A weekend celebrating creative disruptions, electronic music, and spatial experiments. TodaysArt celebrated its 13th edition last September.
Conceived by a group of ex-squatters, artists, and cultural progressors back in 2005, TodaysArt—an annual gathering for contemporary experiments in electronic music, art, and digital culture—electrified the city center of The Hague last September. Featuring key performances and audiovisual highlights by Hauschka, Ata Kak, Sote, and Tarik Barri; an extensive art, exhibition, panel and workshop program; as well as two club nights against the majestic backdrop of an 18th-century classical theatre, the festival inspired over 6,000 visitors across three main venues over the weekend.
Pauline Krikke, mayor of The Hague, opened the festival with an opening speech while wearing a "Wifible"—a wearable wifi router, around her arm. Festival-goers came across this device spread throughout the festival venues; and, once connected, participants were able to see video pieces on their mobile browser displaying some of the festival’s digital artworks.
Whilst experimental by design, TodaysArt featured a spectrum of world, European, and Dutch premières. The opening concert “Sacred Horror in Design” by Sote and Tarik Barri engaged the audience with a blend of traditional Persian instruments, electronics, and abstract visuals shifting in real time on stage. Hauschka opened his concert with a short introduction, highlighting the need for European collaboration. His performance—envisioned as a score to the imaginary world his children would inherit in 50 years—took the audience on a journey through imaginative soundscapes based around piano and electronics—a mesmerizing experience within the surreal setting of the Royal Theatre.
Another highlight of this year’s program was "Still Be Here" with Japanese virtual sensation Hatsune Miku. A hologram performing pop-star with millions of fans, the show came to the Netherlands through TodaysArt for the first time and attracted many visitors, amongst them some Hatsune Miku cosplay characters. The piece, which straddled the border between hologram performance, pop-concert, and documentary format, engaged with the phenomenon and the fascination with Hatsune Miku and left many audience members questioning the nature the show: art or nothing more than a holographic gimmick? Nonetheless, the documentary raised some thought-provoking issues regarding how we consume music and how pop music will develop over the course of the next generation.
In the evening the festival’s main venue, the Koninklijke Schouwburg Royal Theatre, transitioned into a dance club, highlighting music from across the electronic spectrum on three different stages. Christian Löffler played in an intimate room in the theatre’s upstairs attic, while Torus and Mexican label collective NAAFI, with Fausto Bahia, Lao, and O.M.A.A.R, played on the main stage with their back to the auditorium and the theatre’s stunning gilded hall illuminated by strobe lights. DJ Panic was one of Friday’s highlights, closing the main stage with a gabber set, further evidence of the festival's intent for creative disturbance in lieu of following trends.
The exhibition and "Context Program" was equally well visited and served an important function to embed the festival within the larger purpose of engaging with, and putting into question, our contemporary cultural moment. This year the festival included panel discussions with themes such as Algorithmic Complexity, Design Ethics, Gender Inequality, and Riot in the Matrix. The "Context Program" then allowed audiences to take these themes further into workshops (Cryptoparty, Make your own self-driving car, Pyramid of Technology).
Artworks were on display at all three theatre venues as well as at collaborating project spaces, with artists engaging with ideas around automation, machine learning, and algorithmic complexity. Amongst other pieces, the royal theatre was a fitting backdrop for Jacob Tonski’s Balance from within, a 170-year old sofa balancing and teetering on one leg, supported by a robotic mechanism. Jonas Lund’s "Happy or Not" gathered visitors' data around their exhibition experience; and Bogomir Doringer’s selected footage from his ongoing research project "I Dance Alone," screening at Filmhuis, engaged with the movement of clubbers as an organism. Meanwhile, Philip Vermuelen’s Physical Rhythm Machine / Boem BOem, an Ableton sequenced installation which shot tennis balls at speeds up to 150 km/h onto sound boxes, created an immersive visceral acoustic instrument.
Saturday also saw the headlining performance by Ata Kak, whose energy was infectious. With The Hague marking the final gig of his European tour, the band celebrated with champagne fountains on stage. The club night opened with Richard Devine’s modular synth performance releasing unhinged scattering beats upon the crowd. Late night club highlights were Clap! Clap!, Tomasa del Real, Marie Davidson, and Inga Mauer.
TodaysArt 2017 was an ode to complexity with a program seeking to challenge and disrupt by putting contrasts next to each other—be it in reference to the programming, setting or audience. From a clandestine pop-up “Toilet Room” rave to a gabber set on the backdrop of a majestic auditorium, the creativity, ingenuity, and rebellious undercurrent on both the artists and audience side made Todays Art an event that totally confounded and challenged pre-conceived notions of the experience of a contemporary electronic music and arts festival.