Though Berlin is among the world’s favorite dance music destinations, it’s a city where most of the dancing happens either in darkened clubs or at modestly-sized open airs. The concept of a large-scale inner city festival is actually a relatively foreign one.
As such, Berlin Festival was positioned to offer something genuinely fresh this year. Moving from its old home at Tempelhoff Airport to the expansive ARENA complex next to the River Spree in the bustling Kreuzberg district, this year also saw the festival shifting to the beginning of summer.
In 2015, the musical programming was refocused from rock acts towards a top-heavy DJ lineup, who played alongside a cast of crossover electronic acts. For the first time, Berlin Festival felt genuinely befitting of its name, and reflective of the city that inspired it.
Given Berlin Festival is more of a crossover event than a 4/4 marathon, quite a few of the memorable moments came from the lineup’s live acts. Nonetheless, there was still plenty of space for house and techno selections from the DJs over the three days of the festival.
[Article photo by Stephan Flad]
Tiga vs. Audion – “Let’s Go Dancing”
The ARENA main room was the spot for some superb crossover live acts over the three days. Icelandic veterans GusGus started early on Friday with a set of their rich, trance-y melodies, while Tiga also debuted the new live show he’ll be taking on the European festival circuit this summer.
Backed by striking visuals, the live show saw Tiga joined onstage by regular collaborator and Turbo recruit Jori Hulkkonen. The man of the hour jumped on the mic to perform a catalog of hits, including this ubiquitous record from the 2013 Ibiza season.
Marek Hemmann – “Alice”
Deutsch favourite Marek Hemmann took control right after GusGus on Friday night, and couldn’t have played a more fitting set for his time slot, with a live roll-out of his own soulful, warm, melodic house and techno. The upfront vibe matched the energy of the room perfectly, with the rich, organic vibes of his latest single “Alice” going down perfectly.
Ron Trent – “Manifesto (Bewe Effect)”
Seth Troxler was on hand to wind things down to closing on Friday night, indulging Berlin’s appetite for dark and heady techno with a set that was heavy on percussion – and considerably nastier than funk-fuelled sets he’s played alongside the Martinez Brothers this year. This tribal number from Ron Trent represented one of the set’s deeper, more soulful moments.
The Reason Y – “Sumatra”
Saturday was the most sprawling, epic day of Berlin Festival, with the sandy Badeschiff open air alongside the River Spree now open for business. It’s a spectacular space indeed, completed by a giant wooden jetty that stretches out towards a luxurious swimming pool on the Spree.
Watergate Club hosted the stage for the afternoon – the perfect curators for its subdued and sunny vibes, with Berlin stalwarts like Tiefschwarz and Ellen Allien playing throughout the day. Tassilo and Thomas from Pan-Pot were on hand to close the stage before 10pm, and the pair really hit a sweet spot with “Sumatra” from The Reason Y. Featured on their Hide & Seek EP out on Second State last month, the crowd erupted in sync with the main hook of the record, as it swirled and rose out of the driving rhythmic elements.
Merimell – “Drop It”
Meanwhile, over on the other side of the ARENA complex, Richie Hawtin was taking control of the grassy Elektronische Wiese open air, performing alongside a capable cast of Minus cohorts like Fabio Florido and Marc Houle.
Naturally it was Hawtin who took things through til closing at 10pm, and he played the role of frontman with his usual composure. After about an hour, the hypnotic drone was cut through by this fresh slice of funky techno that has just dropped on the Desolat stable. Perhaps more Claude VonStroke than Richie Hawtin, it was the contrast that made this a devastatingly effective moment.
Paul Kalkbrenner feat. Fritz Kalkbrenner – “Sky And Sand”
Things were rocking well into the early morning over at the ARENA hall and its sibling club venue. Chet Faker and James Blake headlined the early evening, bringing an air of mellow emotion to proceedings.
However, it was Fritz Kalkbrenner who unleashed the euphoria after midnight, and it represented a powerful, melodic and soulful peak for the festival. Colorful lights filled the huge arena, and he brought a lot more pounding rave than you might expect. Featuring a large selection from his recent Ways Over Water album, this Berlin Calling favorite made a welcome and stirring appearance towards the end.
Marcus Worgull & Peter Pardeike – “Oona”
Âme and Dixon took the main room through til 6am on Saturday night, easing into their roles as Berlin’s equivalents of the trance mainstage headliner. Though they’ve evolved to play to sprawling crowds, they’ve adapted in style with a dramatic sound that fills the airy spaces without any artistic compromise. This fresh Innervisions cut was a highlight of Dixon’s swelling set.
David K – “73 Tomtom Avenue” (Jimpster Remix)
The spectacular little ARENA club that runs alongside the main arena delivered big moments all night long, itself almost a miniature version of the city’s iconic Berghain club, with its brickwall industrial surrounds and stomping sound system.
Suol masterminds Chopstick & JohnJon were the highlight of the evening, providing several hours of particularly deep, melodic grooves, with this recent Jimpster remix representing one of the more upfront cuts that they dropped.
Floorplan – “Never Grow Old”
Sunday represented the most relaxed of the three days, with a noticeably older crowd. Badeschiff was charmingly titled the ‘Detroit’ stage for the day, and while Robert Hood’s cancellation due to sickness was a disappointment, Carl Craig was passed the baton and given four hours to do his thing, which he used to full effect by throwing in all manner of dub, reggae and downbeat alongside the typical house and techno selections. Floorplan was thrown in, assumedly to honour the absence of Hood, and it was met by a rapturous response.
Atari Teenage Riot feat. Slayer – “No Remorse (I Wanna Die)”
At the same Carl Craig was repping Detroit outside, something very different was going down in the main room. Atari Teenage Riot are a re-formed ’90s throwback act with a difference. Fusing cutting-edge hardcore and breakcore sounds at their peak, the group’s punk rock attitude is still as fierce as their BPMs. After reforming to hit the touring circuit several years ago, ATR have seemingly lost none of their anger. Case in point: the full-throttle “No Remorse (I Wanna Die).”
Stephan Bodzin – “Singularity”
The Life and Death stable hosted the grassy Elektronische Wiese open-air stage for the final day of the festival, with Mind Against and Recondite providing the soundtrack earlier in the day before Tale of Us brought the weekend’s open-air adventures to a close with some extremely hypnotic, trance-y melodic techno, a real crowd-pleasing set. This recent Life & Death single from Stephan Bodzin came in the closing moments of the set.
Underworld – “Rez”
Things were winding down by midnight on Sunday, but how could you ask for a grander end to the weekend than a live performance from Underworld? Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have been on the road to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Dubnobasswithmyheadman album, but instead of simply playing the album in full, tonight it was rounded out with a wider array of their back catalog of anthems. With Hyde explaining to the crowd what an honor it was to be playing a city with as much of a musical legacy as Berlin, it offered a suitably emotional close to the three days, with a nostalgic afterglow sending dancers home.