‘Remember me?!’ howls a voice over a dense, droning layer of electronic dread. Moor Mother is giving her second performance of the weekend, this time in collaboration with Zonal, a project featuring Kevin Martin aka The Bug. The venue is Hotel Forum, a Soviet-era concrete beast which opened the same year that Poland’s communist government collapsed. Shrouded in smoke and lit up in red at the back of a vast foyer, the Philadelphia-based poet and producer delivers doom-laden proclamations over sludge-thick synths and sluggish beats.
It’s a hellish, arresting moment which lies in stark contrast to the euphoric performance that unfolds on the same stage just 24 hours later, by which point the nightly theme in the club has changed from ‘Bass’ to ‘Dance’. Holly Herndon is joined on stage by a six-strong choir which includes frequent collaborator Colin Self. The human voice has been at the core of much of Herndon’s work, and a rendition of Chorus from 2015’s Platform is received particularly well. but new compositions force the voice to the front – literally, at one point, when the group forms a tight circle mere inches from the audience and performs acapella, with long, drawn out cries overlapping each other in harmony, all asking: “Why am I so lost?”
Together the two very different performances demonstrate Unsound’s untethered and varied exploration of sound on the outer edges. It’s fitting that the long weekend should begin with back-to-back AV shows projecting two very different worlds. In Nivhek (aka Grouper) and MFO’s After its own Death we’re taken to the dreamy yet unforgiving port city of Murmansk in the Artic Circle, accompanied by the intimate minimalism that Grouper has made her own. Meanwhile, Vincent Moon’s Hibridos takes us on a deep dive into the world of Brazil’s religious cults, while he and guests provide an intensely uncomfortable, invigorating live score.
It’s a strange and heady mixture, and you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Unsound’s central concern is club music. Thursday night sees Karen Gwyer let her hardware run wild in what looks like Hotel Forum’s dining room, serving up gorgeously blown-out techno as the night heats up. Discwoman collective’s Umfang and Haram both provide masterful late-night sets.
Friday night sees Detroit heavyweights Stingray and Bone go back-to-back for the first time in history. Their passion and showmanship creates a thrilling dynamic – at times, it’s as if they’re trying to outdo each other. Jlin, who has become an Unsound favourite, whips the crowd into a frenzy on the Saturday with her dismembered rhythm workouts, debuting new material alongside tracks from this years Black Origami. In a festival highlight, she’s joined on stage by dancer Avril Stormy Unger, who after handing roses out into the crowd performs thrilling dance routines, slowly immersing herself in the complex beauty of Jlin’s creations.
It’s something of an onslaught, and by the time Sunday arrives, there’s a notable calm, even relief, as people take their seats in the Juliusza Słowackiego theatre for an outstanding performance from minimalist composer Jon Gibson. Now in its 15th year, Unsound continues to demand more from its visitors, an in doing so remains an essential platform for fearless, thoughtful music. Long may it live.