Review: Red Bull Music Academy Berlin

Last September I spent two days at the Berlin Red Bull Music Academy at the iconic Funkhaus. Over two days I located myself in the Red Bull lounge and enjoyed two days of talks at the Academy and some key performances at the Red Bull Music Festival. I was part of an Irish delegation visiting the academy, little did we know it would be the last ever one. 

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The Academy began in 1998 in Berlin, it has been at the forefront of celebrating and documenting music history, while simultaneously adding new chapters to it through its network of events, lectures, editorial content and radio programming. Every edition celebrates music, its culture and the transformative minds behind it. 

RBMA has taken place in cities like Berlin, New York, Tokyo, Paris, São Paulo and Cape Town, the Academy has been nurturing local music scenes for almost 20 years. This year it returned to Berlin for its 20th edition from September 8 to October 12. Over five weeks, a group of 61 hand picked participants from 37 different countries attended a series lectures, studio sessions and one-of-a-kind music events. 

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Over the course of their stay, participants have access to world class studios and cutting edge studio equipment including analogue mixing consoles, drum machines, synths and tape machines. One of the many esteemed RBMA tutors on site for the duration of the Academy was Underground Resistance founder Mike Banks

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Simultaneously the Red Bull Music Festival hosted a public program of concerts, talks and club nights exploring the music culture of Berlin and beyond. Some key performances included that of Jeff Mills & legendary drummer Tony Allen, Dixon, DJ Rush, Nina Kraviz, Radio Slave and Steffi. RBMA hosted an open evening, where they welcomed the general public to visit their studios and experience a once in a lifetime live jam performance with Mike Banks and Steffi.  

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Our experience at the Academy began on September 19th, we were invited to breakfast and shortly afterwards we were brought on a tour of the amazing Funkhaus building. Afterwards we sat in on a talk with an audio engineering heavy weight Mandy Parnell. The Essex-born, Grammy-winning engineer has worked with a long list of eminent artists including Björk, Brian Eno and Aphex Twin. After studying at SAE, Parnell became a trainee mastering engineer at The Exchange in London. 

More recently, she’s developed a close in-studio relationship with Björk, for whom she mastered Biophilia and Vulnicura. For the latter, Parnell also tackled the sound of Vulnicura’s virtual reality music videos. That same year, she received the Mastering Engineer of The Year award from the Music Producers Guild. 

Parnell runs her studio Black Saloon in London and lectures on mastering and the music industry across the globe. In her 2018 Red Bull Music Academy lecture, Parnell discussed her work with artists like Björk and Aphex Twin, the intricacies of her studio set-up and the importance of staying in touch with the emotions of the music during the mastering process. 

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On September 20th we caught an excellently moderated panel with one of the godfathers of Detroit Techno, Kevin Saunderson. The creation story behind Detroit Techno has been told many times, thanks to an excellent interviewer we were treated to something really insightful and unique. Saunderson, along with people like Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Eddie Fowlkes were instrumental in the creation of what came to be known as Techno. Saunderson and his group Inner City took an underground genre to heights nobody thought possible with a string of number one hits including ‘Good Life’ and ‘Big Fun’. 

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Later that night we experienced the global premiere of the Symphonic Sound System. One of the largest spatial sound systems in the world at the legendary orchestral recording hall within Funkhaus Berlin. The floating array of omnidirectional speakers, custom designed and powered by 4DSOUND, created a multi dimensional listening experience. I am an audio and technical enthusiast, this for me was out of this world. 

In between the lectures and the shows I spent my time in the RBMA lounge, writing, coming up with ideas and soaking up the creative energy that flowed through Funkhaus over the course of those two days. It was amazing being in that creative space, writing, listening and observing. 

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