Filmstill aus dem Film "Realness with a Twist" der britisch-indischen Regisseurin Cass Virdee. Auf der der c/o Pop 2024 wird der Film im Rahmen der Veranstaltung "Kick off Ball" am 27. April im BüZe mit anschließender Diskussion gezeigt. Foto: Dimitri Whitaker
Still from the film "Realness with a Twist" by British-Indian director Cass Virdee, which will be shown at the c/o pop "Kick Off Ball" at the BüZe community centre on 27 April, followed by a discussion. Photo: Dimitri Whitaker

c/o pop 2024: deconstruction in Ehrenfeld

Das c/o pop Festival in Köln geht in die 21. Runde. In diesem Jahr gibt es nicht nur ausgefallene Locations, sondern auch einen Bagger Workshop.

Cologne’s pop festival turns 21 this year and this is the fifth time it’s being held in the city’s Ehrenfeld neighbourhood. The 2024 outing will feature some out-of-the-ordinary locations, including a bank and the Helios tower. As the city gears up for the event, we met festival director Elke Kuhlen to talk about everything else that’s different this year and what she’s looking forward to in particular.

Elke Kuhlen is the director of the c/o pop Festival – as well as being a consultant for pop culture content and a DJ. Photo: Moritz Muggenthaler

KwK: In 2023, you celebrated 20 years of c/o pop. What treats have you got planned for the 21st year?

Elke Kuhlen: This year, we’re focusing on making things surprising, deconstructing them so they’re not like they normally are. For instance, there’ll be a “club sleepover” night where we’ll create a sort of a dorm for a certain number of people at the Artheater theatre. And we’ll be repurposing a local bank for the first time to host a whole range of rave acts that will get the walls shaking. I can’t wait to see how that goes. It sounded like a completely absurd idea when we were planning it!

Swedish duo Deki Alem will be playing at Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld on 27 April, starting at 9.45pm.

So c/o pop sets out to become a part of Ehrenfeld rather than just staging events at concert venues?

That’s right. Instead of just taking place in a field with a fence around it, it’ll sort of be “poured” all over Ehrenfeld. That had its benefits and its complications in terms of organisation, incidentally. We’re always trying to find new locations too – ones we haven’t used before – or to rethink places we know and use them differently. One example is the Helios lighthouse and the old industrial site surrounding it, which we’ll be using for the third time. The tower isn’t usually open to the public but we can offer a few tours this time.

How has c/o pop changed over the past 20 years? 

The festival has reinvented itself many times. It’s been moved from August to June and then to April, for instance. And we’ve only been in Ehrenfeld for the past five years. The structure continues to evolve and the non-musical experience component is a whole new segment. And, of course, we’re socially minded and try to ensure things like a more or less gender-balanced line-up.

And do you manage to?

It is a challenge for the booking team but yes, we do manage to a certain extent. That’s partly because we’re more newcomer-focused, rather than being headliner-driven, of course. Most of the established, older stars tend to be male – apart from Taylor Swift and the like.

What exactly are the “experiences”?

Everything that’s not a concert. There’s a show by Drag Syndrome from the UK, for example. They’re a fantastic drag collective made up of people with Down’s syndrome. Then there are various live podcasts, including one with Hotz & Houmsi. Some of the events will feature musicians doing non-music things – like hip-hop duo Lugatti& 9ine playing “truth or schnapps” on stage with us. Plus there are readings, exhibitions, a wide range of dance workshops and political talks. The Black Sex Worker Collective from Berlin will be coming to do what I’ll call a “performance”. And we’ll be running digger rides for the first time. By the way, it was much harder than we anticipated to get the diggers but hopefully it’ll be worth it – everyone wants a go on a digger.

Besides the music and the pretty crazy-sounding “experiences”, there’s a convention too. Why exactly?

It’s a B2B convention so it’s intended for people who work in the music and creative industries. A lot of it is about sharing ideas and networking. The TINCON conference for digital youth culture is part of the convention too. At this year’s convention, the spotlight will be on podcasts and that focus is visible at the festival too, with podcasts such as Reflektor putting in an appearance – so there are lots of overlaps between the festival and the convention. We’re very much a festival for newcomers in Germany and the convention gives their bookers, labels, marketing people and managers a chance to meet and network.

How many of the artists come from the German-speaking region and Cologne specifically?

We try to book at least 85% from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The rest come from non-German-speaking countries. Of course, we also consider it important to have as many acts as possible from Cologne and the local region. Lots of artists from here will be performing at my favourite venue, the bank, for example. And then there’s the big after-show party on Saturday, where the 24 acts are almost all from Cologne.


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What are you looking forward to most this year?  

The Drag Syndrome show, definitely! In terms of music, I’m secretly a huge fan of Ikkimel from Berlin. She’s a pretty extreme rapper. Let me put it like this – I wish I’d been more Ikkimel-like when I was in my early 20s!

The c/o pop Festival will take place in Cologne’s Ehrenfeld district from 24 to 28 April. Tickets (from 29 euros) are available here.

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