Subcity at... Unsound

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Given the world’s current state of unending turmoil, I was initially skeptical of this year’s Unsound theme of “Flower Power.” For a festival that has spent the last 15 years showcasing the outer limits of music and politics, emulating the joy of a trippy 60’s when so many are suffering seemed like an escapist attitude that championed personal pleasure over global justice.

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But this urge could not have been more wrong. Unsound, a yearly music festival hosted in Krakow, Poland, cultivated hope through every aspect of its program, from lectures to workshops to concerts. But there was something more than hope as well - Whereas most festivals leave their patrons with an empty wallet and hangover, Unsound left them with a vision of a better future, and a drive to realize it.

Though the festival had 60’s undertones, most of the “Flower Power” came from the growth of ideas and relationships throughout the program. For talks, Patricia Reed and Lou Drago explored the possibilities of Xenofeminist politics, urging the audience to slice through individualism and engage with building a future they can see themselves in, as opposed to constantly being on the defensive. Discwoman head Frankie moderated a discussion with Jlin, Umfang, Noncompliant, Avril Stormy Unger, Nazira, FOQL and VTSS that managed to be both empowering and casual. The women - from Kazakhstan, Poland, Indiana and New York - had varying relationships to music and politics, but were able to laugh through the horrors of their countries’ governments and state, on no uncertain terms, that their mere existence in music was a political act.

Less adherent to the theme - but no less exciting - were the daytime music acts. Glasgow’s own Lanark Artefax put on an insane performance of squelchy electronics at an industrial plant 30 minutes east of the city. The lights were co-produced by Lanark and former Subcity manager Shaun Murphy, and were as integral to the performance as Lanark’s music itself - In the middle of the stage was a monolith-shaped LCD screen, which seemed to foreshadow what will become a cult-like following for the up-and-coming musician. It was such an an awe-inspiring showing that the following performance from Lee Gamble, of who Lanark Artefax is a protege, seemed meager in comparison.

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Back in the city centre, at Krakow’s museum of public transportation, Robin Fox premiered his audiovisual performance “Single Origin,” during which a lone laser, placed in the center of the stage, spewed an entire world’s worth of geometry and colors, synchronized with wheezing techno and noise, for upwards of 40 minutes. Both Fox’s and Artefax’s shows, while they could be replicated elsewhere, were elevated to legendary status by Unsound’s dedication to one-of-a-kind venues and programming.

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The nighttime programming at Hotel Forum, an abandoned Soviet-era hotel across the river from the city centre, is the bedrock of Unsound. This year introduced a third room - situated in the kitchen of the hotel - which hosted acts like Dj Lycox and Sega Bodega, whose beats thrived in the small industrial space. Elsewhere, club acts like Nkisi, Juliana Huxtable and Glasgow’s MM all but demolished the hotel conference room, which was decorated with pulsing chandeliers and Christmas lights.

There were several legendary sets which transpired at the main stage of Hotel Forum. Holly Herndon hosted a sci-fi choir on her stage, who briefly went acapella/acoustic in one of the more emotional moments of the fest. Jlin lended her signature rhythm to Avril Stormy Unger, who was both possessed and possessing while moving across the stage. Roses were thrown and tears were shed.

I missed what were later heralded as historical sets from Noncompliant and Avalon Emerson because I couldn’t stay up past 6AM when the sets transpired. But it’s impossible to feel like you truly miss out on anything at Unsound, as every facet of the festival is memorable in its own right. If you weren’t at a lecture on Blockchain, you were making friends on the tram on the way there; if you passed out at 4AM and missed half of the night program, you woke up in time to see a legendary day set. The only mistake you could make at Unsound is to not go at all.

Words and Images: Jake Witz


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