Behind the scenes with the founder of Unsound festival Mat Schulz, co-founder of the phenomenal festival in Krakow (and occasionally New York), talks about his experience running one of the best music events in the world.
Mat Schulz embodies the Unsound programme. As a co-founder and curator of the new music festival begun in Krakow, Poland, it’s within the context of a diverse global culture that he operates. Now celebrating its tenth edition, the annual transdisciplinary event features forward-thinking artists like Daniel Lopatin, Evian Christ and Heatsick, alongside progressive music legends like Hieroglyphic Being, Theo Parrish and Japan’s Fushitsusha. A variety of talks, workshops and film screenings complement the program, generating a global discourse that transcends boundaries. “We try to create an atmosphere that’s really inclusive,” Schulz explains over the din of a noisy café in an accent that betrays the intercontinental inflections of a global citizen. “Even if you have music in there that might be a bit difficult, or harder to listen to, it’s important that the whole festival feels inclusive, so that people are exposed to different types of music they might not normally be exposed to.”
Fushitsusha perform at Unsound on the 15th October 2012.
Raised in the Australian town of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, it’s not difficult to sense the multi-dimensionality of a man who followed a less than conventional career path through professional writing to his post as festival organiser and Eastern European resident. Having called Krakow home since Poland’s early days of independence, it’s events like Unsound that are both representative and instrumental in affecting the growing intercultural exchange between the country and the rest of the world. “When I first moved here there weren’t really any festivals and there weren’t so many artists coming to play. It was far less common.”
“Even if you have music in there that might be a bit difficult, or harder to listen to, it’s important that the whole festival feels inclusive, so that people are exposed to different types of music they might not normally be exposed to.” – Mat Schulz
These days, in the midst of rapid social and economic change, the city is a burgeoning creative hub, boasting a Bohemian air comparable to places like Berlin with an annual festival equally as exciting as the German Capital’s own CTM (formerly Club Transmediale). Similarly mapped out, Unsound runs over nine days and showcases some of the world’s most forward-thinking experimental talent across the geography of the beautiful and historically rich surroundings of Krakow. Last year, you could see Ital and LA Vampires performing alongside each other at the Manggha Centre, in view of the Vistula River and Wawel Castle, Carter Tutti at the Museum of Municipal Engineering in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz. And that’s with none of the festival lot lock-ins and scheduling clashes one has come to expect from a more conventional music mega-billing. “I think the format of a festival is sometimes a strong example of over-consumption,” says Schulz, “Especially in a festival where there’s a few different stages and things happening at once. It can make you feel overloaded with choice; unable to concentrate on one thing and listen to it properly. Because you’re watching one artist, while in the back of your mind you’re thinking about what’s going on with another; wondering whether perhaps you should be there. I find that problematic, where there’s too much going on.”
LA Vampires perform at Unsound in 2011.
It’s precisely this kind of critical awareness that makes the programme of a festival as thoughtfully curated as Unsound so attractive. In ensuring that every bit of music, every panel, every idea is given the focus and consideration it deserves, Schulz and his fellow programmers are not only bucking the trend of Alvin Toffler-coined era of ‘information overload’ but also avoiding the internet-driven drift towards fragmented intellectual engagement by creating a single channel for investigation. “You could probably see everything physically, without things overlapping, if you wanted to. But then it would be an endurance test,” Schulz jokes about the fact that Unsound offers few, if any, programming clashes. “Hopefully it reduces the idea of just consuming this music without giving proper attention to it.”
“You could probably see everything physically, without things overlapping, if you wanted to. But then it would be an endurance test…Hopefully it reduces the idea of just consuming this music without giving proper attention to it.” – Mat Schulz
In fact, it was the aforementioned sociologist, Toffler’s, book of the same name, that inspired last year’s topical Unsound theme, Future Shock. This year, in keeping with the current anxieties associated with Mayan calendar predictions and environmental crises, ‘The End’ not only explores a vague notion of apocalypse and mysticism, with the likes of Heiroglyphic Being and Demdike Stare but goes even further by exploring the ideas of boundary-pushing transmedia art with Fatima Al Qadiri, Holly Herndon and their preoccupations with the pervasive thrust toward global cyber culture.
“I find it quite disturbing myself,” Schulz chuckles over the suggestion that this post-national environment is having a homogenising effect on customs around the world, “But that’s the nature of the internet; blogs, Facebook or whatever, things spread very quickly. Music made in one place surfaces almost immediately in another.”
“You can also see that with the way that different festivals replicate each other in terms of format and programming,” Schulz continues, “There are more festivals than ever before, but programs often feel very similar.” But as a festival that thrives on what he calls the ‘fractured cultural centres’ of the digital era, it’s this consciousness of and curiosity toward the transmedia arts that makes Unsound more interesting and relevant than ever. “I just program music I like, but try to spend time keeping up to date with what’s happening, finding new things. I also ask all sorts of people for advice, young and old, some with deep knowledge of music history, others with great instinct – not just a particular type of person, who likes a particular type of music. It’s good to have lots of different perspectives.”