WEEK-END #6 – An alternative festival for Cologne
“What, another festival in Cologne?” That was the general tone of the reactions when the name “WEEK-END Fest” was first mooted in 2011. But just one look at the line-up later it was clear that the makers of WEEK-END were decidedly not in the market for yet another conventional music festival. WEEK-END was – and still is –a counterweight to the mainstream, a celebration of nerdy exclusivity and magical unwieldiness. And in late November, it’s back.
It started with a ring
Frankly, the story of WEEK-END Fest began not with a ring, but with a coincidence. “The organiser of Globalize Cologne festival asked us whether we wanted to host a concert in the empty UFA cinema on Hohenzollernring,” remembers WEEK-END founder Jan Lankisch. “We went from one concert to a three-day festival.”
And these three days in November 2011 were something else. Dubbed “a different festival for music, film & arts”, the event provided a stage for the meanwhile somewhat bland ex Blumfeld lead singer Jochen Distelmeyer plus US wild child John Maus. Maus left a lasting impression by screaming out his magical lo-fi digital noise pieces while writhing on the floor of the former cinema on Rudolfplatz, repeatedly whacking himself over the head with his mic so severely that the audience got slightly worried.
From this review of apparent pop contradictions and enchanging weirdness grew a festival for which Cologne ought to be very grateful today.
International noise publicity
Jan Lankisch and his then booking partner Jörg Waschat continued their work, moving WEEK-END Fest to Alte Kranfabrik in Ehrenfeld in 2012 – yet another temporary home, it would turn out.
And this is where the festival began to garner the attention of the international music press thanks to performances by Scritti Politti and Alex Tayler (Hot Cip), who appeared together with Justus Köhncke (formerly of Whirlpool Productions, in his very early days). The main attraction, however, was a megalomaniac show with (1) an exclusive appearance by US pavement mastermind Stephen Malkmus, (2) an album-spanning performance by the Rhineland’s own krautrock gods, plus support (3) from Cologne’s own Von Spar. I’d be quite impressed if everyone in the audience understood the bonfire of pop-culture references that happened here.
“It’s just that we prefer niche music over mainstream and want to line up artists that help us to create a narrative,” explained Lankisch and Theresa Nink, who joined the organising team last year, in an interview. “Of course that’s not something which pulls a stadium crowd.“
A new home in Mülheim
In 2013 WEEK-END relocated to Mülheim, where it resides to this day. Stadthalle Mülheim – the name doesn’t exactly smack of pop glamour, but if you dig deeper into the history books, like Theresa Nink did, things come into focus. “Unlike today, Stadthalle used to be a pretty well known concert venue. Sonic Youth, Pixies and The Cure played here in the 1980s, to name a few. From the very first moment onwards we loved this place with its wooden floorboards, spaced-out 60s lamps and airy, bright atrium. There’s not many places like it in Cologne,“ she says.
And so to 2016, when WEEK-END Fest will take place for the sixth consecutive time, this time flinging its doors open to Cologne as well as the whole world, if you will.
“We’ve had great ticket sales across Europe,” says Theresa, “no doubt because bands like Slapp Happy have agreed to perform here exclusively. Likewise, Kurt Wagner’s FLOTUS Movements can only be seen during WEEK-END.“
And there is no question that WEEK-END 2016 is definitely worth a trip from further afar. After all, seeing Slapp Happy on stage is about as rare an experience as finding a Penny Black. Founded in the early 1970s in Hamburg, this German-British avantgarde pop band almost never appeared in public. It disbanded early on, only to reassemble much later but that iteration, too, was not long for this world. Their story has all the makings of a pop legend – and the last time Slapp Happy was seen or heard of was 16 long years ago. No wonder die-hard fans are willing to travel from far afield.
In the noughties and notably also in the 1990s, Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) released a number of pretty amazing, almost minimalist country soul albums. Redolent of a depressive sweetness, his songs sound as if he recorded them lying in bed while veiled in a marihuana funk. Jan Lankisch can’t wait to see his performance. “I’m incredibly excited that the Lambchop mastermind Kurt Wagner is willing to sacrifice a family Thanksgiving to come here and perform his new album FLOTUS, seven thousand miles away from his home in Nashville,” he says.
More than pop
It’s worth mentioning that music was never the dominating element at WEEK-END, even though the third major highlight this year is The Julie Ruin, fronted by Kathleen Hanna (formerly of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre). No, its programme has always also included films and art, this year even more so than usual.
This explains why only Saturday’s shows will be staged in Mülheim. On Friday and Sunday the bands will perform at Kölnische Kunstverein on Neumarkt, whose on-site cinema Filmclub 813 allows WEEK-END Fest to knit its musical programme closely with its cinematic element. For instance, the documentary A Story of Sahel Sounds will be screened just prior to a performance by Nigerian band Les Filles de Illighadad one floor further up.
It’s already patently clear that WEEK-END 2016 will yet again be multilingual, memorable, and special. All I can say is, you need to have been there.