Club to Club is a titan of the European festival scene. The event self-describes as an “International Festival of Avant-Garde and Pop”, which might sound a little self-important had it not spent nearly 20 years successfully yoking the two together, drawing sizeable crowds for musically adventurous line-ups topped in previous years by the likes of Arca, Kraftwerk, Autechre and Swans. So how do you keep the wow factor after 18 years? Enter Aphex Twin.
The sense of anticipation surrounding Aphex Twin’s headlining performance played a visible part in this edition’s lead-up – and extremely excited faces on the night – but the reality is Club to Club 2018 is far too varied to rely solely on the Richard D. James show. From the Symposium that brought in tech, conversation-led radio and personality, or the opening shows in the dramatic and spacious OGR Torino, to the visually wonderful finale with the ever impressive Kode9 and Japanese visual collaborators Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, the programming challenged and engaged.
On Thursday, Tirzah’s live show with Mica Levi and and Coby Sey kicked off musical proceedings. Her live show felt a little odd surrounded by the new dancehall selections of Palm Wine and the dubbier Gang of Ducks but the silences and softer moments which define her music were well respected by the crowd, and one of the records of the year was brought beautifully to life.
As host of the second stage, Crack Magazine’s presence felt like a natural fit at Club to Club. Here, many of the acts we’ve supported in the past made their mark. Skee Mask’s incredible journey into contemporary strains of UK electronic music was a highlight from one of the standout artists of the year – his drop of Skepta’s Pure Water getting a special reaction. serpentwithfeet’s fragility and vocal distinction, on the other hand, made for an excellent alternative to some of the more heavyweight electronic music on the main stage. On a tougher level, Courtesy’s three-hour set saw her go up against the Aphex show, but the crowd’s response demonstrated the high regard in which she is held among the techno community.
So on to said show. The sheer number of people in the Lingotto’s main room suggested the entire festival had assembled for Aphex Twin’s headline slot. The presence of another person on stage (James’ wife, it turns out) caused some initial confusion among fans, but a flash of the Aphex logo from the multiple screens was enough to make everyone lose their shit, regardless. Offering a slightly more linear performance than in previous incarnations, the set’s ambience for the first 10 minutes was gradually dismantled, climaxing in the obligatory 10 minutes of total cacophony to close. On screen, the facial contortions of prominent Italians (such as Gianni Agnelli, the owner of Fiat, whose former factory we’re dancing in) causes roaring responses, and is testament to the attention to detail by Weirdcore, Aphex Twin’s long-time visual collaborator.
In pleasing contrast to the audiovisual barrage of Aphex Twin, Blood Orange delivered one of the classiest live shows we’ve seen. The weekend’s true highlight, his setup included a grand piano and raised platform enabling clear, unobstructed views to all performers. Dev Hynes’ multi-instrumentalist approach and incredible vocal interplay with his backing singers allows for a rare freedom on stage, particularly during Champagne Coast from 2011’s Coastal Grooves album. The juxtaposition between his beautiful songwriting and the swagger of someone at the peak of their game allowed for a performance that was always compelling and at times completely electric.
Other notable mentions go to Beach House and Iceage as well as Avalon Emerson who reads the main room late crowd perfectly with a set that goes in on tough techno and EBM.
Club to Club marked its 18th edition with arguably its biggest ever act, but it’s the programming and attention to detail that makes the festival a vital date in the calendar. In an interview before the festival Courtesy remarked that Club to Club’s promoters encouraged her to play “the most challenging set possible”. It’s this approach that will keep this event in rude health for years to come.