Liminal phenomena and liminoid states are transitional phases in which a familiar order sees its values and symbols destabilised; norms are suspended or turned on their heads. They thrust us into the grey zone between the two sides of a supposedly clear demarcation. We find ourselves in ambiguous spaces, somewhere between a past that is no longer valid and an ever-becoming future. (CTM Festival, 2020).

Next January, CTM’s 2020 edition will explore Liminality, the phase between the old and the new; the space between boundaries: opening up an exploration of what lies between the supposedly clear definitions that separate and segment our present context. A transitional period takes place when norms are uplifted, and in that transition between what was, and what will become, we are opened up to new possibilities. With this newfound movement and freedom, conventions and norms become challenged in new ways.

In many ways, the current nature of Berlin’s night-life could be said to fit into this notion of liminality. While, for decades, a narrow sound and aesthetic has been both reinforced and perpetuated by club line-ups often lacking diversity in both the types of sound and the artists showcased, there has been a reinvention of electronic music events across the city. Organisers like Creamcake, 3HD, Atonal, Janus, Yegorka and the club space of CTM’s Pre-party series Trauma Bar are fearlessly pushing forward parties with a focus on diversity in artist and experience. The aging Berlin hegemony was growing tired, and seemingly certain audiences along with it too. The reality is that in Berlin now, on a Thursday night you can consistently attend a night with challenging, expansive, cross-genre experimental artists; and see a crowd full of curious people eager to accept that challenge. We are in a time now where the regimental norms of the scene are being upended: it is unarguably within a liminal phase.

The second of CTM’s pre-party series ‘Sub Liminal #2: A CTM 2020 Future Prequel’ offered an early peek into the festival to come, and an exemplary case of this alternative form of party: selecting a line-up of performers that defy definition, flicking and blurring between genres with grace. The night took place at the effervescent Trauma Bar und Kino, which has become a pioneer for nights such as these. Two live-acts laid down their work: Kablam and South African Duo Faka. Self-described by CTM as an artist who “skillfully weaves new narratives out of the sounds of yesterday, today, and tomorrow”; Kablam is a poignant example of liminality. An artist who both draws on, and pushes forward, the sounds of the past to propel the dance experience forward. Her sets routinely call back to 90s and 00s classics whilst entertaining the forward-thinking, polished sounds of today. Faka remained the party’s highlight; in a rhythmic and unavoidably danceable concoction of singing and poetry. The live acts fell amongst two emphatic DJ sets from DJ Haram and Pininga: the former melding Middle Eastern music with bold percussion, and the latter drawing on their Brazilian background amongst a backdrop of bass-heavy, far-reaching styles. Each artist represented the move away from tight-knit definitions, unafraid of provocative explorations of different genres and styles. As a consequence the event felt both fluid and unpredictable, bringing a sharpness and new direction to each performer as they took the stage.

If the thought of a set moving beyond the safe confines of 120 BPM, 4-4 beats for hours on end makes you sigh, perhaps it isn’t for you. But for those growing a little jaded with the reproduction and reinforcement of certain names and styles and sounds on line-ups on the big stages in Berlin, showing up and supporting an event like these CTM-previews may offer you a fresh experience. In its nature, with its emphasis on diversity and deviation from the norms, chances are that you won’t enjoy everything; perhaps even, find a decent amount of it unenjoyable. Even so, the likelihood is that some music will land hard and there is always something refreshing to be said about a stage full of diverse performers and bodies; in that diversity, a new and curious audience is brought together. For each performer, respect and attention and patience were laid down, and more or less all of the acts brought about a response from the crowd. So when you do have your moment: chances are you won’t be alone in it.

As a poignant example of the phase between the old and the new, the CTM Sub Liminal pre-parties embody the transitory concept of liminality in a variety of ways. It serves as a transition towards the festival itself. A transition towards Berlin’s increasingly diversifying nightlife culture. The curation of the CTM events illuminate these transitions and forcefully bring them into being; the music itself transitioning between ages and genres and sounds. The process of upending norms and recreating our contexts is what the 2020 edition of the festival will explore, here was an early insight into what that might offer. This punchy Thursday-night event was a kindly reminder that a long held-up overhaul of nightlife culture is undoubtedly taking shape.


Ben Rogerson is a writer based between Amsterdam and Berlin. He mainly avoids writing by attending the cinema by day, and music by night.