Into the Digital Realm

Into the Digital Realm

Berlin-based international festival Pop-Kultur launches its sixth edition this week – for free and online. 2020’s accessible programme is available worldwide and runs over three days, highlighting 36 mesmerising audiovisual works by the likes of Catnapp, Mavi Phoenix, Noga Erez, The Notwist, Ace Mahbaz, Preach, Jessy Lanza, Cartel Madras Claudia, Basrawi, Ted Gaier and more. The event presents a wide range of contemporary voices, holding a mirror up to today’s unprecedented times.

Curators Martin Hossnbach and Christian Morin and Festival Director Katja Lucker speak to Aesthetica about the this year’s edition – exploring their personal highlights, the transition to digital and the importance of launching an inclusive festival.

A: The festival, like many large events, will be taking place in the digital realm for the first time this year. What has this transition been like, and what can attendees expect?
CM: In early March, the impending cancellation of the festival plunged me into a deep crisis. We were almost finished with the entire programme by then. There were already over 100 acts and other programme modules confirmed. I couldn’t let it go, and the idea of a digital edition didn’t seem very appealing to me.

MH: For me, though, it was immediately clear that we had to do it digitally. The only question was, how?

CM: After lengthy discussions we were able to develop a good concept. At its core, it’s a rather classic format, the “TV magazine.” Each of the three days of the festival features a show with a variety of high-quality content and strong production values, including highlight clips of longer digital works.

KL: In the last few months, the participating acts were preparing their productions on stages in Berlin or elsewhere in the world, working with local video crews. Now, on our new website, we’ll be streaming all kinds of audiovisual contributions, which will be brought together in one hour-long show each day of the festival. After they premiere, the individual artistic works will also be available to stream in full-length in the media library. Access is free and strives for accessibility.

A: How have the featured musicians harnessed this online format – using it as a tool for expression?
MH: Absolutely everyone was enthusiastic about the idea. We talked a lot about the fact that we are producing for another medium – namely, a screen and a speaker – and that the production methods would have to be different.

CM: To me, it doesn’t make very much sense to imitate a live concert experience, something we all took for granted in the past. To do so can quickly make a rather sad impression. The artists we were speaking with were happy to have these new possibilities for working, as Pop-Kultur could now make them possible – and it’s released a lot of new ideas and creative energy.

MH: Some artists have been dealing with the situation seemingly better than expected, now that they can perform for the screen rather than onstage. They’ve taken this as an opportunity, a kind of break away from all the immediate physical presence. Concerts and tours can be draining.

A: How does the digital festival move beyond Berlin to highlight global artists?
MH: About half of the programme we produced ourselves in Berlin. For that, we got professional assistance. The other half was produced independently on location in Accra, Los Angeles, Calgary and elsewhere. Although we had discussed the concepts with the artists, we had to have an enormous amount of trust in the artists. It was worth it!

A: Pop-Kultur Berlin is presenting 36 audio-visual works of art online. Do you have any highlights? What kinds of pieces can we expect to see?
CM: I’m especially looking forward to Catnapp’s work, The Damage Experience. Catnapp is from Argentina and lives and works in Berlin, and in her work, she transforms into an avatar.

KL: I’m looking forward to the pieces by Preach and Ace Mahbaz as well as the talks by our curators Pamela Owusu-Brenyah, Leyla Yenirce and Yeşim Duman.

MH: I’m excited for the rapper Eden Derso!

A: What does the 2020 film programme look like?
CM: This year, there’s an even stronger focus on films than at previous editions. From new soundtracks to silent films by Chikiss to a short film production by Noga Erez from Israel, the cinematic genre gets explored in all directions. Also in the programme is the feature-length musical documentary Contradict. Ideas for a New World, dealing with outsiders’ skewed perception of Africa, showing the FOKN Bois collecting donations in the streets of Accra for people suffering in the USA.

How is the festival championing inclusivity and providing a variety of perspectives?
KL: Pop-Kultur has always been known for its diverse and expansive programme. The festival is continuing its goal of inclusivity in the online realm, striving for an accessible programme that includes closed captioning in English and German, information in simple language, audio descriptions and content with sign language. It’s up to us all to facilitate new forms of connection.

From 26 August, the audio film versions of our programme will be accessible on our website, too. Our aim is to make Pop-Kultur a place for everyone. What we want and what we strive for is the gathering of different cultural identities, where nobody feels excluded. As always, we want guests to experience a sensitive and safe environment, and this is true for our online edition, extending into our online presence and social media accounts. 

What do you hope audiences take away from the festival?
KL: We hope they gain perspectives and insight from the artists that aren’t otherwise possible in the traditional concert format. Pop-Kultur 2020 goes further than just presenting concerts without a live audience. All artists have been encouraged to use the possibilities of digital production rather than simply mirroring their performances as planned before Covid-19.

From an employer’s point of view, it’s important for me to emphasise that I wanted the people who work for me to be able to continue working. Most freelancers within the cultural industry are struggling anyway, living at a subsistence level. Of course, these are only drops in the ocean, but a little bit of money goes to venues, musicians, technicians and security. All of these workers always get a raw deal in the political debates, and consequently they suffer greatly from the crisis. We can only hope that everyone recovers from this – especially venues in danger of shutting down, as it will be a long time before things will be back to normal for them. We’ve gathered several creative players to talk about this crucial topic in the talk Art and Music in Times of Crisis. We hope that the conversation continues beyond the festival!

26-28 August, from 20:20 CEST onwards. Access the festival here.

Image Credits:
1. Yugen Blakrok (Photo: Christopher Terhart)
2. Scene out of the Pop-Kultur Commissioned Work by Preach: »Fathoeburger« – Photo: Camille Blake
3. 21 Downbeat (Photo: MvKummer)

4. Scene out of the Pop-Kultur Commissioned Work by Preach: »Fathoeburger« – Photo: Camille Blake
5. The Notwist Pop-Kultur Session – Photo: Camille Blake

6. Scene out of the Pop-Kultur Commissioned Work by CATNAPP: »DAMAGE Experience« – Photo: Camille Blake