Various venues, Kraków, Poland
For this year’s Unsound, the Kraków festival adopted Dada as its theme.
As an avant-garde festival renowned for its forward-thinking and intriguing explorations of music, art and technology, the 20th century artistic movement associated with humour and the absurd provided a fitting backdrop for this year’s edition. There were moments when the dadaism was tangible, as in the jarring Machine Listening Songbook interludes – short presentations looking at the relationship between listening machines and the evolution of language – in the daily tongue-in-cheek sassy updates from AIAD (aka the Artificially Intelligent Artistic Director) and the ‘Intervention’ performances. The latter of which saw the club dancefloor host a tap dance and modular synth performance one evening, before Sherelle and VTSS’ back-to-back, and Julien Desprez’s frenetic guitar contortions between sets another night. But the dada theme also provided an underlying reminder of the constant capacity for the absurd in the everyday, and a celebration and artistic exploration of that.
Over the course of the festival’s weekend proceedings, afternoon and evening performances at ICE spanned the rhythmic hypnotism of Ale Hop and Laura Robles’ performance, Lonnie Holley’s transcendent blues and a captivatingly uncanny performance of Lee Gamble and Candela Capitán’s meta collaborative piece Models. The festival then proceeded into a stacked nighttime programme across the two rooms at Kamienna. And the proximity of the two rooms in the industrial club space – with just a short meander through bars and food trucks – allowed for easy flow between the two spaces for the inevitable clashes.
With such considered and impressive curation, Unsound was filled with highlights. Here’s a rundown of some standout moments from this year’s edition.
33EMYBW + Joey Holder
For 33EMYBW and Joey Holder’s A/V set, Room 1 of Kammiena transformed into a spell-binding arthropod-filled fever dream. A perfect pairing, with both artists’ work concerned with primordial organisms, ancient geologies and futuristic technologies, the SVBKVLT artist’s snaking, syncopated beats and cybernetic experimental club productions – presenting work from her new album Holes of Sinian – combined with Holder’s mutant cryptids and spectral biota contorting on screen. An utterly transfixing, uncanny and staggering set that left a lingering, haunting impression long after their performance ended.
Sherelle b2b VTSS
Sherelle and VTSS’ back-to-back was always going to be an explosive and euphoric affair, and it certainly was. Playing to a sweltering, packed out room later on the Friday night (well into the early hours of Saturday morning) their set journeyed through techno, jungle, bass and club heat with a particularly rowdy grime edit of Vengabus (and a warranted wheel-up of the track) which marked a turning point in the set, ascending fully into high-octane, pure fun club edits. Later on in the set, another especially memorable moment saw them go from Charli XCX’s Pink Diamond into Hard by SOPHIE into Arca’s Prada. As Charli sings on the aforementioned track, “I just wanna go real hard” and Sherelle and VTSS really went so hard.
Kill Alters vs. Dreamcrusher
Saturday’s club programme offered a showcase of how Unsound’s sometimes unexpected curation excels, the night ranging from HiTech’s raucous energy to Tirzah’s captivating, lo-fi emotivity to a triumphant set from reggaeton icon Rosa Pistola. It also saw hardcore noise in the mix courtesy of Kill Alters and Dreamcrusher’s set. Starting off with Kill Alters’ blistering digital hardcore, mid-way through Bonnie Baxter’s frenzied vocals were joined by Dreamcrusher’s, their two voices uniting in a haunting, guttural outcry. This acted as the transition into the latter’s performance, which provided a hypnotic, abrasive noise catharsis. As with the Brooklyn-based artist’s work, the set balanced an acerbic punk anarchism with raw expression, and offered an intimacy and directness both in the music and in Dreamcrusher’s presence, which saw them spend much of the set amongst the crowd.
After three consecutive days of dancing well into the next day at Kamienna, on Sunday – following Lonnie Holley’s performance at ICE – we headed to 89 for Unsound’s closing party. As everyone filtered into the hazy, red lit space – a former strip club complete with carpeted walls and ceiling, giving a very Lynchian vibe – Jul.ci’s slinking, melodic and sultry selections welcomed us in. A member of bass collective TUNE:L, the Krákow-based DJ brought the heat with bass, reggaeton, dancehall and dub setting the tone for the rest of the night.
Rounding off the weekend, k means provided an intricate and incendiary set to close out this year’s Unsound. The Bristol-based artist’s ability to sculpt a transcendent dancefloor journey was in full force as their set traversed through more warped and weirder outer reaches of experimental dance, glitchy videogame soundtrack blends to plenty of high-energy footwork, a gleeful Birthday Sex edit and hazy, atmospheric dub cuts. As k means’ set drew to a close, and the final notes intermingled with rapturous cheers from the crowd, the tangibly buzzing atmosphere highlighted the joyful communion of creative curiosity, expression and enjoyment that makes Unsound such an exceptional festival.