Report: Sonic Acts Festival 2017

What does it mean to be (post)-human, living through the complexities of today’s world? Stretching over a long, exceptionally stormy weekend, Amsterdam’s festival Sonic Acts took us on a turbulent existential journey through the facets of art, technology, science and music forms.

Text + photo by Maria Gnezdilova

Sonic Acts is a bi-annual thematic festival of a very wide spectrum, taking place in Amsterdam since 1994. This year’s edition, The Noise Of Being, was set on a mission to explore and challenge the realms of being (non)-human in the ever-shifting landscapes of today. The title borrows inspiration from the work of French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy: ‘Being is neither a being nor being. Being is feeling the noise of being, feeling its colour, its movement, its taste’. 

Over the course of four days, an array of artists, visionaries, thinkers and researchers presented their vision in a transcendent blend of disciplines. An extensive day-to-night programme was packed with a variety of lectures, film screenings, art exhibits, performances, workshops and club nights.


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Naturally, one of the highly anticipated events included an opening night at De School with a line-up of underground scene’s forward-thinking artists such as Emptyset, Violence, Aïsha Devi and JK Flesh. Their experimental beats and AV performances were seeking to push the boundaries of sound and manipulate the notion of “noise” into a serious dance factor.


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Another night not to miss was organized on a Friday night by Progress Bar, local club scene activists and a self-proclaimed “political party you can dance to”, gathering yet another handful of powerful acts, delivering explosive musical performances throughout the night: Evian Christ, Adamn Killa, An Ni, Coucou Chloé, DJ Earl, DJ Marfox, God Colony + Flohio, Juha, Kamixlo, Killavesi, Klein, Le1f, Lyzza, My Sword, Nidia Minaj, Organ Tapes, Sam Rolfes, Uli K, Wartone and Yon Eta. An overwhelmingly lengthy line-up was split into two dancefloors, making it a bit of challenge to navigate between if you wanted to get a taste of everything – let alone were zealous enough to catch an evening programme at the Stedelijk museum that happened earlier that day. Because of its excessive scheduling, the programming at Sonic Acts has been regarded as rather “ambitious” before. It’s a curse and a blessing of some sorts, with the festival getting bigger every year and having more to offer, yet one might feel frustrated trying to keep up with its pace and still have a good time, struggling to properly absorb the experiences. Diving between smoke-filled and strobe-light blinded rooms, you could find yourself having a turbulent experience of switching tempos from the raw energy of bouncing mad crowd at Nidia Minaj’s floor to the euphoric haze of melting beats conducted by the French grace Coucou Chloé.


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The late nights merged into the very early hours, with the artists and pleasure-seeking audiences giving it the very best of their energy, but nevertheless, the morning conferences saw the presence of some very dedicated crowds and the workshops were fully booked.


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The events took place at the various locations throughout the city. While this didn’t exactly make for the most seamless and coherent experience, the fragmented arrangement has somehow played into the disruptive non-sequential narrative of Sonic Acts. The meeting points of some very different crowds included prominent cultural locations of Amsterdam, the city that is known for its inventive nature – also when it comes to the use of old spaces. Be it the old church remastered into a pop temple of Paradiso or the building of the former technical school that currently doubles as the underground night club De School, the location adds yet another layer to the festival’s narrative. The use of space worked especially well with some of the installations, e.g. Jana Winderen’s sound research that revealed sounds of underwater life, set up on the windy terrace of Muziekgebouw overlooking the IJ river.


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The festival even took some visitors on a journey outside the city to experience a live explorative acoustic performance of vertically travelling sound (by Norwegian artists Signe Lidén and Espen Sommer) in a 46-metre-high abandoned water tower in Sint Jansklooster.


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Though the concept of verticality was mentioned as the red thread of festival edition, the audience would soon learn that some of the audiovisual sensations are better experienced in a horizontal position, lying comfortably on the floor. The Saturday’s session at Muziekgebouw felt like a real intergalactic journey and looked like a collective nap, leaving traces of bean bag filling on the floor.


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The three day conference – the most grounded part of the festival – offered a series of lectures discussing and speculating a wide spectrum of topics: philosophy, politics, history, race, gender, and technology. Crammed into the practical limitations of time and space (and happening, once again, parallel to each other), the clash of perspectives provoked the attuned audience into a deeper thought but might have left at a rather uneasy place. This long and eventful 4-day journey will certainly take some more time to digest – up until the festival returns for it’s next edition.


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Sonic Acts Festival: Website, Facebook, Instagram
Text + Photo: Maria Gnezdilova

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