Now in its 15th year, C/O Pop sits in that magical space between music conference, pop festival and talent discovery platform. It’s a city-wide event that exposes its best and more obscure music venues while creating the perfect circumstances for international guests to intermingle with the local community. More than anything else, it provides a much bigger platform for the city’s local talent – of which there is an abundance. Perhaps more than in any other German city, Cologne has a vast array of diverse acts and well-crafted songwriters, with C/O Pop — and the city’s charmed music venues — providing the perfect gateway to come in and sample all this wondrous music.
Taking place across five days, C/O Pop is divided into conference and music festival, with the first two days of panels and workshops hosted at the IHK — Cologne’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. With talks focused on a myriad of topics including copyright management, campaign strategies, future technologies, branding, festivals, and the potential impact of artificial intelligence, one of the most interesting panels included a heady discussion of the complex relationship of politics and the culture of dance music. Featuring the input by journalists Matthew Collin (Altered State), Christian Arndt (Electronic Germany), among others, the discussion weaved between different socially progressive movements that have used electronic music as the catalyst to mobilise legions of impassioned youths across the globe. Examples included the campaign to save Fabric in London, and the thousands that took to the streets in Tbilisi to protest against the night time raids at the Bassiani nightspot.
A SWELTERING PLAYGROUND TO SWATHES OF UP-AND-COMING TALENTS
Outside of the convention, the city’s streets became a sweltering playground to swathes of up-and-coming talents from across Europe along with a few more established names here and there. On Friday night, the majority of bands took over the Stadtgarten complex and surrounding area, while on Saturday, the hipster-fashioned Belgisches Quarter became the playground for a range of pop-up performances and in-store takeovers. Cologne, while remaining a city engrained in history and industry, has a homely, outgoing energy that connects the music-loving public with its seasoned party-enamoured nightlife. Wandering through the city — be it night or day — and you’ll quickly meet a group on their way to a showcase, or hanging around, Kölsch in hand, waiting for the next performance to start.
The following is a list of the top five performances caught during the weekend. Far from extensive, it fails to include such performances by intense indie titans The Homesick, or the surf-rock glam rock of Iguana Death Cult, who were of equal excellence. It also fails to include such impressive shows by local acts Oteo — the suave, electro, pop duo who just signed to Kitsune; Ray Novacane — the neo-soul trio with a firm grip on synths and sultry vocals; and Jules Ahoi and the Deep Sea Orchestra, the high-street styled folk rockers with a soft penchant for the Alt-J ilk. Along with a party celebrating Kompakt’s 25 years of clubbing, and a hip-hop extravaganza featuring the cream of top German, female MCs (including Haiyti, Ebow and more), C/O Pop 2018 had it all.
BEST 5 ACTS
This particular electric German trio are loud, full of flare, and sparkling reverb. There are obvious similarities to My Bloody Valentine yet, with their raucous energy and glistening harmonies, their unique post-shoegaze rock is overwhelming, and extremely dynamic. With Oyemi on bass, Christoph on drums, and Lemmy on guitars, vocals and the thousand effect pedals at his feet, the sound can be cavernous, heavy and progressive. The volume runs up and down the scales with reverb chorus, and echo abound. Jaguwar sounds 10 times as good live as it does recorded. With a crushing stage style, collaborative energy, and enough guitar pedals between them to sink an array of post-wave titans, Jaguwar’s set at Studio 672 was, without a doubt, one of the most talked during the weekend.
Bon Voyage Organisation
On Friday night, in the city’s West at Hans-Böckler-Platz, the exotic French troupe Bon Voyage Organisation, led by bandleader Adrien Durand, took to the stage, warming up the evening with their warm, psychedelic-beat. With an almost dubby feel, replete with Moog basslines, tropical percussion, synths and clarinet, the band settled into a smooth, international vibe of percussive grooves, all built around a French tact of polished songwriting. Purely instrumental, and full of beat-driven, slo-disco vibes, the act were without the vocals that have come to define some of their recent recorded material. No matter though. Their smooth, melodic and soft, excellent executed grooves were enough to get the crowd moving. With a style that would see them fit on any Music From Memory compilation, the cosmic exoticism, and spacey-woodwind sounds will always leave you wanting more. After seeing the show, it also came as no surprise to find out that Durand, aside from writing music as Bon Voyage Organisation, has also produced music for Amadou & Mariam, and was also behind the talent that was Les Aeroplanes.
Okzharp & Manthe Ribane
The Hyperdub Gqom duo have perfected a performative style like no other. With Okzharp (a.k.a. Gervase Gordon from LV) behind the controls, whispering vocals and controlling the spatial polyrhythmic electronics that blend together South African beats with low-frequency London bass sounds, the stage was set for the colourful, dynamic, dominance of vocalist and dancer Manthe Ribane. Arriving in a pink cocoon to a series of off-kilter beats, Ribane gradually shed her layers as she shuffled into an African-cut of robotic movements and turns. Playing mostly tracks from the duo’s gorgeous debut LP Closer Apart, the degree of colour, exuberance and harmonic craftsmanship set them aside as true innovative artists; ones that went that extra step to crafting a highly engaging show. Featuring stunning performances of “Time Machine” and “Teleported”, Okzharp and Manthe Ribane delivered the best South African performance of the weekend, and one of the most memorable festival moments.
Hardcore has never had so many guitars. Hailing from Kiel Germany, LIRR are the latest from the growing hardcore scene in Germany’s north. Taking to the Subway club, the band were the first on during a night of hedonistic, heavy music. The five-piece have enough talent between them to fully showcase their range of guttural sounding, post-hardcore, axe-wielding and visceral music, interspersed with few moments of melodic, trip-hop, and half time interludes. Their music is dynamic, full of energy, and hardcore — ranging between turn-of-the-century emo, and deep Godspeed You Black Emperor atmospherics. With more guitars, controllers and groove-boxes onstage than can realistically be needed for a short, early-evening showcase performance, it ultimately went to show that these German metal-powerhouses are adept multi-instrumentalists, with range far beyond their peers, and a potential to jump between various musically defined boxes.
One of the most intriguing locations for a performance during the weekend was a small, contemporary bookshop in the city’s Belgisches Quarter, called Siebter Himmel. Tucked away in the corner of the store were German duo ÄTNA, the collaborative noise of Demian on drums, and Inéz on vocals, synths, and toms. Originally from Cologne, the electro-pop duo felt right at home in the intimate setting, with minimalistic overtures delivered with a stoic and powerful execution that balanced the energy of Demian crunching and holding the rides, and Inéz’s stern vocal harmonies. Her voice was impassioned, cutting like a knife and leaving nothing but fond memories and warm feelings. Overall their music walks the fine line between electro-folk and modern jazz, all tied in with well-written and performed songs that befit the individual talents of these two German musicians.