Last weekend we attended Club 2 Club, the booming electronic music festival in Turin, Italy, which made a few things clear: there probably is a new Burial album coming, and artists like Scuba, Rustie, Kode9, Teengirl Fantasy, Actress, and Marcel Dettmann are gods.
Having been around for a decade, starting at the bottom and growing exponentially, Turin’s Club To Club festival is establishing itself as one of the dates to mark in red on your calendar of the circuit of European festivals. It’s hard not to resort to comparisons to define it. In general terms, if you think of combining a smaller-scale Sónar, a less conceptual Unsound, and an ADE with an arty flip side, you’ll come close to understanding the specificity of this big little event. It shares the same clash between the forces of intellectualisation in the afternoon sessions and raver exaltation at night as the Catalan festival does; like Unsound, it uses spaces that are not, in theory, related to advanced music, also making the city another agent in its artistic discourse; and like the Amsterdam event, it includes many of the city’s clubs in its programming.
That our points of reference are so clear doesn’t mean that C2C doesn’t have any particularities of its own, beyond the parallels above. One of the most outstanding elements, seen from the inside, is that it is an event primarily intended for an Italian audience; it’s no exaggeration to say that 90% of those present were locals. This probably explains the roster. Seen form the perspective of a big electronica capital, maybe it seems like a more distinctive personality is missing from the selection, but when you see the large number of debuts in Italy included, it’s not hard to imagine that for the people of Turin, this is one of the big moments of the year. In this sense, we have to appreciate the organisation’s work when it comes to cultivating a taste for quality electronica among Italians, who have responded to both more experimental groups and more accessible ones with open arms.
Afternoons at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo
The general headquarters of the festival was set up, alongside the centre of daytime activities, at the contemporary art foundation Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, a solid, fortress-like building located some 15 minutes from the city centre by car. Although this location wasn’t inconvenient for accredited members of the press, thanks to the attentions of the organisation, who facilitated journeys at all times, the fact that it was so far from the city centre did give one the feeling that this segment of the programme was aimed solely at the circles closest to the organisation of the festival. Journalists, local artists, and members of the Turin music scene mixed in an intimate, familiar setting that was totally removed from night-time hustle and bustle and the general public. This isn’t exactly bad, but it could work against the more dynamic, integrating idea of the daytime events.
With local DJs warming up the area of the hall and the bar, the performances themselves were held in a small auditorium and a hall called The Cube which (surprise), was shaped like a cube. The starting gun was fired by young Evian Christ. Armed with an Octatrack sampler and an MPC, the Tri Angle artist offered a short, intense set (it lasted less than half an hour) that left one with mixed feelings. The approach of the live show is attractive, especially because the rhythms are played live, like AraabMuzik, but by the third song, it got a bit repetitive and formulaic. The real problem with Evian Christ’s music, nevertheless, is conceptual. Although in a strictly musical sense his blend of witch house and crunk may be attractive, it’s hard not to arch your eyebrow when you see a shy Liverpool post-adolescent appropriating dirty south a cappellas and articulating his discourse using the words of Gucci Mane. His visuals call on the same references, combining footage of hip hop videos with abstract, kaleidoscopic textures and trippy tendencies.
Vessel ’s live show at The Cube, on the other hand, brooked no argument. With only a laptop and a controller, Seb Gainsborough filled the room with the same bewitching forces that move his phenomenal “Order Of Noise”. Always dense and deep, his set shifted between ghostly dub, dispersed, stabbing beats, and what bordered on techno, whether from an unhurried, submerged perspective or with sharper textures, embracing metallic reverberations. In any case, a highly immersive experience that became the first great moment of the festival.
Friday at the Fondazione started out with one of those little luxuries that events like this one allow us. At the first of our three dates with him that day, Kode 9 offered a listening session presented by Italian artist Painé Cuadrelli, in which he laid out the genealogy of his musical influences. Having proven himself to be an omnivorous devourer of music, there were few forays into the dub spectrum and plenty of variety. We heard everything from post-punk to mainstream rap, including Jan Jelinek and jungle classics like Lemon D’s “This Is Los Angeles”. Beyond the listening, the most interesting part came when Steve Goodman explained how different elements of the music that he was playing had influenced both his productions and the Hyperdub sound. So we found out firsthand that he thinks that without albums like Jan Jelinek’s “Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records” or Pole’s “3”, Burial probably wouldn’t exist (there was also the more obvious reference to Todd Edwards), and also that he loves Timbalake’s asymmetrical, fluctuating rhythms, and that the 8-Bit-aesthetic synthesizers used in grime were one of the main foundations of Hyperdub. A privilege and a declaration of love for music, it also proved that Goodman is an excellent communicator as well as a great selector.
After Kode 9’s talk, we attended two performances that were both challenging, but with diametrically opposed results. Italian Lorenzo Senni focused on endless repetitions of trance arpeggios that he modulated (minimally) with a Roland synthesizer controlled by computer, which, far from being hypnotic, actually brought about a profound state of boredom. The fact that the note progressions were so simple and the sound aesthetic was so close to gabber didn’t help, either. Roc Jiménez from Cisneros, alias EVOL, on the other hand, was convincing, with a live show that was equally challenging, but much more substantial. Sitting on the floor with his back to the audience, the Barcelona artist offered a shot of noise in which the way that he modulated the sound with the text editor of his computer really caught your attention.
Techno in the theatre; Jeff Mills & Claudio Sinatti: Event Horizon
On Thursday, the official opening of the festival came with Jeff Mills’ performance in the lovely Teatro Carignano. An air of expectancy on the way in, a red carpet, and even the presence of the mayor of the city provided all of the ingredients for a gala night; not in vain was it the world debut of the Event Horizon show that Mills shares with Italian artist Claudio Sinatti. Inside the theatre the stars were face to face, Jeff Mills armed with his trusty 909 and two modules, while Sinatti had five iPads that he was using to control the live visuals. The show was like a dialogue between the two artistic expressions. The Detroit musician built raw rhythms and minimalist sequences with extraterrestrial tones, and Sinatti wrapped them in geometric shapes that mutated as they went along and particles of white light that danced to the tune of the music. While the visuals started out being very minimalistic and expanded as the set went on, Mills’ musical discourse ended up going a little flat. The first part of the experience worked, but because the set lasted too long and the sound palette was limited, it ended up getting a bit tedious. In short: it lasted two hours, and one would probably have been enough. Maybe in another, more involving context, a dark club with bigger screens, for example, this part would have gone better, but the solemnity of the context kept one from getting carried away. Even so, there were some people who started dancing in the boxes or who cheered the rhythm sections and clapped along like exalted clubbers. This enthusiasm waned as time went by, though, confirming the idea that a shorter duration would have benefitted everyone.
The clubber factor
Beyond experimentation and special events, the hard core of the programming was spread out over the nights at different clubs around the city. Thursday, after keeping their cool during Jeff Mills’ performance, the desire to party was in the air, and this was confirmed by the queue that formed in front of the club Lapsus, barely 50 metres from Teatro Carignano. When we got in, we found that Lone’s performance had already started, with a sound that left much to be desired. At first we thought it might be the hall’s sound system, but later it turned out that the problem was Lone’s. For some reason, the Brit pushed the levels of his laptop too much, causing an effect that was totally the opposite of that desired: low volume, exaggerated distortion, and no pressure on the bass. Beyond this important technical setback, his live show wasn’t too convincing in a strictly formal sense, either. It seemed more like a DJ set with his productions via Ableton Live than a live set, with the added drawback that the transitions between tracks weren’t entirely fluid, either. His music is great, there is no doubt, but he needs to work on his staging.
Teengirl Fantasy, on the other hand, were the stars of what was probably the best musical moment of the day. Right off the bat, they showed up the previous act; their sound was clear, powerful, and solid. This alone changed the atmosphere of the room, and the audience was able to really get into the duo’s exuberant sound. But beyond their evocative compositions, this time less twisted and more aimed at the dance floor, if there is one word that describes the band’s live show, it is freedom. There aren’t any computers, there’s nothing pre-recorded, everything that you hear is happening right at the moment. This makes it seem like it’s all about to come crashing down at times, but Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss always end up getting back on track. And if these chaotic moments are the price to pay for the intensity and liveliness that the show transmits, they are welcome.
The peak of the clubber section of the programming was the Hyperdub night at Hiroshima Mon Amour. After warm-ups with local DJs, Kode 9 showed up in the booth in the main room at about 11:30 pm, and he confirmed what we had already guessed: the surprise performance was a session of the head of Hyperdub playing only Burial songs. Unlike at other times, this time the set was entirely dominated by unreleased productions, which led us to a conclusion that filled us with happiness: it’s more than likely that Will Bevan’s new album is right around the corner. Acoustically, the tracks sounded close to “Kindred EP”; Burial’s classic, but reinforced with fatter beats and even deeper, more obscurantist atmospheres, with his inimitable vocal modulations making your hair stand on end. It was half an hour of glory.
After that, the Jam City set sounded somewhat out of place. It wasn't Jack Latham's fault, who proved to be more than able behind the decks, but with the room still only half full and the audience catatonic after the emotional catharsis of Kode 9's set, his raw, percussive house didn't really stick. Add to that the fact that Actress was about to start in the other room, and the choice was easily made. Darren Cunningham started out a little hesitantly due to technical problems, but we soon realised what was coming. Of all the sets yours truly has witnessed by the man, this was by far the most intense and straightforward. The Londoner turned the tiny room into a pressure cooker full of obsessive, evil techno, with lumpy textures that seemed to stain your shirt, and abrasive flashes that culminated in unexpected general disorder. The temperature rose, and the only one who seemed unaffected was Actress himself, who surprisingly enough kept his jacket, shawl and Detroit Tigers cap on.
Back to the main room, where Laurel Halo decided to do a highly hypnotic set that shifted back and forth between weightless moments and nebulous techno with rattling rhythms. Maybe the small room would have been a better place for it, but Halo passed the test summa cum laude, especially the final part, in which she mixed dub moods with jungle rhythms, in a captivating last track. On the other hand, Disclosure's set should have taken place in the big room. Because besides their sound, their live setup literally didn't fit on the stage, so they had to do a DJ set instead of a live show. Their set was nothing out of this world: new-school garage house with solid rhythms, plenty of vocals and euphoric climaxes. The people loved it, of course.
While the night was drawing to its end and the club was reaching boiling point, DVA appeared with a Vietnamese hat and futuristic glasses for a set full of bangers, accompanied by Mortal Kombat visuals. Focusing mainly on UK funky and taking some sidesteps to UK bass, his set was a bit populist, but, to be honest, he was one of the few to keep the audience moving at all times. The final part of the night was Kode 9's third appearance, this time for a proper DJ set. Goodman started with a lot of grime, then slowly introduced hip-hop, footwork, garage house, dubstep and jungle, all masterfully mixed, as usual. He probably expanded the sound palette even more, but we had to listen to our tired feet, who said “take us home, please”.
Final Judgement rave; Grand Finale at Lingotto Fiere
The grand finale on Saturday took place at the Lingotto fairgrounds, with a huge main stage (much like the big Sónar by Night stages) and a smaller, cosier room. Shortly after we got in, Nina Kraviz appeared onstage with a rather puzzling live set. In short: it was as if she were boycotting herself. Because while the producer has been earning the respect of the underground house scene with her productions for labels like Underground Quality and Rekids, alongside her stimulating DJ sets, she threw all that overboard by presenting herself like some kind of would-be sexy pop star. Wearing a nightgown and mask, she sang over some pre-recorded music while striking one unfortunate pose after the other, and executing some rather embarrassing dance moves. The useless dancers by her side didn't help, either, nor did the obese man in his SM suit. Very disappointing, not only because it didn't do her obvious talent justice, but also because it went against everything she has achieved as a woman in dance music.
In the Sala Rossa, which ended up triumphing over the main venue on all levels, John Talabot proved that his live set is growing more solid every day. The Barcelona producer and his Madrid pal Pional have been touring for the past few months, and they've grown on stage, as has their sound. They played several tracks from “ƒIN”, and also some new productions, like “I'll Be Watching You”, in which their increasingly confident vocals stood out. The last hurrah was a mix of “Sunshine” and his remix of Teengirl Fantasy's “Cheaters”, which, connected by a bubbling arpeggio, sounded exultant. It also became clear that the show is increasingly working as a pop thing, which will undoubtedly take Talabot to a wider audience in the near future.
Meanwhile, in the main room Apparat adapted to the circumstances and offered a noisy techno set with little room for nuance. Because the venue was filled to the brim at that time of night, both he and Scuba were forced to offer their most expansive side. The Englishman did a perfect job of it, playing rocking and jacking tracks, including his new Hotflush single. But if anyone feels at home in a setting like this, it's Marcel Dettman. The German is adept at introducing subtlety into a banging set, and he once again offered a lesson in how to slowly hypnotise the masses. The music he plays is tough, no doubt, but the way he constructs his set layer by layer makes it a much more intoxicating affair than you might think if you see the tracklist.
It wasn't the best context to see James Holden in, so after witnessing part of Dettman's set we fled to the Sala Rossa until the end. There, Rustie offered his usual discharge of booming bass lines and ultra-fragmented structures, much to the delight of a jumping crowd, especially the first rows. To me personally his music sounds rather annoying and histrionic, but you can't deny his set was one of the wildest moments of the festival. After that outburst of adrenaline, Ital's noisy live show was too hard to digest. His music isn't meant to dance to (at least, when it comes to the structures), and the excess noise ended up blowing up a show that in a different context would have been much more attractive; for instance, his set last September with Mi Ami at BeCool in Barcelona didn't sound too different, but there it was much more enjoyable.
The choice for Shackleton to finish the night seemed risky, but it worked wonderfully well. Although the Brit's rhythms are very intricate, and often even lack a proper beat, his nervous sequences have a hypnotising effect that kept the crowd in a trance throughout his set. Basically, it was like being part of some tribal ritual with an electronic machine instead of traditional percussive instruments. It was a refreshing way to end a festival, with an experience that was cerebral rather then corporeal; the crowning glory of the magnificent work done by the event programmers.