Rain starts pouring from the sky as soon as I leave the apartment. Not an unexpected event, yet almost a comical setting for my first concert review in over three years.
Shortly after, I find myself climbing the steep slopes to «Bäumli», a little park draped on the hillside. With the forest in the back, a panoramic view of Winterthur, Switzerland, opens up towards the West. But depressingly grey, low-hanging clouds cover all, and the gushing wind drives the rain into my face.
And in some corner of my head, I ask myself: Why am I doing this to myself?
The scenery at «Bäumli» looks all familiar: A small stage, a couple of food and beverage stands alongside the low stone wall. The only thing missing: rows of chairs. They were here when «Ante Konzerte», a small showcase festival, debuted in 2021 with Covid-19 measures still in place. This memory seems far away—almost like a trauma you're desperately trying to forget.
So I sit down on a bench, dried half-heartedly with my tote bag. A guy approaches me. Let's call him Steve. He drinks one bottle of Mate after the other like it's some kind of holy water. Steve usually listens to melodic techno.
But a day ago, his brother sent him a song by Betterov. «I've listened to Olympia three times in a row. It totally flashed me,» he goes on. Then, while looking for live dates, he discovered the «Ante Konzerte» and decided to come the same day.
Although the pandemic might now—also officially—be a thing of the past, it left a deep scar on the music business. While pre-sales have been a struggle before, they still haven't recovered. And with the outlook of walking up to a not very remote but not very central place for a concert in the rain: It's a hard sell… Not everybody is like Steve.
Let's talk about the acts of the festival's opening night. Manuel Bittdorf, born in 1994 in what is pretty much the heart of Germany, as Betterov. His first single, Dynamit, was released in 2019, followed by an EP in 2020 and finally, last year's debut album Olympia.
Olympia was received relatively well. Benedikt Kendler writes in his review for «Musikexpress» about Betterov's sonic signature: «The furiously melancholic guitar riffs, placed in prominent places, help Betterov's multi-faceted, rough and occasionally pleasantly brittle voice to achieve the greatest emotional intensity.» Kendler concludes the sound as a mix between indie-rock and post-punk.
In October 2022, I featured Bis zum Ende, one of the album's songs, in a Weekly5 edition. I wrote:
Bis zum Ende is a perfect example of Betterov's qualities: A fast-paced track, exhilarating and breathlessly delivered, accompanied by lyrics that capture adolescents' doubts, fears, and self-reflection. Despite its depressive premise, Betterov always manages to transform negativity into sparks of optimism. Bis zum Ende is no different and remains deep down a hymn to hope.
The role of the opening act at the premier night of «Ante Konzerte» in Winterthur falls to Walter Frosch. It's a duo from Schaffhausen, Switzerland's most northern canton, and was named after a legendary German football player who smoked 60 cigarettes a day and called the pub «his biggest enemy».
In 2020, the band by Mike Saxer and Rune Dahl Hansen was hyped by Swiss national broadcaster SRF. And shortly, Tim Wirth wrote in «Züri Tipp» a piece full of praise:
The song Searching Hands, for example, is simply brilliant. A guitar strums, then comes a synthesiser melody, Dahl Hansen's voice far in the background, happy apocalypse, like a good film that portrays life as it is: ambivalent. A comic mix of happiness and tragedy.
Like Betterov, the band were previously featured in Weekly5 with their single Under A Spell. My takeaway from a bit more than a year ago: «Walter Frosch build an impressive wall of sound, drowning the already muffled voice even more, giving Under A Spell actually a feeling of being exactly that: not in possession of complete control, but being under a spell. As a result, the track has a borderline psychedelic, trance-like quality.»
So why am I doing this to myself?
Well, one part of the answer is that I get to see two acts I previously wrote about for the first time on stage. More on the second part in a moment. Now, the performances.