The Euroblast Prog Metal Festival 2019 was a very relaxed experience. Some 46 bands plus after show party gigs on four days is rather a marathon than a program. Take this report as an appetizer. Let’s fly in to breathe some Kölsch metal air and explore the treasure island of the German festival calendar.
The Smell Of Vinegar …
Essigfabrik in Cologne – quite close to the huge Lanxess Arena – is a very atmospheric venue for a festival, even more if the weather invites us to spend some time in the cozy yard between the stage slots. There is the main stage in the large, former industrial hall with a capacity of perhaps up to 1,500 people. Although long time gone, the smell of vinegar and sweat from the original use of the venue still seems to linger here. The high ceiling and the brick walls provide a moody sound and most of the time there still is fairly enough space to take a drink from or at the bar and get back to your spot.
The smaller side stage is situated in the cellar floor of the same building; finding its entrance, however, can be challenging for newbies…. The outdoor area around the building is well equipped with food and merch stalls and also numerous inviting isles of seats, some cozy, others more technical or practical. A guitar workshop competes with the music played at several stalls for the lead in the soundscape. I didn’t really find out who was the winner though … As the weather is mostly dry and warm enough, the festival weekend makes a welcome add on to this once again nearly endless summer of 2019. And the major share of the crowd excessively makes use of the outdoor options.
Finally, and not before you passed by each of the stalls, you find a wide passage leading downwards into the cellars from where the ongoing sound check echoes. It has some 1970s touch, it meaning the ambient of the side stage. Dark, pretty much open concrete, scattered couches and a low ceiling. Really low, I mean! Despite the wide entrance, inside the room it is very warm, not to say hot and the stage mist clouds at least half of the room. The stage is on a low slightly higher than ground level, barely touching not even your knees but the PA comes with disproportionately huge loudspeakers. We sit behind the sound technician’s desk and watch Atlas’ set up and sound-check. The festival schedule is tight. Very tight if not a bit too tight, to be honest. And thus, their manager demands them to hurry and catch up with the schedule. Once the wires have been plugged, the gear found its position and the musicians tuned their instruments a last time, the manager supports the sound technician. Well, perhaps the technician does not exactly take it as support. Apparently their opinions differ on some critical details so let’s hear who was right.
Let’s Shatter The Venue
“Let’s shatter the venue”, Ari, Atlas’ manager shouts, when the band is ready to finally enter the stage. End of sound check is nearly the kick off for their gig. Then the shredding of their guitars pulls the crowd in. As their vocalist switches between sweet clear vocals and howling growls, the number of banging heads and moshing feet in front of the stage grows to a comfy figure: Enough space for each one’s self-expression and enough heads to make a good crowd. The slots are too short for long stories between the songs. That holds true for them all, no matter if the headliner shred on the main stage or Cold Night For Alligators who rock in the cellar. No time is wasted on speeches but used to the last second to play. Some bands even check the clock and squeeze one short song or even only one riff into the final minute of their slot.
But back to Atlas. Who says the mosh pit is for the crowd alone? Patrik, the vocalist, checks the wire of his mic and merges with the crowd for minutes. Leevi, their bass player and second vocalist, makes use of a short break of his parts to check out the crowd-feeling himself as well. And then not more than 20 minutes later their gear has been packed and not even the drops of their sweat on the stage floor remind of their energetic show anymore when Verderver set up their gear.
Blasting Sound And Easy Going
Down here, the tightness on and off stage heats up the space in an instance as soon as the stage lights destroy the darkness. This alone turns the shows of the side stage into a very intensive matter. The low ceiling and the too massive PA compress the sound so that each band (that I attended playing here) was by far too loud for my liking – too loud to really get into the details of their music. Then again this somewhat condensed atmosphere made the emotions flicker like electricity and ignite instantly.
Saturday afternoon, I sit on the fence at the sound box of the main stage. The crowd is outside for a beer while Shokran set up their gear on main stage. With the sun lurking into the venue is so bright and warm that it feels like spring. It is rather quiet in the hall. I feel the height of the ceiling and notice that this makes an atmosphere quite opposite of what I have experienced downstairs. It seems band and crew are working much more relaxed on stage, despite however, they have the very same tight slots. Thus it is the abundance of open space tipping the scale from busy to relaxed.
I meet Andrew, Shokran’s vocalist soon after their gig again. He is checking in at the merch stall asking, of course, how their merch is selling. The reply couldn’t be any better for him. They are the best-selling band here today. There is a beautiful neckless with their band logo in bronze among their merch items that tells theirs from the rest and might make the difference despite its naturally higher but not overly expensive priced.
Back inside, ghostly figures enter the stage. A Black Metal band? But no, failed by far. Sleep Token enchant with ambient synthesizer passages, a touch of industrial and even a memory of Indie Pop – all this in harmony with shredding guitars and harshest vocals and presented by these atmospheric cloak creatures sliding on stage. A perfect show act and music stirring deeply!
The Bottleneck Benefit
The festival’s atmosphere takes – in my personal opinion – a decisive benefit from the fact that crowd and musicians do easily get in touch without any schedules or arrangements. Many musicians show up in the crowd apart from their own stage time and attend the festival beyond the day of their own gig. Then there is the guitar workshop, of course and most of all there is the loading bay, actually tent. It’ has become the unofficial meet and greet spot. Here, right in the middle of everything, the venue’s stage exit spills out the gear, carried in hurry from stage to be packed for the loading. It is a bottleneck. Stage and venue exits are only a few paces from each other her. Some musicians linger here for a little break, wait for the remaining gear or their vehicle to arrive. So this spot is an opportunity for selfies and a chat with bands for whoever passes by. And there is plenty traffic between main stage before and yard and the side stage behind this spot. Naturally the flow slows down here, jams. And that’s just fine. No hurry but easy-going.
The Euroblast Family
Speaking of “afternoon” atmospheres, I am surprised to meet such a large crowd at this early time on Saturday as well as on Friday. There is neither a true camp nor a nearby hostel or hotel offering accommodation for a major share of the crowd in one spot as many others festivals would have. And still the number of people attending the early-afternoon shows is more than remarkable. I take this a result of the atmosphere as much as the over-all lineup.
“Euroblast Family” is the name of a Facebook Group around the festival. But then, it is way more. Management and security, the crew at the various stalls as well as most of the media folks have known each other for quite some time, prove a very friendly routine of cooperating with each other. The crowd is truly relaxed and open-minded; it is honest, respectful, if not polite. I even my lost – scatter-brainy me! – SD card which made it soon to the “Lost & Found”. Thanks to the honest finder! All praise to the honest metalheads of Cologne!!! And more thanks to Silvana and her colleague! And more compliments to come. Unavoidable! Communicating with the festival management ahead of the event was already pleasantly relaxed and just the same during the festival itself.
Not A Novel
Covering four days completely leaves you the choice: make it a novel or make it shallow. Thus I took a spot light and a looking glass, followed only few bands and left out all the rest. Not far away early spring is a perfect moment to plan your festival summer and to catch some early-bird offers, be it tickets, transfers or accommodation and one recommendation would certainly be Euroblast 2020, Cologne 1st to 3rd October!