VIA Music & New Media Festival celebrates the arts in Pittsburgh
The 2013 VIA Music & New Media Festival, a week-long showcase of contemporary art, music, and lectures, occurred this past week from Tuesday to Sunday. VIA is a Pittsburgh-based creative collective founded in 2010 that produces year-round series of performances — but VIA’s biggest event is the festival, drawing artists from local Pittsburgh musicians to performers from Bulgaria and Berlin. VIA takes much pride in its integration with the Pittsburgh community, collaborating with the city in various ways, such as by taking over previously abandoned buildings for performances and exhibitions. VIA’s love for Pittsburgh is evident in the amount of work, planning, and dedication that must go into developing a festival with the wide variety of artists and performers seen in the past week.
Friday A / V Showcase
The street that hosted Friday’s A / V showcase was very dark, but the venue itself featured glass windows that revealed a bright white room and colors bouncing through from the darker rooms. Walking in, visitors could step onto a green platform run by TechShop, a business whose members can use tools like 3-D imaging and laser printers. TechShop took 3-D images of visitors that were then made into avatars, which were used in the art throughout the night.
The first dark room featured the musicians performing on a stage boundried by translucent screens. DJ Yung Moth and hip-hop collaboration Banjee Report, who shared the stage, were incredibly different, yet the room molded itself to accommodate them both. All of the musicians were flanked by a piece called “#h3DSpace-Greenscreen,” a collaboration between many groups — including TechShop and the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama — and video interludes by Casey Jane Ellison x Miss Daddie.
Yung Moth was a minimalist performer, an introvert on stage. She delivered what might have been a very flat performance if not for the moving images surrounding her. Yung Moth allowed her audiences to listen, taking a back seat to the art. There were wiggling worms made out of stomachs and an avatar dancing to a picture frame. The images were bizarre and somewhat random but exciting.
Banjee Report connected more with the crowd. While Yung Moth let the art wash over her — the projector literally covered her with images — Report moved and worked more in conjunction with the videos around them. Banjee was very high-energy, and its members were really quite good rappers. Especially captivating was the way they moved and danced around stage: As a group, they made a lot of strong images that worked well with the art around them. The green colors, the skulls, and even the profile of an elderly man that surrounded them worked with their gritty style.
Between the performances, an artist came through with an arcade game strapped to his back — a custom VIA game that involved moving a ball through different pieces of art.
In the next room was a collection of video works called Acid Rain Reflux. This piece used a combination of many media: digital video, cartoons, videos of real people, interviews, clips from movies, and occasionally pieces of text. Often a few were combined in one frame. For example, one piece showed a real girl moving through digital flowers. The text served as titles, summations, or just messages like “shine on you crzy diamond” or “Own this.”
These displays featured music, some vocal and other instrumental; most notably, there was a track of different intensities of the same pitch. At times it could hardly be heard, while other times it shook the metal tubes on the ceiling, the vibrations ear-crushingly intense. An avatar was projected on the opposite wall, her look bashful as she moved in distinct and unsettling ways: Watching the other wall, one could feel her staring.
A large conference room showed a video reel of a few different artists. These videos felt one-dimensional, and everyone moved through this room quickly. The atmosphere of the night was not patient, and the videos were repetitive and took a long time to build. They seemed too simple amid the energy of the other rooms.
The venue was untidy around the edges, but in a way that did not detract from the illusions of the night. The venue served the display well because the rooms flowed into each other and the dim lighting made every step seem adventurous and every shock to the senses very effective. A faint blue light illuminated everything, and wire fencing covered empty rooms and walls. Seats were available, but everyone just kept moving, sensing an urgency to move on to the next room. Everywhere, there was something new.
Saturday A / V Showcase
Saturday’s A / V showcase began much like it did Friday night — the popup venue came in the form of the former Family Resources building on Baum Boulevard. Because Vessel, one of the night’s performers, was delayed in Mexico City, the set times were reshuffled.
Local Pittsburgh performer Trogpite opened the performances with his intelligent-dance-music-influenced hard techno, a mid-energy performance that greeted arriving concertgoers with a chill, visual introduction to the night.
The night really kicked off with the Detroit-based duo ADULT., which consists of Nicola Kuperus on vocals and Adam Lee Miller mixing. Their infectious distorted synth-pop worked the audience into a sweaty, dancing frenzy, and ADULT. had no qualms about audience interaction. Kuperus slid off the stage and wove her way through the crowd, dancing with people. Upon returning to the stage, she wryly summed up the entire VIA experience: “You guys are such good dancers, but seriously very sweaty and hot.” Near the end of their set, a random audience member hopped onstage and danced by himself, prompting the perplexed but amused Kuperus to remark on his flexibility while Miller laughed to the side. Their set remained on the same high-energy level until they thanked their audience and disappeared from the stage.
Up next was Vessel, fresh and excited despite his delay in Mexico City earlier that day. He followed ADULT.’s more danceable set with an intricately textured and multilayered house-inspired performance. The visuals, which took a backseat during ADULT., came back in full force with Vessel, thanks in part to a screen between the stage and the audience that allowed for another layer of projections to emerge. His set gave the audience a much-needed break from dancing and an opportunity to explore the other rooms of the venue, which featured independent art, film projects, and a jousting competition with multicolored flashlights instead of swords.
After Vessel’s set, the energy picked back up with the Bulgarian DJ KiNK. The sweat that evaporated in the hour that Vessel played returned with a vengeance thanks to the high-energy, beat-heavy dance music KiNK introduced to the venue. KiNK himself was a joyous performer, taking short breaks from mixing on his computer to pump his fists in the air and greet the audience with a wide grin that did nothing to hide how thrilled he was to play. His show combined two elements of the sets before — vigorously energetic music like that of ADULT. and the visual-heavy performance of Vessel — into a wholly unique and thrilling set.
As KiNK’s set came to a close around 2:30 a.m., the hordes of people who had attended events all week and danced all evening started to peel away to catch a much-needed break. The final performer, Berlin-based Hunee, played to a smaller, lower-energy crowd, which allowed for a more intimate set as the night wore on. The venue closed at 4 a.m., but the night didn’t end there — those who were still in the mood to dance could go to the Men’s Room afterparty at Hot Mass to dance until 7 a.m. and watch the sun rise.
VIA as a whole pushes boundaries and reinvents what it means to make art. It’s nothing short of a blessing that the experience continues yearlong, and it doesn’t end with the festival. VIA provides more than just a week (and a year) of good shows — their gift to their audience is the fierce sense of Pittsburgh pride that permeates every venue, exhibition, and performance.