With Unsound Adelaide, the city of churches is the Australian home to one of the most exhilarating and progressive global experimental music festivals. Unsound Director Mat Schulz guides us through this year’s festival and explains how it differs from other Unsound events in Krakow, London and New York.
With Unsound Adelaide, the city of churches is the Australian home to one of the most exhilarating and progressive global experimental music festivals. Unsound Director Mat Schulz guides us through this year’s festival and explains how it differs from other Unsound events in Krakow, London and New York. Starting in Krakow as a DIY experimental electronic music festival in 2003, Unsound is now a global series of festivals with events in New York and Adelaide, as well as Krakow. Unsound events are where art rules supreme and the curated festivals have reached a global audience who trust the programmers to present challenging, engaging and entertaining programs, which range from techno to ambience to noise to bass-heavy club to post-classical. Schulz, an Australian living in Poland, is Unsound’s Director and along with the Adelaide Festival of Art’s Artistic Director David Sefton, co-curates the annual Unsound Adelaide, which returns as part of the Adelaide Festival over three nights in March. Schulz spoke to the Adelaide Review from a cafe in Krakow about this year’s program, which includes the first Unsound and Adelaide Festival co-commission – Atom TM and Robin Fox’s Double Vision – as well as a stellar line-up of artists that includes Fushitsusha, The Bug, Model 500 and Shackleton. Schulz on last year’s Unsound in Krakow, held in October. “It was the biggest Unsound yet – we sold out the passes in three hours. Internationally – 60 percent of the people came from other countries and 40 percent were Polish, in terms of people buying passes. It is very much an international atmosphere in terms of the audience. In a sense, because the passes and the tickets sell out so quickly, it gives us a lot of freedom to program in an interesting way. I think people come to Unsound, not so much to see headliners that they know, but to hear a lot of artists that they don’t know. That puts us in a great position, programming wise, because it gives us a lot of freedom to take risks because people have a certain amount of trust in the program.” Does Schulz believe Unsound has that same level of trust from its audiences in Adelaide and New York? “Unsound has a certain name and there is a certain level of trust in the programming but, at the same time, when we produce an event in a different city there’s always a local context and that’s taken in mind when we’re programming. For example, producing and programming Unsound in Australia is very different to Krakow because Krakow’s in the middle of Europe, so we have artists that come here and to Europe more often then they get to Australia because it’s so far away. It’s harder to get artists [to Australia], especially artists coming from the more experimental music scenes. “Programming in Australia is a mix of trying to think in those terms – of putting new artists into the program – but also thinking about which artists haven’t been to Australia, or should return to Australia, and how they might be interesting. It’s very specific because I think having all those artists together in one place for a festival in Australia doesn’t happen so often. “New York is another situation because people are constantly playing there. One of the aims of the New York festival is to promote artists from Poland and Central and Eastern Europe who don’t normally get to play there. They grab a lot of them alongside some better-known artists to create a festival program that is pretty unique. Each place has a different aim, I suppose, which is defined by the context.” Schulz on how he and David Sefton co-curate Unsound Adelaide. “Every year we have curated it together – it’s great. It’s us going back and forth. It’s not me saying it should be this artist, this artist and this artist. David knows this kind of music and he really loves this kind of music, which is quite unique for someone running this kind of arts festival, I think. And it makes it really enjoyable and fruitful to work with, for me, because it’s not just me coming to an arts festival and saying, ‘We should do this, there you go’. It really is a collaboration between David and me in terms of thinking about which artists [should come]. It’s completely co-curated basically.” The origins of Unsound Adelaide. “It was really via David. Basically the original contact with David was via the Solaris project (Ben Frost, Daniel Bjarnason and Brian Eno) that we co-commissioned, and I wanted to bring it to Australia. He [Sefton] was the person who wrote back to my emails [laughs]. He was already aware of Unsound via Unsound New York because he’d been working in the States. Straight away he said, ‘Let’s do something more than that, let’s present Unsound somehow at Adelaide Festival’. It was really David’s idea to put on a festival within the Festival, which I thought was great, especially because it’s Australia and I’m from Australia, so that made it extra appealing for me.” Originally Unsound Adelaide was to be a one-off event. “There wasn’t any talk of doing it more than one year. The original idea was a one-off but it went so well in terms of ticket sales, and then the response, it made sense for David and the Adelaide Festival, and from our side, to do it again. At a certain point it was obvious it would happen again. But I didn’t know it would happen a third time.” The roots of Double Vision (the first Adelaide Festival and Unsound co-commission) were planted at Unsound Adelaide. “The thing I’m most excited about in this program is the collaboration between Atom TM and Robin Fox [Double Vision], for different reasons. One, because it is a co-commission with Adelaide Festival, which is really interesting, and it also came out of the Adelaide Festival. Uwe [Atom TM] played Adelaide in 2013 before Severed Heads and the next night he saw Robin Fox’s laser show, which he loved. Uwe and I had talked about doing a collaboration with someone and Unsound commissioning a project. He basically said, ‘What about me doing something with Robin Fox?’ Then I asked David if he wanted to do it as a co-commission with Adelaide Festival, which he agreed to. Getting to that stage where you can co-commission something, for me, that’s the most interesting aspect of working with another festival. It involves a certain element of trust in the idea and the capacity of people to develop it properly. “The project’s amazing. It’s a mix of laser and video. It incorporates Uwe’s sound as well as Robin’s. It runs this whole spectrum from quite pop influenced music, there’s a Kraftwerk influence, to very noisy and experimental music. But, at the same time, it’s really entertaining. I think people are really going to like this show and the fact it came out of the collaboration between Adelaide Festival and Unsound is great. That’s probably the thing I’m most excited about in the program because I really like the project and the fact we developed it together. “I think it’s a radical and interesting model for an arts festival to connect with a festival like Unsound, which has come from a more DIY place originally, and to get to this point of a co-commission is really interesting.” Atom TM and Robin Fox Juan Atkins’ full Model 500 outfit will play Unsound Adelaide, including Mike Banks. “The whole four-piece band. Mike Banks [Underground Resistance, Model 500] is in it. It’s great. It’s a real show. They’re basically the Kraftwerk of Detroit – that’s the show, four guys on stage. That’s something else I’m really excited about. We had them play in Krakow a few years ago and I loved it. I really wanted to bring them to Adelaide. Juan Atkins [Model 500, and one of the originators of techno] is a legendary name obviously in club and electronic music. It’s a really good show. It’s not just Juan on stage, although he’s singing.” Schulz explains how the three Unsound Adelaide nights differ. “The first night is the more purely experimental night. We’ve got another legendary figure in Keiji Haino and Fushitsusha – they put on an incredible show. They play for a long time, it’s quite extreme and intense, but it’s a really good show. The second night has got this dub influence and the third one is the clubbier one. As you said, it intersects and touches upon club music (the program) but it still exists in this experimental space. I’m really keen to see how people respond to it after the first two.” Unsound Adelaide’s new home is Freemasons Hall. “That was David’s decision to move to a new space, which seems like a good one. The Queen’s Theatre is a great space and it worked well but I think there was a capacity issue and the noise really rattled the tin roof. I’m really keen to see how it goes in the new place. At the first Unsound I remember feeling quite amazed because no one from the Adelaide Festival had been to Unsound Krakow. So I was wondering how it would look, especially because it was part of an arts festival – are they going to do this properly? When I arrived everything was perfectly put together, not only in terms of the sound and the production, but the atmosphere and the way it felt. “The space [Queen’s Theatre] was an adapted space and we use adapted spaces in Krakow. Almost every venue we use is an adapted space, whether it’s a church or a synagogue, an abandoned hotel or a post-industrialist space. We go there and set it up and that’s a big part of the festival, the idea you go through all these spaces and amazing buildings and it creates a very specific atmosphere. It runs from these more stand-up events to sit down concerts with post-classical music, maybe in a philharmonic hall or something like that. With the first edition of Unsound Adelaide, it was amazing that the Adelaide Festival captured this atmosphere in terms of the intersection between the concerts and the spaces and the way the spaces were set up. It felt very much like an Unsound event, a very specific thing, which was amazing because no-one had been to Unsound from the Festival, but somehow they managed to do it.” Unsound Adelaide Freemasons Hall Thursday, March 12 to Saturday, March 14 adelaidefestival.com.au