Various venues, Graz
27 February - 3 March

Spread across multiple venues in the capital of Styria, Graz’s Elevate Festival celebrated its 15th anniversary this year – a remarkable feat for any event. For this year’s milestone, Elevate held an extensive programme of talks and lectures, featuring the A-list celebrity, model, actor and activist Pamela Anderson. Musically, though the programme was dominated by dance music, there’s a breadth in the bookings that showed flair and touches of eclecticism, from Graz band The Striggles and seminal industrial electropunk outfit DAF.

After touching down in Graz, the atmosphere in the city felt calm and slumberous. Trams inched along the steel lines set in wide roads, and the pavements were noticeably bare. For Elevate’s opening ceremony, however, the local scene in Graz had filtered out from behind its doors to watch Pamela Anderson go head to head with Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat to discuss the festival’s theme: ‘Real is Fake’. While the talk didn’t see the pair exchange ideas as advertised, Anderson spoke during the first half of the talk whilst in the latter, Horvat roused the audience with a speech that called for the audience to use everything to affect environmental change. Use art, use science, use technology – activism must permeate every field.

The second night saw Elevate host a line-up of dark chamber sets, whereby the audience was encouraged to focus on music as a singular art form, separate from visual stimulants. On the following evening, Puce Mary, with her sonic lexicon of industrial music and noise, created a surreal soundscape that engulfed the main room in the Orpheum. While the crowds were sparse at this time – the festival wasn’t yet in full swing – one audience member could be seen sitting on the floor with his head bowed, almost as if in a spiritual reverence. The response was understandable, the blistering, caustic noise aspired to the transcendental, with violins piercing the smoke of the room.

Truly though, the USP of Elevate are its three rooms within Dom im Berg – a mountain with a clock tower, for which Elevate utilised the tunnel, main room and ‘dungeon’. While times are tough for clubs with many opening as multi-function rooms, the tunnel and dungeon felt like the real deal: a cavernous space in which the electronic programme could unfold. You can gather that the local scene in Graz is more accustomed to heavier sonics, as whistles were elicited when December soundtracked the tunnel with a dark and decadent set of industrialised techno. Prior to his release on Helena Hauff’s Return to Disorder label, the producer began adding his own voice to his tracks – and certainly, vocals were used to great effect in conjunction with the acoustic qualities of the space.

Tunisian producer Deena Abdelwahed followed up with a set that pulled from her debut album Khonnar. Exploring the tensions within her first LP, Abdelwahed drew from a pool of pan-global sources to express her own identity as a Tunisian, queer musician living in Europe. Salon des Amateurs resident Vladimir Ivkovic filled a two-hour slot with a set that ranged from an EBM to a cosmic feel, with psychedelic disco and slowed down trance cuts filling the stone passage. It’s The Bug, however, on the next night who utilised the tunnel to the greatest effect, with the intro to Skeng feeling more akin to an elemental force designed to shake the very foundations of the edifice.

Though props should be given to Kenyan producer Slikback too, who tore through genres at lightning speed, racing through brash club tracks to Sheck Wes without a moment’s notice. A relentless set that gave the crowd little room for air, sub-bass frequencies echoed so hard in the tunnel they felt almost bone-shattering. It was Paula Temple who drew in the largest crowd by far though, with peak-time selections soundtracking the rave at its fullest, mixed with new tracks from her upcoming debut album Edge of Everything.

What became clear during the festival was just how contained Elevate is. Outside, at the foot of Dom im Berg, the city of Graz was untouched by the raves inside, remaining intensely, eerily quiet for our stay. Things were slow to start up within the mountain too. This had some serious downsides; Jayda G’s late afternoon set, within the indoor space of the Orpheum, was met by an enthusiastic response but low numbers. She would’ve been better suited to, perhaps, the official afterparty venue Parkhaus. There, after the set of the Zenker Brothers, I was surprised to see a large scene of local dancers still raving in the sunshine the next day, the sun beating down and stream glistening. A wonderful way to end the largest night of the festival, it proved that, though the crowds were thin in places, Graz will always have a place in its calendar for Elevate.