Berlin Atonal 2023

Berlin, September 7-17th, 2023.

This year Berlin Atonal 2023 had a two-week format, and it was a part of Berlin’s Art Week schedule. No need to say more. Berlin Atonal is proudly standing again as an active factory of ideas by making a resounding return after 4 years of absence. Set against the industrial backdrop of the historical building of Kraftwerk, an ex-power plant of 8,000-square-metre, surrounded by audiovisual art pieces that leave your jaw agape, this year’s edition pushed the limits of sound experimentation and immersive artistic expression to another level!

Throughout two dynamic weekends, attendees witnessed an array of music performances, DJ sets, and a thought-provoking four-day art exhibition entitled Universal Metabolism. Harry Glass the Co-curator of Atonal explains: “The idea was to plant something into this empty, industrial space and let it grow. The festival serves as a host to this living organism. Each individual act is like another mutation.” From the eyes of Adriano Rosselli, the director of Atonal’s art program since 2017, “Atonal is like a giant concrete stomach digesting the visitors, processing them, each artistic organ performing its own function and swooshing the audience around its insides.”

Ten years ago, Atonal created a new chapter in the festival’s history; today is considered the uterus of the European experimental underground art scene by giving birth to avant-garde movements and the creative minds of tomorrow. What Atonal represents is raw and creates a rare feeling of hope for the creative community. The creators allow their art to flow freely, expressing their emotions, creative obsessions and visions without being hampered by rules, trends, and expectations. Atonal is a middle finger in the face of overwhelming mediocracy and artistic homogeneity.

Some engagement with Atonal’s performers leads us to the following statements: “The underground creative scene is sick of the network of gatekeepers prioritising commodifying artists, alcohol and ticket sales. That’s why we need institutions like Atonal to function as a safe place for any experimental artist. The heartbeat of Berlin is sick of any semblance of culture and Atonal is like an electric shock needed straight to the heart. It allows the rise of serious, innovative players who truly love the core of art and music.”

The experience: By entering the gates of Kraftwerk, the venue encompasses five levels, with the primary stage situated on the fourth floor, capturing immediate attention with a striking, twenty-meter-high opening from stage to ceiling. The ground floor reminds a representation of the Divine Comedy illustrated by Botticelli. 

During this pre-midnight phase, the music performances were mainly contemplative and intellectually engaging, rather than solely focused on ecstatic dancing or raving. The result seemed almost ethereal during the DJ set of Lostboi & Torus‘ playing dynamic ambient trance mixed with melodic pop elements and Marta De Pascalis‘ “Sky Flesh” inviting sine-wave progressions with many attendees enjoying the experience in a state of meditation.  

After midnight, the top floor of Kraftwerk shuts down, marking a mood shift. In Atonal, there is an unwritten rule that is considered a significant part of Berlin’s nightlife, the early hours are dedicated to dancing. The first weekend featured an array of groundbreaking acts that left attendees in awe, with music running as early as 6:30 p.m. and as late as 10 a.m. the next day.

Atonal Highlights: Friday 08.09.23: Around midnight, Florentina Holzinger and her team performed on the main stage the acrobatics of “Étude For Church,” suspended naked from the Kraftwerk ceiling, slowly hitting a two-tonne iron bell while whirring synth grows into an industrial techno beat. For the first weekend, this was the ideal warm-up signal for Berlin’s partygoers.

Mu”he Tokyo’s underground club scene found representation in mu”he, a highly-regarded DJ known for her multi-genre sets. Her ability to seamlessly transition between different styles, from techno, and trance to hardcore, created a dynamic and immersive dancefloor experience. 

Romeo Castellucci, The Third Reich An interesting video installation based on a spectral representation of all the names and words that can be found in a contemporary dictionary. All the nouns were projected in sequence, one by one, onto the big screen. The sound that accompanied the installation was composed by Scott Gibbons and the choreography by Gloria Dorliguzzo. 

¥ØU$UK€ ¥UK1MAT$U  Delivered an unprecedented, emotional performance, honoring the memory of Ryuichi Sakamoto. The usually intense DJ, recognized for his mesmerizing fusions, expertly weaved an odyssey of enchanting ’80s J-pop, and choral compositions, blended the well-known “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,” seamlessly with more forceful percussive techno, noise, and other elements.

Absurd Matter Was accompanied by a new A/V live show in collaboration with the visual artist Sevi Iko Demochevsky. The visual aspect of this showcased a delirious pseudo-narrative CGI adventure based in a sewer world full of nightmarish entities and fantasy references. The energy of this act was absolutely deep-fried. 

Carmen Villain The atmospheric and diverse environment she created, invited the listeners to explore esoteric parts of themselves and feelings of intimacy. A bohemian performance by a promising female artist who is not afraid to embrace experimentation and unexpected “conversations” with different types of sounds.

As an overall taste, Berlin Atonal 2023 left a mark in the history of today’s experimental music scene as a transformative experience by continuing to be a beacon for daring and curious, creative entities. Until next time!

Berlin Atonal 2023 / @berlinatonal
Dates: September 7 – 17, 2023
Location: Berlin, Germany
Words: Iro Bournazou / @irwb
Ph: @frankiecasillophoto @sergeyskip
@mayrawallraff @studiomundt

You may also like

Soundscapes vol.94 | Alexander Darkish

Art&Culture | Soundscapes
A selection of major influences and unexpected discoveries in various Berlin record shops by Alessandro Del Vigna, aka Alexander Darkish, Italian film and music producer, executive producer of Siberia by Abel Ferrara, and Triangle of Sadness by Ruben Östlund and co-founder of music duo Darkish, alongside Matteo Pupa.

Soundscapes vol.112 | Charlie

Art&Culture | Soundscapes
A selection by the Berlin-born Polish DJ, LIVE performer & Producer; Charlie. She is an active member of the underground dance scene in Krakow. The playlist includes Italo disco, wave and cold wave music - new, old, deeper rarities or just tracks that are nice to be reminded of.

Ben Frost / A Predatory Chord

Art&Culture | Interview
In conversation with Ben Frost on his latest exhibition A Predatory Chord, a sound installation debuting May 27-28 at the Megaron Athens Concert Hall.