Pittsburgh, PA—city of the Steelers, Iron City Brewery, and Primanti’s Bros. sandwiches. Alongside a strong sports culture and greasy food, the experimental music and arts scene is thriving in this unassuming city.

A shot of 2012's Festival by Peter Leeman.

A shot of 2012’s Festival by Peter Leeman.

Enter VIA, a Pittsburgh-based collective that is dedicated to presenting innovative music, art, and culture. Founded in 2010 by Lauren Goshinski and Quinn Leonowicz, they launched an annual music and arts festival that offers an eclectic lineup and diverse programming. Since its inception, VIA Festival has been consistently voted by ResidentAdvisor as a “Top 10 October Festival” and occupied various non-traditional venues, such as soundstages, former voguing clubs, and the basement of an unoccupied Downtown Pittsburgh skyscraper.

Jacques Greene performing at the 2013 Festival, featuring audience generated visuals, LaTurbo Avedon, Kevin Ramser, and TechShop Pittsburgh.  Photograph by Laila Archuleta.

Jacques Greene performing at the 2013 Festival, featuring visuals by LaTurbo Avedon, Kevin Ramser, and TechShop Pittsburgh. Photograph by Laila Archuleta.

It attracts an average of 3,000 festival-goers annually, locally and internationally— in 2011, 20% of its audience came from outside of Pittsburgh. VIA is also a member of the ICAS (International Cities of Advanced Sound), a global group of festivals supporting the creation and presentation of groundbreaking music and art. Fellow members include MUTEK, New Forms Festival, and Unsound. In 2014, the festival expanded to Chicago through Them Flavors.

Battles performing at the 2011 Festival.

VIA has brought a unique roster of artists and musicians to Pittsburgh, such as Jacob Ciocci, Kokoromi Collective, Kyle McDonald, Theodore Darst, TOKiMONSTA, Brenmar, LaTurbo Avedon, Sharon Needles, Wolf Eyes, !!!, Real Estate, Jimmy Edgar, Four Tet, and Sharon Needles. The art featured at VIA is versatile in medium, and has been displayed through various means. VIA showcases artwork through pop-up exhibitions next to stages, VJing, performance and lecture, and video game arcades. The art is just as important as the music, as it is displayed seamlessly alongside the performances.

VIA Arcade backpacks by Paolo Pedercini from the 2013 Festival. Festivalgoers could play retro video games on these backpacks that other people were wearing.

Some memorable performances include Extreme Animals’ performance in the 2012 Festival. Jacob Ciocci and David Wightman performed a few of their thrash-metal-synth songs in a pop-up venue in East Liberty, Pittsburgh. Their original videos, comprised of found footage from the 80’s and 90’s, were projected on top of them while they performed. They also had inflatable, pumpkin-colored snowmen on the stage with the phrases “Never 4Get” and “No Fear” painted on them. It was a lovely assault to the senses.

Extreme Animals’ performance in the 2011 Festival.

This year, VIA Festival will take place over two weeks starting from September 24 to October 4. Programming ranges from music showcases, film screenings, artist lectures, pop-up restaurants, and more. Venues this year include Hot Mass, Carnegie Mellon University, Cattivo, and Spirit. Speaking artists and musicians include MC Lyte, XXYYXX, Molly Soda, Cuntz, Morehshin Allahyari & Daniel Rourke – 3D Additivist Manifesto, Sheer Mag, Alfredo Salazar-Caro, Milton Melvin Croissant III, Gergo Kovacs, Angela Washko, Daryl Kamen, and more.