Hyperlocal Festival

Hyperlocal billed itself as an ‘all-day festival celebrating international-local acts’ and while the international and local have increasingly been drawn apart as opposites, following a year in which inward looking politics and austerity-hit communities have effectively given one big finger to a now passing era of continual globalisation, it’s difficult to argue that the performances on the day did, in some way, engage in ‘a dialogue suspended above the transnational abyss’, a day of performances that escaped increasingly tribal localism.

It’s not often that these event descriptions and press releases catch the eye. They usually contain a predictable usual mix of promotional guff and hyperbole, but this sociology graduate sounding description of the first European run of this relatively new festival – a festival previously only held in Buenos Aires – was a little more eye-catching.

During a time in which fractious politics threaten to renew localised rather than global notions of community, this event promised a united ‘headspace’ bonding two cities on the opposite parts of the world, from countries with lingering political antipathies towards each other. It seemed somehow like the ideal utopian critique to the bafflement of 2016 and being hosted in the ever-reliable Cafe Oto also boosted its musical appeal – as did the discovery that it’s Buenos Aires renditions have hosted the likes of Pharmakon, Mykki Blanco and Molly Nilsson.

As you’d expect, it being a festival that originated in Argentina, some Argentinian bands did indeed make the journey over, but the lineup consisted of a boundary-less mesh of nationalities, localities, genres, looks and so on. From lo-fi rockers in Buenos Aires to quirky art-punk from Dalston, from a Japanese industrial techno duo now in Berlin to pithy spoken word infused songwriting from Washington DC, and so on and so forth – the lineup was what you’d expect from a festival trying to deconstruct notions of locality with upcoming and not particularly well-known but nonetheless interesting and experimental artists from around the world.

While most festivals with international lineups tend to be well-funded and loaded with signed and recognised names, Hyperlocal’s appeal was that it felt nicely low key, as though all these strangers from the other sides of the world had really only just come round the corner. There were obvious common aesthetic themes and influences throughout the day though. The day started with Lorenzo Tebano from Denmark whose music combined drones, techno, and occasional Aphex Twin-evoking melodies and even lyrics as he shouted, with no reverb, “I want you soul / I need your soul” presumably referencing Come to Daddy. His contrast between high quality production and lo-fi vocals was striking, if intended, and what emerged was something from an apparent mesh of influences from no places in particular. It sounded as though it was from the different world of the shared sounds of alternative techno, hip hop and ambient that have pervaded across physical boundaries, yet this otherworldliness was all grounded by the starkness of the vocals which served to give a nice ‘producer in his bedroom’ vibe, and, intriguingly, you don’t get any more local than that.

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To the opposite end of the lineup, the last act of the night at Cafe Oto was Group A from Japan but now in Berlin. They combined pulsing industrial beats with scratching vocals to induce an overall state of mania. While a point could be made about the duo combining the influences of Japanese noise art with Berlin’s great heritage in techno again the overall sound of their performance was not one of being from a locality as such. Instead they could have been from anywhere, effusing a post-locality mania shared by a world of people renewing it’s anxiety about the places they nonetheless find themselves within, a mania about place in a world where place should, in theory, be beginning to mean less. Their songs have previously expressed anger at the Japanese government and the vocals do evoke the sounds of political revolt (megaphones and what not), but the overall sound is subterranean, bleak and mind-bending – a technological cry from the substrata of a fractured globe.

Throughout the day performances paved new directions, new imagined places within a global map of genres. Londoner Patchfinder merged Berlin sounding techno with industrial drones evoking Shxchsxhsxhsxh, Lee Gamble, and even at catchier points Objekt, while also occasionally sprinkling in some seemingly sardonic samples (including a Giff Gaff voicemail message). Later on Vindicatrix (who I think was German) played repeating rhythms with ambient musique concrete soundscapes, hints of dub and some Scott Walker sounding vocals to an overall complex and gloomy effect. And in a very different way, SNEAKS (USA), with just a guitar and some beats, played out a minimal brand of songwriting that combined witty lyrics with Joy Division-sounding guitars – her sound was far simpler but in no ways inferior.

That these two could play before and after each other on the same lineup without the experience being a little jarring was perhaps indicative of how the day really found a way to bridge the differences of genres, as well as of nationality, in creating a different sense of unity. The coherence of the day was instead found through intelligent, idiosyncratic and explorative musicians finding their own sounds and on-stage personas in their own performances rather than drawing from the staid roster of cultural effects often thrown up at larger blander unsurprising festivals.

And this theme for the day was again apparent with the travelling Argentinean performers, 3mpty Space, Los Cripis and WVS, who, despite their shared country, all played music that, despite not existing distinctly from the world of local influences, was certainly idiosyncratic to each of them. WVS played crashing drums alongside dreamy and tender English language lo-fi alt rock, including a delicate cover of Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down, while Los Cripis relied on melodic but dissonant and pedal-less garage rock to an overall happy-go-lucky effect. 3mpty Space travelled place-less scapes, merging dreamy shoegaze guitars with luscious otherworldly textures, at points evoking Oneohtrix Point Never. When a vagabond ukulele playing east Londoner joined them unexpectedly – and I think uninvited – to jam over their ambient textures, to a not all that displeasing effect, the sense of hyper locality was truly achieved!

My own personal highlight was Dalston-based Bas Jan, angelically dressed in a loose fitting all white ‘costume’ created out of old polystyrene, ’costume’ being the key word here. They wittily sung over a frenetically loose combination of dissonant folk, funky baselines, and serious yet at points jovial experimentalism, using whirly tubes to great effect. The overall sound was jangly London art school pop punk band, and they were perhaps the most ‘local’ of acts in a sense, with lyrics including “get a job in the city/get a job making coffee” hitting home, as it were.

Bas Jan’s being on the lineup was perhaps appropriate given the festival was in London and was about a sense of locality, even if this locality was not bound to any place in particular. But while the festival hanged loose and tightly at different points of the day, it did what any good festival should do – it felt like a celebration. It wasn’t a festival of locality as a literal reading would suggest, but instead it was a celebration of how creative and ambitious musicians can create new communities and senses of self and place that cross over the physical boundaries of countries and cities.

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