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Review: Unsound Adelaide

Music

The Unsound Adelaide 2017 festival of electronic and experimental music was a ‘subversive cultural communique’ reaching out across the city over the weekend, writes reviewer Dominic J Clarke.

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Unsound’s return to Adelaide as a stand-alone event on the weekend saw it branch out across several venues, incorporating sound installations at the Botanic Garden, club sessions at Fowler’s Live and talks at Uni SA’s West Bar, in addition to live performances at Thebarton Theatre.

An Adelaide Unsounder could stroll beneath a tropical canopy while being haunted by distant arctic sea mammal calls (Chris Watson’s Mare Balticum – Narva Wall Mix multi-channel installation work), experience Captain Beefheart-style double horn tactics from Psycho Jazzmen (Wolf Eyes, at the Thebby), then dance to slamming techno till 3am.

Thebarton Theatre’s live performances delivered many highlights over the weekend including Pharmakon (US), who paced and crawled through the crowd, screaming like the earthly avatar of Sekhmet the Lion-headed Goddess of war, to a sonic backdrop of rhythmically throbbing sub-bass.

Pharmakon at the Thebarton Theatre. Photo: Rob Sferco

Wolf Eyes (Detroit) turned the theatre into a wasteland. Heavy, buffalo skeleton-like lurching bass laid a foundation with flesh peeling off it in clarinet wails, all excavated by distorted cello winds. Their “ceremonial sunglasses” made them look like downtown LA tour guides leading the audience through The Beyond realm from the finale of the Lucio Fulci movie.

A Saturday highlight was Canadian opener Kara-Lis Coverdale. Heavenly vocals and urgent ambient surges were enclaved by casual bowel-searching bass notes, eclectically pursued by chimes and clinks of glockenspiel.

Holly Herndon’s performance with Mat Dryhurst and Colin Self was much anticipated and got a great response. I found it heady yet light with panning vocal samples reminiscent of the soundtrack to the Manga epic Akira. Self’s audience adventure charged the flowing neutrality of the set with humour and energy, upsetting the yin/yang balance and creating drama.

Senor Coconut’s Cha-Cha-Cha regurgitations of pop songs were a charmingly surreal end to the series of performances, but I think I was a bit spoiled for harder dance grooves. Senor Coconut founder Uwe Schmidt’s talk was an insightful and entertaining must-see.

The club nights at Fowlers Live were a sweet treat. Amnesia Scanner brought heavy fog and such violent red and green strobing lights as to induce pixelated vision. For 10 seconds at a time I was trapped inside the “Frogger” arcade game stationed in the front bar. Their jagged hooks crept through the blizzard. In the aftermath, I waded through the mist to a far corner only to be hounded by vicious pounding beats jolting through my body; I couldn’t feel my pulse over the vibration. I rose to meet the defibrillating funk of Bill Kouligas (PAN Records, GR/DE) and got lost in his groove hypnosis.

Errorsmith was a clear highlight, bringing the bouncy twisted bangers set everybody was thirsty for. Clothes came off and Serotonin sweated from the speaker cabinets and dripped from the walls. Friday’s set from Adelaide’s ClubSync  DJ’s was also a lot of fun.

Sometime in the early hours of Monday morning, as I coasted towards my deadline with a detectable low drone still rotating in my ears, Errorsmith’s “I’m interesting, cheerful and sociable” streamed from the internet like a dare of the hog that blitzed me, keeping me level as reflections of the festival washed up on the shore.

Unsound Adelaide 2017 was a customisable subversive cultural communique reaching out across the city. One could take the blue pill, sit in comfort at the back of the auditorium and be aurally and visually entertained or one could take the red pill and stand upfront, consenting to sonic rabbit-hole surgery by Vibranium nano-bots.

This world-class event remains connected to its DIY roots and is a recommended adventure.

Unsound Adelaide, which was originally a series of concerts during the Adelaide Festival from 2013-16, was presented as a stand-alone event over the weekend by Random Harvest/ David Sefton, Insite Arts, and Malgorzata Plysa and Mat Schulz, the Polish-Australian co-directors of the global Unsound organisation.

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