CTM has grown considerably since its humble beginnings as a one-day offshoot of Transmediale, the media art and digital culture festival with which it continues to run in parallel. The first edition of the festival in 1999 took place entirely at the now defunct club Maria am Ostbahnhof, but these days it calls a legion of Berlin venues home. In addition to Berghain/Panorama Bar, the Kunstquartier Bethanien, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Horst Krzbrg and the Hebbel Am Ufer venues, the festival now hosts events in the cavernous ex-state swimming pool Stattbad Wedding and the Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, an ex-DDR state radio broadcast centre in the industrial Oberschöneweide district. As the size of CTM has increased, so has its length: including the pre-festival Vorspiel, this year's edition lasted a grand total of 11 days.
It came, therefore, with little surprise that the theme of this year's program was "The Golden Age," questioning whether or not the abundance of music and art in the modern world has resulted in a utopian era of creativity, or rather if the sheer quantity of media available today is of detriment to the wider social landscape. In keeping with the notion that this creative overload has led to the breakdown of genre, the 2013 lineup was appropriately schizophrenic. Folk-experimentalist/poet David Tibet performed with his Myrninerest project prior to a Raster-Noton showcase at Berghain, and genre-defying metal three-piece reliq sat side by side with performances of Berlin minimalist Ernstalbrecht Stiebler's compositional work. Drone legends Sunn O))) closed a weekend that also featured Arabic lute/punk percussionist Khyam Allami, Parisian vocalist Ghédalia Tazartès, queer (t)rap newcomer Mykki Blanco and electro-house headliners Simian Mobile Disco.
Photo credit: Camille Blake
Most of daytime events took place in the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanian, a former hospital that now houses artist studios, gallery spaces, a music school and (if the ever-present screaming children were anything to go by) a nursery for the artistically-inclined Berlin parent. The Bethanien not only played host to the CTM office for the week, but also an array of other activities, including the weeklong exhibition In That Weird Age, the discourse series, and the Musicmakers Hacklab, a series of workshops, presentations and discussions curated by Create Digital Music's Peter Kirn, which invited professionals from various reaches of media to collaborate on musical projects.
Hacklab provided CTM with one of its few instances of community and a unique sense of inter-festival cooperation between artist and attendee: its program ended with a showcase at Berghain Kantine that presented the work of Hacklab participants alongside more established artists such as Tim Exile, Kode9, Lando Kal and Laurel Halo. The discourse series, meanwhile, was less successful. Weak journalist-led artist talks were sandwiched between panel discussions and lectures with a more academic grounding, leading to a disjointed and generally failed attempt to examine the topics presented. The talks were almost single-handedly saved by Capitalist Realism author Mark Fisher, whose musings on hauntology, future shock and the "death of rave" provided considered, articulate and refreshing arguments that appropriately referenced the overarching themes of the festival that were disregarded elsewhere.
The venue HAU1 was expertly curated, though most of the performances there unfortunately fell short. As in past years, large white beanbag cushions adorned the slanted theatre of HAU2, while an inviting open-door policy allowed visitors to drift in and out of the room. A number of the artists used the space to create listening environments, and the audience adapted accordingly. Visitors would spread themselves across multiple beanbags, lie against one another and drift off into the soporific soundscapes. Montreal pop-experimentalist d'Eon managed to fool spectators into thinking that they were listening to Satie-referencing solo piano pieces, when in fact they were being treated to his own interpretations of Blink 182's "What's My Age Again?".
Photo credit: Camille Blake
Another notable performance came on the Wednesday afternoon with Terre Thaemlitz. Positioned amongst the crowd behind a grand piano, he performed an hour-and-a-half long rendition of "Canto V" from the 32-hour album Soulnessless. Over the course of the afternoon, he solidified his reputation as one of the most relevant and innovative thinkers in modern music, not solely as a result of his compositional ability, but also through his musings on the state of contemporary art, gender politics, and his examination of the role of the artist in the present day.
Thaemlitz was also booked for one of the most anticipated shows of the week: his performance as DJ Sprinkles in Panorama Bar. Unfortunately the set was limited to the opening hours of the night, meaning that it was missed by a vast number of attendees. Additionally, Shackleton's unique blend of experimental bass music would have been much more effective in Berghain, regardless of his association to Perlon. For the second year running, the bland strains of Zip and Sammy Dee's minimal techno and house crept out of the Panorama Bar speakers, their monthly Get Perlonized night bizarrely un-removed from CTM's program.
Considering Mark Fisher's apt statement during the "Death of Rave" panel discussion that the majority of music released in 2012 could just as easily been released in 1994, it was ironic that a DJ set actually composed of music released in 1994 provided one of the festival's most memorable moments. Mark Archer of UK rave duo Altern8 highlighted electronic music's current fascination with looking backwards, his two hours of early morning old skool, hardcore and acid house sounding remarkably current and at home on the Berghain soundsystem.
If the Friday night at Berghain outlined the glories of raves past, then Saturday at Stattbad demonstrated the numerous possibilities for rave in the present. While commercial acts such as Simian Mobile Disco and Skream may have been somewhat controversial bookings for a festival like CTM, they worked well within the context of a wider exploration of rave music. Elsewhere in the building, Purge and #gHashtag channelled rave's punk energy via a haze of performances from the likes of Alec Empire, Mykki Blanco, Necro Deathmort and UZ, demonstrating why they are currently two of Berlin's most important parties, their daring, techno-referencing musical hysteria never afraid to dive into the extreme depths of black metal, pop, R&B and bass-heavy electronica, returning to the surface with whatever is worth salvaging.
Photo credit: Camille Blake
Instead of spending the closing night within the exquisite setting of the Passionskirche that housed events by Touch and Tim Hecker in 2012, the church had sadly disappeared from the program altogether, and while Sunn O)))'s closing concert mirrored Hecker's organ-driven 2012 show in terms of bass frequency, the atmosphere of Friedrichshain concert venue Astra paled in comparison.
The Funkhaus Nalepastrasse (and its daytime program on Saturday exploring the sonic potential of the Subharchord synthesizer) came as a welcome venue addition, however there were times throughout the week when the choice of location simply felt lazy. Berghain was overused as a primary venue, and five nights of non-stop events and lacklustre scheduling caused it to lose its initial glow. A similar idleness could be said for the overall programming, which didn't seem to dive as deep as it had in the past, the lineup perhaps reflecting the rising trend of experimental post-dance music rather than looking to satisfy the heady aficionado. While it can be argued that this came as a result of the curators' attempts to provide as wide-reaching a line-up as possible, rather than criticise the overabundance of music in 2012, the scale of the program seemed solely to add to the problem. Individual performances were given little time to breath in the mass of music on offer, and with the exception of the MusicMakers Hacklab, any attempt to unite attendees failed, resulting in a botched sense of community. Overall, the festival as a whole felt disjointed, confused with its objectives, almost suffocated by its own ambition.
Yet perhaps this was the intended design; providing a barrage of events intended solely for visitors to drop in and out of, forcing attendees to select a small number of specific concerts and not attempting to see everything, while simultaneously questioning the role of the festival and the demands of the contemporary music lover/festival goer. Further evidence that this may have been the desired effect came from the directors themselves, who cryptically concluded their welcoming statement by wishing all visitors a "gloriously overloaded festival." While 2013 may not have marked the golden age for CTM itself, the attempt to question whether or not contemporary music is in a state of unbridled creativity is undeniably relevant, and it will be interesting to see what a refinement of scope will bring for the festival in the future.