Krake Festival

Friedrichshain, Berlin

Berliners are a no-nonsense, Ronseal kind of people. So, when an event like Krake bills itself as the city’s ‘Festival For Challenging Electronic Music,’ you’d better believe this is no place for the closed-minded.

Now in its fourth year, the event is a celebration of what could be reasonably termed the “higher-brow” of electronic music (if that weren’t such a skin crawlingly ego-fellating term). Vocal house and big room bangers you will not find here. What you will find is an array of mind-expanding producers, musicians, DJs and AV artists — many of whom reside in Berlin — playing everything from avant-garde jazztronica to apocalyptic industrial techno.

Across four days and three separate venues in the eastern district of Friedrichshain, Krake runs an impressively large gamut of talent. Crack popped along to the opening night at Urban Spree for a taste of what was on offer, arriving part-way into a performance from experimental jazz/noise quartet The Nest.

With players split evenly across organic and electronic instruments, the group shifts casually from soothing lounge numbers to full earbleeding freeform cacophony, weaving static and white noise into the frenetic tangle of bass plucks and saxophone shrieks. It’s quite an earful to take in — not least when the lead signer starts yelling “Amore” into a heavily distorted microphone like a demented Dean Martin — but it certainly loosens the cobwebs. This is everything the crowd has come for, and they’re lapping it up.

Next up, much-lauded AV outfit Transforma take to the stage. In an interesting twist on the tried-and-tested audio-visual format, Transforma create all their visuals right in front of you using a series of physical props filmed under super high-definition using an apparatus of cameras, lights and coloured filters. Accompanied by a live pianist manning both a grand piano and synthesisers, the group creates a live-action montage of abstract imagery involving the systematic destruction of various perishable items, all while an ethereal, neo-classical soundtrack a-la Godspeed… or A Winged Victory… plays overhead.

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It’s an ambitious concept, no doubt, although one that perhaps needs a little fleshing out. While the music itself is sublime, there are times when the visuals themselves feel a little repetitive and perhaps a few more techniques are needed to mix things up a bit. Still, it’s markedly different to the act beforehand – a refreshing trait of Krake’s relentlessly eclectic booking policy.

Last up is one-man electronic singer-songwriter Khan (not to be confused under any circumstances with Bristol’s own echo experimentalist Kahn). While it’s true both artists share a fondness for impeccably-programmed sub frequencies, tonight’s incongruous blend of slightly camp spoken word lyrics and deep-n-tough dub techno beats bears scant resemblance to the work of the Gorgon Sound alumnus. It’s very Berlin, but it’s also very, very good, and the crowd needs little encouragement to get dancing to this most idiosyncratic of acts.

Being a Monday night (and having called time on a weekend at Berghain what feels like only a few short hours earlier), we decide to quit before the closing DJ takes to the decks and spins things into the early hours. After all, this is just day one, and there are still three more helpings of boundary-testing experimentalism to come from Krake this week.

Exactly what each one will bring is — quite frankly — anyone’s guess…