Before Berlin Atonal 2018 took place, I wasn’t sure about writing this review. As I usually don’t like to repeat myself, even though I repeated once again the experience of attending the full festival and doing it under the effect of my beloved mushrooms. At the same time I find writing a review important and necessary, as the experience and the festival itself offers me such amount of inputs and inspiration that sharing it becomes a personal duty, and I know some of you enjoyed reading my review from last year (part.1 & part.2).
So, before I start my very personal review of this massive event, I would like to remind again that I do not encourage anyone to take mushrooms or any other substance. And also I want to clear that if I do, it’s not just for recreational use (yes! I have fun), but also because it allows me to perceive and feel the music and everything around me in a more detailed and sensitive way, like expanding my senses. And beside that, I use that time to meditate and work personal matters, so it becomes a kind of transcendental experience. That’s my thing.
I also feel necessary to remind again that this is a “personal” review, meaning that my opinions are not a verdict, but a reflection of my taste and I have a particular one, like anyone else. So most certainly, you will agree with me on some things and you will totally disagree on others. If I didn’t like or enjoyed a concert or part of it, it doesn’t mean it was “bad” and in any case it’s meant as an attack to an artist. I fully respect different styles, ideas and sensitivities, but above all I value the effort to create and share on stage those inner worlds.
DAY I – Wednesday 22, August 2018.
First day repeats a pattern within the festival, like an arty intro or a shy introduction of what’s about to come the following days, Wednesday works perfectly as a warm-up, and personally I want to take it easy, as we will have to save energy for the next days. So I always take this day quietly, enjoy the aesthetic experience, get to re-connect with the amazing Kraftwerk and check out the art installations. In that regard I appreciate an evolution towards a finest selection of art, involving art curators such as Adriano Rosselli and Max Negrelli this year.
Among the art installations I would highlight “Power of one #surface” from Shohei Fujimoto (over these lines), an hypnotic use of reflections and laser beams perfect to stare at for hours while your brain tries to realign reality, also the playful, therefor successful… “Reverse Osmosis” from Mika Oki (bottom – left), that tricked the eye to make us believe there was a mirror or a door to another dimension through light and smoke, simple but clever. Then works such as the installations from avant-garde florist Mary Lennox, visual post-gamers Michael Tan + Privacy (bottom – right) and light explorer HC Gilje, contributed to that atmosphere between sci-fi, science lab and post-apocalypis that fits so well in such container. Making you wonder why, when, what… of our existence, raising questions about how far we can go in technology and digital pleasure and if that is in opposition to nature.
Beside the art installations, I appreciate the dedication of an space to video-art. I find it quite suitable for this kind of festivals, as spaces for meditation or mind-traps for unconscious high-on-something subjects. At the same time makes me question the type of pieces that works best in such environment. I have my favorites, usually abstract, based on repetition patterns, light effects or basic colors. This year I enjoyed the eternal zoom of “Deep Dive” from Erwin Driessens and Maria Werstappen (on Wednesday), the color hypnosis with “Hidden Factual” by Ricardo Carioba (on Thursday) and specially the pixel fantasies (or as he calls them: infinite death labyrinths) of Peter Burr and his “Dirtscraper” series (on Friday). On the other hand Thomas Mohr’s work didn’t touch me at all, i’m not a big fan of un-aesthetic collections of data (in this case 531.411 pictures), and Sunday’s commissioned work “Lonely Voices” by Zhao Liang seemed interesting, regarding the subject (an old lady that refused to abandon her home in Chernobyl after the disaster), but I think I would enjoyed more watching it at home, as a documentation more than as an art piece.
When the main stage opened we could notice an important change in the light setting, a big structure with lights was placed over our heads, what made us lose that feeling of enormity and bast space from Kraftwerk. The classic vertical screen was there behind the stage, but it would not be visible with this set-up. Fear not! That was only for Wednesday and Friday, as an experiment, because Atonal is about taking risks and exploring the limits of this industrial cathedral, and Marcel Weber / MFO, visual director, knows well his work. It’s also important to surprise those who come year after year, so it’s highly appreciated the dedication and the effort in creating something else and trying new ideas.
Music wise I enjoyed the concerts of Astrid Sonne and the combination of her ambient music with several female voices. Also the music from Lucrecia Dalt who presented “Synclines” along the visual work of Alessandra Leone, something I didn’t know until the last second. I have seen Alessandra’s video work in other occasions (like the tandem with Zoë McPherson, presented in Berlin at Day 0) and she has a great body of work. So, I felt kind of sad that on my eyes the concept (a vertical projection over a reflective surface behind Lucrecia) didn’t work as expected, you could see certain reflection, which offered a magic atmosphere, but in my opinion it needed to be stronger in order to be more present or relevant, as most of the time it looked just as a spot light over her head. But of course, Atonal scale is another scale, hard to calculate, and as I always say: I prefer artists taking risks than playing safe, we got the point and it was a great idea that needs further exploration.
It followed Mohammad Reza Mortazavi + Fis, the first ate the second one… In my ears I had a clear perception of the live drums, but Fis’s electronic noises were lost somewhere… I have seen him in several editions of Atonal, and his mental and minimal style always pass totally under my radar.
The final act in the main stage was an easy bet. Robin Fox already left the audience speechless two years ago at Atonal, this time he presented “Single Origin”, which I already saw last year in Barcelona. And I must confess, after seeing him three times, I realized he seems to be a one-trick-wonder. The first time you see his work will amaze you with the synchronicity of laser beams and sound design, he is a genius on that matter. But after a while someone could expect something else… In Single Origin there is a vague intention of creating a more standard music composition, stepping out of his sound designed style, but then it becomes just regular techno, like an overlay that doesn’t add the soul I miss in his performances. All in all, he fulfills any expectations you may have on lasers and robotic sounds and noises. Personally, I hope he will evolve his work in new directions. After that I stayed a bit longer, enjoying the Stage Null, but mainly chatting with friends, and decided to fold back and save energy for the next days.
DAY II – Thursday 23, August 2018.
Once again Thursday was one of the highlights in the festival, not sure if that follows a pattern over the years, but Day II usually means full AV performances and some of the most daring acts of the year. It’s also my first take of mushrooms, and usually the mixture of these two facts becomes like a big cosmic trigger at all levels, within and without.
Iona Fortune opened the day tuning our souls with her electroacoustic experiments, her sound not only reminds oriental aesthetics, but it’s indeed an exploration of I Ching symbols, each composition was performed elegantly accompanied by that symbol in the massive screen, proving once again that minimalism at that scale works majestically. She was followed by Klara Lewis with another atmospheric performance, rising the level of the visual content with some evocative images of nature, not much, but just enough to kick-off the night with Cura Machines and the stunning visual journey of Rainer Kohlberger.
There was when all really started for me, at a personal level I had a long work to face… Months or a year (since last Atonal) of personal issues related to my life, my career, my long-distance relationship, my love, my friends and family, even my own identity. When you ask for a point-break then you have to be ready to pick up the pieces. Most people would say you don’t do that in a former factory, surrounded by people and loud noisy music, but somehow I find it the perfect jungle to dive in and find myself through dance (if we can call it that), through friends and infinite jokes (my brother is an expert on infecting your brain with tons of movie, tv and pop-culture references in order to spice up the journey). The Kick-Off happens magically when also the audiovisual inputs turn into a good stimulation. The music from Cura Machines, as defined in his own website, “blends trans-morphing synthesizers, heavily processed sound design and soaring amplified bass textures to levels of total euphoric immersion”, yes! That’s it, I could not define it better. Rainer Kohlberger was the perfect combination for such sound complexity, offering a trippy but elegant ride into fractals, real-life scenarios turned upside-down in our brains, evoking unreal moments made of pieces from this world, he also took us into a quick tour by some more abstract phases that reminded to his characteristic style, like if he wanted to remind us that he has been there rocking that vertical screen many times. But never like this night, showing infinite ideas perfectly tuned with the great score that was hitting our ears.
That was indeed hard to overcome, but I had faith on the next combo, Kangding Ray + Sigha presented as Neon Chambers, a brand new project that had its world premiere in Atonal. There is no mention whatsoever to the author of the visual side, so I will assume it was their own creation. It started promising, a lot, sound wise it was a clear combination of their best skills, great rhythms and better sounds, and visually it started with some powerful oldschool LCD display with symbols in red. After that proper introduction, visuals took us into a glitched and distorted in-your-face claim over all the visual trash we consume through Instagram. Yes, all those videos, tutorials, food, advertising, whatever… You like it? Here you have it again, but our way! That “our way” means mainly the already classic Rutt / Etra video synthesizer emulator. Which is fun and always looks nice, specially if you combine it with the proper images… Then more Rutt / Etra and RGB distortions… Then back to the Instagram feed, back to Rutt / Etra, back to Instagram, back to… Are you bored already? That was it, what was a great music set turned into a repetitive visual torture. One might wonder if that was the purpose, but no, it was a clear evidence that on the visual aspect they revealed all their tricks too early, leaving nothing left for half of the concert. Here you have a clear example of what’s wrong with a lot of AV shows: Many musicians believe that the visual part is just a complement, a background, but if the visual part is not equally elaborated and perfectly live executed as the music, then it drowns the whole… Imagine that as a musician you have only four tracks, great ones, but repeat them over the same concert just to fill one hour performance. What would you think? So in these cases, if you run out of visuals / ideas, I would suggest to leave a blank screen, or a color background… It would feel better than exhausting the audience to the point of losing interest in your music.
The good thing about embracing some disappointments is that it leaves room for a more rewarding compensation. And if something could make it up, it was the closing act in the Main Stage, becoming one of the very best highlights of this year: Lanark Artefax. I didn’t know anything about him before, missed the setting up of the stage while spinning around through other stages… But I arrived right on time when it was about to start and my brother, Gnosick, already told me that we were about to step into a science-fiction movie according to all the stuff they set up. I didn’t even need five minutes to recognize sounds that go under my skin and electrify all the hair of my body. The large screen is off… we see lights, strobes, and music that seems like coming from another planet, indeed, under some metal structures covered in black fabrics we can barely see the young navigator of this ship. And then is when he lands and opens a visual door on stage made out hyper-bright led-screens… Who wants to go first? Broken idm, alien soundscapes and otherworldly melodies are calling me among many of us to join the first rows. I run there forgetting my trip, my concerns, my doubts, my problems, it’s all clear now, Lanark Artefax have the ability to take you in his own space trip and make you forget everything for a long hour. Through that light door we see abstract fluids screaming to us, we also see fragments of this decaying world, and most importantly we see our dreams coming true. We are inside a Sci-Fi movie. My brother was right! Flashbacks from Westworld last season come to our collective mind. And while some are just petrified like a 2001’s monolith with their mobiles in hand (I even saw one skilled fella holding the mobile, the beer and a joint at the same time, clearly enjoying it), some others just surrender to this new life-form, worshiping it and claiming attention with our hands, fists and horns in the air. This is the kind of movie you don’t want to be over, this is why you come to Atonal, to be surprised, to see the Kraftwerk turned into a spaceship, taking off with all of us inside.
I don’t remember how I came back to Earth, there I reunited with friends and family with that face of “I can not believe what just happened”. Later on I checked his profile and beside having really few stuff published, he was and is lined-up in the most relevant festivals of the year… How? Well, stars like Björk, Aphex Twin and Lee Gamble have been talking out loud about him. His last EP Whities 011 is just an appetizer, hoping that he will release a full album soon, although some bird told me that he is not so interested in the music scene as he wants to join film productions with his sound-palette. Fair enough! We will wait for the whole experience.
Downstairs the Stage Null hold up with a rare live set from Alessandro Adriani, quite intense and rich in audiovisual inputs. On my mind it was hard to accept I was back from the previous spaceship, and even though I enjoyed the rest of the menu, my mind started diving in the thoughts that were infecting my brain, tearing down those bricks in the wall. It was followed by a full revival of the electro sound and aesthetic with Le Syndicat Electronique. I carried my soul for the different rooms and stages and for a little while I needed time alone, so I went (can’t remember the time) to let my thoughts come out under video art hypnosis, there sitting down I questioned why, once again, observed the other souls sitting there, like romans after a bacchanal, someone holding his head with his hands over his knees, a couple diving into each others retinas… I let those pixels and shadows fill the gaps inside me, and when I was about to leave it went black. Like black over black I stared for a while to my companions. Show was over, but nobody moved, not a finger, the viewers were blind or just didn’t care. Was it really over? I decided to honor the realm of the livings stepping up and moving towards the sound, I kept on dancing being aware that was the end of a holy day.
[To be continued] – Thanks for reading!
Part of the photos included in this review are from Berlin Atonal’s facebook.