The Wire

In Writing

Dislocation dance: Unsound’s Mat Schulz on the fallout of Brexit's breakaway victory

July 2016

“It’s a strange thing, to wake in the morning and find yourself instantly severed from a collective ideal that has shaped your whole life in such a dramatic way,” reflects Unsound festival founder Mat Schulz, disconcerted to see Unsound autumn edition’s Dislocation theme politically derailed by UK Brexit’s victory

The day after the UK voted yes to leaving the European Union, I was emailing with a Sheffield born friend who lives in New York, discussing the Unsound Krakow 2016 programme. Like much of Unsound’s activities this year, the main festival theme is built around ideas of dislocation. “Well,” he wrote, “now all your UK artists are dislocated.”

It’s a strange thing, to wake in the morning and find yourself instantly severed from a collective ideal that has shaped your whole life in such a dramatic way. Yet this is the situation that many of my friends and acquaintances who live in the UK find themselves, including those born there and those who’ve relocated from other EU countries, many from Poland. The majority of these people I know via Unsound – artists, audience members, curators, label owners, agents and writers.

The reason we were all so shocked last week is that the idea of being interconnected is now wired into our brains and our body. And the Brexit victory feels like going backward – a 19th century warship sailing off to the colonies instead of a jetliner equipped with Wi-Fi.

In the weeks before Brexit, we organised Unsound events in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan and Batumi in Georgia, but also Toronto and New York. We do this because somehow it feels important to be more than just a music festival, and the very act of producing these events together overrides ideas of periphery and centre, creating positive connections – the type that run against the forces that propelled Brexit.

We’ve also staged Unsound in London, a city now consigned to a new kind of periphery. Unsound London was produced with the support of the Polish Cultural Institute. Without them, it wouldn’t have happened. This is another connection that feels darkened by the referendum result and the subsequent rise in hate crime against Poles and other immigrants (and the children and grandchildren of immigrants).

Unsound is just one of many likeminded music festivals spread across Europe and beyond, and we are all wired together. This occurs via informal connections, as well as the networks we build with one another – often in DIY fashion, and sometimes with the support of the EU, a funding connection that can feel unwieldy and overly bureaucratic, yes, but is ultimately positive. We meet, we talk about how to collaborate, we exchange ideas and artists, and we build projects together. We are also connected through our audiences, flying in on EU-regulated budget airlines, using EU-regulated mobile phones, united by a feeling of inclusiveness that is also the absolute opposite of Brexit. But most of all, of course, it’s there in the music – at least the most interesting, pioneering side of music, made by people who also feel linked to one another no matter where they live. We know there is a negative side to globalisation, just as there are downsides to the way the EU functions – but this involves questions of economic or political imbalance, which are different from the positive aspects of open borders and the unfettered flow of information.

This very fucked up situation will generate a lot of good music, writing and film – much of which will come from our dislocated friends in the UK. But it will also come from elsewhere – as the UK’s willed dislocation has dislocated further the rest of Europe. Fucked up times trigger extreme work.

But getting good music and art feels like poor payback for being geographically amputated.

In recent days, like many, I’ve found it hard to work. At home in Krakow, Poland, a country with its own political upheavals over the past year, I keep checking media for the latest fallout or comment on the UK situation. The city is sunny, full of summer tourists, but I can’t shake off the feeling that the world is stumbling idiotically, almost willfully toward greater catastrophe. Parallels are made with the period before the Second World War. I used to wonder, how did humans get to that point? Lately, unfortunately, I feel I’m getting a better grasp – as these too are dark times, and they could get darker. Running beneath them all is the plight of the Syrians and other refugees fleeing to Europe, whose dislocation is immense, incomparable. One thing, incrementally, leads to another, creating blow-ups. Unimaginable situations become imaginable.

At such times, we fall back on online social networks. Days after the referendum, I felt like Tweeting angrily. To spit some bile. I wrote a sentence wishing that Farage and Trump would find themselves locked in a No Exit style hotel room for eternity with only one another’s company. Hell is other demagogues. I immediately pressed delete, wiping it away without posting.

Instead, using the Unsound account, I wrote: “There are so many positive links built between the UK and Poland via Unsound artists and audience. We want to remember and reinforce them.”

This year’s programme already included UK music that fit the times, and has since taken on new layers of meaning, such as Gaika and Babyfather. But now we’ve begun reshaping the Unsound programme to reflect further the new reality, devoting much of one day to newly dislocated Brits.

This main focus is on two cross-border commissioned works, the ideas for which came from the artists involved. The first is by Helm, who explores Siberia in collaboration with the Greek visual collective The Embassy For The Displaced and Russian musician Moa Pillar. Apart from Unsound Krakow, this work will be presented in Vladivostok with Berlin CTM and the Goethe-Institut Novosibirsk. The second is by Felicita, the PC-music affiliate whose Polish grandparents were post-Second World War émigrés. He will create a new piece working with a Polish dance company, exploring traditional forms of dance in new ways.

Such collaborative projects give hope, and that’s what is needed, offering a positive side to the shrinking of the world. There are many ways of doing that, but I believe it’s vital we all engage.

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