Superbooth, the event that was born in a single corner of a trade show fair and grew to a cultural happening, made its return after over two years’ hiatus.
That alone says something about the disruption of time the electronic music instruments industry has felt. Music builders have lost plans and time, faced a parts shortage, but also lost friends and family. This year’s postponed edition was “safety first”-themed, which meant details like checks for tests or vaccination at entry, tough masking rules, and capacity restrictions. We’re, uh, still in the incubation period since Saturday so I won’t jinx it, but there was at least an effort made both according to Berlin city rules and with an additional voluntary effort by exhibitors and organizers. And it seems Herr Schneider brought a bunch of us together again.
The twist to this was that the adapted Superbooth scattered into the grounds surrounding the FEZ-Berlin’s center facility. (What’s FEZ? Why, it’s the former East Berlin youth center, now administered – because this is Germany – by the Kinder- und Jugendfreizeitzentrum Wuhlheide – Landesmusikakademie – gemeinnützige Betriebsgesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung aka KJfz-L-gBmbH.)
The result was that Superbooth, having escaped being an actual booth at Musikmesse, now broke loose of its indoor confines and went wandering into the woods. Under mostly heavy gray skies and occasional rain showers, then, exploring Superbooth really meant exploring. In addition to rooting through the indoor floors (with timed tickets for most attendees), and the usual “lake” stage (a pond outside the building), there was a gathering of tents. Arturia had a mobile trailer; Moog had a staged circus ring (with popcorn, no less). Tresor, the club known for its underground vault, transposed itself to an adapted Biergarten. Companies like Verbos, Buchla, Serge, and Doepfer set up in holiday bungalows tucked deep in the park.
So piercing some of the gloom of this year, there was a genuine sense of escaping to a park field trip. In contrast with the weather, warmth was everywhere – friends finding each other again after the years-long interval, camaraderie between independent manufacturers facing down pandemic and parts shortage together. There were really superb scheduled live performances, including standout sets by Jamaica Suk (with bass + modular in a gorgeous dark ambient set), JakoJako (with well-orchestrated dramaturgy involving dancer and jousting and sensors), Yann Tiersen (delivering his usual gorgeous score), and Carlota Marques (with intricate, melodic techno), among others. But there were also endless spontaneous jam sessions, stretching into the night with CV-controlled lasers etching color into fog machines — as if technology itself could create its own colorful weather.
Berlin native Jean Marcel Fricke played his company’s MFB machine with wonderfully ear-bleeding snares and hats across from Mark Verbos and his modules. Jean Marcel’s jams always have symbolized Superbooth to me, back to the times I joined in Frankfurt – and MFB lives on and continues his father’s legacy. (There was a small memorial to his dad set up t the booth.)
Alexandra Maciá set up a closed-circuit TV installation transforming the mundane movements of showgoers around modular booths of Doepfer and others into fuzzy swirls of electronic psychedelic rainbows. And then there was just the installation art that is always FEZ. Every time you think you’ve seen everything in this sprawling complex, you find yourself coming across some other bizarre detail.
The new outdoor setting was a win, and the word on the street is that the whole affair may be back in its usual springtime schedule for 2022.
It’s tough to really get a read on how everyone is doing – and we’re still a long way from being connected by travel as we were in 2019. I hope to check in with the USA side of the modular scene shortly and Knobcon, which hit at roughly the same time. (Further afield, Meng Qi demoed his creation remotely from Beijing.)
But if we are still a long distance from being out of the woods – literally and figuratively – this year at least brought a chance for synth makers and electronic music lovers to feel again like we aren’t alone.
And to turn some knobs. After sanitizing hands or donning gloves, of course.
More gear highlights to follow, but you deserve some of the surreal, dream-like experience of Superbooth, too. Howling like the spirit of the wolf or an Ariane rocket…
Probably this fits? Depends on your week, I guess…
Just, uh, definitely don’t live in the woods in Wuhlheide, that’s for sure.