Festival-Review: Amphi Festival 2014

Ten years. Ten rocking years! Ten years of Amphi, ten years spent shaking up Köln every end of july, ten years of goth invasion in the little Ruhr city.
And for a tenth anniversary, Amphi festival has made very honorable choices of line-up, while keeping up a flawless organisation as always, from the medics presence on the whole site at all times, always ready to help (and offering plasters), to the very wide choice of food, possibility to sit down whenever needed, inside as well as outside, lots of green area, many many (many) fashion stalls, providing all sort of goth, dark, bondage and spike wear that any self respecting alternative person would need throughout the year. Really, the only missing thing was a suncream stall. Indeed it seems that many goths hadn’t seen the sun in a while. given the widespread sunburn display after half a day.

But back to the line-up, and what a line-up; as the festival was barely starting and people were still queuing to get their holy wrist band (there again, a very well-managed queue, no one had to wait very long), bands were already rocking the slightly foggy town of Köln. 

Köln, foggy Köln

On the way to Tanzbrunnen

And as She Past Away was offering his darkest goth rock to the growing crowd, I couldn’t help but thinking that the singer desperately wanted to be Robert Smith. The posture, the little fist-shake dance, the haircut, and.. the vocals. The tones, the modulations. The mimics. Erm. The turkish duo however looked great, and gave a honest and sincere performance. They looked fantastic together, and I truly hope there’s a bromance going on between those two. But for Christ’s sake, taking a picture of those two dudes together on stage is a proper nightmare. It seems that each of them was trying to defend one side of the stage. Too bad it’s not the same side.

Clan of Xymox followed up soon after, and awakened the tradest of the trad goths among us. Each song is a definite hit, the crowd is there and the fans faithful, as always, and one gets to ask oneself why such band has been set to play so early in the day/festival. Especially with Lord of the Lost playing next. Oh wait, yeah, because the Goth scene is now full of trendy nachtmahr fan kids who have no idea about the origin of the music they’re supposed to be into.

At 16.10, slow and steady, as if the stage were theirs, as if the world were theirs, Corvus Corax took possession of Amphi. And through a feast of bagpipes, gigantic drums and other war horns, they literally wiped out all potential competition on that day. The show was an explosion of energetic, adrenaline-packed medieval music, a cheerful and involving celebration, an invitation to all to gather and celebrate in music. By blowing away the public like they did, with their obsessive medieval music and stage presence, they also reminded us that a live performance must be an intense, breath-taking and memorable experience, and not simply a list of songs played on a walking juke-box.

One of the most powerful moment of Corvus Corax performance, and of Amphi altogether

The foggy morning was slowly changing into a warm, sunny summer day, while the cool air from the Rhine made it all very bearable. The talks and the laughs, the music and the merry faces were each of them more evidence of the healthy nature of the ever growing Köln festival.

As always, the scene is an absolute delight for the eye. From the girls and boys coming straight out from a fairy tale, to the pseudo military dudes, who are proudly convinced that everyone mistakens them for the security or the police. Although in most cases as always, they simply are Nachtmahr fans.

A hatted person                                                      Nachtmahr boys

Just like every year, the Nachtmahr’s army showed up in masses, unleashing their automated dances on the mean beats of their favourite bands, and then, on some other bands’ too, even if, as we all know, nothing beats the excited Austrian boy.

And as this was happening inside, Blutengel was playing on the main stage outside. Blutengel’s new orchestral take might have won over part or most of the usual Blutengel’s fanbase and the public on that day, yet I can’t help but thinking this new adaptation of otherwise catchy electronic songs made them dull, lacking of energy, and actually not that interesting anymore. The symphonic orgy made the music slower and more dramatic indeed, while Chris Pohl chose to adopt a solemn and affected look almost at all times. Also, he was not moving. Not moving a bit. At the end of each vocal part, he was just standing there, facing the crowd, staring somewhere over the heads. Maybe the high temperatures added to his full romantic goth gear and make up did not help much. Having never seen Blutengel before, I sincerely hope that he’s a bit more jumpy for their regular, more electronic shows.

Blutengel’s orchestra                                                                Serious Chris Pohl singing about serious things                                                                      

We went back inside as the amazing Klinik was playing. Without surprise, I could see that the same recipe was applied than when Dirk Ivens performs on his own. Insane, insane, strobolights and more insane. The Klinik was as cold, sick and sadistic as one could hope for. Beyond being a very effective live set, the charisma of the two men, their maniac dance and the madmen masks they were both wearing simply made it a killer show. An electronic trance, rhythmical, sexual, nonsensical. The Klinik.

Once the Klinik show over, we took the time to linger a bit and walk around before heading to the next show. As always, the ambiance in Tanzbrunnen was a bliss. It’s amazing and precious how Amphi manages to preserve the relaxed, Summer holiday atmosphere over the years. People are almost more often seen relaxing, eating, drinking, and sleeping in the grass or on the beach (yes sir, on the beach… the Rhine beach) than at the gigs.

The Klinik, sick and fantastic

We eventually decided to head in, to the second stage for one of the big festival names of this year: Midge Ure. Being a very excited Ultravox fan, I was eager to see what Midge was able to do on his own after all these years. Well… The man just got me speechless. Midge Ure was simply in a fantastic shape at Amphi. With a huge smile on and full of positive energy all along, he was clearly happy to be here and maybe a bit surprised by the very warm welcome that the Goths of Amphi offered him. And among the many Ultravox favourites, he even rewarded us with a (not so) cover of “Fade to Grey”, the Visage song he had personally written and produced back then. This gig was exceptionally nice and positive, and I will not hesitate to see Midge Ure again if the occasion ever comes up; the man is a generous, powerful and enthusiastic human being that deserves more attention.

Peter Spilles – bad gig day, but never a bad hair day.      Pitchfork’s synths

Project Pitchfork was the last band to play on saturday, and as always in Germany, very much expected by the fans. The indoors venue was stuffed, and fans piling up as Peter Spilles joined the party with his bandmates. The show started with the new single “Pitch Black”, and quickly after came the all time favourite “Timekiller”. But although the songs and the synths, the lights and the fans were there, the magic just did not happen, as Peter Spilles seemed automated, displaying a blank face, never ever smiling, lacking of any kind of energy, whether positive or negative. Quite disappointing from a frontman one expects to look insane and uncontrollable on stage, given their music and video material. Maybe was it a bad day, maybe he was not into it, maybe he was sick or just heard bad news… Whatever the reason may be, Peter Spilles was beneath his reputation on that night for me, and I truly hope it was just a one-off.

On day two, after a nice breakfast based on bretzel, gummy bears and kit kat in the fresh sunday morning, it was time already to have a look at the performance of the ladies’ favourite, Solar Fake. And it’s without surprises that I could see Solar Fake giving the fans their dose of soppy romanticism. As always, the singer Sven Friedrich was pretty, neat and well-dressed, sporting shiny black nail polish and an affected look fitting with the emotional songs of the Synthpop act. No doubt the public was satisfied, and this is the moment I chose to leave the main stage behind in order to sneak into the second venue, as Klangstabil was announced. No transition could have been more brutal than Solar Fake – Klangstabil. (aside from Cliff Richard – Marduk perhaps).

Because goths are actually cute and full of love             The very intense Boris May

Klangstabil gave an unprecedented show, like nothing else I had seen so far in Amphi. Their unique blend of Spoken Word/Hip Hop with Dark Electro, added to the phenomenal charisma of the singer Boris May created a thick dramatic atmosphere. The urban creativity of the italo-german duo brought the entire venue up, floating in a fog of comfortable, self-inflicted sorrow, as the singer himself seemed most of the time overwhelmed by the intensity of his own words.

Klangstabil is intense and painful, bitter and curative. We all know how much the EBM scene is having a hard time trying to reinvent itself, ending up producing the same kind of bands, the same kind of music over and over. Klangstabil is definitely one of those bands able to bring change and original sounds, as they have put both their sensitivity and creativity at the service of their sound.

A break was needed after the Klangstabil experience, and a drop by the green area seemed appropriate, where we could enjoy a bit more the gothic magic surrounding us. A Goth festival is the theatre of so many things, so many beings, so many oddities that we would wish to see more often than only once a year.

A goth festival is a place where skinheads can walk around shamelessly dressed like SS, pretending to be innocent Nachtmahr fans; a place where some relive the Wild Wild West and dress (or at least attempt to dress) like Clint Eastwood in the 60’s. For some others, it’s simply nerd heaven. How great! You can dress like Darth Maul or Altair without being (too) judged.

Here and there we could also see the usual bondage amateurs, from the regulars to the rookies. Indeed, it was rather common to see young and still rather childish representatives among the SM adepts, just like that young boy who had 2 girls on a leash, but was still clearly too cheerful and not quite self confident enough yet to give it its full meaning.

One could see a lot of horn wear as well… A lot, a lot of horn wear. Why horns? Well simply because a stall of proper sci-fi (and most of the time, super huge) horns had emerged among the usual goth market.

An Indian                                        A wandering nurse                           Fantastic tattoo. (and skirt)

A festival is everything and anything, a happy celebration of strangeness, and this feels fantastic.

London after Midnight. Either they were all drunk, or they couldn’t give enough fucks about this show, their fans, or Amphi altogether. For sure they looked unprepared, and not really motivated for what was to be the last show of their tour. They indeed experienced quite some technical issues, either with the microphone, the guitars, or their video preparation that wouldn’t launch, wouldn’t play, or whatever else. Yet, instead of keep the show on like professionals (yes, the video doesn’t work, deal with it), they were constantly making remarks about things not working “we usually have a great background video, it’s lovely. But the cable is broken, so use your imagination”. Charming. The breaks between the songs are long enough to bring people out of it, the interactions with the crowd are as odd as “what do you wanna hear? *crowd whistles* whistles? Dude whistle! *attempt of the other band member to whistle*”. In short we have the unpleasant impression of an arrogant, lazy teenage band who take their fan base, as well as the sound and video engineers for granted, allowing themselves to take the piss out of… pretty much everyone. It was more than time to leave the capricious American kids to join the party happening outside – and for good reason: Apoptygma Berzerk.

As good as they have always been, Apoptygma Berzerk gave a radically different show than London After Midnight, being generous, consistent and happy to be here, picking among their killer songs (most of them are anyway) to put up a really nice show. the atmosphere was friendly, positive and upbringing, literally night and day compared to the previous one.

No right age to start! Never young enough to wear fake dreadlocks and knowing Apop’s songs by heart!

And as the crowd was meeting indoors again for the next band that was to be Die Krupps, all realised that the technical issues were actually affecting the venue and not only one band. For eventhough Die Krupps was on time and ready for action, we had to wait a good 20 minutes before they could actually start playing, a 20 minutes delay that a team of panicked engineers had probably spend fixing stuff at lightspeed. Yet the fantastic frontman never stopped entertaining the crowd, even without being able to play, via all sorts of interactions, including an attempt of QnA, giving the fans a wonderful occasion to ask all sorts of questions to their favourite band. At some point, the sound/light/whatever was broken came back, the show could start properly at last, and Die Krupps offered one more fantastic performance, through their powerful energy and their inexhaustible love for EBM after all these years. Big thumbs up for the frontman Jürgen Engler and his fantastically never-ending smile all along the gig. And also the never ending dark evil face of the guitar player Marcel Zürcher all along the gig. That guy is one hell of a legend. 

Lacrimosa was to end a festival, an a veritable legion of Goths gathered in the indoors venue around 21.30, hoping to get a bit of the magic. And of magic, there were a lot on that evening. For Lacrimosa made this closing ceremony as amazing and spectacular as Amphi deserved it to be. From beginning to end, the show was awe inspiring and grandiose thanks to magnetic frontman Tilo Wolff, dancing like a mystical creature and giving the best to the fans on fire of Amphi. I am not even really into Lacrimosa’s music, but I can understand how Tilo’s charisma has brought up such a fanbase along Lacrimosa’s history, for their have so much to give them. We, as a scene, have to be proud of such driven and generous bands, and I wish Lacrimosa to enchant many other crowds again in the future.

We were closing to the end as Lacrimosa left the stage after their last song, and as the dark crowds were moving on to the after party venue. Fun times and more dancing were had there before it was finally time to leave Tanzbrunnen for good. Once more, the Amphi team has proven able to offer a fantastic festival, both ambitious and human sized, within which all can have a good personal experience to come back home with. Ten years of Amphi festival are already behind us, and here’s to another ten.

Until next year

Review and pictures by Marie Lando.
Thank you very much to Stefan Linke, who helped me all along the festival gathering pictures of the bands and the people, and gave me his impressions on both our music and our scene.

More pictures in our gallery.