The Verse’s Lorenzo Ottone reviews ToDays Festival in Turin.
It’s Friday afternoon, I’ve just collected my pass for ToDays Festival and – together with a press colleague – I’m sipping a beer waiting for the festival to kick off when I bump into two hometown friends. A familiar atmosphere ensues, as if we were at the local pub, spreading through the small groups of people chilling out around us. This is the image I’ve always had of ToDays: A cosy and familiar festival, though big in names, where you could spot a face in the crowd every time you turned round, and by the third day had sealed some sort of tacit unspoken friendship.
As we drink another beer, the first two acts Pugile and Niagara make their appearance on stage. Both play synth-based music with a deep use of samplers, which lays down the dominant sound path of the festival. The first are a Turin-based trio, who play late-80s drone music-inspired electronica with a free jazz attitude that shifts their sound towards ambient. The latter, considered one of Italy’s independent scene’s most interesting novelties, showcase their recent LP Hyperocean rich of sampled sounds registered directly into water with hydrophones. Their slow-paced sound path, that doesn’t differ that much from one band to the other, lasts more than needed and fails to capture the crowd’s attention, which appears more interested in drinks and hot dogs. Next, the turn of another synth and samplers experimentalist, IOSONOUNCANE, whose odd singing style really hits you in the face. A fast-paced tenor voice in the style of jesters’ onomatopoeic language, IOSONOUNCANE brings collective memory to Dario Fo’s 1969 theatre piece Mistero Buffo. The music is original as well – a synth-drenched, psych-tinged electronica with sampled screams and jars that shift from to lo-fi to prog.
As the sun peacefully goes down on north Turin post-industrial estates, M83 take the stage as the Friday headliners. Their status of international indie-pop establishment is instantly recogniseable from not only the additional light set the band brings with them, but also the audience’s sudden gathering around the stage. Singer Anthony Gonzalez cheers the crowd in a black and gold bomber jacket as Jordan Lawlor pirouettes with his bass guitar, shaking his fashion week curls on the right of the stage. You get this is a party rather than a gig, where every song could be used for the advert of a new model of some dynamic French youth-friendly car. Don’t get me wrong, the band is awesome – they create intricate sound paths with huge synths, samplers, electronic drums and perfect bass lines – but at last everything becomes just too sickening. Sometimes I’ve got the impression of being at a Bastille or Mika gig. However, I understand that’s just my taste, because many are enjoying themselves and cheer up classic hits such as 2011 smashing success Midnight City and Do It, Try It from recent album Junk; featuring in the soundtrack of recent Italian film Suburra definitely helped re-flourishing M83’s popularity in the peninsula. Festival times are tight and the band leaves the stage without a much-acclaimed encore just when I was starting to enjoy the performance.
Not even time to let technicians to plug M83’s instruments off that everyone’s rushing in a frenetic walk to nearby Ettore Fico museum where Calcutta is playing. Italy’s new melancholic indie-pop idol is here debuting with a gospel choir. It would be a splendid occasion to eye-witness Calcutta’s triumphant passage from solo shows in sweaty underground clubs to an art gallery embellished by a choir, but for still unknown reasons the gig is free entry, the place is tiny and the outcome is predictable: people queueing for hours before the show, leaving ticket holders empty-handed. I bet everything inside was particularly cool and chic (apart from Calcutta’s figure in thick beard and baseball cap), but that’s surely not the most respectful way to treat your customers.
But the night’s big attraction still has to come. Legendary horror maestro John Carpenter is debuting on a stage for the first time in his career. The American director in white moustache plays on keyboard the themes he composed for some of his masterpieces in the post-industrial scenario of former INCET factory. The adoring audience of die-hard horror and thriller lovers makes the sold-out venue buzzing and cherishes every Carpenter’s theme including Halloween, Escape From New York and Christine.
I’ve got the chance to visit Gagliardi and Domke Art Gallery where are held a series of interesting talks related to the binomial relationship between analogical and online music in fields as retail, production, journalism and record labels. Before taking my seat, there’s time for an exhibition of vintage synths which attendants can even play, familiarising with one of the trendiest instrument of modern independent music. Even more thrilling is the showcase of a control desk able to contemporarily live mix multiple sound sources. The outcome of six guys scratching records and playing sampled beats and synth is diverted by one technician into an impromptu ambient track with a classic jazz approach to live improvisations. As though the John Carpenter gig had not been enough, a team of horror geeks project a Carpenter-themed video game to be produced by the end of the festival. Everything is hooking, but the audience is lacking – the same feeling of half-emptiness I get from the field in front of sPAZIO 211’s stage. In the gig venue the people limit could, maybe, come from restrictive security-related bureaucratic issues, but in the art gallery the atmosphere is that of a mid-summer niche talk held in the outskirts when the city is empty and sleepy. And that’s a shame, because the contents are exciting.
As the thermometer hits 30 degrees I leave the talks to concede myself a shower and come back by the beginning of live acts at sPAZIO 211. Though, I had underestimated Turin’s transports slowness and disruptions. After being stuck in the subway for turnstiles problems and unclear issues with my slightly bent ticket (I had to re-buy it though valid), Turin’s traffic does the rest. A shuttle linking the festival venues to the city’s main stations or squares should be introduced to improve ToDays’ next edition. There are, yes, buses reaching the festival, but they all do many lengthy stops, especially if you come from outside Turin and arrive by train in the centre. I’ve seen shuttles in ridiculously smaller festivals and they worked so good. And that’s not just my pretension, but many festival goers complained about this while we were all stuck on city buses. Result is that I get to sPAZIO 211 when Giuda have just plugged their loud guitar off. There should be some sort of curse linking me with Rome’s bovver rockers. Five years trying to catch them both home and abroad with me stuck in bed with flu the last time they played in London. Though I couldn’t see their half-hour set I strongly recommend Giuda’s boot-stomping glam rock and artworks, especially if you dig 70s pub rock.
As Italy’s latest indie trend is the solo songwriter, it’s turn of Motta accompanied by his band for one hour of polite indie-pop dressed with synth and heavy drums, sometimes played by the singer himself standing on his long skinny legs and leather Chelsea boots. The voice of this Richard Ashcroft-in-Verve-days-looking guy is made captivating by a Tuscany accent, and a couple of songs even manage to stuck into your head. At first I didn’t give too much weight to him, but in less than I week I can’t keep some refrains off my brain. Prima o poi ci passerà from his 2016 debut could without any doubt be a cover of Get Lucky as 1960s Italian bands did with foreign hits, but the bass line is clever and sounds like The Beatles meeting Our House by Madness.
It’s now time for Saturday headliners Jesus and Mary Chain. Turin has been a city able to understand in the 80s those dark sounds JAMC were strongholds of. You can smell the nostalgia in the air and guess it from the number of middle-aged men in JAMC, Cure, Joy Division and Smiths tees. Psychocandy tarpaulin on the back, experience replacing youth’s euphoria and April Skies kicking the gig off. But the fuzz is still the same. A JAMC live act is like listening to a best of, every tune dropped with deep drums and strident guitars is a hit. A healthy dose of Psychocandy is followed by some tracks from Darklands plus other classics including Head on and Far gone and out. All that black leather from the glory days is gone and after all is like seeing your dad’s pub friends jamming together, but, hey, I’d be the first to hang out with my father.
The night goes on at former INCET factory with I Cani’s synth-led indie. The atmosphere is totally chilled out with some musician like Motta and Calcutta hanging around for a drink. I Cani are enjoyable especially when turn more pop with hooky melodies from latest LP Aurora as the Daft Punk-y Non finirà filled with a funky bass line of Marvin Gaye’s memory. For those who grew up into late 00s indie scene, some of the songs bring back teenage memories. I Cani have built a strong reputation and are cashing back with a numerous crowd came to cherish Italy’s best connection between underground indie and well-crafted commercial-in-potential pop. I Cani have wittingly pictured a generation of bourgeois teens with all their controversies, and they have done it so perfectly. It’s easy to get it from the way a girl in her late teens sings Lexotan as her grandma would have sang an innocuous post-war song about love and flowers.
The bill is ambiguous, but the final aim is the party. On one hand you’ve got two neo-psych cult bands as The Brian Jonestown Massacre and GOAT, on the other Local Natives and Crystal Fighters. The choice of these two latter bands is still a bit unclear, pop appeal could be a reason, but from the number of cool kids in thick sideburns and girls in flares, most of the audience seems to be there for BJM and GOAT. Maybe it is just my being snob towards most of contemporary so-called indie music, but Local Natives sound to me as a washed out copy of Imagine Dragons. Crystal Fighters are the real tidbit, drily talking. That’s the band you’d expect to see in a Baleari Islands tourist resort, not at a quite underground music festival. The band plays a cheesy latin-pop suitable for a Portuguese or Brazilian music channel that could be called ‘mucho ritmo’ or something like that. The singer, a mid-30s crisis man escaped to Ibiza all dressed in white, including a bandana on his forehead, exhorts the audience to ‘share the love’ and shapes his fingers into a heart. Things like these haven’t been fashionable for ten years now, at least.
Thankfully, GOAT come to save the festival with their tribal psych-funk. They are magnetic, I start watching them from the bottom of the field and in a five minutes time I’m drawn to the first rows. GOAT’s stage presence is mesmerizing, they’re all dressed up in kafetans and tribal masks that turn the gig into an as captivating as disturbing ritual. They make a dense psychedelic funk without keyboards, just guitars plugged to wah-wah pedal, something mighty. Two bare-footed female singers, jumping on stage as in a African ritual, use voice in tribal chants as an additional instrument that embellishes the band’s sound wall. A bongo player gives the final afrobeat touch to what has probably been ToDays best performance.
GOAT’s innovation reached through tradition could be a good metaphor for ToDays Festival, which is deeply based on retro sounds (80s psych and new wave, synth-galore) but displays many new acts alongside some established legends. Another metaphor, though, can be Brian Jonestown Massacre’s performance. Anton Newcombe’s band has got 15 albums and countless hits to draw from, but their performance is too sleepy compared to the ones we’ve been accustomed to in headliner shows. Who just at the beginning is later on followed by cult hits Anenome and The devil may care (mom and dad don’t), but the rest is all less known or more recent tracks like Pish and Government Beard. In the early evening sun BJM have got a lazy jammy 70s psych-rock guitar attitude which sacrifices their raw 60s West Coast jingle-jangling garage sound. ToDays is a bit like Sunday’s BJM, a non-irrelevant potential made of nice venues, excellent names and contained prices, but still some weaknesses like the absence of a shuttle or some non-fitting acts that deaden the festival’s overall theme.
It’s just the second edition and with little empowerments future years could bring all the public this interesting festival deserves, especially because there’s the merit of having brought Turin back in Italy’s independent musical landscape with some relevant cult and upcoming artists.