One of the last and lasting images I have from the 2012 edition of the Laboratorio Electrónica Visual (L.E.V.) Festival is of someone down the front of Anstam's closing set waving a crutch in the air as if they'd been healed or raised from the dead. Several days later I felt the same, having somehow been transformed by an exceptional array of audio-visual art and one of the most authentic and open-minded crowds anywhere on the planet. All festivals have their raison d'être but L.E.V.'s particular philosophy of intelligence and respect to both audience and performer creates a feedback loop that somehow precipitates a next level experience. This is helped by the relative intimacy of showcasing one performer at a time, using different venues to match the needs of the performance and scheduling it all in a way so as not to exhaust you by the end. (It shouldn't go without mentioning that beers cost only €2 and that there are plenty of interesting people to buy them for.)
It's the equal billing of audio and video that somehow elevates the festival from being a simple fiesta into a living art exhibition. This was evident not only on stage, but in the exhibition Visualising Sound and the two major multimedia installations. One of these was Ryoji Ikeda's monumental and profound installation "Data.tecture [5 SXGA + version]" consisting of several projectors firing pulses, patterns and streams of data onto a huge screen on the floor. The human genome, star positions, calculations were all broken into geometries and sent rushing by in both enormous scale and minute detail while an all-knowing ambient soundtrack fizzed in the background.
First up on Friday were the two winners of the Scanner FM call for artists. Barcelona-based Adyo and video artist Guillermo opened with uplifting pop ambient, while Madrid-based Artico netlabel boss José Merinero (JM) played a heavier set of intense percussion and darker atmospheres. Following in the impressive theatre venue was another Spanish artist, the locally-based composer and electronic musician Ramon Prada performing as Vittus. The show mixed a live, digitally processed grand piano and viola with electronics and the visuals of Paul Prudence. But while it was engaging, it perhaps failed to overwhelm because of its similarity to Ryuichi Sakamoto's collaboration with Alva Noto.
What came next was, though, was one of the most striking shows of the festival. 21- year-old Austrian Anja Plaschg, AKA Soap&Skin, emerged from the wings in near darkness. Singing over weird industrial music, and playing piano like Tori Amos possessed by Diamanda Galas, her performance was haunting. She closed with a tortured and yet at times humorous version of The Doors "The End," and received rapturous applause when she was done.
London-based collective Old Apparatus opened straight afterwards in the main nave space. Live, the group were as eclectic and as compelling as they are on vinyl, shunning beats and instead conjuring a soundscape forged somewhere between Blade Runner and J.G. Ballard. Local Asturian musician Komatsu then turned in one of the night's other highlights, an intricate and fluid set of beat sculptures and micromelodies that would have been just as good at the end leading into Byetone. The subsequent arrival of Ghostpoet was a canny change in direction. The constant presence of Obaro Ejimiwe's vocals and his excellent use of tempo alongside a live band worked well to freshen the vibe with a more human presence. Prefuse 73 failed to capitalise however, and failed spectacularly. He almost ruined the speakers by stubbornly keeping the levels up too high for half the set. Byetone still sealed the night off in emphatic fashion with his now honed and dangerous set of tense rhythms, edgy atmospheres and overpowering visuals.
Saturday rained as is the custom in Asturias, but it still did not dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd or any of three acts performing in the beautiful botanic gardens on the edge of a Monet-esque lake. Local all-girl group Las Casicasiotone stood out for their distinct blend of Thomas Köner-esque isolationism and Windy and Carl-style space rock, especially when they brought out the guitar and echoey vocals. Later on, patten's set didn't please everybody, perhaps suffering from too much volume like Prefuse 73, but nonetheless it was difficult to turn away from the mayhem and glee inside the music. Berlin-based To Rococo Rot's Robert Lippock closed the garden session with another of the festival highlights. Using only old equipment, a laptop and a lot of mischievous movement, he somehow managed to create an unexpectedly intense and joyful techno that had people dancing on the bridge with umbrellas in one hand and beers in the other.
The formal aspect of the theatre played a big role on the second night as a packed crowd gathered to watch French audio-visual collective 1024 Architecture open with their celebrated "Euphorie" show. Clearly music is somewhat secondary to the visuals judging by some of the quaint techno pop, but the cutting edge optical feast more than made up for it. Miguel Marin's much-loved Arbol collective closed after Kurosawa. With members changing between live instruments, including Mutek festival highlight Lucrecia Dalt on vocals and keyboards, some problems were inevitable with the sound. But these were minor and the group's intricate interplay and elaborate post-rock style song forms were another fresh change.
Mika Vaino was one of the few to shun visuals, giving the audience's eyes a rest even while he challenged the ears, performing in an almost scholarly way, working the bass in isolation from the other tones, or employing phasing and panning to almost mathematical effect. Enigmatic local group Fasenuova once again threw the trail with a quick set of short electro punk songs delivered with a lot of venom and nerve like Suicide covering Throbbing Gristle. Kuedo followed up with another immaculate set, burying heavy bass and jagged melodic fragments beneath a surprisingly dreamy surface with suitably abstract visuals by Barcelona artist MFO.
The programming that allowed Holy Other a 3 AM slot was another stroke of genius. While totally danceable, it's hard to imagine his slow motion dubstep and occult atmospherics working so well at this time in a normal club setting. But there in the main hall the lateness magnified the space, detail and elegance of the music, as well as recuperating tired bones. Various Productions followed with a set of two halves, the first with two vocalists and reminiscent of a chopped and screwed Bristol sound before closing with an extended and gritty drum & bass jam. Finally, Anstam took to the stage for the festival's last show and one of the best. Seamlessly moving from controlled confusion to focused detail in a matter of bars, Lars Stoewe's music was nonetheless never incomprehensible and always compelling. At the end, it seemed that everyone could've gone for just one more set, especially the person waving their crutch in mad delight.