The Caretaker, MC Yallah and more performed at another bold edition of our scene's most vital, forward-facing festival.
This year's theme, "Solidarity," coincided with what feels like a critical time in the evolution of electronic music. During the discourse program, panels and presentations were approached with a staggering level of honesty. Publications, funding models and prominent artists were all criticised. This moved crucial discussions usually confined to Twitter into a physical space, which allowed for points to be fully explained and an essential element of humanity restored.
Each night of Unsound felt like unwrapping a box of thrilling surprises. You might head to an abandoned hotel and find a live electronic band like Brazil's Teto Preto wrapping the audience in a tornado of passion and movement. Or turn the corner and be roped into a raging reggaeton set from Rosa Pistola. Then find yourself traveling 327 meters underground to the bottom of a salt mine for improvised jazz from The Necks. While the discourse program outlined the systemic changes we need to make, every performance was charged with hope, artistry and innovation. These shows were a reminder that boundary-pushing music is the glue that holds this community together.
Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
The Caretaker & Weirdcore
During a panel discussion on Friday afternoon, Leyland James Kirby, AKA The Caretaker, told a story about the time Unsound director Mat Schulz saw him play at MUTEK in 2010. "He thought I was the worst act at the festival and he went around telling everybody that," Kirby recalled. But Schulz discovered that, six months later, Kirby's performance was one of the only sets from MUTEK that he could actually remember. Nearly a decade on, The Caretaker is a firm Unsound favourite, and he performed at Kino Kijów with acclaimed visual artist Weirdcore (who in turn took inspiration from Ivan Seal, the artist behind The Caretaker's record sleeves). The show started with Kirby striding on stage wearing a pig mask and boxing robe. What followed was wild and surreal, from the karaoke rendition of Simply Red's "Holding Back The Years" to the greatest-hits run through of The Caretaker's incredibly poignant catalogue. For all the Stockport artist's provocation and pranksterism, the beauty of The Caretaker's music shone through.
MC Yallah & Debmaster
MC Yallah and Debmaster have put out a couple EPs on Hakuna Kulala, an offshoot of Nyege Nyege Tapes, but they only started practicing their live show two weeks before their Friday night appearance at Hotel Forum. Their chemistry, it turns out, clearly extends beyond the studio and onto the stage. The Kenyan rapper and French producer performed in The Kitchen, with Yallah's sharp, charismatic rapping (delivered in both in Luganda and Swahili) working the packed dance floor into a froth. Unsound has worked closely with Nyege Nyege in recent years (this year, Nyege Nyege's Arlen Dilsizian was listed as a guest curator), and MC Yallah looks set to follow other East African artists like Otim Alpha, MCZO & Duke and Kampire onto the international stage.
Scratchclart & Lady Lykez
At 2 AM on Saturday, London-based producer Scratchclart and MC Lady Lykez whipped Hotel Forum's Chandelier Room, a wood-panelled hall with a '70s bachelor vibe, into full-on rage mode. Running through tracks from their recent Hyperdub EP, Muhammad Ali, as well as some of Lykez's deeper cuts ("I Love My Bum"), they presented an innovative blend of grime, gqom and dancehall with boundless energy. The crowd fuelled the duo's fire by climbing on stage and slamming together to create a large mosh pit. Lykez's stage presence was pure charisma, spitting bars a mile a minute and playfully asking Scratchclart to rewind tracks so she could do it again. At one point, while delivering "Lyke U," I watched two local medics, onsite as part of the venue's safety team, standing in the doorway, their mouths completely ajar.
AYA (FKA LOFT)
Great things can happen at Unsound if you just put down the programme and blindly follow your mates. Take Saturday's live performance by AYA (FKA LOFT), who played The Kitchen at around midnight. They combined glitchy noise and furious rhythms with razor-sharp wit and comic timing, each interjection—"Everyone in the club getting tipsy," "La di da di da, vote Corbyn"—inviting guffaws from the dance floor. It was part stand-up, part untameable rave show, an exhilarating amalgamation that was unlike anything else at Unsound, let alone Hotel Forum. To finish, the UK artist set loose their bonkers remix of "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen, before leaping onto a table and stage-diving into an awaiting huddle of hands, the crowd all too happy to guide them on their way.
Laura Diaz, the lead vocalist for the São Paulo group Teto Preto, stole the show days before she and her bandmates took the stage at Hotel Forum. On Thursday evening, at a panel titled "Complicity And Accountability: Our Agency In Counterculture," the multidisciplinary artist spoke candidly and with verve about the plight of making queer music and parties work in Brazil. "It's literally a matter of life and death," she told the audience.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Diaz transformed into Angela Carneosso, a writhing, howling singer wearing nothing but a baggy, see-through outfit. She was joined by another performer, the towering, semi-naked figure of Koutana, plus a percussionist and two guys on electronics. While the band thumped out house beats, sometimes layered with live trombone, Carneosso and Koutana owned the stage, filling Ballroom with twisted vocals, confrontational yelling and the harsh sound of slaps on bare skin. There was fury and frustration, but plenty of love, too. "For all my trans, dykes, this show is for you, to the front of the stage," hollered Carneosso with only minutes to go. A few bodies shuffled forward and Koutana ran down the crowd, clasping any outstretched arms, a beautiful moment of raw emotion. The whole band then gathered at the front of the stage, turned away from the crowd and, in perfect unison, revealed their buttocks.
For more on Unsound, revisit our live coverage, which touches on performances by Matmos, Rosa Pistola, Sunn O))) and many more.
Resident Advisor hosted two panels at Unsound 2019.