Introducing: CTM x NFOP – Berlin Current

22 Aug 2014 — Henning Lahmann

As already mentioned in our Berlin Music Week preview on Tuesday, No Fear Of Pop is proud and happy to be the official media partner of the forthcoming second season of CTM Festival's groundbreaking Berlin Current project. In the coming weeks and months, we will provide interviews with and features on the participating Berlin artists, both here on the website and on our weekly show on Berlin Community Radio, especially in anticipation of specific Berlin Current events in Berlin. We hope to be able to provide you with more profound background on the project and its subject, our city's exciting and ever-changing underground music scene, contextualise the artists and labels that are featured and their impact on Berlin's current musical landscape, and the influence the city has on artists who live and work here, be they from Berlin, from somewhere else in Germany, or part of the continually expanding expat community. Of course, it's a big part of what No Fear Of Pop has been striving for since the start: while focusing on music from UK, the States, or challenging scenes in other countries, this website has been on the constant lookout for interesting things happening around the corner. Despite the mildly critical position we have decided to maintain, we do firmly believe that in all its incoherent weirdness and aimlessness, Berlin is one of the most exciting places to be in 2014, and we think that the city's diverse music scene appropriately reflects this unique and probably finite setting. In this state of illusive utopia that Berlin at times manages to unfold, music seems to play a role so crucial for the city's self-identification that for once it again is more than just another cultural commodity of late capitalism. As fittingly put by musician and NFOP staff writer Johanne Swanson in her piece for Portals this week: "This place knows that art is a social practice." Berlin Current sets out to unearth, advance, and catalyse those undercurrents in the city's contemporary musical landscape that embody this perception of pop as relevant for the progress of culture.

Below, you'll find the list of participating artists and events that are scheduled so far, followed by, in order to properly launch No Fear Of Pop's accompanying coverage of the project, excerpts from an essay I've written for this year's CTM Festival catalogue, which was published in January.

Participating Artists

Ame Zek
Amnesia Scanner
Born in Flamez
Dasha Rush
Golden Diskó Ship
Kathy Alberici
KABLAM
Ketev
Kobosil
Lief Hall
Lotic
Moon Wheel
M.E.S.H.
OAKE
Objekt
Opium Hum
Owen Roberts
Phoebe Kiddo
Reliq
rRoxymore
Sarah Farina
Shapednoise
TCF
These Hidden Hands

Berlin Current in Berlin

September 5: FIRST WE TAKE BERLIN

Sarah Farina, Ketev, Moon Wheel, Lief Hall, Phoebe Kiddo, Opium Hum
Berlin Music Week, at Urban Spree

October 10: POLYMORPHISM x JANUS

M.E.S.H., TCF, KABLAM, Lotic, with DJ Hvad, Boychild, Jam City, Total Freedom
at Berghain

November 20: ROBERT HENKE "LUMIERE"

Ame Zek, with Robert Henke
at Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz

November 21: POLYMORPHISM x PAN

M.E.S.H., Objekt with Beneath, Visionist, Lee Gamble, Helena Hauff, JM Moser
at Berghain

Berlin Current International

September 6: at DEKOLECTIV

OAKE, Lotic, with Helena Hauff und Christian S.
Presented by Rokolectiv Festival, Halele Carol, Bukarest (RO)

September 24: at STUK KUNSTENCENTRUM

Ketev, Moon Wheel, Dasha Rush, Born in Flamez, Sarah Farina
STUK Arts Centre, Leuven (BE)

September 26-27: at TODAYSART

09/26: Sarah Farina, with Fatima al Quadiri, Planningtorock, The Gaslamp Killer
09/27: Moon Wheel, OAKE, Phoebe Kiddo, with Kiasmos
TodaysArt Festival, The Hague (NL)

October 17-18: at UNSOUND

10/17: Amnesia Scanner, KABLAM, Lotic, M.E.S.H., with Total Freedom + TBC
10/18: TCF
Unsound Festival, Krakow (PL)

October 18: at RIAM

Moon Wheel, Phoebe Kiddo, OAKE
RIAM Festival, Marseilles (FR)

October 23-25: at MUTEK.MX

M.E.S.H., Objekt, rRoxymore, Born in Flamez
MUTEK.MX, Mexico City (MX)

Looking Beyond the Beat: Discontinuities in Berlin’s Musical Landscape

In the preface to “Lost and Sound”, his stocktaking of the Berlin electronic music scene at the end of the noughties, Tobias Rapp suggested that it might be too early for the drafting of a proper historiography of techno and its entanglement with the city. Yet four years later, despite proving its undaunted vitality every single weekend in countless clubs across town, techno nostalgia is in full bloom. In his anthology “Berlin Sampler” from 2012, French journalist Théo Lessour dedicates a whole quarter of his book to the phenomenon, implicitly defining techno as the pinnacle of the city’s musical development. That it effectively amounts to Berlin’s continuing contribution to the world cultural heritage since 1989 has by now become a commonplace.

However, while of course there has always been music made in the city aside from techno, only in recent years a different story began to unfold in the shadows of the overarching club scene, a story not exclusively yet in large part told by Berlin’s ever growing expat community. Distinct from the dance scene, which already started to become more internationally shaped after the turn of the century, those artists may have chosen Berlin as their temporary or permanent home without having been attracted by the city’s reputation as a techno mecca. More prosaically, what almost everyone mentions are the favourable economical conditions that make the German capital still so much more affordable than any other major city in the Western hemisphere.

The work of those newly arrived artists does challenge the dominance of dance music in Berlin. Still, a common denominator is hard to find. What connects the psychedelic soundscapes of Swedish improviser Olle Homberg aka Moon Wheel with the futuristic beats of Houston native Lotic, or in which way does the experimental proto-dance of Australian producer Phoebe Kiddo relate to the fierce noise attacks of Milan’s Shapednoise? If anything, what they create is a broadly understood version of pop, “a multiplicity of artistic practices that derive from and actively participate in certain cultures of the everyday”, as defined on the website of Berlin Current, the project initiated by CTM Festival to unearth some of the artists that represent this ‘new’ strand of Berlin’s diversifying musical community.

For the time being, discontinuity with the prevalent narrative of Berlin as the city of techno is mainly propelled by and channelled through institutions such as the Senate-affiliated Musicboard and the projects funded by it, for instance Berlin Current. By starting to map the newly emerging ‘scene’, thus boosting the visibility of musicians that stand apart from the clubs, those organisations attempt to associate the music with a more broadly outlined notion of Berlin as an international cultural centre. Whether this effort has already come to fruition in the eyes of the wider audience is a different question.

Berlin is attractive as a place to live and work for its perceived ‘otherness’. Thus, appealing more due to what it is not – not as expensive, not as restrictive, not as ‘settled’ or ‘finished’ as other cities – than what it actually stands for. In this sense, it serves as an empty vessel, to be filled with the ideas and expectations of arriving members of the transnational creative class. Whatever the shape of the Berlin musical landscape may look like in the near future, it will most likely remain in a struggle with the image of Berlin as techno capital, a standing now written in stone. This already is evident in the discourses of today. While the fading cohort of natives and first-wave newcomers mourns the lost utopia of early to mid-90s Mitte wonderland, those expats who arrived before the turn of the decade long for a bygone paradise that ostensibly still existed only a few years ago. To see the past in ever brighter colours mirrored against the present’s perceived staleness is certainly not exclusive to Berlin’s musical landscape. But since the fall of the Wall and the subsequent opening of seemingly endless possibilities amidst the city’s ruins and abandoned spaces, feeling stuck in past marvels appears to be a narrative so peculiar to Berlin that by now it may be considered the artistic community’s only true continuity. For the incoming musician, this situation might even provide comfort, for it spares them the subtle obligation to adapt to any predefined and settled scene. However, it ultimately also means that it will be harder if not impossible to leave any significant and lasting mark on Berlin’s musical heritage. Even for the city’s emerging experimental pop undercurrents, transience remains the city’s only persisting feature.