Live Report: Electronic Beats Festival Cologne 2014

Cologne—your time! Last night Electronic Beats Festival pulled into the city, with Goldfrapp, Jon Hopkins, Mac DeMarco and Vimes offering up a diverse night of music. This is what happened. Photos by Peyman Azhari.

 

Cologne: a city famous for its beer, Gothic cathedral and Kompakt Records. Last night, however, the obvious reference points were dropped in favor of something a little more surprising. Throughout the course of one evening at E-Werk, intriguing juxtapositions abound: English pop eccentrics Goldfrapp followed goofy indie star Mac DeMarco and British heavyweight producer Jon Hopkins closed a night in a very different place from where pop newcomers Vimes started it. But it’s the combinations you don’t expect that are the most rewarding, right? By eight p.m, the air was buzzing with anticipation—and not a little body heat thanks to the weather, warming limbs and beer in the venue’s well appointed biergarten. While local lads Vimes went head to head with the early evening sun, their portentous techno-pop won out. A well honed sound, one part indie songcraft to two parts Cologne techno, it felt, unsurprisingly, right at home on the E-Werk stage. The electronic-organic textures—hefty kicks, filigree guitar, soaring tag team vocals between Julian Stetter and Azhar Syed—struck a chord with the audience who, no doubt, are well attuned to this kind of emotive 4/4.

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Vimes

Canada’s new prince of slackerdom Mac DeMarco kept the mood pitched at a kind of accidental sublime. When he broke a string on opener “Salad Days” his band improvise by stumbling into a cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow”. “Electronic Beats Festival and I break a guitar string!” DeMarco guffawed. Still, beneath the slip-shod aesthetic, the backwards caps and puppyish antics lies a tight band who could probably churn out surf licks through a fug of weapons-grade weed. Of course, it helps that Mac DeMarco is a loveable performer who can duckwalk across to a stage shortly after singing about his dad’s methamphetamine addiction as he did on “Cooking Up Something Good”. Elsewhere, tracks like “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name” and Salad Days cut “Blue Boy” go down spectacularly, even when the gags don’t (a mumbled  quip about his dad wearing cologne soars over the crowd’s heads). Rock’n’roll never died, it just decamped to a bedsit in New York and ordered a pizza.

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Mac DeMarco 

Alison Goldfrapp’s transition from jumpsuit-wearing disco domme to well, jumpsuit-wearing torchsinger-cum-disco-domme has been a natural one. Last night reconciled the duo’s twin musical impulses—pastoral gothic and sex disco—with aplomb. Opening the set with a run of songs from intimate last album Tales of Us the mood started out intimate and understated. The result? We were left hanging on every theatrical gesture and string flourish, drawn into strange narratives that were, particularly in the case of highlight “Drew”, as darkly cinematic as anything from Felt Mountain. However, a wig out at the end of Seventh Tree‘s “Little Bird”, incorporating swirls of organ, psychedelic guitar and colored lights, signalled a mood change. The mechanical thrust of”Train” saw our frontwoman ditch the mic stand and spotlight and strut across the stage in her vertiginous heels. “Number One” inspired a singalong among the crowd’s Goldfrapp faithful while the closer, a glistening, muscular “Strict Machine” was powered equally by piston-powered glam stomp, Alison’s aloof charisma and a wind machine.

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Goldfrapp

There was no wind machine for Jon Hopkins, but his live set possessed an elemental force. Looking svelte behind a laptop and controller, Hopkins recasts his melodic techno as bunker-shaking blasts of sound. Like Immunity his universally lauded 2013 album, his set payed heed to narrative, punctuating rhythmic assaults with ambient noise, melody with distortion. This was played out on a micro level too; the two note piano figure that spills from “We Disappear” when the techno pulse burns itself out—a lung full of oxygen when you’ve been running full tilt. “Open Eye Signal” takes Border Community’s minor key melancholia and pumps its limbs full of creatine, yet the thorny convolutions and midrange wallop gets inside your head as much as your viscera. E-Werk’s soundsystem is pushed to its limits with “Collider” which is, well, “Collider” but really, really loud. It’s a set that moved the limbs and pumps the fists, sure, also resonated on another, deeper level. In any other artist’s hands, the decision to bring things down with the naked piano ruminations of “Abandon Window” might seem trite, but here it spoke a universal truth: that partying is as much about the lows as the incredible highs. As we said, it’s all about the combinations. Thanks, Cologne, we mean it when we say that it’s been emotional. ~

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Jon Hopkins