Lunchmeat: the continental electronic music festival that’s paving the future for live performance 

Welcome to Lunchmeat, the last festival before the singularity – you know, the moment when AI takes over and runaway technological growth results in unfathomable changes to human civilisation.

The three day event in the basement of Prague’s National Modern Art Gallery, a grand functionalist palace, is one year short of its 10th anniversary, but has now started to find its footing as an international event that connects the Czech Republic’s own rich heritage in the arts with emerging category of hybrid music and technology; people keen to imagine Black Mirror-esque sonic futures that one day may touch us all (no dystopias though please).

While Sonar may have set the template for partying with technology some years back, Lunchmeat is part of a line up of a new breed of club culture festivals that have been gradually taking heel across Central & Eastern Europe. From The Hague’s highly collaborative Rewire to the scene-leading Unsound in Krakow, they represent a frontline of music events that start in the electronic underground but aspire to an imaginative, technology-enhanced realm beyond the age we live in now, drawing on contemporary art as well as immersive and interactive theatre to push the limits of the live music experience.

The crowd at Lunchmeat – around 1000 people per night – speak enthusiastically as they compare sets as if comparing treaties or manifestos – the will to dance is as much in competition with the will to think, feel and be amazed. Thursday night’s live performances by outsider electronic producer Actress and yung Aphex Twin in waiting Lanark Artefax fuel the debate. The former bases his performance around a metal mannequin, echoing Kraftwerk, that stands static as it is dramatically eviscerated in myriad ways by lights and strobes – a Death Star rig of blasting light energy. The sound itself too is played for its physicality, with the first 15 minutes or so of the set nothing more than an arpeggiated bass that rumbles in ever increasing vibrational density so that you physical shake as if a small earthquake is rising from within you. Lanark Artefax follows with an outing of his acclaimed touring set built around a 2001: A Space Oddessy style Monolith, that becomes the focal point of an hour of undulating, epiphanous dance that culminates in the penetratingly emotional Touch Absence and a full three minutes of face-melting strobe that while not exactly musical, is still utterly thrilling – no wonder Bjork is such a fan.

Elsewhere, after Lee Gamble’s accelerated frenzy of techno-capitalist blitzbeat, stunning the crowd with a fever dream of flash projections and abrupt, powerpoint-on-acid pharmaceutical and warped advertising imagery, Friday night is handed over to influential London label Night Slugs’ for a 10th anniversary all-nighter, who hold back on the visual but go in hard on the bangers – resulting in the biggest party of the weekend.

The crowing glory of this year’s event though is surely Fatima Al Qadiri’s live performance of last year’s ‘Shaneera’ on Saturday night – her concept record inspired by Arabic queer icons. In a pantomime wig she yelps over her signature clattering, arab-inspired beats for a show that is as dramatic as it is commanding – elevated images of ultra femme beauty products are iconised and projected on the huge screen behind her like reified religious paraphernalia from a self-actualised post-queer utopia. At the inter-section of cultures and identities, her micro-story of a Kuwaiti ‘evil queens’ (as ‘shaneera’ roughly translates) becomes a palimpsest on which larger stories of the shift in electronic & performance culture may be imposed. 

The National Gallery also hands over its spaces for video art installations, a symposium on music and digital arts and creative tech workshops, encouraging people to get involved themselves. As an event that captures the mood of the European electronic dance seen it is expertly curated, and its pairing of musicians with visual artists for hybrid commissions is commendable. But as technology pushes forward (VR live gigs anyone?) this year Lunchmeat hits a glass ceiling, never quite dropping that one ‘thing’ that resets the cultural agenda. Next year, we predict them going fully interactive, fully immersive, and tempts that singularity a step closer to reality. Bring it on.