To get a closer look on how music festivals work, what are the driving forces behind them, and foremost what kind of people organize them, we already talked in the past to makers of festivals like Nuits Sonores/Lyon, REWIRE/The Hague, L.E.V./Gijón, or Open Source/Düsseldorf . To continue our serial we interviewed Jan Rohlf and Remco Schuurbiers of CTM festival in Berlin .
(from left to right Remco Schuurbiers, Oliver Baurhenn, and Jan Rohlf)
Hello Remco and Jan – can you introduce yourself for us a bit? Where are you coming from, what is your occupation?
Jan Rohlf: Remco and me are mostly responsible for the music programming, while I also do the CTM festival's series of lectures and talks. But the CTM team is generally of relative a flat hierarchy, with many people contributing to the various elements of the festival's programme. My background is visual and media arts. Since my student years I was trying to bridge the worlds of music and art, exhibiting my own work and conceptualizing music events. But since a couple of years, I focus mainly on the festival and other curatorial projects. Basically, the three heads behind CTM today, Oliver Baurhenn, Remco Schuurbiers, and myself all have a background in visual arts, and have been involved in Berlin's club culture since the early 90s. Besides our enthusiam for weird and daring music, these are the two main sources that inform CTM, its "philosophy" and activities. We always have been outsider to the music business, and we believe this gives us a different perspective on music - in a good way!
Remco Schuurbiers: I am Remco Schuurbiers from the Netherlands - The Hague. I studied photography and art science at the Royal Academy and Royal Conservatory in the Hague till 1995. I was a long time active as VJ and Video Artist in clubs, theater, or film. Since the start of CTM in 1999 a slow cross fade came in organizing and curating festival and events and being an artist got in the back ground. Since 2006 I am also program director of Todaysart festival in The Hague and since 2000 I have a side project called the Art of Pingpongcountry.
What is your musical background? What was the impetus behind the launch of CTM festival 15 years ago?
Jan Rohlf: I was lucky to meet a group of people involved in improvised music, when I was 15, and soon began to help out with organizing events they did. Thus I met fantastic musicians early on, such as Kevin Martin (God, Techno Animal, The Bug), Bill Laswell, John Zorn, Bob Ostertag etc. Soon after, I started organizing industrial parties back in my hometown, when still in school. The initial idea behind CTM was to give the various experiments between music, sound and media arts, that were constitutive to Berlin club culture in the mid nineties, a new forum, that would allow artists to reach beyond the club. Hence we approached Berlin's media art festival Transmediale in 1998, which lead to the first festival edition in the January of 1999. Although these days we never thought we would truly start a festival that would still exist 15 years later.
Remco Schuurbiers: I am busy with music since 1982, from metal in the full range of all kind existing music. I also worked a lot as a light engineer at concerts, festivals, parties, theater till 2000 which let me hear and experience over 5000 concerts in the nineties.
What happened in the last 15 years? How did the musical program change and how would you describe the evolution of CTM in your own words?
Jan Rohlf: 15 years back live computer music with laptops was new and exciting. The experiences of techno and club culture began to interfere in a very productive way with more experimental sound cultures that connected to ambient, industrial, noise, and academic electronic music. Since we have witnessed how digital technologies have become increasingly ubiquitous parts of the everyday lives of all of us. Therefore the focus is not anymore on the novelty of digital technologies, but on how they changed the whole musical landscape, increasing the possibilities to crossbread and mix all known forms of music-making. Across techniques, schools, places, and times. We have more possibilities than ever, and music became radically more hybrid of the past years, leaving all genre conventions aside. Everything seems possible. Listeners ears have become more open than ever, but also increasingly besieged by the sheer quantity of music put out these days. Thus the main challenge today is how to come from an "everything is possible" to an "but not everything is good". Means to meaningful criteria to identify quality. Generally, the past decades have seen music gradually evolve towards an increasingly open and dynamic concept that transgresses the barriers between scientific research, art, pop, academic culture, and various forms of artistic practice. And this is absolutely fantastic. The festival programme reflects this. Although we started as electronic music festival, today, we have no formal limits of what we can present at the festival. It needs to be daring, intelligent, touching, affective, intense. It needs to be music with an idea.
Remco Schuurbiers: If I look back now I would name the influence of the digitalisation including the increase of the internet.
What is the difference between CTM and other festivals?
Jan Rohlf: We are blurring the lines between pop culture and academic art music, between art and music, between bodily experience and thought. I think we are one of the very few music festivals in the world, where you can not only experince great and unusual music live on stage, but also engage in an indepth reflection on music and its connection to what happens in society. CTM is a festival that is fun and at the same time wants to spark processes of knowledge production and sharing. And there are very few festivals with such a large range of different musics to be presented as at CTM.
Remco Schuurbiers: Three directors with three different characters!
What do you try to achieve when you do a festival that mixes art and music?
Jan Rohlf: Think outside the box. Bring people together who usually don't meet or talk with each other. Take music seriously as a form of art that has the potential to address issues beyond music. Learn.
Remco Schuurbiers: Surpass myself, give inspiration and experiences to others.
Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind this years 15th anniversary edition?
Jan Rohlf: With the anniversary edition we want to highlight an element of the festival, which we have developed at least since 2006, when we invited electronic music pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey to play for the first time since many years: the dialogue between trailblazers, pioneers, personal heroes, and the younger generation of artists. This year's theme Dis Continuity thus focuses on hidden connections between past and present musical experimentation. Adopting a less hierarchical approach, Dis Continuity reconstructs and re-imagines select threads of experimental and electronic music history. Widespread access to archival materials currently sparks new, creative ways of interacting with the past that challenge concepts of history and how it is transmitted. In a time where curating has become common practice, Dis Continuity addresses the increased desire for historic references and tangible history felt at the dawn of a post-digital era. At the same time Dis Contunity reflects on the instable history of the festival itself. A non-commercial festival like CTM can't exist without public support. Even after 15 years of existence and in the face of growing success, the festival is far from being a secured institution. We don't get any structural public funding and have to see from year to year how we can manage to sustain the festival. Yet, we are still here, more alive and kicking than ever.
How would you describe the musical bandwidth of CTM ?
Remco Schuurbiers: Electronic base and everything that is adventurous in any direction.
You come from Berlin – can you tell us how the city has influenced your festival?
Jan Rohlf: Berlin is probably the most challenging place in the world for producing a festival.
Remco Schuurbiers: Berlin became more and more a festival of it self, almost the whole year there is so much programme around that a festival in Berlin is harder and harder to realise, to keep up and to have a unique line up.
Jan Rohlf: We are forced by the cities rich cultural and music landscape to re-invent ourselves constantly. And to find ways to give our festival meaning, beyond the usual display of the hottest new shit of the year – which is what most festivals ususally do. Also, Berlin's has a special nightlife culture, different from most cities in the world. Berliner's are nightlife literate. They just know how to do it, how to make use of the liberties, the night has to offer, in an enriching, grown-up way. Miles away from dull frenzy. Having been active participants in this culture for sure has influenced the way we do CTM festival a lot. This something you can feel at the festival.
Do you have a "wish list" of musicians you'd like to see perform at your festival?
Remco Schuurbiers: A huge death list!
What’s the best thing about your job?
Remco Schuurbiers: Always something to do!
Jan Rohlf: Never boring. Constantly on the edge.
What’s the worst thing about your job?
Remco Schuurbiers: Always something to do.
Jan Rohlf: Never boring. Constantly on the edge.
Can you give some advice to someone who is interested in starting his or her own festival?
Remco Schuurbiers: Never give up.
Jan Rohlf: You need to have a reason to do it other than being part of something that is considered cool or prestigious.
Jan Rohlf: The best and the worst: CTM 2000 in the 7th floor of Haus des Lehrers at Berlin Alexanderplatz. We had rented the space under the premise of doing an exhibition, and thus had to constantly disguise our true activities. Every morning the concierge, who was a reclit of the times, when this building served as the headquarters of Margot Honecker to indoctrinate GDR teachers with the party line, would make his control round through all rooms. For us this meant cleaning the rooms after each night's parties and concerts, picking-up cigarette stumps, and vaccum-cleaning till the early morning. Unfortunatley all rooms were layed out with carpets. The growing numbers of cigarette burns were undeniable. As was all the empty bottles piling up in the freight elevator. I remember these days intense flushes of joy, adrenalin, and paranoia.
Are there any artists you’d like to book for CTM but you couldn't? If so,why?
Remco Schuurbiers:Bruce Haack, one of these eccentric persons with an own story.
Jan Rohlf: Each year, to arrive at our final 150 artists and bands, we need to have at least ideas for 300 – as there is so many reasons and coincidences, why things can not happen. Our yearly emotional rollercoaster.
Who are you most looking forward to see at CTM this year?