As we grapple with technological invention and rapid-fire, unrelenting change Poland’s annual Unsound Festival looks back at the prophetic Alvin Toffler book, Future Shock, for a this year’s theme. Today, as the festival draws to a close cultural capital Krakow plays host to a day that explores a non-linear history of music and its evolving relationship with technology –starting with the synthesiser. But before electronic fore bearers Chris & Cosey and John Foxx & the Maths can present their pioneering work into collaboration between man and machine later that evening, California’s avant garde electro-art label Not Not Fun presents four of its finest artists on their roster. In the same way Toffler’s 1970s sci-fi masterwork grapples with the “shattering stress and disorientation” of his perceived future, Unsound takes a back-to-front glance at the future of the synthesisers in the retrogressive reappropriation of the current crop.
Up first is the brilliantly-titled Sex Worker (aka Daniel Martin-McCormick). Also known as Ital for his largely instrumental project he just radiates positive energy, while the massive PAs flanking the stage shift along with the centre’s bouncing floorboards. The lights are focused on the cool-as-anything one-man band, taking visibility into crowd with it. One tries to avoid tripping on precariously seated crowd members as his muffled vocals drawls over an energy trough before coming back with a new wave techno number he prefaces with, “This is an instrumental one, it’s more fun-zone.”
A particularly haughty Dylan Ettinger follows, demanding an initially seated audience stand up –“This is a dance show, come-on.” He then officiously insists on lighting changes, while describing one of his glitch-y New Age sound-scapes as about “falling in love and then your wife dies during childbirth and your eyes get burnt out by radiation”.
The lady of the day, though, turns out to be London’s own Estonian émigré Maria Minerva, who, while being firmly associated with the sometimes all too easy to do ‘H-Pop’ craze –makes her sound-of-the-short-lived something of real consequence. Minerva strikes a Modernist pose with her all black attire and cap, while she gently says to a dutifully rising audience, “You can sit down. I’m feeling really mellow, so it’s going to be a really mellow set.” That’s before she delivers a booming shock of low-frequency bass that is to become the recurring motif of Minerva’s signature cluttered ambiance.
As a unique take on contemporary plunderphonics –the schtick of today’s over saturated youth –her music resembles several intercepting radio transmissions, heard in high fidelity and occasionally finding a melody. Due to the nature of her work, Minerva’s countless downloads, mixtapes and remixes are probably more often than not lazily experienced through lap top speakers but today it’s become apparent that the depth and layering of her work, can only truly be appreciated in a live setting. Suddenly, songs like ‘California Scheming’ reach new levels of absorption where one can enjoy dissecting the infinite samples, loops and sound bytes that make up a complex and surprising tapestry of tracks. Flowing in, out and over each other they lull you into a half-conscious, ebbing dream state; one you wouldn’t expect from the rough-hewn nature of her youtube-trawled musical pastiches. Even a voice-recording loop zones you out and back in to standout Cabaret Cixous track ‘Spirals’. That’s when Minerva goes full circle, signing out with that same explosive bass noise and preparing the audience for a high energy LA Vampires performance to follow as she announces, “They’re going to do a house-y set, so I did the ballads.”
Garage, dub step, four the floor rhythms might be an overdone dance foray of recent trend (these days the buzz sound of the day peak and fizzle faster than you can say ‘trendy’) but LA Vampires can lay claim to probably being one of the first. Fronted by label owner Amanda Brown and including Sex Worker’s Martin-McCormick, co-owner and husband Britt Brown, plus others they rediscover the joys of techno-cheese, which Amanda began in her Pocahaunted days with the now ‘big time’ Best Coast front woman Beth Cosentino.
If not as spectacularly vital as Minerva, this hipster party band offers a good way to end of the day. Amanda shows off her brilliantly insistent dancing energy, while Martin-McCormick and his synth set-up remains a creative standout. The impish front woman cheekily riposte’s to husband Britt’s bigger feedback request with, “And can I get the sexy lights?” while the geek-chic electro loving nerds out the front of the crowd lap up the liveliness that is LA Vampires. One man invites himself on stage to demonstrate just how bad dancing can get in comparison to Amanda’s spritely boogie, before she invites everyone across the imaginary band-audience barrier to join her. That’s when she closes off with a “thanks Krakow, you’re fucking awesome”, while reminding us that, when it comes to the contemporary reaction to the digital era, it isn’t all doom and gloom.