For a first-time attendee, the worry with a festival like Volt—with its architecturally spectacular Scandinavian setting, installations and technology showcase area and penchant for producers who prefer to be known as "composers"—is that it's going to be a bit chin-strokey, a bit precious, a bit Wire Magazine. However, this fifth anniversary edition of the festival, a one-night affair at the imposing eight-floor white cube that is Konsert & Kongress in Uppsala, always managed to entertain as well as challenge.
Johan Holm's four-minute looped piece, in which beats were accompanied by lasers shooting out from tripods scattered around a pitch-dark room, was a highlight of the installations floor. It also included a so-called "Beat Bar" on which you could manipulate tracks by sliding drinks around.
Stockholm-based Flogsta Dancehall alumnus Baba Stiltz's lively hardware-only skweee show was the first conventional set I saw, and it was followed by Kuwait-born, Brooklyn-based producer Fatima Al Qadiri's DJ set on the ground floor. Her show alone was ample evidence that fun was very much on the agenda here. Much of what I saw of her set revolved around bass-soaked hip-hop cuts like 2-Chainz & Juicy J's "Own Drugz" and V-Nasty's "Psycho Bitch". That, plus a pleasing summer twilight backdrop of people milling around Vaksala Torg, the square onto which Konsert & Kongress backs, made for an absorbing experience.
Pan Sonic man Mika Vainio was billed to appear with Joachim Nordwall but performed solo on the night, complementing slabs of distorted electronic noise with bass guitar as he presented music from the pair's forthcoming collaborative album Monstrance. American electronic composer Holly Herndon's live set was one of the hot picks of the festival, and with good reason. Her final piece in particular—an ethereal yet muscular riot of processed vocals and big synths—was a euphoric treat and tied the musical ideas that had preceded it together in consummate fashion.
I slept on young Danish producer Taragana Pyjarama's debut LP Tipped Bowls when it came out on Kompakt last summer, so his set was something of a wake-up call. A solo project on record but a two-piece live, their heavy beats,
high-pitched synths and occasional cut-up pop vocal samples coalesced
into a hugely listenable and danceable whole. I'll be devouring his forthcoming Nothing Hype mini-album with all the zeal you'd expect of a fresh convert. Texas-born UK resident DJ Skirt's heavy (and at points almost industrial) techno set followed, after which Kyoka brought a rough-edged performance of broken beats. It was one of the most conceptual of the evening, and also one of the most interesting.
"Hello Stockholm," said a mildly geographically confused Juan Atkins at the start of Model 500's headlining live set. Atkins, "Mad" Mike Banks, DJ Skurge and Mark Taylor were a slick, all-analogue electronic funk machine that kept what might in other circumstances have been a flagging crowd moving throughout their set. Their encore, "Technicolour," was a fitting finale to a night that encompassed a wealth of styles, ideas and nations, and was never, ever grey.