In the eerie glow of twilight, an emaciated figure begins to writhe and stir. The Italian performance artist, Marco Donnarumma, is adorned with what appears to be an octopus clinging to his head, its tentacles ominously swinging across his face. This is a scene from his show, “Ex Silens”, performed at the Radialsystem. The spectacle is akin to a vivid nightmare.
The artist’s movements generate an array of sounds – a low-frequency hum that balances well with the visual performance. As Donnarumma contorts and slowly maneuvers through the audience, spectators are left bewildered by the sight of the gleaming tentacles and his gaunt figure, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a horror movie.
Pushing the boundaries
This year’s Club Transmediale music festival featured Donnarumma’s performance as one of the final acts. The ten-day event has been a sensory roller-coaster, offering an array of unconventional music experiences. However, Donnarumma’s performance presented the audience with a challenging end to the festival. The 25th CTM continued its tradition of catering to music enthusiasts who crave unique, boundary-pushing performances.
The festival featured a variety of acts; from Ben Frost’s crunch noise at Silent Green in Wedding to Kali Malone’s organ drones at the Memorial Church. DJs and live acts also played at numerous parties in clubs like Berghain, Oxis, and Revier Südost, demonstrating that dance floors can be filled not only with traditional techno but also with alternative genres such as breakcore and old school acid.
A festival under siege
For the most part, this CTM was a sensory delight, well attended, and largely business as usual. However, the festival was also a battleground of issues and controversies, mostly unfolding behind the scenes.
Chaos ensued for the festival organizers when Berlin’s Senator for Culture, Joe Chialo, introduced a clause in late December to protect publicly-funded cultural events from anti-Semitic activities. This sparked calls for a boycott from the “Strike Germany” movement and the “Ravers for Palestine”. As a result, 17 acts withdrew from the festival. The gaps in the line-up were hardly noticeable, thanks to the frantic efforts of the organizers to find replacements.
The fallout from this political issue was mostly visible on the Instagram accounts of those artists who cancelled their performances and through a few public statements. For instance, British DJ Jyoty, one of the first to publicly announce her withdrawal, stated that her intention was not to boycott the festival, but rather Germany itself. She expressed concerns about the country’s restrictions on freedom of speech, and the policing of artists’ behaviors on stage.
A festival in turmoil
The queer group Femme Decks also criticized the festival for failing to make any pro-Palestinian statements and for not renouncing public funding in solidarity with “Strike Germany”. This critique highlights the entrenched nature of these boycott disputes and the complexity of the arguments. Without adequate funding, a festival like CTM, with its extensive and diverse ten-day program, would be impossible to run.
The festival also witnessed a powerful performance by the doom metal duo, Divide and Dissolve, who shook the Berghain with their guitars and drums after midnight. The band, consisting of two indigenous Australian women, is known for their political activism and merchandise that calls for an end to white supremacism.
Towards the end of their performance, the band’s guitarist, Takiaya Reed, delivered a passionate speech in front of a projected Palestinian flag. Her speech addressed the perceived restrictions on freedom of speech in Berlin and culminated in a call for Palestine’s liberation. Despite the vague nature of her claims, her speech highlighted the perception that Germany is under a reign of McCarthyism. It left many wondering if showing solidarity with the Palestinian cause was considered a radical act in a supposedly oppressive country. The speech received some applause, and the Palestinian flag continued to wave in the background.