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Techno, Art and Futurismo:KAPPA FUTURFESTIVAL Turns 10!

by Ali Naderzad

Italians and the rest of the world, 90,000 people from 105 countries, were brought together in Parco Dora, an industrial park in the middle of Turin, northern Italy, by techno’s driving basslines.

Kappa Futurfestival was inaugurated in 2009 in one of Turin’s city squares. The Parco Dora site was first used in 2013.

The founder and organizer of Kappa FuturFestival, forty-eight-year-old Maurizio “Juni” Vitale also runs tourism for Turin, a millennia-old city known for its rich cultural offer. But the techno festival is the jewel in the crown, injecting twenty-five million euros into the local economy.

Kappa, the sportswear brand with the logo of a man and a woman seated together with their backs touching, was founded by Juni’s great-grandfather.

As Vitale noted during an email exchange we had together, “[…] Kappa FuturFestival […] plays a significant role in generating tourism revenue for the region.”

The impetus for Kappa FuturFestival was the centennial of Futurismo, a cultural movement launched by some of Italy’s literati at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Futurismo movement was a disavowal of political and artistic traditions in favour of an embrace of technology and youth. A demarcation line was established between the past, and the bold, fast-advancing, future. The Mona Lisa was out, the Alfa Romeo in, the Futurists worshipped the machine, its potential lethality, exorcising death, that perennial human ambition, meant to live dangerously. Tanino Liberatore’s RanXerox, a graphic novel that I read in my teenage years, was influenced by Futurismo. Francis Bacon, Wendy Carlos, Gaspar Noé, Jeff Mills and Richard Serra, iconoclasts in their own right, could be said to be of that lineage.

Juni Vitale attended an art showcase during Futurismo’s centennial celebrations in 2009. The inspiration thus came to him for a techno festival. Futurismo/machine-generated music, it’s coherent.

A former factory complex of 5,000 square feet that housed Fiat, Italy’s biggest industry for a hundred years, was redesigned into a park by an architectural firm, with vegetation combined with industrial remains to provide the decor. Amid this post-industrial wilderness of concrete slabs, rivets and trusses, rust-colored support beams left in place from the former factory building surge toward the sky, like minarets–a call to rave?

Parco Dora, lost city-like, is a contradiction, nature cohabiting with industrialism and urban decay: wall sections around the complex are covered in graffiti and ivy grows on the support beams. This place is futuristic but circumscribed to the past, desolate and glorious.

In the constellation of summer festivals on offer, Kappa FuturFestival isn’t comparable to the heavyweights Glastonbury or Tomorrowland in size, both of whom have more acreage for accommodating people than Parco Dora does. Glastonbury brings in 200,000 festival-goers and Tomorrowland 600,000. But Kappa FuturFestival, whose attendance falls under 100,000, has the advantage of an exceptional venue in the heart of the city.

When Kappa FuturFestival is over, the stage is broken down and the food stalls and porta-potties are trucked away but the emblematic minarets stay in place.

I ran into Juni Vitale on the festival’s grounds, exchanged a few words with him, and shook hands. He’s charismatic and cuts a handsome, patrician, figure. He joined my girlfriend’s hands and planted a kiss on them as we said goodbye.

Vitale told me, “I am immensely proud of my city. Turin is growing and evolving, shedding its austere past and transforming into an increasingly vibrant international city.”

The city has galleries, palazzos and parks, avenues with shaded arcades, city squares, some as wide as the eye can see, the Palazzo Reale, the National Automobile Museum and Mole Antonelliana, a very impressive cinema museum where last year I saw the Dario Argento exhibit in between DJ sets at Kappa FuturFestival. Turin also has a long tradition of chocolate making and is known for its winter sports.

Kappa FuturFestival, which takes place from noon to midnight over three days, employs a thousand people and takes fourteen months to plan.

At the executive level, along with Vitale are Gianluca Brignone, partner and chief of innovation, and Gigi Mazzoleni, who handles talent booking.

According to the press materials, “30,000 visitors are admitted to the event every day with multiple package options made available to them, from single or multi-day passes, VIP level and the premium package Art & Techno, a bridge unto the local arts scene.”

We got signed up for one of the Art & Techno tours. On a Sunday morning three black vans stamped with Kappa FuturFestival logo took a group of us outside the city up the surrounding hills to a private home with impressive views of the region below where we were treated to a tour of a private collection, with the lady of the house and her two daughters acting as tour-guides and showing works by Richard Long, Julian Schnabel and Mario Merz, Vik Muniz’s ‘Bloody Marilyn,’ a Pieta-inspired sculpture by Fabio Viale and a Per Barclay structure. In a separate section of the house, a video installation by Swiss artists Daniel Glaser and Magdalena Kunz caught my attention, six poets in wool blankets talk about the difficulties of life in South Africa.

After our visit, we were driven to a restaurant by the river Po.  Dishes of Piemontese cuisine and local wines appeared on our table. After lunch, we walked back to our apartment, refreshed ourselves and jumped in a cab headed for Parco Dora. Need. More. Techno.

It was tens of thousands deep in the Jaeger section, the main one at the festival, as Diplo and Maceo Plex played. Diplo layered the vocal from “On My Mind” over the bass beats (“On my mind” came out in 2019 and as of today has garnered 37 million views on Youtube). Everyone around me jumped up and down. I typed a note on my phone. Next to me, a young man with a large grin on his face asked me if I was sending an email, which I took as a dig at my age. At nearly 52 I am twice the average here so it’s fair. I grinned back, stubbed out my cigarette, and walked to the food stalls for a vegan poke bowl and beer.

On Saturday when Detroit techno’s founding father Carl Craig wearing his trademark bandana and baseball cap played the cerebral and muted techno he’s known for the crowd went along with it. But the hands-in-the-air response, the scream of tens of thousands was reserved for Swedish House Mafia, a collective of DJs from Stockholm made up of Sebastian Ingrosso, Steve Angello and Axwell. Grammy winner Swedish House Mafia is a flagship act in the EDM genre.

Derrick Carter, Joe Claussell (Claussell headlined the Body & Soul parties in New York for years along with Danny Krivit and Francois K), the Martinez Brothers and Seth Troxler rounded out the American section.

Fat Boy Slim (Norman Cook, formerly of The Housemartins) radiated waves of joy into the audience with his generous and outsize personality. Cook is known for the big beat bangers “Eat, sleep, rave, repeat, and “Praise you” which has earned 23 million views on Youtube. “Right here, right now” clocked in at 51 million views on Youtube.

Peggy Gou, a unique artist whose reserved demeanor contrasts with her charisma and star power, was another one of the headline acts this year at Kappa FuturFestival. She has a broad international reach. Gou fulfills a promise no other talent in dance music today can: she inspires other women to become DJs. Women are still few and far between in the dance music industry although the needle is moving in the right direction.

Gou had the strongest set opening this year, dramatically launching with the Len Faki edit of Inigo Kennedy and Reeko’s “Death” [LF RMX: 2020], the harmonious chords, crystalline and earnest, ringing out like a hypnotic chant while the drum beat unleashed a percussive assault of “chks chks chks.”

However, the takeaway act this year was Astra Club, a collab that includes Italy’s DJ Tennis (real name Manfredi Romano) and Turkish-born DJ Carlita. They played a muscular but roomy set full of sexy and dark tech-house—my best discovery of this year’s Kappa FuturFestival.

Artists not present this year like Franky Rizardo, Alan Fitzpatrick, Maya Jane Coles, Sam Paganini, Riva Starr, Solardo, DJ Alisha, Joeski, Mr. G, Mirella Kroes, Octave One, Hannah Wants, Patrick Topping, Pan Pot, Avision, Marco Carola, Nic Fanciulli, Tiga, Doc Martin and Damian Lazarus, some of whom have appeared at Kappa FuturFestival in previous years, will hopefully be on the lineup in future editions as they represent some of the best talents in dance music today.

Some notable absences this year, Danny Tenaglia and English artist Michael Bibi. Vitale: “Our artistic director, Gigi Mazzoleni, works every year to get the best lineup. The biggest regret [in 2023] is not having [the aforementioned] Michael Bibi and Danny Tenaglia with us, and I hope they can resolve their personal and health issues soon.”

Early the next morning after closing day, my girlfriend and I packed our bags, the Piedmont dry sausage and cookies I’d picked up at a farmers’ market, and two containers of Borotalco deodorant. We started toward Porta Susa station to catch our train back to Paris. The city was still asleep but the odd cafe was open. A man drinking an espresso en terrasse stared at us with amused curiosity. I thought of Parco Dora’s rust-colored minarets and we walked past.

Words from Ali Naderzad

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