After 15 editions in Poland’s former capital, one thing remained certain: Unsound Festival has trustworthy curators. It seemed showcases were planned with the same outlook Unsound has built its foundation on: surprise, experience and experiment. The festival grows in depth each edition and matures its audience in turn; by the end of the week, all the senses had been stimulated by art anywhere in the range from laser beams to the scent of ambient music.
On Tuesday evening, as festival goers were still warming up to the tight schedule, Polish duo Siksa — who’s name is a nod to an immoral Polish girl — took the stage at Manggha, the Japanese culture museum. Most of her show consisted of her shouting at the crowd with an English translation above her head. But it was strangely compelling. Although the translation may have only been partially complete, her anti-abusive message remained clear as she stripped part of her costume of silver braids and a Japanese style gown, she dared the crowd to sexualize her with her breast exposed. Whether screaming about self-respect or sexism, she taunted the crowd by acting on the brink of losing control just as she regained her composure. After hugging, crying and even spitting on the crowd, she eventually took a bow and the deep, rumbling, distorted bass finally went quiet.
Part of the success of Unsound’s programming is its unpredictability. That’s what makes it difficult to pass on an event you may not be familiar with. The Wednesday morning steel guitar session courtesy of Mike Cooper was another example of that. The UK expat left England decades ago to explore South-East Asia and has been producing music and collecting Hawaiian shirts ever since.
As one of the rare morning musical showcases, Cooper set up his gear sometime around 11:30 a.m. Amidst his self-proclaimed technical difficulties, he began to build slow, reverberating loops of strings over the screeching of his metal pick. The crowd was sitting, meditative and focused throughout, especially as Cooper started to interject deep, echoing vocal loops.
His aging voice suited his desperate lyrics perfectly and the combination mirrored the pleasant balance of his layered soundscape. It sounded like the reverberating birds in a moist morning sun. Although bookended in the overall program by two physically demanding acts, Cooper’s performance proved a peaceful and welcome interlude.
Although most of the week at Unsound is comprised of performances outside of the club, their 15th edition proved that they are still more than comfortable in throwing great parties. Not all the music at Unsound is danceable; actually, there may be less popular dance music than anything else. But, the acts like PTU, whom can straddle the fence with finesse between industrial noise and club-ready rhythms, proved to be a big hit in Krakow.
The Russian duo of Alina Izolenta and Kamil Ea were set up with their analog gear in the second room of Hotel Forum, for the first of three club-oriented events. The former communist hotel looks just like that old-cigarette-smelling, dirty carpeted and yellowy-lit hotel seen all over the world so many times before. PTU flourished under the musty, dated décor and red, flashing strobes. Their set was a fluctuation of deep and dub techno, jumping to thrashing cymbals and suspenseful, booming lows. It was the kind of performance that leaves you pondering what this duo is capable of on other world-class sound systems.
One unique aspect of Unsound’s venue choices is that while the programming is unique for the space, it never feels that way. Preceded by the London-based, Nigerian digital improviser Klein and the ambiance of Laurel Halo, Giant Swan had almost nothing musically to do with the acts that played before them. Yet, as soon as they began their hour-long onslaught of thumping bass, acidic noise and drums, the Manggha centre seemed like any other techno club across Europe. Actually, the people jumping in the crowd that night, were some of the most enthusiastic I saw all week.
Rabih Beaini/Vincent Moon (DE/FR):
Although it’s difficult to immediately process such a contrasting variety of musical experiences in such a short time, the visual performances of Unsound were particularly remarkable. Rogue French filmmaker Vincent Moon’s live cinema project Hibridos was paired with the live sound from Germany’s Rabih Beaini in a paralyzing ethnographic portrayal. What started as a densely packed South American religious parade slowly morphed into a much more dramatic trip. Touching on ideas of religion, sexuality and ritualistic drug use in Amazonian cults, the visually hallucinogenic journey was captivating and almost frightening. As like most Unsound events, the sound at the theatre was excellent and added to the already intense production. Afterwards, both Moon and Beaini turned towards the crowd for a bow that seemed to exhale a large breath of emotion and relief from both filmmaker and scorer.