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CTM Festival 2017 - Memories and Facts

Written By:

Simona Mantarlian

Published:

March 31, 2017

1. General context

2017 in experimental music didn’t really start until the CTM Festival caused the traditional fracture in space-time reality. Year by year, CTM succeeds to address the collective unconscious of the moment, the burning questions of the hive mind. The coherent narrative of CTM anticipates further directions in academic studies, regarding the evolution of sound, mind and the club community. At the core of this process of activating self discovery stand the daytime lectures, which provide a conceptual backbone for the performances and immerse audiences into a bubble of enhanced awareness. We can’t get enough of these recordings, which are a good occasion to commiserate on the meaning and weight of the path opening recent edition of the festival.

The exploration of emotions in relation to music was a macro topic of CTM and, given the quantum nature of the subject, it took ten packed days of hard work to glimpse at objective and subjective answers, as well as more questions to be asked. How does this particular new field of research yield a better understanding of our relation to cutting edge music? How do we create a mental mapping of our own emotions as relating to music as well as a terminology to talk about it? And what better context could facilitate the experience of said sounds if not Berlin’s biggest feast of advanced club sound and electronic breakthrough?

As a general context, we know that emotions gained more importance lately, and not just in theory. Ever since the 2000s, business bestsellers like Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking (2005) have challenged the market’s tendency of treating the humans it addresses like strictly logical, soulless mechanisms. A modern psychologist coined the syntagm “intellectual alibi” to describe our tendency to ignore emotions, since it doesn’t always feel as controlled and predictable to work with them. Still, our brain is rationalizing constantly decisions we already made on emotional grounds, which we are most likely not aware of. Facial expression analysis software has proven previous market research obsolete, and found the answers about why businesses with the best logical premise to succeed still fail, once the emotional factor is ignored.

On the holistic side, the spiritual community digs into shadow work – the process of accepting and integrating our negative emotions lovingly, as a response to mental health industry’s biggest myth, that of force medicating humans to the point of feeling how they “are supposed to” feel. We live in a world that constantly invalidates emotions, yet where emotions have become the universal token. And some things learned while attending the panels organized by CTM advocated a need for consciousness and understanding of the modern battlefield which our internal and external emotional life may be.

2. Groundbreaking lectures and panels

Most of the panels featured felt like an intensive training aimed at human evolution and Kunstquartier Bethanien became the place to hear lectures on tolerance and identity politics, on feminine unity within the scene (Salt + Sass), health and wellness for music professionals (shesaid.so) as well as academic papers about the neuropsychology of music (Jonna Vuskoski, Joel Krueger).

The discussions invited towards tolerance and inclusiveness, irrespective of gender, race, geography and background. Some of the strongest voices and dedicated activists within the scene opened up in honest manner about their mission, speaking from the heart to a room full of the coolest people you can fit within four walls. This CTM edition, the main vector was conscious politics but the traditional counter-cultural topics were represented too – as through a delicious X Files talk by Nora Khan and Steve Warwick exploring the climate of fear or an audiovisual essay by Ayesha Hameed, about the Black Atlantis which referenced Drexciya’s musical mythology. It was poignant to hear Stingray drop Drexciya - Aquabon that very evening.

Aiding to the virtual nature of our modern life, an act of courage was the booking of the Tactical Technology Collective workshop, which offered the space to experiment with building form scratch a hack-proof, completely anonymous Internet entity, one that would exist independent of our real self and preferences and reveal the least. It was a game changing experiment, which proved how intertwined our real and virtual personas can be. The workshop inventoried personal details we’re asked to give away while online and examined the concerns posed by cyber activity. For a person unsuspecting about their online self’s vulnerabilities, some realizations were brutal.



The Internet we like to romanticize as a free space of sharing intellectual content and honest feelings is the same Internet of doxing, massive data leaks and targeted commercials that seem to read your thoughts, not just your emails. In a virtual space where our emotional blueprint is a data mining bulky resource, precaution is a hard practice. It was inspiring to see a festival so involved with the music of the Internet go there. What’s more, Elysia Crampton helped run the workshop, along with the Tactical Technology team and that makes one thankful for that side of the current club music that acts as benign political resistance .

Counterculture and the present consciousness climaxed with the panel discussion with Genesis P-Orridge about love, death, transcendence and the magic that makes life worth living. The panel focused on the film made by the extremely talented Hazel Hill McCarthy III, who joined Genesis for a trip to Benin, which unwound as an unplanned and impromptu Voodoo initiation ritual. The encounter with the Voodoo priest and sacred folk of Benin resolved the worldly parting between Genesis and his pandrogyne half Lady Jaye, who left this world in 2007, through a trans-dimensional communion of souls. The journey was an act of magic, sprinkled with synchronicities, telepathy, mediation between our realm and the spirit world – all converging to heal and reunite beyond dimensions one of the last examples of romantic love the modern world has witnessed. I couldn’t review Hazel’s film in definite statements, but it did leave me with a lot of questions. Can true love transcend death and does it continue on psychic level when one is physically gone? Is our material world prepared to withstand a force such as love at its highest, or either love or matter has to collapse necessarily under the stubborn forces of the other? Does love need death in order to legitimate itself because our world is so fucked or could our realm sustain love, other than commuting between dimensions? Maybe psychic magic is the only tool we’re left with, when it comes to rescuing the elusiveness of love. In any case, the story of Genesis and Lady Jaye is a legit proof that love is Law and love is Work, as capitalized as named by many sacred paths.

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3. Past congruence

Genesis P-Orridge and Aaron Dilloway (of extreme sensorial noise project Wolf Eyes) performed a sold out gig the evening before at HAU 1, which followed the screening of “Bight of the Twin” documentary. Spoken poetry and chanting by Genesis merged with the electronic prowess of Aaron Dilloway and it felt like HAU 1 dome teleported past conceivable dimensions. None of the humans to partake this happening left the venue untransformed. There was a specific point where Genesis P-Orridge started calling out the ego-driven male archetype for all the mess done in the world - old school industrial invocation style. It was like exposing the inmost source of evil, naming it and destroying it head on.

That same night, the Berghain program titled Agitation showcased Thomas Ankersmit, Gum Takes Tooth, Vomir and Pharmakon. The Harsh Noise Wall moment presented by Vomir will go down in history as one of the key live moments of this year - an experiment in actuality, aimed at perception of time when the subject is faced with a sonic trigger that yields the life-like feeling of an ever constant nervous simmering. Memorable weight can be attributed to the Pharmakon performance, which was sharp and raw up to maximum, but never past the limit of becoming burdensome.

Each act during the festival had points of congruence with the ideas brought in conversation, and the balance between known artists and raw gems sought after by the extremely vigilant team was rewarding even for the know-all music nerds out there.

As quick highlights to watch further, I’d mention N.M.O., who introduced a format that compiled fitness exercises and Super Collider in a performance that integrated humor, humans and machines; Miss Red welcoming Gaika as the secret guest who no one expected during her fiery performance; Tommy Genesis blasting empowering lyrics to all the women in the audience and being the role model I wish I had around during my ten years of coming to terms with things like gender and identity; The Bug and Dylan Carlson of Earth having a heavyweight stoner doom meets physical bass performance of dream-like beauty; Bill Kouligas presenting oneiric incursion Lexachast; Norwegian singer Nils Bech putting up a performance of indescribable sensibility, Toxe tearing down the place on closing night, our own Dragoș Rusu providing an encyclopedic view on outernational psychedelia – and still, the list would not do any justice to the many acts which stood out and shaped human connection in the contemporary club community.

The intellectually dense universe of CTM continued expanding and sparked theoretical conversations during each club night, to the intense soundtracks which welded emotion in countless sonic shapes. The short breaks between acts had ideas swarming into gamma brainwaves overload, and that is where the festival effect was past concepts and a demonstration of them, but a synthesis that stays.


*Photo credits: CTM 2017 (Camille Blake, Udo Siegfriedt, Andrés Bucci)

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