Die Sängerin Paula Hartmann performt beim co Pop Festival 2022
Artist Paula Hartmann at the 2022 c/o pop Festival ©LennyRothenberg/ c/o pop Festival

A tradition of tuning into tomorrow: the c/o pop Festival turns 20

Cologne was pop, Cologne is pop and Cologne will always be pop. End of story. And the main reason why the city is still quite rightly Germany’s pop capital is the c/o pop Festival. It’s where bands such as AnnenMayKantereit and Roosevelt began their rise to fame, where José González gave a dazzling performance on a pleasure boat on the Rhine, where French indie heroes Phoenix got people dancing on the top of a multistorey car park and Bavarian electro outfit The Notwist wowed the audience in the Kölner Philharmonie concert hall.

Ein Konzert im Rahmen des Festivals in einer ausverkauften Kölner Philharmonie. Viele Menschen stehen auf den Rängen und blicken gebannt auf die Bühne, in der Mitte der Philharmonie, wo die Band gerade spielt.
A fantastic atmosphere and unrivalled acoustics. Concerts in the Kölner Philharmonie concert hall are a blast. Photo: Christian Hedel/c/o pop Festival

Berlin who? – Cologne is the capital of pop

There’s loads to discover on this year’s more than 30 stages: pop artists teaming up with a classical orchestra and spur-of-the-moment Las Vegas-style weddings in the middle of Venloer Straße. German rap newcomers get their say on the big stages and stripper performances dazzle in dark club basements. Just to give you a taste.

For decades, Cologne enjoyed a reputation as Germany’s music capital, initiated by electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who invented Neue Musik here. Then came Cologne band Can, tearing down the boundary between avant garde and pop. Wolf Biermann’s and Keith Jarrett’s Cologne concerts in the 1970s went down in the annals of music history. The following decade saw Bap, Wolf Maahn and Purple Schulz storm the charts. Then came RTL, the VIVA music TV channel, record label EMI, music journals SPEX and INTRO and the Popkomm music trade fair, combining to secure the city’s position as a hub for the media and music industries. And it stayed that way until the early 2000s when everybody suddenly thought they needed to go to Berlin. They were wrong.

Born to be wild: more than 30 stages will host local and international artists with a wild and varied programme to mark c/o pop’s anniversary. Photo: Christian Hedel/c/o pop Festival

Moving into a new era: where gentrification and social imbalances collide

When cultural event manager Norbert Oberhaus and SPEX editor Ralph Christoph launched c/o pop in 2004, their not-so-modest aim was to re-invent Cologne as the city of pop. They purposely positioned their new festival in neglected locations along the Rhine before later moving it to the hip Belgian Quarter, with the Stadtgarten venue as its “headquarters”. From there, c/o pop developed from a festival focused on the electronic scene to an open-genre, immersive pop-culture event with concerts and a broad range of interactive events, digital performances and discussions at the c/o pop Convention.

The next watershed moment came in 2019 with the festival’s relocation to Cologne’s Ehrenfeld district. The move was partly driven by the lack of viable venues in the gentrified Belgian Quarter and partly by the appeal of staging a festival precisely where there’s a collision of creative business and undeveloped, urban industrial wasteland, gentrification conflicts and social imbalances. Ehrenfeld is a live wire. And Cologne-based producer and songwriter Martin Bechler draws on that, injecting the bolshiness back into indie pop with his Fortuna Ehrenfeld project.

Wherever there’s friction, problems, things that offend people, clashes and reconciliation, you’ll find material for songs.

Martin Bechler, producer and songwriter

Where the music of today meets the pop of the past

There may be fewer stars since the move to the west of the city but there are more newcomer acts taking to the stage. The supporting programme is growing and now includes yoga workshops, tattoo events, a roller disco, film premieres and photo exhibitions. From early on, Oberhaus and Christoph have placed a lot of emphasis on ensuring balanced gender representation and visibility for LGBTQ+ artists and people of colour. They also endeavour to set up discrimination-free safer spaces at the festival. c/o pop sees itself as a progressive forum for a cultural renegotiation of questions around diversity, inclusion and sustainability.

Cologne brings together the music of the present with the pop of the past. It’s a tradition they like to cultivate here, as reflected in the city’s Holger-Czukay Prize for Pop Music. Introduced in 2019, this annual award honours people who’ve made an outstanding contribution to Cologne’s pop music scene. Pop disciples will soon be able to discover what exactly that means when the legendary Studio for Electronic Music reopens in Ehrenfeld. Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez and John Cage are just a few of the names whose musical experimentalism has ensured a permanent place for avant-garde musicians in Cologne’s pop DNA.

Ein Musiker spielt auf einem roten Keyboard Musik. Duzende Personen stehen im Kreis um ihn herum. Sie hören zu, tanzen und feiern.
Day and night, visitors to the festival can enjoy concerts, readings, comedy, happenings and everything else that makes pop what it is. Photo: Christian Hedel/c/o pop Festival

c/o pop anniversary highlights

  • Ski Aggu: the year’s most exciting Deutschrap newcomer, will be performing at Live Music Hall on Thursday, 27 April 
  • Duo Blumengarten have a moving, falsetto pop sound you’ve never heard before. Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld, Saturday, 29 April
  • Comedienne Parshad always brings the laughs if you want a break from the hubbub of the festival. Bürgerzentrum Ehrenfeld, Thursday, 27 April.
  • Black & Brown Queer Cabaret: Dance, songs and music from the POC and queer community, Bürgerzentrum Ehrenfeld, Friday, 28 April
  • Crucchi Gang: German hits, Italian-style. Featuring top German pop names – from Element of Crime to Von Wegen Lisbeth, Sartory Säle, Wednesday, 26 April

The c/o pop team’s insider tips

This year’s c/o pop sound mix will have everything. There’s reggae from Gentleman, the fragile pop of multi-instrumentalist Jenny Thiele and the Keshavara music project that interweaves music, drama and dance. Plus the global pop of popNRW award winner Donia Touglo. “What’s special about Cologne is that so many things can happen and develop alongside each other,” says Suzie Kersgens from Cologne electronic band Klee. “There are no fences between the bands or the genres.” Far from being told, Cologne’s pop (hi-)story is alive and kicking and very much in the present. And if you want to hear for yourself, the 20th c/o pop from 26 to 30 April 2023, with its lovingly curated programme, is a pretty good place to start.

  • PANTHADeutschpop from Mannheim
  • Siegfried & Joy – normally fill the Köln Arena with their magic and illusions
  • Kids Return French pop duo with a mix of minimalism and melancholy
  • Nadine BreatyAuthor, podcaster and influencer Nadine sets out to help others find their inner strength, focusing on topics such as self-acceptance, bullying and mental health

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For the full programme, visit: https://c-o-pop.de/

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