11-18 OCTOBER 2015 KRAKOW




It is October 2015 and the Unsound Festival is coming back to town, Krakow town, that is. No big surprise as they've been doing so for well over a decade. Somebody's been watching them all the time. Well, it's been me. But, sorry to say so , I am not a specialist on the festival as during each edition I only saw one or two, maybe three gigs. The festival has been so eclectic that it often covered many areas that are not my interest. But fortunately enough they seem to be growing, maturing and this year they may have reached a peak so far.

Except for the pre-Unsound concert by Max Loderbauer and Jacek Sienkiewicz in a 19th century water supply building on Saturday, the real start was the next day in Nowa Huta with a perfomance of four pianists (Lutoslawski Piano Duo, Joanna Duda and Mischa Kozlowski) who played together four pieces by the late and slightly forgotten minimalist composers Julius Eastman (US) and Tomasz Sikorski (Poland). The concert was criminally late and the hall was freezing cold but the music was well worth coming.

Just before this event, the news spread around town that some crazed blogger, obsessed by the desire to see his name in print, attacked this year's edition of the Unsound Festival. Desperately seeking publicity  and self-promotion he falsely and groundlessly accused one of the musicians of supporting satanism. The fact that the artist in question, David Tibet of Current 93, is a practicing Christian, did not seem to matter to the attacker. Just according to the old and ugly rule, that if you spit on somebody famous, the public and the media will perhaps talk about you, too. As the concert was to take place in one of Krakow's historic churches, the church authorities panicked and, without verifying the information, cancelled that and the other temple- based gigs.

It is highly possible that those authorities do not follow the world media which promptly reported the explanation: "Je nám to velmi líto, protože David Tibet, zakladatel a frontman Current 93, poslal prohlášení, ve kterém vysvětluje svou víru, jak už to mnohokrát udělal v rozhovorech. Tento dopis byl předán zástupcům kostela, ale bez účinku. David je naštvaný a my jsme nyní nuceni změnit dějiště koncertu."

So, the David Tibet and Current 93 concert was relocated to the Museum of Municipal Engineering. The line-up was rather big and included, among others, singer Bobby Watson and reed player Jon Seagroatt of the British progressive folk band Comus, Jack Barnett from These New Puritans and Tony McPhee the legendary blues guitar player and founder of The Groundhogs. The Groundhogs used to be one of my childhood heroes, so I really regretted I could not go to the gig. But that's the price you pay. If the organizers decide not to announce who will play, they should understand that a lot of the audience will not appear. Not everybody is ready to risk their precious time and money (especially in these horrible times) only to find out that they have been bamboozled. That is one of the weaker points of this year's idea of "Baby, what a big surprise".

But coming back to mud slinging...This ridiculous situation was largely talked and laughed about, both among the public and in the media of all sorts (e.g. Los Angeles Times article). It forced the organizers to move those remaining concerts to new spaces which was an extremely difficult task to do in no time at all. Fortunately, they succeeded and I had to travel farther, to the newly-built Krakow Congress Centre to see the improvising minimalist duo of John Tilbury on piano and Robert Piotrowicz on live electronics. I must say that, in my opinion, the change of location did justice to the beautiful and fragile music we had a chance to witness in statu nascendi. A much better place for this sort of event than the Church of Saints Peter and Paul - a magnificent, by the way, example of the Polish Sacral Baroque architecture.

One of the better ideas of the Unsound Festival is running lots of discussion panels, Q&A sessions, presentations or interviews with the artists. And they are free of charge, just as some of the concerts. This year the highlights, in my opinion, were the meetings with John Tilbury and the panel including Matana Roberts and Raphael Rogiński.

The incredible John Tilbury shared some great opinions and observations on the nature of art, music and life in general. But he also told some fantastic stories from the early 1960's Poland, the time when he studied in Warsaw with professor Zbigniew Drzewiecki. That was also the time when Tilbury met and befriended the great composer Tomasz Sikorski and Józef Patkowski, the founder of the legendary Polish radio Experimental Studio (1957). He made some valid points comparing Poland he knew in the 1960's with now, and I guess that could well serve as Great Learning for the audience, which mainly included young people and for them all this was like an imaginary voyage to a strange land.

I also enjoyed a Q&A session with Jacek Sienkiewicz in which he was expected to present 10 records that changed his life. It was really interesting and I also found that so many of his choices could as well be mine (e.g. Julian Cannonball Adderley Somethin' Else, The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour, Songs from the Wanda Warska Cellar etc). He was lucky to have a musical dad, a massive record collector, the one he described as a music freak. And that's why Jacek's education did not start with, say, Prodigy.

The final gig took place at the Museum of Municipal Engineering and featured a truly unusual band including two trumet players and a drummer. That was the incredible Rob Mazurek supported by his two Polish colleagues from Mikrokolektyw. Rob also used his unorthodox attitude to grand piano and live electronics and thus created an unearthly performance.

One of my greatest discoveries this year was the concert in a defunct and abandoned industrial house of a 19th century tobacco factory, now in a ruinous condition. A perfect space for the gig I saw there, which was called Gregidency and was one mad hell of a jam session. Greg Fox, a NYC drummer was to perform solo and then three duos with unannounced musicians. First on stage appeared Jerzy Mazoll who mainly confronted Greg with his bass clarinet and soprano, playing very free, at times blowing both somewhat in the old spirit of the Vibration Society. Mazoll was on top form and their discussion was overwhelming. The next person to appear was Piotr Zabrodzki with his heavily distorted bass guitar, sounding like a mix of free jazz NoMeansNo, Lemmy Motorhead on acid and industrial King Crimson. The third Greg Fox collaborator was indentified as Oren Ambarchi. Oren basically played his one-hand electric guitar, the other hand used for messing with lots of noisatronics. He created cool sheets of noise that nicely completed Greg's fierce percussive onslaught. The jam session finished with all four musicians improvising together, instantly composing some joyful chaos. A beautiful event, could well be a strong candidate for one of my best sound experiences of the year category (if you're into categorizing - I'm not). 

Unfortunately, next year, as I hear, this beautiful factory (forget tobacco) may either be demolished or turned into a posh loft apartment space. I do hope neither will happen as this looks like an industrial monument, one of Krakow's "cultural goods". And in this town investors are constantly on their "search and destroy and profit" mission. So keep calm and stay alert. 











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