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Hellishly Dark Art and Sheer Innovation: What We Saw at Unsound Adelaide

True greatness as South Australia finds its cutting edge.
Photo credit: Millie Brown

Walking into the Thebarton Theatre on day one, spread out bodies are standing motionless watching Kangding Ray and Barry Burns commissioned collaboration SUMS. Rattling bass shook through the room in true Mogwai tradition (literally. The steel barricades were shaking so violently, they added another layer of sound), then ensued dark goth drones and percussive slow jams for about an hour. This is Unsound.

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Unsound originated in Krakow, Poland, with 2016 marking the fourth year running in the South Australia's sneakily cutting edge capital. From neoclassical to footwork, industrial to trip hop, dark heavy body rumbling techno to plain groundbreaking experimental, weather if it's your taste or not there's no denying that programming alone stands as a work of art itself.

Alessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails dropped out at the last minute, diehard fans were a little less than impressed. His replacement, Babyfather, the latest project from Dean Blunt, was an even better deal for most. Blunt has become renowned for his strange and enigmatic live performances and boy did he live up to his reputation. To start, the room was filled with thick clouds of smoke and blinding white light, making it impossible to see more than 1 metre in front of you. Straight off the bat Blunt launched into a the crowd favourite "Meditation". For the first 20 minutes or so Blunt continued to lull his audience into an otherworldly sense of calm, then suddenly barraged the already audio strained audience with intermittent walls decibel blasting noise, sirens, gun shots and fuzz. It was like he was testing the audience with a game of sonic chicken as each and every overwhelming wall of noise lasted longer and longer and audience members dropped off like flies. The best part was the hilariously polarising effect on the crowd, as some reacted in outrage, whereas others surrendered to the sonic assault.

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Photo credit: Jemma Cole

After 15 minutes of excitable debrief, I walked back to the theatre immediately to be hit with the familiar high pitched scream that interrupts the menacing rhythm of Jlin's "Guantanamo". Without a doubt, Jlin was the most exciting artist on this year's lineup, and that's saying something. We witnessed the rising star's eighth live performance ever, against all odds, she still managed to deliver her live productions more sharply composed, than on her critically acclaimed debut record Dark Energy. For the entire set, Jlin's unrelenting intensity and abrasion was catapulted to all new levels of glory in front of her seamless light based architectural projections created by Florence Lo's. Indian performance artist Avril Stormy Unger also appeared on stage, similarly bringing the performance to life, twisting and turning in seductive snake dance and showering the audience with incense haze.

Read: Stepping To A New Beat: Jlin Confounds Footwork Expectations

The frantic, uncoordinated energy was turned down a notch as we entered into the virtual world for the next 50 minutes with Unsound veteran Kode9 and renowned simulation artist Lawrence Lek. I felt like I got sucked into a hole for its entirety and can't really remember much to be honest. It was pretty immersive. Then the party, breaks, pop interludes picked up the pace and we all looked like idiots trying to dance along to RP Boo lightening speed rhythms. Like Jlin, witnessing Boo you truly get the sense that you are experiencing true greatness.

On the second night, Vessel was heavy, dark and unforgettable. His industrial, unrelenting noise pummeling ran so deep that my lips trembled. I hadn't felt that sweet tremor since my Berghain days. The performance itself was a commissioned collaboration with film maker Pedro Maima, who visually tracked the experience with some submissive/torture porn shot on a Super–8 lens, overlayed with some additional blotchy and scratched up effects. We can only assume that these thoughts and scenes are what Vessel channels when making his sweet Satan music.

Kangding Ray won back his dearly devoted, with a hammering onslaught of undisputedly sharp abstract techno. The hypnotic nature of his thumping deliverance had me completely entranced, not having hear such glorious gut punching viking music for years. Paula Temple was the festival second strong techno force at Unsound and subsequently took the closing set. Temple's techno was more sophisticated and varied, especially following the full on bass battering of Vessel and Kangding, however impressive and positively bewitching nonetheless. You can't really expect anything less from her.