In a disused airport in Germany's capital, Irish bands checked in and prepared to take off.
It's not every weekend that a disused airport is converted into an exciting musical hub, a warehouse arena is transformed into an exotic clubbing paradise and five Irish bands get to strut their stuff to a new audience at a packed music showcase, but this is Berlin. They do things differently here
Berlin has been a long-standing mecca for artistic endeavour, especially for modern music that has fed off a sense of artistic liberation and inspiration that's unique to the German capital. David Bowie enthused that Berlin is the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine. While Graham Coxon of Blur claimed that it was "huge, empty and imposing" and expressed a preference for Munich, most have queued up to pay artistic homage, to record in the legendary Hansa Studios, or play one of the city's many unique venues or events.
Twenty years after U2 recorded Achtung Baby, Berlin is seemingly attracting more musicians than ever before.The Berlin Music Festival is only in its second year and is already one of Europe's most innovative exercises in music programming. Berlin Music Week culminates in this large festival at the old Tempelhof Airport, a spectacular venue that hosts an eclectic showcase of old and new. The arrivals and departures are bands rather than planes, but it reignites the thrilling sense of possibility of airports before they became associated with stringent security.
This year, the programme was given its own Irish twist with a showcase in a typically dank nightclub in a corner of the hipster enclave that's Kreuzberg. Last Days of 1984, We Cut Corners, Ham Sandwich, Funeral Suits and Le Galaxie all flew the flag and it's hard to envisage a more divergent bunch, straddling numerous genres from sun-kissed electronic surf pop to straight-up pop infused rock'n'roll.
The sound system throws a few unpleasant gremlins in the works. Unfortunately, the hotly tipped Funeral Suits are forced to cut short their set due to synthesiser failure. All show admirable determination and soldier on regardless, but the moral of the story appears to be to take your own sound personnel on the road if you can afford it, as Ham Sandwich and Le Galaxie fare better. Ham Sandwich have swelled into a seven-piece band and are crammed on to a tiny stage. They pull off an audacious cover of Kate Bush's Running Up a Hill, transforming it into a rocky and raucous set closer.
New Dublin duo Last Days of 1984 are also on the line-up for the Berlin Festival alongside Suede, Primal Scream, Mogwai, Public Enemy, The Drums and many more. It's a considerable achievement for such a new act to receive an invitation. "It was an overwhelming experience because our first live show was only in July this year," says Darren Molloney. "To be on stage alongside bands that we love such as Health and Tuneyards is crazy."
There's much more to the Tempelhof live bash than a bunch of bands. After the festival concludes each night, shuttle buses take punters to Club Xberg at Arena Berlin, a large warehouse space overlooking the River Spree complete with a mock-up beach. It's a brilliant use of bi-location to host an after-party with a difference. The two nights of DJs and live performances are full of surprises.
Kruder & Dorfmeister stage an eye-boggling spectacle and Boy George and Mark Vedeo perform a DJ set that concludes at 7am. It's certainly a marathon rather than a sprint and not for the faint-hearted.
Friday almost seems like a warm up as the airport and arena are far busier. Beirut prove that there's even a place for Balkan folk music and engage brilliantly with the crowd. The night is full of staged but effective juxtapositions with the uplifting house assault of Boys Noize following Beirut, complete with smoke and fire canons that wouldn't be out of place at a Kiss show.
Public Enemy have grown into the elder statesmen of hip-hop and leave a lot of their younger pretenders in the shade. DJ Lord does a stunning reworking of Nirvana's evergreen classic Smells Like Teen Spirit. Chuck D is so vocally impressed, he appeals for anyone in the crowd who filmed it to email them footage.
Every festival should produce at least one new name that steals the show from the glut of usual suspects and that artist is Skrillex, an androgynous-looking American DJ who comes on after Public Enemy and seamlessly mashes up several tunes at once and instantly becomes the weekend's most energetic and enthusiastic performer.
It's a thrilling meeting of rock and rave cultures and an inspiring experience for a new act to be a part of. For Last Days of 1984, the prospect of bringing it all back home is a tantalising challenge.
"When you come over here, you're seeing the most interesting stuff," says Molloney. "There's a lot more to it than just seeing live music, as there's facilities and opportunities to record and purchase instruments that you just won't find anywhere else. We were in an amazing vintage synthesiser shop in Kreuzberg with all this custom-made equipment that you just don't get anymore. This has been a fantastic starting point for us to play live outside Ireland. The key now is to absorb it all and be inspired and psyched for making our album."
They're reversing the order of the Leonard Cohen lyric and taking Berlin before Manhattan. Now, their challenge is the rest of the world.
Day & Night