The festival trail leads, inevitably and inexorably, towards Gothenburg for Electronic Summer. In its five years, the annual event has acquired a reputation for mixing synth, poptronica, future pop and EBM in a cocktail as potent as the Jägerbombs consumed by attendees.
This year’s event was headlined by bitpop pioneers, Welle: Erdball, as well as dark wave favourites, Das Ich, which gave proceedings a Teutonic edge. Appearances by Solitary Experiments and Wolfgang Flür cemented the overall influence of German music.
The theme was initiated with a Q&A with Flür, who spoke about his experiences as Kraftwerk’s drummer before showing off his DJ set and video presentation.
In his book about that time, Flür laments that, although the band adopted the status of “music workers,” rather than musicians, only he and keyboardist Karl Bartos were actually treated as workers: Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider held management positions and treated the other half of the band as their employees. I Was a Robot is partly the painful story of a man who expected some level of humanity and respect from his colleagues, who turned out to have taken from Metropolis not only the combination of man and machine but also the gulf between the classes. He is said (by others – chill out, Ralf) to be under constant legal threat to maintain a distance between his current and past activity, which just reinforces the tragedy for fans who associate him with Kraftwerk’s classic line-up.
Flür had a life after Kraftwerk, and his DJ set is partly a trip through the highlights of his ever-expanding catalogue. It is also a travelogue drawn from his scrapbook, including photos of his time with Kraftwerk and home movies shot by his partner. Those who made it out for his talk and stage show were treated to a rare glimpse behind the veil that set the tone for the rest of the festival.
It has been a year since Sweden’s Ashbury Heights released The Looking Glass Society, so it was great to see them on stage in front of a Swedish audience. The exotic-electronic sound of Ashbury Heights is the most radio-friendly of the artists at Electronic Summer, and songs like “Glow” should be bang up-to-date for receptive progammers.
Anders Hagström’s long-running project has been through several iterations; and, while we still miss Kari Berg’s soaring voice, there is no doubting that alt-model Tea Thimé has settled in as the XX to Hagström’s XY in the line-up.
Leaether Strip are the gentlest, nicest Danes you could ever hope to meet – a couple of teddy bears from the other side of the Öresund Bridge – but once on stage they unleash the Furies. At Electronic Summer, Claus Larsen roamed the front of the stage while his husband, Kurt Hansen, manned the keyboards.
Larsen rolled out a crowd-pleasing set, opening with 1993’s “Don’t Tame Your Soul” and wrapping eleven songs later with another early favourite, “Antius.” In between, the black-clad Swedish audience received a master-class in hard electronics, taking in classic tracks like “Strap Me Down” and The Klinik’s “Black Leather.”
You would never know from the stage show that Larsen was first inspired to dabble with synthesizers by attending a performance of Sweden’s Twice a Man(!).
From Norway, Chinese Detectives entertained the crowds with covers of hits by Divine, Men Without Hats and Pet Shop Boys, among others. Besides Dr Marten’s boots, the one thing that unites the Electronic Summer crowd is a love of classic poptronica, and Desirée Grandahl and Karin Marie Ulvestad-Grandahl held together fashion’s factions with some belting vocals while Per Aksel Lundgreen ran the machines in his tennis kit.
Saft divided some of the audience. The Swedish act dissolved at the beginning of the century, but they reappeared last year with a new single. The reception for the new material and a smattering of live shows encouraged Carl Steinmarck sufficiently to return with a new album in the can. Norrbacka, which came out earlier this year, is a fine set of pop material, and Steinmarck clearly has not lost his touch.
Welle: Erdball wrapped proceedings on the first night. Known for their slightly eccentric appearances and videos, W:E’s music clearly traces its lineage back to the classic Kraftwerk sound, mangled through C64 chips. They had the crowd popping throughout a twenty song performance, which was capped with an encore of “Monoton & Minimal” and “Es Geht Voran.”
The next night, it was Das Ich’s turn to close the live shows, and they did not disappoint their fans with inspired theatrics and heavy-duty beats. Even though their lyrics are in German, there were plenty of voices helping to lift Stefan Ackermann on a comradely cushion.
If anything was missing from this year’s festival, it was a dose of classic Swedish poptronica. Acts like Page and Sista mannen på jorden have been favourites at previous Electronic <Insert season here> events, and their presence offers a foil to the more aggressive EBM flavours on the menu. Consider this an early vote for next year’s programme.