Synch Festival @ Lavrio Technological Park, Athens, Greece
3rd - 5th June, 2004
By Vangelis Bellonias
An event like the Synch festival, boasting a total of 60 + artists spread out over three days and four stages, might not raise many eyebrows in most musically advanced countries but was definitively an impressive step forward for Greek organisers. Taking place at the technological park of Lavrio (an ex-mining site) Synch looked like an oasis amidst the misery of the three to four bands that usually include Greece in their tour-schedule. Thus hoping for the best but also expecting the worst I decided to make the trip to the remote and very industrial site of the festival.
On arrival I was amazed by three facts....
1. The size of place - three spacious stages and one smaller (the experimental stage).
2. The quality of the sound system - crisp but still loud and bass-heavy.
3. The general turnout of the audience - very disappointing.
Especially on the first two days the stages felt continuously empty and deserted, which made me wonder why so many artists that lack any form of distribution in Greece were chosen for the line-up. Luckily on Saturday things were better audience-wise, but at several points throughout those three days I was under the impression there were more people with press / production / VIP / artist passes (ie. no ticket) than without.
Began by lazily strolling from stage to stage waiting for the happenings on the main stage to begin, where just after the sun had set Tikiman and Scion appeared. Arranging and processing Rhythm & Sound tracks, Scion's germanic digidub was the perfect platform for Paul St. Hilaire's ecstatic, non-stop toasting. Radical re-workings of 'W/The artists' and Tikiman's 'broken' vocal chords won the initially static crowd over and forced everyone to flex their muscles. Unfortunately asynchronisity in the delays of the various stages meant that I didn't get to see Jan Jelinek which I was really looking forward to, though I must admit that thanks to such minor fuck-ups I got to see many other artists over the remaining two days which I would have otherwise missed.
Next up was Vladislav Delay over at the experimental stage presenting his new 'Demo(n) Tracks'. Performing in front of a surprisingly full room (taking into account the general turnout) Delay filled the space with dense ambient soundscapes populated by organic rubble and misaligned clicks. Murky and dreamy Vladislav's performance was an ideal chance to sit down, relax and pretend we've gone fishing (an activity Mr. Delay is rather fond of apparently).
Still floating in a haze after this treat, I strolled down towards the 1st stage were a certain Luciano was supposed to be performing for another half hour. Or so I thought. by now it was past 01:30am and Lucien N. Nicolet's live set was drawing towards its conclusion. People seemed to enjoy it. I'm sure I would have done so myself...
Kicked off with an amazing set by Donnacha Costello performing under his Raster-Noton Modul alias. A cosmos of oscillating highly rhythmic micro and macro loops covered by a layer of Eno-esque melodies sprung out of Donnacha's laptop and accompanied by the necessary minimal visuals - co-axial parallelograms exploding and imploding to the rhythm structures - hypnotised the few people that were lucky enough to be at the experimental stage.
By this point the schedules of the different stages had already taken their separate paths and I could only guess who was playing were and at what time. Unphased, me and my faithful festival companion Sotiris decided to head towards the 1st stage where Delay's dancefloor-orientated alter ego Luomo was performing his unique blend of glossy yet highly emotional house musiks. Awkwardly early in the evening (especially for Greek standards) and not benefiting from the ambience (a big sweaty tent is no-one's ideal setting) Luomo proceeded to deconstruct tracks from both his records with the emphasis being placed on his more recent "Present Lover" offering. As lush as on record and frantically tapping his foot on the stage Delay got the approval of a seemingly sober crowd.
Next on our list and scheduled halfway through Luomo's show was Kim Cascone back at the experimental stage (which became our favourite hang-out during those three days). "Sonic treatise on digital failure" would best describe his performance - academic and almost verging on the misanthropic Cascone's music requires a lot of concentration and would have benefited from a more intimate and quiet setting. Knowing that Senor Coconut was on the main stage, the decision was an easy one. Coconut's entourage of surprisingly-non-South-American musicians had already unleashed their trademark Latin-flavoured renditions of Kraftwerk, Michael Jackson and Deep Purple upon the audience, while Mr. Uwe Schmidt stood silent and motionless staring at his Powerbook screen. The Venezuelan singer kept urging everyone to "cha-cha-cha" & "merengue", admittedly with such a high degree of success that the few drops of rain that appeared went unnoticed.
Exit Herr Coconut & his orchestra and I decided to check out the 2nd stage that wasn't open on the first day of Synch. The minuscule Aril Brikha hidden behind his stack of hardware was a very pleasant surprise and the techno that was pumping out of the soundsystem was - despite its non-confrontational nature - highly entertaining and very danceable. It was the right thing at the right place and with that it was time to head back home.
And last day of the festival saw us arriving and heading straight for the experimental stage (once more...). DJ/IP@Bip-Hop was putting on an eclectic laptop DJ-set that ranged from David Sylvian to Christian Fennesz's 'Endless Summer' and other assorted grainy loveliness. Thomas Brinkmann was on soon after for some 'Clicks and Cuts' (not my words). Mixing 7" & 5" records and his 17" sticker-adorned Powerbook, Brinkmann produced a memorable and humorous, sample-laden set that aptly opened with the track 'Ikaria' (built on a sample from an announcement repeating 'Ladies and Gentlemen' in greek) from his latest record. Nodding along the whole way through, the 45 minutes were way too short.
One small break for refreshments later and we returned to the experimental stage to witness Senking seriously dubbing out. Bass-driven minimal tech and some very questionable visuals (by some strange chap on the stage) were what a half-empty room was treated to. One thing though that had me salivating since the festival program was announced was a workshop with Kim Cascone. A rare chance like this was - in my books at least - not to be missed even if that meant failing to witness any coinciding musical happenings. The workshop turned out to be a lecture about failure in digital and post-digital music - not exactly what I had been hoping for but still very enlightening and un-characteristically entertaining.
Si-cut.db and most of Fransisco Lopez's performances were the necessary victims of this slight indulgence. Returning for one last time to the experimental stage for a certain Ryoji Ikeda we were forced to squeeze in for another packed out show. Disappointingly short and coupled with the fact that Mika Vainio didn't turn up we were left with a bitter aftertaste. However Apparat on stage 2 came to swiftly wash that away. The posterboy of the Berlin scene was breathtaking in his control of the Mac / sampler / mixer ensemble he endorses. It was a rare demonstration of what the loathed 'IDM' should stand for but doesn't. Beats & melodies arranged to form continual sonic attacks got us dancing like mad for one last time and practically drained out any remaining energy.
At least the festival ended on a high note....the only thing we can now hope for is that Synch will become a staple of the European festival circuit despite this years poor turn-out. At least this was what someone from the production team confided in me. Fingers crossed then....
"Incidentally, none of these pics are actually from the Synch Festival itself, Vangelis didn't bother to take any pics, the daft sod!"