City-wide festivals that explore the deeper recesses of contemporary art and music are thriving in Europe: Unsound in Kraków, Rewire in The Hague, and Club To Club in Turin. But one of the largest and longest-running is Berlin’s CTM Festival.
With a new theme every year, CTM’s 18th festival took the title Fear, Anger, Love. Over ten days, a staggering array of events were held across the city’s most impressive cultural venues and clubs. There were discussions, panels, workshops and installations, along with innovative shows from DJs and performers looking to the future. And often, it was a struggle just to keep up with everything on offer.
On the opening night, Cómeme artist Charlotte Bendiks played an imposing live set that had a packed Panorama Bar suitably charged before breakout DJ and Berlin resident Peggy Gou took dancers into the early hours. On Saturday night at the Prince Charles club, Teklife affiliate and Dance Mania legend Traxman spun squelching acid and rugged ghetto house cuts to an energised crowd.
For those not too weary from the previous night’s offerings, there was a range of talks throughout the week, with the most fascinating from legendary Throbbing Gristle co-founder Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Having appeared for a concert and film screening the night before, Genesis was on hand to answer questions from fans alongside filmmaker Hazel Hill McCarthy III, who helped make the film Bight of the Twin that followed the search in Benin for Lady Jaye Breyer, P-Orridge’s late life partner. Nothing quite summed up P-Orridge’s career like the inspiring end speech, “Think of the person you want to be, and start living it.”
Later that night, Chino Amobi, nkisi, and Angel-Ho’s NON collective showcased an extended performance piece, The Great Disappointment, as part of a three-night show co-produced by CTM and HAU Hebbel am Ufer. There was impressive choreography with dancers Justin F. Kennedy, Jonathan Gonzalez and artist/director Ariel Efraim Ashbel, alongside staggering soundscapes from the collective’s musicians and vocals from Brooklyn singer-songwriter Embaci.
A common predicament with a festival of this quality and scale is that guilty feeling when you’re unable to attend every programmed event, especially when Thursday and Friday offered heavyweight line-ups at Berghain and Panorama Bar, with over 12 hours of cutting edge music on Friday night alone.
The festival highlight on Thursday was a blistering, electro-heavy set from Detroit techno veteran DJ Stingray. He laid down rugged analogue jams to a packed crowd inside Berghain, and rounded off in the early hours with meditative dubstep that reverberated around its high walls. Panorama Bar was the setting for some of the most exhilarating DJs in contemporary club music; Mechatok blended infectious rap instrumentals with his hyper-saccharine sound, creating a high-octane set that mixed the euphoric with the downright punishing. Fellow Staycore affiliate mobilegirl proved why she’s one of the most promising young DJs going, blending the sounds of baile funk with ballroom, hardstyle and more. Rounding off the night was Hyperdub and Bala Club artist Endgame, unleashing abrasive anthems from UK rap group 150 – leaving you to wonder if their tracks had ever been heard in Panorama before that night.
A late arrival to Berghain on Friday meant walking straight into Lady Starlight’s awe-inspiring 4.30am performance. Across a range of gear, she pounded out a relentless strain of high-speed techno, while afterwards Discwoman co-founder Umfang composed a packed crowd in Panorama Bar through dawn.
In a larger city like Berlin, the impressive scale and curating provided by CTM can be a struggle to take in, and with so much stacked into the latter half of the week, you’d be hard pressed to reach everything. What is guaranteed is that you’ll encounter confrontational music designed to exercise your feet, and your mind.