Amphi Festival 2017 [An in depth review]

A good festival is never just about a good line-up, but about a collective experience that leaves its mark on the individual. It should feel like a milestone, an overwhelming achievement that brings about feelings of euphoria, belonging and love. 2017’s Amphi Festival was in no way perfect, nor did it provide the same cultural impact as other more successful editions had, but, man, did it succeed on that emotional level…

While taking place annually, in the modern, imposing Cologne, it has always been a bit weird for us festival goers that we never really had time to explore the beautiful city. The long hours of Amphi usually take up all your time and, as joyful as they are, they always leave you with a feeling that there’s a world outside which you just don’t get to see. But this year, we arrived early! We finally understood the city, felt its pulse, got the chance to wander on the skittish alleys of Cologne’s Altstadt, visit some local museums and get a taste of what the beautiful “Domstadt” has to offer. The Amphi organizers’ decision to collaborate with the local museums and offer festival goers reduced entry fees was extremely appreciated. It’s something that should happen every year, so that Amphi is understood not only as a manifestation of the gothic subculture, but also as cultural product of the city of Cologne.
All this being said and done, we were there with one simple, beautiful quest: to party! And, thus, its achievement began, on Friday night, with the Official Pre-party that took place at the Theater Stage. The DJs were more hits than misses, and the misses weren’t necessarily their fault. After all, it’s only a warm-up. We enjoyed the air conditioning and the fact that there was enough space on the dancefloor, things that lacked a bit during the concerts on Saturday and Sunday.

Day 1

On the next day, we had a pleasant surprise at the entrance. The access was easily facilitated into the festival area and between the scenes, giving people the chance to get in and out really fast, as well as going from one scene to the other. The whole backpack situation was handled smoothly, although I did hear some people complaining that they weren’t allowed with umbrellas – even if they bought one from the festival shops in the first day, they had to leave it at the entrance during the 2nd day. Considering how unstable the weather was, the situation was probably unpleasant for many.

But onward to the Main Stage! For us, Amphi started with Eisfabrik, a fresh futurepop act that surpassed many, if not all expectations. This is a band that brings about a lot of visual effects, hard beats, an overall beautiful sound, influenced by acid and trance. They stay completely true to their ice theme, fully embracing the metaphor, while never taking themselves completely serious. In the middle of a summer day, the lights, snow machine and smoke had half the impact that they should have. But they threw candy, had their two mascots infiltrate the audience and just gave a memorable, energetic performance. “Walking Towards the Sun”, “Maschinen”, “Hell Is Made of Ice”, as well as the Grauzone cover, “Eisbär”, were a real pleasure to hear live.

Chrom followed and, while everyone eagerly awaited their performance, it just didn’t feel as energetic as the one before them. Not that it wasn’t as wonderful as we expected, but their incursions into darkwave just didn’t land so well after the absolute Eisfabrik stomping (sorry, did I tell you how much I loved Eisfabrik?). Of course, we danced and sang along to “Walked The Line”, “Loneliness” and the floor smasher ”Regret and Testify” and really enjoyed their warm, melodic performance, but I, for one, was really in the mood for something heavier.

So, before Chrom could finish, I hurried to the Theater Stage to see FabrikC. Unfortunately, disappointment struck. For some reason, no air conditioning was available during the concerts here and being a part of that crowd was nothing to be comfortable about. Leaving all that aside, FabrikC just didn’t sound right… at all. I don’t know if it was the band’s fault or the stage sound engineers’, but you really had to make a great effort to hear the kicks. The clubby powernoise act didn’t move me, just left me there waiting for a dancing frenzy that never came. I know what this act is capable of, but they didn’t bring it at the Theater Stage. I left after hearing a boring, awkward version of “100% Elektronik”.

After that, it was time for a break, exploring Tanzbrunnen and losing ourselves in the beautiful (as always) crowd. The free tap water was indeed, a blessing, especially considering the high price of mineral water bottles provided by festival vendors (5 EUR per bottle). The same token system was in place this year – you pay 5 EUR for 1 beer/Cola/water bottle, you take back the recipient and the token and buy a new drink for 4.5 EUR. While we deeply respect the ECO initiative, it can become just a wee bit annoying to walk around with empty plastic glasses. After a while, people stopped caring about those damn 0.50 EUR and threw plastic on the ground anyway. This isn’t really a complaint, just a hope that other, more efficient recycling incentives will be implemented in the future.

We welcomed the gastronomic diversity: gyros, French fries, burgers, pizza, vegan stuff, Chinese etc., even though quality varied from delicious to questionable. Some low carb dishes would have also been highly appreciated. As always, the festival merch and clothing shops didn’t disappoint. Prices were as high as always, no surprise there and no complaints either: gothic clothing never had the reputation of being budget friendly. I was pleased that some shops had sections dedicated to older collections, selling them for a reduced price. One piece of advice to the vendors, though: next year, maybe more of you could bring along a POS. Most of the shops wouldn’t allow credit card payment and not everyone likes to carry that many 100 EUR notes around.

After the break, it was time for more concerts. Not really hoping for the best, we went back to the Theater Stage for Frozen Plasma. Damn, that show sure helped us forget about the crowd and the heat. They started the gig with “Age after Age” and finished with “Living on Video”. They rocked the whole area, by playing all-time favorites like “Foolish Dreams”, “Earthling”, “Crossroads” and “Tanz die Revolution”. Their video projections showed liquid shapes and colors that went along really well with the show, making me think of immortality and the human condition. The last visual, during “Living on Video”, showed old PC games that almost everyone grew up with and brought back childhood memories. It was a real blast and we’d like to see them playing again very soon!

Next stop, Nachtmahr, an act that brought forth hard dance madness. Surrounded by beautiful girls in uniforms, Thomas Reiner managed to create a full perverse spectacle. The choreography displayed both lust and restriction, brought together by our favorite songs: “War on the Dancefloor” “Katharsis” “Weil Ich’s Kann” “I Hate Berlin”, and also, my new favorite, “Strenge Liebe” from the album Kampfbereit. “Feuer Frei” allowed the models to have their revenge on the public with water rifles and “Mädchen in Uniform” revealed, once more, the sound of Imperial Austrian Industrial.

As great as Nachtmahr was, the air inside the Theater Stage was getting unbreathable. We were happy to finally get out, considering that it was time for the headliner and one of our favorite live acts ever: VNV Nation. Unfortunately, 2017’s Amphi gave us something that no one ever fathomed seeing: a bad VNV concert. Now look, I know anyone can have a bad day. I will perpetually (pun intended) respect Ronan Harris as a performer and cherish all the wonderful memories that his concerts brought me in the past. But this just fucking sucked! Maybe the sound was bad on stage, maybe Ronan just didn’t feel well and couldn’t control his voice properly. Then again, all he was doing was failing to stay on beat, screaming the lyrics instead on singing them and trying to save face by making jokes. The audience was the real star of this show, definitely singing more than the charismatic lead and giving him way more applause than he deserved. Truth be told, one does simply not NOT love VNV and it’s not really easy for me to bash them either. Some moments did come out right: “Illusion” still brought tears to my eyes, “Nova” illuminated Tanzbrunnen once more, “Nemesis” and “Control” were played right and moved the crowd, but pretty much everything else was a let down.

Meanwhile, Die Krupps were playing at the Theater Stage. While everyone was worried that two legendary EBM acts would play together at the same time, you can rest assured that that wasn’t the case. The Die Krupps show was mostly metal, highlighting one of their latest release, “V – Metal Machine Music”. Fans that expected something else may have felt out, but I still think Jürgen Engler, brought the EBM persona to a metal concert. Industrial riffs were the focus here. The power and true German aggression was felt with each song, especially when metal rods were hitting metal pipes. “Schmutzfabrik” gave us just a bit of electro. “Metal Machine Music” and “Machineries of Joy” were totally transformed, but the mosh pit proved their point.

Saturday’s night afterparty was probably the weakest of the three (including the pre-party). Not that it was bad or anything, as the tracks selected were more than satisfying. But sometimes the mixing was awkward and ruined some of the mood. I guess fatigue played a part as well, so, the next day, we decided to take it easier.

Day 2

We got to Tanzbrunnen at around noon, just passing by for some shopping and a quick bite. Of course, it wasn’t as quick as we’d have expected. Maybe it’s time I mentioned the huge waiting lines at the toilets, especially ladies’ rooms. More and more people are coming to the festival each year, but the toilet areas remain the same: only 2 (excepting the one from the Orbit stage). It takes around 10 to 20 minutes to use the toilet during the festival, day or night, and especially right after a band finishes playing. While it wasn’t something unexpected, I think it’s about time that this stopped being the “state of normalcy.”

But speaking of the Orbit Stage, that was our first destination of the day. Now you all know the unfortunate situation where the cruise ship was docked a bit further from Tanzbrunnen, due to the low water level. We must congratulate the organizers for handling the situation well and providing shuttle buses from Tanzbrunnen to the Orbit Stage and then back to Tanzbrunnen. But even though buses came and went every 10 minutes, the concert schedule was still tight, so a taxi was required at least once.

We got to the Orange Sector concert just in a nick of time… well, maybe we missed one song. But we got over that frustration quickly because, as soon as we arrived, we started dancing to the old school EBM hits. You don’t really get that a lot nowadays, that old school yet powerful feeling from a band that celebrates 25 years of activity. With “Der Machinist”, “I Hate You”, “Monoton”, “Arbeit Ist Not”, “Terroristen” and “Geile Zeit”, this Orange Sector show was a lot more than we would have dreamed of. It was just fucking awesome and we hope to see them again soon, and that Amphi never stops giving us a bit of old school EBM each year.

Still, nothing could prepare us for the act that followed. Legendary among the rhythmic noise acts, Winterkälte wasn’t just a show, it was a bloody onslaught. The main project of HANDS Productions boss Udo Wiessmann and Eric de Vries may not come as an easy listen at home, but live, the act is just something to tell your grandkids about. The crowd didn’t break any attendance records, but I guarantee that just about everyone danced frenetically from start to finish. What songs did they perform? Who cares? They didn’t have a mic to announce songs, not even one “Amphi was ist los?”, but that’s not what rhythmic noise is about. Just music, lights and pure relentless energy. Winterkälte is influenced by various genres, like techno, breakcore, hardcore and, of course, noise, all merging into a distinct sound. So, thank you so much, Amphi, for giving us the opportunity to see such a unique act.

Since those were the only two concerts we got to see at the Orbit Stage, I’d like to add just a few more words about the place. The time we had on the MS RheinEnergie was more than pleasant. The crowds were never too large (probably because too few people wanted to go the distance from Tanzbrunnen), but never too small to make the bands feel unwelcomed. The sound was just perfect, the drinks were cheaper and better than the ones at Tanzbrunnen, the toilets were squeaky clean and the relaxation spots on the top deck kept making me want sing “I’m on a Boat” by The Lonely Island. While I’m sure that, in the future, the Amphi organizers will think of a better location for the Orbit Stage (from a logistical point of view), I must admit that the few hours spent on the MS RheinEnergie were a joy.

Meanwhile, great things were happening at Tanzbrunnen, as well. The Theater Stage welcomed Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, and even though it was my fourth time seeing this band, I can safely say that they never disappoint. Despite their unfortunate incident with Air Berlin (they lost their luggage, including the instruments) the show was an absolute delight. On stage, they had two torches and the lights were primarily red. This created a dark and mysterious ambiance, not devoid of eroticism. Add Tomas Pettersson’s deep voice, beautifully woven with acoustic guitars and samples from old movies, and you get one of the best live acts at Amphi 2017. I was so absorbed by their performance that the only song I remember from that live act is “Three Is an Orgy, Four Is Forever”.

 

Over to the Main Stage, where Combichrist brought metal infused hysteria, Andy LaPlegua & co prepared just the right songs to create the mosh pit that they wanted. Starting with “Get Your Body Beat”, the crowd jumped to the rhythm. “What the Fuck Is Wrong with You”, “My Life, My Rules”, “Sent to Destroy” were just warm up songs for “Zombie Fistfight”, a track that surely left true fans with bruises. Considering that the band now tours well known metal festivals, the show reminded us of those mad thrills and maybe how future albums will be inspired.

Next stop was Apoptygma Berzerk, a must-see band, considering that it was one of the first acts that I listened to when I got into this scene. Their long debated change of style (from futurepop to electro rock) wasn’t as obvious as expected. After all, their latest album, “Exit Popularity Contest” is probably Stephan Groth’s purest electronic record. Though no experimental ambient songs from “Exit…” were played, APOP’s show was amazing and the crowd welcomed them heartily on stage. The performance was energetic and dynamic, to the point where I could not stop dancing and singing along. All the people I saw around me were equally pleased, enjoying songs like “Eclipse”, “Kathy’s Song”, “Shine On”, “Non-Stop Violence”, “Until the End of the World”. APOP ended the performance with their cover of “Major Tom”, originally played by Peter Schilling. It was very appreciated by the German audience, since the band included some of the German lyrics.

Amphi’s closing act at the Main Stage was Eisbrecher, still one of Germany’s most lively Neue Deutsche Härte bands. It’s amazing how Alexander Wesselsky brings his TV showman talent to the stage. He connected with the audience better than, perhaps, any other band. He entertained us with his energy, stumbles and even a funny rap cover of his song. His charisma sent the lyrics of each song straight to the lips of the audience and, most likely, to their hearts and minds as well. “Was ist hier los”, “This is Deutch”, “Prototyp”, “Eiszet” made everyone shout for more. In the end, “Ohne Dich” gave us a bittersweet farewell.

Those who weren’t in the mood for metal had the chance to see a very interesting live act, The Daniel Myer Project. Now we all know that the mastermind behind Haujobb, Architect and Destroid (among many others) is one of the most talented and insanely prolific artists that “the scene” has ever produced. But The Daniel Myer Project was none of that, or should I say, was some of that, but then something else entirely. As announced, Daniel Myer asked a lot of his friends on stage: Eskil Simonsson of Covenant, Sven Friedrich of Solar Fake, Andy LaPlegua of Combichrist and the legendary Jean-Luc De Meyer of Front 242. Songs from all acts involved were performed and, while the emotion was there, it felt more like a “jam session” than the energetic show that was needed to end the day properly.

The true energy came with the final after party. Without a doubt, this one was the best of the three Theater parties and one of the best electro-industrial events that I’ve ever attended (yes, even better than some concerts). All the DJs did a hell of a job, but Thomas Reiner of Nachtmahr / L’Âme Immortelle and Steve Weeks of Slimelight, UK deserve a special shout-out. Their two-hour set kept the crowd going, moving through futurepop, a bit of aggrotech, and more hard trance than we ever knew we would enjoy. It was massive, and a well-deserved ending to an intense weekend.

In conclusion

Sadly, all things (including this overlong review) must come to an end. We really admired all the efforts made by everyone to keep this festival running every year, its tendency to grow, evolve and strive against the odds each and every time. More than anything, we came to Amphi looking for a complete experience and, a few small missteps aside, we got more than we hoped for.
So again, thank you, Amphi Festival, for having us! It’s still definitely one of the world’s top gothic gatherings, one that takes just a small piece of your heart every time you visit. Only by returning as often as you can (preferably, each year), do you feel whole again.

The Oblivion Sound Wave Team