Johanna Burnheart (Detect Classic Festival 2023, Berlin, 11-13 Aug)

“The space is completely different, the community feeling is really special. It’s an adult playground. Everything is incredibly artistic and so much fun,’ says Johanna Burnheart about the Detect Classic Festival. This festival will take place from 11 to 13 August at Schloss Bröllin, an 800-year-old estate an hour North-East of Berlin. The festival, founded in 2019, promises to ‘blur the boundaries between club and concert hall’ with an eclectic mix of genres and media. More than 60 international acts will perform over the weekend, including London-based German violinist and composer Johanna Burnheart, who will bring her electronic-jazz fusion tracks to life in an ambitious solo set. Interview and preview by Izzy Blankfield

Johanna Burnheart . Photo (c) Cleo Valentine

To say that Johanna Burnheart is ‘one to watch’ would be an extreme understatement. After starting out as a classical violinist, Burnheart moved towards jazz in 2011, becoming the first jazz violinist to be accepted at undergraduate level by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. She has since collaborated with major names on the London jazz scene, including Rosie Turton, Yazz Ahmed and the ensemble Maisha, and was featured as one of the Guardian’s 30 best new artists of 2021. Her debut album, Burnheart, was released in 2020 with Ropeadope Records.

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Burnheart’s journey to prominence may seem fairly conventional, but nothing about her music is. In fact, she tells me, her unique style emerged naturally from the interaction between influences: the techno scene in her hometown of Berlin, her experience on the jazz scene in London and across Europe and her early classical training.

She explains: ‘Critics want to be able to define you, to put you in one specific genre. I was labelled as electronic, but my music is a fusion of so many different styles. My compositions are much more jazz-rooted, and the grooves I use are definitely techno-inspired. But I’ve never thought, “I’m going to use techno here”. Why can’t I use a drum machine as well as a drummer?’

‘Bringing together these influences is both unconscious and conscious. It’s the only way I know how to express my compositions.’

With a multitude of different styles at her fingertips, Burnheart is the perfect representative of the idea at the core of the Detect Classic Festival: blending different genres and creating new musical worlds in the space in between.

Burnheart is no stranger to the Detect Classic Festival. She performed last year with German producer and electronic artist Christian Löffler as part of a touring group. The festival plays an active role in forming groups, which go out under the banner of “Detect Ensemble. This versatility within the organisation is embedded into the festival and makes it one of its strengths. As Burnheart says: ‘The whole atmosphere at the festival is amazing. The space is completely different, the community feeling is really special. It’s an adult playground. Everything is incredibly artistic and so much fun.’

This year, Burnheart will be playing a solo set in the estate’s atmospheric grounds, featuring unreleased music alongside tracks drawn from her debut album and her album of techno remixes, Burnheart Remixed, released in 2021.

She says: “It’s always an exploration to translate my compositions into my solo show. I’ve always craved being able to play completely solo unamplified but my compositions really flourish with electronic elements. I’m using my set to push myself a little bit further.”

‘I always get confused when I try to think about how I can fit into a line-up. Generally I don’t. But this isn’t something alienating for me. I like to think that I bring in something that is both relatable and unusual.’

(Aftermovie of the 2022 Festival)

Burnheart is just one artist who will be getting festival-goers to rethink the way they classify styles of music. This year’s Detect Classic Festival will showcase jazz, classical and ambient, electronic, contemporary and avant-garde music alongside audiovisual displays, performance art and dance throughout the weekend. A wide range of workshops and talks will complement the performances, with topics ranging from tantric yoga and silent expression to weaving and mobile-making.

Jazz highlights of the festival include the Leipzig-based contemporary jazz band WELTEN and Berlin-based singer and songwriter SOPHE. Established classical musicians will be taking the opportunity to explore new horizons: the lutenist David Bergmüller will present a set of early, contemporary and electronic music, while pianist Frank Dupree will take to the stage as the soloist with the German-Nordic Youth Philharmonic. Electronic performances by Jonathan Kaspar and Fantastic Twins will certainly be worth experiencing.

The line-up of experimental artists is just as impressive. Guatemalan cellist and composer Mabe Fratti, who will be touring the UK later this month, will draw on Gregorian chants, Sephardic music and shoegaze and dream pop in her solo set. Mitsune, the Berlin-based trio from Japan, Australia and Germany who specialise in the Tsugaru Shamisen, a traditional Japanese 3-stringed instrument, will combine traditional Japanese folk song with virtuosic original compositions.

This year’s Detect Classic Festival is sure to be a celebration of difference, allowing artists, musicians and audiences alike to find new ways to use and understand space and sound.

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LINKS: Detect Classic Festival
Schloss Broellin Artist Residency programme

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