Purifying dancefloors with Contort
Contort is the lovechild of distorted noise artist Samuel Kerridge and his partner in life and crime Hayley Kerridge. It sees a sporadic series of all-day Sunday events hosted in the musical metropolis that is Berlin. ‘This NOT just another party’ they emphasise. Rather, its ethos is something of a unique entity in the city, calling on artists to play “whatever they fuck they want” without constraints, without expectations and with absolute freedom.
This spring marks Contort’s transition from a series of events into a label, offering a variety of vinyl releases and live recordings from the Contort parties on cassette. Embracing the premise that you can only make one first impression, its inaugural release is a powerful statement: the second full-length from one of its creators, Samuel Kerridge’s evocative and aggressive Always Offended, Never Ashamed. With a rotating release schedule on vinyl and cassette, they’ve just announced CT002 will be from techno veteran and head of the hugely respected Downwards label Regis with his pirate radio-inspired jungle set live from Contort last year.
Contort gives artists the opportunity to experiment with their artistry away from the restriction of the 4×4 hegemony. Whether it’s a techno DJ playing hip-hop or vice versa, or an hour of noise and leftfield 80s pop, you can expect the unexpected. Revered artists such as Milton Bradley, Kanding Ray, Shapednoise and OAKE have been seen on their ever-eclectic line- ups. It’s not about jumping onto the latest names, however. Samuel and Hayley make a deliberate effort to support unknown artists, offering a vital launching platform.
The genesis of Contort can be traced to the pair’s home in Manchester and Rayon Vert, an all day Sunday party. “We tried to introduce the concept of a Sunday party back in Manchester, but there didn’t seem to be a hunger or an appetite for it,” Samuel told me when we met near Görlitzer Park on a bleary afternoon. With the idea rooting itself in the pair’s vision, they set sights on the fertile and simmering energy from Berlin’s breathing dance music culture. With Hayley working with Boiler Room and Samuel focusing solely on his music, they immersed themselves in Berlin’s wealth of club culture. Yet soon after, their enthusiasm was deflated. According to Samuel, “I thought a typical Berlin night would be techno in one room and in another room you’d have weird experimental stuff. But in reality everywhere and everyone was either techno or house, or tech house.”
Continuing on our leafy route through Kreuzberg before setting in a bar, it quickly became clear that transparency is the key factor the Kerridges seek to emulate. With no entry or artist’s fee, the object of money is completely removed, Contort running purely on their impulse to deliver music to the people. Drawing from her experiences of promoting nights, Hayley recounts that dreaded anxiety of losing everything, each event entwined with an element of financial risk. “Money taints the whole experience and stems into the crowd,” she says, inducing a conscious worry. With no ulterior motive, intentions remain pure and honest.
Both inspired by liberal upbringings and an introduction to free party and festival culture from a young age, it’s a sense of charismatic hedonism they are trying to recapture. Samuel explains, “I always loved the scenes back in the 60s and 70s; mods, rockers, hippies, feeling part of something. We were too late for the rave culture in England and I think in a way we could be trying to create something ourselves that people can be part of.’’
Contort first found its home in the cosy surrounding of Mind Pirates situated right by the River Spree in Kreuzberg. “The guys there were so supportive and loved the idea,” says Hayley. “We were only ever encouraged by everyone here.” With a curatorial ethos devoid of restrictions and without the weight of abiding by danceability, it was quick to attract artists like Ed Davenport, Cristian Vogal and Cassegrain. They recall hitting the streets to poster and flyer in the midst of a bitter Berlin winter, only to welcome just a handful of people throughout the day at the very first party. Yet, with an almost gravitational pull behind them, Contort took on a life of its own and seemed to organically unfold via word-of- mouth success. ‘’It was like the fucking first Sex Pistols gig! Them 20 people at the first Contort told their mates, and you saw them at the next one with more people, and then all of a sudden there were hundreds of people there,’’ Samuel laughs.
It ‘attracts the right kind of people’ they say, with a meeting of younger generation music heads and old-time Berliners, some have noted Contort’s similarity to free parties thrown in late 80s Berlin that were breeding grounds for experimentation and free expression. Striking a chord with the founders of the 80s-born Berlin Atonal festival, Contort was invited to be part of the past two editions, with last year seeing them curate a full day programme hosting 11 live acts including Inner8, Ike Yard and Tim Hecker.
Within a predominantly male industry, Hayley places great importance on showcasing female artists, with Lower Order Ethics, Szilvia Lednitzy, Andrea Parker and Nina all officially contorting themselves over time. After getting a tip off about an unknown artist they invited experimental Danish producer SØS Gunver Ryberg to play. “We were absolutely blown away by the girl, she just blew our minds,” Hayley declares. Barely fresh on the scene, Contort propelled her onto a larger stage and had her play at Atonal.
Speaking on their current evolution into a label, they have ‘open arms’ with A&R. Contort’s ethos of freedom will continue to be integral within the releases, as will retaining that fearless eclecticism. They recognise the limitations of a label placing itself within a one-genre sphere, aiming to break the barriers in single-minded listening. “As long as it sounds good and the record is honest, we want to hear it,” Samuel states firmly.
In the days following our interview, Contort celebrated three years in existence by teaming up with Atonal for the official launch of the label, transforming Tresor into a floating stage where live acts performed among the crowd. Night segueing into day, Contort #12 took place on 1 March, centring its theme on everyone who’s helped the pair out over the years, including Diagonal’s Jaime Williams and esteemed PAN boss Bill Kouligas. Admission was, of course, free.
Always Offended Never Ashamed is out now via Contort Records