For the past 12 years, L.E.V. – Spain’s cutting-edge digital arts extravaganza – has taken up residence in the country’s northwest fishing city of Gijón, filling the repurposed Universidad Laboral de Gijón building complex with a notable stream of international and local artists dedicated to pushing electronic music forward. This year, for the first time ever, it descended on the capital of Madrid.
Madrid is home to a small but thriving network of promoters, artists, labels and fans all working hard to sustain a leftfield music scene against the odds. June’s city council swing from the political left to the right doesn’t bode well for the future of the arts, but there’s still plenty to get excited about. The recently launched online radio station Radio Relativa is doing an important job in helping to platform local artists, while underground music events are still taking place every week, even in spite of the limited amount of clubs and venues.
Situated in the southern suburbs of the capital overlooking the Madrid Rio and promoted by the Government of Culture and Sports Department of the Madrid City Council, in collaboration with public and private entities, the Matadero centre is an essential part of Madrid’s contemporary arts landscape. Formerly a slaughterhouse, the chillingly beautiful interior has gradually been transformed into a sprawling multidisciplinary hub that provides a variety of services, including a space for site-specific art, a hub for documentary film, and a theatrical exhibition space/concert hall, Nave 16, which came alive this past weekend for L.E.V (an acronym which translates in English to visual electronic laboratory).
James Ferraro christened the cavernous Nave 16 venue on the Friday night, calmly premiering a piece of generative music composition inspired by his “opus into ecocide and planetary divorce”, Requiem for Recycled Earth, to a serious and focused crowd. Live oboe and flute added an earthy dimension to Ferraro’s electronic dramatics, MIDI choirs and crashing cymbals, with the instruments’ respective tones sounding both like a lament and an exultation. Amorphous visuals from Canadian digital artist Maotik hinted at environmental destruction and mirrored the festival’s commitment to conveying the “natural synergy between image and sound”. This concept was amped up during the subsequent performance from Berlin-based Japanese artist Ryoichi Kurokawa, whose audiovisual practice gives equal attention to sound and light and who that night bathed the crowd in a visceral multi-sensory experience that made stops at floodlit techno and blissful ambience, all amplified by the festival’s immersive Soundscape sound system.
For all the festival’s focus on high-tech visuals, one of the weekend’s aesthetic highlights came via the form of Djrum’s fluffy coat-clad stage dancer, also on the Friday night. Flexing her moves to a hypnotic and percussive backdrop that featured, among other 90s touchstones, a sprawling piano house segment, euphoric rave breaks and live vocals, Djrum’s retro-futurist display acted as a palette-cleansing counterpoint to the digitally-powered visuals of other performances. Playing directly after Djrum that night, Aïsha Devi picked up where his set left off, opening up her deconstructed rave playground to an audience that was only just warming up to the prospect of dancing. Hoover bass, trance blasts, pneumatic beats and crashing waves bounced off Devi’s high-pitched, warped voice as she wound her body fluidly and soared spectacularly through a mesmerising set, thanking the crowd for their “sublime energy” in the face of the technical issues she appeared to be battling.
L.E.V. took the festival partly outside on Saturday, with an afternoon performance from Ikonika nursing the crowd back to life via an array of bass mutations and the London producer’s shimmering bootleg of Ariana Grande’s Into You. The UK was well represented with instrumental grime pioneer Mr Mitch opening his set with the stripped-back Intro to 2017 album Devout, before channelling his foggy, meditative and emotional take on UK club music to a receptive crowd who were sadly forced to retreat inside after rain began pelting down. At Nave 16, sega bodega switched up the mood to a full-throttle electronic workout, galloping through his innovative and mind-melting collision of everything-all-at-once from behind a clear plastic curtain.
The last day of the festival moved along at a soothingly slower pace, offering a streamlined programme with prepared piano trailblazer Kelly Moran dealing out a pack of twinkling lullabies to a crowd who were partly sat in deckchairs. Moran’s backdrop provided some of the weekend’s more softer-edged visuals, metamorphosing from fluid rosy shapes to life-affirming fireworks of colour as the tired audience looked on in awe.
With a new city festival launching seemingly every week, Madrid’s edition of L.E.V. stands out for its commitment to staging live performances that go way above and beyond the norm, merging audio and visual into an aesthetically thought-provoking whole. Attracting a diverse range of artistic tastes and also boasting an impressive programme of VR experiences, digital art lovers are catered for at L.E.V. as much as electronically-minded music fans looking to step up their festival game and visit a musical and creative city that is often overlooked.