Uninspired lineups, heavy branding, selfie culture and inebriated party bros; staples of the contemporary festival that are thankfully rejected by the Polish born, Unsound Festival. But with that ends any notion of ‘virtue by fault of others’, rendered redundant by Unsound’s commitment to challenging sonic boundaries and to the avant-garde. The self-made festival has, much like the artists it represents, grown and transgressed into a boundless exercise, graduating from Krakow to London, New York, Toronto and surprisingly, Adelaide. The sixth Australian edition basked in its ability to attract exclusive performances by genre bending sonic terrorists to a city that more usually bemoans its exclusion from high profile tours.
Opening Unsound at Adelaide’s Queen’s Theatre was the powerful, yet majestic Eartheater. The highly strung performance paired front woman, Alexandra Drewchin’s, sprawling operatic voice alongside delicate harp passages, juxtaposed by grating electronic noise and Drewchin’s transition to indecipherable screams. Fusing beauty, malice and accentuated dance routines, Eartheater offered a fine road map of the evening ahead.
Moving on from Eartheater’s immersive tendencies was the minimalism of Nicholas Jaar’s scattered sound patterns. The atonal tendencies of Jaar’s rolling samples and scattered sound bytes left the audience markedly static as they were guided through the set with a loose visual narrative of barren earth, derelict buildings and disused children’s artefacts. Much like the visuals, the set grew, plugging gaps of emptiness with synth melodies and a barrage of heavy electronic beats. “Play the classics, yeah?” taunted a heckler as the slow build and epic downward crash went over the heads of many in attendance.
With a more up-beat, personable approach, Matmos provided anecdotes and experimentalism, aided by their maturity and experience. Their rhythmic, post-industrial soundscapes taking a backseat to the curious pops and loops of a wooden tube. Further more, Sydney artist, Lucas Abela, dumfounded onlookers as a diamond shaped piece of glass was transformed from weapon to instrument. Fiercely oral, Abela handled it with sax like precision, at times resembling a lost child, while others a harsh noise set with the cyclic intensity a la Merzbow.
But for many, the group on the tip of their tongues was the formidable, Giant Swan. Known for their unfathomable take on the conventions of techno, the boys from Bristol mercilessly rammed their improvised set down the throats of the audience. Pre-empted warnings of volume and intensity became empty gestures that crumbled to dust under the sheer power of their uncompromising beat, the back bone of Giant Swan’s sound. Washing messy noise and punk energy with heavily processed screams, Giant Swan approach their sound from an array of distant points, before rushing into the cacophonous centre where a multitude of genres clash, explode and grind against one another. Giant Swan are riding a wave of praise and best live-act nominations, and there are no surprises in why. Pulsating off their rigs, duo Robin and Harry get involved in the truest sense possible, taking Unsound through a blissfully punishing journey of abrasive dance music.
The brighter, warmer weather on day 2 had crowds, unsurprisingly, much tardier for the event’s opening act, Polish artist, Resina. Characterised by a cello and drum kit, Resina textured and built layers of cello and percussion into falling avalanches of crushing crescendos. Like watching the inevitability of a slowly moving mercury reach boiling point, the sounds built and the layers expanded while finding meeting points at far away altitudes, summoned and directed by ethereal vocal over-lays.
Yves Tumor brought a more familiar sound to the table with sounds more akin to the conventions of pop, albeit, carried by rather heavy bass. The audience boogied, but not without being shamelessly coerced. In a rare case of the heckled become the heckler, the solo artist spent much of his set taunting Alex the light guy. Possibly due to his cleaner sound being an outlier at the festival, but more likely due to his narcissistic temperaments, his demeanour was entitled and childish. The baby got its bottle, but it may be left with stunted growth.
After a long absence of shows on home soil, Ben Frost expressed his performance through an outer-body experience of alarmingly loud drones, forcefully weaponised squarely at the audience. The pulsating noise reaching such volumes that onlookers were showered with dirt and grime, emitted from the rattled structures of mainland Australia’s oldest theatre. But for anyone who thought the evening’s loudest moments were behind them, they were rudely mistaken by the set of Bliss Signal. Fusing the violence of blast beats with the weight of throbbing noise, Bliss Signal pulverised the audience with a sound rooted in the heart of both metal and electronica, while not definitively belonging to either.
Rolling out the curtains was apparent heir to Aphex Twin, Lanark Artefex. Enclosed within his, elaborately erected hut, his performance space felt more like the home of a troll, but lulls in smoke revealed a man and his sophisticated rig of mixers, pedals and knobs. Moments of ambient clarity were formed between laser-like peaks of chest clenching noise. Culminating with abstract, noise-driven dance passages, Lanark Artefax threw a bone to the bodies who wanted to dance rather than vibrate.
As Adelaide’s edition of Unsound drew to a close, its smallest edition is by no means given lesser treatment. The energy, professionalism and sheer passion from crew, artists and Australian founder, Mat Schultz, is an unmistakably crucial aspect. Continuing to keep audiences curious and likely frustrating a few dance-hungry clubbers who hadn’t done their homework, Unsound sits proudly amongst the top of Australia’s annual music pilgrimages.