Berlin Atonal returned for its third year running after over a two decade hiatus. The early years of Atonal were firmly rooted in the Berlin scene, and harbored forward-thinking artists with industrial punk and electronic music performances. Founded by Dimitri Hegemann in 1982, the festival closed with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and later gave rise to the Tresor club.
The five day Atonal kick-off took place at Kraftwerk, a former power plant located on the banks of the River Spree in Mitte. Kraftwerk's architecture resembles something of a blend between an industrial compound and an abandoned grand cathedral; sound reverberates off its high ceilings and concrete walls, amplified by its bareness, as light installations emit multidimensional layers of color, producing a mind-blowing sonic and visual experience.
Kraftwerk as a venue is once again the highlight of the festival as this year’s program looked to me a bit redundant and monotonous on paper. It was less inspiring than previous editions. These initial concerns materialized however, and it’s difficult for me to find salvation in any other of the remaining gigs.
When I first entered the venue I found some “art” positions were mostly theatrical. Many of the aesthetics connected to electronic music had failed to move me thus far, since labels like Raster-Noton began with these intended notions of minimalism. Most of the public I talked to was impressed by the venue itself. I was surprised that the setting upstairs looked identical to last years. It didn't add any intrigue, and it certainly would have been nice to spot more creativity. It's important for me to feel certain enthusiasm emanating from those behind the festival’s curtain. Perhaps I may be incorrect, but details like these seem to reveal a lack of an inventive approach.
Going through my notes I must say that most gigs shared a same sort of conceptual audio dissonance; like having the same musician on stage play the same loop all night, and slightly off key at that. Few acts made the stage feel immersive compared to last year. Ben Frost presented his acclaimed AURORA, and at least that act really took t it to the next level. He projected his acute microcosmic imagery in typical detailed grandeur that is his style. It was probably the most inspiring experience of the night. I can understand why talented musicians like Tim Hecker or Lawrence English have collaborated with him while recording the album.
Italian producer Alessandro Cortini was also remarkable. He is best known as the leading electronics performer of Nine Inch Nails. He composed Sonno last year, a suite of 9 analogue synthesizers with unique ambient dimensions. His solo performance was an enjoyable melodic set with a melancholic bent that rose above the fray. I enjoyed the revival of kosmicher and modular music these past years, and he could serve up a good example of it. It was my first time seeing him live and I was truly satisfied by his performance.
I was more eager to see Shackleton presenting his premiere Powerplant. I was a collector of his records when he released his own imprint Skull Disco. Since the label stopped the pressings, I found his music more ambitious but somehow failing to strike that right chord again. I believe it is important to evolve, but the direction he took was not of my taste. His live performance, together with several drummers, was very disappointing to me. I miss when he played to smaller audiences closely related to the dubstep/grime scene.
The proposals at OHM had a good energy while the Null Stage was again very similar and predictable. Tresor’s after parties also didn't reach the desired climax, except for a fleeting moment with Post Scriptum. The man behind his other alias, Echoplex, delivered a fulfilling driving techno like he recently did in his album for Infrastructure New York, label managed by Berghain resident Function.
I would appreciate a more eclectic program, which could easily be achieved while maintaining the festival's concept and personality. I find that a big number of essential names were missing, feeling that sometimes the program might be influenced by contravening interests and commitments. The festival would grow if interests were more aligned and the network expanded. New dynamics with more diversified talents and stages, falling with the appropriate genres, would undoubtedly enrich the experience. Of course there may be reasons why is that all the after parties actually occur at Tresor and OHM. It would be remarkable to also use the main stage for this purpose. The list of things to modify, change, or add is certainly long enough to make for an interesting debate. Atonal has great potential and we really hope that forthcoming editions are much better and engaging than this year.
More videos of Berlin Atonal 2015 can be viewed at our Vimeo page here.