Bold and stark, red and grey – turbulent graphics have emerged all over town together with a tantalizing sense that something special is about to happen this weekend. TransCentury Update, an annual festival for avant-garde and independent music, returns to Leipzig for the second time, from 17-19 November.
As you enter UT Connewitz, one of the oldest cinemas in Germany, you follow the crowd down what seems like a secret subway tunnel. First there is this thrilling sense that you have entered a dystopian portal seconds before being shot into an otherworldly dimension of visual and musical pleasures.
TransCentury Update has had a carefully curated line-up, including Clinic, Deerhoof, BEAK>, Wooden Shjips and Alex Cameron in 2016. Organizer Christian “Kirmes” Kühr and his team have positioned Leipzig firmly on the map of new festivals to watch out for.
Guest writer Lydia talked to Christian about his vision and the history and future of an event that promises to become an integral part of the local musical landscape.
Lydia: Last year’s TransCentury Update saw an eclectic mix of artists from seemingly disparate genres sharing one and the same stage: from the stoic calm of avant-garde jazz heroes Bohren & der Club of Gore, to the quirky noise of experimental cult pop band Deerhoof. What criteria guides you in your choice of artists? Is there any common link between them?
Christian: It may sound vague to say it’s “authenticity” and it may be arrogant to say it’s “quality.” It’s rather something in between that also works with our festival name TransCentury Update – an update on non-mainstream music. There is something of this in any kind of musical genre, you just have to find it, or sometimes it will find you. We don’t want to limit ourselves to certain genres, although we do feel fascinated by the darker side of things – sometimes, not always.
UT Connewitz is an incredible venue where two worlds will collide this weekend: state-of-the-art music and architecture that transports you back in time. What is your connection to this place and what made you chose it?
Ever since I started working in music, people at UT Connewitz have been very supportive. I think I first saw the place in 2010, and was of course overwhelmed. Even though I have never had the chance to see the original venue, I have always felt this strong connection.
When I did my last “big” show at UT Connewitz – a 3-day extravaganza with the band The Notwist – I told Almuth Wagner, one of the managing directors, that I would stop doing shows, and she didn’t really seem to like that… before I left, we agreed to start something new together in the new year. The idea for the festival in collaboration with the UT seemed like a perfect match, and it has proven to be.
Over the past few years, you have contributed quite a lot to the local music scene. Before joining Joe Haege and Fritz Brückner to play drums in White Wine in 2015, you played in several other bands and ran a booking agency called Eine Welt aus Hack with Christin Stangner.
What inspired you to create this festival?
I grew up in Erfurt, a town in Thuringia. If you wanted to experience something beyond techno, hip hop and rock, you had to do it yourself. Over the years, a small group of music and culture enthusiasts, including Christin Stangner of Eine Welt aus Hack and Marian Bodenstein, Florian Bräunlich and Luisa Smolinski, who I all played in a band with, started a festival, promoted local shows and did a whole bunch of other things that you could file under “DIY.”
When I moved to Leipzig, things changed.
There was already an established and dynamic scene – which is one of the main reasons I came here in the first place. I started promoting some local shows, and did my things here and there, but also realized that it may not be necessary or even needed to flood the city with more music and entertainment.
As a result, I started putting more energy in my other outputs and joined White Wine, but in the end, I couldn’t resist doing this “once in a year thing” which, in collaboration with all the great people at UT Connewitz, would become TransCentury Update.
Inviting Thurston Moore has caused considerable controversy amongst a small group of activists due to his support of the BDS campaign. This is obviously a very delicate and complex subject. Are their concerns justified and should politics interfere with music at all?
You are right, it is delicate and it is way too complex. We are not pro BDS, but we also strongly believe that the political current “Pro Human and Anti War” as a universal and unbiased value is yet to be invented when it comes to discussions about the Middle East.
Right now, we are working on finding a place and time to invite all people interested in discussing this subject further, as we feel there is a strong need to openly talk about this and to understand all sides involved. If today’s common sense is that everything is permeated by politics, then music won’t be an exception. My personal opinion is that music doesn’t necessarily have to interfere with politics.
For me, music has always been a vehicle for transporting emotions – good or bad, exciting or paralyzing. But, I’m well aware that my personal opinion doesn’t carry any weight in this discussion.
In 2016, the subtitle of your festival read “Festival for Explicit Music and Art” Apart from the musicians you invited, which artists have you involved in the festival so far and how did you meet them?
We had this idea for a permanent sound installation that would have challenged our audience to perform collective intelligence, but this installation never happened in the end. For this year we have dropped this title, as we are focusing on music. We do collaborate with local artists Anja Kaiser and Jim Kühnel – our main festival designers.
This year’s edition will also see a first-time collaboration with the local Visual Art Collective WISP. Manuel Müller animated our preview videos in 2016 and 2017 and has also created the festival visuals for this year. Jim, Manuel and I share an office space and have worked on other projects in the past, like music videos and gig posters.
It was Jim who introduced me to Anja in 2016 when we started talking about the festival design. We were very convinced by her past works and the ideas she had, so we were very happy to have her on board.
I met Paul of WISP in 2016 shortly after we announced our 2016 line-up, he was a big BEAK> fan and we got into very inspiring conversations about the festival title and potential ideas to visualize our thoughts, although we were a little late with all of that, so we kept it for this year’s edition.
As a booking agent and touring musician, you are constantly exposed to a wide range of music. Which three artists have recently inspired you?
I saw Mark Kozolek with Sun Kill Moon yesterday, that was really inspiring. He’s a great story-teller and his band was just so composed and so impressively good at the simplicity of sound they created.
I’m also a big fan of the Flaming Lips. They’ve never done anything boring and have always managed to defy all expectations – something that is really hard to find these days. They never cease to amaze me and will always continue to be an inspiration.
Just a few weeks ago a friend re-introduced me to Laurie Anderson – she’s outstanding, I’d almost forgotten just how good she was.
This year must have been incredibly busy for you. Apart from being away on tour and organizing the festival, you have been working as a booker for Powerline Agency. Where do you get all that energy from?
To be honest – I don’t really know. I think that’s just how these things work: first you have an idea, and then you set everything in motion to realize it. I want to believe that this is how dreams come true.
How do you see TransCentury Update evolving over the next five years? Are there any plans to expand its current format?
I would like to see us putting the word art back into our subconscious, and of course we would like to offer a bigger and more diverse program in collaboration with other venues. We want to get the festival in people’s minds and want people to be excited about upcoming editions, grow slowly and naturally.
By Lydia-Marie Lafforgue
Sometimes Lydia wonders if she’s actually a tree that grew its roots in more than just one forest. Her family history reads like a epic period drama whose up-rooted characters experience constantly recurring themes of love and loss, assurance and uncertainty. Perhaps it is this lack of stability and roots that has nourished her obsession with the beauty of all things quirky, incomplete and dark.
Lydia is currently pursuing a Masters in translation and spends her free time writing poetry or searching for those hidden treasures in music, art and literature which she hopes to share more of in the future. Her most recent discoveries include the Czech animator Jan Svankmajer and Maggy Nelson’s “Bluets,” which she devoured with such a passion that she ended up missing her bus and taking the wrong tram. After spending eight years of her life in Spain and a sleepy English market town, somewhere in the West-Midlands , Lydia’s swashbuckling sailboat set course for Leipzig with the ravenous hunger of a wolf. She also has a little dog called Nelly.
Cover shot: Musician Midori Takada. who will be performing in the festival Sunday. (Photo courtesy of TransCentury Update)