The life of a digital nomad brings us to some remarkable places and random experiences, and the latest was the opportunity to cover the 2019 Avant Art Festival in Wroclaw. While we’re slowly dusting off GASHE to bring it back to the masses, this article shares a fond glimpse at the surprisingly impressive week in Wroclaw, with deeper details to come.
Wroclaw is a vibrant, youthful city in the south west of Poland, also known as Breslau, while previously under German occupation. We’ve long been much impressed with its music culture and the quality of events that seem to pass through Wroclaw, with this our first opportunity to spend more time here (check back soon for coming digital nomad feature).
Introduction to Avant Art Festival
Avant Art was founded in Wroclaw in 2008, both as an annual festival series, and an ongoing foundation for the arts, primarily music. The early years focused on a particular theme, such as collaboration with foreign artists for editions, including Hungarian (2009), Norwegian (2010), Swiss (2011), German (2012), and Russian (2013). There has consistently been a heavy international presence alongside Polish artists and musicians, and the foundation strives to become “a living artistic organism”.
In this 2019 edition, the opening week in Wroclaw was followed by a slightly altered week in Warsaw, and a one-off gig in Berlin featuring a few of the weekend’s artists.
Japanese Artists on Wednesday at Impart
There is a long tradition of Japanese participation at Avant Art Festival, dating back to the first edition in 2008. On the Wednesday evening at Impart, guests were treated to three performances in the small hall. The first, illustrator and sound designer Kouhei Matsunaga, donning 3D glasses took the stage, where he sat in front of a laptop, soon generating sounds of birds and nature. Occasionally bass rocked through the hall, with low frequencies balanced out by the higher ones of chirps and background sounds. Particularly impressive was the simulation of water drops, that seemed to fall from the top of the speaker downwards towards the bass-flooded stage.
Veteran Aki Onda took the stage next, in front of a small table filled with various electronic equipment, a champagne glass, and numerous cassette tapes and players. He began with a demonstration of sound dynamics, holding a small speaker and rotating it from left to right, creating unique depth in contrast to the larger, traditional speakers. He mixed expertly between cassette decks and effects units, creating almost an organic synthesizer sound, with layers of reverberating textures of anything from band recordings to Tokyo street sounds and conversations. From the glass he poured water into a microphone tray or plate, creating a bang and sizzling akin to an electric shock. The highlight came with his hand held bells, that he occasionally dropped on floor cymbals that were drenched in reverb, creating lush loops of bells and crashes floating into the distance. To conclude came a final display of sound dynamics, playing a cassette deck through a small cube monitor, complemented by bells, and faded out as the spotlight dimmed.
Rounding out the evening was three piece Japanese band Kukangendei, who largely play polyrhythms – the concept of different instruments and percussion each at independent time signatures. The madness, with their bursts of heavy guitar, bass and snare, despite its chaos, works proficiently, and occasionally comes together most delightfully. The drums, bass and guitar were joined by Polish guitarist Hubert Kostkiewicz for the final track.
Dalek and Zonal at Impart on Thursday
Returning to Impart on the Thursday, the action moved from the small hall to the main theatre, with a huge stage, balanced acoustics, and tiered seating. First up was American hip hop duo dälek – “rap for adults” – who used a pair of mixers, various pedal boards and effects to generate crushing industrial beats, underneath reverb and echo drenched vocals.
Britain’s Zonal, a two piece electronic act, cultivated layers of loops from what appeared to be modular synthesizers, mixers and a laptop. In their red and black symmetry, cutting through the fog, they dropped broken instrumental hip hop beats and glitchy sounds.
Friday night in the Church at Stary Klasztor
The most exciting night was Friday, when Avant Art took over an old church, Stary Klasztor, and erected a big stage and sizable sound system, that bellowed bass through its chambers. After the challenge of finding the place, I was particularly enamored by the church setting, bringing back memories of the first underground rave I ever attended in the late 1990s, at a church outside of Toronto, Canada.
Headlining the night was Aisha Devi and her Danse Noir crew – we discovered Aisha Devi last year covering Up To Date Festival in Bialystok, and have been fans since. After the Danse Noir DJs came the Greek goddess, Abyss X, who charmed the crowd with her seductive posturing and dancing, climbing the table, holding shiny jewellery into the sky, while a central laser cut from the back and reflected off her ring. Her underlying beats set the foundation for her evocative and provocative singing and chanting.
Aisha Devi took the stage next, with a diagonally-aligned table holding gear that included a mixer, laptop and effects. Her dark, churning beats and bass cut through the church while she wailed away with penetrating vocals for her signature sound. Energetic and positive, Aisha thanked the packed crowd, humble and grateful, despite one mentally ill guest doing his best to ruin the performance from the second row.
Concluding the proceedings, Finland’s Amnesia Scanner took the stage, to wild cheers from devoted followers. Smoky and foggy, the trippy set played through dark pounding and glitchy beats, occasionally dropping into funk. I’m not sure what was in the fog, but it assuredly led to amnesia of my own.
Saturday night at Firlej
After recovering from Friday, Saturday moved to the south of Wroclaw, at the arts hall of Firlej. While a smaller stage and venue, the packed, devoted crowd lent for a big and noisy night.
It began with a pair of simple sets from Polish DJs, first MŁYN, then Morgiana. This set the scene for Britain’s ShyGirl, who was clearly not shy, taunting the crowd with slow lyrics, raps and singing, while a lazy DJ stylishly pressed buttons and checked his phone. There were dubstep, garage and grime styles reflective of their UK roots, and the boisterous crowd impressed the artists, who had huge smiles of surprise and wonder.
Coucou Chloe entered the stage with a bottle of champagne she guzzled over the course of her set. A simple laptop and CDJ set up allowed for performances of her original productions, with songs and raps over top. There was some dubstep and faster tracks, and she was certainly appreciative of the full house.
Curl was the energetic highlight of the evening, a three piece British band, whose sounds ranged from grunge, to hip hop, to noise and blasts of grime. The trio swapped between instruments, that included a drum kit, a table of synths and drum pads, a guitar, bass, and microphones. Layers of noise, drone, distortion and feedback came together for snappy renditions of songs, between improvised jams, not unlike the vibe of Sonic Youth.
Chilled Sunday Comedown at Impart
Fittingly, the festival’s week wrapped up back at Impart, with a smaller crowd and much softer music, though not necessarily easy listening. Polish classical musical duo Teoniki Rożynek & Qba Janicki opened proceedings with mind food. Janicki, a seasoned jazz drummer, rolled a plethora of common and unusual percussive sounds across his snare drum, tapping out rhythms. Rożynek began with the post-attack sustain of her violin, while mixing layers of her synth and other keyboard sounds.
American guitarist Bill Orcutt holds a vast musical resume, but at Avant Art Festival 2019 he performed simply, with a single guitar through a Fender amp, no pedals, vocals or effects. His clean guitar sound generated mesmerising rhythms that were easy to become lost in thought, while chord progressions changed from the use of a capo, and fast rolls and hammers into full chords.
Concluding the evening, and the weeklong festival, was Japanese space rockers Minami Deustch, reminiscent of legendary band Can. For this performance we moved back into the main theatre room. The four piece act featured a female drummer holding things together, two guitarists mirroring on the wings, each with a seldom-used microphone, and a bassist in the centre. Their mostly instrumental set took advantage of the roomy, boomy confines of the theatre for a stellar, powerful performance.
Weekend in Warsaw ahead
Avant Art Festival 2019 wraps up this weekend in Warsaw, with Aisha Devi, Abyss X, Amnesia Scanner, Coucou Chloe and the Danse Noir DJs rocking an old factory site on Friday night. Saturday moves to Klub999 for a completely original presentation, featuring Olivia (PL), Curl, Bob Vylan, Hungary’s Fausto Mercier, and a selection of Polish electronic artists. Sunday returns the chill theme, with a trio of American acts, Mick Barr and Aaron Turner, concluding with Bill Orcutt. Limited tickets remain available.
Positive Feelings for Avant Art Festival 2019
Being void of expectations is a solid approach to life in general, removing chance of disappointment, but subsequently leaves room to be impressed. Avant Art Festival was one of these instances, a hidden gem with a storied history, a well-curated roster of original and truly creative artists, and a laid back yet well-executed approach that hints at a respect for its underground roots. It’s a winner, and while you might not discover this in time for 2019, it’s well worth marking on your calendar for 2020.
Avant Art Festival rejuvenates the concept that music proves a vibrant and diverse art form, and inspires artists to challenge themselves to new levels of artistry, beyond the mainstream and conventional approaches to 4/4 beat design and performance. While this article has been a brief introduction to the world of Avant Art, in time we’ll explore more in depth through GASHE, and perhaps raise our creative games to participate ourselves one day.
More information: https://avantart.pl
Some photos courtesy of Avant Art Festival 2019 / Lukasz Gawronski – thank you!
Video snippets from Avant Art Festival, courtesy of Glakon ov Zorf
Day 3 – https://bit.ly/2MFP0Yo
Day 4 – https://bit.ly/32Gh6br
Day 5 – https://bit.ly/2JecIbK
Day 6 – https://bit.ly/33WhyTc