For four days, the art and music space Reitschule in Bern turned into a center of the world: The 8th Norient Musikfilm Festival was an aesthetic journey through the politics of the body, mind and soul – a festival review in words, pictures and tweets by Norient editor Philipp Rhensius.
Day 1: Ironic, But Serious
If our contemporary culture had to be summed up in one word, it could be: irony. Irony can be as liberating as it's enslaving. It reveals illusions but can also easily lead to a dead end, where everything is sad because everything is funny, and everything is funny because everything is sad. This dialectic got obvious once again in the first block of the 8th Norient Musikfilm Festival on Thursday, when two cutting edge artists showed their idiosyncratic interpretations of our troubled times.
In the movie Hot Sugar's Cold World featuring the US-american musician Hot Sugar, irony was present at any time. Surrounded by trashy fake aquariums and nostalgic cuddly toys in his New York City homestudio apartement, the twenty-something creates melancholic yet blurry instrumental hip hop made from his vast archive of self recorded samples made from anything - from the silence of a room with a dead body to firecrackers in an abandoned factory building.
In combination with the scenes about Hot Sugar's private and emotional life, which appeared to be completely outsourced to the cold-hearted surfaces of social media, the movie turned out as a witty but also depressing portrait of what it means to be an artist in the 21st century that is stuck between a poorly-executed-bohemia-lifestyle and the vicious circle of favouring the online self over the physical one. Two hours later the lithuanian musician J.G. Biberkopf did something totally different.
His audiovisual live show Ecosystems of Excess, a delicate combination of noise, ambient and musique concrete, which went along with stroboscope flashes and videos showing different non-places of South East Asian metropolises, stayed as abstract and alienated as the fluidity of our existence can be. Here, irony was never really present, but very strong in terms of its absence.
After some cathartic hours of audiovisual immersion the music shows of the south african rapper Dope Saint Jude and Berlin based DJ Dis Fig were as refreshing as a cold mineral water in the desert, or no: a warming tea after an exploration to the North Pole. While Dope Saint Jude's show rapped about the politics of gender bending, Dis Fig's hyperenergetic DJ set ranging from footwork to jungle teached the euphoric dancers about the politics of the body. On Friday and Saturday the same lineup has been played at smaller Norient Festival events at Le Bourg, Lausanne and Palace, St. Gallen.
Day 2: Arsenic Words
Irony was also present on the next day, but more hidden. «Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all.» This quote of the German writer Victor Klemperer has never been more relevant than today. While he was talking about the hateful language used in the third reich to raise the acceptance of the holocaust by devaluating jews in a perfidious yet highly strategic way, today shouldn't be less aware of the growing hate speech on social media within european countries, mainly aiming towards immigrants and refugees coming to european countries.
This is what the slovakian artist Samčo, brat dážďoviek is concerned about in his music video «The opinions of Slovak experts on tragical deaths of refugees». It shows Facebook entries of «normal» people ranting about refugees arriving in Slovakia in a violent way. Not just because the language used, but also in how the posts are made, coming along with photos of smiling people in suburban peaceful surroundings. The illustration of «nearly normalized» hate speech that is to be found all over Europe these days, reminded us once again: In a world, where nationalistic and racist ideas are disseminated in mutually private but actually publicly accessible spaces, one should be more aware about what's happening beyond our cosy filterbubbles and the use of language than ever before.
This and the other videos from the eastern and middle european alternative music scene were presented by Lucia Udvardyova, blogger and founder of the inspiring music blog Easterndaze. Although the other video clips weren't as politically delicate, they displayed a lively and creative music scene that´s concerned about the world we live in.
Day 3: Body Politics
The festival Saturday began with body politics again. The movie Inside the Mind of Favela Funk of Dutch director Fleur Beemster and anthropologist Elise Roodenburg portrayed the idiosyncratic «putaria funk» scene coming from the favelas, the poorest (financially, not socially) parts of Rio de Janeiro.
After the screening one could feel the conflicted mindset in the majority of the viewers. Whereas nearly everybody seemed to like the bouncy and positive clubmusic style, there was also an ethical unease regarding the violence and misogyny which «putaria funk» is somehow mirroring but also reproducing. However, when asked about the colonial approach of going to a poor part of the world as a privileged filmmaker from Europe in the discussion, Fleur Beemster pointed out that the film was based on long term research by her co-director Elise Roodenburg, who had been working as an anthropologist in the favelas for seven years, and that all scenes were shot in agreement of the gang leaders who control the specific parts.
The subsequent presentation of In the Circle: Footwork in Chicago by the New York-based academic, filmmaker and music journalist Wills Glasspiegel was less ambivalent. By showing a selection of his short movies and music videos, he especially referred to the importance and deep relationship of dance in the polyrhythmical clubmusic style Footwork, which roots are based on the more bassheavy side of Chicago's rich house music history, such as ghetto or booty house.
If the word ghetto seems somehow aestheticised as used to describe a music style, it would certainly not when talking about Riverton, one of the poorest parts of Kingston, Jamaica. From there, most of the prisoners of the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre come. Although the prison is known for its harsh conditions and violence among inmates, it established a music based rehabilitation program, where talendet and willing inmates can take part, based on the idea of making music could lead to redemption. The film Songs of Redemption of Amanda Sans and Miquel Galofre goes inside the prison to show how music behind has affected prisoners’ lives, providing not just a desperately needed creative outlet but also a means to confront their violent pasts, and to send a message of peace to listeners on the outside.
Day 3 & 4: Narrowness of Prisons vs. Widenesss of the Desert
According to Sans, who was present in the sold-out Kino in der Reitschule, the most challenging thing was to habituate the portrayed to get filmed by a woman, as most of them didn't see one for decades. While the film delivered bits of hope due to the obvious improvements of the self-respect of the participants, the discussion ended with depressing news. The prison ward portrayed in the movie, who was convinced that «the prisoner of today can be the neighbour of tomorrow», was recently replaced by a new one. And he not just fully abolished the family visits that took place twice a year, he also tried to dispose the entire music program. But in the end, Sans told, the political activist Carla Gulotta, to whom the film is dedicated, managed to persuade him.
Similarly insurgent was the movie Tunisia Clash of the Paris-based, Tunisia born filmmaker Hind Meddeb. She, who was caught several times herself for filming illegaly, portrayed the Tunisian rappers Rapper Phenix, Weld el 15, Emino, Madou und Klay Bb in their struggle for free creative expression. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which was basically the fall of Ben Alis regime in 2011, the artists are today risking jail for criticising their country, which today transformed into a highly authoritarian regime again.
The last day finished in harmony. After Lo Sound Desert about the US-american desert rock scene, the documentary A Story of Sahel Sounds of the German Neopan Collective (Florian Kläger, Markus Milcke, Tobias Adam) feauturing Christopher Kirkley, owner of the label Sahel Sounds, turned out to be as relaxed and cheerful as the music it portrayed: the psychedelic yet ecstatic songs, mainly performed by Touareg musicians such as Mdou Moctar or Fatou Seïdi Ghadi, went pretty well along the poetic pictures and left the enthusiastic crowd in a meditative state - and made once again clear that music isn't just music. It is politics, for the mind, the body and the soul.