Possibly the most inspired lineup of the whole fest was Friday’s Mark McGuire/Pole/Sun Araw show. McGuire is an excellent guitarist, able to create gorgeous, heartbreaking epics from layers of guitar. He’s extremely prolific, but 2010′s Living With Yourself is still his best work. It’s an album about family and loss and understanding—and hearing it, there’s never a moment where he hits you over the head with those themes, they just weave into the music. His set at Unsound came close to that record. By the end, he was leaning over, dripping sweat onto his instruments, and although we were all just standing there, it felt like something cathartic had just happened.
Pole is someone I’ve been familiar with, but never really understood until I saw his live set. I knew his whole deal was that he took harsh electronic sounds—the colder the better—and molded them into dub music. It’s interesting because he actually adheres to a traditional dub formula, it’s just that you have to catch that signature bounced echo under layers of ambient clicks and pops. Live, he sticks to a pure dub template, letting drum knocks bounce endlessly and loudly across cold synth blasts. It’s an interesting effect: by making music using sounds unfamiliar to dub, but adhering to the strict template that defines it, Pole makes some of the most faithful, but bizarre dub I’ve ever heard.
Cameron Stallones, bka Sun Araw has been getting some recent attention for the record he made with The Congos in Jamaica. I’ve seen it called a dub record in a few places, which is really not true. To me, it feels more psychedelic and, honestly, religious. It’s overwhelming and so deeply layered that it takes multiple listens to really excavate the groove. When you do, though, it stands out crystal clear. Live, and without The Congos, there actually isn’t much difference. Clearly, Stallones took a lot from that experience, because his set was populated by thick, humid psychedelic flourishes, off-kilter drums, and a sort of relentlessly hypnotic low-end that made the venue feel like some sort of enraptured basement church.
Unsound got Laurel Halo, Ital, Hieroglyphic Being, Demdike Stare and Monolake to perform at Greenpoint’s Warsaw, a club that feels like a holdover from Strokes-era New York. If there was any event at Unsound that could make the argument for weird shit getting people moving, it would be this show. It also felt like something of a breakout moment for Ital, who flailed around for the duration of his set, to the point that—in that moment—rickety, homemade electronic music felt like the most vital artform around.
The last show I want to mention so this doesn’t just turn into an endlessly breathless rundown is the collaboration between legendary dark ambient artist Lustmord and Biosphere in a church on 86th St. It was probably the most stereotypical Unsound show, and it was definitely the most challenging. For an hour, the duo, in short sleeve button-down shirts and ties, layered weird sounds on top of each other. Against the video backdrop of nuclear testing in the New Mexico Desert, a loose narrative took shape. Squirming in a church pew, there were moments that were exceedingly uncomfortable (a screeching high tone was sustained for a couple minutes), but it also felt reserved and thought out. Too often, noise music like this gets a reputation for being tossed off or not really thought out. The work of impulse more than the work of control and reservation. Leaving the show, it was hard not to feel excited. Which of the artists from the festival would be playing legit upscale concert halls in the coming years? Would any of them? Either way, nothing sounded alike, but everything felt connected.