The Hamburg equivalent of Brighton’s annual new band extravaganza The Great Escape, Reeperbahn Festival offers up a yearly smorgasbord of exciting new talent from across the planet, all congregating on the seediest street in Europe. In the same five metre vicinity, you can stumble into some of the buzziest bands around and also frequent a neon pink venue charmingly named the Sex Palace; truly the strip has something for all.
Thursday kicks off with the second set of the festival from Sweden-via-London boys Francobollo. Having ended Wednesday night with a sweaty turn at Molotow, the afternoon sees them atop a makeshift roof in the midday sun, singer Simon Nilsson joking that he feels like The Beatles before declaring that, in fact, he looks “more like a white Wesley Snipes”. It’s the kind of playful attitude that rings throughout the quintet’s music, too. Whether dishing up raucous, rattling rock’n’roll numbers or tossing out a little jazzy instrumental, they look like they’re having an absolute riot the entire time.
Canadians Fast Romantics are in the running for this year’s Anchor Award (Reeperbahn’s international music gong), which means that Molotow is full to bursting for their set. With judge (and Garbage legend) Shirley Manson watching from the side, the red and black-clad outfit look like they’re about to explode from the sheer effort of it all. Much like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and other similarly-minded emoters, they’re a band that really FEEL things man. Which is fine, if you like that kind of thing.
Over at the infamous Kaiserkeller (the previous Hamburg home to four young lads called The Beatles, no less), Australia’s Gold Class are equally as intense a proposition but in a wildly different way. The likes of ‘Life Is A Gun’ and ‘Twist In The Dark’ are Interpol-channeling brooders, wrenched out by singer Adam Curley - a man with a mouth so expressive he makes Jim Carey look like David Cameron.
It’s a seedy, low-lit underbelly of a venue and one that perfectly befits the grimy glamour of South London’s HMLTD. One of them’s sprayed his cropped do in perfect red and black stripes to match his suit; one is sporting the kind of heavily-beaded, black and gold top that could be ripped straight from Liza Minelli’s wardrobe; all are immaculately made up from cheekbones to lipstick. It’s a gloriously theatrical aesthetic that could easily provoke the age-old style over substance debate, if HMLTD weren’t such damned exciting performers. Sure, they haven’t really got The Big Hit yet, but they lurch and grind through numbers that veer between the industrial and the camp, fronted by the manic theatre of singer Henry Spychalski, who’s part Iggy Pop, part Adam Ant, part Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Back in Molotow’s basement, Pixx is on wild-eyed form herself. Packing out the tiny room to bursting point, she leads a sweaty congregation through a souped up selection of tracks from recent debut LP ‘The Age Of Anxiety’. Neon pink eyeshadow smeared across her lids, she’s either staring out the gathered throng or giving them crazed eyeballs; both are magnetic and when she launches into a “self-indulgent” run through of Joe Jackson’s ‘Different For Girls’, there’s something pleasingly righteous about her refusal to apply the song’s archaic message to herself.
Closing Thursday out at the ornate underground cavern of the Prinzenbar - a cherub-encrusted stone bunker in the vein of Romeo and Juliet’s doomed tomb - Belgium’s Cocaine Piss don’t go gently into the night. Fronted by screaming, thrashing singer Aurelie, who spends half the set in the crowd, shouting in the faces of her willing victims, theirs is a full on, relentless sonic assault. Once you’ve heard one song, you’ve basically heard them all - you ain’t gonna find any surprise ballads with this lot - but the gathering of moshing punks don’t seem to care. In Hamburg, girls (and boys) just wanna have fun.
Photos: Louise Mason