Follow our rolling reporting of the Berlin event's final five days.
• 9 AM - 9 PM
Many of the same characters from Saturday night's Prismatic Spiral event at SchwuZ could be found with their shoes off, negronis in hand, unraveling at the 12-hour Nyege Nyege takeover of Cashmere Radio. Organizers, artists and fans stuffed themselves into the muggy station to hear sets from members and affiliates of the Ugandan label. The Berlin-based DJ AUCO delivered nose-scrunching UK garage and jungle. DJ Diaki got things positively frantic with a live set of his berserk, 170 BPM balani show music, a West African electronic tradition he's been exploring since its start in the '90s. As whistles and air horns rang out, I was grateful to have a small taste of Nyege Nyege's beloved Ugandan festival right here at home. On that note, despite feeling liminal as fuck, it was time to take all the great music I'd heard this week out of the shadows with me and back to the tangible world.
Sets from the Nyege Nyege takeover will soon be available via Cashmere Radio's website.
• 7:30 PM - Drops And Seeds
How to capture the scale and brutality of the Cambodian genocide through dance, light and music? This was the challenge confronted by Prumsodun OK, the American-born son of refugees who, in 2015, founded Cambodia's first openly gay dance company. Members of his troupe, in collaboration with Ensemble KNM Berlin, the composer Ana Maria Rodriguez and the light designer Fred Pommerehn, took the stage four times during CTM to perform Drops And Seeds, an elegant, hour-long show that toyed with extremes. Light and dark. Whispering flute and seat-rattling bass. Delicate poses and violent outbursts. Barely a word was spoken and yet so much was conveyed: anguish, fear, fury and, in brief moments, relief.
• 3:45 PM - Sonic Cinema In 4DSOUND
I walked in the rain to Funkhaus for the final day of MONOM's Sonic Cinema programme. Known for its extraordinary 4DSOUND system, the venue hosted kinetic sound and light installations during CTM Festival, as well as overnight sleep concerts.
I went into the third session of the day, Compound Terrains, developed by Tom Slater and Jeremy Keenan. I was met by several green lasers crossing the dark room, shifting and then disappearing. On opposite sides of the space were two screens for projections, which I had never seen in there before. Some listeners walked around to maximize the audio experience of spatial sound. I followed suit for a bit, before settling into my favourite position for appreciating music—horizontal, on top of blankets and cushions. Chord progressions moved all around me via four pillars of vertical speakers, while laser beams scanned my body. When I eventually got up, I felt refreshed, as though rising from a sonic bath.
• 4:30 PM - Prismatic Spiral
Arriving early was a must for Saturday night's absolutely stacked bill at SchwuZ. First up was Teto Preto, a Brazilian five-piece electronic jam band whose protest songs, inspired by the political turmoil in their home city of São Paulo, yanked the day-nine-festival crowd from their slumber.
Instead of the usual entrance, Laura Diaz's limp body was delivered to the stage by the band's other leader, Loïc Koutana, who was dressed in a black-hooded robe. Diaz, wearing crotchless leather pants with bright red overdrawn lips and short spiky eyebrows, then rose back to life before launching into the 2018 track "Safo." From this moment through to the set's last second, Teto Preto were pure energy. For "Bate Mias," Diaz invited women and non-binary people up on stage. Some swayed at the back, others removed their shirts, some knelt near Diaz's feet. It was harder and raunchier than most of CTM's Berghain shows, offering Berlin a compelling taste of the queer club scene that Teto Preto, and their affiliate party Mamba Negra, have been fighting hard to protect.
BbyMutha went next. With a bottle of Smirnoff in one hand and a Sailor Moon-themed roach clip in the other, the Tennessee rapper struck the perfect balance between intimate and lit. "Last time I was in Berlin, I played for an audience of 30 people. Now look at me!" she said, looking out at the sea of heads. Belting through some of her older material, such as "D.I.Y." and "Fuck Me," plus a few unreleased tracks, she charmed us with anecdotes and stunned us with bars. At the end, the audience implored her back for an encore.
The Uganda-based rapper MC Yallah punctuated every bar with fierce a jab of her long, red nails, slicing through the air with scarlet blades. Delivering song after song with superhuman breath control, she proved she's one of the most boundary-pushing rappers around right now. With a flow both dense and rhythmic, she asserted every word with more fervor than the last. Performing alongside frequent collaborator Debmaster, the pair rinsed through tracks from their 2019 release, Kubali, with Nyege Nyege labelmate Catu Diosis jumping up on stage during the album's title track. Not even the surprisingly shitty soundsystem could dampen Yallah's incredible presence as she kept the audience wrapped around those beautifully adorned fingers.
• 4:30 PM - 8 X 8 Of Making A Difference
For the closing section of CTM 2020's Rethinking Music Ecosystems series, eight projects were invited to talk for eight minutes each in KQB Projektraum. Representatives from Cashmere Radio, Circadian Rhythms, Empower Festival, mina/suspension, Nyege Nyege, Plus1, Wonderfruit and XenoEntities Network shared their stories, moderated by Daniela Seitz.
Themes across the projects varied widely, from queer feminist inclusivity to environmentalism. But they all showed what can happen when a few individuals come together to do something differently in dance music, creating an impressive ripple effect across our community. Take Plus1, which placed tins in Berlin club entrances, collecting €1 donations from every person on the guestlist to help refugees entering Europe. Such a simple idea ended up raising more than €300,000.
The projects also shared common struggles, such as financial issues, especially since foreigners often have limited access to public funding. Marum from mina told how the now-internationally renowned party is being pushed out of Lisbon due to increasing gentrification. The passion with which each group spoke heated up the rainy winter afternoon in Berlin. Ultimately, their presentations reminded me of the grass-root power of dance music in the era of business techno.
• 2:30 PM - From Hedonism To Domestication: Liminality, Cyclic Place and The Outdoor Music Festival
Are Music Festival Lineups Getting Worse? Pitchfork asked in a 2017 study. After comparing the lineup overlap from some of the summer's biggest festivals, the music site confirmed that the same big acts dominated the same big festivals across the world. How did we get here? This is what the author and professor Chris Anderton explained in his CTM talk, From Hedonism To Domestication: Liminality, Cyclic Place And The Outdoor Music Festival.
Music festivals once belonged to a real counterculture. In the free-festival scene in the 1970s, organizers moved around the UK throwing unofficial festivals at random sites. These events were liminal and attracted people who lived a truly alternative lifestyle. But from the '90s, festivals became more commercial. Vertically integrated companies like Live Nation, which controls artist management, tour management, record sales, ticketing, event marketing and so on, pushed out independent promoters and reduced the variation in the market. Soon licenses were required for safety reasons and festivals built their brands on permanent sites. No longer about "sex, drugs and squalor," the events became more sanitized. The domestication of festivals marks a shift from these events being about freedom to long-tail capitalism.
Still, festivals today can offer transgressive experiences. Their professionalization represents the society we live in, where more safety, cleaner toilets and less sexual assault aren't bad things at all. The trade off is we're no longer totally cut off from reality. People perform behavior to meet the expected image of the festival, whether it be flower crowns at Coachella or hipster tracksuits at CTM. We go to festivals now to be around people who are similar to us. They provide a feeling of belonging.
And Squarepusher live!— Brice Coudert (@BriceLeeee) February 1, 2020
Berghain / Saüle
• 11 PM - Vortex Merge / Indefinite Evolver
Headlining Berghain must be a terrific way to celebrate the release of your first album in five years. The record is out, the stress is over, now it's time for people to hear it on one of the world's best soundsystems. Squarepusher certainly looked like he was enjoying himself last night, breaking occasionally from his scientist's stoop to salute the teeming dance floor with a ferocious wag of the finger. Playing live with a laptop and other invisible bits of gear, he rattled out a tidal wave of spitting jungle rhythms, sci-fi melodies and the odd 170 BPM techno stomp. This, as his latest single suggested, was prime Squarepusher. Out of nowhere hi-hats surfaced with the force of machine guns. Strobes and coloured strip lights fizzed in sync with the tunes. The crowd responded viscerally, eyes shut, limbs akimbo, their whole bodies given over to the experience. Festival-sized roars and whistles met the closing silence, as the UK artist bowed and blew kisses.
Down in the bowels of the building, in Säule, the mood was more subdued, though people danced with no less conviction. 3Ddancer, the live modular trio of Alex The Fairy, Rachel Lyn and Volruptus, were in the midst of an eight-hour set, thumping out crisp techno rhythms, electro basslines and myriad synth zaps and gurgles, some sounds moving, others almost comical. At one point, Volruptus swivelled round, grabbed a handful of food and shoved it in his mouth, fuel for the many hours ahead.
KQB Studio 1
• 4 PM - Voices Without Bodies: Technology And Trans Music
Presenting ideas from their forthcoming book, Glitter Up The Dark: How Pop Music Broke The Binary, the writer and critic Sasha Geffen made a case for technology's role in trans music. Advancing us beyond the days of "castrati singers," where castration was performed before puberty to ensure young male singers maintained and developed their unique voices, technology has allowed for artists to flourish outside of a body's physical constraints. From the synth experimentations of the Moog pioneer Wendy Carlos and Laurie Anderson's vocoder-fuelled "audio drag," to '90s and '00s "millennial cyborg pop," Geffen's examples spanned genres and time. They also outlined how more marginalized communities like the gay scene in '70s New York used accessible technology, with drag queens and Ballroom performers lip-syncing to animate the feminine voice. For a modern example, they played us clips from SOPHIE's "It's Okay To Cry" video, showing her lip-syncing adorned in sharp prosthetic cheeks and a healthy coat of red lipgloss. It's the first track where SOPHIE does her own vocals and continues her long legacy of dodging boxes and binaries. With this video, Geffen noted that SOPHIE "subverts the idea that transness is before or after. Instead, it's a perpetual becoming."
• 3:30 PM - Sustainable Clubbing: Nightlife, The UN SDGs, And Visions For 2030
The room was full and hot when Diana Raiselis, a researcher at Clubcommission Berlin, began her talk on sustainable clubbing. Discussing the sustainability of club culture often invites skepticism. Does how we party make a difference? As a case study of just how much impact a club can have, SchwuZ, the Berlin gay spot, was introduced in the lecture. With the help of Clubtopia, an organization that promotes environmental sustainability in clubs, SchwuZ has switched to renewably sourced electricity and implemented other energy-saving strategies. These changes alone were estimated to have saved eight tons of CO2 emissions—enough to silence my inner skeptic.
Towards the end of the talk, audience members were invited to turn to their neighbours and discuss the ways in which we were empowered to build a more sustainable music ecosystem. Artists, promoters, journalists and partygoers shared their thoughts. The talk ended on a hopeful note. "We can build sustainable practices by building relationships," said Raiselis.
• 4:30 PM - In Search Of Greener Practices
For the panel titled In Search Of Greener Practices, Eilidh McLaughlin, Jacob Bilabel, Juan Arminandi, Ruggero Pietromarchi and Gigsta shared their experiences and ideas on what the dance music community could do in light of the environmental crisis. The discussion was moderated by the journalist Chal Ravens, who wrote a feature on the topic last year for Resident Advisor.
The Indonesian artist Juan Arminandi presented a short live set with instruments he built himself inspired by the haze of the burning forest in his hometown. Gigsta shared her experience of "slow gigging," where she tries to travel to gigs only by train. "Musicians are examples in a way," she said. "We come into this profession and accept that it's normal to fly so often, when it's not. It means saying no to a lot of gigs, but I'm really happy with the decision I made."
There was a debate involving the panelists and the audience on whether this was a systemic issue or a matter of individual accountability. "There are top-down and bottom-up solutions, and it's got to happen on both levels," said McLaughlin, the cofounder of carbon offsetting project Clean Scene.
"I have seen people's attitudes about the environment change before and after the festival," said Pietromarchi, the creative director of Terraforma festival in Italy. Bilabel, founder of Green Music Initiative, added: "Festivals can have transformative power on someone. We don't forget about our lives at festivals. We're reminded of how life could be."
Berghain / Panorama Bar
• 10 PM - Shadow Twirl / Phantom Flare
Still processing the madness that happened at Berghain last night for @CTMFestival I have goosebumps just thinking about it 🤯— cerakhin (@CeraKhin) January 31, 2020
WHAT YOU FOING THURSDAY NIGHT— 🙅🏻♀️ (@aya_yco) January 31, 2020
Given Berlin's passion for cigarettes, last night's two-hour, CTM-imposed smoking ban in Berghain was no mean feat. It goes to show how close the relationship between the festival and the venue has gotten over the years. CTM continually pushes the club out of its comfort zone, presenting it in exciting new contexts. Berghain without cigarettes. Berghain with clowns. And, last night, Berghain as church, taking the classic metaphor to its natural conclusion with a performance by Georgia's national choir, Ensemble Bassiani. After soaking up their intricate vocal harmonies, which, under the watchful eye of Nene H, rose to the level of a techno opera, I headed upstairs for something more demonic.
I hope all the purists are sitting down for this next bit. Playing first in Panorama Bar, Born In Flamez embarked on a club and rap-inflected rollercoaster ride, which climaxed with Aquarian's remix of chart smash "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X. I was satisfied, having finally been able to quickly ID a track in this godforsaken place. AYA, also DJing, came next, playing her own tracks as well as a bold selection of edits and mash-ups (Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At?"). She took us on a journey through rave-pop culture with absolute panache. She cut the sound so the audience could sing along, encouraged people to buy her music and provided us with cheeky bits of commentary throughout. "She really shook things up at Panorama Bar, didn't she?" She joked, grinning into the mic. To finish, she leapt onto the booth, grabbed her bottle of beer and poured it her over head. I saw a couple of front-row devotees do the same.
If Panorama Bar gave us a pop-culture explosion, Andy Stott's live set in Berghain presented a pop-culture inversion. The Modern Love artist delivered grimy, disintegrating techno, which felt perfectly suited to the space. The music was straightforward and industrial, with an overall fuzz that meant each track hit you like a brick. Berghain was in its element. The bridge at the back was full of dancers, their palms pressed against the caged metal walls. Dudes in their 60s did the rave-step. Somebody vogued by the toilets. A man in the leather daddy version of a Marvin The Martian costume surveyed his domain. This part of the night wasn't dominated by any one scene or posse. Instead, it brought together all the different dancers in the building for a sweat-soaked, distressed-techno session.
• 7:30 PM - Vague Dilation
When I entered the foyer of HAU2, it was so packed I had to sit on the stairs. Ghazi Barakat and Dani Gal soon began their live show, "Altered State Solution." Central to the performance were radio transmissions and the accompanying noise distortion, which represented the blocked radio signals from the opposite side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. String and pipe instruments added cacophonous melody, the music constantly balancing between coherence and dissonance. I was absorbed.
After a break, the Tbilisi-based Iranian duo NUM also played live. Their show, "Nothingness, Life, Nothingness," began with raw elements like the sound of raindrops and footsteps, before slowly progressing into moments of calm ambience and overwhelming noise. Strong visuals of a first-person walk in the forest turning into a trip tightly accompanied the audio. It was, at times, a lot to take in.
The event ended with Afrorack, one of Africa's modular synth pioneers. With impressive dexterity, he warped from abstraction to acid, techno to rhythmic percussion. I was glad I brought my ear plugs.
• 5 PM - Critical Solidarity – How To Foster Dialogue Between Musicians And Journalists?
It was a full house for editor, journalist and Jockey Slut cofounder Emma Warren's roundtable on fostering dialogue between journalists and musicians. Aida Baghernejad and Angus Finlayson represented the writers, while Lyra Pramuk and Aquarian held it down for the artists. The discussion charted mutually agreed purposes for music journalism: to archive work, provide context and shed light on things an artist may not see in their own music.
The challenges and complaints on both sides seemed to reflect the changing music media landscape and the lack of resources that have followed suit. Warren noted that, despite living costs continuing to rise, the rates at many publications haven't changed in 15 years. Aquarian expressed his frustration at the toil of artists who feel stuck only getting news or review coverage for their work while possibilities for more-in depth features seem slim to none.
Funnily enough, similar complaints had been raised a few hours earlier in the interactive workshop on Cultural Journalism In A Shifting Media Landscape, though this time by young journalists. This proved that, at the end of the day, the people who push buttons and the people who write about pushing buttons aren't so different after all.
• 10 PM - Absurd TRAX VS Selam X
The best night ever! 🔥🔥🔥Thanks @ctmfestival for having us and everyone who was dancing hard! 💕— ASJ (@weareasj) February 2, 2020
Big ❤️to the @absurdtrax fam ⚡️& @beenees_ !!!! LOVE YALL!!!! @ Berghain / Panorama Bar https://t.co/y1YAUoyFqu
REAL TALK THO @absurdtrax showcase at Berghain for @ctmfestival was the littest shit I ever seen in Berlin. Mega mosh pits n @alexmalism closing the night 4am standing on top the booth playing violin an hour straight… https://t.co/XTCgPBJMUm— Dis Fig (@dis_fig) January 30, 2020
There were four open Mate Mate bottles within arm's reach of the Hong Kong-based multimedia artist Nerve throughout his set, though there was little energetic about the dense and gritty ambiance with which he opened. With help from this hazy buzz, the often underappreciated Säule felt particularly cozy. Colorful projections added spice to the concrete pillars and towering forearm-sized candles illuminated the bar. But despite the cushy, Manhattan-art-collector-loft vibes and Nerve's intensifying glitches, eventually I had to force myself up the giant beanstalk to the room above.
• 9 PM - In Between Ends
It's not often you mistake an ambient artist for Lady Gaga, but looking up at xin on stage, wrapped in folds of red cloth with an opaque facemask to match, it was hard not to wonder if there had been a last-minute lineup change. But as xin's deconstructionist fog immersed the room in a cacophony of synthetic choirs and re-stitched rave references, I felt blessed that Gaga hadn't pulled a Kylie. Playing tracks off their 2019 album, Melts Into Love, theirs is the music of memories, like leaving the club on a grey morning with scraps of bass and slivers of breaks ringing in your ears. This cuddly state of confusion was the perfect segue for what would come next.
Rubén Patiño and Kay Schuttel premiere their new work “No Laughing Matter” at Berghain tonight. The interdisciplinary artists work across sound and performance and at CTM 2020, the pair explores laughing in relation to bodily presence and acousmatic sound. #CTM2020 @transmediale pic.twitter.com/5ByhEQ8ODx— CTM Festival (@CTMFestival) January 29, 2020
"If you'd told me I'd see clowns at Berghain this morning, I wouldn't have believed you," a friend whispered in my ear as we stared at the pale-powdered face of a performer in hysterics. What began as a single cartoon laugh soon blossomed into many, as spotlights beamed down on the tightly packed crowd revealing clowns, clowns and more clowns. No Laughing Matter, by Rubén Patiño and Kay Schuttel, inspired by far the most euphoric moment I've ever had in Berghain. As I jumped up and down with glee, I watched people try and dance to Patiño's deranged rollout of samples or, in the case of a couple behind me, passionately kiss to the cackles. With this performance, Patiño and Schuttel achieved what they set out to do: explore acousmatic sound and physical presence. But most importantly, they executed the kind of cosmic joke we need more of in these spaces. While tourists and dance music fans lined up outside, keeping their faces straight for fear of landing a "heute leider nicht," who was actually inside? Clowns. Smiling, giggling clowns.
silent green - Betonhalle 1
• 8 PM - Chernobyl
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#017: HILDUR GUĐNADÓTTIR presents Chernobyl at Betonhalle Berlin 🌬☄🌟 - the videos 📺 . #berlinstagram #berlinlive #berlinlife #berlinconcert #berlinfestival #frontrowlf #ctmfestival @ctmfestival #betonhalle @silent.green #chernobyl #hildurguðnadóttir @hildur_gudnadottir #hildurgudnadottir @hbo.chernobyl @dgclassics
One of the things that made the HBO series Chernobyl so good was Hildur Guðnadóttir's soundtrack, which created a near-constant sense of anxiety across all five episodes. When the live version of Guðnadóttir's Grammy-winning score debuted at Unsound last year, it took place in a raw, soon-to-be-demolished factory. Its second showing was at CTM, in Betonhalle, a former crematorium in Wedding.
It was a well-chosen space. Guests entered through a long, downward-sloping corridor with flickering lights. Guðnadóttir was joined onstage by Chris Watson (playing in a "band" for the first time since Cabaret Voltaire), Sam Slater and Francesco Donadello. Their performance, which drew on acoustic instrumentation, sound spatialization and recordings made at Chernobyl's sister power plant in Lithuania, was enriched by an array of ever-changing lights (controlled live by Theresa Baumgartner) and the blank, smoke-filled space. At one stage, the music evoked the sound of a radiation meter's crackle. (Those who have seen Chernobyl will know how well this sound is used in the series.) The effect was chilling.
I let my mind wander back to moments from the series that are seared into my mind: men desperately shovelling graphite off the roof; the grim discussions among plant officials on the night of the disaster; people watching the eerie glow of the explosion from a bridge. It was a captivating way to revisit and reimagine a gripping TV series.
KQB Studio 1
• 5 PM - Sound Bath Meditation Session
During the Bodily Knowledge And Altered States panel, Lucy made several connections between meditation and techno. Both help him reach an alternate mind state. Both are about "escaping the linear and horizontal shape of reality." And both bring people together to "experience a collective solitude."
After the panel, Lucy led a sound bath and meditation session to demonstrate this. The chairs in KQB Studio 1 were replaced with yoga mats, a single gong hanging up front. Over the next two hours, the psychedelic techno artist transformed into something else, leading a group of 70 through deep breathing exercises and collective humming, before guiding us into Shavasana for an hour-long gong show. My mind wandered, of course, while lying there with my eyes closed. But then the rich, rumbling sound of the gong would wash back over my consciousness, sometimes growing so loud it sounded like a storm. I wanted to open my eyes to see how one instrument could produce such force. But then I remembered: this wasn't a typical performance. It was a chance to look inward. I kept my lids shut.
• 3:30 PM - Bodily Knowledge And Altered States
For the panel titled Bodily Knowledge And Altered States, the moderator Graham St John asked three very different artists how ritual, substances and states of consciousness played into their work. Jessica Ekomane, a math-minded computer musician, carefully chose her words on trance, acoustic illusions and quadraphonic sound. The Stroboscopic Artefacts boss Lucy spoke philosophically about the crossover between pranayama, a type of breath control in yoga, and the catharsis of playing a 13-hour Berghain closing.
The most enlightened of the bunch, though, was !luuli, a New Mexico-based psycore DJ with a star tattooed on her forehead. "Every single one of you is in a hypnotic trance right now," she told us, referring to the rigid belief systems of everyday life. Her mission as a DJ is to liberate us, providing disruptive energy so we dance like maniacs and stamp out our deepest traumas together—without having to say what they are. Someone asked whether that gets dangerous on mind-altering substances. !luuli, not ashamed to admit she's taken it too far, said a certain amount of danger helps shatter illusions. "The near death experience is one of the most psychedelic experiences possible."