zaterdag 16 januari 2010

State-X New Forms festival, The Hague, 11 and 12 december 2009 (day 1)

My impression of the stuff I saw at this year's State-X New Forms.

I could give an overall impression: some bad, some good, but I'll just go over all the artists I saw.

Unfortunately because I was invited to a cheese fondue I missed Merzbow. It would have been cool to have seen him live one time, but cheese is nice :).

So the first thing I saw was Stellar OM Source. This was a rather cute act; anyone that has 'OM' in their name automatically has my sympathy really. After a heartfelt synth-solo, miss Source basically gave us a lot of arpeggios. This, the old-fashioned Windows screensaver tracked squares in the background and her robe gave the whole thing a distinct 70ties feeling. So thumbs up. Maybe it would have gotten boring if the concert had lasted over 20 minutes. But it didn't. Like a few other times during the festival, there were some technical difficulties and the schedule was kept tightly.

Next I saw The Melvins. A legendary band, because as the program says, inspirerers of Nirvana as well as Tool, no less. Because I know some fans I have checked out some of their albums but I didn't like them because it's just too much songs. I don't like songs. The stuff I saw was rather experimental though so I liked it. These songs had all four band members singing and they were pretty epic. The Melvins have two drummers and so the sound was impressive. This was also because of the sound system Het Paard has. Severals times during the festival I got pretty overwhelmed by huge amounts of bass, against which my earplugs didn't stand a chance.

Then I saw Machinist & Mendel Kaelen. Without their pretentiousness they might have been bareble, now I couldn't stand them.

I think I saw Boom Boom du Terre next and I think I quite liked it. But I kinda forgotteted.

Then I saw a bit of Battles. I don't like them and never will.

Then my friend took me to see Helado Negro and Sandy Dillon. I went to State-X New Forms for experiment and I like loud music. My friend has a slightly more traditional taste (though not by average standards) and likes softer music. So these two acts were pretty good but just not really my cup of tea. Helado Negro was good, Latin and creative (with a loop pedal for instance). I think something went wrong with the monitoring though, so the artist couldn't hear himself sing and was out of key. Sandy Dillon plays blues and I don't care much about that. However she is intense, good and crazy, so I wasn't bored. Also she is very sincere: I was touched by how she seemed to slip back into reality when people started clapping after this balled she'd sung and played.

Then I saw a very great, new dubstep act: Loops Haunt. Everyone there seemed to enjoy him as much as I did, so he could become big. Big in dubstep that is, because I don't foresee dubstep becoming commercial any time soon (though elements of it are picked up by commercial acts). Loops Haunt's style is pretty sparse, with little melody, and techno-like. So in that sense he's like the popular act 2562 and T++. But Loops Haunt is also pretty experimental, a bit like Autechre I think, though still danceble, when you're enough of a creative dancer :).

My friend had left before Loops Haunt and I wanted to stick around until Gary Numan. Gary Numan was really why I had decided to go to the festival. Waiting for Gary was easy with Loops Haunt but I didn't like the next two acts I saw at all. Architect to me sounded like the least relevant or emotional IDM ever. Like the average IDM-act, then, really. Cakebuilder makes breakcore and is from Winnipeg, Canada. On quick listen before going to the festival I thought he even sounded like Venetian Snares, who's all that as well and favorite of mine. However the breaks and sounds were very simple and boring. I generally try not to focus on virtuosity, but in breakcore it's just part of the style.

The most horrible let-down ever was Gary Numan though. I had read on the festival's site that he would do a DJ-set. But then there's DJ-sets and DJ-sets. This was Gary Numan and a guy that looked like Tommy Lee playing Rammstein, Korn, Block Rocking Beats and Spitfire. Also a industrial version of Madonna's Justify my Love, which i like the original better of. Then a Nine Inch Nails I didn't know and then i left. Best thing was a small sample of something of Pretty Hate Machine over some industrial track.

Here's day 2.

State-X New Forms festival, The Hague, 11 and 12 december 2009 (day 2)

Here's day 1.
The second day the State-X New Forms Festival was combined with the Dag in de Branding Festival (Day at the Breakers Festival, I think that is in English). Like State-X New Forms, this festival focuses on avant garde music, but then more with a focus on classical music. But actually the programmed styles of music of the two festival really seemed to blur into each other. The idea of the schedule of Dag in de Branding is that it's like a regular, few days festival, only spread out over four separate days during the year. The combination with State-X now was nice because I got a classical festival for free and people that came for classical get contemporary music as well, if they're up for the adventure.
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So today my festival started in the afternoon at the theatre at Het Spui. I probably would have skipped this part to get enough sleep, but I'd made an arrangements with a friend who went because she'd seen and liked the first act, the Lunapark ensemble (this was yet another friend than the one from yesterday, because I’m popular). I did want to see Aphex Twin performed live some time though. Besides short pieces Lunapark, after the break, performed a minimal piece composed by David Lang, called 'Elevated Extended'. This piece basically were four chords played by the orchestra. These four chords did change but nonetheless 45 minutes of it was a long time. The old film footage shown in the background, collected by visual artist Matt Mullican, was great, added to the experience and made it more bearable. To get through the performance though I had to try and get into a meditative state, the obtainment of which I indeed think is an objective of this kind of minimal music. Notable was one musician playing a car rim with a steel stick. The sound that made I associated with electronic music, a bit like this. In fact after the performance I walked up to inspect this what I suspected to be a very weird instrument, only to find out it was a car rim.

After the break were two acts. The first one AU was really good. It were just two guys. But the guy on the drums was really good, as well as pretty busy. The other one did keys and singing but also controlled samples and looping equipment. I guess he could be described as a virtuoso as well, but, compared to the drummer, more because of the many instruments he played and sounds he produced. It all sounded full enough and actually almost rocked me out of my theater seat, which I guess means it was an odd programming choice (also one person left and I put in my earplugs).

The next act was maybe to please the State-X visitors as well. MiaMia was somewhere between art and music. In music style I think her music is called Noise, and then the non-noisy kind. It's called that because it's more about sounds then music. What made MiaMia's performance even more artsy was the visuals that were totally integrated with the sound (both were triggered in Ableton Live, I could see this in the Windows taskbar that was on the big screen, though not by her choice, as she later told me). I liked everything about the performance: the sounds (which hinted to music then), the visuals and the atmosphere. This is where I remembered I have a camera on my phone, so I can give you one minute of MiaMia:
This is of the second piece she did. I think it’s about naughty things. The first one I think was about walking through nature: it literally had point-of-view camera work of that, and sounds reminiscent of it.

Then Day at the Breakers was continued in the Korzo theatre. I'd never been there but the place was great and added to the festival. Firstly the venue added to the festival because the first artist we saw played in the main bar area, which is cosy, secondly because this is where us festival die-hards could buy our dinner. The dinner was in between the two acts that performed here, it was very yummy as well as vegan.

Unfortunately, however, I didn't like the two acts. The first one, Saemus Cater, wasn't experimental enough for me. His sound this add to the cosines: it was just him singing and playing guitar or the Fender Rhodes. The subjects of his songs were cool too: obscure figures from history with quaint life stories. It was good but just not my taste.

The best thing about Veenfabrief was the instrumentation: mainly a lot of sirens. If they'd just made sounds with them, by playing a piece by one of their inspires Varese, for instance, I probably would have like it. Now they also made crossovers to 'normal' music and they added funny and pretty random (dadaist?) performance elements. I guess that was all too much and a bit too pretentious for me. (Maybe pretentious and dadaist is contradictory in terms, but it felt that way to me).

We now were well into the evening and the festival continued at the locations of the previous day. But some acts there were on the Day at the Breakers program, and some of the State X acts sounded like they could also be. So it was a full integration of the two festivals.The first thing I saw at Het Paard was Peter Greenaway. Apparently he's an legendary art-figure but his name didn't immediately ring a bell with me like it seemed to do with others. The concept of his performance was him VJ'ing a film of his. Not a film really, the program says 'The Tulse Luper Suitcases' is a project that consists of 3 films, a TV series, 92 DVDs, CD-ROMs and books. First I’ll get into the form: I wasn't too impressed with his VJ'ing. Basically it was Peter Greenaway starting an endless amount of scenes on three main screens on stage the images of which were multiplied to screens on the side. This didn't make for an revolutionary interactive way of playing a movie live. It was a good bombardment of images however, as if Peter Greenaway was using a remote in overdrive. Actually I was more impressed with the two other guys. They were DJ'ing and (I think) starting various backing soundtracks and they tied the whole thing together nicely.
The movie itself was beyond awesome however. It was about 'a life in suitcases'. The contents of the 92 numbered suitcases was weird, gruesome and beautiful. I loved the concept and the scenes that portrayed it were shot classically beautiful. The Tulse Luper Suitcases form a great universe to dive into sometime.

So I went to this festival to discover the new and the unsurprising irony was that one of the things that impressed me most was the old. While they were noisily breaking down Peter Greenaway semi-megalomaniac stage in the middle of the venue, a small and simple piece was performed on stage. It was this beautiful piece by Arvo Pärt performed by Hulst & Bouwhuis. In my euphoria the banging break-up noises blended perfectly with it though, and, after all, it was a festival.
Now I'll be modest and won't taint this piece of heavenly perfection with my mortal words. In fact I'll leave it to Björk and Pärt to add to it with their words in this unrelated video that I stumbled across.


Pärt was part of the Festival at the Breakers, the next performance wasn't, but could have been. It was another act that I got told is legendary but that I'd never heard of: Zeitkratzer Orchestra. Except for one piece that was very normal and eighties, they performed a lot of noise pieces by the likes of Merzbow and Whitehouse. What made it special was that it was done live on regular instruments like wind and string instruments (except for one guy that controlled the mixer). This made the performance, while it was noise, sound pleasant and somehow airy and light sounding.

I was pretty skeptical at first when I saw Rolo Tomassi hit the stage. They looked like mere kids and I suspected they wouldn't be 'punk' enough, but trendy, with their cool synthesizers. Of course they were going to be very mediocre musicians. After like three songs I loved them completely however. I had to hold myself back to not jump in the pit filled with sixteen-year-olds. Rolo Tomassi rock hard, they're very fresh and original and I wish I’d ever learned to play like that. Their style is all over the place but the well constructed songs and their technicality keeps it all together. Rolo Tomassi’s style includes, but is not limited to: hardcore (screamo?), 8-bit, beautiful dreamy, math and jazz-like difficult like Mike Patton. Rolo Tomassi is now my favorite band of the moment :)

Then I saw a bit of Jon Hopkins featuring VJ Myogenic. I don't like Jon Hopkins very much. His sound is too 'laptop' for my taste. That means to digital and too little like old fashioned analogue hardware. Also his tracks are too sweet for me. The visuals were good but not my thing either. I'm sorry.

It took me a while to figure out an act was performing when I got back in Het Paard, because I did hear saxophones but I hadn't spotted the quartet that was playing on the balcony. Anyway, I liked the The Hague Saxophone Quartet playing La Mengambrea by Enrico Chapela.

Then came what appeared to be the biggest crowd puller, after The Melvins the day before: Peaches! The outfits were stunning and more original than Lady Gaga's. Also Peaches did her trademark walking on the crowd ("Jesus walked on water, I walk on you"). However, music was just too basic electro for my taste. Maybe I have to listen to her again though, because, unlike everyone else, I'd never heard of the woman before. Sorry.

Three more acts were up. Two of them were nowadays' IDM. It were Dorian Concept and FaltyDL. I can review them together. Both were very virtuoso with the knobs. Dorian Concept was more hip-hop and to Faltydl I could dance to better and he sounded Dubstep at times. However, I was and am getting tired of this virtuosity. Just Venetian Snares is enough for me, for the rest I'll listen to good old-fashioned non-virtuoso, structured like a song AFX. Again: I'm sorry. I'm a bad reviewer. I don't like much music.

In between these two acts was a fun one: Xavier van Wersch. He produced a lot of noise on old fashioned hardware and he did a performance of a mad sound scientist. I leave you with the youtube I shot of him.