The Alternative Party 2008
party review

By Maija "DiamonDie" Haavisto

Before Altparty even started, I knew it was going to be huge. First they announced that Front 242 was going to be playing (their first gig ever in Finland), which obviously delighted us EBM fans. After that they just kept announcing more and more stuff, all the way to the last days before the party. It seemed like they were going to have a larger programme than Assembly (but more interesting), so I was waiting for the party with excitement.

I wasn't wrong. It was huge, and it was full of awesome stuff, including many things I've never seen before at a demoparty. There was an art exhibition, which I was proud to be a part of, including mostly multimedia art and installations, but also comics, textile art and even a radioactive Pong game (it wasn't really radioactive as such, but I believe it was somehow controlled by atoms splitting or not splitting - I guess almost but not quite entirely like Schrödinger's cat). There were many interesting sponsor stands, including marycloud's corset shop Belle Modeste and the Finnish pirate party's stand which featured a RepRap self-replicating 3D printer, which unfortunately did not work properly.

I don't remember much about the opening ceremony, except that Setok was wearing a top hat and there was some kind of a machine spreading confetti on the stage. Following that a large choir took up the stage - a real choir, not just demosceners. After first singing something more choir-like, they sung a birthday song to Altparty (which celebrated its 10th anniversary). It was another WTF moment, one that made you think "you don't see this at a demoparty too often". The organizers announced there was birthday cake upstairs, leading to a big rush. Luckily there was enough cake for everyone, in fact enough for second helpings too. I heard there were 640 pieces!

The FogScreen compo was supposed to be on the Friday evening, but after much hassle it was moved to Saturday, leaving Friday compo-less. Luckily there was much other stuff to do. The UX gig started at 10 PM or so. UX is a band that features Kris Kylven, a well-known Finnish industrial DJ/artist who has played at Altparty before. They played an EBM-like mash-up of industrial and trance, so most of the goths who were going to see Front 242 had already arrived. It was a bit scary to go to the women's toilets, because it was full of goths with massive fake dreadlock hairdos, adding more makeup and hairspray.

The UX gig really rocked the place. They also had amazing visuals, some of the best I've ever seen (their VJ guy should be making demos!). There were even pyrotechnics - again something I haven't seen at demoparties too often. The Front 242 gig started a lot late of schedule and I found myself standing in front of the stage for about 30 minutes before they started. It was, of course, worth the wait. If it wasn't clear before what electronic body music meant, now it was. Their show was unbelievably energetic, you wouldn't have known for a minute that these guys were in their 50s.

About halfway through the gig I rushed to get some water and my camera. I managed to quite easily sneak into the front row after that, offering a nice opportunity to shoot photos - and shoot I did. When the gig was over I couldn't believe they had played for almost 1.5 hours, because I could have sworn it was just half of that. My feet were so sore I could barely walk and I was totally spaced out, so it was nice to go home (though admittedly, taking a cab would have been a nicer way to travel...)

We got back to the party place fairly early on Saturday, though not early enough for the circuit bending workshop, the "iPod as MSX tape recorder" presentation or the Charles Babbage presentation. When we arrived MoonQ was finishing his talk about biomedical research graphics, though it seemed like there weren't too many listeners. The costume contest was up next. Marycloud had almost managed to convince me to participate in the press event on Thursday. I thought there wouldn't be many participants so I had dug up some gear, but after seeing many great costumes on the party place already on Friday, I decided to skip it.

There were about a dozen participants, some of them with amazing Victorian/steampunk costumes, some a little more plain. Even Truck was participating, dressed up as a train conductor, though he looked strangely reminiscent of Mario. The best costumes (both according to my own opinion and the jury's opinion) were a woman with a wonderful blue Victorian dress, complete with all the gear, and a couple who were more steampunk-styled. Carennah also had a nice black dress complete with a huge green feather on her head.

There was a panel discussion with the guest of honor Brad Templeton (of EFF), Xuenay (who I think represented the Pirate Party?) and Jyrki Kasvi, the geeky MP who has visited Altparty several times before. I was having some social life instead of following, though. There were many great people I hadn't seen in years. Interestingly there were also quite a few kids at the partyplace, as the ticket allowed a free entrance for two kids under the age of 12. I found myself with an extra ticket and tried to get my little sister to come, but she was sick, so it was given to a friend's girlfriend. Not a bad choice, because she was lovely, and really seemed to enjoy the party.

The Codento Architect Challenge was really silly even for a sponsor event. They had a few contestants first answering trivia questions about C64, Amiga and such. After that all of them had to code a simple text scroller on a platform they didn't know before, from QBasic to MSX. Heck, even _I_ could have done it on more than one of the platforms. The guy who was assigned the MSX cleverly offered a beer for someone to do it for him and Nyyrikki agreed to do it, which is like asking viznut to code you a text scroller on the VIC-20...

Then the compos kicked in. They were going to run almost non-stop from 5 PM to midnight, but this proved less than realistic with many delays. The CSS graphics compo was pretty OK with its handful of entries, but the Romantic era graphics compo mostly had entries that were "romantic", not Romantic (even though the rules said they would be disqualified). The name voting compo wasn't as funny as I expected. The only real laughter spurred up thanks to Jumalauta, who had entered Barack Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

Desert Planet was supposed to kick off their gig at 6 PM, but the schedule had already gone badly awry at the point. When they started the area between the stage and the mixing booth was almost full of chairs, but by the halfway of the gig all of the chairs seemed to have disappeared and the area had turned into a wild bitpop rave. Desert Planet too had a great stage show and nice visuals, and they made plentiful use of the pyrotechnics.

They were also joined on stage by Koelse (the association of experimental electronics) who provided additional soundscapes. It was a blast. I found myself with a full 4 GB memory card, so had to do some cleaning up to fit in more photos.

The 1 channel music compo had the most entries of them all, over 10. Some of them were pretty terrible though and as the volume was massive, I had to put on some earplugs (I wasn't the only one). The technology video compo started with my ASCII animation. Most of the other entries seemed to have intepreted technology as "noise", "something boring" or both, though the Kosmoplovci entry was nice.

The second try at the FogScreen compo wasn't much more successful than the first one. I think it took them an hour to an hour and a half to get it working, delivering a final deathblow to what was remaining of the schedule. We got to see two mediocre demos, after which they called it quits. The contraption compo only had two entries, which consisted of people speaking about their inventions on the stage. The second one was really weird, I had absolutely no idea what the guy was going on about.

Sometime during the evening I finally found Patrick Codenys of Front 242 of Front 242, who had promised me an interview in the press event on Thursday (for the music magazine I work for). I had been somewhat nerve-wrecked for most of the party about not finding him and generally nervous about the whole thing, but luckily he was a very calm and relaxing person. He had a lot of interesting, philosophical stuff to say, making me wish I had taken my crappy dictaphone in addition to the notepad.

Front 242 made an interesting presentation about the use of art (cover art and visualizations) in their career. I hope they weren't too disturbed by the audience's cheers for Amiga and anti-cheers for some other computer brands. By the end of the presentation I was pretty much dozing off. It was 1:30 AM, 2.5 hours after the democompo was supposed to have started, and we knew we couldn't stay awake during it anyway, so we went home. It was quite a letdown, but no sense in staying if you're too tired to watch it.

The prizegiving ceremony was late by some 1.5 hours, but to cut the organizers some slack they always tend to be late, even at Assembly. There were some pretty nice prizes, like printers and other hardware, even a video projector from Epson. I won a keyboard and Logitech speakers, though I would have had more use for a printer and a mouse. I also felt a bit pissed for not winning the Romantic graphics compo, as Front 242 had donated some of their old silkscreen prints. The prizes in the CSS graphics also included pretty hefty sums of money, making me regret not investing more time on that entry. But those were just personal gripes, of course.

I left the party feeling uplifted, even though it was raining cats and dogs outside. So many things didn't even fit in this "short" review or I forgot to mention about them. Like the Soihtu café - not too often do you get to drink lapsang sauchong at a party, let alone several kinds of F.T.G.F.O.P. tea. If people could be graded like tea, that grade would also be pretty high. I'm not sure if I've ever been to a more enjoyable party.

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Photos by DiamonDie

Maija "DiamonDie" Haavisto