Since it started in 2004, Cologne’s c/o pop has quickly established itself as one of the hottest inner-city festivals in Europe. Each year, the audience attendance of both the music festival and its twin sister, the Creative Business Convention C’n’B, keep on rising; the numbers went up to over 35,000 in 2011. One of the main reasons is excellent booking that reflects current trends while at the same time promoting future developments. In this year’s edition, one of the focuses was on bands and artists who have their roots in electronic music, but perform in a classic band format.
One of the many kick-off events was the Electronic Beats Soirée. The bar, complete with adjoining terrace, was located at Rheinterrassen, a restaurant overlooking the Rhine and Cologne’s stunning skyline. People from music and media-related business backgrounds met to exchange ideas and watch Danish dance-pop diva Oh Land (a.k.a. Nanna Øland Fabricius) who, clad in a bright green summer dress and boots and accompanied only by a percussionist, delivered an exciting performance somewhere between pop show and ballet.
Later, everyone joined the crowd at the neighboring open air location Tanzbrunnen, where US soul star Janelle Monáe gave one of her rare European shows. After a few rather slow tracks during which she was painting a picture of a nude woman’s back live on stage, Monáe finally put the painting away, and she and her band suddenly burst into mayhem. Balloons were tossed into the cheering crowd, masked dancers appeared, and the stage became a scene of controlled chaos, with the band getting higher and higher on their own, beat-driven classic soul sound. Even a cover of the Jackson 5 was heard. The audience wouldn’t let them go, and after two encores, everyone left exhausted and happy to see either Whomadewho and Kiss Kiss Kiss at the Gloria or Marc Lansley at the re-opened legendary club Gewölbe.
One of the many groups at c/o pop that move seemingly effortless back and forth between electronic music and a classic band sound is Sascha Ring’s Apparat Band, which allows Ring to indulge in a more orchestral, ambient-like sound than his rather minimalist electronic approaches. With drums, piano, synthesizer, guitar and various effects, Ring and his amazing live band performed a set that brought to mind similar international indie and electro acts like Sigur Rós, Radiohead or Björk. Apparat Band proved to be perfect co-headliner for Canadian violinist Owen Pallett, who has recently opened up his live sound – which under the Final Fantasy pseudonym used to be only him, his violin, a loop station and a volume pedal – by adding a guitar player and a drummer on certain songs. As always, Pallett fascinated the audience with his impeccable and outstanding performance, creating a one-man orchestra by looping and adding up sounds and melodies made with his violin, while amusing the audience with his strange kind of humour.
Friday night at Stadtgarten, Düsseldorf’s up and coming Italic Music label presented two very distinct groups that are, each in its own manner, reviving the glorious phase of the sound of Düsseldorf, while gently translating it into our time. Or as label owner Marc Knauer puts it: "Sometimes taking a step back means taking a step forward.“ Stabil Elite, a very new and stylish band of young fashionistas, whose single ‘Gold’ has been chosen as the c/o Pop festival hymn, performed a surprisingly mature set of Kraut-influenced, Moog-infused experimental rock with sharp German lyrics. Later, their label mates Kreidler took over and transformed the packed venue into a moving and nodding crowd. With a sound that is simultaneously dark and clubby, pulsating and warm, these post-rock veterans, who just released her new album “Tank”, won the hearts of everyone in the crowd. Düsseldorf – douze points.
Meanwhile, an exceptional entertainer from Halifax, Canada, took the stage in the front room. Rich Aucoin made the crowd go wild right from the start. His uplifting electro-pop runs on pure enthusiasm. Aucoin projects the lyrics of his songs on the wall behind him and makes his audiences go out of their minds by shouting lines like “This could be our last dance!” and let everyone join in choruses (or rather battle cries) like ‘We’re not dead yet! We are undead!“ An exhausted Aucoin told us after the show that after each performance, he wrings two small glasses of sweat out of his shirt. We believe him. Festival Friday was finished with the Norwegian DJ night at the Ehrenfeld club Zum Scheuen Reh, where DJs Charlotte Bendicks, Taigatrost, Le Petit Garçon, Boska and Kohib presented sounds from the true electronic heart of Norway, the vibrant arctic city of Tromsø. On Saturday, Belgisches Viertel was the place to be. Under the label “Chic Belgique”, many designer shops joined forces to present their yearly music night, opening until late, and with artists like Tapete Records’ Jack Beauregard, Hufschlag&Braun and Colonian Burlesque group The Pepperellas performing between shoe shelves and clothes stacks.
This year’s edition of c/o Pop and its off program included further performances by the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble and the Berlin DJ duo Sick Girls, the Canadian shooting stars Austra, German indie rock bands Sizarr, Beat! Beat! Beat!, MIT and Wir sind Helden, singer/songwriter Philipp Poisel, as well as DJ sets of several c/o pop artists including Owen Pallett and Sizarr, readings by music television legends Steve Blame and Markus Kavka, and many, many more performances, readings and conferences on the actual state and the future of the creative industries.