OUTLINE 2015 - Dancing with the Ghosts of Industry


Outline Festival Moscow 2015 Review

As my marshrutka took me under Moscow’s skirt and headed towards the Karacharovsky mechanical plant - home of this year's OUTLINE Festival - I began feeling better prepared for the gloom on display that evening. There was a significant change in the atmosphere: bars and monuments gave place to decrepit appartment blocks and factories, fashion went the way of necessity, and my fatigue quickly turned to excited anticipation. Entering through the shipping-container gates I could no longer wait for the likes of Peder Mannerfelt, Demdike Stare, Felix Kubin, and countless other great artists in the line-up.

We had a bit of time to walk around the festival grounds before the action started, and were instantly lost. Throughout the two days I spent there, it always seemed like there was always some detail I had not previously noticed jumping out at me. I have no doubt there was a lot I'd missed when all was said and done. The gargantuan factory buildings were full of nooks and crannies where artists had set up their installations, all of them adding to an overall feel, which, while not necessarily comprehensive throughout, gave the various areas a unique face. There were times I felt I’d stepped into a refugee camp, complete with people trying to rest on piles of clothing or whatever makeshift beds there were, and others, when tired scarecrows greeted the start of my vacation in the countryside. The huge factory yard was no less impressive: cranes had been turned to fountains and partly collapsed buildings were lit like exhibits in the gallery of generations past.

With so much going on, time was my nemesis, and his schemes soon led me on a search for the DARK stage where Sal Solaris had just started playing their live set. An unused railway guided me across a quiet area of wilderness with scattered beds for those in need of a break from the revelry. Having finally arrived at a concrete beast of a building, I could already hear the low-pitched drones of the dark ambient duo from Rostov-on-Don. It seemed like the perfect setting for their grim muffled machine beats and power electronics-ey samples peeking over the stream of subdued melodies - all tied together with collages of classical imagery on screen. There was a certain je ne sais quoi about it all. The scene had been set for the evening.

Before Peder Mannerfelt came on stage I went on a mini-tour of the extended building where the stage was. Passing a monochrome glitchy installation into the next room, I was carried by the sights and sounds straight to the set of a grimy horror flick at night: five lonely bathtubs sat in neon lighting half-full with water, leaving me sure that approaching them might be too strong a temptation of fate. "Let's split up", I might have said, were I not cognizant of how that ended. The rest of the scenery was similar in feel and effect - whether it was the little unsettling cocoon-like things or the dark room behind metal bars with a fallen half-lit chandelier (no doubt housing some bloodcrazed antediluvian nightmare) - it all left me pleasantly-disconcerted enough to go see Mannerfelt.

I think his performance was enough to drown any conviction I might have had bitching about a lot of the general shortcomings at the fest. Mannerfelt entered the stage with an analog battle-horn, and began tearing the place to pieces layer by crumbling layer. Each one of his far-between beats was a fatal blow to the solar plexus, and the electrified shrieks of his synth seemed dense to the point of tangibility. This was the eldritch apparition that is "Lines Describing Circles" Mannerfelt, but more unrelenting by leagues - he only relieved pressure so he could inflict more of it, until finally he was just done and gone. And so was I.

I needed a breather, so I took a walk towards the MAIN stage to have a look there before returning to see Andy Stott. Quite fittingly, MAIN was within the largest building on site and it looked quite grand - a cathedral of electronic music full of lasers and all-things-sacred on the dancefloor. It was Atom TM and Robin Fox holding mass. I made a mental note to return later and went back to DARK.

Andy Stott was already in full swing, and the cozy lair that was DARK had become full to a point where I was forced to use most of my wits just to protect the drink I’d managed to get from the tyranny of fashionably dressed shoulders and hair-gel. Regardless, Andy was banging it out as earnestly as he would have been expected to at the MAIN stage (I'm pretty sure that is where he was supposed to appear originally), which was surprising in the context of his latest blockbuster release. There were harsh jungle beats, and deliberate errors, and noise - all things that would normally make me lose composure, but Andy never seemed capable of achieving such a reaction within me. Somehow I always find his music a little bland and quickly lose interest. It's great that this was the case, too, because it meant I could catch the beginning of Felix Kubin.

DEPO was on the far end of the territory - a skeletal metal construction with a stage inside, where you could stand on either side and be close to the artist. This was especially cool for Kubin's set, because you can't really be too close to the man without it being illegal. I'd seen him before, and he was every bit as mercurial and downright hilarious as he had been. It appears to be very difficult to pull off humor in music, without making it too cheesy to empathize with, but Kubin's genius is unparalleled in this regard. By the time my watch finally told me to go back into the cave for Demdike Stare, I’d become significantly more fond of my fellow man.

The rest of the night passed way too quickly: between the newly found friends, the attempts to speak broken Russian, the search for frozen yoghurt (or was it Jägermeister?), and jumping between moods and vibes, I felt spent. Demdike Stare was cavernous, sinister, and good, although I used to enjoy their sets a lot more before they went down the Test Pressing path, Miles was DJing drum and bass (which was cool, but, y’know, drum and bass), and there was a lot of minimal techno, tech-house, and everything in-between. We took a bus home - tomorrow would be unpredictable.

In the light of day I found my opinions next to a Greek salad and looked them in the eye. One of the things that struck me was how sober the people of OUTLINE seemed to be, and I don't mean to say it was a straightedge festival, but there was a lot less excess than I'm used to seeing. Perhaps this has to do with how scarce the alcohol was - it was almost as scarce as coffee (which, try as I might, I could not find). Maybe this was a compromise, because last year there had been no alcohol whatsoever, and thus people were pre-partying hard. In general, I have to say I liked the crowd a lot - the people seemed preoccupied with simply having fun at no one's expense, and that went a long way to ensure the atmosphere was laid-back and friendly.

Lineup-wise there was enough variety to satisfy most - from the experimentally-minded, to the ravers, to those who wanted to chill out with some quality R'n'B. Even considering there were a few acts who did not turn up (Pharmakon being one of them), the loss would have been negligible if the scheduling was done a bit better. I personally had to miss acts I would have normally gone well out of my way to see. And honestly, I don't understand why it was necessary to start the festival Saturday evening when there was so much going on - were there worries the rave would die out? If so, they were completely misguided - the Woodz stage went until at least Monday afternoon.

I have no doubt OUTLINE will continue to have success in the future, but I also think it remains to be seen where the organizers choose to take it - the direction seems rather ambiguous at the moment. I also fear there isn’t enough competition on the market to provide the motivation needed to clarify the fundamentals. If that is indeed the case, then it will remain what it is - a bit of everything with sparks of brilliance. I hope it evolves, though. A little polish is all OUTLINE requires to become a real exotic masterpiece.

About Author

Tadas Švenčionis is a Secret Thirteen editor and journalist. He organizes the occasional event in Lithuania and is obsessed with the harsh, the sad, the delirious, and the political.

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