This year, Lunchmeat took over the basement of Prague’s National Gallery, a vast functionalist block originally built to host trade fairs. When I arrived on a chilly Thursday night, the imposing structure loomed over black-clad smokers huddling outside, taking a breather from the challenging sounds lurking below. Downstairs, the festival was split into two rooms. The smaller club stage featured a dark, focussed dance floor, while the concert hall’s spare amphitheatre was better suited to meditative shows and visual spectacles.
Lunchmeat put a lot of effort into the visual elements of the performances. Some artists came with their own A/V show planned, while others were paired with visual artists by the festival. The first act I saw was one of the best in this regard, with Visionist tearing through misty melodies and harsh drumwork while Pedro Maia’s artful footage indirectly contextualised the experience. It showed the Londoner shirtless, working through a loop of ritualised motions. Abstract sound was rendered specific and moving. Visionist, who ultimately proved the highlight of the night, was followed by an uneven live set from Clark and a fine closing selection of deep, trippy techno from Lucy.
The majority of the festival’s bigger bookings were scheduled on Friday, with a running order of such quality that I found it hard to sneak out for a smoke break. Laurel Halo played early with live drummer Eli Keszler, the two of them bathed in smoke and soft purple light. She leaned towards abstraction but occasionally surfaced for lovely digital ballads like “Do U Ever Happen” and “Jelly” from her recent album. Jacques Greene, a smart if unusual choice for an experimental festival, served up buoyant house infused with hip-hop and bass, clearing the air with some party jams before the evening’s darker acts.
Friday’s best performances were united by their unconventional rhythms. Jlin’s furious live set was an adrenaline rush of splintered percussion and clipped samples. Occasionally a light would sweep through the darkness and illuminate her grinning face. DJ Lag effortlessly got the crowd hyped with a stark set of gqom, before the Visceral Minds crew of Scratcha DVA, Zora Jones and Sinjin Hawke took over the club stage for four hours of futuristic bass, with tireless MC Killa P keeping the small, dedicated floor going till daybreak.
After the intensity of Friday night, the closing run of artists on Saturday felt less consistent and the crowd more diffuse. Ben Frost, standing before of a curtain of reflective gauze, delivered a monolithic wall of sound that made the ground shake. Lights flicked across the room like a stormy sea. It was an impressive show, but a phrase I overheard echoed my own thoughts: “Was that good? Or was it just really, really loud?”
Two of the final acts were among the best of the weekend. First was M.E.S.H., whose two-hour set of experimental club was a tour de force, an extraordinary crush of every dance genre imaginable, lucidly mixed and full of explosive moments and left turns. Later was Diagonal Records artist Not Waving, whose live techno set was rough with punk spirit and curdled with acid. His music was pitch-black, but the huge visuals behind him showed a zany selection of clips, from a geriatric workout tape to footage of wild animals. Musically challenging yet insanely fun, both acts embodied what made Lunchmeat so special.
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