Deutsch-Russische Festtage 2013 – digibet Pferdesportpark Karlshorst, Berlin, Germany | 16.06.2013
Here’s a story from one of the German multicultural festivals I attended to see the very first European gig of MELNITSA. I believe any folk music fan in Russia would know MELNITSA as one of the most talented folk rock acts of the country, but the guys from other parts of the world probably wouldn’t know the band at all, so here’s your chance to broaden your knowledge. MELNITSA (translated as “THE MILL”) was founded in 1999 in Moscow. Headed by Natalia “Hellawes” O’Shea who was singer, lyrics writer, composer and also played harp, the band is known now as one of the leaders of Russian folk scene. Even though Hellawes is happily married, has children and doesn’t live in Russian anymore, the band is still very active releasing the new albums every 2-3 years and touring Russia, Ukraine and other former USSR countries. Many fans thought it was logical for MELNITSA to finally break the wall and go abround, touring Europe, but that has never happen… until now, June 16th, 2013. It was the very first MELNITSA gig outside their homeland and I couldn’t miss it, especially since it was planned at the Deutsch-Russische Festtage 2013 festival in Berlin, not too far from where I live.
I wasn’t sure about this gig, because no official source had any mentioning about it anywhere, I mean the band’s web-site, Natalia’s blog – everything kept silence. The only reason to really believe in this was a single post in VKontakte (kind of Russian Facebook, hehe), so I decided to just close my eyes and get to Berlin hoping MELNITSA will be there. Before that I contacted the Deutsch-Russische Festtage management and they were kind enought to give me a press-pass.
I should say a couple of words of the event. The Deutsch-Russische Festtage is quite a big intercultural festival that’s not only about music, but also about many other things like sport competitions, reading sessions, cinema and so on. The main purpose of it all is to show the whole Russian culture’s variety to Germany and as far as I know it goes great, because this year it was the festival’s seventh run! Every year the Deutsch-Russische Festtage tries to present a couple of very popular Russian bands live on the main stage. During the past several years there were CHIZH & CO, CHICHERINA, SMYSLOVYYE GALLUTSINATSII, ARIA, but in 2013 it was decided the German and Russian audience would see KALINOV MOST and MELNITSA. The second one was going to be the last day’s headliner.
That day was definitely a lucky one because the German summer that usually leaves much to be desired finally let us enjoy some sunlight for a change. Getting to the big hippodrome where the festival’s main stage were installed wasn’t a great adventure and there were still a couple of hours till the MELNITSA’s gig so I just walked around and try to get a first impression.
Deutsch-Russische Festtage takes quite a large territory with 3 stages, many food stands and park amusements for kids. While I was walking along a park lane I felt like I actually just stepped through an invisible portal which led me to some strange unearthly dimention where people mostly spoke German, but you could buy a glass of vodka or a plate with the dumplings filled with bear meat. Wow :) Russian pop music was heard everywhere and you could see cossacks drinking at another vodka bar or girls dressed in the Russian folk costums dancing or even the Soviet pioneers marching around. To be honest this crazy mix just freaked me out :)
When I came, the main stage was kept by some folk ensemble followed by the band called ANAKREON who played something you could expect if you know what “Russian rock” is about. In 99% cases it’s a very simple soft-blues-influenced live music where the lyrics is extremely important and the music isn’t important at all. At the same time two other stages were for German bands and they were noticeably more rock-oriented. For instance the middle stage was occupied by a cover-band who was all dressed in the police uniform and actually made me happy with a nice cover for “Rock And Roll” by LED ZEPPELIN. Their female singer had quite a voice and I wish they did something more serious like “Kashmir”!
At 19:00 I was back at the main stage, right in time for MELNITSA. As I said I had a lot of doubts before and I still couldn’t believe the band has done it and crossed the border for the very first time. My doubts were unfounded, it was really them! All the band members took quickly their positions and started the gig with the new song “Dorogi” (“The Roads”). Another new one follwed – “Kontrabanda” (“The Contraband”) – the song was actually a very old one, but MELNITSA has finally recorded it in the studio for their last album, so now it’s kind of a new track. All the band including Hellawes was dressed in white and it was perfect for such a sunny day.
I have to say the lack of promotion in the fan-cicrles failed MELNITSA big time, because when they hit the first song there were hardly even a hundred of people near the stage and Hellawes had a hard time trying to hide her disappointment. To her luck the first rows were packed with the real fans who knew all the songs and sometimes sang even louder than Mrs. O’Shea. Apropos I knew she could sing very well, but didn’t expect to hear such a great voice! She was really awesome, especially performing the new version of “Voin Vereska” (“The Warrior Of Heather”) – that was THE voice! I liked that way MELNITSA compiled their set-list this time: not only they included 5 songs from the last album “Angelofreniya”, but also chose them wisely, performing exactly those tracks that were really cool live – I mean “Poyezd na Memphis” (“The Train To Memphis”) and “Gori, Moskva!” (“Burn, Moscow!”), because they were especially huge live. A real surprise was “Oboroten” (“Werewolf”) sang by Hellawes in two languages: Russian and German!
The show was properly finished with “Nevesta Poloza” (“The Colubrid’s Bride”), “Volkodav” (“Wolfhound”) and “Gori, Moskva!” (“Burn, Moscow!”), there was 15 songs in the whole set-list and it was actually clear the audience wanted to hear more, but there was no encore whatsoever. Though the band was kind enough to stay for awhile, meet some fans, pose for pictures and so on, so nobody was left unhappy.
In conclusion I’d like to confess I really hope MELNITSA will have a chance to make a normal European tour soon, because they are perfectly ready for this. At least they would be highly welcomed at a couple of big sub-cultural festivals, because if you play folk rock and you do it right – you can’t miss in Europe :)
I’d like to thank the Deutsch-Russische Festtage and its management for this opportunity and a nice evening! Hope to see you again next year.
P.S. Here’s the set list for those of you who’s interested:
1. Dorogi (The Roads)
2. Kontrabanda (The Contraband)
3. Doroga Sna (The Dream Road)
4. Na Sever (To The North)
5. Nochnaya Kobyla (The Night Mare)
6. Voin Vereska (The Warrior Of Heather)
7. Angel (Angel)
8. Poyezd na Memphis (The Train To Memphis)
9. Gospodin Gornykh Dorog (The Master of Mountain Roads)
10. Mora (Mora)
11. Shaman (Shaman)
12. Oboroten (Werewolf)
13. Nevesta Poloza (The Colubrid’s Bride)
14. Volkodav (Wolfhound)
15. Gori, Moskva! (Burn, Moscow!)
Text : Albert Buchatskyy
Pictures : Yulia Buchatskaya, Albert Buchatskyy