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Unsound Festival 2016

Upon arriving at Saint John Paul II International Airport near Krakow, the air carried a familiar chill, with a greyish set of clouds surrounding it. It could have been just a typical crisp, yet smoggy morning in Krakow but it wasn’t. It was a chill signifying the week that was to follow – Unsound Festival.

In its 13th edition, Unsound has amassed a reputation for creating an environment that’s equal parts exploratory and extravagant – specifically in their home turf. With venues ranging from the massive communist-chic Hotel Forum (Kitchen included) to an obsolete tobacco factory (Dolnych Młynów) to a cinema made for large-scale performances and screenings in Kijow Centrum – Unsound has made Krakow the crown jewel of an experience that only adds to walking, driving, taking a tram to seeing someone like Senyawa spook their audience to their very core, or seeing Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein bring out one’s inner-child when they played their works from Netflix’s Stranger Things.

However, the line-up this year was definitely not one to rest on its laurels – as acts both local (i.e. – Chino, Jakub Lemiszewski, Olivia) and international (i.e. – Aisha Devi, Eomac, Peder Mannerfelt) drenched the festival in further atmosphere to prove once again, that Unsound is a festival experience that bears repeating year-in and year-out.

Words by Mitch Strashnov
Photography by Anna Spysz & Theresa Baumgartner

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Olivia b2b Nazira

Of course, the beginning started off with a bang – as Dasha Rush and Stanislav Glazov debuted their A/V project “Dark Hearts Of Space” for the first time in Europe at the venerable ICE Krakow Congress Centre. Whilst intoxicating and alluring, it was only a teaser for what was to come – a collaboration between Moritz Von Oswald and Bishek folk group Ordo Sakhna – a project was initiated earlier in the year during Unsound’s Dislocation event in Kyrgyzstan.

While it provided a nice contrast between tactile instrumentation, dubby and dark kicks and vivacious collaboration – it was an appetizer to a warehouse party at Kamienna that included the likes of Lena Willikens, Bryan Kasenic (of The Bunker) and Dasha Rush herself performing double-duty. While Kasenic and Rush provided some excellent heady techno to pump up the adrenaline, Willikens displayed her penchant for finding beguiling tracks with demonstratively deep rhythmic focus; building endlessly to the point where the crowd was in utter anticipation of the next track peering into their minds.

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Aisha Devi

That curious and enchanting essence was delivered in spades two days later – as Houndstooth alumni Aisha Devi brought something fierce with her live A/V performance at Manggha. Devi was supremely confident; knowing that she would allure the crowd with a balance between her hypnotic voice and alarming melodics and room-shaking bass. Devi’s pacing was masterful as every time one would perceive there was a breather she would find new ways to demand attention from the audience, one such example being a primal scream at the end that got a rise from all those in attendance.

Another act that demanded one’s attention (albeit a bit more subtly) was Baltimore’s Horse Lords – which rocked out ICE on Wednesday in a fashion that was rhythmically complex, yet utterly at ease with their chemistry on-stage. Confidence rang supreme as they tackled multiple time signatures and didn’t blink an eye – whilst letting the crowd play into the strengths of their performance at their own leisure. By the end of that show, one wouldn’t think that going across the road to Hotel Forum would be much different in terms of its complexity in programming but nope – this is Unsound – meaning that if it’s not getting weird, it’s not going right.

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Peder Mannerfelt

Things did get weird once Forum became a go-to destination – in a terrifically maddening sort-of fashion. Wednesday night’s proceedings were only limited to the Kitchen, which had not been open in previous years as a venue for the festival. However, it proved to be a sort of an alternate dimension of genre-specificity – as the combination of Mexican Jihad, Mobilegirl and Lao all played with the idea of a streamlined DJ set and broke it down like a kid who ate too much candy smashing through a game of Jenga.

With reckless abandon and a pervasive sense of amusement, the DJs playing ran the gamut by playing tracks from Cassie, Kenny Dope, Sisqo and Youngstar (just to name a select few) with a sense of vigour and levity that was wholly appreciated by all the people losing their collective minds before midnight in a goddamn kitchen in a communist hotel.

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Matmos

However, Hotel Forum was not the only venue to house some shining moments; as on Thursday, American duo Matmos took over Kijow Centrum to perform a part of the venerable Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives – a piece that incorporated Sinfonetta Cracovia, a sense of asceticism and most importantly – open-mindedness. Perhaps this helped serve what came next at Hotel Forum, which was genre-bent chaos with fantastic results.

Whilst Room 1 had Babyfather pretty much bash Brexit in the face with their performance – Room 2 was a footwork-caked treasure trove – Polish dignitary Jakub Lemiszewski played a live set that impressed on multiple levels – providing a unique sensibility to the flow of his performance while setting up massively for the madness that was Japan’s very own Foodman.

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Rabih Beaini

Real talk – this set was insanely weird, charmingly off-the-wall and thematically brilliant. At one point, people in the room and the mess hall outside of it thought the fire alarm was going off — but fret not, it was Foodman just doing his incredibly weird thing and people came out of the experience astonished yet satisfied. The night itself had other great performances such as two collaborations in Room 1 – firstly Senyawa and Rabih Beaini, which subconsciously subdued the crowd in their grasp – and Ancient Methods and Cindytalk afterwards, who loosened them up with hypnotic-yet-spacious industrial efficiency.

The next night at Forum was full of memorable performances – with Eomac and Overmono (Truss & Tessela) absolutely smashing the floor to bits with their bracing, impactful brands of off-techno – and Demdike Stare breaking things down with some necessary uh…breaks. Mica Levi and Don’t DJ provided Room 3 with necessary breathing room with their selective approach to their sets whilst Gaika and Miss Red (along with Unsound favourite The Bug) decimated Room 2 with their sonic sub-atomics sessions.

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Paula Temple

The following night also had impressive showings from Paula Temple, Optimo’s JD Twitch playing a set composed of only Muslimgauze tracks and Poland’s very own Olivia going back-to-back with Kazakhstani DJ Nazira to close out Room 1 with a deluge of rhythm tracks that kept the energy up until past 7AM.

Perhaps what shined brightest this year at Unsound was the less club-centric moments that happened courtesy of Amnesia Scanner & Bill Kouligas and Roly Porter with MFO – startling the crowd with cataclysmic sounds and sights that stayed with them far after the performances ended – or perhaps one of Unsound’s most attention-grabbing bookings, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – who provided a live-scoring of their Stranger Things in ICE’s main auditorium.

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Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein

These poignant performances provided intimacy outside of a dance floor setting that created unity within the theme that the festival occupied – Dislocation. Considering the state the world is currently in – Unsound provided a way for artists, international visitor and local attendees to disregard the state of what was around them for a moment in time and come together to experience what the world could do with a little bit of Polish charm, hospitality and professionalism towards their ever-expansive programming.

Oh yeah, and pierogies.

And karaoke.

Yeah, that’s the key – pierogies and karaoke.

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