Elise Peyronnet is the artistic director of Now or Never (and former curator of the City of Melbourne’s excellent Melbourne Music Week). The festival debuted last year with an adventurous merging of live music, art, technology and future thinking.

The equally ambitious second instalment in late August spans two weekends and more than 100 events and sessions. The highlight, once again, is the stunning music and audio-visual program at the flagship Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens.

“That’s the only programming concept we’re bringing back this year,” says Peyronnet. “Before the inaugural Now or Never, the building hadn’t been used for any other music events of this scale for more than two decades, and this year we’re reinventing its look and feel. Now or Never was so well received [last year], because the festival is a completely different offering in Melbourne. It’s putting a spotlight on sonic and visual artists that use new media and technology in their practices.”

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A showcase of the latest in tech-driven art and music makes a striking juxtaposition with the heritage-listed building, which dates back to 1880, and the space’s artfully illustrated, cathedral-like ceilings are a major draw. But the backdrop is no mere novelty.

“The ceiling being so high, just having that volume space around you to present music or AV work is really special,” Peyronnet says. “Last year, people were mesmerised by the massive screen and amazing AV content we presented . This year the AV will take it to the next level, and all of the [musical] acts also have AV elements. That’s why the building was chosen: because you can do those things on a really large scale with more impact.”

Spread out over four consecutive nights, each event at the Royal Exhibition Building has an exciting standalone line-up, but they all fit together neatly too. “The four nights could be presented as one festival on four different stages and it would work,” says Peyronnet.

Each night will be punctuated with live AV works performed by leading specialists like London’s United Visual Artists, Russian collective 404.zero, Melbourne 3D artist Mikaela Stafford and many more in place of the traditional interstitial DJ or playlist. Peyronnet takes us through the highlights from each night.

Ben Frost / CORIN / Eartheater / Gabber Modus Operandi, Thursday August 22

The most experimental of the four nights is the first, with Australian-born, Icelandic-based producer and sound designer Ben Frost; Melbourne’s own CORIN – presenting an AV version of her recent album Lux Aeterna in collaboration with Tristan Jalleh; American experimental producer Eartheater; and Indonesian duo Gabber Modus Operandi.

“Ben Frost’s music is quite cinematic,” Peyronnet says. “And we have Gabber Modus Operandi, a duo who mix traditional Indonesian music with really hardcore gabber [a subgenre of techno]. It’s very playful and energetic. Eartheater is one of many female producers we have on that program who are leading the way in terms of writing and producing. She’s been collaborating with Caroline Polachek, and she produced Madonna’s daughter [Lourdes Leon]’s first EP. She’s coming with a five-piece and she has an incredible voice – she can hit three octaves. She’s one of these avant-garde pop artists popping up who have a really different way of making music.”

Melbourne performance and installation artist Luke George will host one of his signature “happenings” sometime on Thursday night as well, though when and where is a secret.

Clark / Naretha Williams / Sandwell District / Veronica Vasicka, Friday August 23

The second night has a more techno and industrial focus. Two members of longstanding multinational collective Sandwell District, Function and Regis, will pair their ever-evolving take on techno with a live AV set.

“I think most of the Melbourne crowd would be familiar with Chris Clark,” says Peyronnet of the night’s headliner, British electronic icon Clark. “He’s signed on Warp Records and he’s also performing at contemporary dance show Mountain with his partner, [choreographer] Melanie Lane. Then we have Sandwell District, who are kind of a legacy act [established in 2002] – they were instrumental in shaping techno's Birmingham sound in the early 1990s. And we have Naretha Williams from Melbourne, an amazing First Nations producer who fits the darker tone of the night, and Veronica Vasicka from New York, who is the founder of Minimal Wave,” an influential label dedicated to analog synth music.

DJ AYA / DJ PGZ / Donato Dozzy / Estella Boersma / François X, Saturday August 24

The Saturday night, a collaboration with Australian promoter Untitled Group, plays to the heads with sets from European veterans Donato Dozzy and François X.

“François X, from Paris, plays more speedy beats,” Peyronnet says. “And people are excited about Italian producer Donato Dozzy because he doesn’t play here often.”

Also on the bill are Dutch DJ and producer Estella Boersma and Zurich-born, Berlin-based DJ AYA. Representing the local dance scene will be DJ PGZ, a Gunai/Kurnai and Yorta Yorta artist. “The way we build these line-ups – they’re co-headliners in a way,” says Peyronnet of the locally beloved Melbourne inclusions. “You have maybe three internationals on each night, so we’re trying to balance it.”

Anthony Naples / COUCOU CHLOE / Erika de Casier / Sleep D, Sunday August 25

After the kinetic excesses of Saturday night, the series-capping Sunday evening will feel like more of an extended comedown. Headlined by perennially cool New York ambient-house producer Anthony Naples, the bill also features Portuguese-Danish artist Erika de Casier, avant-pop artist and club regular COUCOU CHLOE making her Australian debut, and stalwarts of Melbourne’s underground techno scene Sleep D.

“Again, it’s in slightly a different direction,” Peyronnet says. “Erika de Casier is a bit more R’n’B. COUCOU CHLOE has a lot of hype around her. She’s French and based in London. She has a deadpan thing about her voice, taking influence more from trap music. This is the first time she’s playing in Australia, so we’re excited to have her.”


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