In recent years, the classic model of a festival doesn't seem to be interesting enough to capture the attention of serious music lovers. The decline in festivals, like Sonar in Barcelona, is an example of scheduled events with big name presenters rather than with a musical criteria. To concentrate a long list of artists with the sole pretext of a party and a vast professional network is a questionable formula.
Berlin Atonal festival, is seen as much more particular in its selection. It upholds a platform where artists can creatively experiment their craft beyond their reach. It starts with an inaugural concert that is followed by four days of performances. These take place in different spaces of Kraftwerk, a former power plant that houses the club Tresor. The space is like an industrial cathedral. For this occasion, the festival brought an impressive soundsystem with great detailed sound. The program takes place mainly in a central stage dominated by a large vertical screen. The lighting is subtle, but effective in such a unique, vast place. Overall, the venue is comfortable for the public and allows smooth movement and exploration. At night, Tresor itself is the place where the after shows continue. Despite the fact that Tresor lost the crown in the Berlin club scene, with Atonal, it felt alive again.
PARSEC: a kinetic audiovisual machine installation from MACULAR
The inaugural concert was just a taste of what was to come as it became one of the highlights. Ensemble Modern stages "Music for 18 Musicians" by Steve Reich, pioneer of minimalism. This reminded us of Reich's musical legacy as it's still very present in today's electronic music. Monoton closed the night. The Austrian is author of the great "Monotonprodukt 07". An album which was recently reissued with great reviews.
On Thursday, I had a clear protagonist; the Mexican Fernando Corona who spent many years developing his current Murcof project. He began recording as Terrestre, in Tijuana, which was linked to the Nortec Collective. His interest in deeper sounds, minimalism and classic modern composers, led him to compose his most acclaimed album "Martes" on UK label Leaf. A robust and precise record that transports us to semi desertic landscapes full of melancholy and orchestral arrangements. Murcof's music has become more complicated over the years. At Atonal, he performed in the 4D sound platform. A system designed in Amsterdam by engineers and sound designers that with great precision allows the musician to manipulate sound in real time. It allows the use of parameters such as distance, altitude and angles. Murcof began with a deep and obscure sonic storm. The public wandered randomly through the space. At times it seemed the sounds of a future war were happening outside the bunker. After a while, and when we were fully inmersed in the experience, you could feel the spirituality in his music. It was very rich in texture and movement that produced an almost meditative effect.
The night was coming to an end and once we were recovered from the 4D experience, Milton Bradley upstairs, presented his project "The End of All Existence" in a live A/V show. When he started with his alias and released this material on vinyl, I was seduced by it. But his live proposal despite being correct, failed to thrill me.
Friday was the best day of the festival in my opinion. Biosphere, loyal to his style, also prepared a new composition for Atonal 4D stage. The Norwegian gifted us with 40 minutes of well crafted ambient. No cracks in the work of Biosphere, although I didn't find it as enthusiastic as I originally thought. A few hours later, Abdulla Rashim started on the main stage upstairs. The artist discovered for their ep "Asayita" in the label Prologue was no surprise and delivered a live atmospheric techno set. The crystal clear and cold sound of Rashim was the preamble to what would be the most intriguing Friday performance. Donato Dozzy and Nuel presented the world premiere of "Aquaplano Sessions". Glacial drones close to ambient in which an echo of 90s techno was perceived. This material that was originally issued in Berlin has now been repressed by Spectrum Spools. It was definitely a great opportunity to see the great Italian masters in action. The audiovisual show by Headless Horseman put closure to a very juicy evening. Although grateful that Dozzy didn't use visual support, Headless Horseman's visuals blended flawlessly with his sinister sounds. His raw and direct live act was between techno and industrial with an astounding percussive sound.
Donato Dozzy & Nuel presented "Aquaplano Sessions"
Headless Horseman's audio visual show part 1
Headless Horseman's audio visual show part 2
Later, at the after show, we felt transported to the early Tresor venue in Leipziger Strasse. The bunker like dancefloor felt dense, as it was always full of smoke. The non-stop strobe light, that was a classic in this club, was also present. LADA, a collaboration between Dasha Rush and Lars Hemmerling, were at the booth. Abstract and immersive techno suddenly captured us. The feeling came over you and was claustrophobic at times. I wish sets could have been longer since one hour slots were not enough per artist. Right after, ADMX-71, was equally effective. You couldn't expect less from this New Yorker based in Berlin; slow industrial techno that kept us dancing without remorse. Followed by the Swedish duo SHXCXCHCXSH who contributed with their sub-aquatiq bass techno and intriguing synths. Watch out for their new release at Avian titled "Linear S Decoded".
With our energy levels in poor condition, we had a late start on Saturday. I was very curious to see Max Loderbauer on stage. He was recently commissioned to remix the ECM catalogue together with Ricardo Villalobos. I have been a fan of ECM for years since they always release very serious music. Following Louderbauer projects in the past years, I have enjoyed his NSI material together with Tobias Freund. Back to his live performance at Atonal, I must say it was exquisite and very subtle. He made small pauses between tracks that brought a different understanding of his music. Now that we are used to acts without interruptions, I found it sweet. The long awaited Cabaret Voltaire performance was not exciting for me. It was billed as the first live show played in the last twenty years. Richard H. Kirk presented new material and avoided being nostalgic by only playing his greatest hits. It was a smart choice, however, I wasn't impressed by it. We tried to emulate the previous night at Tresor. Despite the line up of well known artists such as Powell or Sigha, the music was not up to part as the previous day.
Richard H. Kirk performing live as Cabaret Voltaire
Sunday was the final chapter, and the most intimate one in my opinion. Tim Hecker presented a live show with no visuals. You could hardly see him on stage as the lights were turned off intentionally to let his melodic soundscaping music transport the audience into a cathartic experience. The debut of UF, a collaboration between Samuel Kerridge and OAKE, took over the audience right off the bat with a powerful and aggressive show that set their performance apart. The festival ended with an after party at OHM, the club next door, where artists and music lovers shared an intimate time on the dance floor. Overall, I can say that Berlin Atonal is a very interesting unique festival with a serious program that attracts an audience that seems informed.
OAKE and Samuel Kerridge
UF: Kerridge & OAKE