Once a noisey, experimental Trojan horse planted within the hallowed Adelaide Festival, Unsound Adelaide returns for its sixth iteration as an institution all of its own.
“One of the great things about Unsound is that every year we’re able to go out and pull together basically the most interesting music in the world at that moment,” David Sefton says straight off the bat. It’s quite a statement, but after six years in Adelaide that’s kind of Sefton’s niche. Who else would lure the frequently deafening Polish experimental music festival to set up its own chapter in Adelaide and then make it stick?
Entering its second year outside the safety net of Sefton’s former employer, Unsound Adelaide returns this December with another signature mix of cult legends and innovators just emerging from the international underground.
“What I find extraordinary is a lot of artists will make commitments just to come here, [and] that’s got a lot to do with Unsound’s reputation,” Sefton explains. “This phenomenal history in Poland of breaking all these amazing artists, which we are now a part of as we go into our sixth edition in Adelaide. It’s literally all over the planet – Krakow is the longest, but Adelaide is the only one that’s gone to six, so we’re now second!”
Established acts like US electronic duo and regular Björk collaborators Matmos might be major draws, but it’s Unsound’s reputation for new, revelatory discoveries, like Queens artist Eartheater or enigmatic producer Yves Tumour on this year’s lineup, that sets it apart. This year, Australian Lucas Abela’s planned performance – creating sound through a sheet of amplified glass held to his face – promises to push the festival’s pursuit of the bleeding edge to its most literal interpretation.
“It’s so great being able to say that you can come and experience stuff that you can definitely say you’ve never seen before and almost certainly will never see the likes of again. It’s really [an] opportunity to explore and discover,” Sefton says. “I probably say this every year, but in terms of really tapping into a kind of Zeitgeist-y moment, this year feels like one of our strongest lineups.”
It’s this central promise, combined with the advantage of four years to bed down the concept in the minds of audiences that has created a loyal following around the country, with Unsound Adelaide now rating among those few pilgrimage festivals that a certain breed of music fan will shape their calendar around. “I feel like there’s a very strong local audience, but there’s no question that there’s a national audience now who get it, and will get on a plane or drive a very long way for it.”
Such interlopers – an estimated third of Unsound’s 2017 audience according to Sefton – are also advantaged by nudging the festival outside Adelaide’s famously crowded February-March festival season. “I joke about hotels for us and our artists, but they’re also cheaper for people who come from interstate,” Sefton laughs. “It’s a much more viable proposition to come to Adelaide when it’s not February or March!”
There is of course some value in continuity, and in 2018 Unsound will echo its first Adelaide iteration in two key ways: a return to its original venue Queen’s Theatre, and luring Iceland-based Australian artist Ben Frost back home for a rare performance of new work. “We never left by choice, we left because they started building a block of flats basically in the courtyard of the old Queen’s!” Sefton explains. “And Unsound is… definitely of a volume.” With construction halted indefinitely, the time was right to return to mainland Australia’s oldest theatre. “Personally I feel they should leave it as it is deliberately as a piece of public art, just call it ‘the failure of capitalism’. It was always our favourite site, it’s got that raw industrial feel to it, you can make it sound great in there.”
As for Frost? “It’s fantastic. Having played the first Adelaide and not been back since, it’s brilliant to have him headline the Saturday – and also to be doing this brand new audio visual show with MFO,” he says. “There’s a little bit of history, he’s the only repeat in there but it’s a good one to do. I feel like if you look at that first one, we had Ben Frost and Tim Hecker and Oneohtrix Point Never… it’s only been six years but it was a pretty stonking lineup!
“Frankly, the Unsound tradition is that you’ll look at this one in a couple of years and go ‘I can’t believe they managed to get Lanark Artefax and Yves Tumour’. That’s what happens with Unsound – give it a couple of years and we won’t be able to afford any of the people you’ll see this year.”
Friday December 14 – Sunday December 16