Various venues, Berlin
25 January - 3 February
CTM, celebrating its 20th edition this year, is an integral part of Berlin’s cultural furniture, adventurous in its quest for ideas that no one else would consider, let alone have the gall to execute. You could attend numerous tech hackathons, bed down for the night at a 4DSOUND sleepover, or poke your head into a talk on “Arkestrated Rhythmachine Komplexities” (a brief history of drum machines, in layman’s terms). What CTM does well, though, is to consciously skirt the trap of self-seriousness, instead banking on artists who both jolt the senses and raise smiles.
This balancing act between scholarly and silly was keenly felt, a tonal push-and-pull between dark and light. Dancers responded with the same thrust and enthusiasm to Miss Djax’s scything acid warpers as the light-speed singeli of Tanzania’s MCZO & Duke. A pair of midweek performances by DJ Haram hammered home this duality: if you weren’t feeling the suffocatingly dense reverberations of 700 Bliss – her project with magnetic doomsday poet Moor Mother – Haram lifted those same arabesque rhythms out of the murk and placed them in a peak time set the following evening at Panorama Bar. Sometime on Saturday morning you could simultaneously take your pick between the barely-marshalled chaos of Indonesian duo Gabber Modus Operandi and the tightly-regimented hard drums of TSVI, who used a pair of M.I.A. edits and Fis-T’s evergreen Night Hunter to show-stopping effect.
Friday night pivoted around a pair of bonus shows situated well away from the dance floor. The Mantis, a sound installation conceived by Nik Nowak and Kode9, exploited the middle ground between Robot Wars, Mad Max and Banksy’s Dismaland. The live show had it all: customised sound system tanks, dread-soaked manifesto readings, experimental rapper Infinite Livez toasting over what sounded like the THX Deep Note, and a rapid tour through post-war and post-capitalist visuals ranging from Helmut Kohl to Abu Ghraib to Sky Sports.
The Mantis made Lightning Bolt seem like a lighthearted affair by comparison. The noise duo were on typically blistering form, a swivel-eyed squall of staggeringly proficient racket that had the crowd stage-diving within minutes. But they also had warmth to compliment the cascade of fuzz, with drummer Brian Chippendale massaging his hamstrings between songs and endearingly ribbing one audience member for un-ironically wearing a Hard Rock Cafe tee.
There were also disappointing aspects, resulting from both too much ice (the polar vortex that grounded Venetian Snares’ flight) and a lack of it (the farcical sight of a skating rink that apparently wasn’t made of ice). The festival’s theme of “Persistence” was also apt: catharsis is hard to sustain across nine days. Most people I spoke with over the festival picked one or two choice events to attend, rather than the full spread, and walked away conflicted about the amount of performances they had to sacrifice due to untenable times. Still, CTM was a welcome reminder of the vitality of far-out fringe concerns. A musical multiverse where fun doesn’t have to come at a premium.