Magic moments in the here and now, and memories that stay forever: Hamburg-based photographer Kevin McElvaney, who is renowned internationally for his photojournalistic reports, spent an entire summer capturing the atmosphere at various festivals in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region – from the Reeperbahn Festival in St Pauli to the Hurricane Festival in Scheeßel. This has resulted in a colourful, emotional photo exhibition, which has also been turned into an illustrated book – The Festival Album. In a personal, intense and unique way, Kevin provides insights into the beauty and diversity of the festivals that fascinate thousands of music lovers in and around Hamburg year after year. The Festival Album is a fascinating portrait of Northern Germany’s festival culture and is currently travelling the world as part of a magnificent exhibition. The illustrated book, which is designed reminiscent of a vinyl cover, can be ordered online here. It allows you to immerse yourself in Hamburg’s unique festival scene from the comfort of your own home. To get you in the mood for the upcoming festival season, we have compiled selected works from the Festival Album, taking you on an inspiring journey through Hamburg’s festival landscape.
Ahoy – greetings to high culture! The Elbphilharmonie hadn’t opened in 2014 when the Hamburg International Music Festival presented the first Biennale. For these musicians, it’s worth getting Grandad’s cufflinks out of the cigar box. The Kronos Quartet, conductor Riccardo Chailly with the ensemble from La Scala in Milan and the Philadelphia Orchestra – they’ve all lent their inspiration to Hamburg’s greatest temple of sound at what’s now an annual festival (since 2016). However, the majority of the programme each year is performed by Hamburg musicians, including soloists, ensembles and orchestras of international renown.
Elbjazz is when Hamburg’s harbour cranes dance. On the first weekend in June, sites all along the waterfront form a backdrop to pulsating sound. Glitter balls hang from the cantilevers at Blohm + Voss, the hangars are full of people and light. Guests stand in tight-packed intimacy under the deck of the MS Stubnitz in Baakenhafen – or let it all hang out in the lee of the Elbphilharmonie. For two days, bands featuring talents like Kamasi Washington, Gregory Porter, China Moses and Hamburg’s own Nneka make music at Germany’s biggest jazz festival.
Back to the riding arena in shirt and tie to hear the Sächsische StaatskapelleDresden play? The gates are open wide for the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern! From mid-June to September, classics are to be heard and seen here – with more than 150 events across 70 and more astounding venues. Including ruins, islands, old farmsteads, castles, tucked-away coach houses and churches. And all the time that sense of being part of the family. While famous orchestras and soloists perform their pieces, the kids scamper across the picnic rug in the garden, and behind the half-timbering the son of the house shows off his well-rehearsed dressage.
The fields around the motorcycle speedway track in Scheeßel have lived up to the Festival’s name – Hurricane Festival – for many summers now. Raging sandstorms and scorching heat one year, paddling a rubber boat back to your tent through mud puddles after thunderous downpours the next. The third weekend in June is a force to be reckoned with. This musical all-rounder draws seasoned professionals with their festival UFOs from all over Germany – and many locals from the Hamburg metropolitan region. The handcart fleet run by the local youth remains without equal. Year after year, their carts shuttle luggage for up to 70,000 visitors.
Taking the Rolls Royce to the festival? Or will the festival take you to the Rolls Royce? Second option! Among other venues, the former Carlshütte iron foundry in the quiet town of Büdelsdorf, 120 kilometres north of Hamburg, is just one of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival venues. The industrial warehouses are home to NordArt – a major contemporary art exhibition. One of the most spectacular exhibits is a Rolls Royce covered with cuddly toys, by artist Pawel Wocial. With out-of-the-ordinary venues like these and 202 classical concerts, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival is now one of the largest of its kind in the world.
How must it feel to stand on the biggest stage in Germany and throw a custard pie in one of 55,000 ravers’ faces? Only star DJ Steve Aoiki knows. It’s a tradition he likes to indulge in. On visits to Airbeat One and elsewhere. At least nobody has to push their way to the front to get creamed – the front is everywhere along a show space that’s 130 metres wide. Mystic images are unveiled when the crowd is illuminated by multicoloured disco lights in the early dawn over the Neustadt-Glewe airstrip. Rave on!
The world is a village. No community points to the truth of this cliché better than the 1,800 souls whose letters are delivered to postcode D-25596. At the beginning of August, 85,000 metal fans from all over the world make pilgrimage to the village near Itzehoe, to the stages of genuine world greats like Slayer, Metallica and Rage Against The Machine at the Wacken Open Air. It goes without saying that everybody lends a hand: “Including the helpers, there are just under 100,000 of us in early August, that’s 55 visitors to every Wackener. If one drops out somebody else takes on 110 visitors, it’s simple arithmetic,” says the festival’s founder Thomas Jensen.
Headliners at A Summer’s Tale included bands like Patti Smith, Noel Gallagher, Sigur Rós, Pixies, Tocotronic and Fury in the Slaughterhouse even in its first years. The family-friendly festival mainly attracts parents who were drawn to Scheeßel’s and Wacken’s fields as teenagers. Today, they come to Luhmühlen with the kids. The concept: join in! For example at the Bunte Stulle workshop, in the scavenger hunt by night – or acro yoga, whatever.
Hamburg’s craziest courtship dance – the Vogelball – is the kick-off to the series of festivals at the MS Dockville grounds. The queer masked ball in the bushes, nests and eyries at the Reiherstieg in Wilhelmsburg has become an institution for local dance freaks. Part of the ritual is groups of friends transforming themselves into birds in the comfort of home, then flocking on bikes through the old Elbe tunnel, chirping, ringing bells and gaggling like geese. At the ball, the self-created feather costumes with glitter décor flutter to rhythmic beats, long into the morning of the next day.
Set between granaries and industrial cranes on the Reiherstieg in Wilhelmsburg, Hamburg, the MS Dockville art and music festival has transformed an industrial wasteland into a miniature wonderland. Glitter girls, helium dinosaurs and bright umbrella jellyfish party here in mid-August among installations set up in advance by visual artists for MS Artville. Over the summer months, this is also the venue for the free artistic children’s summer camp Lüttville, the Vogelball, the Spektrum Festival and Butterland Open Air.
The stages along the mile of sin have cleaned the Reeperbahn’s grubby reputation up a little. No bad thing. Today, the Reeperbahn Festival with its accompanying music conference is one of the stand-out showcase festivals in Europe – a draw not only for rising bands, but above all for experts from the music industry. For one whole week, the music venues around the Kiez entertainment quarter open up like a pocket-knife crammed with gleaming tools. In clubs, churches, tender boats, circus tents or open air, in screenings, workshops and readings, it’s everywhere: new music that could soon make it onto the great stages of the world.
After nine years of Überjazz, the media are in no doubt:those two November evenings in the former machine factory at Hamburg’s Kampnagel centre push back the style boundaries of jazz as we understand it every time. Past lineups have featured Moses Sumney, Kendrick Lamar, whisperer Stephen Thundercat Bruner and Lucia Cadotsch – but Hamburg locals Jazzlab and the video artists of Aufderlichtung also regularly set people dancing the night away at this indoor festival in the Winterhude district. Rating: Go!