About the unknown music from Norway, gender factor and a dreamlike scent of noise... Kasia Pilitowska’s having a talk with Małgosia Płysa – the organizer of UNSOUND electronic music festival, the sounds of which reverberate in Cracow at the very moment.
PURO: UNSOUND Festival has been present in Cracow for over a decade. What’s the history of its birth?
Małgosia Płysa: This year, we’re celebrating our twelfth anniversary! Respectively, this is going to be the twelfth edition of the festival that was created in 2003 on the initiative of the Australian - Matt Schulz, and his friend. I joined them in 2006 after I had worked for a while as a volunteer. I can’t deny it was quite a punk initiative! The first edition turned awful on an organizational level, even though the line-up was fantastic! We were kicked out of the club where most part of the event was taking place, having had the electricity cut off earlier. In one word: scandal! Our friends lost loads of money but their enthusiasm remained strong. Kuba Schroeder from the Goethe-Institut, who engaged the institute in the cooperation, joined us a year later, marking the beginning of the next chapter.
PURO: What was the first line-up like?
MP: The organizers decided to invite musicians from Germany – the cradle of minimal techno and electronic music at that time. Moreover, famous clubs and Cracow foundations including Klub RE, Fundacja Pauza, Manggha as well as many people interested in this kind of music joined the organization of the festival.
PURO: When did you stop being a volunteer and start working as an organizer?
MP: In 2007, during the so called ‘touring’ edition, when we visited Prague, Bratyslava, Kiev, Minsk, Cracow.. That was an extraordinary event! In the heart of Minsk, Mat organized five editions of UNSOUND! In 2008, we decided to set up a foundation to get financial support from various organizations including The City of Cracow. Since then, we’ve been constantly supported by the city what we consider to be a great honor.
PURO: A cash injection was quite an encouragement, wasn’t it?
MP: Of course it was! A lot of new ideas came to the surface, for example organizing UNSOUND in New York. New people joined the team, part of them has been working with us till today and their job at a festival changed from an adventure into a regular job. However, we’re still a non-governmental organization and our activities are more DIY by nature.
PURO: The world of electronic music, UNSOUND is no exception here, seems to be very masculinized. Was your appearance in the world of men a sensation?
MP: It’s an interesting question. I was barely over 20 when I started working here and I can’t recall me thinking about that kind of matters. Even now, when I do think about them, I’m not sure, whether I’ve ever had a problem with it. I’ve been working in a group of open people, where everyone is equal, and neither gender nor age is of any importance. Here, the only things that count are competence, diligence and knowledge of music. I’m a feminist and being a woman with such a profession has never helped me or complicated anything for me.
PURO: Is it you who is looking for female musicians within UNSOUND?
MP: Recently, there’s been a debate going on about the presence of women on the scene of electronic music. A lot is being said about it, various initiatives are created, for example the Austrian ‘Female Pressure’, which conducts research on gender parity in music festivals’ programs. And as it turns out (UNSOUND also appears in research), women are in a minority on a music scene. It’s true that we try to look for unusual and interesting female artists. It’s not only me, Grzegorz (Grzegorz Kwiecień, who is leading Club RE, the most interesting music place in Cracow) and Matt are also crazy about it. Especially, when we realize that women’s works are often very distinctive, even though, in the case of electronic music it’s difficult to talk about a separate, typically ‘female’ current. We won’t find it in the arts either. When it comes to electronic music, women have always been in a minority. On the other hand, proportions are getting even in the music industry: a whole lot of women work at festivals, direct people, take care of PR and promotion, manage finances. They work as managers and artists’ agents. In our team, they are a majority.
PURO: So, what are the UNSOUND artists like?
MP: The ‘UNSOUND’ artists work with new technologies, they are not afraid of making experiments and transgressing borders. It’s crucial for us to invite musicians who create original works beyond any major currents. UNSOUND is a festival of undiscovered, experimental, and niche music. We’re seeking it all over the world, in places which do not awake associations with music, for example Norway. We listen to thousands of recordings, track sounds as if we were music detectives. Many people, while reading our line-ups, do not know of most of the artists. It’s our distinguishable sign, our very own label.
PURO: What the ‘UNSOUND’ means today?
MP: Matt came up with this name in Australia. It was a project he organized with his brother and friends. We are flooded by electronic and alternative music festivals at present, and what we as UNSOUND want, is to look for everything that has not been shown or discovered yet. We want to present artists who step out of the established frames, we want to show what is happening in music right now, what is the freshest. The audience is often unaware of what they’re going to get, but they put their trust in the festival, which is a quality determinant. By participating in UNSOUND, a spectator is guaranteed to see and hear something one-of-a-kind, which does not necessarily have to be a success, but is the element of our incessant search.
PURO: You also work abroad and not only with musicians, is that right?
MP: Yes, it is. We connect different artists from different countries, theater with music, and even video artists with perfume makers. We draw much inspiration from numerous artists and institutions we are in collaboration with. One of the inspiring spaces is New York, where we showed a project ordered by the Goethe-Institut: Andy Worhol’s movies with music played live by electronic musicians. We were lucky to be in the city at that particular time, because, even though NY is a huge cultural festival itself, the presence of electronic music there was slight. We decided to involve Polish musicians and the Polish Institute in the project. That’s how it started growing.
PURO: There was New York, and Georgia as well..
MP: We had a wonderful time in Georgia! Thanks to our experience in such untypical places for electronic music like Kiev or Minsk, Tbilisi turned out to be a perfect city for the festival. We’d love to come back there some time.
PURO: Let me investigate female topics a little bit more. This year, the media took up the news that UNSOUND was going to present three fragrances in New York. Where did this idea come from?
MP: Are fragrances a women’s domain only? The division into men’s and women’s scents is a matter of convention, moreover, there are more ‘male noses’ in the perfume industry. The idea of creating ‘Ephemera’, because that’s how we called our installation, was conceived spontaneously during the meeting with our friends musicians in Berlin. We’d been talking about the contemporary art and how rarely the scents were merged with other areas of art. Neither sound nor scent is visual. Scents evoke emotions and they are highly personalized. We were intrigued by the idea of merging sounds and scents under one installation, which, in a synaesthetic way, would affect spectators. We craved to ‘hear a scent’. So, Berlin-based Geza Shoen, one of the best known ‘noses’ in the world who creates avant-garde, conceptual scents, was invited to collaborate with us. He reinterpreted the raw music materials of Ben Frost, Steve Goodman (aka Kode9), and Tim Hecker to create three different scents: noise, bass, and drone respectively. The names represent three sub-genres of electronic music and, along with the olfactory part, make up a synaesthetic installation. Its premiere took place in New York and was provided with a visual sphere created by a German video artist MFO, Manuel Sepulveda (Optigram) from the UK, who works with Hyperdub, and a Polish artist – Piotr Jakubowicz. To me, ‘noise’ seems to be particularly fitting. It starts sharply and metallically to develop into a warm scent that brings to mind trees and moss. On October 13, we presented the installation at Unsound Cracow in the National Museum of Cracow, Szolayskich House. The scents will have their premiere in a traditional, bottled form as well.
PURO: You are considered to be one of the best festivals to promote Polish musicians.
MP: Yes, and we really care about it. Nowadays, we’re actually witnessing the golden age of Polish electronic and experimental scene. There are many interesting artists who produce unique and hard to define sounds. Both Polish and international audiences, including a very demanding one from New York, welcome artists in a very friendly way, even though 5 years ago that was not so obvious. This year’s edition is replete with Polish musicians, and that has been happening for a longer time now. In the past, musicians from abroad were in a majority (over 70%) whereas now, the proportions are almost equal. It makes us very happy.
PURO: What is this year’s Cracow’s edition of UNSOUND going to look like? You are known for discovering new venues and adding the ‘UNSOUND’ features to places you’ve already played in.
MP: We continue cooperation with National Old Theater, Forum Hotel, and the National Museum. We’re going to provide music for a premiere of the play ‘Ubu Roi’ directed by Jan Klata. Each of us is searching for new places. The aim is to inspire our guests with Cracow’s architecture, which interconnects sacred spaces, like St Catherine’s Church ( we were the first to play a nonreligious concert there with quite a controversial artist...it was a breakthrough!) and postindustrial ones, like The Museum of Municipal Engineering or Łaźnia Nowa Theater. The Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art at Sukiennice, the building of Main Technical Organization on the Straszewskiego, and ICE Cracow Congress Center will also join us this year.
PURO: We’ll finish with a controversial ‘female’ accent (laugh)... Do you have time to free yourself of the UNSOUND matters and go shopping in New York or Prague?
MP: I try to find some time! Shopping in New York is not the main reason why we organize the festival, but when I can, I use the occasion. New York is a heavenly place for shopping! In Georgia, I usually search the markets for spices. And I dream about the edition of UNSOUND in Tokyo, Japan.
PURO: Shopping in Tokyo?
MP: Oh, I’m afraid I wouldn’t afford it, but.. why not?
This year’s edition took place in Cracow from 12-19 October 2014 with ‘The Dream’ being its main theme. The organizers say: "The dream became a starting point for us while working on the program and William Burroughs’ centenary was our main inspiration. We want to reflect upon what the underground stands for in contemporary times and whether we can talk about any niche in the arts in the age of the Internet and Facebook" UNSOUND 2014’s artists were, among others: Atom™ & Robin Fox, Craig Leon, DJ Funk & Bok Bok, The Bug, Kassem Mosse, Ripatti, Robert Hood. The organizers of the festival are Gosia Płysa and Matt Schulz.