Review of CTM and Transmediale Festival 2015
Several years passed by since I have been to CTM for the last time. The first time I visited and also participated in the festival was at its very beginning, more than 10 years ago. It is a festival that dictates what is good in the electronic music scene; a festival that explores and reveals the next big things in the field of contemporary sound and art. That’s why the subtitle of the festival was: Festival for Adventurous Music and Art. After several years I was coming back to the festival and was wondering if it’s still everything the same, especially at the time when the scene, in which CTM was pioneering, became really popular or rather said mainstream, as well as Berlin became hype (or rather said hyper). Is this festival still following the cutting edge of the music and art, and does it still dictate what will become popular in the following years, and does it promote newcoming qualities? Each year the festival addresses a different theme, and this 16th edition is taking the thematic umbrella of ‘Un Tune’ as its gravitational center, presenting many special projects related to this topic.
The program this year was composed of multiple sub-programs such as the opening event the Un Tune Exhibition. A series of daily lectures and discussions were offered to the visitiors under the title Discourse, ‘CTM 2015 Radio Lab’ project, MusicMakers Hacklab, installations, additional meetings (ICAS Speed Dating), presentations (SHAPE Meet & Greet), radio broadcasts (CTM 2015 X RBMA Radio), and finally concerts and, of course, the evening club parties at which the program was concentrated. Until 2009 the festival was held at one location, the club Maria, but after his provisional detention, this year it located around a hub of club and concert venues, galleries and theaters, which made the movement and following of the overfilled program even more difficult. However, the great organization and exact start of the events were appropriately timed so no overlap occurred between them.
If the program of CTM was not enough, in the middle of ten days’ intensive strolling through the different venues around the city, the cultural festival called Transmediale – Art and digital began with the focus on theory and art. CTM and Transmediale are practically two different festivals, one oriented towards music and the other towards the arts, but conditionally merged as one, and taking place in about the same time, increasing the weight of the concept and the program, but also the opportunities to capture more events throughout the day. Yet you are here for the festival, and you want to check as many events. You are not interested only in the musical part or just concerts. This year the lectures themselves were perhaps even more interesting than the club offer, but that may mean giving up from the daily discussions on Transmediale festival or the parties at Berghain club that lasted until the early morning. A possible compromise is not possible, you only go to the festival early in the morning and come back really late at night, or rather said early in the morning. Grueling program was as much curiosity as it was perhaps a serious problem for the enthusiasts. Concerning the music and programming aspect, similar like every year the most important artists were all here at one place, artists who means something in the electronic music scene at this moment or those who should soon be thrived. With different sensibility, style and sound, with diametrically opposite genre, depending on whether they are conceptual evening concerts in the theater HAU 1 or HAU 2, or club concerts at Berghain, Panorama bar, YAAM (former Maria), Astra or Urban Spree, all appearances had to offer a different perspective of the contemporary electronic sound or A/V concept. They are all trying to offer something inventive, exciting and new. The only problem was if that can be in fact achieved today at all. In the age of overproduction, when everything is already seen and heard, is there someone who can offer something new and unprecedented and if it can, will it be something exciting enough to keep my attention?
After 16 years of treating this scene through the festival, I’m not quite sure whether the scene itself has the capacity to offer all that used to and I am not quite sure whether the development of music in general goes into the right direction, or everything is just repeating of something already heard, copying the previous or just returning to the past. In all this we have to add the hype context of the city where all this is happening and the intensified mainstreamization of the scene and the cultural milieu in general, in terms of hyper quantity, when everybody is an artist and when determining the quality is quite difficult. Certainly part of the performances were a real pleasure, but some of them were just repeating of the sound that you’ve already heard, or something that is not exciting in the present context. The performances of The Bug (presents “Sirens”), Klara Lewis and Lawrence English were perhaps the most exciting performances in the experimental context (although their albums are not the most exciting thing I’ve heard today), while concerts of Philipp Gorbachev & the Naked Man, Born in Flamez and Nisennemondai offered freshness in the approach and were perhaps the biggest surprise. Certainly, in this group we must add the concert of E.E.K. feat Islam Chipsy who made a real show. Audio visual concepts of Frank Bretschneider and Pierce Warnecke (“SINN + FORM”), Robin Fox and Atom TM (Double Vision) and especially Gert-Jan Prins and Martijn van Boven (Black Smoking Mirror) were technically the most complete audio and visual performances, most inventive according to the approach and most exciting to look at and listen to. However, they are veterans in this scene and whose past performances and pioneering approach were foundation for what music looks like today. Ulf Eriksson proved how it sounds to be a DJ in the 21st century, with having technical and stylistic freshness, while the young producer Palms Trax, although was interesting to see the progress as a young talent, he only proved the rule that to be a great producer does no mean to be a well-prepared DJ, too.
In the whole constellation, one could attend many performances by artists whose importance was unqeustionable in the past, but I do not really know what they could offer today except returning to what they established certain values in the scene. So JK Flesh’s, Alek Empire’s and Carter Tutti Void’s concerts, although were partly interesting, they hardly offered something new, though these artists made the foundation of what music is like today. However, the premiere concert of twenty-year-old material of Empire was quite unclear, but for me – as someone who heard his material back then – was just a fine reminiscence.
Many of the young artists who performed were obviously inspired by this whole music and aesthetic scene, but perhaps only on the level of hype. It was more than obvious that some of them were just copying an existing sound and that they passed the limit of inspiration, avoiding meeting with the inventiveness, excitement and their authentic approach. The performance on the famous Funktion One sound system at Berghain didn’t make their performance more exciting just more pretentious.
Aside from the musical aspect, the lectures really had something to offer. Perhaps it is because of the shift of the focus of my interest in general, but the lectures on Archeoacoustics or archeology of sound, 4D sound technologies, psychoacoustics, or archeology of privacy I experienced extremely inspiring and educational. So the question I asked myself was whether the new music scene is developing in the right direction, or the festival discusses aspects that I no longer experience as exciting.
Maybe the two aspects of the question are valid, although electronic music today branches in so many directions that you can definitely find something that can meet your criteria. Yet so many things are already attained in the scene of new music, so the repetition and some fatigue are already obvious, in absence of freshness of the beginnings when all this was a new sound, it’s time to start building an entirely new scene with its own aesthetics and concept.
The same can be said for the Transmediale festival, which this year was organized under the motto Capture All. Robust event that fortunately took place at one location, but terribly busy agenda of lectures, discussions, debates, screenings, exhibitions, where big names of the theory and artists exhibited their works in the field of digital art and delivered their lectures from the field of the three sub-topics that this year determined the directions – work, play and life. Speakers like the star McKenzie Wark or Bruce Sterling, Jussi Parikka or upcoming names like Georgios Papadopoulos, among others, were trying to look at how each of these specific areas was transforming, being indivisible components of the accelerated capitalism, at the same time, according to this logic, trying to estimate whether possible new forms of life in those conditions could be born.
This is all fine, we are theorizing and we are all aware of the solutions and the way out of the current conditions, but from the position of the comfortable chair of academism. However, Transmediale has quite a bit more space for maneuver. Art has more space for manipulation, combinations, and supported by the theory that has endless possibilities for branching, copying with problems of the modern age. It’s about us whether we will apply the solutions for which we discuss.
This is not just a place for entertainment. The festival is a place where you meet new artists, a place where they can present themselves, where those who do not play have a chance to meet with the coordinators of the major European festivals, where they can network and offer their music. This is a fair that celebrates music, where you can buy and sell, where art is brought almost to the level of business.
Finally, let’s observe again the question that runs through this review. Are we in a period of great cultural crisis, dead end which requires a shift of the cultural paradigm that will bring us out of the orbit of repetitive return to the previous values? New course that will bring the freshness of innovation instead of the criticism towards is current. Should we expect a new beginning? Seems like the current crisis has something to announce. For now, all is still on the level of criticism, but with the slight anticipation of something new.
Translated by: Toni Dimitrov
The article is previously published at kritika.mk and hypeandhyper.com
This post is also available in: Macedonian