Nowe Muzeum Śląskie, Katowice
20 - 23 August
In the heartland of Polish industry is the city of Katowice, home to Tauron Nova Muzyka.
Unlike Off Festival, its better-known sister, TNM is held across city centre venues on the site of a former colliery and a pair of ultra-modern concert halls. A decommissioned coal shaft towers over the crowds as they wander in, just as the sun sets on the nearby, pastel-coloured high-rises.
It starts with Apparat, at the recently refurbished home of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. In front of a seated audience, five members wrestle with a wealth of instruments, synths and percussion. One sits at a projector, filling the back wall with kaleidoscopic visuals. They perform cinematic, string-driven pieces that give way to pulsing electronics, descending on one stage into a punishing snare-drum workout.
Friday night sees the main stage open with a line-up that keeps it busy all night. Fatima starts with a performance that, despite the size of the hall, keeps things sweet and intimate. Underwater is a highlight, its broken beat and wistful chorus sounding fuller and fresher live.
Nils Frahm follows. The composer takes an emotional time-out to explain it’s his last gig for a while, and that tonight he’ll be retiring his enormous pipe organ from his live-set. Its the organ drives the set, giving more than a nod to fellow German composer Rodelius before building to a furious climax.
Come midnight, a world-weary Tyler the Creator arrives to a big reception from his insatiable global following. The Odd Future graduate’s languid growl and disarming sincerity remain his most effective weapons, and whereas some harder, shoutier tracks get the front of the crowd going, they don’t have the same effortless impact as Yonkers, or the first muttered “I love you” in IFHY.
Meanwhile, in a tent beneath the coal shaft, a clever bit of programming puts three of the weekend’s bolder acts back-to-back. First up is Dopplereffekt, an ongoing candidate for the sternest act in dance music who, technical difficulties aside, delivers a satisfying hour of clinical electro. Autechere follow, performing as usual in complete darkness. Their set is a heady mix of bubbling synths and ravey swells, repeatedly engulfed by a hornet’s swarm of glitched-out, rafter-shaking drum patterns and electronics. Objekt finishes with a typically demented outing that sounds like a marriage of high-end sound art with preset synths, all layered over relentless rhythms.
The Juan Maclean provide the biggest feel-good of the weekend with a blinding set, layering reverb-drenched keys over poppin’ 80s synth bass and four-to-the-floor disco rhythms. Singer Nancy Whang bleeds attitude, dominating the crowd whilst barely breathing a word between tracks.
Sunday night’s closing performance at the concert hall sees Jeff Mills debut his new show, Light from the Outside World – a collaboration with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. Using his 909 and a CDJ, Mills drops propulsive beats and atmospheric samples over a mix of work he’s adapted for orchestra. The Bells gets the biggest cheer of the evening, its thrilling anxiety brought to life by orchestral chimes and a full-size string section.
Light from the Outside World sums up both what’s great and not-so-great about TNM. Nobody can deny its ambition, and the results are sometimes brilliant. The enthusiasm never wanes either, with Mills receiving multiple standing ovations.
Although some disjointed programming saw a couple of lulls, particularly on the Saturday, TNM is undeniably a great festival. And with such a loyal following established, we can’t wait to see them take a few more risks at its 2016 edition.