You know, a happy-go-lucky party venue for the summer. Um... Berlin style. Photos courtesy Berlin Atonal.

You know, a happy-go-lucky party venue for the summer. Um… Berlin style. Photos courtesy Berlin Atonal / Kraftwerk.

Only Berlin would go this dark, musically speaking, in second half of … July. Atonal Festival, an event founded in a very different city way back in 1982, has been resurrected. And the sounds set to echo through the concrete cavern of a former power station represent the cross-currents of an international scene of experimental music. No longer about what happens in Germany (the artists come from every corner of the globe), Atonal – like winter’s CTM Festival – represents an angle in electronic music that is growing in popularity but decidedly anti-commercial, adventurous without necessarily being overly cerebral. It’s hedonistically introspective.

The venue is Kraftwerk as in “Heizkraftwerk” – a power station, not the band singing about pocket calculators and the Tour de France. The space itself may really become the headliner, a post-industrial secular church, looking like the set piece for a B-grade 80s post-apocalypse movie.

Laidback and elusive, “Voices from The Lake” have a beautiful, if literal, music video for their self-titled debut, whose billowing grays read as an animated poster for all the music we have here.

Voices from the Lake – HGS from Yko on Vimeo.

Juan Atkins and Moritz von Oswald headline. Their fine collaboration as Borderland was already the subject of a CDM story; I think finally seeing this release is big news. It’ll be significant to see that play out live, and I hope to talk more about what they’ve put together. Have a listen:

Composer/musician Samuel Kerridge will lead another Contort night on Sunday as part of the festival. We continue to follow the Contort series as a tastemaker of twisted sounds, as the name implies – they’ve promised more music for CDM coming this fall. But ringleader Sam in the meantime continues to release some really far-out music, stuff that sounds like Delia Derbyshire struck up a collaboration with the Daleks themselves. (Rave on Skaro! Whoo!)

Previously, Sam among other electronic experimentalists:
Experimental Electronics Listening: Biosphere, Samuel Kerridge, Bill Kouligas + PAN

See also Contort cohort Lower Order Ethics, aka Szilvia Lednitzky (Budapest-born, yes, Berlin-based). Szilvia has a preview set of Berlin Atonal artists, for the excellent blog No Fear of Pop:


Rouz – Deathlessness
German Shepherds – I Adore You
Christian Cosmos – The Angular Position of His Ghost
Vatican Shadow – The Hamburg Cell Was Born In Chechnya
Miles – Archaic Thought Pattern 1
Ed Chamberlain – Landmine
Pan Sonic – Vähentajä
Violetshaped – Out of Any Symmetry
Grungerman – Fackeln Im Sturm
Barker & Baumecker – Crows (Blawan remix)
Surgeon – Whose Bad Hands Are These (Autechre remix)
Bhutan Temple Music – Dungchen & Jaling
Powell – Grand Street
Edanticonf – Overture
Lucy & Silent Servant – Victors History
Ancient Methods – Castling Becomes Inevitable
Virile Games – Plague Saints II
Forward Strategy Group – Industry & Empire
Kreng – Wrak
Pete Lazonby – Sacred Cycles (Complete Edition)

For still more, here’s another mix. Szilvia warns us of “dodgy transitions” on a DJ set recorded live in the fall, but that sounds like an invitation to me. (Put a big “don’t press me” sign on a button, and … well, what are you going to do?) Plotting a course from Milton Bradley to Fennesz, Untold to Atonal-bound artist Vatican Shadow (more on him in a moment), this is a mix worth charting:

Lower Order Ethics @ CONTORT#4 // 112512 // Mindpirates by Lowerorderethics on Mixcloud

Vatican Shadow will also join the lineup, and is worth including in another mix here, polishing off a podcast for Electric Deluxe. Aka Dominick Fernow, the New York-based artist has released superb and arresting music on his Hospital Productions imprint – on cassettes, no less. At SONAR this year, he stomped around stage like a terrifying madman, rallying crowds to his beautifully-raunchy sounds. (I understand he has traded a pair of cassettes in his DJ rig for more-precise iPods, but there’s enough added distortion that it’s no matter.) And the mix is a nice prelude to his coming appearance:

OND – Track 8
Muslimgauze – Khan Younis
Funk Sta – The Groover
Function – Psychic Warfare
Leaether Strip – Leather Strip – Part I
Shifted – Leather
Suicide Commando – Hellraiser
Silent Servant – The Strange Attractor
James Ruskin – Dilemma
Surgeon – Set Two
Muslimgauze – Jerusalem Knife
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement – Black Magic Originated in Nature

raster-noton is an imprint that seems to be made for festivals like this. As such, they can become almost expected or repetitive, a sure thing when you see festival lineups. Little wonder: artists like Kangding Ray reliably manufacture art music you can dance to, tickling the brain while keeping festivalgoers grooving. The real shame is that so few emerging artists have been able to follow in those footsteps. But I have to feature director Nicolas Lelièvre’s 2010 music video for “Or.” It’s simply beautiful and timeless, Jean-Baptiste André’s “gestures” becoming the perfect, half-frozen dance to the static quality of the music. And I have to admit, I’m no less eager to see Kangding Ray on a program.

Or from Nicolas Lelievre on Vimeo.

More recently:

For SA017 Kangding Ray brings an EP defined by dexterity: ‘Tempered Inmid’. It is a record which balances the deepest drum with the most celestial synth, weaving a legend of both menace and tenderness. Possessed of an underlying hiss, the title track surges to dampen its muscular beat with a fabric of warm melodies. The discerning ‘Dimen Andesso’ is the Tempered’s partner, shuffling with a considered high-end and off-kilter pads. On the flip KR ramps up the pace in introducing the mendacious thumps of ‘Nuis Octury’, which he twists into a fever. But emblematically KR once more tempers. Closer ‘Ezerb Altren’ conjures the image and emotion of an underground lake: depth, resonance, and total, glacial serenity.

SA017 was craftily mastered by Artefacts Mastering, Berlin.

Machine ideas can go beyond machines – once you’ve worked with a digital sequence on computer or hardware sequencer, you will see compositional construction in a different light. That’s doubly true nowadays, when that score is likely to sit on a computer screen. I was asked to give a talk last weekend at the University of Hamburg on post-digitality. I think a lot of works now go beyond the screen, beyond the computer box not because of an itch to get away from the digital, but because the line between computer and real world has blurred. Once you’ve looked into the Matrix, you can’t see anything quite the same way.

The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble is a perfect example of that, beautiful instrumental automatons making dance grooves out of acoustic instruments. (Tellingly, the results recall composer George Antheil’s pre-war compositions, before any of these machines – demonstrating the leap here happens in the mind, with or without the external technology to fit your imagination.) And incidentally, while this crew also do DJ sessions, this is the mode in which I vastly prefer their work:

Speaking of digital thinking outside of digital tools, we can talk about guitars. There is a lot you could say about legendary Pennsylvania-born improviser Glenn Branca. But I’m glad to see these sorts of musicians appear on “electronic” festivals, because they remind us that the electric guitar can easily rival the Theremin or synthesizer as the 20th Century’s greatest electronic instrument. Whatever limitations the design may have, superhuman feats of musicianship can make us with our computers look tame.

I’ll close with more images of the venue for you to gaze at whilst listening. Enjoy:




And a likely highlight, AV show on Saturday:

Murcof/ANTIVJ av preview, courtesy Berlin Atonal.

Murcof/ANTIVJ av preview, courtesy Berlin Atonal.

Mexican musician Fernando Corona has been a mainstay in electronica’s changing currents for the past decade, although many regard him as equally legendary in the contemporary classical music scene. His art borrows largely from the tenets of classical minimalism, elaborated with carefully detailed textures and sounds taken from his extensive catalogue of recordings.

For Berlin Atonal 2013 he will team up with renowned video/projection artist Simon Geilfus (AntiVJ) for a very special audio-visual experience

More on the history, via Electronic Beats:
Key to the City: An interview with the organizers of Berlin Atonal (part 1)

  • Bob Falesch

    Agreed, this stuff is mostly dark. But, wtf … atonal? The term “atonal” has always been ambiguous, but applying it to this work slays the word for all time. I’d prefer the Berliners to find a more apt term for this noodling, where tonic-dominant is still there just beneath the surface. Even BBFE mostly show a chromatically bent form of tonality.

    • Asher Hunter Elazary

      ‘post tonalism’

  • James Husted

    I did an electronic music gig once in a 1930’s era power plant building in south Seattle. We opened in one room and Black Flag (their last tour) later played in another. Great ambience – all concrete and gang-planks, cat-walks and crawl ways. Big marble panels with giant brass dials and big leaf switches. LOTS of reverb. It was a great show in a big room with the audience on different levels looking down at you. Wish I had pictures. It would not have been a good venue for some music genres (that is why Black Flag were in another more suited room) but it was a GREAT place for the spacey stuff we were playing. The room was just as much of a performer as we were. Sort of like Paul Horn sneaking into the Taj Mahal for the “Inside” album (only not as much as the +25second verb of the Taj).

  • Gwydion

    Hi Peter, I was there last night. The venue is indeed great. Unusually for a Berlin event, they even started the evening early! The opening performance, Kurt Schwitters: Ursonate performed by Frieder Butzmann, was, I thought, stunning. Exactly one of those pieces that you preconceive to be avant-garde “this is just gibberish” self-indulgent rubbish, and when experiencing it live, it all makes sense; not only do you get it, you enjoy it. Went down a storm with the crowd, most of whom seemed to be there for Glenn Branca. After Branca, the crowd thinned out a bit, but this may also have been due to the teeth-chattering, nose-hair vibrating, having-difficulty-breathing bass from Roly Porter’s amazing set. The atmospheric visuals and his subterranean beats were perfect for the kraftwerk space. After that I kinda got lost in the running order as the schedule started to slip and these artists generally don’t wear “Hello, my name is Vatican Shadow” badges.

    Can’t wait for the next days…

    In between I shall be mostly listening to quiet piano concertos:

    • Bob Falesch

      Yo, “Ursonate…” That really adds another dimension to the rather incestuous repertoire highlighted in the above article :–)

      Berlin “Atonal” is looking a little different to me after your comment.

  • Matt Jackson

    The Murcof show was quite possibly the coolest concert I’ve seen!