29th July 2023
Amphi Festival 2023 Day 1 with Synthattack, A Life Divided, Wesselsky, S.P.O.C.K, Das Ich, Covenant, Front 242, Deine Lakaien, Xotox, Vanguard, Future Lied To Us, Centhron, Calva Y Nada, Zeraphine, Welle:Erdball, Lebanon Hanover, Diorama
The Amphi Festival enters its 17th round this year with over 40 bands and more than 12,500 spectators. The two-day festival has been attracting lovers of darker music from all over the world to Köln since 2005. We can expect a high-calibre, diverse, and international line-up.
Stylistically, it covers almost everything associated with the dark scene, including Industrial, Avant-garde, Synth and Future Pop, Post-Punk, and Dark Rock. Well-established artists share the stage with unknown newcomers. Traditional and iconic performers share the spotlight with modern and emerging acts. Black music indeed has many facets and there is offered something for everyone.
Our Saturday begins with a strengthening editorial breakfast in the hotel room, complete with freshly brewed coffee. By quarter past ten, we are ready to go and make our way to the Tanzbrunnen, where there is already activity at the two entrances, and the festival grounds quickly fill up. However, there is still time and space to look around peacefully. At the merchandise, there is already a long queue on both festival days. This deters some who would have liked to shop and instead choose to forgo festival merchandise. Having a second stand to better distribute the crowd might be worth considering.
Today, I have a couple of bands on my to-do list that I would like to see. Unfortunately, with festivals of this size and multiple stages, there are always overlaps, and I have to set priorities. Since I’ve already seen COVENANT and DEINE LAKAIEN this year, I reluctantly skip them today. The way to the Orbit Stage is too far for me to switch between stages multiple times, even though the MS RheinEnergie has docked on this side of the river Rhine. Therefore, I’ll only head to the ship for the end of the day - I really want to see DIORAMA. Similarly, CALVA Y NADA, who are playing live for the first time after 25 years, is a must-see for me. Overall, the Theatre Stage has a lot to offer me today. And there are also autograph sessions to look forward to, but more on that later.
Between the bands, I stroll around the grounds and through the various stands. There is everything from clothes, jewellery, figures, and art up to rubber ducks. You can get a massage, photos, or relax at the beach. The food selection is vast, although I wish there was more (healthy) variety in vegan options, and there is a wide range of beverages to choose from. However, the prices for food and drinks are not exactly cheap, so I stick to the free water stations for drinking. I’m also lucky with the weather. Occasionally, there are a few drops of rain, but it mostly stays dry. During the afternoon rain, I am sheltered in the Theatre, and I am well prepared with my rain poncho for the short shower on the way to the Orbit Stage.
In front of the stage at Tanzbrunnen, it’s already quite crowded well before eleven o’clock. I hadn’t expected so many visitors at this time. After all, many were still at “Call the Ship to Port”, “Ship of Rebels” or the pre-party until the early morning hours, or they only arrived this morning. Moderator Jens Domgörgen opens the Amphi and first explains about the drone that flies around at the end of each performance on the Main Stage. He asks everyone not to hit or step on it if it falls down, but instead, please return it to the stage. Now it’s time for some serious thumping beats. For my taste, almost too much and I can’t quite warm up to the singer’s distorted voice. However, the crowd in front of the stage seems quite excited and enthusiastically celebrates songs like ‘Electrocity’, ‘We Are Synthattack’ or ‘Live Is A Bitch’. The duo is occasionally supported by two dancers. There’s plenty of dancing in front of the stage and SYNTHATTACK receive a lot of applause. It’s just the right thing to wake up to, and it’s a successful opening of the first day at Amphi.
We still have plenty of time until ZERAPHINE’s autograph session. We spend it with the Alternative Metal band A LIFE DIVIDED, who are the second act on the Main Stage. Somehow, the opener ‘Hello Emptiness’ seems quite inappropriate because the area in front of the Main Stage is really packed. The band has been around for over 20 years and had their first Amphi performance in 2011. Singer Jürgen Plangger has a great charisma and engages the crowd. The atmosphere at the Tanzbrunnen is accordingly fantastic. Alongside older tracks like ‘Hey You’ or ‘Drive’, they also play something from their new album ‘Down The Spiral Of A Soul’ with ‘Best Time’. And “for all those who messed up today or need to apologize for any other reason”, the guys brought ‘My Apology’. They have incredible energy and are really enjoyable to watch. I’d love to stay until the end, but I need to get rid of the fluids I’ve consumed and want to be on time for ZARAPHINE’s autograph session.
So, I say goodbye just before the Main Stage performance ends. Apparently, we timed it right because when we get to the tent, there are only a few people waiting. But the line quickly grows. Since ZERAPHINE are the first and very punctual today, the autograph session starts a bit earlier than planned. Unfortunately, time is still not enough to queue up for CALVA Y NADA once more. Because shortly, a Swedish duo that I grew very fond of during the “Transcendent Tour” by SOLITARY EXPERIMENTS will take the stage in the Theatre. So, we head over to the Theatre right away. Currently, XOTOX is still on stage. However, the Theatre is so crowded that going inside is currently out of the question. Some people are already watching the show from the foyer.
We’re glad that many people leave the Theatre after the show, creating some space. So, we manage to make our way to the front. During the break, we groove to PROJECT PITCHFORK and sing along to ‘Rain’ playing from the speakers. The room quickly fills up again, and when Jonas Olofsson and Patrik Hansson take the stage, the Theatre is once again packed. The duo is joined by Rob Dust on keyboards and backing vocals for today’s festival performance. They have put together an extremely energy-loaded setlist. It starts with ‘Inside’ and ‘Grit’. Patrik utilizes the entire width of the stage, and Jonas jumps around at the front, heating up the crowd. The Swedes impress once again with their incredible passion for playing and infect the audience with their high spirits. Unfortunately, the musicians are sometimes hard to see on stage. There’s too much fog and insufficient lighting. And when there is light, it’s too excessive. The strobes and blinders change too quickly, constantly blinding the audience. I often have to close my eyes or look down to avoid being dazzled. It’s a real shame. On the bright side, the sound in the Theatre is quite good, and there are no sound issues like yesterday at “Call the Ship to Port”.
Despite the poor lighting, VANGUARD manage to captivate the audience and create an excellent atmosphere. Songs like ‘Open Sky’, ‘Ragnarök’ or ‘A Different Story’ are celebrated wildly, with the crowd singing along loudly. The audience knows the lyrics well, and Patrik is visibly delighted. When he announces the last song, two idiots in the front row insist that it’s called ‘Shave Me’. Yes, I am one of them. Patrik, with a grin, allows himself to be convinced, saying, “the last song is called... ‘Shave Me’”, even though the title is, of course, ‘Save Me.’ In any case, it’s one of my highlights today, and the next one follows immediately. Before the Theatre fills up again, apparently many people want to see FUTURE LIED TO US (later, there will even be an entry stop), the venue becomes less crowded. A chance to catch some fresh air. But not for long. The hall quickly fills up again during the break. At 3:20 pm, the lights go out again, and Vasi Vallis and Krischan Jan-Eric Wesenberg take their positions behind the console and the keyboards. ‘Blaze in the dark’ starts, but unfortunately, it remains dark, and we wait in vain for the blaze.
Many don’t even notice when singer Damasius Venys comes on stage. And one must see the charismatic musician. His facial expressions, gestures, attitude, and charisma, along with his remarkable voice, define the show. But the artist is mostly obscured by the fog, and he is more guessed than seen. Vasi and Krischan are hardly visible at all. Throughout the set, there are only a few glimpses of light. And then the lighting often resembles more of a laser show. Despite all of this, the singer manages to captivate the audience, and classics like ‘Intentions and masks’ or ‘Tellurians’ are loudly sung along. But newer tracks like ‘I, Hope’ and ‘Fly Away’ also manage to impress. Today, the trio has two completely new untitled songs in their repertoire. ‘Embrace a world’ and ‘Falling’ ignite the hall. The atmosphere reaches its peak, and Damasius seeks proximity to the audience by climbing on the barrier to the photo pit. This earns him a bra, which he even tries on. But Vasi doesn’t go empty-handed either, as a second bra flies onto the stage, which the keyboardist snatches up. A fitting finale today is ‘Born in silence’. Apart from the lighting, it’s an extremely successful performance. After that, I’ll go in search of something to eat, but I’ll definitely be back to the Theatre for CALVA Y NADA.
When Dr. Mark Benecke welcomes us again shortly before five o’clock, the Theatre is already packed once more. But something really awesome is about to happen. A band that hasn’t performed in 25 years is up next. CALVA Y NADA wrote the history of Electro / Dark Wave in the first half of the 90s. Their last album, ‘Schlaf’ was released in 1998, and it’s uncertain if this performance will be a one-time thing. Accordingly, expectations and hopes for today’s show are high. Unfortunately, it seems that the lighting debacle continues. During the intro (‘Yak’) and ‘Fernes Leid’ there is almost nothing visible on stage again. Moreover, I find myself staring at the displays of mobile phones in front of me. Thankfully, it eventually gets a bit brighter, and during ‘Schmerzenskrone’ I can finally see Constantin Warter, alias Breñal, on stage. He has brought his favourites for today’s setlist. Songs like ‘Paradies’, ‘Días Felizes’, ‘Los Santos Inocentes’ or ‘Der Sturm’ are apparently not only his favourites, as the audience sings along loudly and celebrates them. And to everyone’s delight, Breñal has a new song in his repertoire.
He leaves the decision of whether he should quit or continue up to the audience. Judging by the cheers, he will have no choice but to produce a new album. And the fans can also hope for more live performances. The artist will reach retirement age in 8 years and says, “so we have to create a chance to see each other again before that.” It seems that Breñal has rediscovered his passion and promises, “this will not have been the last time.” So, we can hope for a real comeback. During the changeover, there is temporarily a bit more space, which I take advantage of to sneak into the front row. At quarter past seven, the intro to ‘Lieber Allein’ starts. ZERAPHINE doesn’t need to be introduced. And behold, there is light. With ZERAPHINE, there is actually something to see on stage, and it looks fantastic. Thank you! At the beginning, it’s almost hard to hear singer Sven Friedrich. But that’s quickly corrected, and it fits perfectly during the chorus. Since the last album ‘Whiteout’ is already 13 years old, the set consists exclusively of classics. Everyone knows songs like ‘Die Macht In Dir’, ‘Inside Your Arms’, ‘Be My Rain’ or ‘Fang Mich’ and accordingly, the crowd sings along loudly.
Before the second-to-last single ‘Still’, which is also from 2006, there’s a bit of drum tuning. But since they started five minutes earlier, “we can just wait another 5 minutes now.” Although Sven isn’t quite sure what to say, he fills the time by chatting, which makes him very likable. ‘Ohne Dich’, ‘Siamesische Einsamkeit’ and ‘Die Wirklichkeit’ from the first album ‘Kalte Sonne’ are played today, which is unusually many. “If you still remember this, you’re as old as we are. Or... I am.” The set is “a bit retro today here” and is rounded off with ‘Flieh mit mir’, ‘No Tears’ and ‘Wenn Du gehst’. The latter is often requested and once again serves as the emotional conclusion of the show. Of course, the obligatory cover version is not missing. In such circumstances, it’s ‘Shadow of the day’ by the “unknown band” LINKIN PARK. Since there’s only half an hour until DIORAMA starts on the Orbit Stage, I watch the last two songs from the very back.
Outside, where it’s currently raining, I meet up with the rest of the group. The queue for entry to the Orbit Stage is damn long, but we still decide to wait in line. After the Post Punk fans left the ship, we manage to get to DIORAMA almost on time. Well, we missed the first fifteen minutes, and it’s quite crowded below deck on the MS RheinEnergie. But by ‘Horizons,’ we finally find a spot. From this far back, we don’t see much. But occasionally, I can catch a glimpse of the stage, and the atmosphere is fantastic. Although the sound is quite poor back here. One or two speakers in the rear wouldn’t hurt. Unfortunately, we can’t understand the announcements by singer Torben Wendt. At least I can actually skip using earplugs for once. Songs like ‘Odyssey Into the Vacuum’, ‘Gasoline’, ‘Iisland’ or ‘Someone Dies’ still find their way to the back, and people dance and sing even in the last rows.
DIORAMA bid farewell to the stage at 10:00 pm. The calls for an encore go unheard. Since the ship leaves at 10:30 pm and sails to the other side of the river Rhine, there’s no time for longer conversations or to have another drink. So, we directly disembark and head to the hotel. Tomorrow starts early again, and we won’t stay up too late tonight. The once who stayed on the boat could enjoy the performance of MARK BENECKE & BIANCA STÜCKER and the party afterwards, which was held on the other side of the river.
All pictures by Daniela Vorndran (http://www.vorndranphotography.com / http://www.facebook.com/blackcatnet) except Deine Lakaien & Welle:Erdball by Sven Bähr