Steph Kretowicz

Before & Afterword
Steph Kretowicz

It’s been five years since the very first 3hd. Tucked away in its own far corner of Zentrum Kreuzberg’s second floor, the festival’s inaugural 2015 exhibition took place up some stairs, past the choking cigarette smoke of Café Kotti and through an iron gate. The room was buzzing with the energy of what felt like the beginnings of a vital DIY scene, an online avant-garde that interacted across oceans, coagulating in the modest ‘real space’ of Berlin’s Vierte Welt.

It was ironic that there was no Wi-Fi in the venue. Invited 3hd participants were artists, writers, musicians and performers, producers, academics, designers and programmers, whose interdisciplinary practices were collectively born of the Internet. CGI animation, sculpture and video works by the likes of Lawrence Lek, Per Mertens and Emilie Gervais dotted the makeshift gallery. A projector screened slideshows to accompany live lectures. Nicole Killian’s ‘The Media, Fan and Celebrity Culture’ multimedia presentation was pre-recorded from her home in Virginia because the backup dongle couldn’t handle the necessary bandwidth. Panels were held in a basic setup of chairs and one small table, and the panelists—Britta Thie, Lisa Blanning, Ziúr, DJ Paypal—sat at eye level with their audience. The budget was low but the level of enthusiasm was high. It felt like something significant was happening.

3hd 2015 was the first time I met Daniela Seitz and Anja Weigl in the flesh. As editor of London-based editorial platform AQNB, I’d been following their programming as Creamcake for years, which I’d vaguely understood to be a Berlin-only club night that was booking some of the most exciting new talent from across a shared international network. Artists like Arca, Yung Lean and Sophie, Mykki Blanco, Grimes and Kingdom all played in their early days, as well as some since inactive but still defining post-internet projects like Aids-3D and 18+. The line-ups were announced with no context beyond a name, a venue and an accompanying digital art commission. I was drawn to what Creamcake was doing—both aesthetically and conceptually—even if I wasn’t 100 percent sure what exactly that was.

You can imagine my delight, then, when Daniela emailed me cold with a proposal. In acknowledging that AQNB was one of the few publications that consistently promoted their events, I was invited to write something around Creamcake’s new festival, called 3hd. “The Labor of Sound in a World of Debt” was still unpacking the fallout from the 2008 global financial crisis, as well as the effects of digitization on music and the arts in general. It was a time before Brexit and Trump, where the term ‘alt-right’ had yet to rise to mainstream consciousness, and talk around Nick Land’s Accelerationism was mostly restricted to philosophy and art circles.

The focus that year was instead on new technology and late capitalism, and the impact it was having on the creative industry. Melbourne-based PhD candidate Jared Davis would write on the personalization of the artist-fan relationship and the rise of streaming services trying to establish control over their means of communication. I would compare networked sponsorship and branding of underground art and music to the scalable business model of a start up. Other digital commissions and online record releases, essays and texts were shared online and as one sheets. 3hd performances and parties happened at HAU Hebbel Am Ufer, OHM, and Südblock. Exchanges and collaborations birthed in Vierte Welt rolled on into conversations in the surrounding bars and venues of East Berlin. New York-based developer Jon Lucas’ original 3hd website design—white on pastel green, navigated through an inscrutably dynamic graph—was unconventional and impressive. Hype, pop, advertising and trends; independent art and underground music were all fair game for examining and deconstructing their entanglement within a flattened state of Internet-enabled symbiosis across cultural (and commercial) hierarchies. 3hd tapped into the zeitgeist of diverse and politically-aware interdisciplinary art with an uncompromising—though still playful—intentionality that felt unique to their queer and club-conscious sensibility. I didn’t know it at the time, but our creative relationship would last to this day.

Since I first set foot in Vierte Welt, my involvement with the festival has both grown and diversified. At the same time, the global map has radically shifted to the more troubling end of the geopolitical spectrum and each 3hd has responded accordingly. 2016’s “There is Nothing Left but the Future?” topic saw Los Angeles-based intuitive Marty Windahl read on the future of Europe, following the devastating result of that year’s UK referendum vote to leave the EU. London-based writer and critic Adam Harper shared his own sombre response to this cataclysmic rupture in his “Joy 2016” essay, published on the 3hd website. The subsequent year presented an even bleaker outlook, following the previous November’s US presidential election, with the focus of “Whatever You Thought, Think Again” turning inward to self-care and sustainability in the face of rising xenophobic populism and looming economic, political and ecological disaster. By 2018, “System.Lure” concentrated on extending the notion of community to grassroots activism and strategies of unlearning, as Simone C. Niquille’s YouTube playlist of ‘How To’ videos applied the educational potential of the Internet to her “Public School” commission.

These are just a few examples of the participants whose ideas and input have been foundational to 3hd’s story. It’s a story that could be told in myriad ways—across its loaded ongoing program of concerts, performances, club nights, exhibitions and screenings, digital commissions, lectures, workshops, presentations and texts. A cross-platform compilation of old and newly-commissioned interdisciplinary pieces, “Embedded Narratives” is the festival’s dispersed anthology, marking its hard-won fifth edition. Selected, connected, distributed and hyperlinked across a rhizomatic network of physical and virtual spaces, the project is carried out with the same experimental spirit of that first 3hd festival from half a decade ago. Its non-linear approach to meaning-making allows for contingency in these contemporary conditions where adaptability is the key to survival. It’s with this in mind that “Embedded Narratives” communicates the complexity and fluidity of language, within infinite possibilities. Everything is up for interpretation—do what feels right.