BY ROSE PARFITT
Stood in a hot cave holding minty Mojitos we were thinking up sub-genres for Nicolette. A glass elevator moved up and down behind us emptying fresh crowds into the hollows of the Dom im Berg, Graz’s small but perfectly-formed mountain. Chrome and plasma gleamed in the UV lights; enormous screens flickered above our heads. Dr No would have pawned his pincers for a sweet pad like this.
My next song’ s called “Unconditional Love” ! (Nicolette, sounding like Mary Poppins) & because when you have fire in your heart you can love freely, like a butterfly! Yes! breathed the flower of central Europe’ s musically-minded youth. Their foreheads shone brightly in the multicoloured gloom. Some flapped wildly with inflatable guitars as her funky-eerie vocals took off, skimmed some heavy breakbeats and bounced smartly of the naked rock surface& Space-bass? Click cabaret?
It’ s like a fucking David Lynch film, this and Nicolette live: one of the bizarrest high points of this year’ s springfive festival and that’s just the beginning. Spread out over five days and twelve venues in Austria’s otherwise sleepy second city of Graz, uncountable genres of electronic music gathered to welcome in the summer with a complicated, bass-heavy fertility ritual for the future of European dancemusic.
At any given moment you might have been watching Spoonface outside the Parkhouse while eating speciality battered buds, as broken beats boomed round the treetrunks and scattered with the falling spores. Or at the end of a steep and chill passage through the bowels of the Dom you might have caught an Al Haca Soundsystem bassline so ripe and heavy drinks were jumping off the tables like glass apples in a gale. Or, on the other side of a river swollen with melted glacial snow, you might have found Michael Mayer towering over the PPC, sowing the dark, moist mass of twisting limbs with seeds of newborn Cologne techno.
Marky, Kilo, Tosca, Kissogramm, the Mad Professor, Fingathing, Roni Size, Quantic& a line-up this eclectic (see www.springfestival.at for the full register) is some serious achievement for any festival, especially for one so young. It s also a sure sign that, as springfestival veteran DJ Alan Brown put it, Austria is no longer the country of 70 beats per minute . Kruder & Dorfmeister, Austria s most successful musical export since Mozart, may still be going strong in various different guises, but the monumental downtempo style built ten years ago has cast a long shadow over their country’s dancemusic.
I think one of the problems has been our success, says Alan. Having escaped London several years ago to head up both communications for G-Stone Recordings (K&D s home, along with Tosca, Peace Orchestra, Stereotyp& ) and exports for Viennese club legend turned distributor Soulseduction, this is a man who knows. Once you ve been very successful at something you re always known for that and it s very hard sometimes to break away, he continues. Kruder & Dorfmeister still sell a lot of records all over the world, but just as important is a new breed of artists like Stereotyp, Urbs, Megablast, Parov Steller, DSL that are not strictly lounge or triphop. And one of the reasons this change has happened is because of what they re doing here at springfestival. This festival is a fantastic opportunity for the people and the artists of Austria to experience what the artists of Germany, UK, France, all sorts of places are doing. So big up the springfive crew.
Springfestival is all about making connections, explains Daniela Andersen. As chairman of Graz-based label/culture and communication association Zeiger, responsible for more than 40 events and parties in the area annually, Daniela has been co-coordinating the festival with its organisers Stefan Auer and Pietro Masser since 2001 s very first springone. Eventually we want to become the meeting point between middle-Europe and Eastern Europe. Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, they re all only a few hours drive away from Graz, and since the borders opened up there has been a lot more exchange between cities like Ljubljana, Zagreb and Trieste. For us those cities are closer than Vienna, she says.
In fact, a more-than-healthy rivalry between Austria s two major cities and an equally healthy sense of pride in Graz music as something unique and independent of Vienna s are two major forces shaping the character of springfestival. Thanks to Zeiger, a scene structured around groundbreaking labels including Houseverbot and Soundsilo, artists like Dr Nachtstrom or Binder & Krieglstein and innovative clubs like the PPC and Postgarage is being consolidated and celebrated every year. Springfestival has already made its presence felt outside Austria, and with international events like last year s Styrianststylez showcase at London s
Electrowerkz, the Graz sound is already on the map and giving Vienna a run for its money.
The music scene here in Graz is very creative, says Stefan Auer, Zeiger s deputy chairman. We have a strong breakbeat and drum & bass community as well as
an alternative techno and tech-house scene which is very different from Vienna s loungy, downtempo flavour. It will take time to create something special, but the whole Balkan-jazz and turbo-folk movement is a strong influence. I think this sound will become something typical for the region now that the club scene is getting more into it.
With all these elements thrown in the mix, the springfive vibe had a distinctive flavour of its own raw but sophisticated, home-made but hi-tech, a feast balancing all the major food groups against a hi-calorie techno base. A touch more jazz and Escoffier would have pinched the recipe. There s a lot going on here that s really different, says Spoonface, co-producer with Bugz in the Attic s Seiji of this year s massive dancehall gets bruk single Yin Yang . I ve met a lot of artists that I would never normally listen to, which is cool. But it needs a bit more vibes from some of the nu-jazz, broken beat heads; some of the more organic stuff. I m real to the fact that broken beats are still quite an underground form of music. I don t understand why though, cause it s so jazzy, and so fun. There s no hostility going on there, there s no attitude it s just straight hardcore dancemusic.
Spoonface on the controls
Straight and hardcore it may be, but maybe not enough for Austria just yet. (After two Spoonface sets dancing solo in a corner, Mundovibes can tell you that for free!) That said, springfestival is still in its infancy compared with events like Sonar, and the process is all part of the fun. When it came to extra-curricular activities it was untouchable, and not just in terms of crazy venues, scorching weather and mean Mojihos. The Red Bull Academy sessions, for example, had Michael Mayer, Cleveland Watkiss, DJ Patife and MC Stamina talking shop over two chilled afternoons in the Hotel Daniel. Opportunities like that for punters with a deeper interest in what they were dancing to and where it came from don t happen every day.
The visuals also came directly out of the top drawer with a line-up of VJs including Vienna s Fritz Fitzke, London s Mox and VJ Anyone and local Graz outfit Exclusive Lingerie, and a visuals workshop was running right through the festival, hosted by 4youreye (Vienna) and Headspace (London) with support from Graz s University of Applied Sciences. As VJs we re latecomers to the scene, and so in general the balance is not quite there yet with recognition, says Montreal-born Anyone, aka Olivier Sorrentino, DJ Magazine s 9th best VJ of 2004. But I got the impression that the audience was really quite cultured in visuals and I think this festival has had a lot to
do with that.
Music is a tree with many branches, Cleveland Watkiss told his Red Bull Academy audience a perfect pearl of eco-sonic wisdom for rounding up springfive. Some branches reach further than others but they all just keep on growing, and with events like this opening up fertile ground still untrampled by the festival establishment, we re in for a bumper crop.
For more on springfestival and Zeiger www.zeiger.com events that fall somewhere between art and commerce, at the intersection of subculture and mainstream, and on the cusp between the demands of passionate youth and those of the cultural establishment www.springfive.at for this year s line up. Keep an eye out for www.springfestival.com later on this year for future information and past line ups, which can presently be found at www.springone.at, www.springtwo.at, www.springthree.at and www.springfour.at
festival for electronic art and music
The 6th update of the spring-festival holds on to the philosophy of the previous festivals: International electronic pop acts, superstar-DJs, visual artists, clubculture-pioneers together with local hopeful electronic artits, offspring DJs and Graz based underground heroes will rock through distinctive venues in the city.