Discreetly sandwiched between high-end clothes stores in the centre of Munich, The Atomic Cafe is almost an easy venue to miss. Nevertheless, word of mouth from friend to friend seems to draw a steady crowd to this small club. Yet, though they arrive in their droves, they arrive quietly.
After a quick search on Google Maps, this Irish reporter was a little nervous about showing up to a venue that has been reviewed online as "foreigner unfriendly" and as having a reputation of turning away non-locals at the door. Thankfully, I did not find this to be the case. My error-ridden Deutsch did not seem to disqualify me from entering, though once I was through the door I hardly heard a word of English, much unlike the more international venues I've been trying out since arriving in Munich.
Indeed, I heard very few words of any description. The venue, a small simple room with two bar counters, scarce seating and no tables, is all about the music. Remembering the booths, nooks and crannies that provide most Irish/British pubs, clubs and night haunts with spaces for small groups to chat or get to know each other, I felt a little awkward with nowhere to stand myself other than in the middle of the bare square in front of the stage.
If it's music this venue has chosen to put its focus on, it has indeed done a fine job. A scroll through its somewhat chaotic website reveals a full schedule of bands and solo artists gracing The Atomic Cafe's stage nearly every night. From up-and-coming names to more well known groups such as Mumford and Sons, the venue's repertoire is fresh and impressive.
This reporter thoroughly enjoyed the two-hour set list performed by Steaming Satellites with support group Hustle and Drone. An eclectic mix, the two bands provided a sound that you can't find just anywhere. Hustle and Drone, a three-piece group from Oregon, USA, battled their way through some early hiccups with the sound technician to provide a synth-based electric light sound that was both energetic and trippy yet refreshingly controlled and less sporadic than many others in their genre.
Steaming Satellites, hailing from the much nearer city of Salzberg, followed them up with a performance which impressively blended a psych-rock feel with a familiar indie sound. It was Kings of Leon meets Pink Floyd, and every second of it was delivered with a fantastic energy helped along by a simple yet effective light show. I will be following this band more often.
Yet, despite the energy of the performers and the real quality of the music, the crowd was strikingly subdued. At times I actually felt bad for the bands, who were giving their all to roughly three-hundred people who were simply staring back. The specatators' rhythmic head-nodding indicated that nobody seemed dissapointed, and the place was completely packed, yet there was no energy in the crowd whatsoever.
"Things are going really well for us," commented the keyboardist from Hustle and Drone. "I haven't personally toured Europe before but this tour has been great. We're filling up all the venues and the whole thing just feels fantastic. But this is something I've really noticed over here: nobody dances."
German night life does take some getting used to, especially for those of us coming from the British Isles. On a typical night out in Dublin one can expect to find hordes of teenagers carrying more alcohol in their arteries than blood, women with less clothing than make-up, and clubs with more less clean floor space than otherwise.
Personally, I don't miss any of that. I spent a good while living in an area in south Ireland where road death rates involving drunken teenagers and twenty-somethings was terribly high. I later moved to Dublin where stories of spiked drinks and young women getting completely lost on their way home were so frequent that one might have thought they would deter the drink culture. Letting loose is one thing, but all that was another.
Still, the way in which people simply show up to clubs here in Munich, perfectly sober wearing nothing particularly different to what they had on at lunch time, is a bit strange to me. Standing in front of two very good quality bands that were playing with a real energy in a venue that was just designed for people who want nothing more than a night of good music, I couldn't understand why everyone around me was so quiet.
So, if you feel like sampling some good music that you wouldn't hear everyday of the week, you don't mind standing pretty still for a few hours on end, and you can afford the fairly heavy cover charge, The Atomic Cafe is the place for you. Its sold out gigs speak for themselves.