Various venues, Mälmo, Sweden
At several points over the long weekend of Intonal 2023, the organisers seemed a little uneasy about how well everything was going.
The intimate city-based festival in southern Swedish city of Malmö weathered the storms of recent times and managed to return with a full-sized offering this year, stretching across five nights of music and comfortably settling into its role as one of the leading festivals for experimental music in Europe. From an outside perspective, the dizzying array of complex live acts seemed like a million headaches all waiting to happen, and yet the event unfolded with a relaxed and efficient demeanour, every set on time and with barely a technical gremlin to be found.
Centred around multi-stage arts venue Inkonst, Intonal follows a similar trail to kindred festivals Unsound and Meakusma, tapping into the buoyant culture of – and abundant appetite for – experimental music. It’s a niche that can reach from instrument-oriented electro-acoustic explorations through to gnarly machine mangling, sometimes primed for the club and other times for idling at the opposite end of the energy spectrum. There’s academic undertones to certain elaborate commissions (with the EU-funded SHAPE+ platform) and the acousmatic workshops and performances upstairs in the Inter Arts Center, but Intonal’s team have also been at great pains to spell out their punk-minded intentions.
There’s certainly something chaotic about being able to fling yourself from Zoviet France’s painstaking drone to Susannah Stark’s pastoral inflections, on to Gavsborg’s lithe, mutant dancehall and wrap up with the ritualistic release of Bear Bones, Lay Low. Even in its more delicate moments, there’s a sense of disruption and risk to much of the music, and yet the quality remains consistently high to smooth over the stark transitions. The occasional moments where a more direct kind of dance music sneaks in sound more unusual than any of the off-kilter gear on offer elsewhere.
Comfortably paced to allow each set to sink in, Intonal 2023 avoided the usual glut of clashes that crop up in the race to overstuff most festival line-ups. Instead, it came off as a voyage of discovery, where each new space entered guaranteed something intriguing as a bare minimum, and often resulted in a thrilling new discovery. There was a lot to celebrate, but here are just five of the standout moments accompanied by a stash of festival snapshots.
Valentina Magaletti and Laraaji
After an Ambient Assembly in the surreal surrounds of Folkets Park on the Wednesday, Intonal upheld a tradition of opening the core programming on the Thursday in the opulent St. John’s Church. The double-hit of Valentina Magaletti and Laraaji stepped up to the towering space and nearly took the roof off with wholly different but similarly uplifting performances. Magaletti’s position as one of the most visionary contemporary percussionists is no secret, but still the rush of her thunderous expression was indescribably powerful with the acoustics of such a huge space. Meanwhile Laraaji’s spiritual sermon dealt in aching beauty and laugh-inducing joy, folding his signature zither and gong work into songs about the wonder we can find in the most mundane aspects of life.
Inkonst’s basement space The Black Box looked utterly jaw-dropping as we walked in on Bendik Giske’s late-night seance. The liberal dry ice and slow-strafing beams of light created 3D shapes around the Norwegian saxophonist as he held a crowd in stunned rapture. With his instrument mic’d up to create hypnotic, minimal percussion around the metronomic patterns and noisy flutter of his playing, it was hard to accept that he was doing everything with just his breath and hands. Intimate and physical with a cosmic lilt, there was a sense of dance music’s euphoria about the midnight hour, the striking production and Giske’s incredibly precise, repetitive melodies.
If you’re into prominent electric bass, Intonal had an abundance in all sorts of different projects, but the most beautiful and wholly realised was undoubtedly that in Bitoi. Making its world premiere (amongst a fair amount of others at the festival), Cassius Lambert’s virtuoso playing wove beautiful shapes around the spine-tingling choral ensemble of Alexandra Shabo, Lise Kroner and Anja Tietze Lahrmann. The pieces unfolded as though plotting a narrative, with crescendos of harmony which tugged at the heartstrings of the Sunday evening crowd. A genuinely soul-cleansing performance.
If Intonal ever wanted to flaunt its punk credentials, booking Statoil is all the proof they need. As a completely unknown proposition to stumble upon on Inkonst’s bar-like Small Stage, their raucous,
groovy-as-hell brand of noise rock was an earthquaking revelation. Seeming like they’d been plucked from a nearby suburban garage, the Denmark-based three-piece ripped through piece after wordless piece, piling on the pedals and inciting the most savage headbanging of the weekend. The guitarist’s custom axe wrought out sheet metal squall, the drummer with a perfect fringe bayed and brayed behind his kit and the towering bassist pinned the meat of the tracks down with unrelenting heaviness. It was unbelievable.
In the era of hardware abundance and spaghetti tangles of wires, there’s something so assured and deadly about an artist shredding on one piece of gear. Elvin Brandhi cut an introverted silhouette on the Small Stage, dressed casual and comfy, head fixated down on the small box and blinking lights in front of her. The music did more than enough to carry the performance, taking on a kinetic fierceness which seemed to draw on musique concréte, industrial, footwork and punishing electronica as a means of creating something truly nightmarish. The beats never stood still as she careened through shrieking extremities and pulverising electronic rhythm, eternally confounding any resolution in her music with one wild swerve after another.