Songs for the DEAF

 
 

Paul Fennessy and Kate Rothwell speak with several of those involved in the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival about the event’s burgeoning success.

Electronic music has never had it so good. It’s no secret that the scene is thriving in Ireland and abroad, as indie discos give way to electro nights, crossover acts ascend the charts and DJ sets and dance acts sell out at the same speed as rock bands. The Dublin Electronic Arts Festival (DEAF) is now in its seventh year, and has been branded as the ‘most diverse and comprehensive programme to date’.

The 52 events taking place over four days include not only numerous gigs but a variety of exhibitions, film screenings, talks and workshops. Veteran fans of the electronic music scene will appreciate the significance of influential acts such as Juan Atkins, ‘godfather of techno’ and his band Model 500, reclusive experimentalists Nurse with Wound, renowned French DJ Laurent Garnier and sixties avant garde outfit White Noise gracing the bill, whilst newcomers can not only immerse themselves in the legends of the genre but get a taste of Irish offerings like Chymera and Push Move Click.

DEAF is not a festival that prides itself on household names, but as Festival Director Karen Walshe explains, its appeal lies in the unknown.

“We are a niche festival, and that’s what we’d like to maintain. People now look to DEAF as a place where they can actually go and see new acts that they’ve never heard of or seen before… it’s not so alternative that you’re going to find two people sitting at a show. In fact, the past few years the shows just sell out.”

The growing popularity of the festival can be attributed in part to the increasing general interest in the electro scene, but many of the events hold a much wider appeal. Featured art exhibitions include Auralog, which presents photos of Newfoundland with corresponding audio recordings to make up ‘sound postcards’, and a photography and video presentation from Donal Dineen with a live soundtrack provided by Dublin seven piece, 3epkano.

“This is really bringing a lot of legends together on the night… I don’t think anything has ever been done like this before in Dublin, particularly with the three venues”

A variety of short films and documentaries will be screened over the weekend, including the Irish premiere of Dublin-born director Niamh Aherne’s documentary Totally Wired, which tells the story of German Andreas Schneider’s battle for analogue from his retro electronic music store in Berlin.

This screening is part of a number of free events taking place at the Digital Hub on Saturday, which will also include BBC Radiophonic and Future Audio Workshops.

When questioned about his lack of success closer to home, Gonzalez responds in a typically French quasi-philosophical manner: ‘‘It is the goal and aim of an artist to reach as many people as possible’’

One of the festival’s most intriguing events will undoubtedly be the performance of electro-pioneers
White Noise, who will also be presenting the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. While Noise is the brain child of Dave Vorhaus, a legend in electronic music circles, who will be assisted by accomplished synth musician Mark Jenkins. Speaking to Otwo about the festival, Jenkins comments on the legacy of his career and the opportunities for innovation presented by DEAF.

Vorhaus certainly has more than adequate credentials for the task, given that he began making music with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop four decades ago. Additionally, Jenkins, his musical co-conspirator and friend, details how the road to White Noise performing live was a particular arduous one: ‘‘for many years it was impossible to perform the music… (but) since he and I have teamed up, it has become possible to perform this music live for the first time using laptop technology.’’

Seeing as White Noise routinely create sounds akin to The Doctor Who theme tune, while Vorhaus also has a background in physics, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that this is music made by and for nerds.
However, the strong array of exceptionally hip musicians who are all too eager to cite White Noise as an influence consequently diminishes the credibility of this misguided preconception.

Jenkins comments “I think people like The Orb, David Bowie and Jean Jacques Benel from The Stranglers have said that White Noise is a big influence. It was the first all electronic album, some years before [Pink Floyd’s] Dark Side of the Moon for example.”

Jenkins describes White Noise’s sound as a ‘‘huge mish mash of classical avant garde influences’’,
combined with pulsating beats. While this sounds potentially disastrous, White Noise somehow
manage to turn these incredibly disparate influences into coherent and endearing pieces of music.

The band will also play the entirety of their definitive debut album, An Electrical Storm during the festival and this will most likely be a must-see experience. In addition to being one of the most important works in the history of electronic music, it was also an album in the sense that all the tracks were considered equal, even before such a concept became fashionable in the singles orientated music business of the sixties.

Jenkins subsequently explains how this innovative album was “very much ahead of it’s time” and preceded both Sgt. Pepper and Dark Side of the Moon. Therefore, for those seeking to escape the drudgery of the same old repetitious guitar-based music, White Noise seem capable of providing the perfect anecdote.

Another act who will be giving an insight into their musical past as well as a performance in the present is celebrated hip-hop DJ and producer Steinski, who will speak alongside Irish graffiti artist Maser for a DEAF SweetTalk presentation on Thursday 23 October and then play in the Andrew’s Lane Theatre with funk-inclined Germans Poets of Rhythm and electronic instrumentalist Daedelus the following evening.

Although quoted as being an influence for numerous artists including DJ Shadow, Cold Cut and Fat Boy Slim, Steinski explains to Otwo that he and Douglas Di Franco (his counterpart as 1980’s duo Double Dee and Steinski) were for a long time unaware of the extent of their own fame. “Cold Cut we knew, Cold Cut have always been friends [of ours] and it’s easy to downplay your influence on your friends, but when all these other people started citing us we realised that we weren’t as backwater and forgotten as we suspected.”
“It’s wildly flattering and still rather amazing to me, I still get quite a thrill to talk to people and have my stuff discussed as anything other than ‘that old stuff, ugh’.”

As a one man electronic show there is an extra pressure to provide an extra performance element onstage, a visual aid for audience members to react in tandem with the music. This extra assistance, although not something that he has created himself, is acknowledged by Steinski as important nonetheless.

“It always helps because in the end I’m just a dumpy middle-aged guy with glasses and a laptop,
so if you’re not drunk and dancing it’s not so great to look at, but with visuals it’s a very good show.”
While the overall line-up is strong, the appearance of M83 is arguably the greatest coup for the DEAF’s organisers. Consisting of music composed mostly by Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez, M83 specialise in beautiful, melody based paeans to unrequited love.

Moreover, his epic sound should sound entirely at home in a festival environment and Gonzalez promises that fans will be treated to a wholly unique experience: ‘‘Maybe people who like the record will like the show, but I always try to make live versions different from the songs (on the record).’’

Despite M83 enjoying great success in America, the Europeans have yet to warm to his expansive electro-pop. Gonzalez will undoubtedly be hoping to use DEAF as a springboard to greater appreciation
in this market.

When questioned about his lack of success closer to home, Gonzalez responds in a typically French quasi-philosophical manner: ‘‘it is the goal and aim of an artist to reach as many people as possible,’’ he muses. He then asserts with characteristic sincerity that: ‘‘I think it’s important to touch people with this music,’’ before adding that he believes American are taken with the exotic nature of his music. Yet regardless of whether or not European success continues to elude him, the opportunity to hear songs as exquisite as ‘Graveyard Girl’ and ‘Teen Angst’ in a live setting should not betaken lightly.

The festival culminates in a three stage event taking over the Village, Whelans and the Whelans upstairs venue on Sunday 26 October. One ticket provides access to performances from Model 500, Laurent Garnier, the Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Fuckbuttons, as well as Irish acts Americhord, Chequerboard and Rollers/Sparkers and more besides.

Described by Karen Walshe as “a major extravaganza of various different heroes of electronic music”, she views it as yet another innovation that DEAF can hold to its name. “this is really bringing a lot of legends together on the night… I don’t think anything has ever been done like this before in Dublin, particularly with the three venues.”

From its humble inception seven years ago, DEAF has grown where it could have slipped quietly under the radar. “It’s really come along from the first few years when we started and nobody really understood what we were or what we were about. For various different reasons I think things have changed in society so there’s a lot of crossover from the underground to the mainstream within the youth of electronic music.”

Whether the electro scene will have faded back in to the underground by the time that DEAF 2009 comes around, it’s hard to say. But from 23 to 26 of this month, it’s time to listen, watch, learn and dance thanks to DEAF.

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