Thursday, August 3, 2017
A’Larmé! Festival Vol. V - Day 1
By Martin Schray
Everyone who followed the development of the A’Larmé! festival over the past few years knows that it is more than a conventional improv festival. Louis Rastig, the art director of the festival, and Karina Mertin, who is responsible for the concept of the festival, are rather interested in crossing genre boundaries. Rastig says that one of the main characteristics of the festival is diversity, he wants to take the free jazz bulls by the horns and tries to re-define term “free jazz“. Last year the festival was rather contemplative, female voices were highlighted. However, this wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea (see our review of last year’s festival here).
Besides the younger improv generation represented by Christian Lillinger, Kaja Draksler and Nate Wooley and rock acts like Thurston Moore, The Ex and Caspar Brötzmann’s trio, this year’s focus is on DJ-sets, electronics and audio-visuality. Again, the festival tries to explore artistic alternatives and intends to give back the boisterous attitude to underground culture.
This balancing act can already be seen by the choice of the locations. Like last year the festival starts in Berlin’s techno temple Berghain, a former combined heat and power station both famous and notorious for its relentless bouncers, drug scene, and darkrooms. Since the actual parties take place on the weekends and the concerts of the festival are in the Panorama Bar of the club, the festival goers are not confronted with needles and sadomasochists in crass outfits. The only thing they have to handle is the enormous volume of the sound system.
This year’s festival opened with Frank Bretschneider, a techno musician, sound/visual artist and founder of the Raster-Noton label, Thurston Moore/Caspar Brötzmann and Elephant 9. But the first surprise was the audience. It had nothing to do with the usual free jazz festival people, there were young couples, models in fishnet stockings, the typical Berghain techno in-crowd, an Alice Cooper impersonator, and alternative rock people. The room was packed and Frank Bretschneider delivered an interesting minimal techno set full of complex beats and rhythms. Bretschneider’s music is cool and strict, his set was backed by abstract black-and-white videos full of sine waves and geometric forms.
Then Thurston Moore and Caspar Brötzmann hit the stage and after a rather intimate beginning they delivered what everybody expected: pure noise. Like guitar gods in slow motion they built up layer after layer of sounds, distorted, brutal and close to the threshold of pain. Moore was the one who was responsible for the rhythm while Brötzmann displayed his Hendrix influence. But underneath all the noise, the screaming of the guitars, the feedbacks and the constant drones there was a certain beauty, especially in the melodies Brötzmann effortlessly scattered in his solos. The set ended like it started - with a contemplative exploration of microtones. Everything was improvised, but it had nothing to do with jazz. Nevertheless it was a great gig.
The first night was closed by Elephant 9, which is Ståle Storløkken (of Supersilent fame) on hammond organ and analogue synths, Nicolai Eilertsen on electric bass and Torstein Lofthus on drums. What might have been a rather difficult and indigestive thing (like Steamboat Switzerland in 2013) turned out to be a really nice show. It was as if Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright, Deep Purple’s Jon Lord and Keith Emerson rose from the dead, Storløkken even looks a bit like Emerson. They started with a medley of “Psychedelic Backfire“ and “Walk the Nile“, which presented infectious grooves (the first one) and psychedelic excuses (the second). Instead of getting lost in complicated chord changes they stuck to that concept and the audience was grateful and danced the night away. In the last piece Eilersten played a Jack Bruce riff, it was as if the 1960s and 70s were back again.
All in all a promising first night, today the festival will move to Radialsystem V, its usual location, and the music will be quite different with Kaja Draksler, New Roots Trio, Dell/Lillinger/Brecht/Westergaard and Nate Wooley’s Seven Storey Mountain V.
Note: There are no photos of the concerts, since the Berghain doesn’t allow taking photos inside the building. Hopefully this will be different on the following days.