Hamburg comes alive to show off its rock'n'roll stripes Photos: Lena Meyer and Giovanni Mafrici
Hamburg might’ve been overtaken by Berlin in Germany in recent years as a prime destination for party tourists, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from Reeperbahn 2012. Situated in the red light district namesake, the festival is four days of an urban bar crawl which puts most of its UK competitors to shame.
Every building is decorated in tag graffiti from pavement to roof; the streets feature record stores, bars and vintage clothes shops. The official Reeperbahn stretch of road is a neon bathed, beer fuelled, parade of kinky sex and toys. Oh, and lots of venues.
Despite keeping a shop front of innuendo, Hamburg has obviously gentrified behind the scenes. Our hostel was sponsored by DC – as advertised with the brands jeans decorating the walls. Apparently many of the arty types have gone to Berlin purely because the rent is so much cheaper there. That’s not to say that Hamburg has lost its party atmosphere. Despite being an area of underground red light bars police presence is less than minimal (I didn’t see a single policeman come or go from the station which was opposite our lodgings). But this isn’t a problem – at night the locals who built up a large majority of the sold out crowd start sparking up inside and dance to alternative guitar music which makes you realise large crowds can have a good time without reducing themselves to the Skrillex ‘wob’. If you were wondering what makes a place more rock’n’roll, it’s a seeming lack of rules mixed with a good atmosphere from a crowd who seem genuinely out to discover music.
After daytimes of seeing the famous harbour from a boat or being taken on a Beatles tour it was time for some music. Graham Coxon opened the first night with his usual quiet persona and a bag full of decent tunes – the thin crowd suggested that this crowd weren’t quite as excited about the ex-Blur member as us four Brits in the crowd were, but he rocked through a set which managed to contain some bangers. TOY meanwhile proved their stripes once again, a live band not to be missed. All their residencies and tours have turned them into a proper event; for proof that The Beatles method of gigging, gigging and gigging works, look no further.
After that fun, some locals took me to the Poodle bar, a place I can only describe as a concrete box, covered in Hamburg’s trademark graffiti, with two blokes at the end playing 60s funk cuts. Again; no security, no entrance fee, and yet no drunken agitation – afterwards the local get a short boat trip over to a beach to see the sun rise. And they say romance is dead.
We Were Promised Jetpacks were the highlight of the weekend – beefy, atmospheric rock with an emotional edge. The crowd agreed too, lively and singing along, these Scots may be on the edge of the indie scene, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. If it’s Led Zeppelin-esque noise you’re looking for, then Gary Clarke Jr did more than a good job of being a one man riff machine. His backing band was almost unnecessary. Unfortunately the hotly tipped Swim Deep didn’t manage to grab many people’s attention, their laid back approach to playing live results in them actually falling way off the mark.
Reeperbahn is definitely not a family festival, but then it’s also not a ‘lads’ one either. A perfect combination of music fans and German beer, there’s something still in the air there from its 60s and 70s heyday to take inspiration from. Don’t write it off just yet.