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Berlin Atonal 2023

Anyone who walked past the Kraftwerk building at Köpenicker Straße 70 on the evening of 7th September surely did not miss the rich electric energy in the air, piqued by the interest of curious attendees queued outside for a few hours, chatting away as the night nonchalantly seeped in, while the sublime, yet attractively ominous venue began to engulf its visitors into a myriad of lucid moments.

Berlin Atonal made a boisterous, larger-than-life return with its two stages, three clubs, including its otherwise no-access dungeons, powering the whole of Kraftwerk through deliberately disruptive programming for two whole weekends. Minutes stretched to hours and days, outside perhaps, but time stood perennially still once locked inside its staggering silhouette.

Follow the rhythm to the colossal high-ceiling chambers of the Main Stage. The festival sets slowly into motion. Noir atmospherics and jazzy strings paint cinematic landscapes of faraway topographies, illusions of sun-soaked towns and creaky meadows surface. Move through transfixed listeners to get a good glimpse, eyes and body halt, naturally, as it soaks the enormity of slithering silver sheets reflecting piercing strobes of white light, and Laurel Halo sits gently underneath, bringing to reality her new live show ‘Atlas‘, a heart-wrenching performance with cellist Leila Bordreuil.

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Berlin Atonal 23 Day 1 Laurel Halo ©️helge Mundt @studiomundt 3

While one act speaks meditation, the other supercharges the experience with pulverised, distorted, throbbing heaters. The act in question is Eros, assembling Einstürzende Neubauten producer Boris Walsdorf, Karl O’ Connor aka Regis, and MY DISCO’s Liam Andrews into a single thundering force. Screeching guitar riffs and hyper-pulsating electronics, blaring mercilessly, pick the heart’s pace, and the body surrenders inevitably into twisted movements.

The enchantment extends into that split-second break between two concerts when the lights fall, a numbing silence follows, and the hypnotic trance suddenly lifts until a new sound erupts on another side of the great hall, summoning the scattered audience like a moth to a flame and, so begins another journey.

Evoking sentiments of higher degree, and indubitably a show that is hard to forget, is Shackleton, Zimpel, and Siddhartha Belmannu’s masterpiece ‘In The Cell Of Dreams‘ that has already seen the light of day a handful of times across Europe at festivals like Draaimoleen, reached the doors of Kraftwerk in due time. Belmannu, a Carnatic classical vocalist suited strongly to Schakelton and Zimpel’s avant-folk explorations, drenched the room in melancholic sonics reminiscent of human mortality and the pure joy in it.

More than fifty exuberant acts shook the main halls of Kraftwerk, each carving an otherworldly tale of their own. Rainy Miller’s bespoke one-off performance ‘A Fugue State‘ bolstered contorted pop and laconic drill, demonstrating human spirituality at its most volatile. The site bore witness to Persher in full effect, a Blawan and Pariah production, clubbing punk, hardcore & metal experiments that extend their years of friendship and ongoing partnership beyond the destructive Karenn.

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Berlin Atonal 23 Day 1 Eros ©️helge Mundt @studiomundt 7

While the concerts evoked and educated until midnight, the immersive club nights provided sugary salvation well past sunrise. With a strict no-photos policy common to Berlin, you must live to see the murky and fogged-up late-night affairs of the club dancefloors in real-time.

The vaults of TRESOR opened to TRAXX + Ron Morelli’s Definitive Articles of House, a direct schooling on the lineage of original house music in its purest form. The dystopian dungeon contained the Erbil-born, Amsterdam-based Sarkawt Hamad’s contagious dark bliss, Haruka b2b Wata Igarashi’s intricate soundscapes of Japanese techno aesthetics, and a five-hour DJ Spit b2b mad miran closing in one sitting. Genre fluidity at its peak, the music demigods Skee Mask & Djrum joined forces, spinning records & CDJs alike to tremble the floors of TRESOR with a range of wild electronics.

Cosy as ever, OHM played host to some of Europe’s local sweethearts, from DJ Plead’s percussive club sounds with timbres of Lebanese pop, rRoxymore’s tasteful pallets of contrasting textures with a hint of psychedelia, Shannen SP’s bold explorations of global underground, to a four-hour hearing session of woozy ambient trip-hop dub with a Special Guest DJ, Mister Water Wet, Pontiac Streator & Huerco S.

On the other side of the spectrum, the party trains shook the sound systems of Globus to The Apeiron Crew, aka Solid Blake, Mama Snake and Smokey’s limited edition club appearance, Simo Cell’s adaptive and unpredictable repertoire of the French music landscape, upsammy’s sputtering crystalline tempo, and many more steering the ship over a series of sculpted tones made of turbulent sub-genres.

Throughout 11 days of Berlin Atonal, all the artists collectively watered a singular dream, speaking the language of resistance and liberation in their sweet ways, poised at the edge of growth and the discovery of innate vitality. The range of emotions felt in a single festival night is simply unreal. Lightness and darkness personify in moments of deep disclosure through the much-anticipated works of creatives, technicians and celebrators on a transformative experiment together.

Photography by Helge Mundt and Frankie Casillo

Berlin Atonal 23 Day 2 Shackleton, Zimpel, Siddhartha Belmannu, Pedro Maia©️helge Mundt @studiomundt 17