CTM Festival 2018: Five key performances

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  • CTM, Berlin's festival for "adventurous music and art," offers a wide variety of musical experiences. This year's action, which ranged from Chinese club experimentalists and Holly Herndon's utopian ensemble to gabber and hardcore infiltrating Berghain, was centred around a single theme: "Turmoil." The word was interpreted in many different ways across the ten-day period. In a world of precarious employment, physical displacement, emotional detachment and hyper-digitization, the current cultural moment is filled to the brim with turmoil. But its connotations aren't all negative: "turmoil" can also serve as a creative catalyst, and during CTM's daytime lectures it was often cited by artists as a powerful source of inspiration. Indeed, the music I found myself enjoying the most contained an optimistic energy. My highlights were those moments when all pessimism faded away and pure joy erupted on the dance floor. Here are five key performances from CTM 2018.
    GAIKA Tuesday evening's show at MONOM, a new experimental performance venue that houses the renowned 4DSOUND spatial soundsystem, aimed to "transcend the turmoil." GAIKA's specially commissioned piece, "The Spectacular Empire Pt ll: The Time Machine," felt both eerie and intimate, with members of the audience huddling around him as he performed a mix of spoken word poetry and songs inspired by an imagined dystopian urban landscape. "The power of a story," he exclaimed into the echoing mic, "can be shared to glorify or to subjugate the receivers of the story as much as it can be used to fatalistically enrich or impoverish the persons telling it forever. But this is our city." Backed only by a sparse beat and floating synths, his fragile voice battled the auto tune for its materiality. For the audience, who were surrounded by four video screens projecting a mixture of monochrome images of war tanks, gang shootings, the Oscar-nominated film Get Out and Vladimir Putin, our collective political turmoil felt as present as ever.
    Colleen Cécile Schott, AKA Colleen, charmed the crowd on Thursday, February 1st, at Hebbel am Ufer, a lovely theater in Kreuzberg. The French artist's minimalist live setup, which contained Moog pedals and a Critter & Guitari synth, perfectly highlighted the modest beauty of songs like "November" and "Winter Dawn." Her most recent record, A Flame My Love, A Frequency, deals with the turmoil that erupts from tragedy. According to Schott, it was inspired in part by the 2015 attacks in Paris, her former home, and the fear of her own mortality that followed. "A couple of weeks after the events, though, I managed to shake myself out of inaction and started working on the record," she explained. "The last time I performed at this festival was in 2007. I hope it won't be another eleven years before I come back," she said, before closing with the LP's title track.
    Perera Elsewhere The opening slot on a weeknight can be a daunting task for a DJ. Not so for London-born, Berlin-based Perera Elsewhere, who turned up the heat in Panorama Bar right off the bat by bumping big tunes such as Itoa's "B 2the B" and Equiknoxx’s "Last Of The Mohicans" and "Fly Away." Juggling grime, UK garage, dancehall and footwork, her 90-minute set blew my mind. When she switched from Jlin's "Enigma" to Errorsmith's "Superlative Fatigue," the crowd screamed and erupted into a frenzy unlike any I've ever experienced in Panorama Bar. Even in a city like Berlin, this kind of energy is a rare sight.
    Holly Herndon Ensemble Holly Herndon is known for experimenting with the physicality of computer music and interrogating the relationship between technology and emotions. Her highly anticipated set at Festsaal Kreuzberg expanded on this theme. Together with Mat Dryhurst and her ensemble, a collective of predominantly female vocalists and musicians she's been working with since May, her performance took the captivated audience on an hour-long audiovisual odyssey. Combining the "guttural aesthetics of traditional folk singing styles with the humanoid, future-hailing flair of voices sent through synthesis and processing," the ensemble invoked visions of a post-humanist utopian future, "celebrating community and endorsing hope in the face of despondency." Embracing each other onstage before wildly dancing to Herndon's encore, "Fade," they embodied the idea that turmoil is best survived through creating community.
    Equiknoxx After an extensive European tour last year, Equiknoxx returned to Berlin for the festival's final Saturday night showcase at YAAM, equipped with new tracks from Colón Man, their first "proper album." Onstage, the chemistry between MC Shanique Marie and producers Gavsborg and Time Cow was thrilling to watch. Their forward-thinking take on Jamaica's musical lineage came to life in a deranged but wonderful blend of improvisation, sing-along and stand-up comedy, thanks in large part to Marie, who added pitch-perfect vocals to tracks like "Porridge Should Be Brown Not Green." She even taught the crowd a dance move or two, and ever the entrepreneurial entertainer, urged everyone to "follow us on all social media!" Moments later, Gavsborg's last flickers of a beat were drowned out by roaring applause.
    Photo credit / Isla Kriss - Marco Donnarumma (Lead) Becca Crawford - GAIKA Udo Siegfriedt - Colleen, Equiknoxx, Ernest Berk, Holly Herndon + Mat Dryhurst Camille Blake - Perera Elsewhere, Holly Herndon Ensemble, Jana Rush, Headset, DAF, Violence, Bestial Mouths, SKALAR