Berlin Unhinged Festival in London

March 18, 2013

Unhinged is an independent institution from Berlin that has tirelessly worked on the principle of binding late-night clubbing with the arts. For the most part they’ve been devilishly successful, leaping hurdle after hurdle, reaching cult status in the process. However, the latest ambition was to extend their reach into Europe’s largest city, London.

On a rainy night, I was greeted with open arms by a fusion of live music, visual arts, fashion and film at Electric Brixton. When the cans had been cracked, the first foray of attendees had entered and the chatter had ceased, Gomez’s Ben Ottewell assumed the spiritual citadel of independence and took to the microphone. He muttered with a wry smile: “welcome to Unhinged”.

Ottewell opened the festival with a performance characterised by heartful rounds of open-tuned guitar sequences and songs of a sentimental nature. He crooned through a majority of his latest record Shapes & Shadows. Splutters of applause ruptured whenever a Gomez number reared its head, right through to the shows pinnacle where he played a gargantuan version of hit ‘78 Stone Wobble’. Whilst the quieter moments of intensity were unfortunately spoiled by an over-spill of sound from the neighbouring cinema, the Gomez-man guaranteed that Unhinged began with a bang.

A current of commitment to London’s own artistry was impressive; from wall to wall we could see local work on display. With dining chair sculptures hanging from the ceiling, chains draped around the door mouths and aggressive work being ousted at you through the gallery’s entrance, there was a clear attempt to have the content as intrusive as possible. However, the obvious practicalities of a gargantuan space shrouded in darkness prevented it from being encapsulating, which was a shame. The most invigorating work arrived in the thematic commentary about London’s fiscal spine; Martin Lau’s ‘Empire’ painted a pitiful picture of success. There was a ‘Shit Cake Sale’, you’ll be glad to know: an ambitious installation that tried to recreate faecal matter out of cake, I can’t see it catching on like Mr. Kipling.

The live-painting session with street-artist Blam, an ambiguous layout, overzealous security: whenever foibles of the night began to emerge, your eyes took to the draped advertisements for the charity, War Child. Unhinged kindly agreed to donate 10% of the profits to the charity which dedicates itself to protecting children who have been raised in the world’s most dangerous war zones. This statement of intent was terrific.

In any show in London seasoned music fans pine in vain, yet it was doubly so in this case, for it included the proud boast of the art community. It took Berlin-based Quixote’s glittering and searing performance to shake that away. From dishing bottles of wine out to bizarre polka-influenced jams; they provided an incandescent atmosphere which Unhinged needed. After the bubbling performance, Lazarus and The Plane Crash gave a decent enough account of themselves through sheer commitment and aggression, whilst Ysan Roche had glimpses of interesting elements at her behest.

Shown in the pseudo-cinema was Yellow, a cult horror flick directed by Ryan Haysom. The content of the film is evocative, displaying a recluse on the hunt for a serial killer. It was difficult to embrace the aphotic nature of the composition because of a distracted atmosphere, but lead man Steve Gilbert’s performance transcended that kind of connotation, imposing his uncomfortable deliveries on the viewer.


In the sticky, sleepy heat of the main room, almost at its fullest, Shlomo was marching slowly back and forth, gesticulating. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with him. His dallying between cover versions resembled a function band playing to a karaoke machine. There’s a point where the novelty stops and you just have to assess things sonically. When the world champion beatboxer eventually began to flex his own material, the show became really interesting. Loop pedals that underplayed a warm-textured soundscape; it displayed the thought and intelligence behind the music. From time to time, Shlomo made for an unconventional, interesting headline act.

I had spent a troubled evening in trying to make up my mind whether Unhinged had or had not achieved its promise. Of course, the foundation of the night was built on London-based artists, but by the end that felt a little irrelevant. I would’ve liked to have seen more elements of the original event in Berlin incorporated. With some lovely performances, there was easily enough interesting content to reward those in attendance, even if the space wasn’t right. This ambitious attempt to create a Studio 54 Warhol-esque atmosphere needs more nurture and care if it’s to embrace a new London-home. One thing is for sure: the curator’s heart is in the right place.

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