The 2017 edition of Berlin Atonal is opened by Reinhold Friedl, who cuts through the gaping dark space of the Kraftwerk complex with pieces from Romanian avant-garde composers Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram. Avram’s ‘Klavierutopie’ is particularly consuming, a tribute to its composer who passed away just a few weeks before the festival. It’s a privilege to hear the work here and it sets the tone for a rich programme and a extraordinary festival.
Musical diversity is key (or too much of a good thing is not a good thing)
Undoubtedly, many of us come to Atonal for a generous helping of dark, industrial noise in a former power plant, but after the first day the main stage does get a little oversaturated with a similar weighty hue of noise. Dark, heavy and often accompanied by black-and-white visuals, many acts iterate a very similar shade of ‘experimentalism’. Monochrome palettes and harsh noise are two of my favourite things, but they can get a bit tiresome and it’s the slightly different takes on noise that bring the most rewarding moments.
Some highlights come in the form of Stockhausen’s ‘Oktophonie’ on day one, and it’s fantastic to hear the piece in its eight-channel glory on the main system. Rashad Becker and Ena also perform on the octophonic setup, which is also a treat to hear. Breaths of fresh air arrive in the form of excellent performances from Puce Mary and Pan Daijing.
New duo Belief Defect perform a live set on Friday, ahead of their release on Raster, and Roll the Dice (Peder Mannerfelt and Malcolm Pardon) play a hefty set on Saturday, complete with fragments of thrashing breakbeat. Main/Regis also provide some of the soul-crushing techno that is so oft associated with Berlin.
Musical variety is mostly found away from main stage acts. Varg’s Nordic Flora showcase brings younger artists to Kraftwerk’s stage null, including Swan Meat, Oli XL and Sky H1. They deliver crisp and exciting takes on noise and ambient music. Poet Chloe Wise also features in the showcase, delivering her sardonic, deadpan work with the occasional wry smile.
Surprises make the best moments in a festival
The Ohm stage proves to be the site of many welcome surprises. On day one, I’m captivated by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s set, despite my initial plan to split the hour between him and Moritz Von Oswald downstairs at Tresor. Lowe progresses slowly from melancholy vocal warbles into techno’s periphery,…