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Heroines of Sound, Wassermusik & Pop-Kultur Festival: Alternative festival season

Three of Berlin’s best alternative music festivals bridge the gap between new music and fresh ideas this summer.

Wassermusik Festival was huge last year. Photo: Sebastian Bolesch

Festival season is upon us once more, but before we get started, it’s time to address the elephant in the room. There is no techno here. Surely, by anyone’s yardstick, a glaring omission from any round-up of Berlin’s summer festival circuit, and that’s true, but there is plenty more to speak about, and this time around things will be done a little differently. So, with variety being the spice of life, Heroines of Sound (yes, the electronic music festival – though not techno), is top of the agenda. Seeking to (re)discover the lineage and influence of eminent women and female identifying artists at the genesis of the genre and thread the string through to the cutting-edge of electronic music, Heroines of Sound is an essential event and one that every Berliner ought to know about.

Heroines of Sound is an essential event and one that every Berliner ought to know about.

There’s a lot to see, and more to learn, across the three-day festival, but the standout pick here is the second concert of the opening night with a performance of Hildegard Westerkamp’s ‘Beneath the Forest Floor’ coupled with the exceptional Nicole Lizée and Sarah Nemtsov. It’s a sad truth that history connives towards the erasure of dissenting narratives and, quite aside from the sheer talent on display, it’s why events like Heroines of Sound are absolutely vital.

Similarly, Wassermusik, the latest example of the wonderful music curation at HKW, traces the banks of the mighty Mississippi in search of the history of American music. Bluegrass, jazz, funk, trap, zydeco, R&B, from Memphis to New Orleans, the Mississippi river is the vein that beats with the pulse of American music.

Over four weekends in July and August, Wassermusik investigates the importance of the Mississippi delta in the creation of such rich American cultural phenomena. There is no discussion of the Mississippi without recognition of the slave trade, the plantation economy and the blood spilled for those riches, and the HKW does not shy away from that: even the most diligent musos, will likely take something new from every single one of these nights.

the foresight, the quasi-mystic ability to spot starlets before anyone else makes this festival so very special

Of special note is Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. & The Zydeco Twisters, whose performance is coupled with a screening of Mandy Stein’s You See Me Laughin’ – The Last of the Hill Country Bluesmen. Closing night is equally special with Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory, Leyla McCalla and a showing of Roberto Minervini’s fi lm What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? There is no hip-hop without jazz, no rock without blues; not even a single lick of Western pop music would exist in its current form were it not for the styles that the Mississippi river so nourished and yet so viciously exploited.

On the topic of pop music, there is no finer example of the influence of American music than the way it has landed in Germany at Pop-Kultur. Year after year, this festival manages to outdo itself. It’s not simply the quality, nor the obvious connection to the zeitgeist, but the foresight, the quasi-mystic ability to spot the starlets before anyone else that makes this festival so very special.

Take note of CATNAPP, whose hyperpop takes in elements of hip-hop, drum and bass, and R&B, as well as the excellent Grace Cummings, Hannah Diamond and Vaovao. This year’s line-up is absolutely femme forward and rightfully so.

All in all, these three festivals present an alternative to the regular summer format of cramming as many huge name billings as possible into a field where music fans are herded between stages, nothing more than punters in the least enjoyable, most corporate version of the live music industry. With Heroines of Sound, Wassermusik and Pop-Kultur you will be opened to both new music and old ideas and crucially given the context with which to bridge the gaps.

  • Heroines of Sound Radialsystem, Friedrichshain Jul 7-9
  • Wassermusik: Mississippi HKW, Tiergarten Jul 16-Aug 6
  • Pop-Kultur Festival Kulturbrauerei, Prenzlauer Berg Aug 24-26