Finally, festivals again. First time since 2019, first time at Southside for us. Quick wiki summary: Southside Festival is a medium size festival in the south of Germany, and the sister festival of Hurricane Festival in the north. Blazing sun and 28 °C welcomed us and the forecast was solid. We travelled by coach this year, rather than driving, and enjoyed free transport by train both to and from the festival with our festival ticket. In terms of encouraging environmentally conscious travelling and reducing the traffic, pretty good going.
To pass the time between setting up camp and the arena opening, we took a walk around the campsite. Enough campers were armed with super soakers that the walk was actually quite refreshing. The ally along the tarmac in the main camping area had everything you could need for the weekend: food, merch, ATMs and air brush tattoos.
Welsh metal band Skindred opened up the Green Stage, arguably the main stage. Managing to tease an impressive amount of energy and participation out of an already overheating crowd. Heat warnings went out via app, advising to wear sun cream and keep hydrated. The latter required more effort than it reasonable should have done; we were only aware of one drinking water station for the majority of the day meaning every water bottle refill turned into a mini odyssey across the site. Compared to previous festivals, the water supply was limited and poorly signposted, not great for a weekend expect up to 30°C. As the weekend went on, more were put up so people weren’t relying on hand washing sinks as much.
Provinz opened the Blue Stage with a short (only 30 min) and sweet set. The band is local and grew up going to Southside, so understandably they were quite emotional about standing on the stage this year rather than in front of it. They drew a massive crowd for a Friday afternoon slot. The crowd that was singing along from the first song, taking over entire choruses. A fun set of carefree dancing in the sun.
Getting to the Blue Stage for Tones and I’s German festival debut, the obvious thing that stood out was the purple-green crooked house that took up the entire stage. The band were neatly contained in the front garden, behind purple picket fences. Equally cute and unsettling, definitely a unique stage design, and more than you would ever expect from a Friday afternoon slot. Tones and I switched between walking up around the stage and playing keyboard on the balcony of her house. The set included covers of Forever Young by Alphaville and Diamonds by Rhianna, keeping her hit Dance Monkey for second to last.
Switching from sunshine dancing to good ol’ fashioned rock, Royal Blood’s fierce riffs rang out from the Blue Stage. The guitarist of the duo, Mike Kerr, introduced his “gbass”, a bass with guitar strings, responsible for the distinct Royal Blood sound. The drummer, Ben Thatcher, was set up on a raised platform with a massive gong behind him, which he satisfyingly hit after an impressive drum solo with crowd countdown.
Alice Merton’s set, played in front a pink sky backdrop with boulders across the front of the stage took us back from head banging to dancing in the sun. The set had several new songs including Vertigo, a song she wrote as part of getting over the anxiety she developed around performing during the pandemic. Her hit Roots got everybody moving.
My personal Friday Highlight, Kummer, played his first festival show accompanied by a massive cube made from halogen ceiling lights. Normally the lead singer of popular band Kraftklub, Kummer released a solo album in 2019 with the intention to tour in 2020 and then return to the band. The pandemic threw a big old spanner into those works, so now the project is being finished along side his work with the band. Chaotic for him, great for us, as we were treated to the live debut of the new Krafklub song Ein song reicht. A fantastic set, with guest performances from Blond and the singer from Provinz.
Trying to get across the arena to Kings of Leon turned out to be harder than expected. Crowds coming away from rapper Kontra K’s show completely congested the middle of the site, meaning I missed the start of the set. Normally the one-way system commonly used at German festivals works quite well, but the fact the arena is quite narrow meant there was no way to walk around the back of the dense crowd. Your best hope was to join one of the many conga lines snaking through the crowd as they passed.
Although sounding great, the long day and heat eventually got to us, and we had to bail from Kings of Leon about halfway through. We enjoyed Use somebody from our tent, including the crowd singing along, but were asleep before Sex on Fire. Maybe we’re out of practise after three festival-free years, maybe we’re getting old, who’s to say.
Saturday morning was a race to get out of the sauna-like tent and into the shade. While we fully woke up, Bilbao was opening the Green Stage including a cover of The Killers’ Mr Brightside. After grabbing a smoothie-coffee-bakery breakfast at the camp site stall, we headed into the arena for day two.
Matching the desert level temperature, The Dead South gave us southern cowboy vibes on the Green Stage. With songs about bar fights and their love of whiskey along with catchy banjo tunes, the set had people linking arms and dancing in circles. Also, the bassist/celloist wore his cello like a bass guitar, so Jack Black was right.
OK Kid played on the Blue Stage, stepping in for Gayle at short notice. Being regulars at Southside, they had been hoping for a holiday, but were more than happy to jump in the van and come over.
Giant Rooks played their first Southside festival this year. Lead singer, Frederik Rabe, thanked the crowd for choosing this stage to be at. Which was cute considering there was a queue of people wanting to get into the area in front of the stage. The set included new songs, which the crowd loved, and a cover of Tom’s Diner by Susanne Vega previously recorded by Giant Rooks and AnnenMayKantereit. After the standard “everybody good?”, the lead singer asked if everyone’s neighbour was good, and instead of just shouting “yeah”, everybody actually turned to their neighbour to check which was very sweet. The most impressive thing about this wonderful set was the fact the lead singer kept throwing his guitar halfway across the stage to the roadie and there were no broken guitars by the end.
Surprise highlight for me was LP, who’s crowd was quite thin, likely because everyone was over at Giant Rooks. She was exceptionally cool, and the band were clearly having a great time on stage. A girl in the crowd was holding a sign asking for a kiss, LP invited her on stage to get one, saying “you gotta to ask for sh*t”.
Expecting there to be queue for The Killers, we headed over during the act before, Dermot Kennedy. The gates were only opened between acts which was a bit of a shame considering people leaving meant that the crowd could get pretty sparse in front of the stage at times. The Killers opened with Mr Brightsidewhich I would have expected to be near the end of the set. The set was a run through the classics with one song from the new album (Dying Breed) and a cover of Shadowplay by Joy Division. It was a little odd to see a band like The Killers not in a headlining slot, with only 1hr 15min to play and missing all their usual confetti and fireworks. I guess even with the large crowd, they don’t quite hold the sway in Germany that they do in the UK.
SDP played the Blue Stage, bringing their usual party chaos with pyrotechnics and giant inflatables. Their last album tour was cancelled due to COVID, and they’d just released another album, so the set contained two albums worth of new music alongside the classics and a cover of Die Ärtzte’s Schrei Nach Liebe. It was a great, fun, juvenile time.
Green Stage headliners SEEED packed the arena right to the very back with their reggae hip-hop set. Playing a combination of their own songs, front man Peter Fox’s solo songs and covers including Paper Planes by MIA and SexyBack by Justin Timerlake, the set also included long instrumental sections, perfect for dancing.
This time we made it to the last act of the night, Martin Garrix, headlining the Blue Stage. As you would expect from a DJ set, the whole stage was made of screens, with a big plus hanging behind him. The set went pretty heavy from the start with pyro and smoke alongside glitchy graphics and soul vibrating bass.
Sunday morning was much like Saturday morning: wake up, recover from the sweltering temperature of the tent outside in the (scarce) shade, get breakfast and head into the arena. Walking over to Nothing but Thieves, all available shade was completely filled with people, every bin, fence, and shade throwing object fully utilised. Despite the heat, Nothing but Thieves, drew a pretty big crowd, more than capable of singing the choruses to Trip Switch, Sorry and Amsterdam.
Over on the Blue stage, German rapper Juju was absolutely dominating, the front duo hyping up the crowd to no end. A fan joined them on stage for Intro and she undeniably nailed the entire song, the crowd celebrating her accordingly. The set included a couple SXTN songs, JuJu’s former band. A ridiculous amount of energy all round for a Sunday early afternoon.
Bristolian punk rock band Idles treated the us to a rowdy performance on the Blue stage. Half the crowd ending up embroiled in a part mosh pit, part dust bath for a solid chunk of the set. Moving from punk to punk-rap, Antilopen Gang played over on the Red stage, the smallest of the main stages.
K.I.Z. can safely be described as not politically correct in the slightest. Coming on stage in matching psychiatric clinic outfits and a provocative song to match, it was a set of very dark humour, pyro and smoke. The trio were surprisingly silly in between songs, clearly having a great time, waving at the people in the Ferris wheel at the back of the field. Very high energy, a lot of fun, not for the easily offended.
As a light-hearted pallet cleanser compared to K.I.Z., Von Wegen Lisbeth took to the Green stage as second to last band. The set had a long panel of black and white squares that switched between colours in various patterns. Their well-known marimba sound and glockenspiel solos were the perfect sound for the setting sun and the singer was grinning the whole time. The set included everything from the oldest to the newest songs as well as a cover of Believe by Cher.
Blue stage headliners, Twenty One Pilots, came on stage wearing ski masks and kicked their set of with Heathens. Shortly after, the masks came off as the drummer, Josh Dun, back flipped off the piano. The band started towards the back of the stage behind low screens but came forward during various songs and solos. The set included a cover of Benny and the Jets by Elton John in the middle of Mulberry Street. At one point there was suddenly a little bonfire on stage which the band sat around with acoustic instruments to play a medley of covers including I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash, My Girl by The Temptations, Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Careless Whispers by George Michael. The campfire session finished with House of Gold and We Don’t Believe What’s on TV. There was a brief intermission in which the trumpeter played 99 Luftballons by Nena, which of course the crowd got on board with straight away, and the Halo theme, for which the band came back on stage and transitioned into Jumpsuit. I got a little emotional at Level of Concern considering it was one of my lockdown associated songs, it felt good to sing it in a crowd. Singer Tyler Joseph was no stranger to the crowd, standing on them at one point and crowd surfing back from the central tower in the most nonchalant way I have ever seen, just flopping on to the crowd and jokingly complaining his legs are too tired and that he’s like to go back to stage please. A fantastic and very varied set.
Final headliner, Deichkind, gave a show that more closely resembled a performance art piece than a live gig. It included everything from giant moving set pieces through countless costume changes to mini trampolines and office chair races. Several songs were performed in their famous triangle head masks and one in a giant barrel being rolled through the crowd. The final song bought complete chaos both to the stage and the crowd: the curtains drew back to reveal something akin to a Harlem Shake video with inflatables, balloons, even more random costumes and a cut out of Inauguration Bernie Sanders. One band member was surfing over the crowd in a huge inflatable ring, covering the crowd in feathers. It was a perfect finale to the weekend.
With the free trains and shuttles to and from the festival, it’s a great one to stop off at if you’re travelling in the area on the summer. The arena is relatively small, smaller than Hurricane, which has the same line-up. The timings mean you can move between acts as the alternate between the two biggest stages, so you can easily fill your timetable to see a huge number of bands as long as you’re happy to occasionally miss the first and last songs. As the day goes on the overlaps get a little bigger but unless you’re a diehard fan you can enjoy the vibes of each performance and then move on. By moving while acts are still playing you also avoid the large traffic of everyone leaving a stage in one direction at once.
From previous experience of other festivals run by the same company, the amount of water stations has been higher in the past, so you didn’t have to walk far out of your way at any given point to fill up. Maybe this year the organisers were a little out of practise or didn’t expect the heat, but I’d say that was the weakest point this year.
Leaving on Monday morning, we had to be at the shuttle bus to the train station at 6 am to get our connections back to the UK, and there was already a queue of people waiting. I feel like that’s very German, at a UK festival people may have slowly started leaving in the late morning. The shuttles ran until very late/early in the night Sunday to Monday, so most traveling plans would have been accommodated.
Overall, it was wonderful to be back at festivals given the past few years and Southside was a perfect one to start with. Big enough to offer a range of both German and international bands, small enough not to get overwhelmed with what’s on offer. Perfect, if not a little too hot, weather. Great vibes, good food. A good, fun time.