For a third day in a row, Vancouver’s Science World has been overtaken by hip-looking crowds drawn by promises of audio-visual stimulation. Even based on the line snaking around the centre’s exterior before doors opened, Saturday’s early evening performance was one of the most anticipated yet.
Partially responsible for the hubbub was bass producer Arca, whose mutilated strain of experimental music established him as the weird kid in the world of hip-hop production. Accompanying the young Venezuelan producer in the double DJ booth was LA resident Total Freedom, while Arca’s roommate Jesse Kanda was responsible for the visual material taking over the projections in the Omnimax dome.
As Arca filled the hall with crunchily skewed beats, the visual performance did little to ease viewers in, choosing instead to hi-jack the audience’s attention with blurry underwater footage featuring two largely overweight and naked women prancing in a swimming pool. While the subject matter diversified throughout the show, the focus kept returning to objectified bodies – and particularly, booty. Presented through Kanda’s distorting lens, the effect was a bold challenge to both the fetishized and the stigmatized ways that we perceive bodies.
Next up, under the banner of Oneohtrix Point Never was Daniel Lopatin, a very down-to-earth looking guy wearing a feline version of the Internet famous three wolf moon T-shirt. His follow-up to the arresting first show had a more subtle approach, yet no less penetrating effect. His abstracted compositions were performed synchronically with surreal imagery provided by Nate Boyce.
The San Francisco-based visual artist’s work was a sort of peregrination into computer-generated imaginary spaces that managed to concoct a dream-like hypnagogic effect, despite having an obvious quality of videogame-like unreality. Guided by Lopatin’s soundscapes that ranged from the nebulously ambient to rigid Philip Glass-like arpeggiations, the amorphous objects of Boyce’s virtual imagination came together to form a surprisingly graspable wordless narrative.
The transition to the late night activities in the main floors of the science centre was a great opportunity for a humiliating third visit to the McDonald’s across the street — sadly the only open outlet within reasonable distance. It was also a chance to be frisked as invasively and with equal lack of tact as the last time I had the pleasure of being serviced by the TSA. However, to come to terms with my sense of indignation, I conceded that having the contents of my wallet thoroughly inspected was a small price to pay for the childhood fantasy of a night at the museum that lay ahead of me — albeit in a very grown-up form.
By the time I had returned, the stage at the bottom of a round atrium was already being serviced by Berlin resident SVN and his partner-in-crime Dynamo Dreesen. The pair seemed to approach their respective time-slots very casually and in effect traded off for a back-to-back session with an eclectic range of understated dance music.
The duo’s playful angle was showcased as they came together for a live set under the name of their collaboration, Dresvn. Manning their analog circuitry and a reel-to-reel tape machine featuring prominently, they introduced themselves with a lengthy swim in a sea of delay that eventually gave way to their idiosyncratic and somewhat comic looping rhythms. That’s when things got very seriously loud. The mechanic jungle dance sent an overwhelming amount of kinetic energy through the stage’s wall of subwoofers, which was too much for some at first. It really felt like the sound engineers’ pushed the duo’s warm analog sounds to the very limits of an enjoyable experience.
Meanwhile, the space upstairs was completely reconstructed from the previous nights’ flexible multi-stage area into one spacious stage dedicated to bass music. The space felt more relaxed and fitting for the big-room sounds of Toronto resident Deebs. As the night went on, Scratcha DVA and Wen stepped up to the visually hypnotic stage, representing the groundbreaking London pirate-radio station Rinse FM’s specialties in foot-heavy UK bass.
At the end of the night, the downstairs space belonged to Finn Johannsen who was entering his third hour of keeping the floor flexing without respite through his unpredictable selections. Among the eclectic mélange of cheeky synth pop and acid tinged techno, a track from Vancouver’s own Aquarian Foundation found its right place. Meanwhile, Chicago’s DJ Earl closed the night upstairs with a workout of madly uptempo bass-heavy juke. With precision and skill, the DJ went through energetic, hook-driven tracks at a dazzling pace.
Three days of consistently impressive programming amidst the uniquely re-purposed Science World’s spacious halls, panoramic waterfront patio, and mind-game filled atrium made for a sense of openness that felt particularly special. Even though this year’s festival is the biggest in New Forms’ 14 years, to me it made its mark by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible both in technology and with the spaces Vancouver has to offer.