After a rather underwhelming line-up in 2008, the Donaufestival returns to top form this year with a stellar list of attractions that make a night or two along the Danube a highly enticing proposition. You should know the form by now: every year for two weekends in late April and early May, the sleepy town of Krems is transformed into a setting for cutting-edge music and performance art. Major concerts take place in the exhibition hall near the centre of town, while smaller events happen in the Minoritenkirche, a ten-minute stroll through the beguiling streets of Krems and its next-door neighbour Stein. There’s a strong satellite programme of exhibitions, theatre and club nights as well. The festival is easily accessible from Vienna, since the organizers are savvy enough to run buses to and from Krems every night, with the last bus home not departing until the final band has played their last encore – which is, however, often as late as 3am.
As for the artists performing this year, my personal pick would be British space rock heroes Spiritualized. More or less a vehicle for Jason Pierce, who likes to go under the name J Spaceman, Spiritualized have perfected a rapturous and intoxicating blend of garage rock, gospel, blues and systems music. Pierce’s recovery from a life-threatening illness last year has lent a new urgency to his blissful meditations on love, desire and addiction. Other highlights of the first weekend include New York avant-rockers Sonic Youth. I wrote about them the last time they were over here, so let me just note that as well as a Sonic Youth concert, there will also be a bonus performance by Mirror/Dash, a SY side project consisting of lead singer and guitarist Thurston Moore and bassist Kim Gordon. Finally on weekend one, it would be remiss of me not to give a shout out to the Butthole Surfers, a bunch of sickoes from Texas who fuse shock rock antics with a chaotic mishmash of avant-garde, hardcore and psychedelia.
The pace barely lets up on weekend two, with the biggest attraction being a set by dark cabaret act Antony & the Johnsons. Having fallen in love with Antony’s first album at a time when few others had heard it, I’ve gradually become disenchanted with his histrionic style of singing. Better by far to check out Stereolab, possibly the world’s only Anglo-French Marxist rock band [sadly they cancelled their appearance], or the fetching female folk duo Cocorosie. I’m also very much looking forward to a rare DJ set by Aphex Twin. One of my most memorable evenings of music ever was a concert by this innovative electronic musician, held in an old London prison with people in huge teddy bear suits bouncing dementedly around the dancefloor. The Donaufestival may not be quite as way out as that, but it’s getting there.