Reaktor’s Katharsis 2018 hosted a clash of different approaches to extreme music, from dark industrial and techno to bold sonic explorations. [social_warfare]
Amsterdam is in many ways a special city, particularly on a first visit. Roaming the streets at reasonable hours past noon (because the city wakes up around 10 AM), everywhere you go there is this relaxed vibe in the air, saying „everything is fine, you will figure it out“. You will get lost a few times in its circular structure criss-crossed with numerous canals, yet somehow you will always end up somewhere interesting. Something similar can be said for the fourth edition of Katharsis (August 3rd to 5th), the annual rave organised by Reaktor events, overlapping with Dekmantel festival and one of the most joyous and colorful Pride celebrations I have ever seen.
In line with three big events taking place in the city, the audience at Katharsis was diverse. While Friday was seemingly more occupied by the relaxed Dekmantel crowd, on Saturday there were more black-clad people sporting chains or DAF and Coil t-shirts, who mixed with other sonic thrill seekers. Although Warehouse Elementenstraat holds a certain coldness industrial spaces tend to evoke, which is undoubtedly fit for the kind of dark, heavy and forward thinking line up Katharsis became known for over the years, the space never feels distant or intimidating – the traces of warm lights and colorful screens follow you everywhere, and both the staff and the visitors are friendly. The venue is organised in a way to easily accommodate almost any request – smoking room is connected to the Main room so you don't miss a beat and resting spaces are positioned all around the venue.
Friday night's programme started with sets by Reka and Peder Mannerfelt. While Reka played dark EBM-infused industrial in the Main room, Peder Mannerfelt opted for something lighter than usual, an experimental set that gradually morphed into warmer, dancefloor-oriented tunes.
Puce Mary's live performance held tremendous physical intensity, concentrated within only a half an hour of duration. Her industrial-influenced power electronics felt as if it was colliding with the walls of the Main room, returning as a vibratory impact to the solar plexus. Visuals in warm, dark shades of pink and blue changed from burning sun to swirling particles, reminiscent of fireflies that turned into fire circles, both enhancing and easing the restricted violence of the sound progression. There was also undeniable poetry to Puce Mary's delivery, her voice dominating yet unrestrained. Everything sort of implodes each time she steps to the table with the equipment, making herself more exposed, as if she is doing the experiment on herself from a slight distance, leaving you with something lasting, barely tangible.
Ancient Methods is kind of a staple at Katharsis, and for good reason. Seeing them in action, I could only conclude that all the live footage online still doesn't do justice to his sense for well-manipulated aggression, which, because of all the catchy details, never gets tiring or dull. The performance was mostly centered around live percussions and their signature steely sound, reminiscent of old industrial and elevated with amazing production. Industrial techno as it should be done.
Pessimist's set was a welcome break from harsher electronics. It merged drum ‘n' bass, jungle and other dancefloor-ready sensibilities in a tentative and engaging way, with unavoidable dark undertones.
Volruptus jumped and danced during his whole performance and easily spread his positive energy among the crowd. He created a sweet and thrilling atmosphere, perfectly fit for those quirky experiments that made the crowd anticipate his next move. Genres were subverted and people were seamlessly transferred all over the place.
Another Katharsis staple, Paula Temple, showed up in all her glory. Her fast and relentless techno made the whole Main room euphoric and she seemed to have a lot of fun maneuvering her set in unexpected directions. She teased her hit track „Deathvox“ on numerous occasions, finally delivering it in an altered form. One of the strongest performances of the evening.
For me, Saturday kicked off with a weird and varied set from Black Merlin in Room 2. It fluctuated from techno to tribal and even trance vibes, and remained interesting and approachable the whole time.
AUX 88 confirmed their status as one of the most relevant artists in electronic music. They instantly formed a relaxed and warm connection with the crowd, which was a rare occasion at the event and gave an additional dose of fun. Needless to say, tracks like „Voice Modulation“ sounded fascinating and fresh on stage. Some live performances have the power to spark your curiosity for a certain sound, and for me, coming from a different background, this was it.
Meanwhile, in Room 2 Annanan performed a live set reminiscent of their Live performance at Forbidden Planet, this time with a bit more emphasis on industrial rhythms. Anne Ghost's vocals were as strong and convincing as they are on the releases, ranging from fairy-like incantations to sinister narrations and witchy screams. Her striking stage presence emanated an almost ritualistic vibe that made their sonic improvisations even bolder.
The night continued with two different, but equally demanding acts – a dj set by Roly Porter and the live A/V performance of Fret.
Roly Porter played for two hours, starting with haunting ambient sounds that gradually developed into a complex interweb of drones and noise, with a lot of focus on texture. Combined with slowly-twitching black and white visuals and very intense strobes, this was clearly a set intended to push you over the edge of comfort, and, precisely because of that, a rewarding one.
One of the most creative people in (experimental) music, Mick Harris, performed under his Fret alias and once again teamed up with visual artist Stormfield to create a trance-inducing experience. As deep throbbing basses roughly overlapped with shooms and hisses, and morphed into broken irregular abstractions, the crowd stood immersed in fog and barely moving. Fret exquisitely manipulated a fine line between tension and serenity. Arranged in captivating and delicate - however brutal - balance, it accentuated his unmistakable sense for atmosphere. Perhaps the best part of Fret's performance is that it defied expectations, swapping the first iteration of his A/V for something more raw and meditative that once again redefined what Fret could be.
Another highlight of the evening was definitely Konkurs. In line with their more recent mixes, they opted to take us down the memory lane weaving our favorite old industrial and EBM hits with heavy beats and their signature energetic delivery. Soon after the beginning of the set, I was delighted to hear a version of Einstürzende Neubauten's "Yü-Gung", and later Wumpscut's “Soylent Green“, making me feel like I was in a goth club of my teenage dreams. Konkurs played an ever-changing set that masterfully combined newer techno tendencies with that nostalgic feeling of music we grew up with, that has, in a way, lead us all here.
After Konkurs, SØS Gunver Ryberg's unique take on industrial and noise was almost gentle. Accompanied by probably the most beautiful visuals in shades of blue, her live performance began with serene and solemn melodies that soon gave way to harsher structures lulled in washes of reverb and walls of sound. Their almost ethereal progression evoked a kind of enchanted dream-like state. Even seeing only the first half of her performance was an experience that brought out the vastness and complexity of her sound in the most stunning way.
Around 7 AM, Prurient announced his presence with the influx of fog, daylight, pulsating strobes, and piercing noise that shook the soon-half-empty room. For the ones who stayed, this may very well have been the most intense show witnessed in a while. At least it was for me, dizzy and barely standing on my feet from the whole night of music and meandering between brutal light flashes. As the noise gave way to menacing beats and the overwhelming, multidimensional melody of “Through the Window“, I thought to myself that perhaps the best way to feel the immensity of Prurient's music is just like this, through some state of deprivation. Sound design plays a big role in shows like this and a every abrasive element was complementing every beat in a way that created unexpected intimacy. This strange sense of unity was amplified by visuals of desolate snow storms and interiors of some apartment seen through the lens of an anxious, stumbling spectator, adding a voyeuristic element to the whole collage of emotions. The somber melody of “You Show Great Spirit“, sheltered by a thick wall of vibration, sounded almost comforting in this context.
The intense weekend of music and dancing ended on a high note. The hype and respect that follow Katharsis and the Reaktor events crew proved to be well earned. From the thoughtful and diverse lineup, the great venue and sound, to the kind and helpful staff, Katharsis is the place where you can return to trusted favorites or discover something exciting and new. Many artists decided to try something different here or simply had a blast.