A couple of weeks ago, «riser» was publicly introduced. It's a non-profit association run by established players of Switzerland's music business that set out to highlight local up-and-coming artists. In two different formats, newcomer bands would get the chance to prove themselves on stage.
On May 25, they held the first event of their «riser.AMP» series in Zurich's Exil Club. The promise of the format sounds intriguing:
«Established artists and bands choose two young up-and-coming artists and create a show together. The rising artists are not overshadowed but are part of a joint performance.»
But, however intriguing the promise, it's also rather vague. And you could define two factors that decide the format's success or failure:
- How many people show up?
- What does the joint performance look like?
Preemptively said: One of these two has significant room for improvement.
There are enough reasons to be sceptical about «riser». The main question floating around my head as I walked in the concrete valleys of Western Zurich was: Will there be enough people?
The established artist of the first «riser.AMP», Jack Stoiker's punk rock band Knöppel, had to nominate two up-and-coming bands. And their selection was spot on: Mamba Bites and Fluffy Machine, both hailing from the French part of Switzerland.
Knöppel, the unlikely phenomenon that found unexpected popularity with their 2016 album Hey Wichsers (Engl: Hey Wankers), are still surfing on that wave despite having released Faszination Glied (Engl: Fascination Penis) in 2019 and working on a new record scheduled for this year.
Their peak might be relatively long ago, but Knöppel still manage to draw crowds in—so «riser.AMP» could deliver on their promise towards the newcomers: The club was packed.
The Rising Stars Deliver
Mamba Bites and Fluffy Machine delivered. Mamba Bites, an all-female trio, immediately generated pressure, playing unapologetically loud. The club's sound system screeched. But beneath their rampant, aggressive noise, you could detect sophistication in refined composition. Just take the climactic final stretch of Temporary Nature.
And just as I thought it was a shame that it still feels quite unusual to see women conjuring such ecstatic punk punches, the bass player lifted the instrument over her head, revealing the message: «More women on stage.»
Later, the surf punkers from Fluffy Machine demonstrated how only a couple of years more experience could add to a performance. So, while Mamba Bites released their first demo in 2020, Fluffy Machine published their debut, It's Funny Cause He's Fat, in 2017 and played quite extensively in the UK.
Fluffy Machine are natural entertainers and jokesters who are as confident as they are self-aware and ironic. They know that they're creating party music—and embrace it fully. Yet, despite their joking attitude, they're professionals, able to play with relaxed cool. With their latest two singles, nah nah nah and i'm always high (when i see you smile), they also demonstrated their potential to craft addictive hymns.
And after these talented musicians riled up the audience and filled the Exil club with a smell of stale beer, sweat and farts, Knöppel took the stage and seemed hilariously amateurish. Yet, their cult hits, driven by simplistic three chords and Jack Stoiker's absolutely amelodic voice, are just a blueprint of punk's spirit.
Not Creative Enough
Usually, I would conclude: It was a perfect punk rock night. Loud music, pogo, beer, exuberance. You can't wish for much more.
However, regarding the vague outline of the format and its promise of a «joint performance», the evening didn't live up to its potential.
Daniel Mittag, aka Jack Stoiker, and his bandmate Marc Jenny on Contrabass introduced each of the rising artists' performances. They played one song and then let the new generation take the stage.
While these interludes are out of the ordinary, it wasn't enough to make the evening feel different from a traditional show. Knöppel still were undoubtedly the headliner catching the spotlight—and Mamba Bites and Fluffy Machine did their best to convince. So in a sense, they were probably overshadowed.
Why not split Knöppel's set: Three songs in the beginning, middle, and end? Or an actual collective performance? Or Knöppel covering a track from both bands? The punk rock theme lends itself perfectly to creative, maybe weird, but lovable ideas.
Admittedly, those suggestions come with many complications and additional effort in preparation and production, especially considering it's a one-off.
Moreover, it's a fine line: How creative can you get without scaring away the audience? How can you manage the fan's expectations regarding the established act—and how much can you subvert them? After all, it's hard to convince people to check out newcomers, as was again made aware when the «Strom & Drang» festival had to cut one whole day because of devastatingly low pre-sales.
However, it's too soon to draw a definitive conclusion after only one event, and the first one at that. While «riser.AMP» might not have delivered fully on all their promises, the most important thing was that Mamba Bites and Fluffy Machine could showcase their talent to Zurich's audience while receiving fair compensation.