Unsound 2018: Five key performances

  • Aaron Coultate takes in breathtaking sets from Slikback, Jlin, SOPHIE and more in Kraków.
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  • On the Thursday night of this year's Unsound, during Gábor Lázár's blistering set in a darkened, smoke-filled room at Hotel Forum, one of the people dancing hardest was SOPHIE, who was scheduled to perform two nights later as one of the festival's main acts. Also on the dance floor was Arlen Dilsizian, cofounder of Uganda's Nyege Nyege Festival. Every year, Unsound brings together some of the brightest minds in music to talk, listen, collaborate and dance, striking a balance of intellectual stimulation and pure enjoyment that many festivals strive for but few achieve. It's the kind of festival that lures in bookers from some of the world's best clubs and festivals, with many acts who perform at Unsound appearing at other events the following year. But its taste-making position plays second fiddle to its role as a positive, nurturing force for music in Poland and beyond. The festival's home, Kraków, was bathed in glorious autumn sunshine as the 2018 edition unfolded at a range of eye-catching venues, from the 700-year-old Wieliczka Salt Mine to Hotel Forum, an empty brutalist hotel that's home to Unsound's all-night parties. Here are five key performances from across the week.
    Slikback Uganda's Nyege Nyege Festival has developed a sibling relationship with Unsound these past couple years. For the second edition running, Unsound's programme shone light on East Africa's blossoming scene, starting with a set from the Kenyan artist Slikback. He's only been making music for about 12 months, which made his show at Szpitalna 1, an underground bar where Wednesday night's performances took place beneath two stone arches, all the more extraordinary. Taking inspiration from trap, grime and deconstructed club music, Slikback played an hour-long set of his own compositions and remixes, finishing with a track he had made that day after feeling inspired by his fellow Unsound acts.
    Lucrecia Dalt That Lucrecia Dalt worked in geotechnical engineering surely wasn't lost on the Unsound programmers who booked the Colombian artist to perform in a 700-year-old salt mine. The venue, a long, chandelier-lit hall more than 100 metres below ground level, was last used by Unsound in 2015, when Burial may or may not have made an appearance. This time, Dalt played live after a DJ set from the Brutaż founder RRRKRTA and before the minimalist composer Terry Riley and his son, Gyan. Dalt's performance ebbed and flowed with eerie rhythms, chirrups and bass pulses. She manipulated her own vocals into strange, disembodied whispers. It was at times meditative and others startling, ending with an engrossing section of soothing ambient techno.
    SOPHIE "SOPHIE, we love you!" shouted one fan as SOPHIE walked onto Hotel Forum's Ballroom stage amid thick smoke. It was a few minutes after 1 AM on Friday night, and SOPHIE's slot, more than any other at this year's Unsound, had the feel of a headline set. The Ballroom was packed as she immediately launched into her new song, "Take Me To Dubai." What followed was a set as challenging as it was thrilling, with experimental passages punctuated by short bursts of intensity that had the crowd pogo dancing. "She's a rockstar," said another person as they squeezed from the throng of people at the front for some air.
    Jlin & Company Wayne McGregor It was Unsound that first introduced Jlin and Wayne McGregor a couple years back. That introduction led to Autobiography, an album Jlin created to accompany McGregor's latest ballet project of the same name. Friday evening saw the pair present a shorter version of that show to a packed audience at the ICE auditorium. One of Jlin's key inspirations is footwork, a style of music innately tied to the act of dancing, but she has been drawn to ballet since childhood, and in reality the collaboration isn't as strange as it seems on paper. Truth is, her set would have sounded brilliant anywhere at Unsound, with the early mallet-like sounds leading to tougher, more jagged sections. But in these acoustically rich surroundings, backed by a team of ten lithe dancers, the show felt like the festival's crowning moment.
    Sho Madjozi & DJ Lag Sho Madjozi was a visible presence all week at Unsound. She participated in a panel hosted by The Wire's Chris Bohn on Friday afternoon. The previous night, she jumped in for a short cameo alongside the Tanzanian artists Bamba Pana and Makaveli during a thrilling session of 180-BPM singeli music in Hotel Forum's Kitchen. And on Saturday night she had her turn in the spotlight, performing in Hotel Forum's Chandelier Room flanked by two dancers and soundtracked by DJ Lag, whose gqom beats and other selections formed a happy partnership with Madjozi's Tsonga rapping. (Lag's set was possibly the first time Benny Benassi's "Satisfaction" has been played at an Unsound event.) It was one of those performances that had the Chandelier Room bouncing. At the end, everyone who'd been down the front emerged dripping in sweat. We've compiled a Spotify playlist with some of our favourite tracks from Unsound 2018.
    Photo credits / Sławomir Zieliński - Słowacki Theatre Jan Moszumański - Slikback Michał Ramus - Lucrecia Dalt, Jlin & Company Wayne McGregor Dominika Filipowicz - SOPHIE, Sho Madjozi & DJ Lag Theresa Baumgartner - Alva Noto, MTV, object blue, Screen, We Will Fail, House Of Kenzo