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"information wants to be free" festival (berlin, december 2003)
posted on 17-Jan-2004 by anton
"information wants to be free - a festival for spoken word, video-art, performances and experimental electronic music" took place in three cities (london, stockholm, and berlin) over the weekend of december 5-7 2003.

after my failed attempt to visit maschinenfest earlier this year, the lineup for the berlin part of the "information wants to be free" festival looked too good to pass by - the artists that rarely get a chance to play together, a truly diverse list of performances that represents so many sides of modern "post-industrial" music from all over the world.

iocur e.v. / formosan records was the entity that organized the festival; those that live in berlin will surely recognize them as the people responsible for many "experimental electronics" concerts in past few years. the festival was made possible with the support from the labels, many individuals, and EU's "culture: 2000" community program.

the announced performance artists, installations, vjs and a long list of djs promised to elevate the event above the level of "just" the music show, becoming a sort of unified interdisciplinary event I was always looking for.

from the little information that was available at the time (the condition that has not improved much since then), the festival was dealing with the topics of communication in the modern environment of media overload, globalization and other "popular" activist topics.

the setup

industrial-halls berlin-friedrichshain that hosted the event turned out to be a concrete compound in east berlin with two big rooms on the first floor and a small merchandise area on the second. although it lacked the factors that usually have caused the proverbial "maschinenflu", its innards were not the best in terms of sound and comfortable listening environment.

it appeared that most of the bands did not even get a chance to soundcheck beforehand, which showed in most of the performances. it was not clear whether it was the fault of the equipment, or the sound personnel, but the frustration of the musicians themselves was obvious, not to mention the audience wincing in pain after being subjected to the overwhelming bass and high-pitched frequencies.

a lot of the material presented was strictly "listening" music, best experienced in a comfortable setting, especially considering that each day the performances lasted well after 6am. lack of chairs and any kind of hot beverages besides alcohol really became a problem closer to the morning hours (berlin's strict work hours came as a surprise, especially after the excess of moscow and new york I am used to; our only hope were tiny turkish joints in the neighborhood).

anyone that visited a festival similar to this, knows that it is an overwhelming experience - there is never enough time for everything - between trying to see all the acts and talk to everyone there hardly remains any time to simply relax and "have fun", not to mention absorb and organize the impressions.

iwtbf was not meant to be an "industrial discotheque" - the main room lineup was balanced nicely, allowing one to experience the genres fully without losing themselves in hours of numbed stomping or overly ambient soundscapes. ideally, the dj room could provide an alternative, but it turned out that with a few exceptions it featured nothing else than high-bpm breakcore paired with non-stop blinding strobes. its sound was getting especially annoying when it leaked to the main room during more ambient sets. like any extreme, it is most effective when used sparingly; after a few hours it became dulling and increasingly boring. even if there were good breakcore sets, they were lost to me after this excessive exposure. the only interesting set I managed to catch was salt's refreshing take on electro-meets-technoise with as much variety as I would expect from someone with diverse taste and erudition.

unfortunately all of the spoken-word performances were in german, except for a single american fellow that was spewing out propaganda cliches suited for an exalted 13-year old.

the visuals

there were a number of screens in each of the rooms (plus an interesting 3d construction at the center of the main room) that hosted video projections and real-time image manipulations. as with the other aspects of the festival, the organizers tried to bite off too much and sacrificed quality for the quantity. only a couple of vjs went beyond the stereotypical inverted-colors-stop-motion-proto-industrial footage.

the lights for the first two days were nothing but an embarrassment - ran by a deranged gollum-like creature that seemed to have absolutely no sense of the music, hitting the strobes and floodlights at random, occasionally screaming unintelligibly in the middle of the sets and flailing around what seemed to be a miniature copy of itself. at first it was an amusing distraction (I think many entertained the idea that it was one of the announced performance artists), but later on proved to be an extreme annoyance, especially considering the spartan (to say the least) lights setup. only halfway into the second day our hero got replaced with someone that made the best of the light situation, matching both the music and the spirit of each performance.

the public

it was heartwarming to see kids running around in old "rage" and "fear factory" t-shirts (I suppose this is the usual "euro-goth" public savoring their metal roots); majority of the audience was wearing ad noiseam's "enjoy noise" and ant-zen "ant" t-shirts, a disheartening uniformity that speaks a lot about the good marketing by the labels and passivity of the listeners. there were a lot of the usual twitchy breakcore-junk-punk folks that were stoically enduring the epileptic pace of the dj room, ignoring the main performance space.

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related links
iwtbf'03 photo gallery
iwtbf website

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