The music festival pushes into its ninth year as the surrounding neighborhood continues to change
My first thoughts when I imagine wandering through present-day Mitte? I see moms decked out in designer brands with tiny dogs, holding bright green elixirs. Beyond the moms, nearly everything else is tidy, composed, and accommodating for a specific community – until Torstraßen Festival takes over the Kiez for a day.
This year marks year nine for the festival that focuses on community first, and showcasing a diverse range of local music through that – from hypnotic pop to “Afroelectronik” to staycore to experimental space jams. The iconic Volksbühne will host this “one-off special edition” for one full day and one full night of an “intersection of musical expeditions”. 28 performances, including DJ sets will merge with the Independent label market, promising all kinds of goodies for any kind of music lover. Schmutz recently chatted with one of the festival’s founders, Melissa Perales, ahead of this year’s combined party of performances and label market on September 7th.
SCHMUTZ: Which acts are you most excited about on this year’s lineup?
Melissa Perales: Starting off, we have a much smaller lineup than usual – which does not make it any easier to choose my list – but of course I have some discoveries (in my job a very nice thing indeed) and those that I am excited for; those whom I was rooting for and have yet to see live. We also have, as every year, a good number of Female-identifying and other marginalized artists that make me very happy to support. The list is as follows!
Perales: First of all, I’m super happy that we made it to year nine! Running a festival in a city full of culture is not easy, but we have maintained our mission since the beginning: promoting first and foremost local talent who are on the cusp of new career moves or ones that have made a mark on the city and have been around in different projects for a while. Come this year, we have new material with artists like Chris Imler, Michela Miese and The Chap – top bands, top people. And of course always inviting touring international artists who we find connect with our year’s theme and music relevance, as well as matching our general philosophy.
I love having a team of very talented colleagues, each having different areas of expertise and introducing different genres of music. It’s a good fit. Looking at year ten and the future, it would be good to think of next steps and growth and also have new blood coming in with new ideas and energy. The good thing about making something with the potential for longevity is that you can see it grow, not necessarily in size, but in concept and what we can do for artists.
We have a much smaller lineup than usual because of the special issue of the festival this year, opposed to our normal eight-ten venues, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out in one space together with the label market. I find it especially a good move and experiment having both in one location. I see in my other work, including that with Music Pool Berlin and promoting live shows, that we can connect the live world to the business side of music. I long to have more communication between all parts, increasing all of our chances of making a career within the independent music world.
Perales: Last year, both were on Sunday, so it worked well with concerts in the evening. This year, with having just one day, we decided that it was also an intricate part of the ecosystem and a part which could be further connected. This is where fans, collectors and DJs come together, and we believe the artists, organizers, labels and graphic artists could do more for each other in closer proximity aside from live gigs. A community vibe happens naturally when these elements meet.
SCHMUTZ: How do you define the ‘marks’ on a city – the ones local artists have the opportunity to make? Which of those have stood out to you since last year’s festival and does that play a major role in the curation?
Perales: To me, the marks are the musicians that have been around for a while. This is one of the reasons behind our Super Sunday shows in the past. We ask TSF alumni who have made movements in their careers since they played the festival to come back for a set on the big stage at the Volksbühne (Jaakko Eino Kalevi, Fenster, Alex Cameron).
Maintaining the spirit against this is not easy, but as a longtime Mitte resident, I feel this is exactly what part of my mission is. It should be for all cultural projects left in Mitte and for other neighborhoods that see this kind of change. Resistance is part of it and saying ‘Hey, this is still our neighborhood!’
SCHMUTZ: Where did the concept originally come from?
Perales: We (Andrea Goetzke and I) began nine years ago after Andreas Gebhard, who worked with us through a2n (platform for music business) and Andrea in Newthinking had been to London to attend the Camden Crawl Music festival. He asked if we would be interested in doing a festival in Mitte, where we lived and worked. Of course, were were intrigued and a bit leery, but in two months we put together a festival. This is the base for what we are doing nine years later, a festival set up using the infrastructure of the neighborhood, the various music scenes and communities.
SCHMUTZ: How has the neighborhood, Mitte, changed in your eyes, both in general and in the context of supporting the festival?
Perales: The neighborhood has seen change since the first issue of the festival and this mostly has to do with gentrification. We have maintained a good core of the venues but have seen venues change hands, move, close or be dislocated because of golddigger landlords.
We have good, long-term partnerships in the neighborhood that get what we are doing and continue to support us (e.g., ACUD, Z-bar, Prassnick, Volksbühne). Who knows what could happen next year when we begin planning our ten year anniversary? It could be a whole new landscape and we will have to think how to shape things to keep the spirit. Having the festival this year in the Volksbühne only for one day has a lot to do with the logistic exhaustion caused by these exact reasons: trying to keep the festival structure and maintain the numbers of tickets according to venues. Our focus is still to come up with new ideas and ways to connect artists, fans, and neighborhood folks along with our changing partners.
SCHMUTZ: How does the venue and atmosphere inform the general feeling of Torstraßenfestival?
Perales: Generally, I would say it gives the visitors of the festival and artists different insight into the neighborhood as each stage is a different size. With previous years, the few were cafes or shops set up as stages, rather than being a standard music venue. This year, we are tying the festival together for year nine to catch our breath for year ten. We are lucky to have the grand dame of the neighborhood, the Volksbühne! It is the location of my very first cultural event I ever did in the city, so for me it’s an important venue and my personal connection to the neighborhood.
SCHMUTZ: Are you already working on your decade anniversary festival?
Perales: We have already begun to think of the tenth year anniversary issue in concept, what we would like to see happen after these ten years, as we have created a good archive in the independent pop culture music scene in Berlin. In order to begin this fully, we would need structural funding in order to keep the momentum after each issue. We have already applied for this sort of funding and been denied, though we hope the next will help us to be more effective to use our time and energy wisely.
Rebooting the whole apparatus each year is a challenge. We would also love to have the freedom that this would bring: doing what we love, working with artists and thinking of ways to bring people together locally as well as from outside Berlin, in order to share professional and personal experiences together. This is vital for a strong musical community and helps with the creative strife that we are all faced with.
Colette Pomerleau is Berlin-based photographer and writer. More Colette.