoustic doesn’t exactly mean quiet. Those that have already seen them live know that their shows are nothing less than music theatre and that frontman Oswald Henke is well able to capture the attention of a festival crowd with his expressive performance.
And so the set started already quite impressive with ‘Heldenuntergang’ dealing (according to the video released a few days later) with the subject of Jewish artists who were silenced and persecuted under the Nazi-regime. This song is from the new album ‘Flüchtige Küsse’ released this September which was recorded live with exactly that set up - piano, cello and vocals. But of course, the setlist also included many older songs from the more than 30 years of music history of GOETHES ERBEN - like the succeeding ‘Schwarzes Wesen’. In fact, during the softer songs the audience felt a little bit too loud like during the beautifully melancholic ‘Tage des Wassers’ or my personal favourite of the set ‘Vermißter Traum’. From time to time Oswald Henke was making remarks on the noisy audience, half-jokingly adding that they were lucky he was not allowed to leave the stage. In fact, usually - that is without a pandemic - he would walk through the audience at parts of his performance which surely makes the whole concert even more engaging (and definitely makes sure that everyone is paying attention…).
Another treat for me was the song ‘Zeit zu gehen’ which Oswald Henke described as their introspective work of the last half-year which will not be released anywhere. I remember only a few parts of the lyrics but they added a most interesting perspective on the things happening in the world right now. At the end the setlist turned to the louder and more insane songs with ‘Ihpigenie’ and ‘5 Jahre’, before finally closing with ‘Ich bin der Zorn’, another song from the new album. Well, I’d still say that this version of GOETHES ERBEN is ideally enjoyed in other contexts than a festival, but it definitely was again an impressive performance with musicians who are real masters of their instruments. // www.goetheserben.de / www.facebook.com/goetheserbenoffical // Setlist: 01. Heldenuntergang / 02. Das schwarze Wesen / 03. Tage des Wassers / 04. Lilien / 05. Zeit zu gehen / 06. Wir alle suchen blind / 07. Vermißter Traum / 08. Seelenschatten / 09. Stumme Nächte / 010. Keine Farben / 11. Iphigenie / 12. 5 Jahre / 13. Ich bin der Zorn
Did I already mention how much I love the NCN festival for its diverse line-up? Well, now we definitely made a full turn in genres - from the purely acoustic set of GOETHES ERBEN over to the electro-industrial veterans SUICIDE COMMANDO. With the first release in 1988 Johan Van Roy from Belgium had hugely influenced the dark electro scene. I cannot tell you how much I was looking forward to this: Just dancing to excellent electronic music. When the first notes of ‘The Gates Of Oblivion’ rang out, it felt like the anticipation of the whole crowd was finally discharged. Johan Van Roy entered with a most fitting mask, black, and a creepy face “drawn” on it with led lights. And immediately the whole band was greeted with enthusiastic cheering and applause. Wherever I looked people were dancing in front of their seats. I guess, we all missed that!
The intro song was followed by ‘Dein Herz, Meine Gier’ which was just re-released as single in a new version. After some songs from the current album ‘Forest Of The Impaled’ one of their real dancefloor classics ‘God Is In The Rain’ followed and its trademark synthesizer melody was greeted with loud enthusiasm. Of course, in the background it was accompanied by the video show that is an integral part of the SUICIDE COMMANDO gigs and is well known for their often shocking content - in this case pictures of people suffering from famines. Indeed, many songs deal with unpleasant topics and sure the approach to these topics remains debatable. To me it always felt like one way to actually cope with all those horrible subjects, while I always loved that songs like the succeeding ‘Cause Of Death: Suicide’ raise awareness for how many people fall victim to suicide each year. The newest track - ‘Bunkerb!tch’ from said single - instead feels more like a political statement about the current USA politics with the video showing Trump, Bolsonaro and others…
It was more than obvious how much the band enjoyed finally being back on stage - even though the distance to the audience was clearly unusual. And so it did not surprise me that Johan spend much time on the audio boxes in front of the stage reaching out to some fans like he always does. After all, this is about celebrating the music together. After closing the set with the iconic ‘Hellraiser’, the audience was still not tired and asked loudly for more. So Johan and the band returned for ‘Death Lies Waiting’ and finally ‘Die Motherfucker Die’. To me this was a wonderful opportunity to remember why I love their gigs so much. SUICIDE COMMANDO really have an amazing and thrilling energy perfect to forget everything else and just dance until exhaustion. // www.suicidecommando.be / www.facebook.com/IIXIII // Setlist: 01. The Gates Of Oblivion / 02. Dein Herz, Meine Gier / 03. Death Cures All Pain / 04. The Pain That You Like / 05. Schiz[o]topia / 06. God Is In The Rain / 07. Cause Of Death: Suicide / 08. The Devil / 09. Bind Torture Kill / 10. Love Breeds Suicide / 11. We Are Transitory / 12. Bunkerb!tch / 13. Hellraiser / 14. Death Lies Waiting / 15. Die Motherfucker Die
All pictures by Nastja Iz