The last week of July promised to be a really special one in the German capital. After a 23 year hiatus, one of the most interesting European music festival ever has been brought back into life -the Berlin Atonal. It found its home in a new and spectacular venue called Kraftwerk in Berlin Mitte, that immediately caught our attention with a breathtaking & multi-genre line up. We at C-heads were lucky enough to go there for at least a couple of days and now will show you some of our impressions and highlights.
Bringing back something after 23 years, which has been something very special within the music history, is certainly not an easy task. However, Dimitri Hegemann, the man behind the Atonal concept [and also the founder of the Tresor club], invited a few more people to join him in the resurrection of the concept. The names of those new faces are Laurens Von Oswald, Harry Glass and Paulo Reachi. Hegemann stated in interview for Electronic Beats the reason why he chose young faces for his team was to also give fresh ideas to the concept. It’s really not so easy to nowadays present a festival with an interesting or let’s say ‘underground’ and not a mainstream program. In the early 80s, when Atonal was launched and presented really fresh artists and brand new approaches to music, it was a revolutionary event. Now we are quite used to “new” stuff and need something more to suprise and excite us. Sad but true.
As I already mentioned, the line up was simply incredible, that’s without discussion. Legends like Murcof or Jon Hassell next to fresh blood like Dadub or Raime. The Berlin Atonal started on Thursday the 25th July shortly before 9pm with a simple speech by one man: “They say that some things never come back… but here we are. Welcome back!” Followed by the applause of the first Atonalists, the program was officially launched with an experimental performance by Frieder Butzmann. Although, I was way to busy with discovering all the interesting corners of the impressive space in that industrial cathedral, which is the second name of Kraftwerk.
After Butzmann a whole ensemble showed up on stage -to be more precise - The Glenn Branca ensemble. One girl as a drummer, 4 + 1 people on electric guitars and bass guitar. And of course, Gleen Branca himself as a conductor. To be honest, the first minutes of their gig I started to feel like I’m testing my music boundaries. But after some time, all that guitar noises, layouts, cacophonous rhythms and “melodies” started to make sense! And it was SO GOOD. Glenn was so into that, it wasnt just some conducting – he literally grasped sounds and moved them just as a demonstration of his imagination for the music. And the ensemble understood him precisely! Stunning experience. Don’t know why but it reminded me a bit Frank Zappa’s music.
Around 11pm Roly Porter came onto the stage (1/2 of Vex’d project). I was still in another universe after the previous experience, but already the first moments of his heavy ambient sounds was a big hit for me. With Roly there also appeared the first visual experience — in this case, we travelled through nature and countries which looked like something from a Lars von Trier’s movie. Imagine it and add some ambient surfaces and noises…. Quite depressing, but a deep musical trip.
Altough the Friday program seemed a bit more dancy for me, the start felt like some fairy-tale intro. Two girls – the talented Dasha Rush and Schloss Mirabell had a great chemistry together — which anyone could immediately feel from the performance. They worked with every sound and noise, from crackling with fingers over touching some metalic things to simple using the human voice and telling stories or words. Dasha of course used a computer and added a beautiful surface that together with the violin sounds played by Schloss created something spectacular and gentle at the same time. What a beautiful start of the night.
The ladies entry was followed by the legendary Jon Hassell quartet which I unfortunately missed. Although, I came back just on time when techno hero Juan Atkins and his colleague Moritz von Oswald started their performance of the new collaboration called Borderland. In this case, for the first time I really felt the strength of Atonal’s soundsystem. The pure techno beats sounded very clean in that spectacular space, and at the same time the basslines sounded very warm. One could easily recognize both gentlemen’s particular sounds and loops during their live act. Oswald’s landscapes of sounds are always a pleasure to hear anyway!
Vladislav Delay, another inexhaustible experimental artist was next on the program. Enjoying his live act from the bar I must highlight the perfect escalation of atmosphere. Although, some moments were rhythmically a bit “broken” and reminded me a bit of Aphex Twin’s schizophrenic beats.
And then I was eagerly waiting for the one & only hero of Friday’s program: David Letellier aka Kangding Ray.
This humble and shy looking artist and member of Raster-Noton label is one of the absolute highlights of the resurrected Atonal. I have admired his brillant work with sound for many years, but saw him live only once. And this gig looked really promising as the program mentioned something about a special analogue set up and some improvisation with the sound. Observing David from the front line, I noticed that he was little bit nervous at the beginning which we could even hear on a few mistakes he made. But shortly after a few minutes, he got into it and started to feed us with beautiful melodies and deep basslines. Everything sounded so harmonic, but at the same time it had a very dancefloor feeling, so there it didn´t come as a suprise that the audience went crazy during this live act. Several applauses during the performance and David’s happy face – remarkable moments.
The program of Saturday maybe looked as if it was packed with fewer things, but in fact it was definitely one of the most intense days of the festival. The Italian techno duo Dadub opened the night with some very good techno sounds and made the audience greedy for dancing. Although, there was something in the air – everyone knew that the biggest highlight was yet to come… During the pause of setting up the stage for Murcof and Simon Geilfus, a lot of us went to see a special A/V show downstairs. Open cubes made of layers and synchronised light and sound caused excited ovations, however it was time to return to the main act of the night.
Most of the people were sitting, which seemed, well, strange but made complete sense after finding out that there will be a VERY special 3D visual show. Murcof’s music is something that can hardly be described – just like this experience. The last time I have seen something so organic was at Amon Tobin´s show – but even so this was really another thing. Murcof’s music is more thoughtful and goes very deep into your feelings and soul. It has the ability to freeze you – which is precisely what happened with the crowd. Everyone was so calm and fully perceived this performance of beauteous sounds and dived deeper into it. It’s so hard to make people just listen and focus on the sense of music these days. For once, I felt that everyone was there in that sounds with me… Yeah, that connection, unbelievable!
After something like that, for the next artist it could be quite hard to continue. Not an easy task for the Italian duo Voices From The Lake, but deeply in my soul I had faith in those guys. Their hypnotic and slow techno beats could be just the right thing, I thought. The truth is, it wasn’t a bad performance, but it could also have been a better one. My mistake was that I had maybe expected more thanks to my admiration for VFTL production. It seemed like the guys somehow couldn’t find the right connection, once one started something, the other one wanted into another direction… I missed some texture or consistency of the story. Nevermind, next time, guys.
What a shame, that Sunday was the hottest day ever and at the same time Atonal’s program started already at 2pm. It was impossible to survive the heat, so I came to Kraftwerk in the late evening, at about 10pm for the special Blackest Ever Black showcase. Raime already played some slow and dark beats and made me feel a bit melancholical. A slow, but pleasant start. Followed by Cut Hands and his hypnotic and dancy set, I simply couldn’t only stand around.
I had no idea what to expect for the next performance, I’ve heard some things and also recommendations to hear Vatican Shadow, but really didn’t know what I will be getting from it.
It was beyond everything. He came and immediately started a pure “techno masacre.” Accompanied by a frightening A/V show which was basically created by clippings from newspapers about war. Pictures of soldiers, politician’s quotes about war – it seemed like an apocalyptic reminder of the character of our society. The crowd seemed to enjoy it a lot, but I felt a bit like in a depression.
Really. But not only from the music, but also because of the fact that this was my last day at the festival. It was SO SO good and I’d like to thank everyone a lot for resurrecting this legendary event and hope there will be more experience like that in the future!