I never thought that getting to Torino could prove to be an epic voyage across land and sea but, as fate would have it, I found myself flying to Club to Club 2018 from Japan. The occasion? Joining bezzie Dots & Dashes on the magnificent occasion of his birthday.
Torino is a both a beautiful and odd setting for Sónar-lite weekender Club to Club, as pervasive neo-classical catholic icons stare down on a fair few clenched teeth and dilated pupils. This judgemental atmosphere passes through the ether into the mindset behind the staffing of the venue, where excessive bureaucracy yields bizarrely non-sensical decisions: all lighters confiscated upon entry, but here are two massive smoking areas; armed police are present all night, tucked into corners playing Candy Crush on their handheld addiction; Saturday’s headliner Aphex Twin plays until 3:15 a.m. – there are acts until 6 in the morning – but the bar closes at 2:45. Perplexing.
Friday night leads with Beach House, historically a personal favourite (seeing them at Primavera Sound in 2010 left a very happy, lasting memory), drawing a light, but effusive, crowd. Beach House have 7 albums under the belt at this point, with the latest (called “7″) supposedly demonstrating broader range and countering criticism that they are staid. Unfortunately, they are a bit. Recent singles and past hits still pack a hefty punch of blissed-out dream pop live, but with such a formulaic repertoire, there is a sizeable lull during the performance – crowd chatter can be heard. At one point, Legrand calls out “You alright?”, meaning for it to sound peaceful, but it could well have been a genuine question. Walk in The Park live is worth the entire performance, however, yielding a noticeable uplift in both band and crowd energy towards the end of the set.
Our follow-up choice is David August, whose album D’ANGELO piqued my interest, if only for how hilariously unabashedly he has positioned himself as a Nicolas Jaar tribute act (to be fair – it’s eminently listenable while Nico is busy crawling up his own arse, musically). Nevertheless, August is exactly that tonight: a shit Nicolas Jaar, with a tedious live performance that fails to match his inspiration’s expert capabilities.
It is Jamie xx who proves to be the night’s real draw; the main stage makes use of its enormous room, and the whole night comes alive as Club to Club does what it was meant to do.
Jamie tears the roof off, with an excellent performance that showcases how far he has come since 2015’s In Colour. His live sets have become heavier since then, delivering the pulsating beat this crowd was crying out for, and obliging us to move like our primal ancestors after a successful hunt. Indeed, Jamie xx’s performance proves to be the festival’s highlight and sagest booking, as he weaves through multiple genres and eras, all the while keeping the crowd avidly wooping with well-delivered drops and clever sampling.
The bar closes at 3am, which is unfortunate, as we come to see Peggy Gou with overtones of buzz-kill (we noted that this, rather stupidly, almost incentivises the drug use Club to Club hopes to stop, given they’ve lined up techno acts through dawn). It matters little, however, as Peggy can’t match Jamie with her endless, uninspiring techno that really never could reach such highs. Her set proves humdrum, and particularly vacuous and insincere when some lackey appears on-stage, phone aloft, creating her Instagram content for her, lest her precious influencer deals run dry.
Saturday’s line-up is of less interest, but Blood Orange yields the weekend’s most pleasant surprise, with a compelling live performance that blends Hall & Oates vibes with 90s RnB sounds. Dev Hynes’ voice can be eerily similar to Michael Jackson, with a refreshing sound in 2018 that delivers some very strong moments amidst an at-times capricious setlist. Whilst it may seem inevitable for Cuzomano to draw the parallel, it also cannot be ignored that Hynes leans heavily on Prince for inspiration in his live performance as well, which suits me just fine. Certainly an artist to watch, particularly given his creative output for other artists and previous endeavours (I will freely admit to having had no idea he was part of Test Icicles).
But it is Aphex Twin that everyone is here to see on Saturday, an artist that I must confess to truly not “getting” (and I can enjoy Squarepusher when… pushed). As when I saw him last, the stage fires lasers out into the audience with gleeful abandon, but we ultimately spend more time discussing whether or not Aphex Twin live is actually good, as opposed to listening to the performance. At times, it feels like it is essentially boring unless you’re under the influence of something illegal. I want to acknowledge at this point, however, that Richard James has a fairly unignorable fan base, and I certainly liked his work with Chris Cunningham. So, if there were ever a true “it’s not you, it’s me” review, this is it, but I have always struggled with Aphex Twin, and continue to do so.
With the bar closing even earlier on Saturday night (during Aphex Twin’s set!), and reluctance to endure more pounding dance music setting in, we venture off for fun elsewhere.
Club to Club is a perfectly enjoyable festival that manages to draw great acts for a well-informed crowd that is both friendly and delightfully unspoiled by tourism. The experience is marred, however, by bizarre management decisions and excessive security. Conversations with fellow revellers yielded a fairly consistent theme: “This is the first time I’ve come, and it’s great fun, but I’m not sure I’d come again.” Indeed, I’d echo a similar message – if the line-up is strong, and you and a band of amigos are willing, Club to Club is a thoroughly enjoyable weekend festival to brighten up your winter, but don’t go hoping for anything seminal.