VIA Festival diverse as ever in its third year

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:30 p.m.

Just a few short months ago, the music-art collective VIA's main instigators, Lauren Goshinski and Quinn Leonowicz, were still worried about turning a long-abandoned, gutted nightclub into a functional, permanent venue. At the time, they had just a few days before the venue — dubbed 6119 after its Penn Avenue address — had its first event.

Assembling a massive festival of cutting-edge music and electronic visual art — in their spare time after full-time day jobs — that was still pretty far down on their “To Do” list.

Well, now it's October, and somehow the annual VIA Music & New Media Festival all came together. (VIA began Oct. 1, but the bulk of the events happen this weekend.) In fact, it looks as big, weird, amazingly diverse and hard to summarize as ever.

Now in its third year, VIA was designed from the start to do something different. First, it brought a lot of significant (if often quite underground) artists to the city who had never been here before. Then, each performer was paired with a visual artist, creating a completely original audio-visual experience.

It's also a big, obvious metaphor for Pittsburgh's rebirth as a post-industrial, high-tech, arts-focused kind of place. The first VIA Fest was in a giant former steel mill-turned-movie studio; the second, in a derelict (but not for long) commercial street in East Liberty.

Though this year's lineup features a lot of unfamiliar names to all but the most clued-in music fans, that's not necessarily a bad thing. By now, VIA has a pretty good track record for presenting bold, interesting new music that's either boldly experimental or super-fun and danceable (or both).

“Sometimes, we learn about stuff five months before the festival happens,” Leonowicz says. “People trust that they're going to hear something that they can get out and dance to, end up making babies to, whatever. I think there's a few more ‘accessible' artists than we booked last year.”

In fact, some of VIA's featured performers are huge — in other places or in genres of music that may be off one's radar completely.

“The big one is Moodymann,” Goshinski says. “He's from Detroit, one of a smattering of real pioneers. He's made such an impact. It's house music. He has a party in Detroit that he throws every year. He's a producer, and has a lot of history (that comes) with him.”

Detroit looms large over electronic music in particular, as the site where techno was born. Chicago, another hub of endless musical creation, is amply represented. DJs Spinn and Rashad are pioneers of Chicago juke-footwork, a sped-up mutation of house that had to keep up with dancers' flying feet. The tempos seem way too fast to dance to, but that's kind of the point.

Nadastrom is another innovator, featuring Dave Nada, the creator of moombahton, combining the dramatic synths of Dutch house with the tropical sizzle of reggaeton. Then, there's the outspokenly queer rapper Le1f, bringing a decidedly different perspective to hip-hop.

The venues this year are mostly in and around East Liberty, with the big events at 6119 and the vacant former PNC Bank building on Penn Avenue.

VIA Fest always includes hands-on workshops. This includes Brooklyn gaming collective Babycastles, who will help participants build their own video-arcade games, hosted by interactive design firm DeepLocal in East Liberty.

“The goal is the same,” Goshinski says, “to put some things you maybe didn't know about right in your backyard, and make it super-fun.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

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