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VIA books big global names but remains committed to developing local talent

Main-stage performances take place Sat., Oct. 4, at Downtown's Union Trust Building

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Paul Fleetwood and Aaron Clark are two of many Pittsburgh-affiliated musicians playing this year's VIA Festival
  • Photo courtesy of Nicole Jarock
  • Paul Fleetwood (foreground) and Aaron Clark are two of many Pittsburgh-affiliated musicians playing this year's VIA Festival

Now in its fifth year, the VIA Music & New Media Festival has grown into an internationally recognized event and creative collective. This year, the innovative music and arts festival joined forces with the International Cities of Advanced Sound, putting Pittsburgh on a map that includes events like Montréal's Mutek, Seattle's Decibel and Manchester's Future Everything Festival, among others. Not only has the group behind VIA had the honor of learning from some of the world's top names in about curating music experience, but it has expanded to encompass two cities, with festival events happening concurrently in Chicago this year for the first time.

Throughout its history, VIA has altered the faces of Pittsburgh's music and arts scenes. The lineup still offers an array of cutting-edge talent that might be mysterious to some (though it's expanded to include everything from hip hop to hardcore to indie rock), the crew's core principles of enhancing the local community has remained intact. This year particularly, VIA joins forces with nearly every prominent local promoter. Some have even ended up on the lineup themselves.

One such promoter-artist, Mr. Owl, got involved by way of a showcase he's hosting Fri., Oct. 3. "I had the night anyway" for a monthly hip-hop event called Enforcery, he explains, "and I was starting to ramp up — I got somebody coming in from Austin, Texas, and somebody coming in from New York City. And I was flying them in, so it was like a big to-do.

"And [I heard] that it was the same night as the Lawrenceville art crawl of VIA. So I hit [the organizers] up and was like, ‘Hey guys, this is what I'm doing, do you want to be cooperative about it?' And they said, ‘Hell yes, that sounds awesome.' It was a really nice surprise that they said yes."

While partnerships like the one with Mr. Owl were always part of VIA's goals, the number of these local connections seems to have ramped up considerably for 2014. Being included this year in ICAS has raised VIA's profile both globally and locally. VIA's left-of-center bookings has had an effect on Pittsburgh's own talent.

"For me, VIA is kind of an excuse to be weirder than you can be at an average party," says Mr. Owl. "That's what I would really emphasize. [It's] kind of like a platform for more intellectually challenging music than what you can get here in Pittsburgh on an average weekend. And my bread-and-butter is experimental hip-hop-instrumentals-meets-weird-electronics. So VIA is like an annual influx of all of the nerd shit that I love."

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