Audioriver Festival 2009 – From Lake Kalksee to Vistula river

Beside already known constants like Plock’s homey Old Town, beautiful Vistula river and the great Polish crowd, the fourth festival edition also had some innovations such as the new day programme on offer. Audioriver’s wisely chosen line-up consolidated its position among Europe’s festival heavyweights, as once again masters of timeless electronic music had been committed to play the open-air party being held some 100km north-western of Warsaw, starting with Richie Hawtin and Ulrich Schnauss, to Gui Boratto and James Holden. Even the Moderat boys didn’t miss their chance to bang their rusty (tent) nails into Polish ground for the first time and to be part of a musical midsummer night’s dream in picturesque Plock.

Summer, what a comeback; not with boiling 30 degrees and blazing sun, but after all August was the return of a season that so far run the risk of being completely lost amidst spring and already looming autumn. Marvellous climatic conditions for festivals that have to be taken advantage of, hence Goodbye Greenland-like changes in the weather and Hello sunny Plock1, where Audioriver 2009 was already awaiting lovers of open-air techno celebrations. Being faced with much less Ukrainian twelve-wheel trucks, travelling by train from Berlin is much more comfortable and meanwhile in terms of time on the same level like a car ride2. Also the boys of Moderat hit the rail road and were approaching Plock to the beat of the rattling Polish locomotives. “Quite a good way to enjoy the calm before the next festival storm comes upon you,” says Sebastian Szary after having played the massive Berlin Festival the day before. Thanks to non-fragile wheelsets and after having survived roughly 5000 ticket checkups, the bridge spanning Vistula river got finally in sight, that is by the way a good place to have a splendid view over the festival site, especially at dusk.

Thus far 2009 seems to be an ultimate year for all things called festival. Full house and enthused masses all over Europe, from left to right and top to bottom, from Dance Valley and Melt! to SonneMondSterne and Exit. As not anticipated otherwise comparatively young Audioriver festival reached new spheres as well, not only regarding attendance, but also in terms of recognition and feedback coming from abroad; thus quite a good position to bring attractive line-ups and other improvements on the track. To make the time between the wild nights being more comfortable, the festival for example got advanced by a daytime agenda being accurately entitled as “Audioriver By Day”.

Also Plock’s lovely Old Town finally got involved in the festivities while turning it into a widespread stage where street artists, diverse performances and even a festival cinema could let off their steam. Latter one showed, what else did we expect, basically documentaries and films having a music or arts background. Among them high potential movies like Exils, that is fascinating with its stunning sound track, and Wim Wenders’ Palermo Shooting starring Campino, lead singer of German rock band Die Toten Hosen plus Lou Reed and Patti Smith. The cinema was open for everyone, not only to festival goers but also and above all to Plock residents. Of course the day programme also had musical catering on offer. That responsibility had been taken on by the Muzzo Stage, where several local DJs and acts could make their Audioriver debut. In the run-up to the festival fans of democracy and participation could vote which artists may appear there.

New on the festival bill too was the Hybrid Tent, a permanent contribution and playground for electronica and broken beats. That third main venue got accepted at the first go, which comes as no surprise since our East European neighbour is highly regarding Drum’n Bass, alternative & downtempo music. Dub FX’s Friday appearance duly celebrated and introduced the yet maiden tent to all festival goers. Logic consequence was an insane party in an overcrowding Hybrid Tent, brimming over with people and being packed to the gunnels.

Of course all well-tried things didn’t get downsized. Again a main stage and the techno Mecca called Circus Tent were delighting Audioriver fans with well-selected live acts and dj-sets. Both stages underwent different improvements, such as having gotten a bigger better sound system and large scale LED displays. The Circus Tent was also the place of the night’s first kick-off when Catz ‘N Dogz started their engines. Stettin-born Grzegorz and Wojciech are now living in Berlin and are already widely known under their 3 Channels moniker. Doesn’t matter if they are fans or not, at the Audioriver they didn’t hesitate to make all people getting into the groove by dishing up a melange of deep house merged with techno; hence those both were quite a solid starting point for all things pending.

Next one on the Circus Tent stage was The Mole from Canada, one of Wagon Repair’s techno artists. His appearance was a fusion of digital and analogue media; of laptop and software, spiced with live played sound snippets and scratches coming from old school vinyl. Easily he took the festival goers onto a dubby, dark and technoid journey, to where moles are feeling at home: the underground. In the end of his live appearance The Mole got the cudgel out of the sack and waggishly grinning he gave the crowd a harder massage, as he threw in a line of incredibly stomping industrial techno beats.

Right after him Ewan Pearson took over the steering. After finishing his gig everybody around agreed, undoubtedly it was Pearson who armed the bomb and set the place on fire. His musical blend of pure funky but driving deep house, finally fading over into pounding techno, was the reason for the Circus Tent’s first overboiling. To some extent Pearson was the first and most surprising corker of the night. Bustling around on the stage like Rumpelstiltskin, Ewan later also unleashed some extremely hypnotic deep house tracks. At the latest then all gathered people completely lost themselves in the moment and in particular the ladies were dancing all-too enchantingly to Pearson’s really sexy groove.

For inveterate Rüdersdorf natives () Berlin is actually only a suburb. Regardless if DJ, club owner or band, concerning music, in particular the electronic one, many success stories that now are coming under the Berlin sign, have its seed there, even stories that now are having a world-wide reputation. We are not only talking about the Modeselektor guys now, but since they grew up only a few streets away from me3, while also having held their very first legendary parties in Rüdersdorf’s old industrial ruins, Audioriver became an interesting reunion for us.

For the Moderat boys their gig at the Audioriver was also a premiere to play in Poland finally, a country “where everybody is pronouncing my surname (Szary) correctly at the first go. Wicked!” When the boys kicked off their live act the area around the main stage was overcrowding, even on the opposite bank slope it was really hard to find some space as there was only few appropriate places left. The atmosphere was sizzling when the eagerly awaited Moderat boys appeared on the stage and the people literally took off when the first tones of the first track A New Error were played.

Rusty Nails, A New Error and Out Of Sight are having a finely sculptured over-all character, that is instantly able to intimate that you’re about to hear something very special; comparable with the moment when the first complex taste molecules of a Tiramisu are touching your tongue and your brain is getting the announcement of the pending culinary firework. Berlin, that sometimes is thinking and behaving too one-way-like, needs more of suchlike music: broken down but driving beat structures, intensified by instrumentals, keys and strings that are taking away your senses and rationalness.

A Moderat live act stands for audio-visual unity, in whose entirety the solitary characters are fading away. There are not many acts being able to stimulate and inspire your senses in such multiple ways, hence playing in a genre-independent league along musical legends like Kraftwerk, Daft Punk or Pink Floyd, who are milestones in the audiovisual world. Moderat is a rightly and frenetically celebrated endorphins activating live act, to some extent originating from Rüdersdorf, that as a Rüdersdorf native I am taking lots of pride in. Not only because we all were enjoying our swims in Lake Kalksee, but rather I am seeing my own definition and preferences of musical and visuals put into effect with devotion to details. With Modeselektor, Apparat and last but not least Pfadfinderei a trio teamed up, that is fitting like hand and glove.

Unlike to the preceding years, music connoisseurs had to make compromises or were definitely in a hurry if they wanted be on par with the main acts and their time table; otherwise they ran the risk of missing the one or other act. People didn’t have to wait for the first crucial test; the question was: having an electronica phone call with Tel Aviv, or listening to a techno maestro from Sao Paulo? On the one hand we’re talking about Telefon Tel Aviv now, who flew in from the States for this certain gig only.

On the other hand the speech is about Gui Boratto, who is currently touring Europe to present his album Take My Breath Away and played the day before in French Brest along pioneer Laurent Garnier. Now he was waiting in the wings to make the Polish festival ground quake. Easily he kept up the pace that Ewan Pearson was initiating, while also sending the Polish crowd to techno heaven when even playing Atomic Soda, No Turning Back and even much lauded classics like Beautiful Live. “Kinda love it, kinda hate it. I slept maybe 2 hours this day…”, ranked the Brazilian who is on tour for a long time already his gig. “Would have loved to participate more in the interaction, but I really have to struggle to keep my eyes open.” Even if Gui disappeared early to catch some sleep, the Audioriver crowd won’t forget his superb live interpretations, remembering everything but not lack of sleep, that quickly.

Quickly downing some rum to the revolution, Mister Boratto headed back home together with Ewan Pearson. At the same time Audioriver headlining Richie Hawtin took over the decks and started to play a melange of finest juicy techno, as always being served up in a Hawtin-traditional way: mixed accurate to less than a micrometre and bristling with a rhythmic diversity an African drummer could ever dream of.

When having a look at the preceding years, then the techno tent got the most improvements. The animations and light effects framing Hawtin’s gig definitely played in the Premiere League of optical impressions. Berlin-based minus label honcho Hawtin visibly liked the Audioriver vibe and let the crowd go wild when dropping corker after corker.

Ulrich Schnauss, who is called by his fans with the mystical acronym “The U”, was one of the headlining artists of the new Hybrid Tent. Schnauss’ gigs in Central Europe are few and far between and not everybody has the chance to catch him playing live at Berlin’s Panoramabar on a normal weekday. Hence his gigs are still something very special. As foretaste of his festival gig he recently contributed two ambient mixes; one for the blog A Strangely Isolated Place4 and the other one for Polish music website Soundrevolt5. His one hour lasting live appearance started right after Berlin-based live act from Shed and Ulrich began with playing slightly new interpreted works of his last album Goodbye.

Ulrich seems to have found the live setup and equipment he was speaking about in the interview I had with him 2 years ago. He was playing highly concentrated, but without losing the dance floor out of sight and forgetting about throwing in the one or other musical delight. After about half an hour he turned up things and let deeper techno grooves rain down on his fans. “I played those productions last time ten years ago. Somehow they were matching the moment.” How right he was, you could see in the faces of his staggered audience. When the first sunbeams of the day twinkled over the bank slope Schnauss’ vibe became through and through magic. Such moments are like love at first sight; ultra-rare, but they exist. One of the music connoisseurs commented Ulrich’s gig as “He is a fucking master of space…!”, a one-strike statement that hits the nail not only on head, but drives it into the wall fully. Without doubt Hawtin and Holden were smashing, but those who preferred to skip Schnauss for them, will surely be hopping mad later as they missed something really outstanding…

Whenever I bump into James Holden, he has a new booking agent. First the change from Imprint to Cocoon and now he is doing the first independent steps. In the style of his label Border Community his booking agency Border Bookings saw the light of the day, a project we’re wishing him all the best and success for. Following Richie Hawtin in the Circus Tent the young renegade didn’t hesitate a second to show what he is able to as a DJ.

With pumping bass, a pinch of acid, some rock elements and those slightly off-key strings Border Community productions are famous for he tied up the people, didn’t let them go and drove them over the Vistula beach through the dawn as if there would be no tomorrow. From time to time the only thing that loomed to unleash were Holden’s uncontrollable pants, as behind the decks the Brit was also physically rocking his socks off.

Even if the sun wasn’t powerful enough to cause some sunburn, the midges were able to let us walk around as red as in Soviet times. For those small teases the dinner table was richly set with international snacks coming from the Baltic states, Belorussia, Czech Republic and Germany. Next year presumably that table will be even more richly set, when in Plock once more tank-shaped balloons will fly out the shelves and the city will see the run of the year again when people are rocking down another A U D I O R I V E R.

Audioriver 2009 review – used photo equipment: Canon 1Ds Mark III, 16-35 f/2.8L II, 24-70 f/2.8L, 70-200 f/2.8L IS USM, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8L

[xflo:w Event Review] Audioriver 2008 xflo:w Event Review of Audioriver Festival 2008
[xflo:w Event Review] Audioriver 2007 xflo:w Event Review of Audioriver Festival 2007
*1 - If you would pronounce Plock as “Plock”, then every taxi driver around will give you a shrug in all probability, as the struck out L gets pronounced like a soft W. Hence Plock it’s more or less a “pwotsk”.
*2 - Riding from Berlin to Plock takes 6 hours either way. In particular the “motorway” part between Frankfurt until close to Poznan is a mess in terms of heavily travelled roads. Travelling by train will lead you to Kutno, where you have to chance trains or take the bus. Here’s an example schedule (PDF), valid for 2009.
*3 - Technically seen Gernot is from separatistic Woltersdorf ;-), but Szary and Gernot met each other on parties in Rüdersdorf’s underground, that were held in countless industrial ruins.
*4 - Ulrich Schnauss mix for A Strangely Isolated Place
*5 - Ulrich Schnauss mix for Soundrevolt