With the arrival of Autumn comes Waves, one of Vienna’s first club and showcase festivals. Following the Scandinavian example of By:Larm, the Waves Conference and Festival aims to bridge the gap between East and West and between live music and club culture by offering a 5-day event taking place mainly in clubs along the Danube channel and in and around its famous amusement park. With 12 stages – ranging from boats anchored on the water to small traditional coffee houses – and 80 acts, including freak-indie extraordinaire British Sea Power, dark and soothing Zola Jesus, hyperhyped EMA, but also a variety of DJs and local bands, Waves seems likely to appeal to almost everyone – wild hipster kids, distinguished music industry people and dancefloor club youth alike.
Local wunderkind Anja Plaschg – an impossible name to pronounce if you happen to be non-German-speaking – better known as Soap&Skin, opened the first evening of the festival with her string and brass ensemble; and what more fitting location than that of the Stadtsaal, a traditional concert hall with numbered seats and golden ceilings (well, almost) for her grand performance?
As she appeared on stage, ethereal as always, there was something bizarre about her appearance. Her hair was lighter, her face was smoother; it seemed as if with the years a certain sweetness had bloomed inside her. Not to say she wouldn’t shoot people a killer gaze if they happened to leave her show early, which they did, and which she did; but that’s beside the point. Still dressed in black but less Tim-Burton-like, she looked like a woman who had just given birth: radiant, self-confident, tempted by the promise of something. Though it wasn’t a birth in the proper sense of the word, her newborn appeared in the form of unreleased songs: songs about love, still accompanied by her signature machine sounds, lost in her world like a delirious Selma Jezkova, and yet much softer and lighter than her previous work. As the evening unfolded, she took her audience down a rabbit hole, leading it down dark pathways, through labyrinths, backed by her wonderful string quartet and, if I am not mistaken, also by a heartbreaking trumpet. Becoming less intimidating and more fascinating by the minute, singing first in German and then in French (a cover of Desireless‘ Voyage Voyage), revisiting some old and beautiful favorites like The Sun, Thanatos and Mr. Gaunt PT 1000, she finished off with a plain and honest version of the Velvet Underground‘s Pale Blue Eyes.
Everything in a Soap&Skin performance – from the signals for the light show as part of her choreography to the faultless timing of her backing vocalist, who became her second skin and voice – is perfect; perfectly measured, choreographed, planned, and executed.
EMA, on the contrary, was everything Soap&Skin was not. With her show taking place on Clubschiff, a run-down boat, her disheveled hair and torn shirt felt perfect for the location. Nothing about her performance felt planned and among technical difficulties and broken strings she surfaced grinning and triumphant.
The former Gowns singer plays noise-folk, with direct and raw lyrics and simple melodies, and won over the heart of the audience with her friendliness, her honesty and down-to-earth approach to music. “I love Vienna – don’t tell Berlin!” she says, happily chatting away in-between songs, rambling about the beauty of Schiele’s work.
She makes her way through the audience while she plays, picks a girl at random, holds her hand and has her pluck the guitar strings with her; she dances, screams, headbangs and whispers, all at once. From the brilliantly catchy California to the touching Marked – so touching the first row saw her shed tears while singing – the sweaty, rambling, exuberant Erika was a perfect finish to a wonderful first festival night.
(See more photos on flickr)