Experiencing VIA: The city’s largest music fest

Courtesy of VIA archive

By: Sam Fatula | A&E Editor

Courtesy of VIA archive
Courtesy of VIA archive

Less than a month ago, Pittsburgh hosted the second annual entertaining and informative Thrival Innovation and Music Festival in Bakery Square, which really placed a target on the Steel City as a hub for creativity and artistry. While the two-day festival sparked success and appeared to be the next go-to venue for international touring artists, a follow-up question still remained; how and when will this display of music be topped?

Luckily, this city did not have to wait long to draw comparisons, as the fifth annual VIA Festival began on Wednesday and will run through Sunday.

The Festival, which made its debut in 2010, began with a purpose similar to Thrival; invite well-known bands and solo musicians to bring people together to discover local, non-traditional ideas.

Although its goal is to raise awareness for local ideas and concepts, VIA still has its own distinction in the process, which remains prevalent in the workshops they host and also the artists that perform. The main goal is to challenge current societal issues faced on a communal and national scale, and attempt to inspire diverse groups of people to become an active participant in the world.

There are a variety of activities that seek involvement festivities besides the music, including various workshops and lectures from programs that feature digital artists from Carnegie Mellon University.

On Thursday and Saturday in the Union Trust Building, the Festival will feature exhibitions from Undervolt, a label which exists to allow experimental video artists to display psychedelic visuals and techniques. One artist that will draw interest is Undervolt director, Johhny Woods, who has created videos in the past for events like Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza and visuals for Outkast member Big Boi. Woods has also done work for Pitchfork TV, which is home to one of the highest circulating music blogs on the internet and has done exclusives with St. Vincent, Daft Punk and the rest of the developing indie scene.

Something else worth noting that also takes place Thursday is an exhibition that brings together additional trippy visual experiences combined with eerie industrial audio to produce a video that looks like the aftermath of a drug induced coma. This strange display is brought to audiences from Portland duo Brenna Murphy and Birch Cooper, better known as MSHR.

The concept of MSHR is highly original, which is quite the statement considering the thousands of content creators that emerge from parts of the world on a daily basis. The images that are used in their videos, while refreshing and new, are also simultaneously alien and difficult to analyze. Simply put, it’s the acid trip that won’t destroy brain cells.

One final workshop that puts the work into the hands of the audience will occur on Saturday at pop-up locations. Every 30 minutes, a virtual modeling drawing session will take place. The process by which it is done is by far the most interesting.

All sessions have a physical model just like any normal modeling drawing session would have, but participants have the option of drawing their subject either on an iPad or a piece of paper. Following the completion of their drawing, it is then uploaded onto an online exhibition, where you can see your masterpiece on a completely different medium.

The Virtual Life Drawing project began in Pittsburgh in 2012 by locally based artist, Craig Scheuer and is sure to “draw” in a hefty amount of aspiring artists.

Another thing that VIA focuses on besides music is to bring certain cinema to the forefront of the Festival. A share of productions will be shown at Row House Cinema, a new and emerging theater in Lawrenceville that typically screens films that have already been set to DVD, but are still regarded as classics.

Early in the week, Row House will be screening two different productions. The first, titled From Deep, will play on Thursday. The documentary, directed by Pittsburgh local Brett Kashmere, focuses in on the three decade relationship between the game of basketball and the world of hip-hop. From Deep examines how the influential subgenres of sports and music play into the surrounding pop-culture and made athletes like Michael Jordan become social phenomenon. Following the screening, Kashmere, Pittsburgh artist and activist Jasiri X and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Mike White will lead a panel discussion that delves deeper into the developing blend of basketball and hip-hop.

The other documentary that will show on Friday takes on the world of punk rock and the former unacceptance of the LGBT community. She said Boom: Story of 5th Column examines the all-girl ‘80s punk band that challenged homophobia and the stigma that punk had to be strictly anti-government.

The story of the all-lesbian group silently, yet unwillingly, influenced many future movements in their respective community just as much as acts like the Sex Pistols and Anti-Flag did, and had to do so with even more restrictions. The documentary will also feature an after-show panel. Last but not least, concerts will be provided to the public all week.

On Thursday, black metal outfit Liturgy will take the stage at Rex Theater in the South Side. The Brooklyn-based quartet has been around since 2008, and attributes much of their sound to the likes of Swans and Lightning Bolt. Although their discography has not hit massive success throughout their tenure, the show is guaranteed to bring intensity to the Burgh.

VIA will also provide their share of fun-loving indie-pop to the city as well, and one act to look out for is Montreal-based duo, Blue Hawaii. This newly emerging electro-pop group do not have much to offer in terms of a resume, but the material that they have put out has made an impression in the underground scene. With EDM becoming the up-and-coming genre in Pittsburgh, Blue Hawaii will surely by shown some appreciation this Saturday.

From the genre of hip-hop, the rapper you will not want to miss is Cakes Da Killa. At first glance, you won’t notice anything significant about the New Jersey MC, but there is more than meets the eye. Cakes Da Killa is arguably one of the biggest advocates for the LGBT music from the hip-hop point of view, considering that he is gay himself.

His 2013 mixtape The Eulogy received a handful of critical acclaim from notable publications and websites, all agreeing that his lyrical innuendos and natural flow make him a talented individual.

These are just some of the main attractions that will take place during this week, though you can take a look for yourself for additional festivities at via2014.com.