Kraftwerk Berlin

This autumn, Berlin’s immense Kraftwerk building opened its doors for a run of nightly concerts staged as part of an exhibition and event series called Metabolic Rift.

The endeavour itself, created by Berlin Atonal in lieu of its annual festival, was marketed as “not a festival, not an exhibition, not a tour” and, indeed, “not a performance”. Instead, it was a hybrid of all four: an intimate, interdisciplinary concert series and site-specific exhibition aligned with the ethos of Berlin Atonal, while also offering a new way to engage with the cavernous space.

Indeed, one of the highlights was a Thursday night show programmed and performed by German performance artist Caner Teker. The show took the spectacle of traditional Turkish oil-wrestling and transformed it into something queer and questioning. As men pushed and gyrated to a soundtrack of operatic electronics, which at times grew thunderously loud, notions of masculinity and intimacy were mapped onto musical dynamics. This interrogation keyed into the themes running through the Metabolic Rift event series. Originally coined by the German philosopher Karl Marx, ‘metabolic rift’ refers to the divide that capitalism causes between man and the environment. Kraftwerk, a prior symbol of early industry through its previous life as a power factory, was rejuvenated in 2013, when it became the home of the relaunched Atonal. Through works of art that probe and scrutinise, the space has been given a new opportunity to breathe and find new function and form.

That same evening, Italian synth composer Caterina Barbieri showcased her light-years label through a performance alongside collaborations with saxophonist Bendik Giske and experimental artist UCC Harlo. Barbieri’s brilliance has always been in her ability to make all-encompassing soundscapes which wrap the audience in a blanket of warm, harmonic noise – this evening was no different.

For the performance, each collaborator was given their own time to shine. UCC Harlo’s stirring ambient-baroque compositions and melancholic singing provided a dazzling sonic introduction to the light-years universe. Next up, Norwegian composer and saxophonist Bendik Giske, who succeeded in making the expanse of the venue feel almost intimate. His riveting manipulation of the tenor saxophone combined, and played off of Barbieri’s immersive atmospherics, creating a performance that was both powerful and tender.

Halfway through her performance, Barbieri shuffled offstage to appear at the other end of the factory work floor alongside a harpsichord and two backing vocalists – one of whom was UCC Harlo. The electronic sounds segued into those of a more delicate and classical palette, enthralling the crowd that had nestled down to surround the miniature stage.

As Barbieri concluded her solo performance, full of deep resonant and pulsing melodics, the lights and lasers grew more attuned with the music, reducing the size of the space yet further, before making way for the heavier, thunderous sound of Nkisi.

In some ways, Atonal’s forced hiatus appears to have been a blessing in disguise, allowing the team to explore different avenues for creativity and performance. Indeed, amid the array of installations lie the remnants of an old shrine built by Buddhists who Hegemann invited for spiritual help whilst attempting to gain an events permit from the local council. This image, a kind of layering of concepts and approaches, feels strangely apt. After all, it was through the interplay of disciplines, performances, artists and ideas, that this month-long event drew its power.