Festival review: Illuminate Adelaide, from Unsound to Oneohtrix Point Never

Adelaide’s winter festival offers a rich array of experiences, from the sensory overload of Unsound Adelaide to a night-time ramble through a verdant and mesmerising garden.

Wrapping up our coverage of Illuminate Adelaide, which recently concluded with a weekend performance of Restless Dance Theatre’s new work, Shifting Perspectives (read our five-star review of the production), here we look briefly at the outdoor installation Resonate before taking a deep dive into the sometimes challenging but always fascinating experimental music program, Unsound Adelaide, and conclude with a live performance by US electronic music producer and composer, Oneohtrix Point Never.


A portal opening onto other worlds. Lights dancing above the dark waters of a mist-wreathed lake, like spirits ascending to heaven. The natural grandeur of an avenue of Moreton Bay figs enhanced with waves of percussion and shot through by a beam of light, drawing us ever-onwards. Luminous alien flowers. A tree breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out music and light.

The latest work by Canadian company Moment Factory is a 1.7-kilometre nighttime trail through the groves and byways of the Adelaide Botanic Garden and, while not every work impresses, the overall experience is potent and often mesmerising.

Given that Resonate (together with another Illuminate work, Mirror Mirror) has already been reviewed in detail by Lyn Dickens, I shan’t dwell on the experience here, save to note that the placement of each individual element has been thoughtfully and carefully planned, resulting in an immersive, engaging and – especially for audiences already familiar with the Botanic Garden – transformative installation.

Moment Factory’s ‘Resonate’. Photo: Tyr Liang, Xplorer Studio.

Save for minor quibbles with certain aspects of the composition and sound design (moments of narrative accompanying some artworks feel oddly earnest, akin to a self-help podcast, while the score is occasionally reminiscent of the worst kind of film music, i.e. telling us how to feel instead of trusting the work to convey the appropriate mood or emotion), this ambitious new work more than lives up to its name.

Resonate’s season has been extended until 6 August.

Unsound Adelaide

A festival within a festival, Unsound Adelaide (which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, having originally been presented as part of David Sefton’s first Adelaide Festival in 2013 before becoming first a stand-alone event, then being cancelled and finally returning as part of the inaugural Illuminate Adelaide in 2021) is an offshoot of the original Unsound, an experimental music festival established in 2003 and based in Krakow, Poland.

Great festivals take you out of your comfort zone and Unsound Adelaide certainly does that, introducing this writer to both new artists and unfamiliar musical genres over two expansive and eclectic nights at the Dom Polski Centre, the home of South Australia’s Polish community.

As a result of exploring the free City Lights program I sadly missed the first act of Unsound on Friday 14 July, Ukrainian electronic artist Heinali (perhaps best known for his live performance from a bomb shelter after being evacuated from his home in 2022). However, any sense of regret was soon washed away by the second act on the bill: an electro-primitive collaboration between Danish ambient musician Sofie Birch and Polish vocalist and composer Antonina Nowacka.

Blending ancient instruments, such as vessel flutes, with contemporary samples and synths, and incorporating musical wine glasses, softly tinkling wind chimes, plaintive strings and what looked to my eyes like a rattling string of small bones, this duo conjured up a richly layered soundscape and an atmosphere that was subtle, fey, mythic and beautiful.

‘Sudany’, a track by Sofie Birch and Antonina Nowacka. Source: YouTube.

By contrast, Melbourne-based Robin Fox’s Triptych (pictured, top) was a deliciously abrasive wall of carefully controlled and focused noise – a blend of gut-shaking bass notes and deep, drawn out droning beats coupled with a spectacular laser display. It was music you felt in your bones and the pit of your stomach as the smoke-wreathed air overhead was sliced and segmented by sweeping, stabbing beams and shards of light.

Next came Scottish DJ and musician Kode9, the founder of independent record label Hyperdub, with an eagerly awaited set of harsh, intensive beats. From an almost-overwhelming opening, his set mellowed slightly as the evening wore on, accompanied by a vivid video backdrop of rockets climbing into orbit, colour-saturated landscapes and a burning Union Jack, and was warmly received by the audience – though I freely admit that it wasn’t really my thing.

Unsound Adelaide’s first night ended – at least for those of us too old or too tired to venture on to the Unsound Club – with a last-minute replacement in the form of Malian DJ Diaki after the sudden withdrawal of US rapper BbyMutha. His high-energy set finally gave the audience something to dance to, with Diaki playing an octane-charged mix of infectious and layered rhythms blended with occasional samples of alarm clocks, vuvuzela and even pneumatic drills. His set, coupled with his flag-waving, dancing and regular requests for the audience to ‘dance faster!’ left punters breathless and exhilarated.

Read: Festival review: Illuminate Adelaide, from Arborialis to City Lights

Unsound’s second night on Saturday 15 July opened with Melbourne duo Divide and Dissolve, whose music incorporated melancholy loops of plaintive clarinet with thunderous, metal-tinged drums and guitar. The contrast between the band’s pummelling sounds and the guitarist’s soft voice as spoke about the impact of lateral violence and colonisation was striking.

Next came my highlight of the evening: Guatemalan cellist, vocalist and composer Mabe Fratti, performing alongside an uncredited guitarist. Sometimes bowing her instrument, at other times plucking, and adding distorted guitar and pure vocals, this was an evocative performance with a palpable sense of delighted interplay emanating from the two musicians and sparking joy in the audience.

Mabe Fratti. Photo: Ellie Everett.

US electronic artist Huerco S followed with a grinding, subversive set of glitchy ambience – inventive, immersive but never fully impressing – after which UK duo Space Afrika took to the stage, moved from second place on the bill to fourth due to software problems, which were, thankfully, eventually resolved. Mixing moody, sonorous beats and extended samples with a hint of gothic ambience and gritty urban decay, this was a richly textured set of sounds reminiscent of a darker, slower, modern-day Massive Attack commenting on British austerity and surveillance culture. Potent, moody and compelling.

As with the previous evening, the second night of Unsound Adelaide ended with an upbeat performance that finally got the dance floor heaving – to the point that one jubilant punter was gleefully waving one of his crutches in the air.  

Otim Alpha and Leo Palayeng at Unsound Adelaide’s second night. Photo: Ellie Everett.

Pioneering Ugandan musician Otim Alpha took to the stage solo, playing the traditional arched harp known as the adungu, and singing two songs unaccompanied, before being joined by Ugandan DJ/producer Leo Palayeng for an absolutely banging set. Layering traditional drumming patterns and upbeat dance rhythms, and adding in Alpha’s dancing, singing and good humour, ensured that the second night of Unsound Adelaide ended on an absolute high.

Oneohtrix Point Never with Corin

One of the main musical drawcards of this year’s Illuminate Adelaide was the appearance of Mercury Prize-winning electronic musician, composer and producer Oneohtrix Point Never (aka Massachusetts born and bred artist Daniel Lopatin). His set, advertised as running for an hour but extended by a jubilantly received and seemingly almost freeform encore, took place at the Hindley Street Music Hall – located on the scuzzier end of Hindley Street – on Sunday 16 July.

Support act CORIN. Photo: Saige Prime.

The opening act was Melbourne-based electronic music producer, DJ and performer CORIN (aka Corin Ileto) whose set initially evoked game soundtracks and film scores before intensifying with the addition of industrial beats and haunted, echoing vocals. As with most live electronic acts, accompanying visuals projected on a screen behind CORIN gave the audience something to focus on: here, the startling visuals provided impressions of alien architecture, writhing worms, goddess figures and the exaggeration of the everyday as seen through an electron microscope.

Taking to the stage to extended applause, headliner Oneohtrix Point Never (whose nom de guerre plays off the broadcasting frequency of Boston radio station Magic 106.7) opened with gentle electric twittering and repeated piano chords, adding static and glitches before deepening and building his evocative music. Combining melody and noise, loops and layers, beats and ambience, his tracks were rhythmic, sometimes driving, but never overwhelming or abrasive. The addition of viola-style bowing added to the evening’s richly textured soundscape – sometimes evoking the work of the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, at other moments launching into more up-tempo sequences that never quite became dance music, but which nonetheless stirred the audience to sway, nod and groove along.

Oneohtrix Point Never at Illuminate Adelaide. Photo: Saige Prime.

After a brief break and rapturous applause, Lopatin returned to the stage to announce that unusually, he’d been drinking, and that now it was time to ‘have a little bit of fun’. An encore hinting at such contemporary sounds as ring tones, chimes and computer games, with added reverb and considerable joy, closed out the evening’s performance.

Illuminate Adelaide ran from 28 June to 30 July 2023.

The writer travelled as a guest of Illuminate Adelaide.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts