The History of Catalyst: We Look Back on Our School's Epic Evolution
From key dates to our team’s warmest memories, join us as we look back on our school's incredible journey.
From dBs to Catalyst, Plymouth’s ‘deep blue sea’ to the heart of Berlin’s creative scene. Since opening our doors as the only non-UK branch of the dBs music production school, we’ve moved to our own beat as an institution. Making our home in the historic Funkhaus studios, we evolved into a wildly international community of musicians, filmmakers, actors and visual effects artists.
Now, seven years after launching, we’ve rebranded to reflect the unique identity we’ve cultivated. But we'll never forget where we came from. Join us as we revisit our amazing journey of transformation.
Brainwave! After considering options for new projects and opening a dBs branch outside of the UK, school founder David Puttick gets in touch with an old studio friend from London, who had moved back to Berlin.
After making some research trips to Berlin the previous year, David falls in love with the city. He is not discouraged by advice that setting up a music production school in Berlin, which delivers its courses in English, would be total madness. David visits the Funkhaus, our current home, for the first time.
“I have memories of walking down crazy, long and dusty old corridors on the first floor, where we’re now based, with different genres of music floating out of the numerous studio doors,” David recalls. “I instantly fell in love with the Funkhaus. I spent the following few months uncovering just how difficult it was going to be to locate there fully! The owner at the time was dreaming of building luxury apartments.”
After checking a few possible locations, David and his colleagues decide to open a centre on Gubener Straße in September.
The school fails to open due to a lack of students! Until June 2013, David continues to work hard on our fledgling website and getting enough students to finally open the following September. In addition to the Gubener Straße HQ, we plan to operate some basic studios at the Funkhaus. The two sites are connected by the 21 Tram – a blessing and a nightmare.
"When we took them to our large recording hall, their mouths dropped open. Bear in mind that these guys were used to doing sessions at Abbey Road – which also has an impressive main recording hall – but nothing as impressive as the Funkhaus. They were blown away."
With the support of the British Embassy, we hold a showcase event for music tech and production businesses. The day after, we give the attending music legends – A Guy Called Gerald, Phil Harding, George Shilling and Mark Reeder – a tour of our facilities and interview them for our Dreaming New Futures YouTube series.
“When we took them to our large recording hall, their mouths dropped open,” David recalls. “Bear in mind that these guys were used to doing sessions at Abbey Road – which also has an impressive main recording hall – but nothing as impressive as the Funkhaus. They were blown away.”
In need of a music technician, David is introduced to music producer, composer and synthesist Stefan Knauthe by a mutual friend. The pair hit it off straight away at their “legendary” meeting at Görlitzer Park’s Cafe Edelweiss. Together with Zak Davies and Jamie Thomas, Stefan installs the music technology ahead of the launch.
90 students arrive to our first ever Welcome Day – way more than we had originally anticipated for the first year. “The then-owner of the Funkhaus shouted at me and threatened to send all the students away due to some very minor damage to a wall,” David remembers. “I managed to calm him down.”
The teaching year launches with Philippa McIntyre, Jamie Thomas and Stefan Knauthe as part of the orignal teaching and technician teams who are still at Catalyst today. Creative Audio Production & Sound Engineering lead Florian Zwietnig joins the following June.
We create our first ‘self-management team’ comprising Jamie Thomas, Rodi Kirk and Zak Davies, later joined by Hannah Deans. We also acquire a new studio at the Funkhaus, as well as another floor at Gubener Straße. These spaces would house composer, performer and sound artist Eliad Wagner’s new Electronic Music Production & Performance course and our first Film Production course, led by filmmaker Gabrielle Szambelan. Both programmes launch the following September.
In addition to his work as the music tech, Stefan becomes a tutor of the former Electronic Music Production & Performance Diploma. At this stage, the dBs Berlin staff comprises just seven people!
"Being a part of an organisation that engages with issues, by catalysing discussion and transparency through events like the Dialogues, is what brings me the most pride working here."
Events and student experience lead Hannah Deans launches the first series of Dialogues, discussing women in electronic music, in collaboration with female:pressure.
“Being a part of an organisation that engages with issues, by catalysing discussion and transparency through events like the Dialogues, is what brings me the most pride working here,” says admissions lead Sylvia Gozdek. “I believe using platforms like this to demystify hard-to-talk-about subjects is the first step in achieving holistically positive change. After all, problems that do not have names, cannot be solved. The Dialogues series is where we begin to agree on terms, issues and strategies to change the world!”
A memory from the very first year of our Film Production course is still one of Certificate lead Malachi Rempen’s favourites: “One of our students, Júlia Alcaniz, went to FEST Film Festival in Portugal with her short film A Little Soul and won the top prize of the whole thing!”
Three months later, we launch the three-year Film Production Bachelor degree programme, together with another floor at the Gubener Straße location.
“Finally we had a space of our own where we could make a mess! And the film students that year did indeed make a mess in there – a glorious creative mess. It was wonderful.”
“After a year of wrangling, designing and redesigning, we started our first full year at the Funkhaus on a completely rebuilt first floor,” says David. “Many nightmares we thought would come to pass did not, though it wasn’t always easy as we settled into our new lives.”
The new location also meant the opening of our first ever film studio. “It was a big deal for me personally,” recalls Malachi. “Finally we had a space of our own where we could make a mess! And the film students that year did indeed make a glorious creative mess in there. It was wonderful.”
Actor, director and scriptwriter Adam Donald launches our Screen Acting course. Plus, Copilco Productions founder Philip Röder, DJ-producer Christopher Jarman, aka Kamikaze Space Programme, and DJ-producer Jenifa Mayanja join as music tutors.
"I completely broke down and we both hugged and cried for a while. The student still put on one of the best performances of that showcase and I knew then that I had definitely made the right decision to be a part of dBs and a part of each one of these emerging artists’ journeys.”
Jenifa says her first year teaching Electronic Music Production & Performance was a rollercoaster ride of emotions: "In the spring, the first-year students were part of the annual Signals Festival showcase. So, I witnessed many of them start out as complete novices at the beginning of the school year and become confident emerging artists in their own right.”
“One of my students stood out right away for their talent, professionalism and overall commitment to their peers,” Jenifa continues. "However, a few weeks before the live performances, that student lost their father. I was shocked when, like a true professional, they showed up to perform at the live show. I completely broke down and we both hugged and cried for a while. They still put on one of the best performances of that showcase and I knew then that I had definitely made the right decision to be a part of dBs and a part of each one of these emerging artists’ journeys.”
Electronic Music Production & Performance tutor Charlie Baldwin – the talented mind also known as Cocktail Party Effect – performs a modular analog live set for our Studio Sessions series.
"When I asked her for a tear, she was able to produce one with ease. That's when I knew the training I was leading them through was working."
Tutors Gabrielle Szambelan, Adam Donald and Philippa McIntyre, music tech Jonny Zoum, and student Chloé Kian run 25 kilometres to fundraise for Malawi’s Chimbota Secondary School.
Malachi Rempen and Adam Donald cite their collaboration on the short film Partytime as one of their all-time favourite dBs Berlin moments. It was crewed by the Film Production students, starred the Screen Acting students, and was scored by the music students.
“I remember a great moment when I was directing Screen Acting student Laura Brizuela in the film,” says Adam. “Since the beginning of the year, I had set the students daily homework to gain command of their face in front of the mirror; specifically teaching themselves to cry on cue. When I asked her for a tear, she was able to produce one with ease. That's when I knew the training I was leading them through was working.”
Dialogues collaborates with Music Pool Berlin on a mental health panel talk.
New school year, new tutors, new courses, new spaces! We finally get a proper social space for students to meet up and relax. The KITCHN and CO-MINGLE are born.
A new Screen Acting Bachelor and updated versions of the Electronic Music Production & Performance Bachelor, Creative Audio Production & Sound Engineering course and Film Production course begin. "To see it come to fruition and witness the students' work and output benefiting from the relaunch was a great experience," reflects CAP lead Florian. After joining in July, Matthieu Schmit launches the Visual Effects course. Richard Scott joins and launches our first music Masters course, with Doron Sadja as a tutor. Previous guest lecturer Conor Dalton joins as our audio mastering tutor. Jon-Carlos Evans, Oliver Valente and Daniel Dietz join as Film Production tutors. And even our film tech staff grows with new recruit Jason Gold.
Techno artist Rebekah joins our Electronic Music Production & Performance module, Critical Listening & Mastering, as a guest lecturer.
Music tech Mathew Johnson, film tech Jason Gold and Paul Laburre perform live for Studio Sessions as noise rock band Palm Squirrel.
“One of the most challenging tasks was the project management of the infinity-wall green screen build, new film production studios, the social spaces, meeting rooms, and studios!”
After our summer renovation and expansion, spearheaded by facilities lead Nathaniel Suter, our community spaces become more welcoming than ever, and our studios and facilities, even more high tech.
“One of the most challenging tasks was the project management of the infinity-wall green screen build, new film production studios, the social spaces, meeting rooms, and studios!,” Nathaniel told us after the expansion. “We will constantly be adjusting and adapting to the needs and requirements of our students and team.”
The same month, music tech Valerio Massucci debuts Hypertone Studio Session with alumni and current students.
Our new Creative Production MA in Film, launching September 2020, is announced.
Audiovisual artist and tutor of all three of our music courses Doron Sadja opens his Ear Pressure sound installation at Geoff Stern Art Space, where some of his students are interning.
After months of preparation and planning, we announce the Catalyst rebrand to our students for their support in transitioning into a new identity as a school.
We announce the Catalyst rebrand to the public, including the website you’re looking at today!
Next stop: the release of Volume Zero of our collectible cassette series, featuring some of the best tracks by the musical talents catalysed at our school since 2013.