COVID-19 has cancelled your festival. Now what? Berlin Atonal has responded with a slew of creative offerings. The biggest and the best is a 5-record box set, More Light, featuring new music from Caterina Barbieri, Paul Jebanasam + Roly Porter and more. Some of the other offerings: Miki Vainio’s Live at Atonal, exclusive prints and t-shirts. While the vinyl won’t arrive until next year, the digital copies are available now. The wealth of music justifies the purchase of the entire set, although generously, individual 12″s are offered separately as well.
The opening “Wondertomb” is a stunner: an original blend from Aho Ssan + Exzald S that sounds like little else on the market: whispery vocals set atop crunchy beats and sub-bass. We would love to hear an entire album of this collaboration, as well as more from both artists. While we had previously reviewed Aho Ssan’s Simulacrum, this track sent us looking for more of Exzald S’s work. We recommend the sublime 13-minute Syn (heights), released earlier this year. exael‘s “Circle (Squishy Mix)” is deep, percussive IDM, which preserves the mysterious mood. Tunes of Negaton (Shackleton)’s “Unremembered” is another outlier, beginning with flute, hums and chimes before moving into unexpected directions via chimes, , and of course drums (although you’ll have to wait for them). And Lafawndah makes a perfect pairing for Tunes of Negaton through shamanistic vocals and tribal rhythms. That’s just Record #1!
We’ve already reviewed Galya Bisengalieva‘s Aralkum, the title track of which appears on More Light 2. This piece is offset by a short spooky track from Alessandro Adriani, a pounding techno track from Nkisi, highlighted by the increasingly insistent shout, “every action creates a ripple,” and XOR Gate‘s “Boolean Logic Gate,” which skitters like the creature in the Aliens lab. The third record is a study in contrasting moods, with a pulsing stormer from Lee Gamble and a pounding monster from Vladislav Delay sharing space with a soothing world music entry from Abdullah Miniawy & Carl Gari and poetic spoken word from Pablo’s Eye, demonstrating the variety of the festival that might have been.
The fourth record is the only one to contain three tracks, but that’s because LABOUR‘s “The Gift of Enlightenment” is twelve minutes long, and worth every minute. The aggressive taiko drums take center stage, but wait patiently through passages of ambient arpeggios and rising drone. Over and over again, one thinks the track has ended when it’s only catching its breath, shifting to something akin to grindcore. Berlin Atonal, what hath thou wrought? LABOUR closed the main stage in 2018, and deserves to return in 2021! Rising to the challenge on the flip side are Peder Mannerfelt with “Let’s Get Metaphysical” (great title!), another percussive scorcher (yet without ambient passages so everyone can keep dancing) and Caterina Barbieri with “Sufyosowirl.” Barbieri scored our coveted Album of the Year award in 2019, and picks up right where she left off; a full album of synth this beguiling would certainly compete again in 2020!
And finally we reach the fifth record, another tale of two timbres. Side A is thoughtful and even meditative, beginning with a surprise from Altar (Paul Jebanasam and Roly Porter). Given the participation of Porter, we hadn’t expected the sound to be so subdued, but Jebanasam’s reverence wins out: by the time the electronics enter, we’re already swaying. Laurel Halo extends the mood, a calm before the storm. Side B is a club diptych, with the IDM techno of dBridge matched by the rapid-fire, distorted industrialism of Hiro Tone/Tot Onyx, which would normally send attendees to the front, demanding more. Instead, we’re doing so from the safety of our homes. Here’s hoping that by this time next year, we’ll be back at the live festival, dancing and sweating in our brand new t-shirts. (Richard Allen)