Club to Club Festival
As lager-spilling-and-swilling Brits, it’s common to worry about encountering a sense of hostility from the locals when you’re attending an unspoiled European festival. Not the case at Turin’s Alfa MiTo Club to Club. The festival, which enjoyed its 14th edition this year, is renowned for drawing large crowds to appreciate a left-of-centre electronic music policy, and every Italian we meet seems both proud of the event and flattered that we’ve made the journey to get here.
Spread across numerous venues in the city, our accommodation – the swanky AC Hotel Torino – sees a lot of festival attendees congregate here for industry talks, intimate performances (from the likes of Fatima and How To Dress Well) and with the soundtrack of tastefully-minded DJs, the lobby is also a hub for a more sinister activity: networking.
Crack’s experienced the high-octane (and if Scratch DVA’s involved, vodka-splattered) party vibe of Hyperdub’s 10th birthday takeovers a few times this year, and so taking a seat in the grandiose, nearly 300 year old Teatro Carignano theatre on Thursday night for the label’s Club to Club showcase feels little disorientating at first. When we enquire about the possibility of purchasing an alcoholic beverage, our usher replies with a stern “absolutely not”, and there’s admittedly a temptation to dive for the exit as the lights begin to dim.
But what transpires is a deep, dark and largely drum-less exploration in murky textures from Laurel Halo that testifies the label’s sonic explorations and justifies the cultivated setting. After Halo’s trance-inducing set, Kode9 takes reign, teasing a little percussion – a few bars of throbbing kick drum, flutters of trap hi-hats that are sequenced so close together they sound smudged – but ultimately taking the music into even more sombre territory.
The funereality of Kode9’s set is heartbreaking. Four years ago, he performed on this very stage with his recently deceased frequent collaborator The Spaceape, and the MC’s prophetic voice feels especially tender as his spoken word segments are played out over a sparse backdrop. And, of course, Hyperdub has experience another tragic loss this year – Chicago footwork pioneer DJ Rashad. When fragments of footwork are played towards the end of the set, there’s a tender sadness between the beats. Quite the atmosphere.
On leaving the theatre, a flurry of festival workers hand us beers and pack us onto a shuttle bus headed to the Hiroshima Mon Amour venue, where our lethargic feeling of introspection is blown away by the abrasive noise of Reykjavik-based Aussie Ben Frost. Generating acidic electronic hisses with the addition of a low-slung guitar and a superhuman live drummer, Frost’s strobe-enhanced performance would be intense enough to deter less masochistic listeners, but – testament to the open-minded crowd Club To Club pulls – the Hiroshima’s large space is attentively packed throughout the set.
Club To Club’s music programme runs from Wednesday to Sunday, but this year’s festival mainly feels centered around Friday and Saturday (for which a two day pass will set you back €50) in the Lingotto Fiere – an enormous former Fiat plant that hosts corporate events and medical-science conventions as well as music concerts. Some major ticket-selling acts play here over the next two nights (Jungle, Caribou, SBTRKT, Apparat), but fittingly, we first test out Fiere’s dauntingly huge main room with Evian Christ, an artist whose music has constantly been at risk of being dwarfed by the hype ever since he was catapulted from his trainee teacher role with his first tracks back in 2012. But you know what? Joshua Leary’s ice-cold ambience and lightening bolt synth stabs actually flourish in this dramatic, metallic structure, and it’s impressive to see him play to a considerably bigger crowd that at his own EP launch in London’s Oval Space this year. We just hope that by 2015, he’ll no longer have to rely on I’m In It as the staple of his set.
The Lingotto Fiere’s smaller Sala Rossa room has earned the nickname ‘Red Sauna’ due to its habit of cooking up a temperature (something enhanced by the Friday night crowd’s collective rejection of the smoking ban) that creates a palpably steamy atmosphere. It’s in here where we watch the underrated RnB experimentalist Kelela perform a typically sensual, typically impassioned set to relatively thin crowd. Don’t worry Kelela, we still love you.
Fatima Al Qadiri’s billing turned out to be a DJ slot which, in fact, was by no means a disappointment as she spun a stylistically-diverse, rhythmically wild party set that threw out new, high-energy rap bangers from Bobby Shmurda and Wiz Khalifa. To immediately follow Al Qadiri’s set with the adventurous but predominately 4/4 back-to-back set from Ben UFO and Ron Morelli was, to put it politely, an eccentric programming decision, and we struggle to shift our mood for heads-down techno. But when we duck back in the Rossa a few drinks later, it looks like they’ve found their groove, and we decide we’re actually craving some good old fashioned doof-doof-doofage, which John Talabot and Alex Boman provide with their satisfyingly sturdy Talaboman set in the main room until 6am.
After a day scoring some wholesome tourist points in Turin and an evening spent enjoying a cheap and unexpectedly delicious meal in a particularly sleazy-looking restaurant, we force down a few drinks and head back to Lingotto Fiere for Milanese ambient trance (or “Pointilist T”) artist Lorenzo Senni. On record, Senni builds euphoric and garish synths towards a desired drop that never happens, and his live set provokes similar emotions: nostalgia, poignancy, frustration. Although there’s not really a beat, that doesn’t stop Senni from busting some dance moves from behind the desk. And good moves they are, too.
Then we’re back in the main room for one of the most talked-about bookings of the weekend: Future Brown, who – for those who don’t know – is the group formed by Fatima Al Qadiri, LA duo Nguzunguzu and J-Cush, the founder of New York’s Lit City Trax label. With Ruff Sqwad veteran Prince Rapid on mic duty, the group feed him with a messy-but-fun onslaught of grime instrumentals. Together they look great, if a little cluttered as four people stood behind one table, and there’s little indication of what their highly-anticipated album, which comes out on Warp next year, is actually going to sound like. Straight afterwards in the Sala Rossa, Visionist channels a similar aesthetic of melodically rich, grime-anchored beats with more clarity and sustainability. An unexpected highlight.
Over the course of week, the festival experiences a few sound issues, particularly in the Lingotto Feire’s main room, where the system seems to struggle at times, turning the music into mush if you’re stood too far back, and the unavoidable logistical problem of a 3am cut off at the bar leaves us staring despondently into a vodka-less cup of Red Bull a few times. But as a unique and (we’d argue) reasonably priced festival that pulls together near-impeccable line-ups, a few blunders aren’t going to put us off making the mission to Turin next year. And as for the people of Italy, we’re sure they don’t need much convincing either.