New Forms is steadily becoming a who's-who of experimental music, with its thirteenth edition spanning the rough-and-tumble house of Anthony Naples to Lee Gamble's techno hallucinations. But the biggest sign of how far things have come was this year's opening night. Jeff Mills premiered his new Star People set, and though the sold-out event had some rather regrettable visuals—essentially '90s screensavers superimposed with problematic images of Native Americans—the music, which over the course of four hours veered from flowing Detroit synths to punishing 909 workouts (he had two of them on stage), more than made up for them.
This year New Forms returned to the Centre For Digital Media, a former university campus with a giant hangar for a main room and a smaller, custom-designed space. Solving last year's sound problems, the hangar was essentially cut in half, and it was home to some rather impressive eye candy. Saturday night's motion-capture magic was a particular highlight, as the abstract lines on the screen were mapped to each performer's movements.
The hangar hosted the big ticket acts, but "big ticket" for New Forms can mean a lot of different things. On Friday night, Dopplereffekt stunned the crowd as their icy electro clicked with the blindingly bright images projected behind them. EPROM rocked the house with his fierce dubstep/hip-hop hybrids on Saturday night—quite literally, in fact, as his seismic wave of bass brought a piece of the ceiling down at one point in the night.
Photo credit: VANDOCUMENT
EatArt's room had the vibe of an underground nightclub, at least if you ignored the giant swinging hoop fastened to the ceiling. Kassem Mosse's live set might have been the highlight of the whole weekend, starting out with a smoulder before igniting into a spectacular head-rush of brutal techno. He was followed by Delroy Edwards, who went in head-first with an old Jeff Mills tune and proceeded to bash out everything from industrial to deep house to 140BPM bangers. Unfortunately, his rather crude DJ method—simply stopping records every once in a while to switch BPM or genre—meant it was more disjointed than thrilling.
Even with so many international bookings, New Forms is still very much a local concern. The heady house of Pender Street Steppers and the dubby washes of No UFOs stood tall next to the bigger names, and everyone felt remarkably close, like you were in a room full of 1000 friends. The crowd at New Forms, though not subdued by any means, had a rather mature feel to it. You wouldn't see many glow sticks or neon outfits there. (Cat ears, however, are apparently in vogue.)
Instead of the installations that have become common at similar festivals, New Forms had a few few large-scale happenings scattered around the East Van neighbourhood. VIVO Media Arts had a jaw-dropping collection of Buchla synths on display, with a performance from the pioneer himself. And then there was the massive Hypercube, sitting just outside of the CDM. Creators 1024 Architecture invited the audience to sit in the middle as a light show battered the structure with spastic beams, meant as a critique on forms of urban construction. The sheer scale of it made it immersive, though the cheesy music leaned too hard on Skrillex-inspired dubstep clichés.
Photo credit: VANDOCUMENT
Sunday's closing party was meant to take place on the waterfront New Brighton Park, but the cold and rainy weather meant Balihu boss Daniel Wang had to move to Vancouver's favourite techno dungeon, Open Studios. While it was disappointing to lose the chance to hear Wang's flamboyant disco outdoors at sunset, he ended up spinning until midnight in the new setting, well past the mandated end time of 9 PM.
Regaling a dwindling but enthusiastic crowd with highlights like "Inspector Norse" and Madonna's "Holiday," Wang's marathon set at Open Studios wasn't how any of us expected the festival to end. But there was something special about 50 people hiding from the rain in a dark room, chatting, dancing and basking in the afterglow of the weekend behind them. New Forms has never been about conventions, and it turns out that sometimes they even break their own—often with great results.