8-bit hits, bass music, and the Granular Convolver: A look into the 2018 Red Bull Music Festival in Berlin

Omnified contributors Arian Bozorg, Paul Thomas, and Ariane Coloumbe reviewed events from the Red Bull Music Festival, which took place from Sept. 8 through Oct. 12, 2018. Read below for their reports on "Diggin' in the Carts," "Bass Union," and "Open Funkhaus."

Photo by Dan Wilton / Red Bull Content Pool

 

A post for Omnified by Arian Bozorg

The soundtracks of video games have played in people’s homes for decades. Heard for hours on end on TVs across the world, the melodies of these classic 80s and 90s video games had a knack for weaseling their way into our minds.

These soundtracks and their composers are the subject of “Diggin’ in the Carts” a Red Bull Music Academy documentary series and radio show by Nick Dwyer. Dwyer’s fascination with video game soundtracks began when his older brother got a Commodore 64. As his fascination grew, the music took him to vintage video game stores digging in old boxes for game cartridges, which is where the series derives its title.

Beginning with 8-bit soundtracks of the early arcade games, the series follows the evolution of Japanese video game soundtracks and celebrates the composers and programmers that have mostly been forgotten. “Diggin’ in the Carts” also features interviews with contemporary musicians such as Kode9, Flying Lotus, Dizzee Rascal, Fatima Al Qadiri, Havoc, Thundercat, Lady Hawk and Just Blaze, each reflecting on the impact these soundtracks have had on their music and on popular culture.

Inspired by the series and the musical influence of these video games, Red Bull Music Festival brought these cult Japanese video games to life with a special live performance at Musikbrauerei on Saturday night.

 

Kode9, the founder of the Hyperdub record label, headlined with legendary Japanese animator Kōji Morimoto on visuals with a number of Red

Bull Music Academy participants supporting: Cologne’s Dj Heroin, Philippines-based similarobjects and Estonia’s metabora. The performance showcased the range of influence video game music has had, from Kode9’s bass music, to Dj Heroin and metabora’s ominous soundscapes, and similarobjects’ footwork, it’s easy to how the melodies of video games have permeated different corners of music.

The labyrinth of stairs, corridors and rooms at Musikbrauerei were reminiscent of old video games, and as you climbed the spiral staircase to the main room you were rewarded with the thumping bass from the DJs and a hypnotized crowd.

Metabora opened the night followed by Dj Heroin each with their own brand of repetitive melodies evolving through the set. Creating a narrative through the music, vivid memories of video games would flash back, from the intense, bass heavy boss stages, to the joyful tones of meeting a new character or the blissful soundscapes of floating around in space – metabora and Dj Heroin took you on a journey.

With the aid of Knox-om-Pax playing the Kōji Morimoto visuals, Kode9 took the journey to another level. Beginning with classic 8-bit tones of collecting coins, power-ups and explosions, the legendary producer expertly played to the audience. He cited familiar melodies from classic games and slowly pulled them apart in front of the audience to create the bass music that he is famous for.

With moments of exhilaration, fear and bliss, Kode9 created a beautiful narrative, mirrored by scenes of skeletal monsters, cityscapes, and ultra-violence – all the memories of video games and anime dredged up by metabora and Dj Heroin emerged on the screen. Kode9’s set ended with the climatic intensity of a final stage, the screen strobing and the bass thumping faster and faster – until it all came to a halt.

Closing out the night, the party ended with some footwork from similarobjects, looking like a villain with a black mouth mask. The final boss to end the night, and fitting tribute to the music that has provided the soundtrack to so many childhoods.

 

A post for Omnified by Paul Thomas

Electronic music has become as big and broad and popular as any other genre, but it resonates with the most authenticity in its natural environment: a dark club with flashing lights and great sound. The enormity of this all-consuming sound moves through bodies and walls. Even drinks tremble.

At times it seems you can practically feel the rhythm in your lungs, and the hairs on your arm stand at full attention, their instinctual reactions thrown for a loop by a barrage of sensation. A heartbeat of booming bass offers a soothing backbone, and a nod to our shared humanity. These elements are a signature part of “bass music,” the genre in focus at Bass Union on Sept. 29, a part of Red Bull’s month-long festival program.

About a million beats into this sharp audio onslaught, it’s difficult to pinpoint or even ballpark what’s going on at Anomalie, the club hosting Bass Union. “Drum and bass,” a genre which flourished throughout the 90s, was on full display.

The evening’s lineup promised various regional styles, everything from “tropical bass” to “deconstructed club music.” From D Double E to Gaika to Goldie, this eclectic group of artists share a common thread rooted in substantive electronic beat and present audiences with the best possible specimens of what someone from the U.K. drum and bass scene might dub a “massive tune.”

Gaika performs at the Red Bull Music Festival in Berlin. Photo by Dan Wilton / Red Bull Content Pool.

The party, with its hours-long arc, could be somewhat of a slow burn at times. Even an hour and a half after the event’s official start time the crowd was sparse, and on top of that the opening acts were unfortunately accented by brutal sound trouble in the Werkstatt room. At one point, an ear-piercing, repetitive loop filled the room for far too long, but somehow, rather than fleeing, people stayed, apparently in solidarity with the artists and eager to see what would happen next musically.

A few hours into the evening there was an uptick in energy, and ecstatic unity took over as the crowd tore it up on the dancefloor for Tash LC’s set. It’s clear that these artists draw out joy in their audiences: wild, throw-down moves and endless head-bobbing accompany the grooves, some brand new and others calling and responding to their origins in the early 1990s.

Although the night’s performers were highly focused DJs hovering over their instruments, a few live acts performed and were very well-received. The captivating auto-croon energy of Gaika’s performance from atop the DJ booth, his head haloed by the radiating neon, caused the main room to refill again just in time for Substance, Goldie (of Metalheadz fame) and James Davidson’s collaborative project.

D Double E performs at the Red Bull Music Festival. Photo by Dan Wilton / Red Bull Content Pool.

Shuffling next to me on the dance floor was a thin, energetic man with a sparse beard and an impish look on his face. This is D Double E of UK Grime infamy, who had just completed a set in the Werkstatt room and engaged Goldie enthusiastically twice before shuffling off to dance with strangers.

Ultimately, an event like Bass Union, stemming from United States of Bass, shows that bass music is not only alive and well, but it is innovative and thriving. Regardless of how many generations techno may now span, some section of the crowd will still be dancing right up until sunrise as their predecessors did before them.

 

A post for Omnified by Ariane Coulombe

Berlin is a city that perpetually combines old and new, past and future, whether old bunkers-turned-museums or abandoned warehouses-turned-nightclubs. One example of this is the Funkhaus, which for a little over three decades was notoriously the state broadcasting of the former GDR, and today houses a world-class recording and performance venue.

Funkhaus opened up its doors to the public at the end of September as part of the Red Bull Music Festival, holding talks, concerts and workshops for artists and music lovers alike. The place was buzzing with people of all ages, music experts and aficionados, art enthusiasts and inquisitors, tech geeks and innovators.

Photo by Ariane Coloumbe.

At the Funkhaus, form has always followed function: most of the spaces are made for recording, with features like slanted, grooved walls optimizing the room’s acoustics for recording technology. A place that pays homage to history but delights in innovation was the perfect site of a workshop that explored a new musical instrument, called the Granulator Convulator and specifically created in honor of the Red Bull Music Academy’s anniversary.

Conceptualized, created and hand-assembled in Berlin by Tatsuya Takahashi, Maximilian Rest and Chris Hohnerlein, the Granular Convolver’s purpose is to create a new sound out of old recordings and live input. The device is a slightly heavy, shiny silver box that fits in the palm of your hand.

On its front, you can see a large knob, a few buttons and a slider. On its side, four input outlets. Its size and transportability were both integral parts of the design process. For people to easily record the soundtrack to their everyday lives, the device needed to be portable.

But how does it work? First, the user records a sound. It can be anything from a car horn to a dog barking. Think of it this way: every sound you hear is distinct from the one you hear after it. A dog’s bark changes from moment to moment when he stays in the same place, but imagine the difference in two situations, where just one component has changed: A dog barking in a park is different than a dog barking in a tunnel. Or take the breed of dog, a Dobermann sounds different than a Dachshund.

Then, the user plays back that sound through a granular engine. What this does is break up the sound into tiny pieces called grains. Grains are tiny pieces of sonic data that usually last between 10 and 15 milliseconds.

The device folds in two signals – two sounds – to make something completely new, creating tangible sound out of something abstract.

The user convolves or intertwines the playback, or the chosen grain, with live input, thus combining the two sounds. The old tones are wrapped in the new live ones, creating a whole new, unique sound while conserving the old sound’s original imprint. What the Granular Convolver does is offers an expressive way of playing a sound, similar to playing a more classical instrument.

One of its creators, Maximilian Rest, told me that by using the new instrument, participants from all over the globe could record sounds from their home countries, then slice them into pieces (or grains) and convolve the playback with live input.

“What is happening here is the marriage of two sounds into one,” Rest explained, and enables the creation of new sounds and new possibilities from what was initially an empty, silent box.

The Granular Convolver attempts to create something new while conserving the old. True to both the history of Berlin and the Funkhaus, the device demonstrates the art of crafting something greater than the sum of its conflicting and often dissonant, parts.

 

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