The "new and irregular" disclaimer Berlin's CTM festival has attached to their new Polymorphism events says quite a bit about the night's intended impact. "Polymorphism" refers to the occurrence of something in various forms, bringing together disparate influences and aesthetics to find common ground, and CTM is emphasizing a sense of occasion rather than trying to sustain just another routine club night. On a recent Friday at Berghain, the second event in the series highlighted LA-based label Hippos In Tanks, purveyors of ethereal drone and post-everything atmospherics. Featuring the Berlin premiere of James Ferraro's Bodyguard project, Laurel Halo fresh off her first full-length for Hyperdub, and the stylistic swerves of Nguzunguzu, the bookings dispelled any hopes of techno hedonism for the stag-party masses stumbling away from the door at Berghain. It was a crowd ready to consume concepts and pleasantly surprised to be provided with propulsion as well.
It's difficult to guess how much of the initially sparse crowd was drawn by the Polymorphism name. Revolving red spotlights illuminated the fog-filled Berghain while Puzzle skipped through a set of spindly loops increasing in percussive urgency, motivating the bravest to the dance floor and just as quickly driving them away. In Panorama Bar people were already sweating to Steve Bug, whose back-to-back set with Miss Kittin proved to be a significant and comparatively mainstream booking hedge in terms of crowd draw.
Setting the tone for the rest of the acts representing Hippos in Tanks, Bodyguard was generally muddled and periodically entrancing. With Ferraro controlling snatches of melody and Sean Bowie from Teams locking into a metronomic drum line, it was too concerned with shuddering repetition and yet too oppressive to bliss out peacefully. Unlike Ferraro's other output, he seemed diffident in terms of sample breadth and more focused on optimizing hypnotism, a winking coo of "I hope you enjoyed this much as much as I did" whispering across the cloudy ambience that ended the less-than-thirty minute set. Berghain briefly erupted following Bodyguard for the Monokid, who trudged through Yeti-chasing snowstorm techno, robotic megaphoned murder-rap and eventually, in a sure Berghain first, dropping in an airy, discombobulating sample of Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is."
In the half-full Berghain Laurel Halo's voice blended well with elastic new arrangements that de-emphasized standout vocals in favor of exploring texture and continuity; "Years" especially balanced menace and warmth. Contented nodding was the norm as Halo bumped, moaned and floated through waterfalls of haze and bass. By Nguzunguzu's set, the hesitancy was replaced by urgency of newcomers who gobbled up the descending helicopters, failed rocket launch rumbles, chopped-and-screwed infant babble and all manner of spasmodic attempts to trigger fight-or-flight responses the LA duo had to offer. The hectic pace best personified the polymorphism of the night—each pivot showing a blatant disregard for those pesky little things called genre.
Coming after Halo's narcotic set, Nguzunguzu's staccato crashes were a welcome splash of apocalyptic energy, intoxicating the hunters and terrifying the animals. Even a gnashing re-work of bar mitzvah mainstay "The Cha-Cha Slide" managed to make the crowd knock-kneed. If such peculiarities are to be expected from future lineups, the Polymorphism series should be a priority for those willing to leaven the genuinely experimental with an occasional smirk.