Things The Quietus Learned At Turin's Club To Club Festival
, November 16th, 2012 04:52
Last week tQ's Rory Gibb flew to Turin, Italy, for the twelfth edition of the city's annual Club To Club festival, and encountered leather-clad bondage cherubs, high-powered gin cocktails and even higher powered dancefloors. He recounts some of the things he learned...
Jeff Mills in a seated venue is even more punishing than in a club
Detroit minimal techno veteran Jeff Mills is in Turin for a pair of performances - a live show on Thursday night to open the festival, and a three hour club set on Friday in a glass ceilinged greenhouse of a venue called the Chalet. Somewhat perversely, his Thursday performance, with accompanying visuals by Claudio Sinatti, is by far the more grueling experience.
The venue, Teatro Carignano, is an ornate theatre/opera house, and we're seated in a red velvet-lined audience box while Mills delves ever-deeper and harder for a set that lasts over two hours. It's incredibly pure musically: each track starts with a microscopic melodic sliver, a slight glimmer of an idea that, accompanied by the steady kick-hat-snare alternations of a 909, gradually rises into the foreground and is examined from all angles. At the end of each track, the motif recedes into the distance and Mills pulls everything away almost to silence, before building again anew. That method is matched by the visuals, which depict a hyperreal CGI universe of geometric shapes and fractal patterns that tessellate and disengage according to some enigmatic laws of physics. It's astonishing to witness but exhaustingly intense, and after the 90 minute mark becomes oppressive - I'm seated to music that's meant to be danced to, denied the ability to physically express the impulses that are screaming through my nerves and erupting at the surface as jittery energy.
The following night, Mills' DJ set arrives after a live set of graceful and intricately detailed, but utterly brutal, techno from Regis that's sadly cut short - I could have danced for hours more than the 45 minutes it lasts. Mills' set this evening is much the same in terms of intensity and purity, but his audience is freed to dissipate the tension through wildly flailing dance moves.
Jeff Mills & Claudio Sinatti, Thursday
Turin would be a lovely place for a holiday
Turin, it turns out, is a particularly enjoyable place to spend a few days. Within a short drive of the base of the Alps, from the spacious city centre squares you can spot the mountains looming, beautiful and snow capped, in the distance. The architecture is a mix of old and new, in that distinctly European sort of way, and tucked within the city's plazas and gridded streets are a multitude of bars and restaurants offering Italian food (some bad, some delicious), local speciality ice cream and obscenely strong drinks. In fact, as we learn to our semi-downfall on Friday evening, spirits are free-poured into glasses with a gusto and generosity that makes British bar measures look positively Scroogeian by comparison. Club To Club's venues are dotted around the city: an art gallery that serves as a base of operations and hosts performances from local artists as well as international figures like Kuedo and Vessel; a plush theatre; purpose-built club spaces; factories; a scattering of bars. They encourage punters to move from place to place, and in between performances there's ample time to meander.
A former car factory floor makes for an apocalyptic location for a rave
Lingotto Fiere, the venue for Saturday night's rave - the culmination of two days' worth of partying - is huge. Almost implausibly so; it immediately raises the question of how on earth the festival will manage to fill a space that must fit at least 10,000 people. An old FIAT car factory floor in an industrial section of town, it's essentially a huge rectangular box containing a massive stage, and as we arrive, the sound of Nina Kraviz's live performance billows away into near-empty space.
But fill it they do. As evening draws onward, the venue starts to accrue a certain Mad Max sort of atmosphere. Ravers in sunglasses and neon-tinted clothing mill around bars. Glowing orange foam rods (handed out near the entrance) are waved around with violent abandon. The ground is scattered with small seated groups, hunched around each other as if gathering near campfires for warmth. Somewhere in the distance, Scuba is pumping out a muddy mix of scooped techno and bassy UK house. Fast forward later still and, appropriately given his resident status at one of dance music's most worshipped caverns, Marcel Dettmann does an admirable job of stripping away the space's alienating properties. Playing to its size with a set of jacking, depth-charged techno, the German cuts a tiny (albeit just as statuesque as ever) figure on a stage that seems miles away, but manages to draw a crowd of thousands into sweaty, messy communion.
How do you balance the need for funds with the desire to retain your own identity?
Over the last few years, the electronic music world has become heavily bound to Red Bull via the Red Bull Music Academy, which hosts stages and events, archives lectures and mixes online, and provides funding and resources for budding electronic musicians from around the globe. The debate around the relative positives and negatives of such close and heavily branded involvement with any large company (especially one that makes such brutally unhealthy caffeinated drinks) is far too long and convoluted to get into here, so I won't. But it's worth raising a wider question, in a year when Theo Parrish DJed next to a glowing 'RBMA Radio On Air' sign at Krakow's Unsound Festival and Club To Club is heavily decorated with Red Bull regalia. How does an event like Club To Club, which in order to operate no doubt needs the financial and promotional support that involvement with international companies can provide, manage their association with brands in order that they retain a strong sense of personal identity?
At times this weekend there's a very strong corporate presence: the festival's full name of 'Club To Club Alfa Romeo MiTo'; the generally aggressive feel of Red Bull's branding. It doesn't particularly impair enjoyment of the festival - I've no doubt it's a necessary evil for it to be able to run at all - but it's an important wider discussion point to raise, and one for which there is no straightforward answer.
Scott Walker and gin & tonic makes for a heavenly plane journey
At the risk of being a hypocrite and falling into the trap I've just set up for myself, I'd like to take this opportunity to big up another internationally operating company, British Airways, for the complementary (appreciably strong) G&Ts served on journeys both there and back. Combine with Scott 3 and a glorious view of the Alps at sunset as the plane nears Turin, and you've got a foolproof recipe for pleasurable air travel.
John Talabot: master time-twister
Barcelona's John Talabot made one of this year's most straight-up enjoyable dance records in fIN, but one understated enough that its existence had practically slipped my mind until Saturday night's live show. It proves to be one of the festival's highlights, and zooms in on exactly what makes his music so appealing: its deceptively slow speed. His tracks - performed tonight with both Talabot and an accomplice providing live vocals - pack so much kinetic energy in the rhythm section that they drag the crowd along at a pace that feels much higher in tempo than it actually is. 'When The Past Is Present' in particular carries itself with all the pumping sexual energy of disco, despite the glassy minor key chords that wrap solemnly around its slender frame.
Superfluous micro-genre names hold too much sway in the modern musical world
"Evian Christ," I overhear a festival attendee say after the latter's art gallery performance on Thursday evening. "He makes witch house, but witch house that doesn't really sound like witch house. It sounds more like hip-hop."
Given that there's nothing remotely witch house about Evian Christ - or the music of Vessel, who plays immediately afterward and whom I've heard described as the same genre recently - Tri Angle Records hasn't quite managed to escape that particularly silly stigma yet, despite laudable recent efforts. One hopes the Haxan Cloak's forthcoming new album might help solve proceedings, but it'll no doubt be a dark and unsettling listen, this might be an association that runs and runs.
There's no better cure for a hangover than a Bloody Mary and deep house on the headphones
Sunday dawns with a sense of impending doom, the combined consequence of liberal free-pouring of spirits, the image of Nina Kraviz's bondage baby still burned onto our retinas and a hotel room afterparty. Oh, and a missed buffet breakfast. For shame.
Still, the festival's Sunday brunch session proves to be a powerful soothing agent. They've booked a host of Italian artists, who've been selected as part of the PiemonteGroove Young Talent programme, to DJ in a pair of local bars while attendees consume sandwiches and emergency cocktails. The twist? It's a silent disco, so the bar - full of couches, old hardwood surfaces and clutter - operates on two separate levels, depending on whether you happen to be wearing a pair of headphones or not. We settle down with a Bloody Mary (less strong than the vicious G&Ts the night before, mercifully, though still crafted with love) to listen to our ever-helpful press liaison Alessandro Bevilacqua spin a set of smooth and melodic deep house that stretches from Omar-S's Supremes-sampling 'Day' and Moodymann to Henrik Schwarz's slinky remix of Bill Withers. About the most appropriate style of music for our current predicament, and a powerful tonic.
A new Burial album may well be imminent
Like at London's Koko in July, the 'surprise set' opening Friday night's Hyperdub showcase proves to be Kode9 Presents The Music Of Burial. However, unlike the London set, which mixed newer material with older tracks, this evening's 30 minutes or so consist entirely of brand new music. Their general feel is akin to the three tracks released on this year's Kindred EP: synths bruised deep blue, rhythms that click in and out of four-to-the-floor, those trademark flickering voices, percussion swung almost to the point of disarray but never quite losing control.
There sounds like an album's worth of material here which - I'm speculating here - suggests that we may well finally hear his follow-up to Untrue at some point in 2013. Sadly, I have my doubts that tonight's set closer, the lost dub known as 'Lambeth' that Kode9 has been playing in his sets for several years, will feature. It's darker, harder and more spacious than the newer material, save the lonely sonar pings that bound and ripple across its surface, and far more in line with Burial's self-titled debut than anything he's touched since Untrue.
A Londoner's perspective may be a distorted one
It feels appropriate to end this review with a little note regarding the perspective that residents of London - and, I suspect, a few other major European dance culture centres like Berlin - might have on a festival like Club To Club, compared to listeners coming from elsewhere. After all, any electronic musician attracting a reasonable quantity of attention is likely to play in London over the course of a European tour. So any given weekend you'd likely to be able to see at least a few artists from this year's Club To Club line-up playing at venues across the British capital. Which inevitably results in a London resident having a different perspective on the festival than, say, an attendee from northern Italy or elsewhere in Europe who has fewer opportunities to see its artists.
Was this a problem, given that I'd flown over from London? For the most part, no - Club To Club seems roundly successful at what it does. From this perspective, it offers a taste of the city's dance music culture which, given the size of the crowds the festival attracts and tales from some of the festival's friends and organisers, seems both busy and healthy. The scattering of special performances - Jeff Mills' Thursday night punishment, for example - and the opportunity to wander around Turin between parties serve to sweeten the deal. And the festival's geographically extended tenure - they ran preview events in London, Turin and Milan in the months running up to this weekend - is aimed at fostering a sense of continuity that stretches beyond the borders of Turin, and reaches out towards the international electronic music community as a whole.
Photos by Andrea Macchia & Matteo Bosonetto