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Sunday, August 6, 2017

A’Larmé! Festival Vol. V - Day 4

The venue - Radialsystem V

By Martin Schray

After her Solo performance on the 3rd August, Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler opened up the last night with her own chamber ensemble presenting the East-European and the Amsterdam-based movement of contemporary music. When I spoke with people before the show, most of them said that they have problems with this group, some openly said they don’t like it. Expectedly, Draksler is concerned about the connection between composition and improvisation, mainly a mixture of avant-garde jazz, modernism, neo-classical, impressionism and folkloristic elements of traditional Slovenian music. The group played five pieces, the first one based on Pablo Neruda’s “Canto 11“ about his Machu Picchu experience. Like her solo performance there was a lot of space for the musicians, the layers created were not crammed, the connection between the different kinds of music worked. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for the other pieces. They were less convincing, e.g. when Ab Baars crushed the two voices, who were simply too reluctant.

The octet was:
  • Kaja Draksler (piano)
  • Laura Polence (voice)
  • Björk Níelsdóttir (voice)
  • Ada Rave (reeds)
  • Ab Baars (reeds)
  • George Dumitriu (violin & viola)
  • Lennart Heyndels (double-bass)
  • Onno Govaert (drums)

Kaja Draksler Octet

Then the festival took something up of the early years: the splitting of locations. Olaf Rupp (guitar), Rudi Fischerlehner (drums) and Joke Lanz played in the so-called Studio A, a venue for a limited crowd on the fifth floor of the Radialsystem, while Markus Schmickler/Thomas Lehn played in the hall at the same time. Since each of them played two sets, you manage to see both groups playing in their different locations. Rupp, one of the leading figures of Berlin’s Echtzeit scene, and Fischerlehner, an excellent Berlin-based drummer, have been playing together under the moniker Xenofox for years. With Swiss DJ artist Joke Lanz on turntables they combined sampling techniques, trip hop influences and freely improvised music. Lanz, who I came across for the first time at last year’s Métèo festival when he played a spectacular set with Sophie Agnel, was an obvious extension for Xenofox. So it was no surprise that they didn’t have to warm up and started raging full-on. Rupp’s unique style with a lot of tremolos and arpeggios and Fischerlehner’s grooves were attacked by Lanz’ provocative intersperses, which created weird and crass beats. But like in the aforementioned concert with Sophie Agnel the band was at their best in the quieter moments, when they created the atmosphere for the more dynamic passages. A really great show.

Xenofox feat. Joke Lanz

German electronic musician Marcus Schmickler and Vienna-based synthesizer wizard Thomas Lehn cover a huge musical field from improvised music to techno sounds. For their set in the hall the quadruple sound system worked nicely. Sitting opposite each other like in a chess match, they started as if they were building up a huge machine, a deep drone crept through the venue. Almost imperceptibly the increased the volume, sound textures were shifted like tectonic plates. Sometimes this was very organic, but then it was also painful. In any case this music was very physical, as if you were sitting in the belly of a huge body of sound, in which you could literally feel the bass floating through your body. Okkyung Lee was sitting on the bandstand, shutting her ears, but obviously enjoying the music immensely. Then, at the end, the music ebbed away and we were back where we started from. Berghain, please take over next year!

Marcus Schmickler/Thomas Lehn

Then it was time for the last act. Actually, I have to admit that I didn’t expect much from Dutch post punk legends The EX. I know some songs from the 1980s but then they slipped off my radar. That was obviously a huge mistake! Driven by the uncompromising drumming of Katherina Bornefeld, founding member Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor (guitars) plus singer and guitarist Arnold de Boer rocked the house. Their influences span from traditional African music to punk, funk, improv and noise, you could hear Captain Beefheart, The Fall, early Talking Heads and 1970s New York No Wave. Arnold DeBoer barked his lyrics and hurled them into the audience. The three guitarists shot like pinballs across the stage, it was pure and excessive energy, punk rock was alive - and it wasn’t embarrassing at all. A worthy ending of the festival.

The EX

All in all A’Larmé! V was really successful. Louis Rastig and Karina Mertin tried something different and as to the large attendance they can feel confirmed. On the one hand, booking stars like Thurston Moore won maximum (media) attention and brought smaller and less known acts in the focus of an audience less familiar with free jazz. On the other hand, most of the Berghain crowd from the first day didn’t attend the other gigs at the Radialsystem and some of the people who came just for the rock bands ignored the more ambitious acts in between. The proudly presented quadruple sound system was not as impressive as expected, in fact some musicians had problems with it. Nevertheless, the festival made a difference to the more conventional Konfrontationen in Nickelsdorf, to Moers, Mulhouse’s Métèo or similar European events. The Radialsystem is a great place, the atmosphere is very relaxed, it was nice to talk to musicians like Okkyung Lee, Nicola Hein and Matthias Müller, and Louis Rastig’s announcements are still a unique performance. Last but not least the festival presented a much better program than last year’s rather mediocre one, with Nate Wooley's project and The Ex as the icing on the cake. I’m looking forward to next year’s edition. However, my ears need a break now.


Paul said...

Thanks Martin! I'm glad to hear the festival was better this year and I'm happy to have been there vicariously!

Martin Schray said...

Thanks, Paul.
Besides electro-acoustics and audiovisability, volume was an integral factor of the festival, something I might have not highlighted clearly enough. Last year's concerts of Fire! and Mohammad already pointed in that direction, but this year Brötzmann's group, Lehn/Schmickler and even Xenofox, The EX and Thurston Moore were close to the threshold of pain. However, this often happened for a special reason, since the volume seemed to be necessary for the sound effects the musicians wanted to create.
At the end of the festival my ears really needed some silence.
Rastig did a great job this year and it will be interesting to see if he can manage to get A'Larmé! VI done next year. Cultural subsidies are difficult to get these days.

Antonio said...

Use earplugs, friends! :-)

And excellent writeup, Martin!

Martin Schray said...

I did, Antonio, I did.
But without it's more fun. ;-).

frank said...

Great summary, Martin! Apart from the indeed good and colourful programme I enjoyed this location with its relaxed atmosphere, and not least the many intermissions that allowed having a break, grab a beer and talk to nice people - which imo is much better than running from one stage to another as in so many other festivals. Next year again!