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The Kraftwerk Syndicate

A heat wave has temperatures soaring in downtown Berlin. There’s something heavy in the air on August 19 through 23, 2015, and it’s not just the humidity. What’s all that infernal racket? Why it’s Berlin Atonal, a most extraordinary event featuring the hottest artists in contemporary experimental music. And all that sound and fury is bursting forth from the gloom of an industrial cathedral called the Kraftwerk, a satis&fy preferred partner location since 2013.

This power plant had long been abandoned before Dimitri Hegemann, the Berlin Atonal festival’s founder, turned part of it into Tresor, a techno club, in 2006. Dimitri has staged events in its southern tract for the past four years. Perhaps it was this extraordinary venue that inspired the impresario to resurrect his legendary ‘80s avant-garde music festival in 2013. (satis&fy was on board for the relaunch and the revival’s next two installments.)

In an increasingly yuppified city where bourgeois bohemians flock to any place with a touch of post-industrial chic, the Kraftwerk could have been just another watering hole. But the building’s colossal dimensions, open floor plan and raw vibe make it a more protean place, and a visit a far more visceral experience. Maybe that’s why Dimitri chose it for a festival that is avant-garde to the gills. Berlin Atonal’s bracing cocktail of savage sounds, AV art performances, beguiling film and video installations, and technological innovations, including some the world has never seen before, is all about shattering molds and exploring the fringe. A far cry from the mainstream, the festival showcased the outliers of international art. For those five days, the punk ethos was alive and well in these hallowed halls of darkness.

The Kraftwerk is a mind-bending experience for the uninitiated. Its monumental scale suggests a temple to some long forgotten gods of industry. Lofty 30-meter ceilings and a central hall as big as a football field make for an imposing interior. Its architecture is a people magnet, but for satis&fy it’s also a challenge. Sound meanders unguided through a space as big and bare as this, eventually blundering into hard surfaces and bouncing back as troublesome reflections. Light installations, dazzling in any other room, are all but swallowed up by the stygian darkness.

But after staging this gig for three years running, satis&fy was able to rise to the challenge, even if this year’s sold-out show was bigger with an international line-up of over 50 artists. With a little brainstorming and a lot of painstaking preparation, a wildly complex setup of sophisticated lighting and AV gear and custom scenic builds went up again in 2015. A d&b V8 FOH PA and two flown d&b V8 delay lines delivered rich yet remarkably clear sound. A 13.85 m x 7.85 m screen in the main hall was trussed up and flown from the ceiling. The large hall again hosted performances, as did smaller venues such as the neighboring Tresor Club and nearby OHM Gallery, where most after-show parties took place. This year a second stage with three screens was erected on the ground floor.

Artistic Director Laurens von Oswald sought to bring the development of experimental music to life for people to experience. His plan panned out: Berlin Atonal is no run-of-the-mill music festival. It’s a total work of art to be heard, seen and felt as exemplified by ‘ Outside the Dream Syndicate,’ a stunning drone-core performance put on by New York violinist and minimalism pioneer Tony Conrad and legendary kraut-rockers Faust. Dream-time’s over, so it’s back to reality – for now.

Photos: Camille Blake

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