Festival Review: Elita Design Week Festival 9
By: Drew Parrish
Elita Design Festival 9 – Milan, Italy
Teatro Franco Parenti (and various clubs throughout the city)
April 9-14, 2014
Elita Design Week Festival 9, a festival dedicated to contemporary music and design. How deliciously broad, the term contemporary music. Contemporary is a common word, we hear it frequently, but are all of us experiencing contemporary culture? It made me curious to how an event dedicated to what is contemporary perceives itself. So I ventured to one of the crown jewels of fashion world, Milano, Italy, to learn more about what it means to be contemporary. I received a musical lesson on the meaning of contemporary. I learned it in the most fashionable, half-assed mosh pit I have ever been in, I learned it at the silent disco in the beer garden outside the venue, I learned it from the ticket checkers, dressed in all black suits, that didn’t pat me down a single time, but most of all I learned through all night dancing.
On Day 1 I walked into Teatro Franco Parenti, and did myself the pleasure of hearing an artist for the first time at their live show. In fact I did it twice. Wild Beasts and Joan as Policewoman.
Wild Beasts kicked things off with an onslaught of aura. Two vocalists both with impressive range combined with soaring atmospheric synths to create an engaging soundscape. Layer in guitar, bass guitar, and a variety of live and programmed drums, and I was finding it hard to decide whether I should sway romantically with my eyes closed or dance around fiendishly like I usually do. Naturally I opted for both, diverse reaction seemed like the most appropriate response to the diverse music of Wild Beasts. The set was a sonic journey, from the cathartic textures and falsettos (a la Arcade Fire) of the song “Wanderlust” to the upbeat, indie quintessential “All The King’s Men.” I left with the best music recommendation one can get.
Joan as Policewoman
This band is a straight up niche filler. I remember reading the band name on the lineup posting weeks before, and consciously acknowledging that this artist might as well be a rapper for all I can tell. Joan is not a rapper, but it is her voice that carries her career. It is voluminous with soul, unforced and natural. It did not melt my mind with its Aretha-like range and power, but sparked inspiration with the knowledge that this woman pursued a natural, elegant talent into a successful career; Joan as Policewoman is currently touring the recent album The Classic. Probably the first thing I noticed about the band was that Joan’s biceps put mine to shame, there is little doubt in my mind that she would beat me in a fight. This made for a confusing audio-visual dynamic as Joan belted her delicate soul, while occasionally playing the guitar and the violin. However, that sort of paradoxical dynamic is what sought out the most obscure corners of their niche. Joan and her band supported her voice by often jamming her songs into some noisy textures, flavoring the set with some avant-garde and pulling her music into the realm of psychadelia.
However, I flew to Milan from Prague with a dominant goal in mind: all-night dancing. The DJ heavy lineup seemed to favor that goal, and I would get my first taste on the first night. We left Joan as Policewoman wailing in Teatro Franco Parenti and cabbed over to the Magazzini Generali.
There was a name buzzing around my group, it flitted off our tongues with reverence. We spoke of the Disco god from the lands of Norway, Todd Terje. They say his fiery beard will keep anybody within a fifty-meter radius warm from the icy winds of the arctic. I dream of a time of neon abandon, when bumpin uglies has not monopolized the dance floor, and the patrons of the club have attended in order to dance rather than play the psychosocial mind games of mating. I, of course, dream of what I believe to be the Disco Renaissance, and our Leonardo? Todd Terje. May his rolling synths and bouncy chords guide us into a new era of dance!
Elita Design Week Festival labeled the Todd Terje set as “live,” yet as the stage was elevated, and I was having too much fun dancing and watching skeezy Italian men, I only narrowly figured out that that meant he had a synthesizer up there with him, and was layering those infectious synth lines in real time. Terje operated with simple melodies, such as the one that meanders its way through his track “Inspector Norse,” but he is constantly layering his effects and changing the sound construction to these melodies. This deepens the sonic environment, adding dimensions. He compliments this with well-timed introductions of rapid staccato percussion loops; slightly changing the face of the sound environment by adding texture. The result is an incessantly familiar and nostalgic disco vibe, wrapped in the technological experimentation of the 21st century. It slays dance floors.
On day two, DWF9 supplied our hungry senses with a hip-hop leaning lineup. Anchoring the night was Madlib. From doing some of the finest production work in the genre, executing some of the most satisfying collaborative work, and MCing, to getting downright jazzy, Madlib has remained acutely unique and forward thinking, and is currently creating a highly influential career. His DJ set was shrouded in a constant sparse fog, concealing the details of the scene and focusing the audience on the music. His set evolved, beginning slow and slightly sporadic, he melded his abstract and deep beats in and out of focus with an array of hip-hop songs. It was an education in the genre, like listening to a lecture of beats and rhymes. It was a guided tour through the some of the most interesting corners of the hip-hop universe.
Friday night was an evolution of hip-hop. After the enlightening Madlib set, Hudson Mohawke stepped up, constructed a wall of rising noise, then dropped into “Goooo,” the floor destroying track by his collaboration with Lunice, TNGHT. What followed was a noisy time travel into the emerging realm of genre smashing, noise hip-hop. We jumped, we convulsed, we sweated profusely. A little over a year ago Hudson Mohawke was signed to Kanye’s G.O.O.D. label for his production work, a few months later Yeezus was released. The raw experimentalism and outrageous sound that earned that album plenty of accolades is no doubt an aspect of Hudson Mohawke’s work. The man gave the sound system a workout, with a well-executed mix and a diverse setlist. He managed to maintain the manic energy, without overdoing it, and alienating my critical mind, with sound and drops for the sake of sound and drops. He ended his set, we brought him back. The lights went on, he kept on going. Madlib came out and sat behind him, nursing a bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey. The two proceeded to trade swigs, give each other hugs, and offer up an unorganized, fully lit, drunken “jam?” sesh. Hudson Mohawke was trying to get Madlib to rap, and Madlib read some lyrics off his iphone, then drunkenly avoided too much attention after that. It wasn’t spectacular, but they get points for improvisational novelty.
If there was a single day of the show that I was most excited for, it was Day 3. The standard of electronic music that it promised was a good portion of the motivation that got me to Milan. In electronic music, it is easy to get caught in formulaic creation, become lost in four on the floor beats, and popularly accepted rhythms and sounds. The artists booked for the third day of the festival elevate above this formula, and set a standard of experimentation, attention to detail, and respect for the craft of electronic music.
A Four Tet live set will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about electronic music. And it is because Kieran Hebden’s music does so well in capturing the founding principle of electronic music, which is to defy principle. He makes disparate sounds sound beautiful, creates rhythm from noise; one gets lost in his alien soundscape. But at least we are lost dancing. His keen sense of sample manipulation and use of recorded sounds allows him a staggering range of sound to operate with. Better yet he manages to arrange these layers of sound in a way that is striking in its simple intricacy and totality. It is the use of loops, quite simple, yet a listener can absorb the repetition of a Four Tet track, and consistently discover a new sound and its effect on the soundscape as a whole. Four Tet closed with the track “Parallel Jalebi,” a track that simultaneously evokes a subliminal peace, and mines some of the deepest bass frequencies you will here at an electronic show. Four Tet captures the essence of contemporary music and its symbiosis with technology, by combining an acute sense of rhythm, with wild texture, by establishing harmony between the objectless sound, and a well-arranged composition.
I hadn’t even come close to digesting the Four Tet set before I was propositioned with one of the most creative minds in contemporary music, Daphni. Daphni is the DJ/dance music alias of Caribou. And after I realized the creative genius of Caribou’s music, a dance music alter performance ego became a successful temptation. Musicianship, taste, execution, and a drive to push the boundaries of creativity make a crucial difference in the button-pushing realm of music. Daphni demonstrated all of these by dropping funky beats under disparate sounds, focusing on all layers of the song, and creating an evolving setlist that was fuel for a dancing fire. The most wonderful part of his set is when he sewed in some excellent soul samples; soaring voices and horn lines, accompanying his creative electronic beats. His set melded a sharp funk sense with abstract experimentalism, making songs such as “Ye Ye” and “Yes I Know” an experience that is thoroughly engaging. Dancing and deep listening (or both) were equally stimulating (really that was characteristic of the entire weekend). Personally I went with the both route and walked out of the Teatro Franco Parenti an excitably satisfied man.
Our satisfaction carried us to the Tunnel Club, it scored us a spot at the back of the line, 45 minutes later it paid the cover charge, bust most of all, it kept my mojo boogie going until 5 am. I wouldn’t be surprised if I left with less cartilage in my knees. No matter, because I left with more of that satisfaction than I entered with. The Tunnel Club capped off the greatest night of electronic music I have yet known. It is because John Talabot was giving me music from 2:30 to 5:00. We probably entered around 3:30 am and it wasn’t long after that until one of my friends uttered the words “Space Jungle music.” If I actually had to classify Talabot’s music I could use words like deep house, disco, psychedelic indie-pop fusion. But as far as I am concerned, at this point he makes Space Jungle music. Talabot manages to mix a set that constantly engages the listener by capturing and capitalizing on the repetitive nature of house music. There is a mysterious alienating effect to his music, he uses techniques such as exotic percussion rhythms, a dark reverb style, and long fade ins and outs to present his music as an incomprehensible entity. It is like the shadow sweeping through the forest and land just beyond the horizon. It is ineffable and surreal. It is the Space Jungle.
Crewlove Feat. Pillowtalk, Tanner Ross, Wolf+Lamb, Soul Clap
I had no idea who any of the artists I listed above were. I still don’t know who is who. All I know is that at some point in the evening these people all spun music. Funky music. Deliciously danceable music. We warmed the night up with a silent disco, where everybody puts headphones on and ideally, dances around. Crewlove was a solid choice to close a festival based purely on the atmosphere they created. Rather than the collective attention of the audience focused on the performance, it was directed at one another. It was a party, not a show, and in this way it brought the festival together before we parted. These artists uncovered the easygoing vibes of past eras, by playing funk and soul tracks accompanied by steady beats, and a smart ability to blend them in the mix. It was steady, rarely outrageous, never boring, and always fun.
For a festival that celebrated contemporary music, they bid us farewell with proper blend of past and present. It is a profound statement really, that the past and present must unite to form what can be contemporary. The meaning of contemporary has far more depth than understanding it simply as what is new. Contemporary is the height of what is new, it is what drives culture and thus its evolution. Contemporary culture capitalizes on the experiences of the past yet constantly experiments with the future. It never rests in its education and innovation. This is what Elita Design Week Festival 9 captured in their lineup.