Imagine a street with live music bursting out from every corner, with every café, shop, restaurant and pub turning into its own makeshift venue. Residents setting up speakers outside of their street level apartments and selling homemade cocktails to passers-by. An ideal place to spend a summer day.
This is exactly what makes Torstraßen Festival so special. Berliners with a taste for experimental pop and music from the periphery might usually steer clear of Mitte, but Torstraßen Festival, named after the street on which most of the hosting venues are located, shakes things up. For the first time this year, Torstraßen Festival has been moved from its usual date in August to early June, now marking the beginning of the summer as opposed to its end, coincidentally taking place on the most humid day of the year.
The shows kicked off around 3pm at various locations on Torstraße. We started at St. Oberholz, a café almost exclusively frequented by expats and travellers. Today the café-turned-concert-venue was packed surprisingly early as Berlin trio Gurr took the stage. The three girls played a short, easy-going riot grrrl-indebted set, proving that guitars are alive and well in Berlin.
Torstraßen Festival is an event for musical discovery; all the venues are close together, making it easy to hop from one place to another. It’s also a rare glimpse into the Mitte that once was – a place packed with scruffy pubs and alternative stages. After a peek at the eerie guitar sounds of Buke and Gase in the theater bar Grüner Salon we headed over to Gaststätte W. Prassnik, one of the few remaining oldschool watering holes in Mitte and an all-time favorite at Torstraßen Festival, where an all-Canadian, all one-man-band line-up was curated by the promoter behind Shameless/Limitless.
As we entered, the Montreal-born, Berlin-based solo artist Antoine93 jumped onto a shaky trunk in front of the stage in order to be closer to the crowd. With a set-up of only a laptop and a mini drum machine, his performance combined vulnerable lyrics about broken hearts and nights at the club with high-octane beats reminiscent of PC music. It was like we were transported from the little old German pub where the show actually took place to a packed and sweaty nightclub – with the thunderstorm that thickened the air adding to this effect.
After Antoine93’s set it was by far too rainy to go anywhere else for a while, so we stuck around for what turned out to be the surprise highlight of the day, Pascale Project. Her insanely catchy pop songs like Super Natural combine so many great sounds; easy-going 80s house, synthesized saxophones, and knowingly cheesy chords reminiscent of early RnB. Even for a shy crowd it was impossible not to dance during her set.
Next we peeked into Kaffee Burger, another hidden gem venue that one would unlikely visit if it weren’t the festival. Thieves Like Us were met by a large and anticipatory crowd but their first two tracks from the new album they were promoting didn’t entice us to stick around. So we headed to Acud where Lotic banged out a two hour set filled with the hybrid of RnB, hip hop and dystopian techno that has garnered international attention this year. Tracks like Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney’s FourFiveSeconds clashed with lo-fi rap and noise, and the dancers showed their appreciation on the floor. His was just the kind of adventurous display to close out a festival that takes risks, showcases new talent and explores the best of Berlin’s music scene and beyond. Needless to say, we’re already looking forward to next year.
Photography: Tonje Thilesen