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Culture

Cologne positions itself to become capital of pop

The world's biggest musical trade fair Popkomm moved from Cologne to Berlin in 2004, but Cologne didn't mourn for long. Local music lovers got together and founded c/o pop - a festival that's established itself already.

Members of the Go! Team pose with their instruments

The Go! Team are among the bands featured this year

"We've been able to win back some of Cologne's reputation as the place to be for music," said Norbert Oberhaus, director of the annual c/o pop festival, which opens Wednesday in the German city on the Rhine River.

The program for 2010 should be able to satisfy almost any pop music fan. For six days, 250 acts perform on 20 different stages. The festival also offers extras like childcare with a focus on music, a music industry conference and networking for festival organizers across the globe.

"Originally, we conceived of the festival as only having electronica because that was always one of Cologne's strengths," said Oberhaus. After all, one of electronic music's great pioneers, Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, lived and worked in Cologne. The late 60s rock group Can, which used electronic elements and endless repeats to shake up the local rock scene, also hails from the city on the Rhine.

'Truffle pigs' for the music industry

More recently, Cologne has become an epicenter for minimal techno, due in part to Kompakt Records owner, Wolfgang Voigt. His alias is Mike Ink, and his productions are known internationally as the "sound of Cologne."

Nonetheless, festival organizers don't want to limit c/o pop to one specialty. World music, indie, hip-hop or jazz are now in the program as well. But good pop music is the main thing, according to the organizers' credo.

Past editions of c/o pop have included top acts like Brazilian legend Jorge Ben Jor and the Balkan pop virtuoso Shantel with his Bucovina Club Orchestra. However, visitors are mainly there to support fresh, new bands.

"We like to think of ourselves as a bit like trend scouts or even truffle pigs," laughed Norbert Oberhaus. "We always try to look for bands that haven't yet made it to the big stage." Many well-known artists had their start at the festival, including German hip-hopper Jan Delay and the French indie group Phoenix.

The members of Phoenix pose in a black and white photo

The indie band Phoenix hails from Versailles

Boutiques, boats and zoos

C/o pop never aimed to be a stale copy of the former Popkomm - that much was clear for Cologne from the beginning. Instead of creating a new trade fair for the music industry, the organizers focused on the festival character of the event.

Now, the promoters want to add a dimension to the festival by bringing the music directly to the people instead of restricting the performances to clubs. Musicians will be performing at unusual spots like boutiques, parking decks, the zoo or on boats.

The organizers also want to push further into the heart of Cologne by bringing the festival to established cultural venues like the Philharmonic, opera house, theaters and museums.

"Our goal," said Oberhaus, "is to expand the festival into the entire city, so that Cologne can become the capital of pop culture for at least a few days."

With any luck, everybody wins

The city of Cologne hopes, of course, that its pop capital status will draw plenty of visitors from the music industry who come, enjoy the city, and leave a few euros there. This year, 30,000 guests are expected, including around 1,400 music professionals at the conference and at the newly created Creative Business Convention, which aims to serve as a colorful platform for exchanging ideas among those in creative industries.

"Due to digitalization, musicians can barely live these days from the sale of CDs," explained Oberhaus. "At the Creative Business Convention, for instance, we can bring musicians together with people working in advertising." The advertising sector is known for its use of music in promoting products.

Now in its seventh year, c/o pop - short for "Cologne on pop" - has established itself apart from its predecessor Popkomm. Still, Oberhaus admits that the first few years were difficult. "An event like this doesn't just fall into your lap, and we had to put in a lot of passion - and a lot of our own money."

Author: Suzanne Cords (gsw)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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