Pop Messe 2023: Brno’s City Festival Hits The Spot Again With Stellar Line-Up

Brno’s alternative music festival Pop Messe returned for the third year, flooding Zoner Bobyhall with fresh, exciting music from a wide range of genres. Brno Daily’s Ruby Dark was there to investigate.. Photo: Max Cooper’s headline set on Saturday was an audio-visual extravaganza. Credit: Sngwon Hong.

Brno, 3 Aug (BD) – Pop Messe returned to Brno last weekend for its third edition, boasting an impressively expansive lineup. The festival drew fans from across the continent, offering truly something for everyone. Well-established names like Tommy Cash, Spiritualized and Young Fathers were joined by soon-to-be stars spanning practically every genre under the sun.

The Main Stage of the festival was outdoors, under the shadow of the now derelict Za Lužánkami stadium. This industrial backdrop suited Ireland’s equally industrial post-punk act Gilla Band as they graced the main stage early Friday evening. Frontman Dara Kiely wielded his distortion machine like a ray gun, blasting the audience with waves of noise in their turbulent two-minute tracks.

Friday night headliners Young Fathers lived up to their reputation as one of the most exciting live bands around. Sadly, performer Kayus Bankole had to drop out last minute, but the performance didn’t seem to suffer. The band’s futuristic take on hip-hop brought an infectious energy. Even the drummer seemed barely able to stay in his seat, leaping from cymbal to cymbal with the rhythm.

On Saturday, Max Cooper’s hypnotic audio-visual set of glitchy IDM had the audience locked in. Cooper sat behind a translucent curtain, with kaleidoscopic visuals projected behind and infront of him. As engaging as any summer blockbuster, even Cooper didn’t seem to want the set to end. After a backstage figure appeared to tell him to wrap it up, Cooper closed his set with a 6-minute Prodigy track, leaving everyone riled up and thirsty for more.

The two indoor stages were hosted inside the “Zoner Bobyhall,” which typically serves as a laserdome/comedy club. If that doesn’t quite convey how surreal the venue was, a peak at the Kabinet Muz stage will do it justice. Reminiscent of an 80s bingo hall, the stage was hosted in a carpeted room with mirrored ceilings and seating booths, flashing orbs hanging from the ceilings, and a sorry lack of air conditioning. But anyone brave enough to stand the heat was highly rewarded, with many of the unexpected highlights of the festival performing there. 

KOKOKO!, the experimental, explosive Congolese collective, were one of the most original and exciting acts of the weekend. Vibrant electronics collided with harsh percussion, almost setting the stage on fire with energy on Friday. British rapper-producer-vocalist Grove continued the heat wave on Saturday night. A certain icon in the making, Grove pranced across the stage and into the crowd, leading the audience to join them in riotous chants of “Off off off off with their heads.” Representing the homegrown Czech scene, Lazer Viking impressed in his Friday evening set with an idiosyncratic mix of mournful crooning vocals laid over soulful yet danceable electronics, while the abrasive post-punk of P/\ST blew the roof off the sweltering room in a rowdy, well-received show on Saturday. Kabinet Muz was clearly the place to watch the rising stars.

Clearly a lot of care and consideration had gone into curating the line-up, so it was a shame to see some of the big names let down by sparse crowds and bizarre venues. The largest stage indoors, Fleda, boasted a sort of stale grandiosity at odds with the Pop Messe freshness. Glowing seating booths with sticky plastic benches filled over half the room, lined with neon lights, giving off an unwelcome glow late into the night. All music moved inside after 11pm, which meant the Fleda Stage hosted the final acts of the weekend. Closing both nights with DJs at the top of their game makes a lot of sense, but hosting them in a brightly-lit hall that looked more suitable to Las Vegas tribute acts does not.

German electronic musician Helena Hauff closed Friday night, earning her title as club scene queen. On Saturday, Dubstep pioneer Kode9 joined forces with Jungle maverick Tim Reaper to bring relentless energy until the early hours.

You want to see acts like these in a sweaty room packed ear-to-ear, the only light glowing from the DJ decks to capture your full attention, so it was jarring to see these acts play to thin crowds on the Fleda Stage, in a brightly lit hall, quiet enough to hear the senseless early morning chatter of anyone close to you. The set-up harmed the sense of intimacy you need for this music to land.

But these gripes don’t hold up for the earlier acts on the Fleda Stage. On Friday, Panda Bear & Sonic Boom, the Beach Boys gone shoegaze, delivered lucious vocals and intricately layered soundscapes sounding impossibly clean, showing off the capabilities of the venue’s sound system. Czech national treasure Ventolin commanded a huge crowd on Saturday, delivering an eclectic mix of electro, disco and rap impossible not to groove to. Zoomer darling Tommy Cash had the kids literally running in circles, beating Gilla Band and even Grove for the rowdiest crowd of the weekend.

The incredible span of genres on the line up catered to all tastes, but perhaps that explains some of the thin crowds. The same fans who come to see space rock legends Spirtualized might not necessarily stick around for breakthrough techno DJ Skin On Skin. The Fleda stage was too large to sustain any sort of atmosphere late into the night. A more intimate setting might have done them more justice.

Pop Messe has clear ambitions to be a main attraction of the European festival circuit, they’ve just got to get through the growing pains first. Keep the stellar line up, tweak the organisation, and the festival is sure to flourish.

Brno Daily Subscribe
Sign up for morning news in your mail