The Brvtalist is proud to present a recap of arguably the best, most interesting music festival in the world. Since the festival's relaunch, we have watched in awe as some of our favorite acts have performed in what looks to be one of the most incredible venues around. This year our friend Alison Phlōrā, one half of the amazing Abyssal Podcast (which just released a great mix by Dahlhous), traveled from her home country of France to take in the festival. Upon her return, we asked if she would contribute a recap of her experience and she graciously obliged.
by Alison Phlōrā
The earliest editions of Berlin Atonal occurred between 1982 and 1990, and they featured now legendary underground artists such as Psychic TV, Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept, 808 State and Die Haut. After a 23 year abscence, the historic event returned to the city in 2013 and 2014 with a very impressive lineup each time. This year, Atonal struck again with an event that couldn't generate more excitement. The festival's venue, The Kraftwerk, is simply one of the biggest and most unique post-industrial sites in the world. When you enter, you can feel the wounds of the old Berlin city, melting in to the new revolutionary subculture. Guests come from parts of Europe and Asia, all with a curious eye and to take part in the city's community. The atmosphere of the venue immediately invokes a physical experience. The resonance creates a heavy vibe that seems to crush you to the ground. Through the Kraftwerk people walk as ghosts and shadows. From a smoky atmosphere and a major absence of light, you discover, at different corners, the interesting art installations. There are six varied pieces all meant to challenge and interact with the formidable Kraftwerk space in their own ways. The works consisted of:
- Pierre Bastien, ‘Mechanology in 4 Rooms’ (2015) Kinetic sound producing sculptures, amplifiers
- Rainer Kohlberger ‘not even nothing can be free of ghosts’ (2015) ‘moon blink’ (2015) ‘humming, fast and slow’ (2013) Projections, stroboscopes
- Pedro Maia ‘Wasteland’ (2015) Loops, degraded film
- Studio Joanie Lemercier ‘Blueprint’ (2015) Projection, sound
- Laytbeuis ‘Susurrus Lights, Aggregate III’ (2015) Sound responsive fluorescent tubes, microphones, amplifiers, analogue FX
- Transforma ‘Dark Flow’ (2015) Viscous Liquid, Pumps, Projections
It is nearly impossible to describe all the amazing performances, most of them world premieres that take place during these five days. The installations, combined with the dark beauty and devastation of the projected images, produces a deep meditation on humanity’s capacity for destruction and violence while also creating a special relationship with this unique space. The aim is to play with the history of a place, the performers, the architecture and the spectator's sensibilities.
New to Atonal this year, was the introduction of a second stage. Around 6 p.m each evening, guests would sit at the "Null stage" and became hypnotized by the exclusive film screenings that Atonal presented. Thursday saw the music documentary "Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay" - which featured artists such as Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, NON, SPK, Test Dept, Clock DVA, The Klinik/Dive and many more. During this time, if upstairs, you could hear a strong sonic wave that carried from the main stage. Then, stepping on to the stairs, you suddenly realize the enormous area and the huge screen that this is a one of a kind viewing experience. Meanwhile, the main stage hosted an incredible array of performers and musicians. Throughout the festival you continuously oscillate between various artists and their worlds, each one projecting their own visual images which creates a unique aesthetic and environment.
On Friday, all eyes were on Peder Mannerfelt, as he put on an incredible performance. Mannerfelt became a true contemporary artist, as if conducting a live act for the gallery. A creepy yellow wig hid his face, accompanied by a hypnotic loop video of a man half naked, deeply looking to the crowd as if a psychopath. Moving slowly, it became apparent that Mannerfelt himself was perhaps a mental patient and challenged the crowd throughout the performance. His psychedelic ambient and distorted images gave way to a strong industrial sound, making for a true mental and physical experience.
The highly anticipated Ugandan Methods (Regis + Ancient Methods) stayed true to their esoteric and morbid aesthetic, offering dark industrial, noise and techno vibes. I couldn't appreciate more the performance of Regis - yelling in to the microphone with rage and violence, accompanied by Ancient Methods and a video loop of an old silent French film that seemed to deal with a witch burning for her crimes against her religion.
So many more great names graced the main stage of Atonal. Artists like Alessandro Cortini, Kangding Ray (playing with his machines), followed by the fantastic Mogwai, Ryo Murakami, Paul Jebanasam and Tarik Barri. Saturday at midnight, we heard the best of Shed, performing some of their most classic tracks. Then, around 1 a.m, the Null Stage opened for the second time of the night with a fine selection of label showcases. From Subtext to Northern Electronics, which offered an incredible ambient atmosphere and guests like the talented Puce Mary, Abdulla Rashim (presenting Lundin Oil), the serious Varg, Acronym, Vit Fana and many more. The Null Stage was an area of true visceral and tangible listenings - running from ambient and industrial to experimental and techno. The impressive Lakker had an incredible live show with some hard break bass, pushing the crowd to dance more and more until the end of the performance. Also, the clean, Polar Inertia, presented a live act that was a real surprise - lasting for one hour and taking you inside their cold and melancholic universe. Other great Null Stage artists were Not Waving, Powell, An+i and Blood music. Saturday night was a fantastic set from Head High that pushed the crowd into a good old rave atmosphere.
In true Berlin fashion, it wasn't over after the performances at Kraftwerk. Afterparties ruled the night until (at least) 8 in the morning. You could visit Tresor, Globus or Ohm depending on the artist and/or DJ of your liking. Thursday night, Ohm presented an unexpected choice of artists that offered a UK bass vibe, trasnsitioning to a dubby mood and sometimes house. On Saturday, the excellent Goth Trad made an appearance.
Inside Globus, the vibe was turned way up, making for an intense dance party. It was mostly house and techno and you could easily recognize some great Robert Hood tracks. As always, Tresor had the punishing techno vibes in a dark, almost sinister room that requires some mental preparation before entering. Regis ruled the club on Thursday with a heavy bumping set, followed by Peder Mannerlfelt and Pär Grindvik to end the night. Also at Tresor on Saturday, you could catch a true techno line-up featuring Felix K, Abdulla Rashim, Shifted, Skarn (live) and Sigha, throwing down tracks until well into the late morning.
Finally, Sunday was the last day of the festival. The main stage presented an impressive schedule to close out the last 5 days - WSR, Bitsream, Samuel Kerridge (presenting Fatal light Attraction), Lustmord, Clock DVA, and the highly attented Ben Frost presenting A U R O R A with MFO. The night was over at Kraftwerk at midnight but you could continue at Ohm for the closing party.
On a global scale, Berlin Atonal brings a nearly unrivaled selection of performers and artists. The festival is not only about music, but also about art and interaction. Guests come as true industrial fans, techno fans, foreigners and Berliners. However, just being there is a special experience for everyone as you get to see your favorite artists perform live in a breathtaking environment. There is also the constant discovery of new artists that makes for endless inspiration. Since the festival began, Atonal seems to have a keen eye on the evolution of such a special wave of music. Further, no longer a nostalgic time in Berlin, Atonal actually helps to usher in a new period of industrial and electronic music, revealing great artists and allowing the opportunity to discover the history of a movement and how it has evolved to the present day in just a five day period.