We are in the equator of Berlin Atonal 2018, facing the program for Day III. Something you learn in life is that after a big wave there is a moment to reach the bottom. The higher you get, the lower point you gonna touch later on. That works with drugs, with feelings, with work / art-works, but also in places such as Atonal Festival. It’s like a natural order. So after an intense Thursday (check part 1 of this review), the following days would hardly get me there. Still I left my mind open to be surprised, beside those acts I was looking forward to.
At a personal level, it’s not the same to make a one-day trip than taking a four-days experience. I had my starting point, the trigger, and now I would had to face everything I dug up from the deep dark black hole. That means going in loop over certain subjects, even if you don’t want to. Still had a great fun and enjoyed myself tripping out, but on the personal side I would have to hold up my mind, not being too mental, but still try to find out where those thoughts and memories came from and why. Is it myself hacking my mind with ideas, or maybe ideas are like viruses, implanted in you from a third part? Am I going towards a truest version of myself or, on the contrary, I’m just reprogramming myself in order to escape from the essence?
In any case all that is just a side story, that I only introduce so you can understand the deviations on this review:
DAY III – Friday 24, August 2018.
The equator means the middle ground, it was by far the less exciting day for me, but you have to keep in mind that I’m a really visual person. So even though I don’t need visuals to space out with music, if there is no visual components in the equation, I would be less excited. In all these years, many people asked me for advice on which days are the best to attend Atonal Festival, and I always reply the same: 1. Depends on which artists you like and 2. Depends on if you are looking for a more complex combination of different arts (including visuals). Usually recommend Thursday and Saturday, but it’s never a safe bet.
The Main Stage showed an even more airless version of the light setting than Day I, the lights were lower, I wouldn’t say that was an improvement, but it’s true that depending on your position in the hall, the vision could be more or less interesting… For example, right in the back, on the side corridors, the metal structure and lights offered an interesting perspective, increasing the feeling of deepness in opposition to its vertical aspect.
Concerts passed by one after the other, ranging between ambient, drone, field recording, slow industrial, with synth based landscapes and dark atmospheres. From Georgian explorers Esi + Octachoron to sound abstractionist Chevel, passing by a more rhythmical set from Hiro Kone and the awaited Pariah who was presenting “Here From Where We Are” released this summer on the always interesting Houndstooth label. In general music wise was an interesting and pretty intellectual night, but maybe because of that I missed something to connect with that would really shake my ghost. There were great moments, but I waited for something else.
DAY IV – Saturday 25, August 2018.
Back to a full audiovisual day and looking forward to see Claude Speeed live, the day promised to be quite exciting. The Main Stage was opened with the premiere of Prequel Tapes with the visual work from nomoreless and a performance by Valentin Tszin. Maybe because I got the chance to meet Marco (Prequel Tapes) some months before, I was looking forward to see what they have prepared. And I appreciate they really worked out the whole set, music wise it was the presentation of his new album, diving deeper in ambient and well designed soundscapes, and visually everything have been planned and rehearsed. You can tell, just because there was a natural and interesting development from the beginning to the end, a concept behind it and a sort of storyline. Sound, performance and visuals fitted one with each other offering some iconic scenes.
The following artists, Lowtec + Kassem Mosse were premiering their collaborative new project: Kolorit, presented as an AV live. Visuals were a really basic audio-reactive texture of paper… Sorry to be grumpy about it, but again, it’s quite sad knowing that Berlin has such a great scene of visual creators and some artists just prefer to ignore the importance of good visual content. I understand that AV is being a trend (since years), but there is no point in offering a “live AV” if the visuals just don’t follow at all. Otherwise, probably I would have kept a better memory of their music… Kind of the same happened with the following artists, Leslie Winer & Co. just (ab)used a bucolic scene of wild horses running in slow-montion and left it there on screen the whole-f*cking-time, such a cliche, easy and obvious that makes me question if we should maybe create a new label for this type of shows (live A / lame V). In the case of Leslie things went further down… becoming probably the worst concert I have ever seen in Atonal. Started great! Winer has a great voice and a particular style, touching the edges of spoken-word and trip-hop. First two songs convinced, the rest of the concert seemed like a “Sorry, my dog ate the homeworks”, long breaks between songs, some moments it was just the percussionist, not as a solo, just because the others seemed confused on stage looking at the screen of their laptop commenting on… maybe how to change the video loop. Then the style could change into… oh! It’s just a loop, no voice, no purpose, but hey! They finished with a personal cover of Portishead. And that’s something I really dislike (don’t get me wrong, I love Portishead), artists playing great hits from well-known bands… It is OK if you do it in Lollapalooza, people is gonna love it, but in Atonal? C’mon! But… Maybe it’s just me, that I missed the point (her Witch album on 1993 is considered a legend) and that I-don’t-care attitude was just a cool pose I didn’t get.
DAY V – Sunday 26, August 2018.
Last day ahead, usually the closing day of Atonal is a more arty and relaxed conclusion. But think again: patterns are there to be broken, and the festival still had several aces up its sleeve. Sunday turned out to be the cherry on top with some impressive surprises, a day to remember and maybe the best of this year. So that’s why I consciously decide to attend all days of the festival, as you can’t never trust rules or patterns.
In the personal side it was time for finishing up the trip, meaning: peaking up the pieces and make sense out of that puzzle I found in the last days. I got already some clear ideas, decisions I had to take, and some new insights. But again surprises were awaiting me around the corner. These altered state experiences work triggered by many different facts, mainly the personal situation you are at that moment. Under the effects of mushrooms (or any other psychedelic substance), just a word, an image or an accomplice look with an stranger in the right moment can change the direction of an idea and suddenly you might be seeing the whole picture from a different angle. Also the mood is highly volatile, some good news, plans for a future project, or a little chat with a good-hearted person can push you up straight into a light beam, but on the contrary some unpleasant news can take you deep down into a hole. It’s obviously a really sensitive state, so it’s always great to be surrounded by some friends that care about you. So you can fly high, but not forget the ground.
The first act in the main stage brought together Kassel Jaeger and Stephen O’Malley from Sunn O))), their evocative mixture of post-rock, noise and ambient was the perfect appetizer for a solid live set by Caterina Barbieri along the visual work of Ruben Spini, her synth based passages mixed with organic sounds and distorted sequences generated the perfect soundtrack for the grey skies, the storms and the windmills projected on the screen. It followed another great act, this time without visuals, the long and extended tones from The Transcendence Orchestra achieve exactly what their name suggest: a meditative journey guided by sound, like an electronic version of zen music. And indeed that was the perfect moment to start the last trip, right after some nice chat with good friends, stirring up the soup.
After such mind-blowing act it was going to be hard to rise the level, but still I kept high hopes for Outer Space, just that name and scouting the words “vintage synth-electronic”, “relentless polyrhythmic” and “spirals into the tripped-out distance” among the description of their project, was enough. And indeed, they did a great set, music and visuals as an entity, reflecting a colorful and analog style that reassemble old ways into a contemporary trend. The mentioned spiral was there, an infinite feedback system that made me go deep down the rabbit hole, visualizing some personal fears… Not music’s fault, just personal stuff, so I had to step out, re-think and reboot. Lesson learnt.
The closing act of the Main Stage was another great surprise. My brother nailed it hours before commenting about how Atonal is more than just an experimental music festival, but a container of what should be considered contemporary art. It’s not just music and people dancing, but a next step in the evolution of the art museum concept. LABOUR was exactly that… But Who are they to be right at the spot, closing such festival? LABOUR didn’t exist until that very moment, as it is “a new collaborative project which seeks to contribute towards a space of nonconforming social practices and identities, and recasts the nature of work as a potentially transformative activity.” So it is an Atonal inbreed new concept that combined lights, performance, music and visuals specially conceived and arranged for getting their best out of the architecture of Kraftwerk. The piece was entitled “Next Time, Die Consciously” so, go and figure out… in your mind! For an hour we attended a continuous chain of events with several live drummers moving in all parts of the former power-station, light torches placed among us in order to expand the light conception within the architectural boundaries, the score was a mixture of ritual and transcendental rhythms with distorted electronic music and diphonic chants that accompanied us over a visual lecture (on the screen) through references to art history, culture and society, all re-arranged in a creative new way, like a perfect opera showing us the beauty of our decaying existence. The piece left in each and every one of us a moment imprinted for the rest of our lives, in my case I can’t take out of my mind that car being crushed by that giant shredder, how the car surrendered to its destiny piece by piece, still struggling, the drums rhythms going in crescendo, until the last piece of the motor vanished in a sudden blank and silent screen. That was just one of many stunning moments that made us forget our own struggles, redeemed through pure art. If there is something you can call a closure, this is it, period.
So that was the end, for me, even though I still stayed longer. Stage Null started right after with some of the best sets in that stage, Skee Mask was the perfect counter-balance with his pretty cinematic but danceable revisit of broken beats, techno and idm, offering the chance to leave the festival with a big smile on our faces, that smile of one more amazing year… as the one in the back and the one ahead. If you ask me right now, YES, you will find me here, at Atonal Festival again the next year, God prevents anything stands in my way back in (turn on, tune in, drop out).
Last but not least I want to thank Atonal Festival for the great work done once again and all the inspiration (my head is boiling), to all my friends and family for being such great companion those days, to the audience for being that big eclectic and free mixture of genders, styles and open-minded souls, and also to all the photographers (Helge Mundt, Cornelia Thonhauser, Frankie Casillo, Ikalumia and Isabel O’Toole) who documented Atonal, for the pictures I included in this review, because it’s the best way to illustrate and share what inspired me.
Thanks for reading!
Most photos are taken from Berlin Atonal‘s facebook. Cover photo is Claude Speeed captured by Helge Mundt.