EDM festivals have been a big part of the genre's growth in the States. But just as a variety of local and regional festivals have emerged to address such topics as music, tech and creativity, so have a variety of electronic music festivals appeared to feature a fuller range of music and experimental performances. VIA talent booker Matthew McDermott discusses two that are designed to counteract the increasing dominance of "Monster Energy drink for the ears" and matching subcultures.
In a recent article for Thump, Matthew McDermott discusses alternative electronic music festivals with a focus on Vancouver's New Forms Festival and Unsound which occurs in London and Krakow this year.
Unfortunately McDermott doesn't fill us in on VIA Festival, taking place in Pittsburgh through Sunday, with which he's involved. It's similar in some respects to a variety of newer festivals that mix creative arts and tech with related topics like entrepreneurship such as Decibel Festival and MoSoFEST or Weapons of Mass Creation and the Northside Festival.
McDermott considers festivals like VIA to provide an important alternative to big money EDM events that feature what Simon Reynolds terms "Monster energy drink for the ears."
New Forms Festival
New Forms Festival took place in Vancouver in early September. The 13-year-old event predates the EDM boom and like many alternative electronic festivals connects to traditions of experimental music that go back many years.
New Forms Festival founder Malcolm Levy notes that the growth of EDM has helped bring attention to other forms of electronic music and states:
"You see so many different movements and cross-pollination happening within electronic music. People who five to ten years ago wouldn't be interested in the kind of electronic music we're curating are very interested now."
Unsound is a somewhat mobile event, having just taken place in London with a follow-up coming in Krakow, which McDermott notes has also occurred in New York, Adelaide, Prague, Warsaw, Bratslava, Kiev and Minsk.
While other festivals may push things with their programming, Unsound makes the festival itself a thematic part of the art:
"This year, Unsound's theme is 'interference,' and the festival mandates a 'community-enforced' ban on phones and cameras. As founder Mat Schulz puts it, the ban will help the audience 'explore this question of whether stimulating fewer senses can sometimes lead to deep engagement.'"
"Ambient musician Robert Rich will also present a 7-hour sleep concert—a special event where audiences curl up in sleeping bags, doze off to music designed to influence their REM sleep cycles... and wake up to tea served by Rich himself."
It's a rather different take on electronic music and performance than the Rave-inspired contemporary EDM scene.
Schulz does not present Unsound as an underground event:
"There's a distinction to be made between Unsound and commercial festivals...But I don't know if there is any truly 'underground' music festival. If there is, it probably only has ten people at it."
Yet he's still not booking EDM acts:
"Invite one EDM artist to the party, next thing you know you might have all of them!...It can start to dilute the original idea of a festival...to make it lose its character."
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Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at Flux Research and Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.