This month’s column is devoted to the Donaufestival, a series of concerts taking place in Krems over the last two weekends in April. The festival has established itself over the past few years as a reliable showcase for avant rock, free jazz and contemporary classical musics, but it has excelled itself in 2007 with a scarcely believable line-up of performers from the dark heart of underground music.
The first weekend is curated by the British “apocalyptic folk” singer and lyricist David Tibet. As the leader and sole constant member of the band Current 93, who are of course playing at the festival, Tibet has been a vital presence in the English post-industrial scene for over 20 years. Birthed in the mire of fallout from the late ‘70s electronic experiments of Throbbing Gristle, C93 pursued a similar path of tape loops and livid noise over several albums before Tibet fell under the spell of English folk spirit Shirley Collins and introduced a beguiling acoustic simplicity to his music. Lyrically, Tibet explores religious and mythological obsessions with texts rich in hallucinogenic imagery. Along the way he has formed networks and alliances with numerous like-minded souls, many of whom are also playing at the festival. The most notable of these is Steven Stapleton, the driving force behind the formidably strange Surrealist musical project Nurse With Wound. NWW make a rare live appearance at the festival, and the weekend also includes unmissable performances from fellow travellers Bonnie Prince Billy, Larsen, Six Organs of Admittance and many more.
The following weekend sees an equally astonishing coup for the festival – a pair of appearances by the legendary Throbbing Gristle themselves. Active between 1976 and 1981, TG were the originators of the style of music that came to be known as industrial. They were the fearsome product of Genesis P-Orridge’s Dada-influenced pranksterism, Cosey Fanni Tutti’s provocative sexuality and the electronic skills of Chris Carter and Peter Christopherson. Their records and performances were brutal and disturbing, mixing slabs of electronic noise and sinister pop atmospheres with an unheimlich morbidity that made them unlikely heroes of the British underground scene. They reformed in 2004 after 23 years, and since then have played only a handful of concerts. Their two performances in Krems will be radically different – the first a set of old and new material in quadrophonic sound, the second a live soundtrack to Derek Jarman’s film In the Shadow of the Sun. Elsewhere, Weekend 2 of the festival bulges with attractions such as Alan Vega, the Boredoms and the reformed Gang of Four.
Krems is just over an hour away from Vienna by car, or there are buses back to Vienna after the last act every night. So there’s no excuse for not heading out along the Donau for an evening (or two, or three, or four) of unparalleled sonic rush.