Club to Club 2014: Eight Observations from the Latest Edition of Italy's Best Festival - XLR8R

Club to Club 2014: Eight Observations from the Latest Edition of Italy's Best Festival

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Although the Club to Club festival has been happening for the past 14 years, XLR8R's first official invitation to attend only came in 2012. Nevertheless, over the past three years, it's quickly become one of our favorites. In our glowing review of last year's edition, we said, "It's easy to say that Club to Club is the best festival in Italy, but it's actually better than that; a case could be made that it's already in the top tier of festivals in Europe." As such, we arrived in Turin last week with some pretty lofty expectations, especially since Club to Club's 2014 installment appeared to be the festival's biggest on record. After all, there were more nights of music (five in total, including two at the massive Lingotto Fiere) and more acts on the bill (about 60), plus a fancy new festival HQ at the AC Hotel Torino. More importantly though, the scope of Club to Club just felt bigger this year, and while things occasionally buckled beneath the increased strain, the festival still had plenty of highlights. We've listed a number of them here—along with a few of the festivities' weaker moments—and in the process, have attempted to create an accurate snapshot of the Club to Club 2014 experience.


Fatima

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How to Dress Well

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Club to Club's new home base played host to some special intimate performances.

At most festivals, it's hard to feel passionate about wherever the festivities are headquartered. In general, these places are all the same; there are some volunteer-staffed tables where attendees pick up their badges, maybe a conference room or two for whatever panel discussions or lectures have been cobbled together, and there's almost always a parade of local DJs that nobody will pay much attention to, even when their tunes are good. In previous years, Club to Club had all of these things stationed at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, but this year, things were smartly relocated to the ground floor of the AC Hotel Torino. We say "smartly" not because the venue was some sort of major improvement in terms of its facilities, or because the hotel was located in a particularly bustling part of town (in fact, the only interesting thing close by was the original Eataly, which admittedly became a sort of secondary festival HQ), but because the move centralized things in a way they hadn't been before. Previously, the festival's marquee event at the Lingotto Fiere was not really close to anything else that Club to Club had to offer. In 2014, attendees could walk from the headquarters to the Lingotto Fiere on Friday and Saturday night, and when a trip to the city center was required, the metro was just a few hundred meters away.

Still, the AC Hotel had more than convenience going for it. Although the week's various DJs who set up in the lobby—many of them undoubtedly quality representatives of the Italian music scene—were largely ignored or treated as background noise, the hotel did set up a separate performance room, which featured a couple of standout Club to Club moments. On Wednesday night, How to Dress Well opened up the festival with an engaging session of R&B, with frontman Tom Krell (the project has expanded to a four-piece ensemble in the live setting) comically chatting up the audience between his emotive musical missives. With only a couple of hundred bodies in the room (at the most), it felt like an excellent way to ease into the festivities.

Even more intimate was the Saturday evening performance by Fatima, who brought along a backing band of her own. Going by the name The Eglo Live Band, the group featured a serious collection of jazz/funk musicians, who provided a series of head-nodding grooves while Fatima worked her vocal magic. Even though the show wasn't particularly electronic, and we found ourselves wondering how many people there would have been as excited about the project if it wasn't affiliated with the Eglo camp, we'd be lying if we said that we didn't enjoy it.


Teatro Carignano

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Kode9

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Kode9 and Laurel Halo toned things down, to glorious effect.

On Thursday night, Club to Club took up its annual one-night residence at the stunning Teatro Carignano, a seated, multi-level theater from the 18th century. Piloting the proceedings were Kode9 and Laurel Halo from the Hyperdub clan, and both artists assembled special sets for the occasion. Laurel Halo kicked things off with a ponderous one-hour set that largely eschewed regular dance rhythms while exploring murky atmospheres and fuzz-laden soundscapes. Her time on stage was pleasantly hypnotic, but Kode9 ultimately bested her efforts, kicking off his set with a spoken-word passage from the recently departed Spaceape before delving into his own leftfield pastures. As time wore on, he eventually wound some percussion into the set, even finding a place for the late DJ Rashad's "Ghost," but at no point was he targeting the proverbial dancefloor. Clearly, Kode9 was aware that he was operating in a special environment and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to go deeper and present something a bit headier than usual. (After all, he knew that he was already lined up for a proper club set later that night at Hiroshima Mon Amour, where he was slated to play as the previously unannounced "secret guest." Unfortunately, the set was plagued by such intense sound problems—digital distortion literally made the songs he was playing all but recognizable—that it was ultimately best to simply focus on the fine work he'd done earlier in the evening.)


Laurel Halo

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Ben Frost

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Ben Frost's brawny electronics were impressive to behold.

Over the past several months, XLR8R has had multiple opportunities to check out Ben Frost, yet we've never seen the same show twice. Just a couple of weeks ago, he performed solo at MUTEK.MX in Mexico City, and while we enjoyed the performance, it didn't quite stand up to the ferocity of his May appearance at MUTEK in Montreal, where he was flanked by a pair of hard-charging live drummers. At Club to Club, the Australian-born artist elected to split the difference, taking the stage with just a single drummer; as it turned out, one was enough. Frost's music nimbly combines pastoral melodies and distorted sheets of noise with booming percussion, and while he can recreate a version on his own that's certainly passable, when he's joined by a drummer, especially one who can play like a heavy metal virtuoso, the show becomes particularly potent. Admittedly, live drummers have a pretty spotty track record when it comes to electronic music concerts, but Frost smartly instructed his drummer to make no attempt to replicate or imitate a drum machine. At all times, it was brazenly clear that a human was banging out the skull-rattling rhythms, and the combination of that low-end thunder with Frost's melodic squall was absolutely sublime.


Franco Battiato

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Caribou

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From start to finish, the first night at the Lingotto Fiere was excellent.

Once Friday rolled around, it was essentially time for Club to Club to take things up a notch, as the proceedings moved to the cavernous Lingotto Fiere. Part of an enormous complex that was once a Fiat plant, the place has previously played host to the festival's Saturday night "Gran Finale," a nine-hour event with two stages that usually featured the line-up's biggest names. For 2014, the decision was made to ditch the idea of a single "Gran Finale" and instead program two complete nights at the Lingotto Fiere. It was an ambitious plan, and on Friday night, there was very little to complain about; simply put, the musical offerings were almost absurdly good.

Even knowing that we would likely be at the venue until 6 a.m., we still made sure to show up early, as the main stage kicked off with an extended performance from Franco Battiato, one of Italy's most revered avant-pop artists. With a catalog that dates back to the '70s, Battiato was something of a pioneer, an artist who channeled the grand tradition of Italian crooners but was also unafraid to experiment with synths, noise, the human voice, and abstract composition. Although he's currently 69 years old, his appearance at Club to Club made it clear that he's beloved by multiple generations of Italian music fans; the huge room was not only packed, but his set prompted numerous sing-a-longs from the audience.

After Battiato, the music shifted back towards more typical Club to Club fare. The night's biggest draw was ultimately Caribou, which unsurprisingly delivered. Dan Snaith continues to run a very tight ship, and both the new and old songs were greeted with a rapturous response. (The extended, techno-infused version of "Sun" that closed out the group's set drove the Italian crowd especially wild.)


Ben UFO

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Millie & Andrea

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Over in the Sala Rossa, an enclosed metal room that housed the Lingotto Fiere's smaller second stage, good things were also happening, including a phenomenal back-to-back session from Ben UFO and Ron Morelli. It's not often that they DJ together, and the two are admittedly known for doing slightly different things in terms of the music they play, but they found some potent common ground in hard techno, which dominated much of the joint set. There were some forays into ghetto house (courtesy of Morelli) and the kind of bass-loaded techno experimentalism that's currently coming out of Bristol (courtesy of Ben UFO), but on the whole, the two kept things booming, which the packed room seemed to appreciate, especially as the hour grew late. Closing out the second stage was Millie & Andrea, the collaborative undertaking of Miles Whittaker (who's also part of Demdike Stare) and Andy Stott. The music was oriented toward jungle and classic hardcore sounds, and though it wasn't any less hard than what was being served up by Ben UFO and Ron Morelli, something about the rolling breakbeats loosened up the room a bit, and brought the room to a close in a joyous fashion.

Out on the main stage, Talaboman (the joint project of John Talabot and Axel Boman) was given the night's final slot, following a live set from Pantha du Prince (who we unfortunately missed). In a club/festival setting, Talaboman takes shape as a back-to-back DJ session from Talabot and Boman, and the pair served up an enjoyable set of sunny, melody-driven house music. If there was a drawback, it was the main stage sound, which had gradually become more and more distorted throughout the evening. Even for those wearing earplugs, the system—which had begun to crackle—sounded way too loud, which meant we were somewhat relieved when the lights suddenly came on at 6 a.m. and what had been a long—and highly enjoyable—night came to an end.


Talaboman

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Jessy Lanza

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This year's line-up featured a not insignificant amount of hip-hop and R&B, with mixed results.

Over the previous 13 years, Club to Club had settled into a mode where the vast majority of its acts were playing house and techno. Exceptions were always made of course, and recent editions have seen the UK bass spectrum being fairly well represented, but 2014's line-up stretched things further by involving a number of acts experimenting with hip-hop and R&B.

On Friday at the Lingotto Fiere, Hyperdub signee Jessy Lanza kicked off the Sala Rossa, and while her one-woman show had its moments—and Lanza undoubtedly has some solid tunes in her repertoire—it felt like there was room to improve. Perhaps it's difficult for Lanza to sing and simultaneously play all of the music, or maybe she simply needs to improve her set-up, but the levels and mix were often just a bit off.

Also on Friday's night bill was Kelela, who performed live with the backing of DJ Total Freedom and former Water Borders member Loric Sih. Based on her set, it seemed like Kelela too was still working on developing a full command of the stage, but her vocal talent was readily apparent to everyone in the room. (That said, her backing music did contain a bit too much of her pre-recorded vocals.) Mostly sticking to songs from last year's Cut 4 Me mixtape, she did perform a new track produced by Araabmusik, and stayed upbeat even as a significant chunk of the room drifted away to go and watch Caribou over on the main stage. That said, the people who did stay and watch the rest of Kelela's set seemed absolutely thrilled with their decision.


Kelela

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Evian Christ

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Speaking of the main stage, Evian Christ performed his new live show on Friday night, and while his noisy trap and hip-hop explorations weren't especially inspiring, people in the audience did seem to perk up significantly once he dropped Kanye West's "I'm in It," which he of course helped to produce. What was impressive about the UK producer was his new on-stage visual rig, which involved multiple screens and a constantly mutating array of lights projected from the stage into the crowd.

Friday also featured Fatima Al Qadiri, who DJed in the Sala Rossa after Kelela's set. Known more as a producer than a DJ, we weren't quite sure what to expect, especially when she appeared on stage with just a laptop. It's rare that an artist whose eyes are glued to the screen while playing on Traktor's internal mode can deliver something compelling, but that's exactly what Al Qadiri did. In truth, her set was along the lines of what we'd expect from an artist like Dubbel Dutch or Rizzla, insofar that the music often sounded like a futuristic take on the rhythms of the Global South; there were bits of dancehall and and reggaeton, but really, the tracks fused elements of Latin American, Caribbean, and African dance music with modern bass music's most hyperactive elements. Without question, it was one of the weekend's best sets, not to mention one of its most unique.

Al Qadiri returned to Lingotto Fiere on Saturday night as part of Future Brown, her collaborative project with Nguzunguzu and J-Cush. The quartet, which has only performed a few times before, took the main stage on Saturday night alongside Ruff Sqwad-affiliated MC Prince Rapid and seemed, well, like a group that had only performed a few times before. It's not that the music was bad; the set was essentially an extended back-to-back session with all four producers taking turns (although it was unclear exactly how much Fatima Al Qadiri was really playing), and was musically pretty similar to what Nguzunguzu would normally do. As such, it was heavy on futuristic grime and upfront bass sounds, with clear nods to commercial hip-hop and R&B production. Prince Rapid would occasionally step in with some flows over the music, but didn't seem to have the charisma (or at least enough material) to charm a room that big, especially when the the show had clearly not been rehearsed. And that was the main problem; other than a cool video of a 3-D rendered basketball that slowly disintegrated over time, there wasn't much of a Future Brown "show" to watch. With five people on stage and relatively little going on (for instance, J-Cush had enough time to snap multiple selfies on stage in the middle of the set), the performance simply wasn't well suited for a main stage environment. While we're certain that the live show will continue to evolve and change, especially with a much-hyped album for Warp on the horizon, the incarnation we witnessed at Club to Club needed work.


Future Brown

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Apparat

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The second night at the Lingotto Fiere was… less excellent than the first.

After leaving Friday's show on such a high, we were excited to see if Club to Club could maintain a similar level of quality across a second night. Unfortunately, Saturday failed to measure up. While some of this boils down to personal taste—with the likes of SBTRKT and Apparat anchoring the main-stage line-up, the night undoubtedly had a slightly more commercial bent—being at the Lingotto Fiere for a second long night ultimately felt like a bit of a slog. The venue itself, which more than anything resembles a giant hangar, isn't a particularly vibey location, and the sound quality on the main stage, which had started to be a problem on Friday, deteriorated significantly on Saturday. More importantly though, being there two nights in a row made Club to Club feel more like just another electronic music festival, instead of a special event in which attendees get to witness all kinds of different venues around Turin.

Admittedly, some of Saturday's troubles couldn't have been anticipated. Luke Vibert opened the main stage and dropped some old-school rave classics, but he stared intently at his laptop during the whole set, which resulted in a somewhat stale atmosphere. Clark followed with his new live show, and although the visuals—which centered around enormous green wave patterns—were initially impressive, the novelty wore off pretty quickly and the music sounded a bit flat. It was hard to tell if this was due to the subpar soundsystem or Clark himself, but we found ourselves drifting towards the Sala Rossa to see what else what happening.


Clark

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Visionist

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The second stage was certainly the stronger of the two on Saturday, even though the attendance in there was sometimes a bit sparse. Although we mercifully only saw the final few minutes of Kele's opening set, which involved the Bloc Party frontman emotively singing over what sounded like incredibly dated electro house, Tiger & Woods quickly perked up the room with a loveable session of upbeat disco, house, and boogie edits. Later in the night, UK producer Visionist put together a set of dark and brooding beats; the music was rooted in grime, but was ultimately more introspective than something designed to ramp up the dancefloor. That duty was left to Jacques Greene, whose 90-minute DJ set moved through house, techno, hip-hop, and R&B. Still, the room never reached the boiling point it had the night before, even when the music was at its best.

However, back in the main room, the floor was stuffed to the brim, especially during SBTRKT's extended set of mediocre commercial dance-pop. Apparat was next, and he put together a DJ set that was heavy on proggy, big room house cuts. While there was nothing overtly offensive about his selections, there was nothing challenging or really interesting about them either. Perhaps the most intriguing bit of the night was that the main room's final three acts (Apparat, Recondite, and Marcel Dettmann) all hailed from Berlin, and had been booked to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. That said, the theme did nothing to change the fact that the room's sound was growing increasingly distorted, and although Recondite's live set had some compelling moments of deep, melodic techno, we ended up heading for the door about halfway through.


Luke Vibert

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Vaghe Stelle

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This time around, Italy was well represented.

In the wake of last year's festival, we found ourselves wishing that Club to Club had more prominently featured Italian artists in the line-up. While the 2013 bill did include a lot of native acts, almost all of them had been relegated to opening slots or gigs where only a handful of people got the chance to see them. In 2014, that changed, and while we're not conceited enough to take the credit, we were happy to see more Italians on stage in prime time. We've already mentioned the performances by Franco Battiato and Tiger & Woods (an outfit that, to be fair, hasn't officially confirmed that it's Italian), but there were other standouts throughout the festival. Ninos Du Brasil brought a lot of energy to the Sala Rossa on Friday night, and although the pair's schtick is unquestionably a bit goofy, there's always going to be a place for its punky brand of racuous, balls-out dance music. The next night, Vaghe Stelle was also impressive in the Sala Rossa, delivering a live set that sludged its way through abstract, bass-centric rhythms and ominous atmospherics.

However, our favorite Italian acts of the festival definitely belonged to the mysterious Gang of Ducks collective (which we recently profiled on XLR8R). Although a rainstorm on Sunday put a damper on a number of the festival's scheduled afternoon activities, the label showcase went on as planned in the tiny basement of Astoria. Experimental techno auteur Morphosis had been enlisted as the headliner (and was good), but it was hard to top the sets delivered by Gang of Ducks' Haf Haf and Dave Saved. The former offered up a twisted journey through dark, off-kilter beats, while the latter put together a driving session of stripped-down machine techno that sounded superb in the sweaty confines of that basement.

Gang of Ducks will almost certainly continue be an outfit to watch in the months and years ahead, but its success at Club to Club was indicative of a larger trend, one in which quality electronic music is increasingly coming from places outside of the established power centers of London, Berlin, Detroit, New York, etc. Italy is a country with a long history of appreciating (and innovating) electronic music, and Club to Club is probably its best festival. Moving forward, it just makes sense for the festival to serve as a conduit for exposing Italian talent to the world, and it's nice to see that Club to Club's organizers truly embraced that idea in 2014.


Ninos Du Brasil

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Club to Club is still one of our favorite festivals.

When it comes to covering festivals, there aren't a ton of events that XLR8R makes a point to cover each and every year. Going to events like Sónar, ADE, and MUTEK is something of a no brainer, just because of their scale and history, but when it comes to smaller or less established festivals, we tend to change it up and spread the attention around. Given that, it may seem a bit unusual for us to come back to Club to Club again and again, but there's really something special about this festival.

Given its size and setting, there's no way that Club to Club's organizers should be able to repeatedly put together an event that's this big, and this successful, with the relatively forward line-ups that they bring to Turin each year. Yet somehow, over the past 14 years, Club to Club has steadily built itself into a festival that brings in electronic music's most innovative names and packs venues across the city—without relying on foreign attendance. (In 2014, the vast majority of the festival's audience was once again from Italy.) Club to Club began as a local event, but even now, as it's grown into something quite large, it still has an extended "friends and family" vibe that trickles down across the festivities. Perhaps that's why this year's edition, which felt like a genuine attempt to take the festival to another, bigger level, occasionally ran into trouble, whether it was problems with the soundsystem or the inclusion of a few artists that veered a bit too far into commercial territory.

That said, we're confident that these kinks can be worked out, simply because it's clear that Club to Club's organizers have a vision, one that's based on a love of interesting, boundary-pushing electronic music. More importantly, they have the resources (thanks to some key sponsors) and the connections (thanks to their long history of working in Turin) to bring that vision to fruition each and every year. Not every edition of Club to Club will be perfect, and perhaps this year had a few more snags than we would have liked, but we still had a great time and saw some incredible music. Assuming the festival extends us an invite next year, we'll be delighted to come back again in 2015.