LEV Festival 2017: A tiny Garden of Eden for electronic music lovers


LEV Festival reached maturity in a true communion between technological and organic offerings, forward looking A/V artists and a highly demanding crowd.

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LEV Festival, also known as Laboratory of Visual Electronics, reached its 11th edition with an eclectic and high quality line up. As usual, the events took place in different venues around the city of Gijón (Spain), the Laboral City of Culture being the main spot. From May 27 to May 29, a good bunch of A/V artists shared their shows, setting a perfect balance between touching artistic offerings and inflammatory dancefloor masters. Previous editions of the festival saw some big names on stage - Tim Hecker, Robert Henke, Aphex Twin, Richard H. Kirk, Pole, Oneothrix Point Never, Mika Vainio or Alva Noto, to name a few. This time the orgs scheduled the programme in a wise way, creating an equilibrium between bigger and smaller names. The final result quenched the thirst of the attendees and was unquestionably enriching.

The venues were the traditional Theatre, with its superb sound system and gigantic screen, the “Nave” within La Laboral modern art museum, and the Botanic Garden for Sunday’s final show. There was also one new place used, also located within the La Laboral complex in Gijón. Miraculously, the weather was benevolent until the very last day, when rain visited the closing act - Julia Kent at the Botanic Garden. LEV was sold out again, which is becoming a tradition, and there was certainly good reason. Festivalgoers got to enjoy an edition that marks LEV’s maturity and elimination of old mistakes - solving the time/genre schedule issue, avoiding queues, etc.

This year, Secret Thirteen had the privilege of having the collaboration of Oscar Parasiego, a photographer and visual artist based in Madrid and the man behind La Máquina de Fotos. His work focuses on subjectivity, exploring the untruthfulness of photography and its inability to capture the complexity of human self-reflection. His artworks evoke surrealist aesthetics creating powerful and playful images, always in need of the observer to complete the journey.

Friday 28

Kara Lis Coverdale and MFO opened on Friday night. The Canadian virtuosa was a perfect choice to start the fire on the Theatre stage. Time and again, she has proven her savoir faire both in her solo projects and in collaborations with LXV -Sirens- or Tim Hecker -Virginal. At LEV, she pushed boundaries in terms of structure, sound and harmony, playing with luminosity, darkness, rhythm, loops and pitch, painting shapeless evocative landscapes. MFO, who had visited the festival before with his stroboscopically violent visuals in support of Ben Frost, opted this time to build an organic environment of shadows, objects and psychedelic shapes shifting, as minutes went by, from subtlety to the most overwhelming greatness. Next up, Nicolas Bernier was not new at LEV either. The Canadian, responsible for the awesome Frequencies installation, took his squares on stage. Hanging from the ceiling, his acrílic screens maintained a jaw-dropping dialogue with the sound. This work in progress concept showed up as a living being that keeps evolving with undeniable effectiveness. Visually, the experience proposed by Bernier was beautiful and surprising. The sound was impressive, especially at the end of the gig, but it would be unfair (and a mistake) to evaluate the two realms, the visual and the sonic, separately. As a whole, it is definitely a step forward for Frequencies and a happy piece of news for Nicolas’ fans. Where can he get to? Time will tell but I would be optimistic.

The closing act at the theatre was Lexachast by Amnesia Scanner and Pan’s founder Bill Kouligas. In terms of sound, which I found not really memorable, their show explored various styles, almost developing a multi-genre collage that fit like a glove with the visuals. These displayed random images taken from the Net: from trucks and logos to parties, selfies, ads, Egyptian statues, riots, etc. The interesting thing is that the images are not still, but they come and go dynamically, slowly approaching, framing certain parts, transforming, melting into the following picture or emerging from tiny elements of the preceding one. The combination of sound and images brought on-stage unrest, frenzy… a feeling of “hectic” yet void activity, a myriad of worryingly familiar portraits - a picture of the consumption era that we are living in, and the consequences we are responsible of.

The Theatre closed its doors but the activities just moved a hundred metres to the “Nave” —Spanish for warehouse— within La Laboral modern art museum. While the walk was short, the distance in terms of genre was anything but subtle. Maotik jumped up on-stage with a three-section performance, which combined low frequencies and dense ambient layers. His show offered the first danceable beats and rhythms of the night. Of course, the attendees were already asking for party time. Logos and Oscar Sol on the visuals were next. Mr. James Parker is embracing hyper-slow dub and grime, and, apparently, this communion is bringing some funk to the static world of low-freq noise, turning it into some kind of deeply experimental sublow. His gig, with highly inspiring ambient passages, was proof these genres could be merged to produce interesting results.

Byetone, escorted by Markus Heckmann’s visuals, was a good show. His sound increased the night’s intensity in terms of bpm. The co-founder of raster noton shared his new work, Universal Music and some older material. His distorted IDM and techno were a definite invitation to dance. It was clear at that stage - the party had started and the audience was ready for what was to come.

We were still trying to process what we had witnessed when Samuel Kerridge took the wheel. His live sets have allowed him to become one of the most admired and popular artists at the moment, and this was no exception. His brutal industrialism and dense rawness of his offering were electrifying. Container closed the night with his usual abrasiveness. Repetition and instinct are not necessarily antonyms, indeed, the fact that he grew up among noise bands from Providence and NY explains many things. The rhythmic structures are not complex, but the development of the tracks and the many high frequency effects he adds make his sound not only hard and intense, but highly enjoyable as well. Maybe he had to face the great inconvenience of playing after Kerridge but, all in all, he brought the Friday night to a marvellous conclusion.

Saturday 29

People had not recovered from the previous night when they saw themselves again in front of a stage. The traditional gigs at the Botanic Garden moved this year to the old basketball pitches just outside La Laboral. The names chosen for the three-hour morning session were Octuvre, Kiki Hitomi and Synkro.

Juan Casamayor is the man behind Octuvre, an Asturian performer whose sound is somewhere between synthpop and dark wave. One of the main names of superb Contubernio Records label, his gig opened Saturday activities with a taste of dark lo-fi that somehow contrasted with the sunny day. After him, Kiki Hitomi from King Midas Sound jumped on stage to provide some excellent dub. Hers was undoubtedly one of the best gigs of the festival. Finally, Synkro left some of his emotional but still danceable soundscapes, trademark of the bass culture in which he has made himself a name.

Between those concerts and the first gig at the Theatre, the organisers had scheduled the screening of the documentary Geometría del Esplendor about the history of Esplendor Geométrico. Afterwards, the gigs by ARK9, RRUCCULLA and Huias shortened the resting time before what would be a long and exhausting last night.

The first concert at the Theatre was Novi_Sad & Ryoichi Kurokawa. They presented their project Sirens, a five part A/V piece that explores, from a dystopian perspective, the economic crisis and the behaviour of global markets. Here, Novi_Sad remixes and reinterprets tracks by five pioneers - Richard Chartier, CM von Hausswolff, Jacob Kierkegaard, Helge Sten and Rebecca Foon - using a basis of field recordings of natural events such as earthquakes. RBMA brought one of the main names of the festival. The Hauschka show with Florence To on the visuals had brilliant stages but, as a whole, lacked a bit of his terrific mastery on the keys. The three piano spectacle satisfied the attendees, however, as witnessed by the warm and long applause he was granted. Even despite the peaks and boring valleys of his performance, and the delay (it started around 45 minutes late due to problems with the visuals), the audience did not hesitate to thank the German for sharing his What If and a thoughtfully designed show.

There were two gigs left at the Theatre, which possibly offered the most appealing formula together with Kara Lis Coverdale and Nicolas Bernier. First, Alex Augier shared his _nybble_, a superb A/V spectacle that plays with shapes and space using technological minimalism as a means to merge both digital and organic worlds. Surrounded by four translucent screens where geometries and shapes danced to the beat of sound, the Frenchman provided the audience with a truly evocative and dynamic experience in an amazing 40 minute show. Last but not least, Martin Messier closed the Theatre gigs maybe with the best act of this edition. The Canadian’s Field was simply magnificent. He departs from a rather simple idea, i.e., generating sound from inaudible electromagnetic fields. However, he turns that simplicity into a powerful driver that forces him to make wise use of the stage space, playing with shadows, darkness and LED lights. The mise-en-scene was simply impressive. This is just another example demonstrating that less can be more.

Back again to the “Nave”, the crowd was looking forward to witnessing the very last performances of the festival. Once more, party time was about to start. Skygaze was the first one to step on the stage. His multi-genre approach was a really effective starting point that night. Profoundly eclectic, his proposal is quite difficult to label, since the sound goes from house to hip hop, with abstract atmospheres and organic soundscapes. Anyhow, he performs confidently and knows exactly how to transform his gigs into pleasant experiences.

But the big names of the night were still to show up. John Beltran, also known as Nostalgic, Placid Angles or Sol Set, is not a newcomer. The American has a vast background behind him since he took his first steps in electronic music back in the nineties. His set was soft but full of energy and showed how well minimal techno sequences work. Oscar Sol’s perfectly synchronised images that folded and unfolded gently fit perfectly with this sonic journey. One of the most awaited artists were Factory Floor. Their performance was not as extraordinary as many in the crowd were expecting. In fact, the sound was unsurprising and lacked progression.

Lorenzo Senni followed suit. His luminous and epic live set left its mark on the festival: exquisite IDM consisting of accelerated arpeggios, multiple effects, immersive layers and syncopated beats. Sometimes this genre can be a bit rococco or excessive, and artists can be tremendously reckless, leaving pure fun or even taste, behind. However, Senni has found a formula where both joy and the “simple pleasure of listening” are perfectly balanced. Maybe his Persona EP, released by WARP, is an overrated album but it is a different story when it comes to his live performances. In two words, just amazing. For dessert, the organisers left a truly heavy show from IVVVO. Many had left the venue to see a side event by Alexander Robotnick at Lanna, a local club. Nevertheless, the lucky crowd that opted to see what the Portuguese had to offer did not make the wrong decision. His sound explores diverse realms, with fat industrial percussions and ethereal wraparound soundscapes that go from chiaroscuro to expressionism, painting a fascinating picture.

Sunday 30

The last day of the festival began with the usual rainy Asturian weather. And the final concert took place outdoors in the gorgeous Botanic Garden near La Laboral. However, Julia Kent was maybe the perfect choice for such a natural environment. Armed with just a cello, a loop recorder and a midi controller, her gig was sober and emotional. The sound system played a dirty trick at some stage, but apart from that, the journey she invited us to take, led us to some delicious and comforting place. The communion between technology and nature started by Kara Lis Coverdale two days ago had been successfully completed.

Later at night, LEV festival would say goodbye at Lanna club. This club is like an oasis for electronic music lovers from Asturias and some neighbouring regions from the North of Spain. No lake or palm trees to be honest, but the sound is impeccable. Rob Hall and Komatssu were the artists chosen for this farewell.

All in all, this year’s edition was a memorable one. The terrific line-up and a remarkable improvement in terms of organization, schedule and sound, exceeded festivalgoers’ expectations, which is not child’s play considering the demanding LEV crowd. Short but intense, what we have left now, apart from an unbeatable taste in our mouths, is a long year to wait. Superb edition.

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About Author

Armando Valdés, the man behind Secret Thirteen album reviews, is a translator, music journalist and a member of noise-ambient + spoken word band “Granny On Donkey”.

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