Festival celebrating the UK-Russia Year of Music in Kaliningrad

Space Zero was was held on 22-23rd Feb 2020 conceived to demonstrate UK- Baltic collaboration and a means for which locals in Kaliningrad (where it was hosted) could establish and build an experimental music scene. All of the organisers (although very broadly experienced) were definitely coming from more of an electronic music perspective than the majority of year of music events. It was funded as part of the UK-Russia Year of music 2019, which ran from March 2019 – March 2020 across the UK and Russian territories. Supported by the UK Embassy in Russia and the British Council.

Poster for the event

For my part, I was invited on-board by Iti Teder, a dedicated tour manager, agent, pod-caster, producer, and all-round electronic music grafter. We had previously worked together on Estonian Year of Independence celebrations in Bradford, UK. I was delighted to join as a producer, co-curator and to perform both a live set and to DJ, and to contribute to the panel talk.

I didn’t know if I was more terrified of attempting to cross the actual border of Russia, or climbing the mountain of administrative paper-work beforehand to obtain a visa. On both counts, its bark was worse than its bite. Obtaining the visa was, other than being extremely intrusive, quite pleasant with a bonus trip to Manchester sweetening the deal. Crossing the land border from Poland (via a FlixBus from Gdansk – props to FlixBus they really do go everywhere) was trouble-free in the end. Enough passport checks to wear the pages out, but otherwise no complaints.

Arriving into Kaliningrad itself was exciting, even after a day’s worth of travel (one of the attendees, Valentin’s brother, took a 6 day drive from Mongolia, so I’m not labouring this point!). I took in the imposing mall as we pulled into the bus station, awaiting my pick-up. Our AirBnB was full of faux-oligarch splendor. A chance to wander the streets a little during the day time revealed the cities strong ties shipping and maritime industry. At night, it was a vibrant young city. I couldn’t wait to get the venue the next day and bring everyone we saw out into Port, the club that would host our event for the weekend.

I was really excited to get stuck into the panel talks which opened our event. I’ve been an avid reader of Peter Kirns blog so I was excited to hear a bit more about his personal performance set-up and a dive into the open source tools he uses. I was also hoping the talks would be a good way to get some shared experiences from the UK and Russian side and to pool knowledge. The talks were enlightening, we had some very enthusiastic input from the audience, and some dedicated and essential translation too.

For my talk ‘UK-Baltic Collaboration’ we explored a range of practical measures, as well as some more abstract ideas, in order that we could continue to work creatively together despite any political or economic challenges. I can’t say we had any solid resolutions, but it felt good to try and all of the connections forged later, on the dancefloor, created lasting friendships and potential creative partnerships.

My sound check had happened in the sweet spot between the room being empty and the vodka & pickle welcome committee, so there wasn’t much left to do until my opening performance. I’d decided on a quite a different format for my gig here, partly due to circumstance and partly for the audience. I wasn’t keen to be travelling with too much equipment across air and land borders, so by necessity I had to minimise my live set-up. Drones were pre-recorded on my modular gear to be looped and manipulated on the Digitakt. You can listen to the live set (35 mins) and the DJ set that follows that, which was broadcast live on Threads Radio.

The percussion in the set was to be played on the Digitakt too, and both kits were made from my own samples. The first, a batch of clicky noisy hits, which I’d made for my DEMI project, and was all from heavily processed (in the Digitakt) electro-magnetic interference. The second kit was from a more recent project. I’d pulled an 8mm Film Projector from under my bed, during an artistic block inspired fit of cleaning. I sampled its whirring at 3 different speeds and its on/off toggle straight into the Elektron using a JRF contact mic. The results were great with just a little EQ’ing, envelope fiddling and cutting transients, resulting in quite a dynamically-rich kit with hefts of bottom end.

This was all put together with a club audience in mind, not somewhere I’d yet had the opportunity to play in a live setting – but I drew on all my DJing experience to put together what I hoped would be an exciting and (maybe) danceable show. Perhaps I was over-reaching for the first 30mins of an event at 10pm. I think I did get everyone warmed up suitably though, as I could feel the energy from the audience building as we crossed the difficult (was exhilarating) 30-minute mark and I transitioned into a DJ-set (which definitely did get people moving). I’ll do that again, please!

Nerves all out of the way and the vodka definitely seeping into my brain, I was ready for the rest of the night’s lineup. Emphasising the wealth of local talent wanting to be represented in the wider experimental scene was a goal of the event. The locals certainly did a stellar job of that themselves and I was totally immersed for the remaining 5 or so hours. Peter and Valentin’s live techno Butoh performance really was breathtaking and brought the dancefloor together in a stunned silence. Ewa Justka’s bare wires set was just the vibe for an old shipping warehouse overlooking an industrial port – heavy!

Kamikaze Space Program’s set was programmed for prime time and boy did it deliver. Chris was returning to a venue which had very much welcomed his more abrasive DnB sounds as Raiden almost a decade before and it felt like a home-coming. The crowd were very receptive to Chris’ sophisticated, breaks heavy sound and so were my ears and feet.

Rehearsing for the gig - Performing live - After the gig in Kaliningrad

And I’m pleased to say if you still want to see & hear more, here is a short documentary by Klassnyy, with original music composition my myself.