It’s been a while… for many things. No concerts, no festivals, limited social life, etc, etc. you know what I’m talking about. Every unusual situation brings with it an opportunity to question what’s important, or what’s the purpose of doing or keep on doing something. Is it that important to attend to this concert or that festival? Does it really matter so much? Should I write this review? For which reasons? Even (in a more personal level)… Should I keep on pushing my interest and career doing visuals for music? Why?
But here I am, after a year or more without a concert or festival, without taking any psychoactive substance, without writing any article or review… Back to square one, doing it all: attending at least the last night of Metabolic Rift by Berlin Atonal, taking mushrooms, meditating about this period of time and writing this kind of personal review. I guess this is enough context for now…
2021 is the second year without Atonal Festival as we know it. This and many other festivals had to find new ways to stay present, some went totally virtual with live streams or even creating VR immersive worlds, some others producing physical objects to consume, and few of them happening in real life but reducing its format to its minimum allowed by the authorities. In my personal opinion no stream or digital platform will offer the experience and feeling of going to a festival as audience, but it’s even worst for the artists, as it means to reduce your work in such a strong way, that it might even affect to how people would perceive it in terms of quality, so for me that was a clear NO-GO as audience and as a visual artist. Atonal opted for coming back this year as big as possible… meaning limited concerts spread in several separated nights, reducing the audience and under the so called 2G rule (only for vaccinated or recovered, no testing, no masks, no social distancing), without forgetting to mention an interesting and extensive art tour experience.
So here it’s my review: one night, three concerts, one trip…
30.10 – KLEIN, SHACKLETON + WACŁAW ZIMPEL, |||||||||||||||.
I must confess I felt quite nervous before arriving to Kraftwerk, there was a big part of excitement (I know what I gonna do… I know how much I missed this… and how much I need it) and another big part of insecurity (what if someone has the virus… maybe I’m putting myself at risk… maybe I’m not ready to take all in after all this time). Well, at certain hour you just have to jump into the pool, that massive industrial space that has become your favorite place to be, swim or fly in it and realize that there is nothing to fear. The big dimension of the venue and the professional organization behind Atonal offered the safety anyone could need in terms of distance and air ventilation, being able to move around, sit down, stand, dance or whatever you want, being able to enjoy the concerts almost as it used to be. I took my mushrooms right at the beginning of the first concert and got ready.
The night started with ||||||||||||||| (read as “barcode”) totally unknown for me, as happily happens many times with Atonal’s selection of artists, indeed there is not much information about the artist himself, just some singles self-published, no pictures, no bio, nothing else. At this point I should mention that the venue was set up in a different way (nothing is fully back to “normal”), instead the stage at the end of the main hall and the vertical screen, we had the stage in the middle of the venue on one side and some landscape projections in different parts of the plant. ||||||||||||||| offered a proper AV show, in line with what we are used to find in the festival, the music was a mixture of ambient, idm and glitchy passages, or as the artist labeled in his soundcloud profile: Brainjazz. Yes! that would sum it pretty much. And the visual part was a proper match to the music style and its own name, the audience got hypnotized by kind of google-earth views of industrial compounds, where geometrical forms like containers, cranes, buildings, factories, roads, cars, etc. created a high contrast with the geography. All properly animated to the point that the viewer will fall into the trap of believing that it was real footage… the trick was to combine aerial photography with 3D tools and pixel based glitches that will shift reality into an abstract moving painting. A well balanced game between what’s real and what’s not that maybe stole a bit too much attention from the music itself.
And last but not at all least, the night was closed by Klein, little I knew about them or her, regardless being declared “one of the most important artists of the last five years” by RA. But that’s the way I like to surrender to Atonal’s curatorial work, to be surprised, sometimes for good, sometimes for… this. If I have to summarize Klein’s performance in just few words: I didn’t like it at all. But, at least I can say they offered me a good chance to test my limits, my taste and exercise my brain. I consider myself a pretty open minded person in music and art, and I believe I have seen all kind of performances, from provocative to noisy and beyond. But let’s go to the actual facts: The band formed by black women, dressed with pink t-shirts and african skirts and hairstyle, came to stage, the audience immediately felt curious and came closer, lights went out and the artist asked for “some light”, all of a sudden the whole place was fully illuminated in white and a loud sound of some sort of siren started, more than a siren it sounded like the noise someone would use to torture a prisoner in Guantanamo for some kind of sleep-deprivation abuse. Everyone took a moment to look around, to observe the others without the dark complicity that offers the night life, that awkward feeling of being expose and at the same time smiling to each other as simple humans observing other humans… Some dressed up individuals might even take a chance to put out the smartphone and shoot an story for Instagram, yeeaaah… all trendy… What is the band doing in the stage? They are doing exactly that, making selfies and videos. OK, I got it… I guess they wanted us to reflect in the irony of this society where some humans are being tortured or discriminated while others are more worried about being cool in social media. The point was made, but just in case someone was slow, they made it long enough, how long? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? I don’t know, interesting how time perception stretches depending on if you are enjoying or not an experience. I can guarantee you it was long enough to make almost everyone feel uncomfortable. A real punk attitude, I guess, I don’t want you to like me, I want you to listen to me. Light went off, people cheered, sound still lasted some minutes until it went off and the audience celebrated. Question! People cheered and clapped because the quality and originality of the performance or do they celebrated the release from their torture? The second act started, with regular illumination, musicians will just hit the guitar strings, vaguely, just a note that will echo in the amazing acoustic of the venue, another note here and there… someone from the audience walking would accidentally hit a plastic glass in the floor and it would sound equally interesting, even like made on purpose… This too will continue for a while… Answer (to the previous question): It doesn’t matter, as long as you clap and cheer after they finished, it sounds the same, right? Here applies the same strategy than in nowadays politicians or celebrities, doesn’t matter if you do something right or wrong, as long as they talk about it. This is the inflated side effects of the “Yes We Can” philosophy. They do, because they can, and I guess there is nothing more empowering and provocative than being able to do that on stage. They proved they knew how to play, there were some moments to show you that they know how to sound “good”, some melodies were played, even some beautiful singing, so now you know it, and I guess they were there not to please you but to push you. The videos that accompanied their performance were in the same style… amateur phone style videos that would stop and continue like if the streaming wasn’t working, mixing aesthetic references from pop culture, r&b and wannabe instagramers, on purpose! So, if you don’t find the beauty in it, I guess at least you can consider it an statement. And what was the message? I guess a reflection about where the society is going as whole, at least that’s my personal interpretation of it, and honestly it’s not looking well… This might be considered a post-modern act, or a conceptual art performance, or a concert to closure this year edition of Atonal. I can’t recall the rest of the concert, only the feeling of waiting for a conclusion, an answer, an ending, while my mind went to all kind of places, my body too, not dancing –hahaha– just observing how I felt moving around the space. Allow me to spoil you the end: they just ended, that was it… again people clapped and cheered, me too, and I asked myself again if people celebrated its ending or their quality as artists. But, wouldn’t be funny to ask yourself this very same question every time you attend a live performance? (trippy-tricky question)