MEOKO Horizons: Review of Electron Festival, Geneva

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MEOKO’s brand new feature sees our correspondents set foot on foreign soils - in this first edition Bj Daly ventures to the land of cheese and mountains to see what our friends on the Continent are getting up to.

Geneva, Switzerland, is not a city one associates with a thriving underground scene. A financial city by nature, Geneva’s picturesque waterfront is fronted by banks, luxury goods shops and old world watchmakers. Yet this Easter weekend, tucked away a little downriver from where Lake Geneva drains out and becomes the River Rhone, a scene of a quite different nature is unravelling- Electron Festival is celebrating its tenth anniversary.

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Touching down into Geneva airport at 10pm on Friday night nursing no small hangover due to the previous evenings’ festivities with Mulletover (which did much to restore their reputation), with no time to lose I immediately make my way into the city centre and downriver past the Batiment des Forces Motrices, an imposing opera house and exposition center which sits in the middle of the river and previously served as a hydroelectric power station until 1980. On the opposite riverbank, I happen upon the 'Usine', French for 'Factory' which is the main nerve center from which the festival started 10 years ago. The Usine is much akin to the legendary Kunsthaus Tacheles art center in Berlin (closed as of September 2012) and in a similar fashion houses concert halls, a nightclub, art spaces, studios, a theatre and a cinema, all used to various extent by a non-profit artist collective to promote art, culture and music.

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Temple of Boom- L’Usine Cultural Center

With no time to hang about, I immediately head over to pick up my press pass in the staff area and bump into Andre Joye, one of the festival programmers, who gives me the quick low down on what Electron is all about.

“What did you set out to achieve with the artistic programming of Electron on this, your 10th anniversary?”

AJ:            “We wanted to take a look back retrospectively at music on the international circuit over the years. A lot of hype is created over artists who don’t yet deserve the acclaim and we endeavoured a return to old school values. As such, whilst the programming is very diverse in genres and offers a nice mix of established and emerging artists, we have tried to place the emphasis on legends and pioneers of many varying genres. This edition for instance will feature techno and acid-house pioneers LFO, House legends Derrick Carter, Theo Parrish and DJ Sneak, digital punk-hardcore act Atari Teenage Riot and mythical reggae collective Trojan Soundsystem. Let’s not forget either the legend that is Daniel Miller and also special mention to the 20-year anniversary showcase of the seminal German Techno label Kompakt, to which the opening night was dedicated and which featured Mohn, Sascha Funke, Justus Köhncke, Saschienne and enchanting Brazilian producer Gui Boratto.

 

“How do you feel Electron is positioned within the over saturated electronic festival scene in Europe?

AJ:            “The Internet creates so much buzz around artists who may have only released a handful of records. As a result, festival line-ups easily become influenced by this hype and many across Europe begin to look a bit identikit in look and feel. We try to offer a programming both musical and artistic which is diverse and different as we feel our public is curious and hungry to discover new artists that have perhaps hitherto been underrated. It is also important to us to respect our own artistic scene without which none of this would be possible. As such the festival features many talented Swiss and local artists such as Quenum, Crowdpleaser Dachshund, Oram Modular and Kadebostany - to name but a few featuring alongside more established international contemporaries.”

 

Finally Andre, what is your “Coup de Coeur” of the Festival?”

AJ:            “For me it’s got to be The Bug feat. Daddy Freddy. I’ve been a Drum n’ Bass DJ and producer for many years and he has been a massive influence on me.

 

As soon as I finish with André, I’m on the run again as I’ve scheduled an interview with French producer Rone. On my way over from the Palladium concert hall, the largest capacity venue of the festival’s eight separate sites, I can’t help myself from pulling up at the Kompakt pop up store, loaded with almost every Kompakt release over the last 20 years. The place is a goldmine and I make a promise to myself to come back and dig through the crates.

I meet Rone, or Erwan Castex in the backstage area of the downstairs venue of the Usine, meandering first through graffiti covered corridors and staircases that typify this kind of European art center, which feels very much like a mansion squat in places (that’s a good thing!). Rone is one of the revelations of 2012 following the release and widespread critical acclaim of his album, Tohu Bohu, French for 'Hurly-Burly', on Agoria’s Parisian label Infiné. (catch the full interview next week on MEOKO). 

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Aside from being an excellent producer, Rone turns out to be a really sound guy. Something about producers who don’t DJ typifies them in the loveable geek mould. After a long 30 minutes spent chatting over some vodka red bulls served up by Rone himself, I return to the press area to drop my gear and on the way back manage to catch about 20 mins of LFO from the VIP balcony area. Although LFO was originally a 2 piece act consisting of Gez Farley and Mark Bell, Mark Bell is now the sole representative of this groundbreaking, pioneering act, and has since achieved notoriety as the producer behind Bjork, as well as remixing the likes of Depeche Mode and Dave Clarke. Given that LFO predates me, I am particularly excited to catch him / them live for the first time after growing up listening to them at a tender age. As I watch from afar, I see Mark with a minimalist table set up entice a curious crowd with glitchy, frantic high-octane noise. As for me, this is no doubt the first time most people here get to see first-hand what LFO is all about and the massive influence they have had upon electronic music.

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LFO’s Mark Bell

Eager to catch up with some old friends, I make my way back to L’Usine and head upstairs to the Zoo, the main club venue. This place smells like sweat, smoke and alcohol, a good combination for any club. With just the right amount of production value put into lights and visuals, the place is professional but raw – a fine balance to achieve by any means. As I arrive, house maestro Derrick Carter is playing his signature blend of Jazz infused Chicago house. The crowd in here is busy and pent up with TGIF party energy- people are dancing, chatting, and whistling as the main man DC effortlessly takes us to Ibiza and back to Chicago with another saxophone infused house track.

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Zoo Club

A glance at my phone tells me it’s just gone 2am, which means its time to go back downstairs to see Rone, a concert I have been eagerly anticipating. As I push my way into the crowd for a better position, its clear that this guy is not unheard of here- the crowd is bumper to bumper and wolf whistles are going out before he’s even come on stage. Playing on Ableton live, he starts out his set with dreamy, melancholic tracks to which the crowd sways, gradually building up and interspersing long beautiful synths with more tech-minimal, glitch wizardry. In between tracks, which last on average 12 minutes, there is rapturous applause and you get the feeling this is a really special moment for Erwan, who is humble in his appreciation as he bows and bows again before getting on with the show. He gradually builds his set up to an intense crescendo, and the crowd go wild, lost in rapture. Finally, he closes with “Bye Bye Macadam” sending shivers and goose bumps down every spine in the room.

Rone “Bye Bye Macadam”

Rone is swiftly followed by Drum N’ Bass twosome Loadstar. The contrast in energy and genre is markedly different, a smart programming move which serves to re-inject fuel into the crowd, who’ve just been lulled by the magic of Rone. Loadstar proceed to whip the crowd into a UK-style frenzy, and the smell of joints in the air is palpable. After such an intense auditory experience, I head back upstairs to the Zoo making my way past people hanging out on good vibes in every corner. I finish the night listening to Anja Schneider play some deep and reasoned afterhour’s techno, allowing people to breathe and catch up on each other’s nights. Anja’s forever big smile and infectious charisma permeates through her sound and makes this the ideal end to a great night- Thugfucker and Tale of Us’ “Morgana” is a particular highlight.

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Anja Schneider closing Friday night in Zoo club

I make it back to the festival site late Saturday afternoon in time to catch a showing of  “Real Scenes: Detroit” in the Sputnik cinema, again housed within the Usine building complex. Detroit’s influence on electronic music is often referred to in the past tense, but this short documentary shows us that despite the bust of the auto industry and economy, Detroit will continue to be an influence on electronic music for years to come with old hands like Kyle Hall passing on their knowledge and skills to a new generation of beatmakers, including 14-year-old Reuel Walker (you heard it here first!).

With a bit more time to kill before the night’s action begins, I head over to the centre of contemporary art and check out some of the expositions, workshops and conferences going on there as part of the festival. This area doubles up as the festival chill out area, a nice touch given what’s on offer for those with sore legs and tired ears. I’m particularly drawn to the art installation of teamlab (Tokyo), an interactive walk-through structure supporting a collection of helium-inflated balloons that react to actions provoked by the public. Other attractions include ‘Feel the Food’ an experimental sensorial experience mixing sight, sound and taste and an exhibition put on by students of the Haute Ecole D’art & Design entitled “Sound experimentations, hallucinated landscapes & sharing the atmosphere”.

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Interactive art installation by teamlab (Tokyo)

Later on, with not much more of real interest to me on the programme I head to the large venue Palladium to catch a bit of Erol and Tiga. A guilty pleasure perhaps, but both of these know how to make people dance and Erol is particularly bumping, playing classic electro and tech house backed by visuals which would make a blind man have an epileptic fit. Elsewhere, Jon Convex (half of duo Instra:mental), Shackleton and Mala in Cuba are playing, these acts among other lesser known ones in the genre - an indication of the high level of appreciation for Reggae-Dub in this part of the world and again the diversity of the programming to cater to a unique, international crowd of all ages and backgrounds. At one point I am intent on going to see Theo Parrish who’s playing a six-hour set but it’s a bit of a walk to the venue and security tell me I cant get back in to the main area if I go. As it turns out, Theo Parrish’s set was fraught with sound problems and the feedback I received was disappointing, a real shame for a guy of his stature. I end the night back in trusty Zoo, with Geneva local Dachshund playing a blinding minimal-tech set. The vibe is positive and groovy, best summed up by the 2012 anthem “Future” by Kevin Saunderson / Inner City  (Kenny Larkin Tension Mix) which gets dropped at some point to the general merriment of everyone present. Dachshund epitomises the kind of burgeoning Swiss underground talent who are well respected on the continent but have yet to feature prominently in the UK.

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* (Dachshund featured for MEOKO back in September 2012- if you haven’t already heard the mix, give it a listen here- you won’t be disappointed! Click above.)


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Dachshund (left) and Erol doing their thing

By the time Sunday rolls around, I’m feeling the effects of three nights on the go, including an official after-party hosted by up and coming Swiss techno label Wasserflasche. Nonetheless, I make it back to the festival site for one last hurrah. On this final night the festival is scaled down to just the two venues inside L’Usine. I catch Quenum first, a legendary Swiss DJ who has a CV that reads like a book. Along with Luciano (also Swiss), who founded Cadenza Records and has released over 60 records over a long career spanning back to the 80’s and is also behind one of the most seminal techno tracks ever in “Orange Mistake”. 

Luciano & Quenum “Orange Mistake”

Next up I catch Australian Berlin resident Deepchild, who plays a dark and quirky techno set, the kind you would expect from a guy who plays regularly in Berghain and Tresor. DJ Sneak follows, driving the room with his gangsta take-no-prisoners attitude and slamming house, marked by his signature sound of tight snares and high hats. He moves back and forth through genres including tech house, ghetto tech and techno and at one point he drops Shadow Child’s “23” as the crowd continuously go mental. You can tell there is real appreciation for Sneak and he seems to be enjoying the real, raw and unpolished atmosphere of the club, taking several videos on his phone and hanging about after his set on stage as Swiss house maestros Round Table Knights take over until close.

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DJ Sneak- The Original House Gangsta’

Unable to move my legs to the jackin’ beat anymore, I head downstairs just as Peaches and a posse of scantily clad female dancers wearing devil-goat masks and covered in fake blood are finishing up terrorizing an audience with some kind of transgressive/S&M show backed by her trademark electroclash-punk head banging sound.  Swiss act Luluxpo follow playing slow deep, hypnotic Peyote-Techno similar to Rebolledo and Matias Aguayo, and like with Peaches, the emphasis is on the show as an enchanting Burlesque dancer takes to the stage to tease the audience with intense sexual energy. It’s an intelligent programming decision and the ideal end to the festival, as the focus on the performance element in both these shows allows listeners to rest tired ears and legs and watch the theatrical displays on offer.

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Luluxpo feat. Emma Mylan (Burlesque dancer)

CONCLUSION

It’s hard to sum up Electron in one word. I guess for anyone who’s been there, its most similar in its DNA to Sonar by day, with a diverse array of cultural and artistic offerings to be enjoyed, from an eclectic musical programming to dance performances, art expositions, cinema screenings, conferences, workshops and more. In all areas of the festival, one can feel the omnipresent influence of extremely well heeled programmers of art school backgrounds who appreciate a range of genres and offer up a fine selection in order to not only please audiences with well loved acts but also to make them discover and appreciate new music and art that they might not have otherwise been exposed to. Perhaps most striking is that as Geneva does not feature prominently on typical clubbing calendars, unlike say its bigger regional brothers Amsterdam, Barcelona or Berlin, Electron promoters are free from Internet buzz hype, the need to appear outwardly ‘cool’ or to meet pre-defined rave culture stereotypes. The result is a friendly, convivial festival that celebrates art and culture in all its forms and an embracing, appreciative crowd is of all ages and backgrounds.

Meoko highlights: Rone, Dachshund, Quenum, Dj Sneak, Deepchild, Kompakt Pop Up Store, Art exhibitions

Special Thanks to Danièle McClellan, André Joye and Erwan Castex

Meoko Horizons is next reporting from Timewarp, Mannheim, (April 6th)