by Lazara Marinkovic
Intense is a word too weak to describe the experience.
This year, thanks to We Are Europe festival association Resonate is a part of, c/o pop Festival & Convention and Sónar & Sónar+D gave a glimpse of their own vision of the future of culture in Europe, putting some real treats on the list of lecturers and performers. Among them, the amazing interaction designer and media artist Christopher Bauder, peculiar ambient producer Biosphere, space pioneer and founder of Berlin's Tresor club Dimitri Hegemann, researcher and artist Joana Moll and the inimitable genderqueer rapper, poet and activist Mykki Blanco - just to name a few of those jewels.
Over three thousands visitors along with dozens of researchers, artists, musicians, tech-geeks and freaks from all around the globe were set in a joint mission to examine the current position of technology in music and arts. Furthermore, Resonate is eager to reveal how artists, programmers and thinkers from different fields respond to new phenomena, not only in technology, but in society, politics and culture. Everything is connected and everything is intersected.
Located in the very heart of Belgrade, beautiful, light filled building of Kinoteka (Yugoslav Cinema Archive) once again was a home of Resonate Conference. Oversized balloons with festival logos hanging from the glass rooftop above visitors’ heads is a visual trademark that will pop up whatever social network you search with #resonatefestival or #res17 hashtags. Pool and main hall were reserved for lectures and presentations, top floors for workshops and chill zones. There wasn’t a minute the venue was not fully packed. People came to get what they paid for and by the strength of applause and standing ovations, they went home satisfied.
City as an exhibit
But beside lectures, workshops, debates, music performances and epic parties, the city of Belgrade itself is always present as a unique, underlying part of Resonate’s program. Despite seeming coldness of its concrete post-soviet housing blocks blended with schizophrenic mixture of architectural styles, the city is pumping with hot blood and emanating sincere warmth. It was torn and rebuilt almost as many times and Jerusalem, but it always resurrected from its ashes. For centuries, Belgrade has been a gate between East and West, a troublous powder keg, a point of conflict as much as a melting pot of all of its contradictions. [To paraphrase Whitman,] Belgrade is large, it contains multitudes.
Today is no different.
For years now many travel bloggers and more or less prestigious publications have been trying to label Belgrade as a “New Berlin” of the Eastern Europe. But, c’mon, is it really? Sure, from a superficial point of view of an average western tourist it might resemble Berlin when it comes to it’s tireless nightlife, cheap alcohol, tasty food and a few hipsterish neighbourhoods. One could even argue Resonate is like a miniature Eastern European version of CTM festival, right? But the truth is, Belgrade lacks almost all things that makes Berlin Berlin. As Serbia struggles with poverty, unemployment, corruption, crumbling infrastructure, closed museums, absence of cultural policy and freedom of press, Belgrade still carries the weight of wars whose most recent scars are still visible on buildings demolished in 1999. NATO bombing, soon to be whipped out and replaced by luxury shopping malls and real estate projects funded by foreign investors.
Nevertheless, in all of its contradictions and imperfections, Belgrade is a big and magical city. For many Resonators, it was the first time to feel it, and girl, this might be the perfect timing to do so. The festival took place amid ongoing social and political tensions in Serbia. The whole month of April was marked by everyday protests against the current regime, sparked by presidential election results that thousands of mostly young protesters claim to be rigged - news that could hardly be seen in most Serbian media.
Still, Belgrade’s grotesqueness was perhaps most obvious during festival’ opening day when Resonate visitors went out to see two exhibitions in Pro3or gallery, located right next to Doctors Without Borders clinic and few integration centers for refugees stranded in Belgrade on their way to Europe. Only few hundred meters from Florence To’s magnificent spacial audio-visual installation EOAN and mesmerizing collaboration SIGNALS between digital artists Rick Silva and Nicolas Sassoon, a thousand of mostly Afghan refugees are living rough in abandoned barracks, warehouses, parks and parking lots near the main train station, in degrading life conditions. The whole neighborhood of Savamala (where the gallery is located), has been a hotspot and resting point for many displaced people from the beginning of the refugee crisis in 2015. Over a million passed through Serbia on their way to what they hoped is a better life. Those who couldn’t pass due to closed borders and harsh EU migration policies remained stuck in Serbia, waiting in camps across the country for a stroke of luck, while others are wandering the streets in limbo. It was almost surreal to observe slightly confused looks on Resonate visitors faces, smoking and chatting in front of the crowded gallery, watching young refugees passing by and looking back at them with the same curiosity. One thing they all had in common - they are both guests in the city. Except, of course, ones can travel, live and create freely, while the others are stripped of some of the most basic human rights and freedoms.
Entering Pro3or gallery, windows wrapped with dark sheets blocking the sunlight, one directly steps into Sassoons and Silva’s realm of monumental rendered seascape environment, instantly detaching from reality of the outside world. Projected on gallery walls, every video replicates a vision of open waters infected by an oily, electric substance running through the surface or a bottom of the screen. Integrating Sassoon’s play with patterns and computer generated textural elements that mimic natural forms into Silva’s highly idealistic landscapes, results with a set of contemplative, glitchy oceanic panoramas that invite observers to literally step inside the artist’s speculative vision of the natural world exposed to permanent human alteration.
Sensory arrangements can create an emotional and psychological impact, a fact well known to Florence To. In the empty basement floor, her participatory audio-visual installation EOAN was a majestic journey. Vibrations are activated by visitors hitting the aluminium pipes hanging from the ceiling, producing a sound of venus harmonics and earth's resonance that shift and distorts the visitor’s perception of the space. With more activation of the pipes, the brighter the light movements on the LED panels and faster the vibrations. Coming from a background of fashion design, Florence To applies the same principles and techniques in her work with spaces, she explained during a lecture in Kinoteka earlier that day. Space is a body.
We (don't) dance alone
Speaking of bodies, Serbian curator and researcher (with an international address) Bogomir Doringer presented his ongoing long term interdisciplinary project “I Dance Alone”, an exciting study of collective and individual choreographies on dancefloors around the world. Consisting of bird-eye view footage from different festivals and night clubs, “I Dance Alone” examines a collective body of clubbing as an organism that can serve as a mirror of its social political environment and changes. Along his inspiring presentation, he played a preview of what will one day become a full length film. For Doringer, just like for many young Serbs that found mental escape in raves during 90’s in war-torn Yugoslavia, clubbing is both a personal and political matter. The project gathers scientists and experts from different fields and explores whether dancefloors today have the same social urgency during current political crisis. At the same time, “I Dance Alone” offers a potential to rouse and encourage the dancing bodies back to the dancefloors. Word was that Resonate’s closing night held in Drugstore club will be recorded and included in the project.Another inspiring presentation about his 25 years long work in nightlife culture came from Dimitri Hegemann, a man who helped shape Europe’s techno scene. Founder of Berlin’s legendary Tresor club, Dimitri continues to strive as a cultural activist and community organizer, with ability to turn abandoned industrial ruins into cultural spaces. Believing there’s “too much” creativity concentrated in Berlin, his mission is to move it to the country outside by encouraging decision makers to provide space to local creative initiatives. “Berlin is fully booked. Stay in your home city and build something”, Hegemann said during a “What Algorithms Want” panel moderated by curator and critic Régine Debatty, with Florence To and Gabrielle Jenks of AND festival as guest speakers.
Underground is an understatement
Drugstore, Belgrade’s now notorious ‘techno cathedral’ was once again one of Resonate’s main music venues. Located on the city periphery, a former slaughterhouse-turned night club for which “underground is an understatement” hosted a showcase of trailblazing electronic and experimental music artists. It’s dirty, it’s raw and of course there is a statue of Christ’s crucifixion illuminated with red light above the main room doors. Everything is just like it’s supposed to be.
Right after Roly Porter's quite danceable drone noise set, on stage came Yves Tumor whose performance drove half of the crowd out of the room with eyes squeezed shut and fingers pressing their ears. Majority of crowd came completely unaware that this avant garde artist’s live show has nothing to do with his magnificent Serpent Music album they stream in their bedrooms. Nihilist noise soaked into power electronics lead to a brutal sonic exorcism in Tumor’s strobe storm inferno. It seemed almost like a collective punishment that only a few are ready to enjoy. With all senses mixed together, you could literally see the noise and yourself leaving your body. Attempts to dance were futile. (And I personally loved it.) The following Peder Mannerfelt’s exceptional live set was a complete opposite, coming like a reward for the most persistent ones that survived. The Swedish experimentalist mopped the club’s black holes both with his machines and his unsettling trademark blond wig hanging from his forehead, dissolving in a hypnotizing animation on the screen behind. Just like Porter earlier that night, he challenged the limits of futuristic club music on the other side of techno, obvously pleasing the dancing crowd.
Moving to Dom omladine - Belgrade’s Youth Cultural Center, Resonate’s other music venue with a cult status and loaded (sub)cultural history. First night in the main hall, calmly standing on stage in complete darkness and playing his guitar in front of a wall of amplifiers, Stephen O’Malley of Sun O))) has put everyone's sense of hearing to the test. After 30 minutes of drilling distorsions and beautifully unpleasant drone symphony, the crowd slowly started to crumble.
Two nights later, artist in focus was Lee Ranaldo, founder and key figure of New York’s legendary Sonic Youth. “Knowing some of his post - Sonic Youth releases, I am afraid how this show will sound like”, I overheard a hard-core SY fan close to me. But there was nothing to fear. After giving a nod to Anna Von Hausswolff and her neo-gothic noise band whose performance made even the first time listeners fall in love with her alluring voice and music, Ranaldo delivered a powerful and emotional acoustic trip. Though his guitars were out of tune and seemed to be misbehaving at first, the issues somehow resolved after a few songs. He continued sipping a glass of wine, playing with a fiddle bow and hitting guitars with drumsticks, and by the end of the concert the air was relaxed like everyone’s standing in his living room. “I heard there is some weird political stuff going on here. There was some weird political stuff going on in my country as well. I wrote this song before the elections. This could be a song of revolution, Jonathan [Lethem] said to me. I call it a song of resistance”, Ranaldo noted as he started hitting the first accords of “Thrown over the wall”. Day after in Kinoteka, the avagard musician gave his exclusive “Suspended guitar” performance in front of packed hall. “Any questions?” he asked in the end. It was odd to hear nothing but complete silence in the audience. Soon everyone rushed out to rest ahead of big closing night in Drugstore.
And there it was. The crowning. A spectacular 10 hours long night took off with a beautiful collaboration between Serbian techno producer Regen and Spanish artist and creative technologist Alba G. Corral, whose performance put the “A” and “V” in the audio-visual.
Legendary ambient electronic music producer Geir Jenssen aka Biosphere drove the audience into the unknown realms playing a set of his older releases. The transcending performance was followed by visualizations from sci-fi movies scenes, which he also uses for sampling.
But when Mykki Blanco hit the stage in her white wedding dress and baseball cap, it was a full-on punk princess fantasy. It didn’t take long until she jumped in the crowd, and then on the bar, back to the stage, up to the DJ table, back to the crowd, annoying only the security guards. Intense and explosive, but never aggressive, the Cosmic Angel slayed the house down, performing mostly songs from her first, self titled studio album “Mykki” in front of more than a thousand stunned and ecstatic people. “We must protect queer people, we must protect all people. Say Hallelujah!”, shouted the Illuminati Princess and everyone screamed along. “Let me see your cellphone flashlights turn into fireflies", she asked as the intro beats and tender bells of “Highschool never ends” rolled out of speakers. After Addison Groove and Mystic Styles’ Jackie Dagger and Feloneezy took over, Mykki remained to party with tireless clubbers until the 7 AM curfew. That night felt like home for everyone.
At Resonate, everything happens so much. It’s hard to not mention all the other amazing participants and their work, such as Lawrence Lek and his majestic Geomancer, radical speculation about the future of AI. Or interdisciplinary duo Pussykrew that stands behind Sevdaliza’s “That Other Girl” video and other extraordinary projects in which they create exciting gender-bending visual journeys, explore post-human concepts, fluid identities and futuristic transformations. There was also Antye Greie aka AGF, a poet, sound producer and activist who tells the tales of sonic displacement and produces music using mushrooms and sounds of protests from around the world. Or Alan Butler, whose moving series of photographs “Down and Out in Los Santos” pierce a hole in reality by documenting poverty within game platform GTA V. Uh, did I mention the astonishing Thomas Ankersmit and Phill Niblock’s AV performance that almost melted the amplifiers down? The list goes on.
Perhaps one day in some near Black Mirror-ish future, AI and other technologies will enable us to follow up on all the overlapping presentations, lectures and performances. One of things I find best about Resonate is that it opens more questions and possibilities, rather than providing firm answers. So, how will the future look like? It’s as grim as it’s optimistic, hyperlinked, artificial and didgital, but still human, fluid and queer. We’ll just have keep chasing the white rabbit til the next year and imagine the future together all over again.