- Rarely has a festival theme matched up as well as it did with this year's Unsound Festival. Horror: The Pleasure of Fear and Unease, read the logo. And with Goblin, Lustmord and Ben Frost among your headlining acts, it was hard to argue. The festival came at it from all angles, whether it be sound—Shackleton, Demdike Stare—or simply name—Terror Danjah, Zombie Zombie. Perhaps responding to criticism of last year's vague "Systems" theme, nearly everything was locked into the darker vibe, something that seemed especially fitting for a festival held in Krakow near the end of October.
Photo credit: Seze Devres
Utilizing a variety of spaces around the city ala Mutek, Decibel or Club Transmediale, the organizers tailored artist to space excellently throughout. The duo of Wildbirds & Peacedrums came complete with a choir, and we're set in St. Katherine's Church. More dance-inclined artists were placed at Fabryka, a two-room warehouse-type venue. Many of the performers playing there were fixtures of the festival circuit at the moment: Actress, Shackleton and Mount Kimbie have become mainstays of underground-leaning events of late. And you understood immediately why when you saw the crowd's reactions to their sets, which each showcased the best of their sound.
More interesting, though, were the outliers that more obviously showcased the programmer's curatorial instincts. John Carpenter soundtrack collaborator Alan Howarth played twice, Italian prog/horror heroes Goblin plied their trade and Ben Frost, in concert with Daniel Bjarnason and Sinfonietta Cracovia, premiered a composition inspired by the book (and film adaptation of) Solaris. It didn't always work. Perhaps predictably, Goblin were exactly the aging prog rock group you hoped they wouldn't be. Music for Solaris, meanwhile, seemed to lack the tension of his best material. But there were also surprises as well: Lustmord's second live performance in nearly 30 years took full advantage of the massive soundsystem brought into the cinema at Kijow Centrum, Badawi's sparsely attended set sounded like Shackleton 2.0 and Terror Danjah filled in for Joy Orbison and smashed the place after an excellent hour from James Blake.
Photo credit: Anna Spysz
Taking into account the harsh reality of performance fees, venue compromises and last-minute hiccups, it was fascinating to watch a festival that seemed to have everything in place. A healthy balance of crowd-pleasing talent, art-for-art's sake and genuinely brave programming choices, Unsound is a festival worth attending because it's a festival like few others in the world—one that both entertains and educates.