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Intonal Festival 2018

After three years of experiments and learning spent polishing bold and boundless lineups, 2018 marked the fourth edition of Intonal and with it, further confirmed the Swedish festival as a much needed beacon of light for the Nordic experimental music scene.

The festival itself is helmed by Kontra Musik head honcho Ulf Eriksson. He and his team have been laying the foundations to a music celebration unlike anything these days. Casting a much more positive light on the city of Malmö, too often portrayed as a cut-throat area by the Swedish right-wing media, Intonal has also taken better advantage of some existing first-rate infrastructures such as Inkonst and Inter Arts Center to make Intonal a truly first rate and intimate experience.

As a collective the Intonal crew has one objective in mind, to showcase some of the very best underground producers and performers and to create one of the most friendly and intimate festival spaces, which I can say was a success. Intonal attracts an international audience eager to absorb the exceptional talent on offer and to experience all manners of music, from experimental noise, ambient, avant-garde and electronic it was all on display. Now let’s move onto my personal experience of Intonal 2018.

This was my first ever visit to Sweden and before I’d even stepped onto the plane, I had been inundated with tip-offs of how expensive food and drink is in Sweden. Let’s set the record straight, it’s not that pricey, it’s what you’d expect to pay in South East London – not the Ritz. Oh and the government controls the booze, meaning you have to locate a Systembolaget, a government-owned chain of alcohol stores in Sweden. They are the only retail store allowed to sell alcoholic beverages that contain more than 3.5% alcohol by volume.

Wednesday – After an hours flight from Berlin I arrived into Copenhagen and quickly located the train to Malmö. After a brief dip into the Earth’s crust the train traversed the majestic Øresund Bridge, the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe, before arriving into the minimalist designed Station Triangeln in the very heart of Malmö. Whilst exiting the station I glanced to my right to behold the beautiful Jugend designed facade of St Johannes Church, where Charlemagne Palestine and Ellen Arkbro were set to perform on Thursday.

I checked into my hotel, gathered my things and headed towards Inkonst, the cultural hub for the festival to collect my pass, before heading to the industrial district of the city to attend the opening night of the festival – Ambient Assembly.

In fact just days before the festival kicked off, the original venue, a former water tower, had been sold off to a developer… but as festival organiser Ulf pretty much knows everyone in Malmö an alternative venue was quickly arranged.

Upon arrival I had to double check the location, which was a nondescript industrial depot. A flurry of bicycles were scattered outside, locked up and cladded to any available fixture. I ascended a spiral staircase into a small and dimly lit room. Stockholm based musician Nev Lilit was up first playing brooding drones, whilst people talked amongst themselves, drinking small cans of beers and smoking on the balcony. It felt very local.

I headed back into the building to see Rabih Beaini play his live analogue modular set. Sat within an isolated room illuminated in red, Rabih began his hour long exploration into thick rhythmic sounds of abstracted bleeps and skewered electronics. The crowd stood in the room whilst smoke filled up the gaps, some people sat whilst others entered a trance-like swagger. All in all Beaini’s performance provided an ideal atmosphere for the mystical Turkish guitar music of Borringe Kloster and Imad Al Tamimi to bloom completely.

As previously stated – Thursday’s musical programming consisted of performances from Charlemagne Palestine and Ellen Arkbro at St Johannes Church. Upon entering the church a huge crowd filtered into the pews in anticipation of Charlemagne Palestine’s performance. The church was laden with a thick cloud of smoke sliced up by a lazer beam mounted at the altar, above Palestine’s assorted collection of stuffed toys.

After a brief wait, Charlemagne appeared from atop, situated on the raised platform of the pipe organ with two wine glasses in hand. He clinked them together, said a few words and began his performance. The crowd sat there motionless with their eyes closed, contemplating, whilst he played synth style music through the pipe organ. It was majestic and deeply pensive, yet his performance had a dark underlying tendency, as as he was taking us into the underworld. It was a bold and beautiful start to the festival; with the room packed out with an eclectic melange of festival attendees and locals. After all it was a free-to-attend event and the locals were getting into the zone just as effortlessly.

I headed over to Inkonst to see what the local musicians and DJ’s had to offer. ‘IsTiden’ was composed of 6 local acts performing in the bar area of the club. I was just in time to see the two-piece band Skeppet perform, as they played a captivating performance of psychedelic instrumental music, giving off rifts similar to the Velvet Underground, which felt undeniably good. Next up was an analogue 303/808 set from masked duo Helltown Acid Miliatia… who actually looked more akin to “Frank” from Donny Darko. They played a pumping live set beaming out beats to a crowd lost deep in the dance. It was after all the first beat to be heard at Intonal. Last to perform was a pummeling live techno set from Malmö-based producer Ascorbite, giving the crowd the opportunity to quite literally loose themselves. Thursday was a beautiful start.

Friday consisted of a trip to Copenhagen to explore Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district of about 1,000 residents, in the borough of Christianshavn in Copenhagen. It was beyond fascinating and well worth checking out if you go to Intonal in the future.

We retuned by train to Malmö to catch Japanese band Goat perform at the bar area of Inkonst. But it was Rivet next door in the Red Light Radio room that caught my attention. The local homeboy played a seamless choice of EBM and other obscure oddities that whipped up revellers to dance in the foyer. At midnight we entered the main room aka ‘The Club’ to see Gerald Donald perform his otherworldly solo project Arpanet. As the room was plunged into darkness a projector beamed: Tron like geometric graphics were transmitted out as the masked producer pumped out crystalline electro and thrashing drum beats at full tilt. Aleksi Perälä stepped up next silhouetted on a backdrop of deep purple haze, soon taking over with a hard live set also rich with melodic IDM. By far my highlight of the night.

After an extended lie-in and a much needed food intake it was time to head back to Inkonst to see Nine Inch Nails associate and all-round electronic dignitary Alessandro Cortini perform his new audio-visual project “Avanti”, which is also the name of his latest album. We sat on the floor of ‘Black Box’, a dedicated event space featuring a monumental glitter ball mounted on the ceiling.

Cortini stood to the side of the stage beneath a huge projector screen on which he beamed film clips captured by his grandfather around 1972. At the start it was unclear who the subjects were, but as as the film progressed so did the features of the subjects. It was by far one of the most emotional and sonically charged performances I have encountered. As he loaded up cassettes Cortini looked up to the screen to see clips of him and his sister playing on the beach or in the garden at home in Italy. You could catch him smile as he looked back into his early years, letting his mind wander into the comforting realms of nostalgia. As a true indicator of the power of his music, members of the audience wiped away tears as the lights came up.

We moved upstairs to the bar area of Inkonst to catch Montreal electronic duo Pelada thrash out a blustery mix of fierce Spanish vocals, hard 909 drum kicks, breaks and synths. Lead vocalist Chris Vargas shouted out to the crowd something along the lines of “If you don’t wanna dance, then fuck off!” – now that’s taking control! Their performance did not disappoint, setting the energy level to the max. Let’s hope the duo continues whipping up the crowd into a frenzy for a long time to come.

As the heat picked up the bar, we moved into the Red Light Radio foyer to catch Don’t DJ play a deejay set of deep, essential shamanic grooves – giving the German producer the opportunity to further explore his beloved tribal territories. The Club then opened for a live performance from Elysia Crampton, one of the most celebrated experimental musicians over the past few years. She stood on stage wearing knee-high boots and a Keytar around her neck, playing a sci-fi fusion of dense percussion, synth lines, ethereal pads and mutated samples all whilst perfectly framed against a backdrop of red light. Her performance was encapsulating and was a real stand out of the night. We stayed in The Club briefly to see Equiknoxx – featuring Shanique Marie on vocals – whipping up the crowd to heavy, ganjah-scented dancehall and bashment vibes.

We left Inkonst to go to the official Intonal after party, located down the road from the Ambient Assembly gathering on Wednesday night.We arrived early, around 2:30am to be told that it was not open. Then Ulf appeared and waved us in. This time the venue was an industrial concrete warehouse with blacked-out windows. The front of the room was flanked with a killer sound system and a triple turntable setup. Finnish DJ Kristiina Mannikko warmed up the crowd with a full-on electro assault. It was soon packed with festival revellers making the most of this no-nonsense, bass in your face Swedish rave.

Don’t DJ played an enthralling live set exploring a more dance friendly set than his former DJ set at Red Light Radio. However it was Charlotte Bendiks who stole the night, mixing in ‘Let Me be Me’ by The Other People Place as the sun began to flicker through the cracks in the windows. The atmosphere in the room was elevated and I think for everyone that was there, this was one of those truly idyllic moments. Seeing this side of the electronic music scene in Malmö was definitely an eye-opener and remains as a personal highlight of my overall festival experience.

Fortunately Sunday’s programming didn’t kick off until 7pm. We made it back to Inkonst to see Fennesz play – flaked by two towering stacks of speaker he stood on stage with his guitar and laptop. I had only seen Fennesz play once before, at St Johns Session in Hackney, and I remember him being loud… but this time it was deafening! I moved to the back of the room worried that my ear drum was going to explode. He played a majestic performance of alien-like sounds, the rifts gave me goosebumps and made me imagine that future interstellar voyages would be best experienced by a score from the Editions Mego fixture.

Next up was a world premiere from Multi-talented Swedish producer Andreas Tilliande performing a 6-hour live performance (00:00 – 06:00) of “Slumbering Sounds and Drowsy Drones” under his Mokira alias. The aim was to produce a musical environment in which listeners will be captivated enough not to fall asleep, creating a semi-conscious dreamlike state. I was eager to find out how this would play out, and yeah… I was still knackered from the night before.

As we waited to enter the “Black Box” from the foyer, people arrived in small groups armed with slumbering essentials, including blow-up mattresses, sleeping bags, pillows, water bottles, electric tooth brushes. As we entered the room people began setting up their beds whilst the giant mirror ball above cast out shimmering shards of light creating an idyllic star gazed ceiling. Andreas sat in the middle of the stage surrounded by a huge array of modular analogue synths and his custom Mokira illuminated sign. I lasted an hour, but from what I heard, it was exquisite.

All photography by Tom Durston

Discover more about Intonal on Inverted Audio.