As I’m sure you know, Pop Kultur, the replacement for what was the Berlin Music Week, is on from the 31st August til the 2nd September. The idea behind Pop Kultur is of course to promote music, but is also intended to feature and promote what’s happening in and around Berlin.

But does it?

That’s the question that a bunch of Neukölln indie music people started asking themselves. And came to the conclusion that, well, no it doesn’t, not really.

Enter the Music Board

The festival is run by the state; more exactly by Berlin’s Music Board, the institution that the Berlin senate set up a few years ago when it finally came to people’s notice that while tons of money was being pumped each year into supporting what in Germany is referred to as Serious Music, ie classical and the odd bit of jazz, the thing that Berlin was really known for was more its independent scene, for the Unserious Music – techno, electro, indie, all that side of things, and that there was little to no support for that area of endeavour.

And remarkably enough the powers that be decided that all this Unserious Music was actually quite a good thing and in need of a bit of a helping hand. And lo. Enter the Music Board.

The pros and cons, rights and wrongs and good bits and bad bits

While it has been debated just how fairly the Music Board disseminates the wads of cash (around 1,5 million Euros a year) that the Senate sends them in plain brown envelopes each month (I think it works like that, that’s how I picture it in my mind anyway), we are not here – at least not right now – to delve into the pros and cons, rights and wrongs and good bits and bad bits of the Music Board. Nope we ain’t.

What we’re here to delve into instead is this Pop Kultur / Off Kultur thing. Off-Kultur cites themselves as a critical response to Pop-Kultur Festival. Off-Kultur wants to open up a discourse about the state-run Pop-Kultur Festival, that is using Neukölln as a cool marketing gimmick without acknowledging the local scene.

Remember the Berlin Music Week?

That was the yearly music industry get-together that took over from Popkomm.

A week-long meeting of minds – where labels, promoters, publishers and, yes, even the odd musician could get together and put forth and listen to ideas about how to get out of the godalmighty mess that had become the music industry.

Decades of mismanagement and naked greed

A mess that, according to your viewpoint and position in the heirarchy of power, was created by either the decades of mismanagement and naked greed of the major labels, or else the sudden democratisation of the dissemination of music enabled by revolutionary advances in technology that meant everyone and anyone could access as much audience as they could get to pay attention to them.

 

We are of course completely neutral on this point and any hint gleaned from careful reading of the above paragraph that we are anything but neutral, is obviously not true in the slightest.

I stand guilty of dissing the BMW

Where was I.

The Berlin Music Week. It was a good bash, if you had the money for the entrance fee, or were a blogger who’d somehow managed to convince the organisers that you were possessed of enough of a readership to matter in the great scheme of things. I stand guilty of dissing the BMW to a certain extent after spending days wandering around the place without running into a single musician – that breed of being on the absolute lower-most rung of the above mentioned hierarchy of music industry power. Shouldn’t the musicians too, I dared to postulate (silently, in my mind, while swigging the free beer thoughtfully provided), also be present? But then, they do tend to clutter the place up a bit, not to mention getting drunk and falling down at inappropriate moments.

But all things considered it was actually pretty good – a whole lot of people who are actually still in the industry simply for the reason that they love music, they care about music and they’re doing their best to make sure that the industry associated with it survives and even perhaps, one day, thrives.

Then, for some reason, it was decided that the BMW was not the way to go and the whole shebang was transmuted last year into something called the Pop-Kultur.

Instead of a week-long meeting of minds, Pop-Kultur took place over three days and encompassed three nights of music in one single venue, or if you want to be pernickity, seven “locations” in the grounds of a single venue (Berghain). It became known for heavily featuring large international acts and not a lot else.

There were mutterings from the lower orders.

Roll around 2016 and Pop-Kultur has shifted to that trendiest and hipsterist of all trendy and hipsterish neighbourhoods, Neukölln. And why not? Neukölln is currently the most vibrant and most exciting place to be in Berlin. It’s where all the creatives are (the ones who can afford the heading-in-the-direction-of-London rents at least). As Mitte, Prenzlauerberg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg before it, Neukölln is where all the underground bars and clubs are. It’s where you’ll find the cutting edge, whether we’re talking about music, art, performance spaces or convincing burritos.

The place, in other words, for Pop-Kultur to be.

Enter Off-Kultur, our bunch of Neukölln indie music people.

Represented by Emma Czerny (Magic Island), Michael Aniser (Noisekölln), Kevin Halpin (Shameless/Limitless) and Anton Teichmann (Mansions and Millions), endless discussions about how it was felt that Pop-Kultur didn’t represent the local scene mutated, unusually, into action, and the four decided that they would put on their own festival that would present local bands, promoters and labels, and would be called Off-Kultur.

Off-Kultur is not an angry response to Pop-Kultur

The festival would take place simultaneously to the Pop-Kultur; however the organisers do not see their festival as a rejection of Pop-Kultur. Indeed, Emma Czerny says: “Off-Kultur is not an angry response to Pop-Kultur, but the contrary; an organic and productive development for all parties.”

I think one should be allowed to criticize these things

Fellow organiser Anton Teichmann agrees: “ I think one should be allowed to criticize these things. I mean we are talking about a state-run festival, not one with private interests. It should be legitimate, to ask for changes.”

Emma: “This isn’t a completely new concept – major festivals like SXSW also have a huge off-venue element contributing to the influx of new artists/music to be discovered, which builds the infrastructure and credibility of the festival too, but moreso the industry in general. With Off-Kultur, we mainly want to shed light on the Neuköllners who contribute to this scene/kiez- many of which are not represented by Pop-Kultur. Plus, Neukölln is good at parties, and that’s something that Pop Kultur is not contributing this year.”

The festival is funded with 700,000 € – why doesn’t the city profit from this?

Michael Aniser, one of the main protagonists of Off-Kultur, said in a recent Kaput interview: “ I moved to Neukölln in 2010 and have since been working with countless promoters and venues here…most of these have been left out at Pop-Kultur. They didn’t even try to start a dialogue but Neukölln is about this network where artists etc. help and support each other. This whole infrastructure has been ignored and thereby devalued. All of which made Neukölln what it is. The festival is funded with 700.000€ – why doesn’t the city profit from this? Why does a lot of the money go to international acts?”

So there you have it. Criticisms have arisen of Pop-Kultur, mainly being that it doesn’t properly reflect what’s going on in Berlin; and also that it doesn’t do enough to help the local scene, with a large part of the money spent on the festival going to pay international acts.

Off-Kultur are going about this, we find, in a very sensible way: They’re not pursuing an anti-Pop-Kultur stance, merely making the effort to hold up a mirror to it by putting on their own festival at the same time, in the same neighbourhood, but in a way that they think is more representational of what’s going on. If Pop-Kultur are trying to co-opt the coolness of Neukölln without using the occasion to highlight that very coolness, then the good people of Off-Kultur are here to show that it can be done differently. Grass roots and without massive state funding. At least this year. Who knows what’ll happen next year?

And for the public, hey: Two festivals in one long weekend, both in Neukölln! Bands, performances and parties galore.

Check out the list of Off-Kultur bands and performances on the Off-Kultur Facebook page.

Off-Kultur Website
* The quotes from the organisers of Off-Kultur are taken from an interview conducted with them by the Kaput blog. We use the quotes with respectful thanks to Kaput.