Lounging on a double seat on an “executive travel” bus with a bottle of wine, chatting and joking with a very merry group of goths travelling from England – this is how the trip to M’era Luna festival at Hildesheim airfield, Germany begins. The festival, established in 2000 attracts 40,000 people, and this year boasts a diverse lineup from metal to indie to EBM to traditional goth to Medieval, as well as a huge alternative market selling very, very pretty things (really, all kinds of “pretty” from the usual festival hippy attire to the downright dark and sinister). There is also a “Medieval village” area where one can lob a (freshly forged) axe at a target, dance to bagpipes or enjoy various kinds of mead and other beverages in clay cups. This year’s festival has two stages and headlines Hurts (synthpop), Within Temptation (symphonic metal), ASP (rock/darkwave), VNV Nation (EBM) and Apocalyptica (cello metal).
Every year, dedicated M’era Luna goer Adrian Atkins arranges coach transport from various areas of England to allow us Brits to travel together, make friends and make merry on the journey, and a very merry journey it is. Allowing us a double seat each for comfort, with plenty of legroom and reclining seats, when sleep overcomes us we are actually able to get some shuteye to prepare for the festival frolicking, which is much more difficult on cramped public transport. There are also plenty of comfort stops to allow us to gather supplies and relieve our various cravings, as well as an on-board toilet. We are amongst the first group to board, at Leeds, before the bus calls at Sheffield and Watford to pick up others. A second bus organised by Ade has gone to other locations in the south of England, and we hear that next year a third bus is to be arranged.
On Friday we arrive at the festival site, meet up with the group from the other bus and pitch our tents together. Those of us who have not attended before are treated to the M’era Luna virgins festival site tour by Paul “Sticks”, which ends in the Medieval Village for a round of blood-coloured “Wikingerblut” mead and some axe-throwing. As the bands begin the next day, we spend the afternoon exploring the site, which already has all the stalls open, admiring German goths and other eccentrics in outrageous outfits (really there is quite a difference between here and the UK – in Germany it is taken to extremes), getting to know each other, and stocking up from the on-site “getränkemarkt”. The evening is spent (you’ve guessed it) chatting, drinking and fooling around. A group of us go to check out the all night club night in the aircraft hanger, but finding it absolutely packed out with an extremely long queue to get in, decide instead to head to the “unofficial disco”. Located outside a tent on the runway, we find the DJs to be blasting out a pleasing mixture of EBM, goth and mittelalter (a real musical genre in Germany – it means “Medieval”), and we stay to boogie in the friendly crowd for a while Later we return to the campsite for more socialising, and some stay up into the small hours whilst others of us get an early bed to make sure we are up in time for our favourite acts the next day.
Late next morning we make our way to the main stage area in time to catch the end of Mittelalter band Omnia waving a very large stick around (some kind of epically long digeridoo), are wowed by their beautiful costumes and flummoxed by one of their stand-out songs ‘Dance Until We Die’ which is basically Medieval/folk/hip-hop, criticising government and bureaucracy and promoting freedom from it. We acquire a “Gross Met” (large mead) and make our way down to nearer the stage for much-anticipated Mittelalter band Qntal who are up next. As a great fan of their recorded repertoire, we can’t wait to get our groove on to this band consisting of female vocalist Syra (who really has a very Medieval-sounding voice), violin, cello, drums and keys. Although their live performance is not as polished or well-mixed as their recorded material, they still have us bouncing around with lively songs such as ‘Flamma’ and ‘Veni’ about love and the spring. We enjoy leaping around with a group of revellers from Switzerland, who when they spot our notebook, all insist on signing it, which makes us worry for a moment that they might be famous and we don’t know who they are, but we very much doubt it.
Next up are Viking-inspired symphonic metal band Leaves’ Eyes, who now have a new album, ‘Meredead’, out since their UK performance at Bloodstock festival last year. They deliver a spot-on heavy, epic set full of energy and passion including favourite ‘Take The Devil in Me’ and a lot of their brilliant new material such as ‘Melusine’ and ‘To France’, and have the crowd eating out of their hands. They do however neglect their first two brilliant albums which does disappoint us a little. Following Leaves’ Eyes for contrast (contrast is why we love this festival!) are UK band Mesh, who we covered at York’s own DV8Fest in July, where they had sadly suffered from poor sound. Thankfully, this gig is different, and with greater sound clarity we are able to hear their music much more clearly, exposing the musicality of their brilliantly crafted, catchy songs. They launch straight in with ‘Hold It Together’, and deliver a set of favourites such as ‘Only Better’ (our personal best). They are joined by gifted guest vocalist Victoria for a few songs including ‘The Perfect Solution’. We learn that she has a solo album out but sadly don’t catch her full name.
Next we head into the “Hangar” stage (its in an aircraft hanger) to catch harsh industrialists Nachtmahr, but due to the venue being packed, are unable to get very close to the stage. Unfortunately due to the acoustics of the venue this has an effect on the sound and from our position at the back and to the side we don’t quite get to hear them in all their hard-hitting glory – we do feel however, they should be much louder! We do however appreciate the video projections of their war-inspired imagery and the two formidable-looking uniformed ladies standing stock still to attention at the front of the stage, which is extremely difficult when being blasted by Nachtmahr’s hard-hitting beats. They move only to militantly raise their machine guns in order to blast the crowd with…water. Apart from our position and the sound not being loud enough, they sound great, with two synthesisers, live drums and distorted vocals, as they deliver danceable hits such as ‘Tanzdiktator’, ‘Feuer Frei’ and ‘Mädchen In Uniform’. After this song we head back outside to catch the end of epic folk metallers Equilibrium. With an accordion alongside the metal instruments, and fast-paced beats infused all over with beautiful melodies, we find it impossible not to dance around like lunatics to the folky-yet-heavy rhythms. We wish the songs weren’t all in German so we know what they are singing about; a real party band, they work the crowd like pros (which of course, they are).
After Equilibrium, we make the difficult decision not to head back to the Hanger to catch the end of EBM darlings Funger Vogt and their set. Instead, we hang around the main stage, for cheesy vampire futurepop outfit Blutengel, who draw an immense crowd. With seven extremely high quality recorded albums, producer and lead vocalist Chris Pohl is here joined on stage by his lovely female singers and dancers. Having checked out these guys’ live performances on Youtube, we are expecting quite a spectacle. The backing track sound is not as well delivered live and outdoors as when listening at home to the impeccably-mixed recorded material, but the show itself is riveting and vocals haunting. Favourites ‘Children Of The Night’, ‘Bloody Pleasures’ and ‘Vampire Romance’ (yes, almost all their songs are about vampires) are blasted out while the singers interact with female dancers in various gothic costumes who wield fire, snog each other, remove clothing, wave silver wings around and get covered in (rather pink-tinged we think) blood. And the crowd love it.
After all that we are feeling thirsty and treat ourselves to another mead or two, making sure we reuse our cup in order to save on the drink price (Germany is very good at this reusing and recycling thing). Next on the main stage are legendary Finnish metal cello maestros Apocalyptica, and having seen them live two years ago we are immensely looking forward to another action-packed show. The three cellists and drummer mostly appear without a vocalist, but frequently feature guest vocalists, as they do here with their hit ‘I’m Not Jesus’ (originally performed by Corey Taylor of Slipknot). They mostly bash out their heavy metal numbers, headbanging, windmilling and strutting around the stage with their heavily distorted instruments as they bow the living daylights out of them, and their technical prowess cannot go unnoticed. The three cellists also silence an almighty crowd with a quiet, acoustic classical number, which we unfortunately do not know the name of, for which they sit down. Without distortion, we hear another side of their prowess as the most intensely soaring notes emanate from their instruments along with some amazingly fast complex fingerboard navigating. This band are really worth catching live if you haven’t yet as they combine unique instrumentation with a lively show bursting with technical prowess, classical inspiration and damn good metal.
After Apocalyptica are diverse act ASP, who on their many albums combine as many genres as industrial, metal and medieval. Here they deliver a heavily industrial rock-styled set, accompanied (as with many bands at this festival) with much pyro-action. We dance our way through the set whilst periodically jumping up to catch bubbles someone is blowing, and the visually-epic set ends with hundreds of large sheets of silver paper blowing out everywhere above the huge audience, dramatically lit by a blue spotlight.
By now it has grown dark, and is time for much-awaited headliners, the legendary Within Temptation. We are huge fans of the Dutch symphonic metallers, and have not yet seen their live show so are very excited when the band emerge- frontwoman Sharon den Adel sporting trousers and a white jacket rather than the large gothic frock we are expecting (although she does later swap the jacket for a flouncy black one). The band play some of their new songs such as ‘Sinead’, which tend to have a popier sound, amongst old classics such as epic opener ‘Sanctus Espiritus’, ‘What Have You Done?’, ‘Angels’ and ‘Stand My Ground’, and we find ourselves unable to resist singing along. Songs are accompanied by music videos projected onto the screen at the back of the stage, which has a platform in front of it that band members periodically stand on so they are silhouetted against the screen. The stage performance makes good use of levels, with the keyboardist and drummer elevated and other band members moving amongst the levels, and of course there are the obligatory pyrotechnics. The main downside to the performance is that really, it doesn’t sound much different to the band’s recorded material, and they don’t make an effort to vary it. This does however mean that the sound quality is great, and that Sharon’s unique voice is as impeccable as can be expected. Another thing we would change if we were running this show is the visuals – simply showing music videos is a bit off-putting and we are not ever sure whether to focus our attentions on the real or projected version of Sharon, and the visual show is actually upstaged by the preceding ASP.
After Within Temptation, the English cohort head to our gazebo meeting point in the campsite to be treated to an acoustic set by our band-in-residence, ethereal rock pioneers Dyonisis. We covered (and were very impressed with) this talented four piece at DV8Fest, and now being in a campsite with no amplification, this performance is obviously different. With just an acoustic guitar, acoustic bass and the two singers, the performance has a very organic and natural feel, and the mellow beauty of the songs, such as ‘Lunatic’ and ‘Eve’s Song’, still shines through. The performance manages to pull a group of passers-by who stop to listen, including festival security staff. This set is followed by a rendition of the controversial ‘Dog Song’ from Simon Satori of the band Rome Burns, who has also come to the festival on our bus trip (and also performed at DV8Fest)!
The next day we head down reasonably early (it is still the morning!) to the main stage to catch outstanding Swiss goth rock outfit The Beauty Of Gemina. As it is now pouring with rain, we take shelter in one of the strategically-placed beer tents to the side of the stage, yet still enjoy brilliant sound quality. The band has an unmistakably goth sound, yet songs are not samey but vary pleasingly one to the other, from the dark indie flavour of ‘Rumours’ to the industrial rhythms of ‘Suicide Landscape’. After this, we go for a wander around the vast array of alternative stalls and ogle at the ware on sale, then return to another beer tent the Englanders have designated as our meeting spot. We glance over at the main stage to see a torrent of water pouring down from a leak in the roof to the very front of the stage, with a man on top trying to fix it. It does not however put a dent in the proceedings, with sinister Victoranesque metal band Coppelius willingly taking to the stage whilst there is still water running onto it (although the torrent has now slowed down somewhat). We have been extremely impressed with the bang-on-time running of this whole festival, without one act even being one minute late – something we don’t think we have ever experienced in England!
Coppelius really are one of the most entertaining and unique acts of the festival. With comedy white faces and Victorian clothing, they feature cello, double bass, steampunk drum kit, two spooky-sounding clarinets and a triangle/various other percussion instruments, with four of the band members sharing vocal duties. There is much silly prancing around, and the two clarinetists add formation dance-like movements to their duetting. The band have a really unique sound too, sometimes an almost industrial metal-type sound (achieved by the cello and double bass instead of the usual guitars), such as in ‘Gumbagubanga’, and sometimes a lighter, more folky, and even vintage jazzy sound as in ‘Schöne Augen’, but always lively, and has all the audience dancing around with our umbrellas. We highly recommend you check this band out. Next we head into the hanger for the end of impressive war-inspired industrial act Tyske Ludder who have us stomping to their heavy beats, with the added amusement of an inflatable blimp being tossed around the audience, which fills us with childish excitement as it gets near us and we jump up to bat it! We are so rock, really!
We stay in the hanger and move to a more central position for goth metal act er, Gothminister. One of our highlights of the festival, this act is as cheesy as it sounds (only arguably out-cheesed by yesterday’s Blutengel), with giant white crosses, gothy makeup and huge moving walking creepy monsters with glowing eyes adding to the oh-so-gothic halloween-like ambience. This is matched however by a stunning, well-balanced and very heavy danceable sound, boosted by live drums, and has us dancing more than any act so far and very disappointed when the set ends. Songs include ‘Darkside’, ‘From Dusk Til Dawn’ and new single ‘Liar’ and have we mentioned the glowy-eyed bat that actually flies out across the audience? No? Well, there is a glowy-eyed bat.
We head back outside for popular electronic futurepop duo VNV Nation, who wow the large crowd with hard-hitting anthems such as the opener ‘Chrome’, and softer, more synth-led numbers (personally preferred by us) such as ‘The Farthest Star’. VNV use live drums and synth to support their lead, and the vocalist Ronan Harris changes the rhythm of the words in places to vary from the more regimented recorded material and give the performance more passion. The band achieve a phenomenal crowd response, where from the margins we witness an absolute sea of clapping hands in the air at regular intervals.
Begrudgingly, we leave the scene after 20 minutes of their set, heading back to the hanger to be on time for Yorkshire’s own goth/doom metal lords My Dying Bride, and are rewarded with a place right up by the stage. The set can really be described as nothing but “grand”, with heavy as f*** guitars, passionate and sad vocals and a heartbreakingly soaring violin from beyond the grave, dragging the listener into a powerfully supernatural melancholy as we are made to share in vocalist/lyricist Aaron Stainthorpe’s pain. The six-piece focus mostly on slow, doomy tracks, many from 2009 album ‘For Lies I Sire’, including the powerful ‘My Body, A Funeral’, giving the set a sorrowful ambience, whilst neglecting earlier harsher songs which simply spit anger. The heavy nature of the guitars and drums however has us headbanging like nobody’s business and we are so incredibly moved by the performance, that it is difficult to snap back into reality after the band leaves the stage. Whilst on the subject of My Dying Bride, we also recommend you check out their brand new album ‘Evinta’. By contrast to tonight’s set, the album is entirely made up of continuous mellow, dark ambient sound, wherein one can recognise musical echoes of earlier songs, and also features Aaron’s haunting voice periodically reciting gothic poetry over the music. This album is achingly beautiful in places and makes a good soundtrack for any darkly-inclined soul wanting to simply switch off and blissfully zone out.
Finally, we head back to the main stage to hear the rest of headliner indie/synthpop band Hurts, who slowly bring us back to the present reality with a wonderful rocky, lively-yet-chilled set full of body and soul alike. Being late from My Dying Bride, we are unable to get anywhere near the front, but even from the back the sound is wonderful and we get some more dancing in. Songs include the relaxed ‘Wonderful Life’ and the melodramatic encore, ‘Better Than Love’. Once the music is over, the obvious solution is to head to the Medieval Village for more Viking’s blood (remember the drink we referenced earlier?) and frolicking, and it seems the majority of the festival-goers have the same idea, making for a great atmosphere of joviality and togetherness. By night, the “village” is lit by candles and oil lamps, and we find some fire poi-ers and dancers as well as a crowd gathered around Mittelalter band Cultus Ferox as they bang drums and blow bagpipes adding wonderfully to the Medieval atmosphere. Folk are gathered around tables drinking and lying on bales of hay whilst others are dancing, and we really get a feeling for just how special this festival is. On a brief visit to the campsite, we stumble across a group of revellers bashing a big pile of tent poles with other tent poles in rhythm. When we next pass the area, the size of the group has quadrupled with people bashing plastic bottles and whatever they can get their hands on, effectively making a drum-less drum circle. We also find the unofficial disco to be in full swing just up the runway. Back at the campsite, a mass finishing-up of alcohol that we cannot carry home is in order, and we try to sombrely remind ourselves of the early time we have to leave the next morning (9am)! Our drinking is interrupted by a long line of brits returning from the Medieval Village following a lantern and chanting “fire, tits and elbows”, which results in the whole crowd gathered chanting “fire, tits and elbows” in response to everything said for at least the next two hours (and this continues periodically on the bus journey home). We retire to bed far too late whilst others never go to bed at all.
So, it is unsurprising that we are all rather sleepy (apart from one or two annoyingly perky souls) when we board the buses, and stock up in the amazingly exciting German hypermarket, which is huge and full of all sorts of intriguing foreign foods and drinks. After this, most of us spend the majority of the first part of the journey asleep until mid-afternoon where we are treated to a stop at a chocolate factory in Belgium full of an amazing range of Belgian chocolates as well as a wide variety of weird and wonderful alcoholic beverages at surprisingly bargain prices. Back in England after a brief party on the Chunnel, we gradually wave sad goodbyes to each group of people as they leave the bus at various stops, finally arriving in Leeds at around 4am. This has been an amazing trip to an amazing festival with an amazing and lovely group of people- we highly recommend this experience and will most likely be attending next year. If you think you might like to join the merry throng for next year’s M’era Luna, or for more information, contact organiser general Adrian Atkinson at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=198660763531009. There is also a facebook group for the trip, named “Goths on a Bus”: http://www.facebook.com/groups/114862551375. Here’s to next year! Prost! (that’s German for “cheers”.)
For more information visit the official M’era Luna website.