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Cutting-edge electronica: Critic’s top picks for CTM Festival

Kicking off Jan 24 through Feb 2 at various venues across the city, this year’s edition of CTM is packed with the finest techno, neoperreo, AV performances and more. Here’s our music critic's tips of what not to miss!

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Photo by Ana Viotti. Catch Tomasa del Real at Griessmuelhe on Jan 25 as part of CTM, Jan 24 through Feb 2, at various city venues.

CTM – Festival For Adventurous Music and Art has become so integral to the reputation of Berlin at the cutting edge of electronica, that the two are practically synonymous. True to form, this 21st edition’s title “Liminal” is a critical reflection on ambiguous, transitional spaces, where the regular rules no longer apply. The 190 performances are generously spaced over nine days, meaning that, at least in theory, the truly devout among us need not miss a single second. If you can’t make all gigs, here are some you definitely don’t want to miss out on.

On the first night at Berghain, highlights Giant Swan, are a boisterous, sweat-lathered sign that the UK underground is in rude health at the moment, and while their amped-up seat-of-the-pants techno demands attention, so too does Mnnnkjde (both Jan 24, 23:00). A collaboration between Mario de Vega and Hugo Esquinca, the specially commissioned project uses custom-built electronic instru­ments to unearth intricate rhythmic patterns that lie within seemingly chaotic arrange­ments. The piece is an investigation into the powers of vibration, so expect to be physically moved as the pair continue their search for the eye of the storm.

Continuing in a club-forward vein, Queen of Neoperreo Tomasa del Real will showcase the genre that she is ostensibly responsible for creating at Griessmuelhe (Jan 25, 23:00). A close cousin of reggaeton, neoperreo has exploded out of Latin America in the last few years and its freaky, lo-fi aes­thetic has brought a much-needed DIY tint to the genre. Honest, unflinching, and down-right fun, her music is a celebration of female agency in yet another genre that is heavily skewed towards male artists.

When Monday rears its ugly head, swap the club for a more cerebral outing at HAU 2. Karel van Laere (Jan 27, 19:00) asks us to dissociate ourselves from our corporeal form in his piece “The Non-Present Performer”. The work is an anaesthetised representation of that kernel of mental consciousness that is responsible for our day-to-day actions and interrogates the physical performativity that defines so much of our contemporary experiences. As CTM approaches its crescendo, live performances from Robert Henke (Jan 29, 19:45, 22:00, Radialsystem) explore the contradictions at the heart of our concept of obsolescence. Using 1980s Commodore computers, Henke builds an AV show that questions contemporary social and cultural phenomena through geometric forms in the computer’s iconic monochromatic green. Meanwhile, in the concrete depths of Silent Green’s Betonhalle, Hildur Guðnadóttir (Jan 29-30, 20:00) will present her award-winning score to Chernobyl in a live, extended format, featuring field recordings from Chernobyl’s sister power plant Ignalina.

Return to Berghain on Friday night, where a packed bill brings the festival to its apex. Squarepusher (Jan 31, 22:00) is first among equals here. The UK producer has been an evergreen trendsetter in dance music and the release of his album Be Up A Hello this month will mark his fourth decade at the top. Upstairs, Henry Wu will be demonstrating his chops as a DJ at Panorama Bar. The UK jazzer was one half of Yussef Kamaal, a break-out act in London’s blossoming contemporary jazz scene – so make sure you catch him on this CTM visit!

CTM | Various venues, full programme here. Jan 24-Feb 2.