19 Mar 2013 — Warren O'Neill
Themed “The Golden Age”, Berlin-based music and arts festival CTM celebrated its fourteenth edition in early February. Signifying with the proclaimed motif, the deluge of new music and art we are continually exposed to due to the Internet, quite fittingly the organisers promised ‘a programme full of contrasts’ and ‘a broad range of music, beyond the carefully drawn borders of individual genres’. In terms of quantity, CTM certainly lived up to the concept: It was literally impossible to see everything during the week-long festival, with many events happening simultaneously (much to the annoyance of many of the attendees), though one should add that the 2013 edition certainly was an improvement compared to last year in this regard. However, add to the musical events the countless associated exhibitions, talks and workshops, and you get an idea of the impossibility to keep track, especially if you’re part of the working population. Therefore, this review naturally only comprises what we were physically able to see.
Read more →
Some of the early highlights were Emptyset's punishing set of industrial electronics on Tuesday accompanied by visual artist Joanie Lemercier, and the abstract techno of Lee Gamble the following night during PAN’s much-anticipated label showcase. For me however, it was not before Thursday that the festival finally began to pick up momentum and to start showing some signs of its promised diversity. Holly Herndon and Kuedo’s shows at Berghain were particularly captivating, with the former’s set seeing a massive improvement from her not too distant European premiere at the Unsound Festival last October.
On Friday, Dean Blunt gave a live performance of what was supposed to be his acclaimed 2012 release The Narcissist, but instead ended up as a show that was composed of unreleased tracks most likely from his forthcoming album, The Redeemer. The performance included a purposely amateurishly acted play, which mirrored the lyrical content, which was interspersed between songs to great effect.
Later that night at Berghain, the venue’s main room was all about rave with Shed and Powell playing sets of mainly classic hardcore and jungle, but for me it was the neglected Kantine next door where the really interesting things were taking place. Entering the location, I was greeted by a multi-person strong jam session in full swing. Seemingly organised at the last minute, Sam Barker, Easton West, Lando Kal, Tim Exile, P. KIRN, Laurel Halo, and others were banging out some absolutely fantastic blunted house. Directly after, Hyperdub boss Kode9 delivered a blistering set of juke, jungle footwork (yes, that’s a thing now), and trap. He’d actually deserved to play at Berghain’s main floor or at least Panorama Bar, but perhaps the owners thought this wouldn’t sit well with the usual Berghain crowd (he was told to stop playing Warren G by an angry Techno fan during his own label’s showcase at the venue previously).
Moving on to Saturday, the night’s event at Stattbad Wedding arguably provided the best embodiment of what was conceived as The Golden Age, above all the #gHashtag floor which showcased artists that genuinely embody this “Post-Internet” ethos such as Gatekeeper, Mykki Blanco and local DJ Half-Girl/Half-Sick. Here one could get a sense of both the genrelessness and borderlessness which is deemed to characterise contemporary underground music, each artist smashing disparate sounds together in an attempt to create something new, without the over-reverence for the past which stagnates so many house/techno purists today.
Apart from the actual music program, CTM also offered a fantastic array of free events to keep you busy during the day. This wide range of activities is something that really makes the festival unique, and one could have their hands full just trying to keep up with the many exhibitions, talks and workshops happening. Some of the interview highlights included Terre Thaemlitz discussing her/his work Soulnessless with Electronic Beats editor Max Dax, and Holly Herndon's talk with Wire online editor Jennifer Lucy Allen, in which they discussed the position of women in experimental music and the role of the technology in contemporary music. Besides interviews with musicians, there were also many technical and theory-based talks featuring, to name but a few, people from Native Instruments and Ableton, or UbuWeb founder Kenneth Goldsmith. On top of all that, for the people more involved than your average punter there was the MusicMaker Hack Lab which ran throughout the festival, giving likeminded hackers an opportunity to get together and be creative.
All in all, I’d say that CTM was the perfect festival for those involved in the music industry, be they writers, musicians, or label owners and so on, but at the same time I felt that, just like the other very similar festivals Mutek and Unsound, it might not be that appealing for everyone else. In a way it seemed as if the organisers had lumped together everyone who had any mass appeal into the Saturday night event, a decision that caused the rest of the festival to feel overly serious, and quite frankly boring at times. In his opening speech, CTM main curator Jan Rohlf had stated how important the social aspects of the festival were supposed to be, but as an attendee I couldn't really see how this was addressed. Personally, I would like to see CTM stepping even further out of its comfort zone next year in order to genuinely broaden its selections and its audience.