If my experience of the first night of Unsound Festival was defined mostly by sparseness — by mostly subdued takes on intensely emotional sounds, then my second night was the exact opposite. Though I missed out on Actress and Hype Williams at Le Poisson Rouge, the sets that I did take in at Lincoln Center were special enough in their own regard, and entirely different to the sets that I caught the night before.
LXMP have yet to release much in the way of studio material, but this Poland based duo certainly has the live aspect of their sound figured out. Much of the crowd seemed like they had been lured in off the street at the promise of a free concert rather than the promise of seeing two Polish dudes bang out a 45 minutes worth of Herbie Hancock covers, but by the end of the set heads were certainly nodding. It was billed as a reinterpretation of Hancock’s 1983 album Future Shock, but the majority of the reinterpretation seemed to be figuring out how to play that whole dense recording with only two people. But somehow they figured it out. Drummer Macio Moretti was pulling double duty for much of the night, pairing his tight drumming with some complex basslines performed on the keyboard with his lefthand. Piotr Zabrodzki was left to handle an entire album’s worth of rhythm and lead melodic parts across the two keyboards set up in front of him, as well as vocals that he fed through a vocoder in his rig as well. To see them pull off all of these parts amongst just the two of them was impressive to say the least, and even more stunning was the accuracy with which they executed it. So few botched notes, so funky, and so entirely satisfying. It was everything you want out of an opening set and a true testament to the wide ranging booking that Unsound put forth.
Madison, Wisconsin’s Peaking Lights took to the stage next. Though their presence was met with an increasingly swelling crowd, their material didn’t seem to translate quite as well live as LXMP’s set. Though 936 is completely enveloping on record, seeing it live seemed to take away some of its mystique at least in this incarnation of their live setup. The length of tracks like “All The Sun That Shines” is truly emphasized when you’re watching two people listlessly swaying on stage. It’s not that it was dull necessarily, there was just some bit of disconnect from performer and audience, though I get the sense that’s atypical for this band. Though Indra Dunis’ vocals were pitch perfect and the synth parts she played were unimpeachable as well, there was just something lacking about their performance as a whole. For one, it wasn’t entirely clear what Aaron Coyes’ role was in the entire process, other than playing cassettes periodically. That criticism aside, the songs were still as outstanding as you’d expect. As much as the performance aspect of their live show is lacking, their brand of fractured dub was just as good if you could just close your eyes and forget that there were two people doing god knows what on stage. It all sounds negative, but it really was a pleasant listen, just not as much of a pleasant watch as one might hope.
Perhaps some of the lack of the energy is due to the seated nature of the show because on the whole, throughout the sets of both acts the music itself was impeccable. Though LXMP might have outshined on the performance aspect of the show, each of the acts was interesting in their own way.