SXSW Music Review: Hamburg x Berlin Showcase
International cosmology from the German capital
By Michael Toland,
11:55AM, Tue. Mar. 13, 2018
Although this showcase of German acts allegedly represented Hamburg and Berlin, nearly every act came from the latter city. As such, it’s a mark of how cosmopolitan the town is that most of its acts at SXSW weren’t natives. Case in point: opener Lucas Ufo, aka World Brain, is French, which explains why his charming electro-pop resembled Air’s poppier sides.
Based in Berlin, Emma Elisabeth hails from Sweden, but neither her birthplace nor her home base had any impact on her colorless indie rock. Ufo’s main band, Fenster includes American bassist J.J. Weihl alongside the Germans. Together, the international quartet mixed psych-pop, soft rock, and prog rock, actually sounding like a blend of its heritages as it previewed material from a forthcoming LP.
German natives, power trio Jaguwar transcended nationalist pigeonholes with traditionalist shoegaze far more muscular and aggressive live than on its shimmery debut Ringthing. Hamburg act Meute, replacing citymate Ace Tee, translated the stiffly funky beats of EDM into crowd favorite brass band arrangements. Now seven albums in, Berlin-based singer/songwriter Gemma Ray first made a name for herself in her native UK, but her distinctive noir version of early-Sixties pop – equal parts swampland and night club atmosphere – would sound right at home in her city of choice.
Also calling Berlin home, OY originally formed in Switzerland when Ghanian native Joy Frempong hooked up with Swiss drummer Lleluja-Ha. The pair’s futurist, electro Afrobeat hinged on Frempong’s mastery of samples and synths, and the aspirational cosmology found on latest album Space Diaspora. Preaching global togetherness in a utopian future may fall on deaf ears in today’s America, but OY’s booty-shaking music kept the audience moving and enthralled.
After that performance, DJs Andrew Applepie and Linda Lee, and South African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou simply didn’t measure up.