Bringing Unsound Toronto Back to the Hearn

THUMP gets the inside scoop from co-founder Mat Schulz

May 31, 2016 | BY: Max Mertens
Editor, THUMP

After a successful inaugural edition last year, Unsound is returning to Toronto and the Hearn Generating Station as part of Luminato Festival’s 10th anniversary celebrations. We spoke to the diverse and groundbreaking Unsound festival’s co-founder and artistic director Mat Schulz to find out what it takes to put together Unsound and what live music fans can expect from the two-day event.

Q: Tell me a little about the beginnings of Unsound.

A: We started Unsound in Krakow in 2003 as a local underground event taking place in small cellar bars. Back then, there weren’t so many electronic and experimental music festivals. Over the years it grew, not only attracting a big international audience for the Krakow event, but becoming very mobile. We began commissioning and touring new works, as well as producing events in other cities — New York, Adelaide, Kiev, Minsk, Tbilisi, Prague — and now of course we’re also in Toronto.

Q: How many people does it take to put together the festival?

A We have a few people who work all year round in the Krakow HQ. That number multiplies when the Krakow event approaches — with up to 20 people working in the office, and a team of more than 100 volunteers — not to mention the production crew. But when we connect with an arts festival, such as Luminato, or Adelaide Festival in Australia, we work with their team and production crew to make Unsound a reality.

Q: Why did you decide to launch the first Canadian edition in Toronto?

A: Luminato’s artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt had attended Unsound Adelaide and loved the music and the atmosphere, as well as the idea of producing Unsound within the framework of an arts festival. When he showed us the Hearn Generating Station, we immediately said yes. The venue is so fantastic — connecting with one of the core ideas of Unsound, which is to present events in unusual, adapted spaces. This makes the experience of live sound and music so much more special than just a show in a club.


Unsound Toronto 2015. Photo by David Leyes.

Q: The lineup is very carefully curated; tell me a little about how you select artists. 

A: Unsound puts together artists and genres that contrast, yet have a shared desire to push boundaries or be adventurous. So the Unsound program takes in everything from extremely experimental sounds to post-classical, dance music and more, but in ways that are very carefully considered and feel coherent. The overall program becomes a journey. We also present many new names, labels and forms of music, rather than just headliners, which is something we’ve focused on even more this year in Toronto. You don’t come to Unsound just to hear what you know, but hopefully to discover something new. 

Q: What do you look for with these spaces? 

A: Adapting unique and untraditional venues is a huge part of what Unsound is about, as well as thinking about the way that architecture intersects with music and live visuals. Unsound Krakow had 19 different venues last year — from post-industrial spaces to a 19th-century synagogue to an abandoned communist era hotel. 

Q: Finally, what would you say to convince electronic music fans that have never been to Unsound to come? 

A: Unsound has a very specific atmosphere. It grew out of a DIY world and, although an event like Unsound Toronto is much bigger than its origins, the program remains uncompromising. That doesn’t mean the atmosphere will exclude anyone; Unsound is a very inclusive event. So don’t worry if there are names you don’t know in the program, or if you have no idea about this music. Come hear it on an excellent sound system, in a unique space, and let yourself be taken on an adventure. Unsound Toronto will be overwhelming in the best possible way. 

Check out THUMP’s coverage of Unsound Toronto 2016 at thump.vice.com.

Unsound Toronto runs June 10+11 at the Hearn Generating Station.

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