An innovative fest makes its U.S. debut

Poland's Unsound Festival hits NYC.

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Nearly all music festivals bill themselves as some variation of “adventurous,” and the Krakw, Poland--based Unsound Festival is no exception. But unlike other such get-togethers, which are often nothing more than expanded versions of regular club nights, Unsound—making its American debut in NYC, running from Friday 5 through February 14—backs up that claim. Take the revered producer Carl Craig: Rather than simply asking him to lay down a DJ set (which, in Craig’s case, would certainly be welcome), Unsound will have the Detroit techno innovator perform a live soundtrack to the Andy Warhol short Blow Job, a 35-minute film that does nothing more than focus on the face of a guy getting a...well, you can figure it out.

Blow Job was assigned to me, and it’s possible that’s because I was the only one willing to take it on,” Craig says, laughing. “But I’ve always been one to take risks. I really have a lot of free rein on this; I’ll be improvising with synthesizers and with other things I have in my possession. But I was thinking—maybe I should get on the microphone and make some moaning sounds.”

That’s not the sort of performance you’d be likely to find at, say, the Winter Music Conference (at least not as part of the official program), but at Unsound it’s a matter of course. The sprawling ten-day gala—organized with the help of the Polish Institute in New York, the Goethe-Institut New York, Wordless Music and the Bunker, among others—features events ranging from the U.S. debut of the electronic-music supergroup Moritz von Oswald Trio and a series of events titled “Eastern Promises” (focusing on Eastern European artists little known in the West) to electronic-music workshops for children and a bevy of dance parties.

“This wasn’t really planned to be quite so ambitious,” claims the Australia-born, Poland-based Mat Schulz, who cofounded Unsound Festival in 2003, “ but it ended up that way. The program really grew quite organically. For example, for the club-music events, I had some quite strong ideas about people whom I wanted to bring. But then Bryan [Kasenic, otherwise known as the Bunker party organizer DJ Spinoza] would add to that list, including American artists and other people I hadn’t even thought of. It was very much a process of sharing ideas with our partners. Which, frankly, is a lot less boring than me just picking out who was going to play.”

Boring is one thing that the festival isn’t—even taking into consideration that another of the improvised Warhol soundtracks is for Empire, a near-static eight-hour shot of the Empire State Building. (That one comes courtesy of Groupshow, a collaboration between Jan Jelinek, Andrew Peklar and Hanno Leichtmann.) “I seriously get a little choked up thinking about how important a festival like this is for New York City,” the Bunker’s Kasenic says. “It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to see something this interesting come to New York, but it really took the vision of an outsider like Mat to make this happen.” The three Bunker nights are among the festival’s highlights, teaming American artists like Detroit’s Anthony “Shake” Shakir, big-name Western Europeans such as Pole and 2562, and a healthy sprinkling of Polish producers, many familiar to only the most astute of underground club-music aficionados.

“Part of our goal, particularly with 'Eastern Promises,’ is to introduce artists who aren’t really known here,” he says. “But just by putting this together, I’ve met so many people and learned so much, and it’s been really interesting and fulfilling. I hope that Unsound can help form these kinds of relationships not just for me, but for everybody involved.”

Unsound Festival runs Fri 5 through Feb 14. Go to unsound.pl/en for more info and the full lineup. A free Unsound Festival compilation is available through halcyondigi.com/unsound.

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