Last years edition of Lunchmeat Festival was marked by a euphoric spirit, overshadowed somewhat by the impending virus, but overall a jubilant celebration of electronic music and the determined passion of the organising team. It was always going to be difficult to beat the energy of 2020, with all the cancelled acts and swiftly rearranged lineup schedules, even before starting on the exaltant spirit of the performances, after spending so much of the year cooped up inside.
Perhaps it’s an even more telling sign, then, that 2021’s edition triumphed, with each facet of the festival’s production gleaming after the second lockdown’s ending and the return, over the course of the summer, of nightlife across much of Europe. As with 2020, the festival was split into two parts. The initial three events serve as a primer for the festival, whetting the appetite for high-brow culture and blurry raves alike, before the main course of the festival combines the best elements of both into each single evening.
Monday’s event at CAMP kicked the festival off in fine style, with a 25th anniversary showcase from the inimitable and formative raster label, featuring Frank Bretschneider & Pierce Warnecke followed by Byetone. raster’s influence on the world of contemporary audio and visual arts can hardly be understated, nor can it be condensed into meaningful analysis in a short review, but the label’s esteem was seen as keen anticipation in the eyes of the avid fans and curious minds making up the audience.
Bretschneider and Warnecke’s ‘No Content’ opened proceedings with a blast from both barrels: an extreme distillation of 21st Century advertising and marketing slogans and catchphrases, the viewers were propelled into a reduction of modern life on TV and the internet. From the esoteric notions housed within such slogans as “Believe”, “Love”, and “Fun”, to the blunt-force parallels of “Buy One Get One Free”, snapshot words garnered from the swollen world of selling are fired like programming into the brain, coated in the patina of neural networks and the gloss of corporate ad space.
Byetone’s show was an ice bath after the hot sauna. A minimal bump of 90’s-style live electronic improvisation warmed the audience up slowly, before dropping into more energetic techno and minimal half-time improvisations. Decorated by what seemed like a multi-layered oscilloscope projection, only until the finale did he unveil the full heat, a fizzling neon laser projection burning into the centre of the 16m-wide projection surface at CAMP.
With that laser projection lingering in the retinas the festival had truly begun: what followed was intense, filled with diverse artistic endeavours linked by much more than their quality and the passion behind their creation.
"Throughout Lunchmeat, the local scene’s quality, playfulness, and spontaneity added a vein of underground charm to the more internationally renowned acts brought in from abroad, with each act showcasing a different facet of music culture in Czechia, demonstrating why the world needs to pay closer attention to music from this part of the world"
Ankali’s reputation as a club of rave debauchery precedes it, and there couldn’t be a better host for the next night’s event. Phone cameras covered up, the club slowly fills to a DJ set “made of everything that’s left over”, from gertie adelaido & KISSTEMPERA. The two seamlessly weaved through unconventional music to hear in a nightclub, from ambient-leaning shoegaze to metal.
It was an interesting warm up, if a little divisive at times, but it’d be hard to come up with a better concept to bring in the rest of the evening’s music, which slalomed from fuzzed-out rap to a hardcore fusion of the genre with rave and metal, before finally closing with a fluid and widescreen view of electronic dance music.
Bilej Kluk followed with his singular take on sub-genres of rap not typically renowned for their individuality. A member of the Czech Republic’s BCAA System music and art collective, Bilej’s voice is as clear as the exact lyrics sometimes aren’t. Barely decipherable above the layers of ambient haze and thick, trap-styled blasts of bass, it’s an infectious mix, one which swiftly has the crowd moving in unison.
It’s a perfect segue into the headline act, Prison Religion, but while Bilej’s music leaned further into the club atmosphere of Ankali, Prison Religion submerged the crowd in it. An instantly intriguing performance, the frontman’s viciously spat lyrics churn out under the riotous music, seemingly produced by some masked alien creature squatting on a table, operating a laptop.
Throughout the performance, the pair interacted with the audience: the frontman hurled himself into the fray, standing on the smoke-drenched tables in floodlit purple light, as his other half crawled around like a cybernetic cat, with audience members distracted by the frontman’s antics suddenly finding the lithe being curling around their feet.
The crowd thus agitated into the club spirit, New Magic Media took to the decks behind to close. A familiar name on the Czech scene and a force behind the decks, her selections don’t spare the weak-hearted and close-minded, the journey spiralling across hardcore, techno, trance, rap, and strange intermediary hybrids.
Versatility is often touted as an important attribute of a DJ, and New Magic Media displayed hers in fine style. Despite the breadth of her material it never rested on tedious or gratuitous as the crowd were pulled in her desired direction like a leashed animal — sometimes gently guiding through genre transitions, other times with a firm pull, the resulting furore was prime dancefloor magic.
The next night was a far more gentle but no less absorbing affair, which was well received after Tuesday’s excesses. Two installation-based treats awaited, with Jan Kulka setting the night off with his ‘Pramítačka 2.0’ audio-visual performance, using his hand-built “Archeoscope”.
The practicalities of the machine’s sonic and visual output are suitably fairly obscure, although from the instant the performance begins it’s clear that Kulka has developed a very sophisticated multi-channel projector: repurposing reels of old film, the screen is bathed in an off-white tone disrupted by barrages of sturdier shades.
In tandem, the speakers of Archa let loose a fluttering blast of sound just as cyclical and hypnotic as the images of ballerinas pirouetting ad infinitum blurring across the screen. The sound is in many ways more curious than the image, with there being a clear correlation between the shapes on the screen and the rhythm and pitch produced by the speakers, but beyond this things are quite unclear.
After some 20 minutes the second half of the performance began, allowing deeper insight into the workings of the project: colour bursts into the mix, with flickering green or red orbs summoning different tones, more like an ambient synth than the sharp electrical pulses emitted before.
In these situations it’s often the case that not seeking the answer too hard allows for greater enjoyment, and this wasn’t an exception. On allowing the images to fire past without over-analysis, edge-of-your-seat relaxation began to occur and take over the mind, erasing other thoughts and replacing it with stroboscopic hypnotism.
Following the interlude, French artist Collectif Coin took to the stage. Rooted once more in practical simplicity undercut by technical mastery, his installation intertwines pirouetting spotlights and modular electronica to produce an undulating balance of ambience and intensity.
With the weekday primaries out of the way, Hyperdub took to the stages inside the main venue in the National Gallery. It was hotly anticipated with current luminaries and essential acts Loraine James, Lee Gamble and Kode9 on the bill. First up, though, was AYA, whose debut album ‘im hole’ was on the cusp of release. Backdropped by stunning visuals from Sweatmother, as AYA played the hits with the scenery increasingly dripping into lysergic territory, vivid false colour moire patterns describing the outline of the performer’s forever moving silhouette.
Engaging stage presence is not something we are often treated to in electronic music, with the task of providing quality or functional music often superseding the importance of interacting with the crowd. AYA swiftly achieved both, earning a place on the festival’s highlight reel immediately. Their deeply interpersonal character on stage (during an ambient interlude, a focussed AYA lightheartedly informs us “sometimes things can just be nice!” before returning to the task of casting us far from the floor) incited laughter from the audience just as easily as the skill and quality of the album material made us dance, listen, and think.
Almost without enough pause to process the performance we find ourselves upstairs, Loraine James’ stuttering drums setting keen feet moving on the dancefloor long before the clean junglist breaks crash in. Fresh after ‘Reflections’ was released, James’ performance at Lunchmeat couldn’t have been more timely, bringing a hefty dose of fast and freewheeling dance music to a city thirsting for it.
With Lunchmeat’s acclaimed lighting team building atmosphere through club smoke drenched in a shifting palette of pastel lights, James showed the crowd exactly why she’s one of the most in-demand live acts from the UK right now, showcasing emotionally open electronic music side by side with demanding dance structures.
Lee Gamble’s all-too-brief live set mirrored the mind-erasing productions gleaned from his ‘Flush Real Pharynx 2019-2021’ album, released in tiers through the unity of three sterling EPs on Hyperdub. Those familiar with Gamble’s recent material will have an understanding of the intensity he can bring, but also the musician’s skill in creating intensity’s antithesis. Painstakingly transcribing vortexes of energy in staggering detail, the 40 minute performance felt over in a flash, flurries of blurred kicks fleeing into glades of ambient shroud as swiftly as they arrived.
Hyperdub label boss Kode9 closed out the first day in heavyweight style with his singular blend of the dance music diaspora. Flirting with techno and dubstep at moments, but standing tallest when deep in the trenches of jungle and footwork, which were unrelentingly shelled out to a thirsty crowd. Locked away behind a whirlwind of overlapping memories and absorbing the final moment when it all came to an end remains elusive.
The final two days were perhaps a better representation of the festival’s normal programming, which continues the early week’s harmony between carefully curated foreign acts and the wealth of Czech and Slovak talent. This year, Lunchmeat brought a number of vital acts representing a different aspect of the vibrant underground in the city and surrounding area.
Never Sol’s opening performance on the Friday blended dark overtones with a glamour and class evocative of certain 80’s megastars in their prime. The majesty of her voice is something that cannot be overstated, a rich and moving force that whisks the crowd away on an imaginative journey, stoked by equally deep and engaging synth and modular improvisation that toyed with the light in darkness, and the darkness in light.
On the Saturday, it was Ursula Sereghy’s turn to take point, opening the festival with a playfully erratic set; from one moment to another sliding from ambient heaven to frenetic bursts of plucked synth samples. A dizzying performance, only vaguely following ordained standards and chiefly following her heart, it was best enjoyed when kicking back, forgetting expectations of structure and rhythm, and letting her music carry you away.
That spirit of improvisation was at the core of GTA Soundsystem’s performance. Formed by three notable musicians in the Prague scene, the combination of Oliver Torr, Lotus Wash and Aid Kid proved that very little can best that truest spirit of music — open collaboration and creativity between familiar friends.
As the boys drove the audience between titan blasts of crystalline breakbeat and woozy electronic experimentalism, the hands-on DIY visuals from Marek Silpoch coated the backdrop: keeping in theme with the musicians, Silpoch used old-school projector slides with other analogue media to create an ad-hoc visual act that mirrored the creativity of the musicians — after about half an hour he clambered on stage to unveil an installation of mirrors and neon lights, hidden under a large shroud on stage right, and holding a huge glass lens aloft to a spotlight beam, intensifying and refracting the light as the performance reached peak energy levels.
With improvisation being rooted to both elements of the performance, the hour or so spent under their directive flashed past in a blur of fluid electronics, with the crowd searching for knowing looks and sly winks between the musicians to get a bead on when the energy will overflow into wild euphoria next.
The final live act from the Czech/Slovak axis was Stroon, who performed a live version of his album ‘Temple Timber Embers’ with audio-visual accompaniment from DevKid. While it was a world away from some of the more dancefloor-oriented acts, the show was filled with meandering melodies and hypnotic percussion, allowing a moment for the mind to delve into the music uninterrupted.
Throughout Lunchmeat, the local scene’s quality, playfulness, and spontaneity added a vein of underground charm to the more internationally renowned acts brought in from abroad, with each act showcasing a different facet of music culture in Czechia, demonstrating why the world needs to pay closer attention to music from this part of the world.
The main acts seemed, generally, to be more tuned to providing eye-opening thrills and dancefloor adrenaline. Aquarian teamed up with Lunchmeat founder Jakub Pesek for a trip rendered in black and red, with Pesek’s lighting experiments matching Aquarian’s sharpened drum patterns and grungy ambient interludes.
It was a performance overdue, with the performance slated for the previous year’s edition, delayed due to the pandemic. It was certainly worth the wait, with both artists demonstrating broad experimentalism within the frame of limited ingredients.
Also originally booked for 2020 was Helena Hauff, whose epic set on the Friday night demonstrated exactly why she’s considered the dark queen of techno. With the sweat from the crowd riding in plumes to meet with the smokescreen, Hauff made the crowd work for every kick. It’s hard to put into words after the fact, this kind of set, as the physical experience of losing yourself among a crowd of others is so intrinsic to the performance.
Physicality was something that Norwegian duo Soft As Snow brought to their performance. Leaving the stage to encroach into the crowd, the duo performed old classics on Houndstooth, topped with notable highlights from their recent album on Infinite Machine, although they pulled their hardest punches to build a sensual set that shirked hard club music to weave between the pair’s expansive range of more introspective sounds.
Elsewhere, the audio-visual focus of the festival made itself even more pronounced. Fraction, Dadub, and Oscar Mulero with Javier Bejanaro drew much from the same well, with singular electronic music performances cut with visuals as engaging as the soundtracks provided. Each had their own hand, though, with Fractions ‘Ritual For A Dying Planet venturing into suitably harsh noise and wildly experimental frequencies, just as his visuals leaped into grand and magnificently psychedelic realms.
Oscar Mulero is best known for his driving dark-style techno, so it was a fairly nice surprise to hear him play at slower speeds with a slower pace insinuating music of a more artistic nature, with the noir-esque live visuals emulating the music. Fraction, on the other hand, went straight for the neck with tough and rich dubby techno — full-barrel dance music that, without exaggeration, shook the floorboards a little loose.
As with all good examples of the genre, the quality was in the detail found in the depths, which was matched by the gem-like structures beamed onto the venue’s backdrop. Each of the main acts seemed to be a small microcosm of their own sound, which is by no means a negative statement, but the local acts all seemed to collectively carry some kind of narrative between themselves.
Lyra Pramuk and Lyra Valenza, on the other hand, clearly had something going on: between these two acts, adjacent to each other on the lineup, arguably the finest moments of the festival were had. Lyra’s voice sent us instantly tumbling through a portal to transcendental meditative bliss, performing moments of her stellar album Fountain to a crowd captured in almost religious deference.
Closing the performance, which could only be faulted by the fact it didn’t last forever, with a breakbeat remix from the Delta remix album, Lyra’s personal recommendation sends us scurrying upstairs to find the fine-tuned perfection of Danish duo Valenza’s live set.
It seemed a big leap, to go from Pramuk’s show-stopping but minimal performance to Valenza’s rave-influenced music, but there was some intangible chemistry between the performances that not only smoothed the transition but made these acts, in combination and separately, some of the best in the festival — symbolised by the somewhat absurd encore from Valenza, with the crowd so deeply in the palm of their hand that leaving without playing a final track just seemed impossible.
With the end of the festival fast approaching, Pearson Sound demonstrated that the popularity earned by Hessle Audio, and subsequent popularity at the surface of the underground scene, has done nothing to dull his edge. His final words were of the UK hardcore and jungle sound, which had echoed throughout the festival — essential dancing and seamlessly fluid combinations of colour, texture and weight.
Opium Hum had the last say, though, and presented remaining stragglers with the full spectrum of modern dance music, furiously mixed, the tempo faders driving ever higher until finally leaving the end of the spiral at blisteringly fast gabber.
With so much on offer, it’s clear that Lunchmeat has a place at the table for everyone, from the thrill-seekers to the conceptual art lovers, making it a unique festival in Czechia, but also one that easily meets the wider European Standard. The balance between the artistic shows and the hedonistic nightlife grants it a more universal appeal than some events that don’t look further afield than the dancefloor, and the selection of acts at all stages of popularity — but only the top tier of quality — bring an eclectic mix of performers, which should trigger envy in many of the more popular events in Europe.
And, while it brought paramount performances from international acts that’ll leave an impression in Prague’s collective memory, this year added heft to the final impression of the previous year’s edition — that the acts within the Czech capitals’ sphere of attraction may be lacking attention from abroad, but they are very much not lacking in talent.