PEOPLE Festival hears the bored sigh of the stunted music world and provides a necessary punch in the gut.
Starting August 12, Nadine and Tom Michelberger, The National’s Bryce and Aaron Dessner, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon craft a sizzling one-week universe of music built on chance encounters, mistaken notes, and spontaneous lyrics that become poetry. From this backdrop of invention comes an intimate, nuanced experience–a two-day festival, on August 18 and 19, at Funkhaus, a former GDR broadcast center.
And it sounds pretty fucking cool.
It’s a fresh concept: uniquely Berlin, in that it abandons all preconceived notions of life elsewhere, building a new narrative. Over 150 musicians and artists with textured backgrounds and abilities push away their egos and eliminate all boundaries. Where else but Berlin could this sort of festival originate?
“Berlin gave the space for the hotel to do that. It wouldn’t have been possible in any other major city,” Tom Michelberger tells me. “We bring that spirit to create alternatives and different types of experiences.”
A Hefty Line-Up, Playing Brand-New Songs
Throughout the week prior to the festival, artists like Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, Beirut’s Zach Condon, members of Sigur Rós, Feist, Damien Rice, Justin Vernon, the Dessner brothers, and others of the Dessner-Vernon collective (a tight-knit crew crying out for a purer way to experience music) congregate across Funkhaus and the Michelberger Hotel, experiment, delight in one another’s wild, off-the-cuff ideas and riff, improv, and surge forward to new musical horizons.
And Tom and Nadine, owners of the Michelberger Hotel, know precisely how to mold a backdrop for such exploration. They met the Dessners, as well as countless others in the business, at the hotel years ago–a sort of “Chelsea Hotel” of Berlin, where artists congregate. “That’s the beauty of a physical space. You can greet them, give them coffee, then find out if there’s more to explore,” Nadine tells me of owning the hotel. In the case of meeting the Dessners, this meant finding the vocabulary for a new kind of musical frontier.
And for the upcoming week of art, Nadine says, “It’s essential to have a space for these impulses to create. It’s a big goal, to set the frame [of the hotel and Funkhaus] so perfectly to bring out the best creative parts in them.”
And Funkhaus is, in itself, a personality—working alongside these musicians, forming something that can only exist in this realm, at this moment in time. “We use the Funkhaus spaces as they are. They are music instruments themselves. We won’t overstretch them with techniques. Each space is unique,” Nadine explains.
A Festival With its Own Language
Tom tells me that the word “festival” is up for debate. “We’re lacking an alternative. The musical experiences are very intimate.” Between each set, people will need space to digest, to sit with their emotions–as they’re fresh, purer than most concerts ever achieve. Festival? Sure. We’ll keep the word, for now. But it can’t possibly define this time along the Spree.
EVERYBODY IS PEOPLE: Not Your Typical Audience
At PEOPLE, there’s no more expectations. No more “walking through the motions” of a set. The audience is no longer a group of passive listeners—several thousand face-less binge-drinkers in a crowd, screeching for the encore they’ve heard a zillion times. No. The audience is in on it: rushing from one stage to the next for gut-wrenching shows performed for the very first time. Imagine if you’d been in the room the first time Justin Vernon wept-howled through Skinny Love? It’s emotion, without routine: leaving stale notes behind. And because this is the very first time many of these tracks will be performed live, that emotion will be felt.
Of course, there was initial fear that no audience yearned for such an experience–that they wanted the one-and-done, “like going to the movies” concert. However, at the recent Eaux Claire Festival—another under the PEOPLE umbrella, Nadine and Tom had a chance encounter with a man in the crowd, passing around a pretty incredible reflection of their mission: a newspaper, entitled EVERYBODY IS PEOPLE.
EVERYBODY IS PEOPLE declares itself a digest aiming to foster community in the same way as PEOPLE gatherings—collecting submissions, stories, memories, illustrations, and curated playlists. “Our sincerest belief is that EVERYBODY IS PEOPLE,” it says. Outside the boundaries of their unique collective of musicians and artists, within the walls of Michelberger Hotel, there are people out there—crying out for community, for a brand new way to relate, to feel, to exist.
Remarkably, in this eye-burning screen-society, the digests come in physical format only. Building physical community is the thesis. And for this, Nadine and Tom are thrilled. “We could really tell that the idea was coming full circle,” Nadine says.
And PEOPLE will craft this community-minded experience for the audience, as well. In fact:
Every PEOPLE day is different.
It’s a choose-your-own adventure sort of thing. “There’s surprise in having different experiences, different perspectives, and then people coming together to tell each other their experiences. It’s beautiful that not everyone sees the same things. They have own adventures, within the bigger one,” Tom says.
PEOPLE Festival is held August 18 and 19, at Funkhaus Berlin. It’s an experience beyond words, with its own, unique language. Come. Relate. Feel the most gorgeous of all emotions—surprise. Without preparation, all you can do is lean forward, and listen.