- There was a moment at the 2013 edition of Unsound festival in Krakow where it felt as though the rhythmic fabric of club music had arrived in the future. Arca, RP Boo and DJ Marfox—three of the festival's standout performers—were playing simultaneously in the three rooms of Hotel Forum, the Communist-era space that hosted Unsound's nighttime programme. Arca spanned an indescribable blend of post-everything pop, R&B, bass and techno, eschewing traditional beat-matching in favour of spin-backs and filtering on Pioneer DJ gear. RP Boo tore into his main room set like a man at war, slamming together footwork tracks like his own "11-47-99" and hyping the crowd on the mic. Marfox, meanwhile, was introducing people to the house sound of Lisbon, a potent brew of African-influenced rollers that had the young Polish crowd getting down hard.
This run of performances spoke to Unsound's unwavering commitment to the shock of new and singular experiences. During the five main days of the festival's eight-day run in Krakow, you were never more than walking distance from something vital. Robert Henke received a unanimous standing ovation for the premiere of his Lumiere live show, in which the German artist emitted a thrilling amalgamation of audio and lasers in a cinema space. Charlemagne Palestine and Rhys Chatham (performing together for the first time in 30 years) followed Juliana Barwick and a local girls choir at the enormous St. Catherine's church, with Palestine playing drawn-out organ notes and chanting, and Chatham improvising on guitar, flute and trumpet. Robert Rich seduced an audience into slumber with his first live sleep concert since 1996. And in the same space two days later, The Mulholland Free Clinic—an improvisatory quartet made up of Juju & Jordash, Move D and Jonah Sharp—performed together for the first time, teasing out trippy, acidic bangers.
The festival's impeccably high standard of bookings across the last three editions has engendered a sense of expectation in its audience. Performances are subject to scrutiny in a way they wouldn't be elsewhere. Very little at Unsound 2013 was outright unsuccessful, but it was interesting to see some of the darker music—Regis, Samuel Kerridge, Young Male—miss the spot, particularly given the recent fascination of all things doom-laded in electronic music. Young Male, performing as part of a White Material showcase with Galcher Lustwerk and DJ Richard, wasn't helped by his surroundings in Hotel Forum's third room, a space that was flooded with light from the main entrance and was therefore difficult to lose yourself in.
LA noise-rap group Clipping and New York rapper Mykki Blanco seemed to be unpopular among out-of-towners, but both received fevered receptions from a young local crowd. Many had already left by the time King Midas Sound closed that night, but Kevin Martin and co pushed the main room's system to its absolute limits with a combative set that, as always, belied their recorded music. The group's sonic warfare was an extreme example of what seemed to work best across the weekend; in their own assorted ways, Helena Hauff, Pearson Sound, Karenn, Stellar Om Source, Anthony Naples and Gobby all took their sets by the scruff of the neck, not waiting for the audience to come to them. The same was true of Underground Resistance's performance as Interstellar Fugitives. The group's audibly loose live techno brought a level of intensity that was fitting for their slot as headliners.
Unsound's decision to ban photographs and filming this year felt like a further play to preserve the special aura that has developed around the festival. (The rule was almost completely adhered to.) Their efforts to secure exclusives, premieres and Polish debuts gives the week a continual sense of occasion, and people seem to develop loving relationships with Krakow, a city that, thanks to its manageable size and interesting venues, couldn't be better suited to this type of event. This familial air mixed with forward thinking was best exemplified at the closing party, which took place at Pauza, a small basement club in the city's old town. Powell's post-punk, I-F's acid and Beneath's dark UK funky were all received warmly and with open minds, the crowd partying safe in the knowledge that they'd almost certainly be back next year.
Sanjay Fernandes contributed to this piece