For almost two decades, Germany’s Reeperbahn Festival has stood as a gateway to the European music market for many artists hoping to enter and make their presence known.
Within the Australian contingent attending the festival this year, there was an air of rejuvenation that permeated proceedings. Maybe it was the final hits of European summer sunshine that infused everyone’s mood; or maybe it was the fumes of new inspiration that were hitting the artists immersing themselves in Reeperbahn for the first time.
The Australians on ground turned up to play, and play they did.
But first…why Reeperbahn?
Held in Hamburg over four days and nights in September, Reeperbahn Festival is a sprawling event that bleeds into the notorious club culture of the St. Pauli district. It brings live music and performances together with a gloriously European attitude towards partying, centred on an ethos of “do now, think later.”
In 2023, Reeperbahn Festival attracted almost 50,000 visitors – a number that shows the festival’s return to pre-pandemic figures.
Along with the live performance aspect, Reeperbahn also saw the return of dedicated conference programming: over 300 sessions, exhibitions, showcases, interactive events and more invited delegates to participate in conversations that saw discussions of music, culture and sustainability converge.
Recognising the role young people play in sustaining a live music economy, and supporting their passion for music via the KulturPass, for example, as well as dedicated moves towards restructuring the global music industry to achieve gender equality via the Keychange Movement, stood out as just two points of emphasis at Reeperbahn this year.
And then, with over 470 concerts from 400 artists from across 40 different countries, the live showcase program was an impressive feat spanning numerous genres and demographics.
For any Australian artist or industry professional hoping to build their team or presence in Europe, an event like Reeperbahn provides a perfect playground to meet and court new connections and networks throughout the rest of Europe.
The Australian effect
This year saw a strong delegation of Australian artists perform at Reeperbahn Festival, a lineup representative of some dynamic and diverse sounds. Taking over a number of venues throughout the district, opportunities to see some of our best performers were plentiful.
For many of the Australians on the lineup, it was their first time at Reeperbahn – for some, their first time performing in Europe, period. This fed into their performances, unmistakably. The hunger to convert audiences was evident, but their natural personalities came through just as strong.
Whether it was Matt Corby performing at the Elbphilharmonie, a gorgeous concert hall; Lime Cordiale crushing an 800-capacity bunker club; or Thelma Plum and Maple Glider entrancing in a stunning church, Australian artists proved to be a popular feature of the Reeperbahn program.
The opportunity to perform in Europe was also the first time that some of the showcasing artists were able to see their music connecting with an international fanbase that had been cultivated during the pandemic.
For artists like Maple Glider and Floodlights, it was a perfect opportunity to finally spread their wings and see just how much impact they were having so far from home. These artists, with the added trauma of being Melbourne-based during the last three years, took their first steps out into an international spotlight that has been hungry to welcome them.
Reeperbahn proved fruitful for both. Floodlights, who have been touring Europe and the UK for the first time with their acclaimed record, The Painting of Time, drew some of the biggest crowds of any Australian group at the festival.
Testament to their natural charisma and strong dynamic as a performance unit, Floodlights were quick to become a buzzed about band.
“It’s been surreal, this has been our first time touring internationally outside of SXSW and we weren’t really sure how our music would resonate with people. Especially when a lot of our lyrics are focused on topics that people who live in Australia may resonate with a bit more,” guitarist/vocalist Louis Parson says.
“We were curious as to how it would come across to people who may not understand certain nuances in our lyricism. It’s been relieving and exciting to see that people from the other side of the globe have received it.”
“All the new experiences we’ve had over here have refreshed our enthusiasm for writing lyrics,” he adds.
“We’ve had a lot of time in the van to be writing and to be soaking up all the different cultures. One of my favourite things has just been people watching while we’ve been here, whether it’s been in a music environment or walking around in a city. As a whole, we’ve been really inspired from doing the shows and then just living our lives, meeting people and having new interactions.”
Fellow guitarist/vocalist, Ash Kehoe, considers how their time spent in Europe is set to directly feed back into their upcoming Australian summer.
“It’s been good playing some big festivals over here, to get us ready for Meredith and the shows coming up at home; dealing with the pressure and nerves, having the big crowd and stage.
“We’re aiming to record another album, so we’re doing a fair bit of writing. It’s been nice, being inspired by so many bands over here. Especially with the last few years, we’ve been seeing so many of the same Melbourne bands, just because we haven’t had as many international acts. It’s been really cool to see all these different bands over here, it will help our writing.”
“It didn’t feel real sometimes…”
For Tori Zietsch, aka Maple Glider, her debut run of European shows culminated with a beautiful show at the Imperial Theater as part of the Reeperbahn Festival.
Having released her debut studio album, To Enjoy Is the Only Thing, in 2021, Maple Glider’s profile grew exponentially during a period of time where she couldn’t tour the record as part of a normal roll out. Fast forward to 2023, she has her second album, I Get Into Trouble, scheduled for release in October, and more expectations on her to be out on the road.
Rising to these expectations and delivering has been something the singer-songwriter has been able to excel at – the experience has taught her more about her own resolve and capabilities as a creative.
“This has been one week of shows, for me it’s been really worth it,” Maple Glider says.
“There was an expectation for me to tour with the first album but for me, I was like, “Absolutely not! I’m not ready!” It was such a huge investment and we’d just come out of lockdown. I don’t think that emotionally and financially, I wasn’t ready to tour. This time around, I felt like I really wanted to go and meet people who I had been working with for the last few years in person. Begin that relationship again.
“It’s motivating, for me. Especially given that I’ve not played a lot of shows this year, even back home,” she adds, thinking about how this experience is going to help her heading into her next phase.
“It was weird, it didn’t feel real sometimes. I met someone from my publishing team the other day, so it was nice to be like, “Thank you for everything, by the way! Thanks for all the work that you’ve done!”
“I’m about to enter, hopefully, what will be a longer run of shows. It makes me grateful for the opportunities to play music that I do have at home. It’s made me feel solid on this being something that I want to keep doing.”
With two EPs and an enticing live performance reputation to their name, Melbourne trio Telenova came quick out the gate in 2021, quick to turn heads with the release of their debut collection of tunes, Tranquilize.
A fusion of alternative, indie, and pop influences, brought together with the natural musicality and charm of its members — Angeline Armstrong, Joshua Moriarty, and Edward Quinn – made Telenova almost appear out of nowhere with the potential to translate to an international audience quite easily.
With years of performance and creative experience in other projects between them, there’s a sense of effortlessness that Telenova brings to their performances and perhaps, which is why European crowds have been responding as well as they have been this year.
According to Moriarty, the opportunity to introduce themselves to Europe through a tour like the one they’re on with Ruel, is one that has been lucrative, but also a lot of fun.
“Ruel’s crowd for us, they’ve been so lovely. They’re all in the venue as soon as they get there, so we’re playing to a full room every night. They’re so excitable, warm and lovely; it’s been awesome.”
Performing two sets of their own at Reeperbahn, one on their own and one as part of the Sounds Australia Aussie BBQ, Telenova were able to get a taste of another international showcase event (having already done SXSW in North America and The Great Escape in the UK) and what it could mean for them returning to Europe next year.
“Given our experience, because we have played quite a few shows in Germany already, I think there is a nice and positive feeling about the audiences who we have come into contact with in this region,” Armstrong says.
“I’m feeling pretty optimistic and I think we are hoping that festivals in Europe will be possible for us next year.”
An intersection of artist and managerial development
For some of the Australian artists showcasing at Reeperbahn in 2023, they arrived in Hamburg not just as an artist, but as their own management as well.
The balance of being able to sell your project on the music business side, and then sell your project to an audience of largely newfound fans, is a precarious one to get right. But, if you’re able to do it, these opportunities can be fruitful. The labour can be worth it in spades.
Sydney’s Annie Hamilton knows this all too well.
As one of the few self-managed Australian artists on ground this year, Hamilton found herself manoeuvring between industry meetups and networking sessions, as well as performing shows that would live up to the hype of what she was selling.
Her performance at the Aussie BBQ in particular cemented her place as one of Australia’s most exciting new names, and for those of us who had gotten wind of her upcoming tour supporting The National and Fleet Foxes in 2024, it was this type of show that made such an announcement make beautiful sense.
Hamilton’s energy as a performer is addictive; it’s impossible not to become hooked on each melody and progression. But moreover, seeing her with a full band just gets you excited, in the same way that watching artists like Flyying Colours, Bobby Alu, or Mitch Santiago can. When a performer’s identity and vision is so strong, you as an audience member feel completely locked in for the ride.
As Hamilton explained backstage after her show, she’s still learning how to navigate this international space as both a manager and a musician, but it’s these experiences that prove that she’s on the right track.
“I love performing and touring, and there have been so many experiences on this tour that have really solidified why I’m doing this,” she explains. “Sometimes it can be so hard and expensive; there are so many difficult things about being an artist, especially post-COVID, and in Australia where we are so isolated.
“As an artist, if I’m talking directly to an industry person like a promoter or a festival booker, I can sell my project better than anyone else can.
“I can explain what I’m doing, what my project is about, what my goals are, way better than anyone else can. The connections I’ve made from these events are amazing; it’s been incredible for my career. I’ve gotten more out of this as a self-managed artist than I would have if I had someone doing it on my behalf.”
For Hamilton and her band, meeting new people was a big priority at their debut European shows.
Like Telenova, Maple Glider, and Floodlights, they’ve been inspired by their surroundings so far, and for Hamilton, the direct emotional connection with fans has unlocked new realisations within her as a creative – this is why she loves music and being able to share it with others.
“We had a show in Munich and there was a 20-year-old fan who flew from Romania to come to the set. Her flight was delayed because of a storm and she missed the gig,” she remembers.
“She’s messaging me on Instagram before the gig, saying she had been waiting at the airport for 12 hours, and had been flying specifically to the show from Romania. She was so devastated she was going to be missing the show, but she was on a new flight that was scheduled to land at 10:30pm. We had to fly at 5am the next morning, so I was like, “We have a spare bed in our accommodation, come stay with us!”
She came and stayed with us in our hotel room and I played her a half hour private gig. She was sitting on the bed, I was on the floor; she was crying, I was crying. Everyone else was walking around, brushing their teeth, getting ready for bed, singing harmonies. It was my favourite show of the tour, because it was just this moment; she was sitting there with her eyes closed, just listening. That was my favourite show I’ve ever played. How crazy is it that I’m on the other side of the world and someone has flown from a country I’ve never been to, to see me? It was so special.”
Sosefina Fuamoli attended the 2023 Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, Germany as a recipient of Creative Australia’s inaugural Music Writers’ Travel Bursary.