All the artists to catch at Berlin’s five-day techno, ambient and experimental music marathon, tipped by the curators themselves.
Now in its sixth year, Berlin Atonal is a fully entrenched fixture of the German capital’s musical calendar and must-visit event for any fan of techno, ambient and experimental music. It’s also got one of the most impressive settings of any festival in the world: Kraftwerk, a colossal former power station whose concrete structure amplifies everything like a brutalist cathedral.
As with previous years, Berlin Atonal 2018 splits its program roughly between live performances, DJ sets and visual art, with Kraftwerk’s main hall hosting the headline shows and club spaces Tresor, OHM and Globus underneath showcasing techno and club music until the early hours. It’s not the non-stop 60-hour tchno party Berghain is, but its five-day runtime requires just as much stamina.
“This year we have around 170 individual musicians, producers, sound and visual artists coming to Berlin to present works in the context of the festival,” say curators Harry Glass, Laurens von Oswald and Paulo Reachi. “We are always trying to strike the golden balance between programming a consistent experience that also feels like part of a bigger whole, but also keeping each night a diverse and varied and letting each act speak on its own terms.”
This year’s Atonal, which takes place from August 22-26, sees techno favorites like Helena Hauff and British Murder Boys placed alongside modular synthesist Caterina Barbieri, Actress, Claude Speeed, Lena Willikens, Lanark Artefax and many more. Of course the lineup has plenty of hidden gems that might get overlooked, so Glass, von Oswald and Reachi picked out their must-see tips for anyone heading to the festival.
Be sure also to tune into FACT’s exclusive Berlin Atonal livestreams with Fis & Mohammad Reza Mortasavi, object blue, Hiro Kone and Killer-Oma on August 22 and 23.
August 24, Main Stage
Appearing on the Main Stage on August 24 (Friday) is Pariah, who made his solo return this year with his debut album for Houndstooth. Unlike the beat-driven sample experiments of records like Safehouses though, Here From Where We Are – which he will prform live – is an ambient album with a decidedly new age feel.
“It’s not often that you see a producer completely change direction successfully – but Pariah’s new record on Houndstooth hit a mark with us and is a consuming and complex work,” Atonal says. “We really hope the material comes alive in the Kraftwerk with a lighting concept that really presses in on the audience.”
August 22, Stage Null
While Atonal has a reputation for programming techno and experimental music from Europe and the US, it’s also got a strong connection to Japan, where Atonal holds a Tokyo-based sister event, New Assembly. Last year’s Atonal also hosted several Japanese DJs, one of whom, Killer Bong, returns with a different project.
“Killer-Oma is a one-of-a-kind show that we were lucky enough to host when we organised our New Assembly festival in Tokyo,” Atonal says. “It’s the incredibly unlikely due of Killer Bong – a reclusive bad-boy rapper and Isao Suzukl, the eighty-year-old jazz double-bassist who used to be a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 1970s.”
August 24, Stage Null
Regis’ Downwards label celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and will be representing at Atonal on August 24 (Friday) with a program that includes British Murder Boys, Samuel Kerridge, Ora Iso and Layne. Atonal’s hot Downwards tip though, is drum and bass veteran and “certified breakbeat addict” Paradox. Atonal tells us to expect “constantly shifting drum patterns” and “MS-DOS energy.”
Le Syndicat Electronique
August 23, Stage Null
Le Syndicat Electronique, who plays Stage Null on August 23 (Thursday) occupies a similar space on the lineup to In Aeternum Vale in 2014 and Porter Ricks in 2016 – that is, a cult act coaxed out of retirement for a special live show, in part thanks to a forthcoming retrospective on Mannequin Records.
“ We’ve been trying for a few years to host Le Syndicat Electronique – an influential and mysterious project – but always ran into difficulty. When the idea came up again while working on the program with Mannequin’s Alessandro Adriani for his Drift program the stars aligned and he agreed to play.”
Shifted/Broken English Club/Ilpo Väisänen
August 25, Stage Null
Unusual collaborations are frequent occurrences at Atonal – last year it was Powell and Wolfgang Tillmans, in 2015 it was Kangding Ray and Mogwai’s Barry Burns – and this year it’s the trio of D&B-turned-techno favorite Shifted, Oliver Ho’s Broken English Club alias and Pan Sonic’s Ilpo Väisänen.
“We are – unsurprisingly – huge fans of Pan Sonic and we were lucky enough to be able to host Mika Vainio before he passed away all too soon,” Atonal says. “Ilpo is often an underrated component in the duo and we are excited to be able to commission this special performance with him and two of our very favourite dancefloor-focused producers – Shifted and Broken English Club.”
August 26, Main Stage
Although artists including Alessandro Cortini and Emptyset have closed Atonal in recent years, 2018’s final performance this year is shrouded in secrecy. However, the curators do say that LABOUR’s performance marks the launch of a new collaborative project that “seeks to contribute towards a space of nonconforming social practices and identities”.
“We are reluctant to give too much away about this monumental concluding show,” Atonal says. “Their goal is to, in their own words, ‘mesh instability within patterns of acoustic drums, raw synthesised signals, using multiple performers and customised lights, the output is a sound both hybrid and hardcore'”.
August 24, Main Stage
While Atonal’s main stage plays host to big names like Regis, Actress and Stephen O’Malley across its five days, it’s also a place to catch under-the-radar acts like Hiro Kone, who is notable for a string of solo records and collaborations with Coil’s Drew McDowall.
“Hiro Kone is brilliant artist who has been based in New York and consistently doing interesting things in music for a while now, though only selectively putting out releases,” Atonal says. “We really like her recent stuff and the forthcoming release [Pure Expenditure] on Dais is a belter.”
August 25, Main Stage
One of the highlights of Bokeh Versions’ fantastic run of records in 2018 is YMFEES, a collaboration between Jay Glass Dubs and Leslie Winer, the model and avant-garde musician whose 1993 album Witch is widely cited as a formative influence on trip-hop.
“We have been listening to the classic album Witch over the last years and we heard that she was getting interested in music again, so we reached out to her and this show is the result,” Atonal says. “We’re really curious to hear how her unique voice sounds in the space.”
Winer will appear with French percussionist Gazelle Misst’inkiette and Copenhagen vocalist Maeve Rose, as part of an A/V performance made up of “found, appropriated and archival video” manipulated and mixed by Winer herself.
August 25, Projektionsfläche
The closest thing Atonal has to a chill-out room is the Projektionsfläche, an eight-meter panoramic screen that shows long-form and generative works by artists from a variety of backgrounds.
One of Atonal’s Projektionsfläche highlights this year is Thomas Mohr’s SUM, presented during the screening program on Friday and again, for over six hours on Saturday. “His body of work is all painstakingly reconstructed out of this collection of 531.441 pictures he has taken documenting his life over 30 years,” Atonal says.
Berlin Atonal 2018 takes place from August 22-26. Find more information and tickets at the festival website.