It’s July. Maximum temperatures around 15 degrees (yes, Celsius!). So much rain that other festivals had to be cancelled completely. But it doesn’t rain in the desert, and so Serengeti could take place as planned!
Off to the desert
So I set my sails for Bielefeld on Friday morning. I had packed what I needed: warm clothes, wellies, and a couple of WIZO and Bad Religion CDs for the drive, to refresh the lyrics. No problem finding the festival grounds; the festival was clearly marked, and the parking fees were announced in advance. I was surprised that the parking seemed rather small – great, that looked like the festival was a bit smaller than expected, especially considering the bands that would play there! And since I’m not so fond of huge festivals because you just feel like a tiny grain in a sea of spectators, this let the anticipation grow even more. And rightfully so – because on the one hand, the festival was in no way inferior to the big festivals when it came to the organization and the bands, but on the other hand it was cozy, comfortable, and relaxed. And that’s the perfect mixture!
However – and unfortunately I lack the background information here – it felt almost “too” relaxed. The festival site wasn’t too big, as mentioned, but it was huge considering how many people were there. So it never got too crowded. There were barriers in the front, but they were hardly ever closed on the side (at least from what I’ve noticed), because it hardly happened that it got too crowded in the front. There were plenty of food booths (with a good selection and fair prices), bars, and toilets, and no queues at all – okay, not counting the water toilets and the place where you could get the fabric festival arm band. Awesome! And almost too good to be true. If the festival was actually planned to host this number of visitors, then: Thumbs up! That’s the way it’s gotta be, great service, and really enjoyable! However, I fear that the organizers expected (or at least hoped for) more visitors. And that would be a shame – especially for all those who didn’t accept the offer of such a nice festival, because as I wrote before: Both organization and bands were great, the atmosphere as well, and the price was absolutely justified for what was offered.
“Hands up: Who’s cold?”
To put it shortly: It was freezing cold. All day, from morning to night. On Saturday, th sun actually came out a few times (and that felt REALLY good), but it didn’t suffice to actually warm up. It WAS sufficient for a sunburn in the face though…
But: THERE WAS NO RAIN! As stated before: It doesn’t rain in the desert, and the Serengeti was spared the rain almost entirely. There was only one tiny rain shower, and that happened during a break between two bands, so everybody could get back to the campground or into the party tent for a couple of minutes. And that was it, it remained dry for the rest of the festival and until Sunday morning.
Circle pit, wall of death, and black lung
However, I didn’t manage to find out how the ground (which had gotten more than enough rain before the festival) could be as dusty as it was… In front of the stage the dust was almost unbearable at times; the most important thing in the mosh pit was a cloth over the mouth; and even the securities descended on a pack of wet wipes like hyenas, because it was just impossible to get the dirt off.
But the audience didn’t let that ruin the fun – at least not the people in the front who wanted to celebrate. In front of the stage, there was always a good crowd and an enthusiastic atmosphere, and because there were barriers, there was a clear split between the “pogo pit” and the “standing area”. Thus perfect conditions for circle pits and walls of death!
What was striking, however: Only very few of the bands could capture the entire audience. Usually, only the ones in front of the first barrier got really involved in the concert. The larger bands managed to get cheers up until the second barrier. Further back, people were interested in what was happening; but not more than that, and that was a pity. The audience seemed quite a bit like pure consumers – but for a really good concert, both sides must be involved. The bands on stage all delivered their part, the audience didn’t always. A pity!
Music, music, music!
But enough about the things surrounding the festival, let’s talk bands and music now! I missed the first two bands on Friday, Distance in Embrace and Your Demise, so I can’t report about them. I arrived at the festival grounds in time to see Pascow; I’d seen them before a couple of time, and I thought they were quite nice. And this time it was pretty much the same – nothing special, but not bad. Unfortunately, it was impossible to actually understand anything the singer was singing, and that ruined the concert a bit.
Next up were War from a Harlots Mouth. However, this time I won’t report chronologically (like I usually do). Concert reviews are always subjective, and I just don’t have opinions about every style of music. Especially hardcore is a style I just don’t care for. So this time, I’ll rather report more about the bands that I really liked. Which doesn’t mean the other bands are bad, of course! They’re just not my style.
War from a Harlots Mouth, playing metalcore, was one of the bands that couldn’t really score in my opinion, much like Adept from Sweden the day after. On top, Adept had to face the hard task to be the first to address the events in Norway that weekend – which put me out of action for a while anyway. =:-(
Boy Hits Car (also on Saturday) don’t play hardcore but alternative rock, but they didn’t convince me.
Caliban on Friday and Agnostic Front on Saturday managed to draw quite an audience to the stage. The atmosphere at both gigs was fantastic, and although I assumed for both bands that I wouldn’t really care for them, I was pleasantly surprised. Even though the music wasn’t my style, I was impressed by the energy – the one on stage and the one by the kiddies in the mosh pit.
“Orgies! We want orgies!”
Psychologically, it’s of course absolutely unwise for me to start the report with those bands that I found rather boring. So we’ll jump to the other extreme right now; and that one goes by the name of “Wohnraumhelden” (“Living Room Heroes” or something like that). On Saturday morning however, they went by the name “Frühschoppen formerly known Wohnraumhelden”.
A brilliant idea to have a (small) songwriter group play during the breaks! Too bad that this was only possible on Friday; but at least the two were allowed to play the “Frühschoppen” (“brunch concert”) on Saturday morning. No matter if during the breaks on Friday or on the main stage on Saturday: The two musicians, on a mission on behalf of the goddess of music, knew how to excite the audience! Singing about meat, shunning sunlight, metro-sexuality, rock, smoke, and of course heroes. Always very entertaining, and with all the talk and interaction (which also worked at 12 in the morning) inbetween, nobody could be bored. There were a few Circles of Love (no, it wasn’t invented by K.I.Z!), slo-mo pogo at the Frühschoppen (thanks to all participants, that was AWESOME to watch!), “stage”diving to get beer (“stage” in quotes because the two played on a tiny truck with a foldable stage in front), a 1 Euro extra on the drums (also known as a drum machine), and a stunning light show in the form of a flashing light – all who missed out on this should be kicking themselves now.
“We don’t fit in here, and that’s why we have to be here!”
Of course these two weren’t the only highlight, but there were many more. The first surprise in my eyes was The Creepshow. As the singer said, they were on way too early on Friday and the crowd wasn’t really warmed up yet; but the band didn’t let that stop them, and they delivered a 1st class psychobilly-punk show. Bands with a stand-up bass are always fun anyway, and if in addition, the lead singer hops into the audience, you just have to join the party.
The stand-up bass rule was confirmed the next day by Mad Sin. As always, they delivered a great and enjoyable gig – unfortunately, they obviously lacked the “eye-catcher” (granted, Creepshow’s Sarah was more of a treat than Mad Sin’s Klöfte… *uhem*). The result was an audience that was only moderately enthusiastic, except for a few fans in front of the stage. Too bad! That’s what caused the band to explain that the reason they must be part of this festival is that the don’t fit into the lineup. But it seemed that the majority of the audience wasn’t flexible enough for that. A pity, since you can’t do anything but dance at such a psychobilly show!
Another band that didn’t necessarily fit in was Letzte Instanz. However, in contrast to Mad Sin, they were received very well by the audience; and in a way they were the “icebreaker” on Friday. When they demanded the audience to “Kneel down”, everyone in front of stage did, and of course the audience followed the “Rise again” as well. The only thing that wasn’t received to well was them calling the Serengeti festival “Bielefeld” all the time…
“It might not be punk or metal, but you must admit it’s fun, right?”
There were more bands that didn’t fit the typical metal or punk scheme. For example House of Pain (who were responsible for the quotation above). Yes, I also needed a reminder who House of Pain is. But everybody knows “Jump around”, and you don’t need to be a rap fan to enjoy that song – something House of Pain managed to prove impressively during their performance. And even though it seemed that many of the visitors used this concert to take a break, between Agnostic Front and Skindred, and thus the response to House of Pain was rather meager, the “old guys” delivered a great show.
K.I.Z. were also “different”, as expected. A big part of the audience was eagerly awaiting their performance, and not even the rain shower in the break before their gig could dampen the mood. K.I.Z. was one of the few afternoon bands that people were calling out for before the concert. The audience loved their gig; personally, I would have hoped for more crazy party mood. Instead, there was some rather primitive talk between the songs (and often it wasn’t clear what was supposed to be irony and what was just plain out stupid). “Drugs are evil – throw them on the stage, we’ll destroy them for you!” might be good trash talk, but coming from rappers with cigarette in hand, pouring beer over themselves and telling how they “inspired” the toilets before the concert to make sure they are okay, just like Peter Maffay always does it (and they actually mixed up Peter Maffay with another guy there)… uh yeah. The music was okay, the atmosphere was good, and probably I’m just too old to deem the announcements funny. =;-)
Speaking of too old – I really liked Kraftklub, even though I don’t belong to the target generation. A wild mix of indie and rap, plus good lyrics. “We’re too young for rock’n’roll! Our parents smoke more pot than we do – how should we rebel, no matter where we go, our parents have been there before. ” They were playing pretty early on Saturday, but for that time, there was quite a crowd in front of the stage, and the audience liked what they saw.
The biggest surprise of the festival for me, however, was Rotfront. A multicultural band, songs in German, English, Hungarian, and Russian, a wild mix of gypsy, klezmer, ska, and rap. No way to stand still! And next year they’ll play at Eurovision Songcontest for the Emigrantski Republic (at least that’s what they claimed =;-)). And they’ll get my vote! And the one of all the kiddies in front of the stage as well I guess, because they all had a lot of fun.
“Are you ready to bounce, Sir?”
Skindred were another surprise – but probably only for visitors like me who attended Serengeti for the first time. According to the festival info, their performance last year must have been phenomenal. And judging from this year’s concert, I have no doubts that this is true! Right from the first song, the audience was celebrating. Crowd surfers were coming in all the time, and if someone actually dared to stand still for a moment instead of joining in, they got a personal invitation (see quote). Accordingly, the whole place was jumping, and within seconds I regretted that I had passed on the Anthrax concert last week – because they had not only Fozzy as support, but also Skindred. And I’m sure they didn’t win only me as a new fan at Serengeti!
At the same position on Friday, Pennywise were playing. They are the founding fathers of punk, so there were no surprises here; but a solid concert that impressed especially the older visitors, of course. As usual, Pennywise played a committed concert and continued to praise the European audience.
“Bullet loves you!” vs. “What kinda shit are you getting here?”
THE bands of the festival for me (and from what I’ve heard for many others as well) were the respective co-heads: WIZO on Friday and Bullet for my Valentine on Saturday. Bands can hardly be further apart; but both bands played amazing concerts, and both got great reactions from the audience – fully justified, of course!
I guess I don’t have to say much about WIZO, because they’re a classic. At least for Germans. At the moment, they aren’t really active, but that means that such a rare concert like this one (the only one in Germany this summer) is even more fun. The remarkable thing about it – and perhaps only for me, but I found it really impressive -: Those guys tend to deliver total bullshit. And then there’s tons of people in their 30s in the audience who join in with anything, who are screaming and singing along to every word, and embrace strangers, gleaming with joy, while singing about bombings, golden pieces of shit, or slaughtered pigs. How does that look to outsiders?! I got no idea, because there weren’t any outsiders at the WIZO concert, at least not in the front. But only excited fans, gleaming with joy. WIZO promised that they would really get to work on a new album now (“If only we had considered before that we detest any kind of work…”), made the audience swing their T-shirts in the air (“Helikopter – Hubschrauber!”), and voiced their political standing (“We are against any gray area!”). And above all, WIZO really didn’t take themselves serious. Just consider Axel jumping around on stage in a cat costume, and just when a guy next to me says: “Well, now they lost me somewhere”, they asked on stage: “What kinda shit are you getting here?”. Oh, yes. But beautiful, nostalgic shit… =:-D
I can’t give the complete setlist now, but these songs were definitely played: Hey Thomas, Kopfschuss, Gute Freunde, W8iting 4 U, Quadrat im Kreis, Kopf ab Schwanz ab Has, Goldenes Stück Scheiße, Raum der Zeit, Hund, Nix und niemant, Diese Welt, and a new song, Egal was war. And of course they played a song as encore that had gotten them into a lot of trouble, but it is just so extremely important: Der Käfer. Followed by Kein Gerede and Die letzte Sau, of course.
Jumping to Saturday night now. Same time, same slot, but metal instead of punk, Wales instead of Germany, and a much younger audience for Bullet for my Valentine. Again, the audience was very enthusiastic, and the band delivered an energetic and impressive concert. Instead of a cult factor, nostalgia, and madness, Bullet impressed by their wonderful songs and perfect performance (this guitar!). And they were rightfully celebrated. Although very differently from WIZO, as figures. What had begun with Skindred was continued during Bullet’s concert, and the securities in front of the stage were more than busy picking out the crowd surfers. It was a pity though that the whole audience was rather quiet, even though it was obvious that everyone was following along. Bullet had to work hard for each applause; but they seemed quite happy with the concert and stressed several times that “Bullet loves you!”
The songs (according to the setlist): Your betrayal, Pleasure and pain, Waking the demon, The last fight, 4 words (to choke upon), Say goodnight, Scream aim fire, Hand of blood, Tears don’t fall, Creeping death, Alone, Begging for mercy
“It’s past our bedtime!”
The headliners definitely had a hard task to accomplish after the co-heads. On the one hand because it was freezing cold, and on the other hand because everyone should have been in bed by that time, watching re-runs (quote Bad Religion)! Nevertheless, both In Extremo and Bad Religion delivered absolutely stunning and fully headliner-worthy gigs; but unfortunately in front of a smaller (compared to the co-heads) and relatively lethargic (or “frozen”) audience. It was obvious that both bands had to work hard to win over the audience. In Extremo didn’t let that show at all, very professionally; Bad Religion slipped a bit of sarcasm into their performance, and it seemed like they actually cut some songs from their setlist.
I had seen In Extremo a few weeks ago at Rock im Park, and although that performance was a lot bigger than the one at Serengeti, they delivered the same bombastic and professional show. Very impressive! They are great musically, and even if you do not or barely know the songs, In Extremo are exciting to see, and there’s constantly things happening on stage. Add in fireworks and flamethrowers to top the whole thing. Really a shame that the audience was quiet and quite lame, but that definitely wasn’t due to the performance, because that was awesome!
Bad Religion the next night, quite different, but equally great. They are so normal on stage; no show, no costumes, no flamethrowers. Only music. But – similar to WIZO – they are a classic; and the part of the audience that grew up with Bad Religion was hanging on Greg Graffin’s lips. Most people (me included) didn’t really know the new songs, but everyone loved the old ones. At least in the front rows; further in the back there was dead silence. That seemed to cause a pretty abrupt end of the concert, before they came back for two encores – even though hardly anyone was shouting for encores. Really strange, since people remained in front of the stage waiting for more; they just didn’t clap or shout. But pure consumption does not work… yet, we got the encores. And despite the quiet atmosphere, Bad Religion managed to absolutely convince me again, after a rather weak concert at Rock am See 2008. (And they played Generator! Haaach… =:-))
Well, so what’s the conclusion? My personal conclusion: Soooooo nice! The cult factor of WIZO and Bad Religion, the impressive concerts of In Extremo and Bullet for my Valentine, the surprises of Rotfront, Letzte Instanz, and Skindred, great “small” concerts of Mad Sin, Kraftklub, and Wohnraumhelden… In addition, a very well-organized festival with an almost unbelievably good infrastructure.
The only negative point was a partially lethargic consumer audience, but I assume that this was at least partially due to the weather – because if you’re freezing all day, you just don’t want to clap anymore at night. I felt the same. But when I’m freezing anyway, then at least for a good reason; and I got that one through wonderful concerts!