Funkhaus, Berlin

Berlin’s music industry took a break from the club circuit last weekend (almost) as the third edition of Ableton’s annual Loop Summit got underway at Funkhaus. The summit – part music festival, part conference, part workshop – took place from 10-12 November with daytime programming devoted to lectures, discussions, art installations; the nighttime program saw performances from the likes of Karyyn, William Basinski, Visible Cloaks and The Nile Project. This year, the summit was spread out over the Funkhaus’ three blocks and included a new food market, coffee stations, studios, workshops, and a space to test out new gear and machines.

Friday began with a lively discussion with the women of Discwoman, a music collective and label that has been integral to the amplification of the female-identifying musical ecosystem in New York. Their talk, which featured Discwoman’s founders Umfang, Frankie Hutchison, and Christine McCharen-Tran, as well as signees DJ Haram, Shyboi, and Stud1nt, gave us a look into their world, reflecting on both their work as a collective and as individuals. We got an equally informative and inspiring look back at club culture’s history and its LGBTQ roots with Honey Dijon, while later, Laurel Halo walked us through her creative process and her stunning studio album, Dust. Drummer Eli Keszler joined Halo on stage for a beautiful performance that was a highlight of the weekend.

I started my Saturday off with a visit to the Maker Zone where Music Unite Berlin, a homegrown organization that seeks to integrate unaccompanied refugee minors through music production workshops, and Give Something Back to Berlin were collaborating on a showcase and studio session. The young students got a chance to play the tunes they’ve been working on, and gathered afterwards for a production tutorial — it was very heartening to witness both their work and their passion for music.

Another weekend highlight was a conversation between UK rave dad Goldie and journalist Frances Morgan. Their talk touched on everything from club culture, graffiti, and art to music production, synesthesia, and lullabies; a truly animated interview with one of electronic music’s most important and unique personalities.

Over in Studio 4, Koka Nikoladze presented some of his homemade beat machines; delicate looking custom-built instruments which he built by hand using recycled or found materials. The music they put out was often weird and imperfect, making their performance strangely relatable and engaging, much like the affable Nikoladze himself. Saturday also hosted a panel discussion on mental health in dance music, and while LA producer Nosaj Thing felt somewhat disconnected from the conversation, Deepchild, Emika, and moderator Christine Brown of Help Musicians, shared honest and empowering experiences and strategies to cope with depression, anxiety, and burn outs. It was an important discussion, and its huge attendance was a testament to its necessity.

Where Loop lost its footing slightly was the interactive lectures which asked its participants to play games. The Plattenspieler discussions with Thomas Meinecke, which asked artists to bring along a bag of records, play them, and then discuss, felt better suited to radio. This format when applied to Jlin, as well as in Sunday’s Invisible Jukebox session with Ben Frost, wherein Frost played different tracks and asked about their sound and significance, seemed like a missed opportunity that could have been better spent having a deeper conversation.

Sunday closed out with a talk and performance by avant-garde composer William Basinski. The discussion between the ambient mainstay and Jlin was a weekend highlight. A hilarious and frank peephole into the relationship between the two close confidants, the artists volleyed heartfelt compliments back and forth, with Jlin thanking Basinski for his continued mentorship over the past few years. When Basinski eventually took to the packed auditorium with his tape loops his aim of ‘taking us to the stars’ was fully realised – the room’s expertly crafted soundsystem unearthing minute details in the tapes’ ongoing surge. In some places this year’s programming may have failed to reach such celestial heights, but overall the weekend was inspiring, and a welcome break from the dancefloor to actually listen, imagine, and understand.