Superstand 2021 was always going to be a little different. At the very least, some things have been performing around the world since our last decamp at the FEZ center in Berlin in 2019, which means a year of forced fallow for Europe’s most influential synthesizer conference. In fact, for us, Superbooth 2021 marked not only a return to Berlin, but our first in-person event in almost two years.
Even by the usual standards of business conferences and illegal Superbooth raves, the 2021 event had a particularly “cold” vibe. Unsurprisingly, there were slightly fewer exhibitors and attendees than in previous years, and those in attendance were significantly more dispersed. The usual cluster of stalls crammed into FEZ’s narrow hallways and classroom-like spaces had this year spilled over into outdoor spaces, taking up space in the woods and – in Moog’s case – a circus tent.
That being said, there was also a reassuring familiarity with Superbooth 2021. It was great to see a few familiar faces again and, more importantly, a healthy stream of new electronic music equipment. Far from being the devastator some feared, Superbooth has come back from the blocks with the usual mix of exciting new instruments, bizarre innovations, and more Eurorack mods than you can make out of a handful of patch tracks.
Best Synth – PWM Malevolent
Malevolent is the first instrument of the British brand PWM. It is sort of a collaborative project, created with input from Future Sound Systems of Bristol and Ben Supper, former employee of ROLI and Focusrite.
Malevolent is a semi-modular analog monosynth (although it can be patched to work in paraphony). It includes two multi-wave VCOs equipped for FM, plus a resonant VCF, two ADSR envelopes and an LFO.
Although the standardized signal path is fairly straightforward, it is equipped with 19 outputs and 19 inputs on its front panel, allowing users to get creative with its synthesis engine.
Malevolent also has a control joystick, an arpeggiator, and some handy MIDI-to-CV capabilities. Most importantly, it sounds great and we were very impressed from our first glance. Priced at just under Â£ 500, Malevolent is ideal for musicians looking to dive into the modular realm.
Honorable mentions: Though overshadowed by its creator’s well-meaning but arguably awkward message of feminist support, Dreadbox’s surprisingly tiny Nymphs is a beautifully sounding analog poly. Far from the analog realm, Mayer’s MD900 is a sleek looking VA / wavetable synthesizer, built on the success of the company’s Eurorack modules.
Best Drum Machine – Erica Synth Perkons
There does not appear to be any stoppage from Latvian brand Erica Synths. Having already impressed us this year with the LXR-02 drum machine, the company stole the show with its Perkons hybrid percussion synth.
This latest drum machine casts the clarity of digital oscillators into an intoxicating mix of analog filtering and modulation. The authentic BBD and compressor add to the loud nature of Perkons. All of this is complemented by proper x0x sequencing with a lot of extra tricks up its sleeve.
Most Plant Pots – Moog
In recent times, Moog has developed a distinct style for its exhibition stands, one that sits between the wood-paneled relaxation room and the festival merchandise stand.
This year’s Superbooth saw them take things to another level, taking to the great outdoors in a circus tent with a branded mini airship strapped above its entrance. The space inside housed a mix of synth demo areas, modular performance space, and generally an abundance of foliage. Oh, and Moog even had something new to show – a three-tiered addition to the company’s excellent Sound Studio packs.
Best Eurorack – Winter Plankton ZAPS
This collaboration between Plankton Electronics and Winter Modular is a percussive synth voice designed to create organic grooves that evolve and mutate over time. The Synth Voice itself is a digitally controlled two oscillator analog generator designed for FM and AM synthesis.
This one comes equipped with an assortment of creative tools like freeze / snapshot abilities, accents, morph, randomize, and – naturally – plenty of CV controls. From what we can tell, it all adds up to a whole load of rhythmic fun.
Honorable mention: The 6m0d6 from LPZW.modules and Tubbutec is essentially a classic reinforced TR-606 with added control and greater graininess. Difficult to argue with that.
Most welcome takeover – Waldorf M
It wouldn’t be a synth show without the surprise rebirth of vintage gear. This year’s comeback comes from Waldorf, who goes back to the wavetable roots of his 80s and 90s instruments with Mr.
M is a dual oscillator wavetable synth that can be switched between two modes based on Waldorf’s Microwave and Microwave II instruments. Rather than being a pure reissue, M is a full-fledged hybrid instrument, which shares several key traits with Waldorf’s more recent Iridium.
Here, these wavetable oscillators are paired with a 24dB / Oct low-pass analog VCF, with analog resonance and saturation. It also contains a true analog stereo VCA with pan option.
Honorable mention: If M’s Â£ 1,800 price tag is a bit steep for you, Arturia’s new Ensoniq-inspired SQ80 V is set up to capture a similar vibe, analog and digital, albeit in software form.
Most creative use of a panna cotta – Playtronica
Superbooth is never short of eccentric products, but an innovative electronics brand Playtronica stood out this year. Blurring the lines between education, accessibility and musical creation, Playtronica specializes in control devices designed for unusual and intuitive interaction. The next Orbit, a turntable-like device designed to sequence music by moving colorful markers around a turntable.
Equally eye-catching is Playtron – an alligator clip-based system that allows assorted conductive objects to be used as control surfaces. Demo videos show that it is used with various fruits and vegetables. The Superbooth stand had Playtron connected to a pair of jelly-like mounds resembling classic Italian desserts (they were actually made from soap, we think). Perfect for all your wobbly modulation needs.
Best Controller – Intech Studio
There’s no shortage of âmodularâ things at Superbooth, but Intech’s controller system is a little different. The design reminds us of the (latest) Blocks range from ROLI – an assortment of square units that clip magnetically to form a larger control surface. However, where Blocks used silicon surfaces, Intech Studio focuses on proper touch controls.
The current range has four options, sport banks of two-way buttons, endless rotary knobs, click buttons or channel strips equipped with faders. Each is equipped with a USB C connection, and it is possible to chain multiple units from a single connection by snapping them together.
Modules are class compliant and ready for MIDI mapping. The system also comes with its own Grid Editor app, for advanced configuration and visual customization of the units’ colored LEDs.
Outstanding Contribution to the Signage Award – Superbooth Banner
As any true enthusiast knows, the real hero of Superbooth is the long-standing, heavily-modified banner that hangs above the entrance to the show. Originally launched in 2018, we last saw our old friend as he greeted us at Superbooth ’19, crudely updated through the use of duct tape.
Despite concerns that the pandemic may have forced him to retire, it was reassuring to be greeted by a familiar face at this year’s show – a little more professionally updated now, but still showing his roots. through the barely visible outline of an “18”. Congratulations to the organizers of the Superbooth SchneidersLaden for their commitment to recycling.