Hyperreality Festival – Shaking up contemporary club culture (live report)
Hyperreality Festival, Vienna, May 24-27 2017 – review by Ivna Franić, photo: Lea Anić
A new addition to the yearly cultural festival Wiener Festwochen, Hyperreality Festival for Club Culture took place over four days at the end of May at Schloss Neugebäude, a 16th century castle complex on the outskirts of Vienna. Austria already being home to quite a few strong festivals with different concepts and/or settings – such as Donaufestival in Krems and Elevate in Graz – the time has come for the capital to strike back. And it did so with one of the strongest lineups of the year so far, at least for the underground/experimental electronic music enthusiasts.
With the usual European idea of club music making up for only a small part of the whole experience, Hyperreality delivers on its promise of focusing on “underrepresented musical currents” and questioning the dominant club paradigms. A brave move for an up-and-coming festival proves to make all the difference, as diversity feels visible on all the levels: from the artists to the festival staff and, ultimately, the audience. Festival’s eclectic lineup was carefully divided into different evenings, showcases and stages, smoothly avoiding confusing schedules and allowing for somewhat different audiences to pass through Schloss Neugebäude each day. The latter also meant that the vibe was slightly different each night, which made Hyperreality both difficult to pin down and exciting to potentially visit again. Seeing as it featured events as distinct as the premiere of Holly Herndon’s new live show in its first edition, it shouldn’t be a problem to catch the audience’s attention in the following years.
Speaking of Holly Herndon, hers was actually one of the first shows of the festival, and the first one I saw. Somewhat familiar sounds echoed through the subtly lit Schloss Neugebäude even before we reached the main stage; it was pretty much immediately clear that one needed not wait too long for one of Hyperreality’s highlights. Herndon had already started her all-new set accompanied by the usual suspects Mat Dryhurst and Colin Self, and – a choir! All dressed in rag-like clothes, the bunch gave the impression of a farm collective imagining a sort of “back to the roots” future, albeit one that is very much aware of and based on the present. The performance almost reads like an optimistic response to Anohni’s ”Hopelessness”, with the multiplicity of voices heard and joy on the faces of all the performers chanelling the importance of collective effort and the strength of the community as foundations of a positive solution to today’s problems. If this was a first preview of Herndon’s new material, it feels safe to assume that we’ll be dealing with a monster of a live show once the next album comes out.
While Herndon and her crew were envisioning better future for all of us, the Stall stage was dedicated to the darker, blackest-ever-black shades. Well, not entirely actually, since the light show seemed to be too playful for Tropic of Cancer’s dreary music, at least during the first part of their set. Although we were seeing them for the second day in a row, Camella Lobo and Taylor Burch’s live show has such a disarming effect that the thought of skipping it doesn’t really go through your head. While the decaying castle’s rib vault hall proved to be a comfortable setting for Tropic of Cancer’s slow beats and ethereal synths, their labelmates Raime didn’t seem to feel equally at home in the delicate surrounding. Appearing as a three piece live band featuring a drummer, Raime sounded really tight and convincing, almost giving away a bit of a math-rock vibe. Which wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing in itself, had the wonderfully ominous mood from last year’s excellent ”Tooth” not gotten lost in translation into the live performance, well, at least this particular one. Their set quickly started to feel slightly disappointing, and at a festival packed with strong names, it can be difficult to practice patience. Especially when you know that, for example, Jlin is playing on the other stage.
“Playing” is an understatement, though, because Jlin absolutely killed it. With her stunning new LP ”Black Origami” having been released merely a week earlier, this was a perfect opportunity to experience the new material in a live setting. And well, it felt like this was precisely where it belonged. Even if her thick and close-knit compositions can be too much for some when listened to at home, coming to life in a club setting provides them with a whole new context. Although Jlin’s intense audio assault doesn’t leave much room for thinking – or doing pretty much anything other than making attempts at dancing to the sharp footwork beats – it never feels excessive or exaggerated. Seeing Jlin on stage fist-pumping and generally enjoying her role additionally boosts the already ecstatic mood in the crowd. It was clear that this would be hard to top, but DJ Nigga Fox’s set over at Príncipe’s showcase in Westsaal made for a fun and appropriately energetic closing of the first festival evening.
If there’s one thing that could be generally said about Hyperreality’s lineup, it is that it was dealt with in a smart way. Booking more than one act from the same label, presenting label or artist showcases, and having a couple of somewhat similar artists performing on the same stage throughout one evening made the whole experience a lot more coherent than it usually is on music festivals. And if there was one festival day where the whole thing didn’t gel quite so well, it was probably the second one.
Kicking off the programme for the evening always seems like an unrewarding task, but hey, someone has to do it and on this occasion the unpopular assignment was given to Nite Jewel. Although Ballsaal – in the case of this particular performance: the dance floor – was just filling up, Ramona Gonzalez delivered her powerful set like she was playing for an arena packed with devotees. When you’re confronted with what sounds like straight-up pop classics, it doesn’t take much to get hooked anyway. And hooks were all over the place, whether it was the new songs like “I Don’t Know” with its goofy synth riff, a revamped upbeat version of 2012’s “One Second of Love”, or gems that go way back like the 2009 single “Want You Back”. The only thing that was kind of funny was that this gig felt like an oddity in the context of a festival largely focused on “cutting edge” music, and while there were of course quite a few amazing performances at Hyperreality, not many of them provided the unadulterated fun of Nite Jewel’s set.
Ballsaal got rid of the funky disco lights as the “two ladies” Dva Damas took stage. Last year’s single “Clear Cut” might have signalled a bolder move towards a club-oriented sound, however, Dva Damas’ live performance shows that this does not by any means signify a break away from their industrial and post-punk leanings. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – the wonderfully straight-faced delivery feels much more punk than techno, although the aforementioned single and the rest of the set brought out the techno party moves in the audience. What would have been a perfect intro for the Ancient Methods and Paula Temple sets was unfortunately followed by not one but two performances of a totally different character, with the only alternative being the Balacore showcase on the other stage. Endgame and Kamixlo’s back-to-back set was probably fun or not fun depending on how wasted you were.
On other days, it was much more difficult to chose between stages, most notably when Amnesia Scanner occupied Ballsaal with AS Sirens > Securitaz the entire evening while NON held their showcase at Westsaal. Functioning as a little festival-inside-the-festival, AS Sirens > Securitaz featured performances by the likes of Fauna and Pan Daijing, along with Amnesia Scanner as headliners/curators.
The stage setup was different from that of previous two nights, its central part caged like a boxing ring, and big red lights and strobe lights creating a sense of emergency. Despite all the aggressive strobos and loud noises that commanded attention, the audience appeared to be baffled with rather than absorbed in Amnesia Scanner’s information overload. Nevertheless, their chopped-up sonic and light assault could hardly be described as anything other than a unique experience; AS Sirens > Securitaz managed to turn Schloss Neugebäude’s large hall into a space brimming with sense of urgency, smoke crawling up its big cold walls, strobe lights both entertaining and punishing the viewers.
In a sense, the NON showcase taking place at another festival hall also tried to create its own setting albeit in a different manner – relying on symbolism rather than light show (and spectacle in general). A large screen loomed over the stage with images such as the UN logo, hammer and sickle, and NON’s logo being projected, all in red. Due to the usage of these meaning-loaded symbols backed by audio triggers, like the sound of sirens wailing over The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me”, Chino Amobi’s in large part noisy and industrial set at moments even brought to mind the notorious provocateurs Laibach. And although Amobi’s energetic performance may have felt like the climax, it most certainly wasn’t the only highlight of NON’s showcase.
Nkisi’s killer set made for a perfect ending to a positively exhausting evening, keeping even the most tired members of the audience going, and much earlier in the evening Embaci delivered one of the most peculiar shows of the whole festival, with a little help from the also amazing Klein. Boldly putting her mighty vocals at the forefront throughout the entire performance without hardly a break, Embaci induced a trance-like state in which the sound of her voice and the mostly free-floating lyrics were the only palpable guides, commanding complete attention. And if Embaci’s unrestrained approach to song structure and harmony made her set feel like an acquired taste to some, to others this was an inspiring take on genre and performance conventions. A welcome reminder of how stunning her 2016 ”NON vs. NAAFI” mixtape was, the performance definitely gained her the status of one of the most exciting acts in the wider NON network.
Only the final day of Hyperreality seemed overcrowded. This made it a real pain to break through to the GHE20G0TH1K showcase at Westsaal, where Total Freedom, Fatima Al Qadiri and the rest of the gang threw their consistently fresh, top-class party. You can’t really go wrong with booking these folks, but the organizers probably already knew that, as it seemed that the same could be said for a good deal of the festival’s acts.
In a time when it feels like there’s a new festival every day, it’s not easy to stand out. Hyperreality managed to pull it off though, by assembling an impressive lineup, paying attention to details such as different stage design each night, and generally creating a cozy and relaxed vibe while subtly tackling some important issues in contemporary club culture.
It’s refreshing to see that it is possible to accomplish the latter even without panel talks on the subject and explicit attempts at a balanced lineup, which don’t necessarily always work as well in putting the message across. Promoting diversity not only formally but through the actual practice within all areas of festival production is something that festivals and music events in Denmark, as well as in other Scandinavian countries which all like to boast about equality, could definitely learn a lot from.