Festival Review… Southside Festival

From the 20th to 22nd June Germany's sleepy former air force base in Neuhausen-Ob-Eck became home to 60,000 music fans and some of the most exciting bands in the world. I had the chance to visit the southern German “Southside Festival”. “Southside” is the southern counterpart of the “Hurricane Festival” in Scheeßel (between Bremen and Hamburg) - their partnership akin to that of Reading and Leeds.

I started off my weekend with an incredible London Grammar set. I must admit missing out on the hype surrounding the band due to a transatlantic sailing trip. Perhaps this explains why I was so amazed by the quality of their 45-minute set. Lead singer Hannah Reid started off very shy, slowly became more relaxed and eventually seemed fully at ease on stage. Such was the quality of their performance that the German (actually very international) crowd cheered the Nottingham band from one Indie Pop track to the next. I have seldom seen such an appreciative band. They gave me the feeling that, rather than taking their fame for granted, they really enjoyed being on stage and tried to enjoy every moment of it.
Next up for me were The 1975. “We didn't have a fucking clue how big we actually are in Germany!”, the band announced on stage much to the delight of the tent-filling crowd. Due to bad audio mixing the vocals were, unfortunately, very quiet, thus putting more focus on their upbeat, electronic sound. The set took them through their biggest hits sending the mostly teenage girl crowd mental.
Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand treated us to a highly energetic Indie guitar show. Expectations of the band, who can definitely be described as Indie royalty, were high. Their combination of old and new songs sparked mosh pits everywhere. The odd person even felt inclined to crowd surf – even more spectacular considering the punishment handed out for this act: a 24 hour festival ban. The band couldn't stop smiling throughout their time on stage, transmitting their happiness to the indie-loving crowd. Casual, friendly and energetic are probably the Right Thoughts and Rights Words for the band's Right Action.
One of the trippiest acts on the bill was Sweden's wonderful Lykke Li. Her depressed, dark sound seemed to be made for an 11:30 pm indoor set. The atmosphere inside the tent was indescribable with the singer striking the perfect mix between sounds. Relaxation among the crowd gave way to instant vitality seconds later. Her movements were obviously entirely consumed by the music she and her band were playing, adding further feeling to the eerie darkness of the set. The whole crowd was fully engulfed by her music up to “I Follow Rivers”: Everybody went crazy shouting along - voices already hoarse.


My second day of music at Southside kicked off with the loud, aggressive duo Blood Red Shoes. Their energy packed 45 minutes were good. Not more and not less. They managed to do what they do best: play exciting rock music that sounds as if there are 4 or 5 people on stage – not just two.
I left the “Green Stage” to head to the blue one to see New Zealand's The Naked and Famous. Southside has four stages: two main ones (green and blue) and two indoor ones (red and white). Upon arriving at the “Blue Stage” I was greeted by a rapidly growing crowd of indie pop fans waiting for the band that provided peoples' summer soundtrack “Young Blood” in 2011. The band were also very appreciative of the support, especially after spotting a group of fellow Kiwis. They played songs from both their chart topping debut album “Passive Me, Aggressive You” and their 2013 follow-up “In Rolling Waves”. I was positively surprised by the massive crowd they had attracted who, rather than leaving after their most famous songs, actually stayed until the end - knowing every word being sung by the act who now live in Los Angeles. “I Kill Giants” provoked a roaring reaction from the crowd who didn't calm down for the rest of the set, getting even more hyped up when the first keyboard sounds of “Young Blood” were played.
One band I was really looking forward to seeing were The Subways. With new material being presented just in time for Southside they certainly didn't disappoint. People manically dancing to catchy tunes such as “Oh Yeah”, “It's A Party” and “Rock and Roll Queen” were a common sight. And the reaction they got to their new song “My Heart Is Pumping To A Brand New Beat” was also truly excellent. They even translated some of their lyrics into German providing a pleasant surprise for those singing along.
The next band I got to see were my musical highlight of the weekend: London's Bombay Bicycle Club have established themselves in my mind as one of the best sounding live bands in the business. They mainly played songs from their latest masterpiece “So Long, See You Tomorrow”. Their sound was absolutely perfect. Backing vocals by Liz Lawrence combined with their neat guitar and synth sounds went perfectly with their background show. They had a massive screen showing animated figures accompanying the songs. “Feel”s catchy Indian sound for example was complemented by images of an animated snake dancing to their music. I asked some of the German fans whether Bombay Bicycle Club were big in Germany, to which I got the reply: “They aren't really that popular, however their new album is helping them acquire more fame over here”. And their magnificent Southside set in front of a packed crowd should indeed see them acquire a following on the continent.


The next act with the status of Indie royalty were The Kooks - the band that, after my discovery of Indie music through Bloc Party, led me deeper and deeper into a world of good music. And now here I was watching some of my childhood heroes in a field in southern Germany eight years after their debut album. But, from the second Luke Pritchard sang the opening line of their new single “Down” I realized that the Brighton band are no longer the kids who had the Indie world falling in love with them over “Inside In/Inside Out”. I know how naïve I was in believing this, but in my mind The Kooks were trapped in some timeless bubble. After coming to terms with the band's aging I relaxed and enjoyed a great set with songs spanning their entire career.
“We're now going to play some new songs for you!”, didn't exactly get the crowd going – but their classics provoked what must have been one of the loudest sing-alongs in the history of Southside. To be fair, when you've got tracks such as “Sway”, “Seaside” and “Ooh La” in your repertoire you're always going to have an advantage when it comes to getting crowds going. They ended their performance with “Naive”, reinstalling the thought in my mind that this could be 2006 after all.

After a day of amazing bands I was ready to start an evening with Saturday's headliner: Arcade Fire. Luckily, German hip hop/indie artist Casper was performing on the other main stage at the same time, meaning that only die-hard Arcade Fire fans were in the crowd. Casper is massive in Germany so everybody without a strong love for Arcade Fire was watching him. The Canadian band had a somewhat alternative introduction to their set to say the least. One by one the band came onstage. And one by one they started playing completely different tunes somehow slowly morphing into “Here Comes The Night Time”. The band's background visuals reminded me of MGMT's LSD-inspired graphics. These, combined with the costumes worn by the band, their crew and even the TV team, gave their whole show a very trippy feel. 
One of the costumes was a helmet made up of revolving TV screens showing both Angela Merkel and David Bowie. They sported this attire for their cover of David Bowie's “Heroes”, which they changed into “Helden” (German translation). Picking a highlight from the band's career-spanning set is impossible. From Regine Chassagne's sudden appearance in the middle of the crowd for “It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” to a firework display and songs from all of their albums: this set had it all.
Here is Arcade Fire's setlist:
Here Comes the Night Time
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Rebellion (Lies)
Joan of Arc
The Suburbs
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready To Start
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
No Cars Go
It's Never Over ( Hey Orpheus)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains
Heroes (David Bowie) -> Helden
Normal Person
Wake Up


On Sunday I saw the funniest set of the Festival. The Wombats spent their time on stage making
jokes about one another and forgetting lyrics to their songs. “We should definitely be practising
more!”, explained their singer Matthew Murphy. Even though they had to start one song three times
they got the crowd going nonetheless. The highlight of their performance was the announcement
that their new album is nearly finished and will be released at the end of the year.

My favourite performances from this weekend were:

Music: Bombay Bicycle Club
Show: Arcade Fire

Atmosphere: Lykke Li

For more information visit: www.southside.de/en 

Benjamin Brown