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We look back over 13 years of parties...

Club Transmediale is a music festival that's almost certainly unlike any other you've ever been to. Taking place in Berlin at the end of January every year, the festival, which presented its ninth edition in 2008, is an experience that is so unashamedly different from the standard British 'three days camping and hopefully sun' festival approach that we take in the UK, that many are surprised and maybe even put off by the commitment that is demanded for full attendance.

Making it to the nine days of shows, the majority in the main venue of Maria Am Ostbahnhof - an old, raw, some may say dirty club next to the river, in the middle of winter, isn't an easy decision to take. Every night features different styles of music, from a cutting edge selection of club and dancefloor orientated artists on both weekends, to more experimental sound and noise artists in the week. It's a challenging experience but for those willing to make the journey, they are guaranteed to have their eyes and their ears opened to new and exciting propositions in the direction of audio and visual art.

As well as the attention to the audio side of things, the Club Transmediale organisers each year also invite a selection of visual artists to transform the club with installations, drawings and sculptures that survive the nine days of the festival before being destroyed or painted over ready for next year. 2008 saw another intriguing array of artists decorate the bleak walls of Club Maria with some stunning pieces. In the CTM lounge, Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser recreated a car crash of two Porsche Cayennes made entirely out of reclaimed wood and other waste material; its intention to make loose suggestions about the people who drive these kind of vehicles and to question the reach of these attitudes into clubland.

This picture is part of a piece that covered more wall space than any other piece. It was by psychedelic illustrator ShoboShobo from Paris and featured a collection of out-of-shape humanoids and a wild man with a beard of miniature woods. I didn't get to the bottom of the meaning behind this one!

The gala opening concert this year was held in the Volksbuhne (The People's Theatre), and featured a performance from legendary electronic artist Pierre Henry. His two part performance was conducted from a mixing desk in the centre of the seated area with everyone facing a stage of poignantly lit speakers. He touched on all parts of his career of sound exploration, as well as later including compositions of others who have developed the ideas presented in his work.

After that it was straight down to Club Maria to take in the Friday night of the first CTM weekend. A large UK contingent was present in the club that night, most of them providing the entertainment as part of London's 30 strong WOWOW collective who, between them, were styling the music and performance in the second room for the whole of the night. The main room took in sets from Ebony Bones, Jahcoozi, Detroit Grand Pubahs, Sick Girls and Cobula.

Saturday night on the first weekend was Cranked Up Disco, a showcase of French artists including Ed Banger's Kavinsky, Leonard De Leonard and Surkin alongside their Berlin contemporary Shir Khan. Hyped up UK act Chrome Hoof (above) took centre stage in the main room while the second room was a fuzzy mix of psycho-billy, trash, punk and musical excess with performances from The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Reverend Beatman and Kraftpost.

Although the number of people attending the festival dropped after the weekend, the quality of the music and the intrigue of the shows certainly didn't. Highlights from the midweek sessions included Swiss duo Florian Kaufmann and Christian Marclay; both sound engineers, vinyl cutters and artists in their own right. Their performance consisted of an on-stage array of homemade analogue sound equipment and vinyl lathes recording sounds being produced by the equipment, which were then incorporated back into the performance, with the whole process projected onto screens around the venue.

From Sunday, the tempo started to slow and the sounds became more experimental, ideas more abstract and listening more challenging. The Silent Disco collective from Holland offered their bluetooth headsets for three of the performances on that night with other artists utilising the full six speaker array for surround sound shows including a piece from BJ Nilsen and Hildur Gudnadottir (pictured above).

Xavier van Wersch's Monday night show was produced by shaping sounds from analogue instruments through improvised circuitry to short circuit predictable machine responses in an attempt to create a more lifelike natural sound from the technology. Xavier was also involved in the sonic wargames project (www.sonic-wargame.net) that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, where participants battled for audio supremacy.

The rest of the week included stunning shows from Murcof at the Berlin Planetarium and Islaja at Maria that all seemed to race past, and in no time it was the second weekend of more dancefloor focused long nights and early mornings. Friday welcomed back grooved-up programming in the main room that included Kalabrese, Efdemin, Prosumer and one of house music's founding fathers, Larry Heard, coming all the way from Detroit for the show.

Room Two on Friday showcased the emerging dub-techno scene with a debut headline show from one of the protagonists of the sound, Moritz Von Oswald from Basic Channel and Rhythm and Sound (pictured) performing an improvised live set with Vladislav Delay and Max Loderbauer. Demonstrating their interpretations of the ideas Moritz pioneered, hypnotic live sets from Andy Stott, Claro Intelecto and Pendle Coven from Manchester's Modern Love label made this one of my favourite shows of the whole festival. All were amazing performances but Pendle Coven's set definitely stood out as a highlight.

And so we were finally into the last night of the festival, but the pace didn't let up for one minute. In the main room a finale of performances from Andrea Satori, Mouse on Mars, Chris De Luca vs Phon.o, and Vitalic injected more melodic electronic aspects to the dancefloor action. The star of the night, for me at least, was Joakim and his Ectoplasmic Band (pictured) whose live show drew obvious comparisons with LCD Soundsystem but still retained a uniquely electro French punk influence. With the strength of their tracks and the energy of their live show they could quite easily become as big as LCD, and deservedly so.

The second room was hosted by the Birthday Party, a monthly event in Berlin that usually takes place in dirty clubs and turns them into trashy confetti filled celebration of any excuse they can think of for having a good time. At CTM the good vibes were helped no end by a high calibre lineup of party rocking artists including hot US producer Curses! (aka Drop the Lime), and Paris based digital hardcore trio MEC (above) who performed their show from the dancefloor wearing crash helmets fitted with internal microphones running through delay and effects units on the floor.

The festival drew to a close after nine long nights at the venue. After seeing the same faces each night and sharing the experience of Club Transmediale, I realised that the motives behind the length of the festival were not only to showcase a wide range of artists and styles. The amount of time spent in the venue meeting the same people throughout opens up communication, relationships are established that lead to collaborations, and the exchange of ideas between participants and audiences flows. It's not just about what you hear and see at Club Transmediale, the feeling is much more communal. It's a festival attended by music lovers and music professionals from all over the world, particularly festival organisers who see it as an early shopping trip to get programming ideas for their events later in the year. CTM has rightly established their reputation as key innovators in music, art and new media art. In an interview with organiser, Jan Rohlf, he told me the motto of the organisation is "Don't give the people what they want, give them what they need", before pausing, and adding, "even if they don't realise they need it yet".


Published: Mon, 1/12/2008