A pitch black room with ominously rumbling subs, infrasonic unease and strange radio transmissions piped in from invisible speakers, as you fumble around broken records and a woodchip-covered floor. The Audint installation, produced in part by Hyperdub founder Kode9, was one of the incredibly immersive installations at New Forms Festival—now a Vancouver institution celebrating art and media in the form of an exhibition, conference and, of course, music.
This year the festival took over the Center For Digital Media, a former higher-education campus converted into a multimedia playground for the weekend. Each classroom was turned into a different installation: A formidably-sized hangar was the perfect setting for a good old-fashioned rave, and a smaller side room provided the atmosphere of a sweaty house nightclub.
The exhibition ran the gamut from large-scale to mere curios, but the musical portion of the festival had the organizers going for broke, with almost every name booked a headliner in their own right. Friday night saw Actress and Legowelt overshadowed by Detroit's DJ Stingray. He closed the evening with a blistering two hours of electro new and old, mixed swiftly and triumphantly on vinyl. In the smaller room, Pilooski played a few hours of blissed-out disco. Sound issues hampered the big room for sets preceding Stingray, and the huge hangar space meant the sound was a bit prone to ricocheting off the walls.
The festival moved to the Waldorf Hotel on Saturday afternoon, where the dingy basement Hideaway served as the venue for a series of discussion panels and presentations including Kode9's investigation into sonic warfare. A sun-baked afternoon with Teebs in the parking lot provided some downtime before the proceedings moved back to the campus for a second night. This time, the unquestionable highlight was young Sinjin Hawke from Barcelona, whose completely live set—no computer in sight—of bombastic hip-hop had many people in the crowd visibly in awe as he kept at his MPC (and countless other devices) for an hour of his own tunes.
Saturday night had a remarkably diverse lineup, also featuring the cerebral but forceful techno of Kangding Ray and a strikingly party-conscious set from Kode9 that saw Kanye West and Baauer next to Terror Danjah. The side-room felt like a whole other event, where Daniel Bell was pumping out perfectly mixed house. The room's tiny size meant long lineups for a one-in-one-out entry situation, and no bathroom meant that even a quick break would have you back in line for upwards of 20 minutes, not ideal at a festival where a stacked schedule meant that most of the artists didn't play for longer than an hour.
Secluded waterfront paradise New Brighton Park was the setting for the final day, where Kevin McPhee played back-to-back vintage vinyl with Ronnie Falcon, and locals Larry James played their stoned groove deep house. Beautiful Swimmers played a healthy two hours as the sun went down and fire dancers did their thing, a powerful ending to the weekend that much like fellow BC festival Bass Coast, emphasized the natural beauty of the province almost as much as the music.
Overall, the festival's musical curation was smart and adventurous, delivering more than just name power. It took advantage of a city with an unreliable and often unfavourable event infrastructure, keeping things mostly in the city's east side (easily accessible via public transit except for the maddeningly hidden-away park) and making the most of its sites. The way the Centre for Digital Media was transformed was a feat in itself, and though it wasn't perfect, for a repurposed space it was fantastically executed—a warehouse rave in the midst of a high-minded, intellectual arts festival—and better than almost anywhere else in the city I could think of for an event of this size.
"Size" felt like a theme: New Forms has always been an intimate and small-scale event where artists are encouraged to mingle and collaborate. 2012's edition was no different, but it was definitely larger than any previous incarnation. This year felt like New Forms' bid for world-class status, and while it still had a charming, homegrown feel to it, it'd be hard to deny them their success.