Tirzah, LSDXOXO, Yves Tumor and more catch our eye at the sprawling Berlin event.
Founded in 1999 as a one-off event at Transmediale Festival, CTM, or Club Transmediale, set out to explore the more artistic offshoots of Berlin's techno scene. It didn't take long for the festival to grow and claim its own identity, quickly becoming known for a broad and ever-expanding roster of adventurous music from Berlin and beyond. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary under the theme of "Persistence," this year's program focused on the ways in which music communities can persevere in the face of seemingly never-ending tumult. The lineup featured artists whose commitment and distinct voices have made them leaders in their scenes.
Here are five key performances from CTM 2019.
The atmosphere at Griessmuehle on Saturday night was pure bliss. With two rooms open, the first curated by the Berlin collective Through My Speakers and the second by the newcomer party Floorgasm, every minute was packed with stellar performances. One of my favourites was the final set in the Floorgasm room by the night's curator, LSDXOXO. Situated down a flight of unlit stairs, the space felt like the physical embodiment of a k-hole—looking up, all you could see was a sea of impenetrable black and twinkling starry lights reflecting off an unmoving disco ball. This bunker was the perfect backdrop for LSDXOXO's delicious mangling of popular songs, which included a Baltimore club edit of Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head," a high octane re-fix of Aaliyah's "We Need a Resolution" and a hardcore version of N.E.R.D.'s "Rockstar."
In the bathroom queue at Griessmuehle, I listened as a girl lamented to someone, "I was trying to get my friend to go to Colin Self. I was like 'Come on it's Colin Self! It’s like Eartheater vibes.'" I'll never know whether she managed to lure her friend to HAU2 on Wednesday, but she was right to recommend it.
Self, with his back to the audience so that all you could see was a head of cascading blonde curls and a flowing white dress, stood facing a string trio. The show began like a classical opera, with Self as the prima donna singing "Foresight," from his recent album Siblings. Later, he was joined by a troupe of costumed singers and dancers, as the show weaved through moments of touching intimacy and post-apocalyptic rave scenes. The fun had by the performers shone through as Self's crowning achievement. It was a sincere display of community through music and dance that showed, in an age of isolation, the power of togetherness.
The focus in Berghain's main floor was a portal of multicoloured lights, designed by Emmanuel Biard, that shone down in triangular segments from a single arch. Through this portal emerged Lotic, their backless silk blue dress engulfed in its own personal rainbow. As someone who's mainly known as a DJ and producer, it felt special to see Lotic as a vocal act in a club context, running through songs from 2018's more poppy LP, Power. But going full lead singer in a pitch-black industrial warehouse is not without its dangers. "Don't make yourself dizzy if you're wearing four-inch heels for the first time,"said Lotic after a particularly energetic song. "I almost broke my ankle."
Tirzah stood alone at the front of the stage dressed in a plain grey tunic. Behind her, Mica Levi and Coby Sey manned tables of gear. Despite the 500-strong crowd, the show felt intimate, as the UK singer ran through tracks from her debut album, Devotion. Between songs, she muttered sweet "thank yous" or absentmindedly pulled her fingers through a nearby set of chimes. The performance was minimal, yet her voice in all its anomalous glory was like a siren's call to the audience. Groups of men all around me joined in to sing along to Devotion's title track.
If Tirzah's set was a lullaby, Yves Tumor's was a one-man mosh pit. Bare-chested under a leather jacket with a spiky mullet to boot, he employed pure rock & roll theatrics, ripping through tracks from his 2018 album, Safe In The Hands Of Love. "I know I look good,” he said after the first song, "but I’m getting kind of bored up here, we need some strobe lights or something." Cue strobes. During "Noid," he threw a full bottle of water into the audience. A couple songs later, he threw himself, eventually landing on the ground and clearing a runway so he could dance through the crowd. Yes, it would have been nice to see these rockstar antics backed by a real band—instead, everyone watched as Tumor stepped offstage to press play between songs—but his energy was nevertheless magnetic.