While this year's Club To Club continued the basic format of swish opening concert, a night of club-hopping, and a gargantuan rave-style finale in the former Fiat factory, the organisers also chose to ring the changes by celebrating homegrown talent alongside the regular titans of the Germany/UK/US axis. Accordingly, every gig this year showcased at least one Italian artist alongside the international guests—a rarer set up in festival world than it might sound. Nor did the organisers rest on their laurels venue-wise, utilising a breathtaking gold-plated Baroque-style theatre, a sleek multi-level arthouse cinema, a classical concert hall and even a museum alongside the established club spots.
As far as aforementioned international titans go, it would take a curmudgeonly fan of contemporary electronic music to question the quality of this year's lineup, with revered figureheads from house, techno, UK bass and more experimental realms jostling for space across the three days and nights. Apparat's opening band show was as divisive as his latest album, his searing melodramatics perhaps edging a little too close to conventional stadium indie for comfort, while Jackmaster performed his patented trick of making serious music sound fun and vice versa across the road.
On Friday, Theo Parrish was awarded an almost ridiculous amount of encores following a notably techno-centric set, and it took a while for Ben Klock to re-calibrate the Jam club dancefloor afterwards; but he did, of course, rewarding the crowd with streamlined techno that veered just below the line marked 'punitive' while maintaining an addictive level of intensity. Simultaneously, a host of Hyperdub acts were met with glee at Hiroshima club, implying (if not quite proving) that Italy has more enthusiasm for bass music and its innumerable offshoots than you may have been lead to believe.
Saturday night saw solid performances from Sandwell District, Pantha Du Prince and Pearson Sound in the club-like Sala Rossa section of the Fiat megadrome, alongside crowd-pleasing slots from Modeselektor, Marcel Dettmann and Jeff Mills on the main stage. But the most impressive music of the night, and possibly the festival, came in the form of Alva Noto's mind-bending live show, as part of a Raster Noton mini-showcase with compatriot Byetone. A monstrous yet intricate amalgam of Kraftwerk, Autechre, and Oval underpinned by brilliantly layered swathes of distortion, it's a credit to the artist, the crowd, and the festival that such apparently experimental music not only engaged the thousands present, but provoked one of the most rapturous responses of the weekend.
Italian New Wave
Closer to home, the artists who came under the 'Italian New Wave' banner varied widely in style, ability and popularity. The most significant of these was Stroboscopic Artefacts main man Lucy, whose evocative live show recalled the ambient atmospherics of his recent album, transfixing the audience at the festival's opening concert. Torino-based collective O (spoken as 'The Circle O,' we were informed) impressed with a rough and ready collision pitched somewhere between Daft Punk, Nathan Fake and Sunn O))), employing clanking off-kilter rhythms offset against ominous blasts of harnessed noise, the occasional mangled disco sample, and fragments of stargazey melody. Local dubstep promoters SRSLY gave the Brit contingent a run for their money at the Hyperdub showcase, and 16 year old Furtherset was let out of school early to perform a precocious and accomplished fusion of kosmische and glitch techno at the cinema-cum-festival HQ.
Elsewhere, the insistence on native artists sometimes felt a little strained—no-one needs ear-splitting Pendulum-style breaks at an intimate cinema foyer bar on Friday afternoon—but the commitment to the Italian New Wave theme was undoubtedly genuine, and supported by almost every local we spoke to. We did hear the occasional grumble about the absence of other recently-praised Italian techno artists, suggesting that this fiercely regionalised country perhaps has some way to go in bringing its various electronic music factions together harmoniously. Nonetheless, providing a platform for indigenous talent can only be a positive move, and one that other major festivals are routinely criticised for ignoring.
While it's tempting to wrap up any piece on Torino's electronic music scene by falling back on the truisms that surround the place—the motor city comparisons, the industriousness, the foggy weather, the longstanding appreciation of high art and culture—the real key to Club To Club's on-going success is probably more prosaic. The festival is well-organised and handsomely sponsored, the founders are music lovers, and the people who come are clued-up, enthusiastic and open-minded. It's a simple, if elusive formula, and it can be seen working at good festivals the world over. Whether or not Club To Club's Italian New Wave theme succeeded, in aims or execution, it's too early to tell. But as far as the microcosm of electronic music goes, Club To Club are convinced they can change the wider perceptions of the Italian scene. On the evidence of this year's festival, they're in with a good chance of achieving just that.