The historic event returns to the city after a 23 year hiatus, bringing a zero nostalgia line-up of adventurous sounds. In this three-part interview, EB editor-in-chief Max Dax quizzed the organizers about the legacy, the changes and more. Main photo by Marie Staggat.
The first (West) Berlin Atonal Festival in 1982 belongs to the category of events that have the power to change our perception of a city entirely. Founded by Dimitri Hegemann (who is also the founder of the Tresor Club, Tresor Records and the director of the Kraftwerk in Berlin), the festival coined (West) Berlin as a city that originated serious, existentialist music—as performed by Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds or the early Depeche Mode. After pausing for 23 years, the Atonal Festival returns to the now reunited city of Greater Berlin with a stellar cast of concerts (featuring Glenn Branca, Moritz von Oswald & Juan Atkins, Vatican Shadow, John Hassell, Actress and more), public lectures and other activities that deal with the unique space of the Kraftwerk. The festival runs from July 25th until July 31st. Stay tuned for updates and more info or check out their website. Electronic Beats is proud to be Berlin Atonal’s 2013 official media partner.
Laurens, to relaunch the Atonal Festival after twenty years of silence is a bold statement—as the festival gave a direction for the things to come in Berlin during the eighties. As we all know, it featured revolutionary and innovative musical acts such as Psychic TV, Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept., 808 State among many others at a very early stage. The city of Berlin has changed entirely in the meantime, too. So, what can we expect of the reformatted Atonal 2013 Festival?
Laurens von Oswald: I think Dimitri Hegemann should answer this question. He is the founder and the visionary behind the festival.
But aren’t you a current director of the Atonal Festival?
LVO: I am, but again, it was Dimitri’s idea to restart the festival in Berlin and to have it run by young people like me, Harry Glass and Paulo Reachi. Maybe I can say this: That we try to give life to Dimitri’s idea, and I actually think that conferring all the responsibility on a younger generation is the boldest move he could have made.
Dimitri Hegemann: It actually isn’t such a risk I am taking. I realized very early on that these young gentlemen do exactly have an idea of the legacy of the festival. They respect the spirit of the Atonal Festival. Thirty years ago I wasn’t older than they are today.
LVO: All three of us can recognize the pioneering spirit behind Dimitri’s original idea and hopefully are able to continue it. Of course, we have to update and to modernize as nobody wants Atonal to become just a nostalgic event.
Harry Glass: The historical importance of the old festival presents us with a unique challenge. It’s like growing up in the shadow of a famous father or something like that. It works both ways. We’re independent of the past but have to recognize our tradition. We understand the past editions as presenting an opening rather than an iron cage. We operate in the context of a changed city and changed circumstances. So, I’d like to call it a unique position that we are in.
DH: I think what this new generation brings with it is a totally new understanding of the importance of traditions. I belong to a generation that tried to tear down traditions. We realized that this totalitarian concept was wrong—like all totalitarian concepts. The original Atonal Festival was born out of a singular subcultural movement that had its home in Berlin. Today we have a new subculture in Berlin. We have all these composers in Berlin who work on new forms of expression.
Why did you pause the festival for more than two decades?
DH: Honestly, we needed a break. The fall of the Wall had just happened and we opened the Tresor Club to play our part in the techno movement that was to become the most important musical movement of the last century. We knew that the Atonal Festival had fueled the techno movement immensely. And at the same time we knew that the concept of the artist who drew all the attention from the audience was dead. Techno was all about anonymity. The artist became part of the public.
In the 1980’s, Berlin was a closed city. There was the Wall, and the city was like a capitalist island within Communist Eastern Europe. Today, the city is one of the most permeable cities in the world. I mean, we are doing this interview in English language, which says a lot!
DH: In 1982, the Atonal Festival featured bands like Sprung aus den Wolken, Einstürzende Neubauten and other bands from West Berlin. Their music was like a description of the city as was the Atonal Festival. But the new spirit of the festival lies in its openness. We will listen to a lot of new sounds that are connected to a new city. One of the major changes in music is the computer as the new instrument. It’s so obvious that nobody ever mentions it. But in 1982 nobody had computers. I am very excited and even more curious how the new festival will turn out.
HG: The openness is the major concept of Atonal. We can book without borders in mind. It doesn’t matter where someone comes from. We have this feeling that we don’t only represent Berlin but also Europe with this festival. And, to be honest, we expect our audience to come from all parts of Europe as well. The festival is, at least in some sense, European and not just German or from Berlin.
LVO: And on the other hand, people have expectations when they come to Berlin as tourists or as future inhabitants or to attend or to play at the Atonal. They know the stories. They know what happened since 1980 and especially what happened after 1989. We are fully aware of this strange anticipation. But we also know that we have one of the most spectacular spaces that the city has to offer. The Kraftwerk is simply one of the biggest and most unique post-industrial sites in the world. The new Tresor Club is located within the Kraftwerk. This means that the space is tied in with Berlin’s subcultural history.~