Unsound Toronto 2015

By Sofia Luu

Despite the scale of its programming, I somehow always end up sleeping out on Luminato. But this year, it was a bit different. This year, there was Unsound, an experimental art and music festival originally from Krakow, Poland.

The initial lineup was stacked, good enough to forgo any chances of me participating in the other big music fest that weekend, NXNE. The two-day festival featured performances from drone duo Stars on the Lid, Robert Henke of Monolake and one of co-developers behind popular electronic music software Ableton, Toronto debuts from German-based DJs Lena Willikens and Golden Pudel resident Helena Hauff. To top it all off, there was the Ephemera installation which draws together scent, sound and sights together in an one hour long presented designed by Tim Hecker (sound), MFO (light) and Geza Schoen (smell).

To sum the two nights of sights and sounds in one word, there really is no other word more fitting than “immersive.” The moment you stepped into the Hearn Generating Station, a no longer in use generation station that was barely repurposed for the event (the logistics were the bare minimum: bars, food trucks, stage, sound system and portable washrooms). There was warning ahead of time to ditch the fancy dress and to come prepared with warm clothes and sturdy shoes.

I wasn’t ready the first night. Nor was I ready the second night. To be quite honest, I don’t think anyone can ever be truly ready for a night or two at the Hearn.

Day One – June 19

There were puddles everywhere, raised mounds of electrical wires, and destroyed cars littered throughout the venue. Everybody’s first instinct when they entered the venue was to look up in awe. On Friday night, the crowd seemed to aimlessly walk towards the back, where there was an open area with a lone security guard watching over as the sun set in various shades of pink, purple and red.

The side room was sectioned off for those who had purchased a separate ticket to Ephemera, so the focus of the night was on the main stage. The three acts for the night: Lustmord, Stars on the Lid and Robert Henke filled the room up with sounds so loud and intrusive that it could be felt in your ears, down your throat and throughout your body. Accompanying the sets were visuals. I was partial to Henke’s pulsating laser show which pulsed and transformed itself according to the beat of his set.

Ephemera was the strange highlight of the entire festival. Upon entering the side room, you were immersed in a cloud of white fog so thick, you couldn’t see what or who was in front of you. I muttered to my friend that this reminded me of the scene in the Hunger Games where Mags sacrifices herself to the poisonous gas that crept upon them. After a while of wandering around aimlessly in circles, not paying much attention to how great the room smelled, I came to the conclusion that a) this was more art than music and b) there was nothing to look at, the focus was strictly on how scent and sounds interacted.

Day Two – June 20

The focus on Friday seemed to be more art-focused than Saturday night, because come Saturday, the Side Room was taken over by a line-up of electronic talent from Poland (BNNT and RSS B0YS), Germany (Helena Hauff and Lena Willikens) and Canada’s own Christina Sealey from Orphx. Whereas the main room was taken over by the incredibly loud sounds of Ben Frost and Emptyset to name a few.

I entered the Side Room and didn’t really leave for a few hours. RSS B0YS warmed up the room, playing their live set over the crowd in costumes. The real highlight, and I think treat, was Lena Willikens, who made her Toronto debut at Unsound along with Helena Hauff. There’s not much documentation of Willikens’ talent as a selector online (Hauff, on the other hand, has an incredible Boiler Room set that I constantly revisit). Willikens played from a selection of CDs and vinyl, playing and responding accordingly to the overall vibe of the crowd. By 1am, the room itself was filled with smoke once again as Willikens lit a smokable with the crowd quickly following suit.

***

If you’re not into electronic music or loud sounds, Unsound was worth it for the experience of being able to wander around the Hearn alone. After talking to a few other festival goers, it was pretty clear that the Hearn was the true star of the festival. The success of the first Unsound Toronto lays down the groundwork for the future and great potential of how organizers can transform this out-of-use but incredibly immense space into a potential hub that could be a future pillar of Toronto arts and culture.

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