Saturnalia 2019

  • One of Europe's most daring experimental festivals expands to three days.
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  • Experiencing Saturnalia, the experimental festival that takes place annually at Macao in Milan, felt like plunging into a story with no ending. For its seventh edition, it took place over three days for the first time. "Saturnalia has been changing over the years along with our intentions and ideas," said the Macao resident Arcangelo, who is also a key member of the Tavolo Suono group, which runs Saturnalia. "It has always been a territory to explore and unveil new possibilities in terms of sound and community." Each day felt different. The substantial program was curated to keep the crowd continuously engaged with different activities, from talks, projections and workshops to DJ sets and live audiovisual performances. Macao is a labyrinth of a venue, with nine spaces of various sizes spread across four floors. There was the raw Basement, the magnificent Hall and two smaller rooms, Temple and Ghost. On the ground floor was a cinema, with a garden surrounding at street level. On the first floor, Caffè Letterario was used for workshops, while on the top floor sat two specular Hangars (North and South). The festival began on Thursday night with the immersive show "Bulky" by the French multidisciplinary artist Alexandre Bavard, a performance blending dance, costume and sound featuring ten dancers going wild to an intense soundtrack. Later, after a vigorous bass-infused live set from John Wiese, the singer and guitarist Heather Leigh bewitched the audience with her ethereal voice. Everybody sat in religious silence beneath Macao's glass ceiling. Meanwhile, downstairs in Basement, a series of noise-oriented performances shook the walls. The powerful hardcore and hip-hop duo Prison Religion made everyone sweat and scream with enthusiasm.
    Friday started in Hangar North, a beautiful area with an arched concrete ceiling, located on Macao's last floor. There, Scardanelli's 72-hour performance and installation, realised in collaboration with the French artist Alix Gevers, took place in the middle of a jungle of hanging tubes and big pillows. People lay down with no shoes, diving into an odd world of sounds and projected YouTube videos. "Don't think, let yourself go, feel the fat and your whole body," said Maldita GeniThalia, who was coordinating a twerking workshop in Caffè Letterario. Desculonizaciòn is a Latin American trans-feminist platform that uses twerking to emancipate "the mistreated hole that centres intersections of gender, power and race." Without a second thought, I went for it. Sweaty but full of energy, I later wandered among performances from Gaël Segalen, Morgiana Hz and the IDM duo D'Arcangelo. I ended the night moshing to the explosive dub, vocals and industrial tones of Kinlaw and Franco Franco, before Ossia and Bokeh Edwards closed. Saturnalia hit its peak on Saturday. Every space you entered featured a one-of-a-kind performance. All plans to see this or that vanished as I followed the flow of people moving from one place to the other. The party began at sunset with the Milan-based duo of Piezo and Bidimensional Gangsta MC, a bewildering combination of bass and fleeting glitches flavoured with the MC's processed vocals. Shortly before midnight, Lorem mesmerised the audience with an edgy audiovisual show that combined AI with celestial minimalism and rugged basslines that sounded on the verge of seizure. While Hall was still filled with the sound of claps and howls, a dancer in white glossy shorts with a flower on his back started moving onstage. It took me a moment to realise it was XXYZZY, the new collaboration between Mark Fell and Justin Kennedy, which premiered at Saturnalia. The dancer wandered around the room as if inhabited by a wild alien spirit. Everyone, hypnotised, followed him with bated breath.
    After midnight, Macao was on fire. The choice of music was rich and diverse, from LOFT's breaks and jungle and Duke & MCZO's singeli to Inner Lakes and Cosimo Damiano's ravey back-to-back. In no time, the sun was peeking out and Tolouse Low Trax was standing elegantly over the decks in Garden, dishing out a soothing yet groovy closing set. At around 9 AM, wrapped in a dreamy haze, the young duo Keitele hypnotised a seated audience in Hall, weaving together clarinet, trumpet and voice. Still vibrating yet totally satisfied, I left Macao. In these insecure times, in which our right to live on a healthy planet and be who we want are constantly under threat, festivals like Saturnalia are crucial. They create and expound positive cultural values. Now more than ever, it's our duty to takes these lessons and experiences and apply them to our daily lives. If Saturnalia is a story with an open ending, then we, the participants, are the ones who must keep the story alive. Photo credits / Sasha Stavnichuk - Lead, Temple, Duke & MCZO Giovanni Bozzoli - Tolouse Low Trax Alessio Costantino - John Wiese