Unsound 2021: the final countdown!

11 October 2021

In Search of Authenticity

We talk to Gosia Płysa and Mat Schulz, directors of Unsound, about this exceptional festival of experimental music.

Unsound 2021: dəəp authentic
13–17 October 2021

Paweł Gzyl: You host Unsound in many different cities all over the globe. What’s special about the Cracovian instalment?
Mat Schulz
: It is the largest and most important Unsound festival, forming an integral part of the city’s landscape and history. Our headquarters are here, and the festival is a laboratory where we test and present our most complex, radical commissions.

Although Unsound showcases “niche” music, the festival attracts extremely high numbers of guests from abroad. Why is that?
Gosia Płysa
: You may not think so, but there are actually many fans of the kind of music presented by Unsound, and they love coming to Kraków and spending time here. Kraków is a perfect festival city – compact, with the Main Market Square as the focal point. Most venues are close enough to access on foot. Apart from the programme, an important part of the festival is the industry element: its global renown for regularly discovering fresh musical talent, extensive discussion programme, and closed music industry meetings means it attracts representatives of the music world from Poland and abroad, as well as huge festival audiences. During Unsound, Kraków is a terrific place for networking and plotting.

We didn’t have this specific urban context last year. How did you feel about having to move online?
G.P.: The online festival was longer than the usual in-person event – it lasted eleven days and it was preceded by a cycle of online discussions a few months before the main festival – but it’s just not the same. I hope that the virtual festival will become an expansion or annex to in-person events, which are the most important – especially those in Kraków.

Last year’s festival, held under the banner “Intermission”, was accompanied by tangible publications: an album and a book. Are you planning on continuing these activities?
M.S.: Working on the album and book was definitely a highlight of the lockdowns. These physical objects embodied the festival spirit in a different way, and provided a welcome distraction from the dreary reality of the pandemic, and also strengthened our bonds with the artists. It was a creative project which also held a genuine therapeutic dimension. I organise the festival, but I am also an author, so writing essays and editing the book were very important to me.

You said that “Intermission” was a “major shock after which the world couldn’t go back to how it was before”. Does this mean that this year’s Unsound won’t be the same as before the pandemic?
G.P.: I think many aspects of our lives, including festivals, won’t be the same as before, so Unsound is also bound to change. This year’s event aims to take a step towards the pre-pandemic days, but it will still be highly restricted in terms of scale. There will be fewer club gigs, for example, and less venues. The quality of the programme, artists and the public will be as high as ever, although the audiences are bound to be smaller.

You decided to bring some of the events held online last year to life, for example the wide-reaching project by Nicolas Jaar. How is it going to work?
M.S.: The Łaźnia Nowa Theatre will host a recreation of the compositional process Weavings accompanied by a visual score created by Jaar. The idea is that it is accessible to all kinds of ensembles and it can be freely interpreted by anyone. Kraków welcomes some of the people who took part in the original performance, including Angel Bat Dawid, Resina and Paweł Szamburski, but we’ve also selected some new artists.

The theme of this year’s festival is “dəəp authentic” – where did this idea come from?
G.P.: “dəəp authentic” is a play on “deep fake” and reflects our constant immersion in the virtual world and the continuing blurring of the boundaries between digital and “real” worlds. The pandemic has certainly accelerated these changes and truth is now harder to find; at the same time we feel the need to seek authenticity, whatever it turns out to be. I think that being authentic during the creative process takes on a whole new meaning when we’re talking about performing live in a physical space, rather than in an online or hybrid format. We will consider all these spheres and ways of understanding authenticity through the selection of this year’s artists and the Unsound discourse programme.

You are working with the Film Music Festival on a concert featuring music from the remake of Candyman. Is it going to be as impressive as Chernobyl two years ago?
M.S.: We can expect similarly powerful emotions and a soundtrack that will make a great impression. Rob Aiki Lowe’s music is phenomenal and I can’t wait to hear it performed live, especially given that the stage of the ICE Kraków Congress Centre will also welcome acclaimed Polish artists including Resina, Hubert Zemler and the quintet of Kraków’s very own Spółdzielnia Muzyczna, who are part of the performance. As was the case with Chernobyl, instead of showing film fragments we’ve prepared a light show, so music will play the starring role, and in a sense this performance will take on its own life, connected to, yet separate from the film.

The club scene changes as if in a kaleidoscope. Industrial techno is now passe, no-one remembers bass music and performers from Asia and Africa are nothing new. What new trend will you reveal during the club stream?

M.S.: I’m afraid that this year’s club programme will be much more modest and local than those in previous years. We will present the latest names on the European and especially Polish scenes, but there will also be a few artists from the US. The emerging trend in contemporary club music takes a step away from dark, gloomy sounds towards euphoric, joyful trance rhythms. We see it as a way of escaping the dark pandemic reality.

Recent editions of Unsound featured powerful political elements, especially “Solidarity” held two years ago. Will this year be similar?
G.P.: I think that, unfortunately, the hottest “political” topic will be the issue of vaccination and checking participants’ status before allowing them to take part. I don’t understand or support the argument that dividing people by their vaccination status is in any way discriminatory; I believe that everyone who wants to be a part of the festival community should agree to take their share of responsibility for everyone involved by getting vaccinated.
We will support and encourage all participants to get vaccinated, because that’s the only way we can guarantee being able to attend Unsound and other festivals in the future.

Mat Schulz and Gosia Płysa, photo by Robert Słuszniak

  • Paweł Gzyl
    Music and film journalist, he started out at the “Non Stop” and “Rock’n’Roll” monthlies during the 1980s, later moving to “Music Globe” and “Kaktus”. He currently writes for the “Gazeta Krakowska” and “Dziennik Polski” dailies and for the Nowa Muzyka website.
  • Mat Schulz
    Australian author, screenwriter and curator resident in Kraków. Co-founder and artistic director of the Unsound festival in Kraków and its international editions, as well as many other international artistic projects.
  • Małgorzata Płysa
    Curator and executive director of the Unsound festival and its international editions. Artist manager and president of the Tone – Music and New Forms of Art Foundation. 

The text was published in the 3/2021 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.



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