have cake/eat it: rob hayler on tusk festival 2017

November 4, 2017 at 11:34 am | Posted in midwich, musings, no audience underground | 2 Comments
Tags:

TUSK Festival 2017

[Note: for part one of this year’s TUSK story, in which I talk about the year past, how I blagged onto the bill, what I planned to do and what it meant to me, see here. This part is about the festival itself and begins on the morning of Friday 13th October. Also, I’d like to repeat the same provisos as last year. Firstly, I won’t be mentioning every act, not even all those I saw and enjoyed, as creating An Exhaustive List Of Everything That Happened is not my bag. Secondly, I won’t be mentioning everyone I spoke to because I don’t want to allocate some to this ‘highlights’ package and not others. Safe to say that every conversation I had with you lovely people I enjoyed very much. Finally, I’m not cluttering what follows with links, nor topping it with a cloud of tags – I’d suggest having the TUSK website open on another tab and hunting and pecking as appropriate. TUSK will fill the archives with videos of all performances in due course. If no credit is given then pictures are by me, apart from the last one.  OK, enuff – on with the show.]

FRIDAY

If I am not at least 10 minutes early then I feel late. Stir that perfectly rational compulsion into a gumbo of stress and excitement and it is no surprise that I was at Leeds railway station a full hour before the departure time for my train. I took the edge off by chatting to an amiable, middle-aged, Glaswegian rocker – all Chrissie Hynde bang and black and white spandex leggings. Her phone rang and the tone was the opening bars of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’. Beautiful. Once the train arrived, 40 minutes late due to ‘police attention at Sheffield’, I’d been sat there for longer than the journey would actually take.

But – ahh! – who doesn’t enjoy staring wistfully out of a train window listening to crystalline electronic music whilst pretending to be in a European art movie? Alas, this Kraftwerkian reverie was impossible. The carriage was packed, the seat cramped, the luggage rack a stack of cases as unviable as a jenga tower made of dog chews. Even a soundtrack of A480 by KARA-LIS COVERDALE couldn’t gloss the snores of the drunk bloke in front. Luckily the hotel was mere steps from the station and I was able to get there, check in and throw my stuff down in minutes. My dinky single room, with ensuite wet room and surprisingly large telly, was pleasantly functional, like a prison cell for hipsters. I imagine it’s like where you’d end up if you were convicted of burning down Scandinavian churches.

The reason I was in a hurry was that I wanted to get to Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead in time for the FESTIVAL IS SUDDEN performance at 3pm. I splashed into a cab (such rock and roll decadence!) and was there with mere minutes to spare. The show, organized by Giles Bailey and CIRCA projects (Dawn Bothwell, Adam Denton, Sam Watson – more on Dawn and Adam anon) was the opening event of their MY PART OF YOUR HOME exhibition and the de facto beginning of TUSK weekend. I’m afraid I clocked little of this compact, elegant gallery, or its contents, as I was too busy glad-handing and being overexcited beforehand, then too busy being engrossed by the ritual unfolding.

It was a very smart idea, perfectly executed: six artists, set up in different parts of the building, performed for ten minutes each. Dawn carried a cylindrical, portable speaker – emitting bird song – which she placed in front of the performer when their time was up, we then followed the chirping to the next station. Each segment seemed full, but not rushed, which was amazing as they included, for example, slowly evolving drone from CULVER (pictured) and two dance performances, one from BIANCA SCOUT framed within beautiful piano pieces and one from VICTORIA GUY in which she didn’t stop spinning even during a costume change. The experience as a whole was deeply satisfying and (this is not a bad thing) emotionally draining. After snatching brief ‘hellos’ with Dawn and some of the other stragglers/organisers I joined those ushered out into the sun so the gallery could close. I walked back through a bright, blustery afternoon, being nearly run over at every junction, burning my mouth on delicious fish and chips as I trotted in more or less the right direction. A knot I’d been carrying between my shoulder blades for who knows how long seemed to unravel. I found myself very, very happy.

Back at the hotel I had time to sort out my gear and despair at my useless packing. Given that I’d done nowt but think about TUSK for weeks how on earth had I managed to bring so few shirts and so much underwear? I mean DUNCAN HARRISON is a very beautiful young man but I wasn’t expecting to literally wet myself with excitement in his presence. Ach, no matter, time to stumble down the hill, across the swing bridge over the Tyne and up the other side to Sage.

I arrived to find DRONE ENSEMBLE in full flight on the concourse and, disgracefully, paid them absolutely no attention. Instead I wandered about saying ‘hello’ to people, shaking hands, babbling into ears – mainly those of long-suffering gentle giant Joe Murray, RFM editor and one of TUSK’s organisers, and Paul Margree formally of We Need No Swords, now plying his trade with RFM and anywhere else words meet noise…

…I even clapped at the end as if I’d been listening. What an arsehole, eh? Heh, heh. As I topped the stairs Duncan rushed past on his way backstage and I pressed a package into his hand. I shivered with pleasure as Joe helped me secure my Artist/Crew weekend wristband and, as it contained an introduction written by me, bagged three copies of the programme.

The evening’s entertainment in the prestige venue, Sage Hall 2, started with a right good kick up the arse. The expectant crowd were confronted with four – occupied – body bags and the performance began with a nightmarish sequence as the members of SWARM FRONT screamed, groaned, clawed and cut their way out. The remainder of the set was a theatre of cruelty: lines were intoned, sung, bellowed (“Get this into your thick fucking skull”, “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”) and melons bearing the faces of Gateshead councillors were violently despatched whilst a power-electronic soundtrack rearranged my viscera.

Looking for clues in the programme (“…here with the intention to weaponize the banality of liberal institutions…”) and talking to Dawn afterwards suggested this was a protest/curse focused on those responsible for the imminent closure of important, much loved Gateshead venue The Old Police House and/or the faux progressive credentials of the Sage itself (bit more on this later). Fucking strong start.

DUNCAN HARRISON prepped his gear as the stage crew mopped up blood and melon pulp (ha, c’mon, being able to write sentences like that is why I’m in this game). I was pleased to see the present I’d given him – a framed photo of John Cage (explanation unnecessary) – looking over his table full of noise-making detritus. His set was a lesson from a virtuoso on how to collage subtlety and humour with mallet-to-the-knackers noise. The opening section of real-time tape rec and scruffle was masterful, the glugly pop and repeat vocals charming and intimate and the hard noise – a bunch of tinnitus enhancing key chain alarms laid out like a Pueblo clown’s protecting chalk circle – suitably punishing. The audience, including me, was rapt, delighted.

There was just time for a little professional jealousy before THE TEA TOWELS rocked up. This duo of Gavin Montgomery and RFM staffer Luke Vollar, both ex of no-audience underground legends Castrato Attack Group, happened to be in the right ear at the right time when SHAREHOLDER pulled out so two tapes and no gigs into their ‘career’ here they are filling a prime Friday evening slot at TUSK! Bollocks to that – 18 bloody years, I (half) joked and I had to beg my way into a Saturday bloody lunchtime show in a glorified school assembly hall! Huh, showbiz is cruel, eh?

Anyway, my inner David Van Day was banished as soon as they started playing. I was hooked, grinning at the guileless lo-fi thump and groove. I wrote a long list of possible influences but pretty much anything can be poured into the rubber jelly mould these chancers were using as a template. I had Bongoleeros as the sponge fingers at the bottom, rising to Camberwell Now as the sprinkles on the top with the intervening trifle liberally laced with crushed co-codamol and dark rum. You might as well just grab a big spoon and enjoy it. They went down a treat.

At this point tiredness, over-excitement and anticipation of a full-on Saturday began to smear my focus. I understand VALERIO TRICOLI was a festival highlight for some, but for me ten minutes sufficed and the rest of his set provided a handy break for socialising outside before headliners UNITED BIBLE STUDIES.

(Top pic by Joincey, @joincey)

I’ve had an interest in UBS and affiliated label Deserted Village for years (check out Gavin Prior’s Always Summer Somewhere – one of my favourite albums of recent times) and was looking forward to being transported by these veterans of cosmic and free folk. The experience was sure to be enhanced too by the presence in the line-up of Sophie Cooper – genius musician, daring promoter, RFM alumni, all-round enthusiast and glorious credit to the species – on vocals and trombone. I have to admit to sniggering a bit at the ‘misty forest’ nature of the lyrics – never been able to take that seriously – but what I did see was presented with care, skill and passion. I’m sure if I’d been in a fitter, or perhaps more altered, state it would have been transcendent. As it was I had to admit that it wasn’t for me – or, more accurately, that I wasn’t for it – and slink away back to the hotel, feeling like a ghost as I picked my way unheeded through the chaos of chucking out time on the Newcastle side of the river.

SATURDAY

My artist info sheet requested my presence at the venue at 11am on Saturday morning so, of course, I was settled in Sage at 10. I sat at a window table on the concourse and distractedly tried to revise my notes. After about fifteen minutes of stress induced gastric tightening I risked lifting a cheek for what I hoped would be a discreet puff but instead I let rip with possibly the loudest fart of my entire life. Ricocheting off the plastic chair it reverberated around the vast atrium like the whole of yesterday’s DRONE ENSEMBLE set condensed into three wet seconds. I mention this event for two reasons. Firstly, it was well funny. I couldn’t help laughing, as did the bloke sitting three tables away from me. I was, after all, a stone’s throw from the birthplace of Viz comic. Secondly, it was one of those beautiful bodily sensations – like a hot shower after a day’s walk, like listening to Aqua Dentata, like eating a really good fish finger sandwich – that leaves you feeling absolutely content and in tune with the universe. Sure, I’d still be nervous but I knew the day ahead was going to be just fine.

At about ten thirty I trotted upstairs and over the next two hours I met the lovely Orchi and David the stage manager who were going to help me through the afternoon, had the great pleasure of shaking hands with ANDREW LILES, said hello to the ever-accommodating Joe who was to be my beautiful assistant during the show later, plugged in my midwich set up FOR THE LAST TIME…

(Pic by Duncan Harrison, @Young_Arms)

…and was bear-hugged by my old mucker Ben Young, university friend and Newcastle resident who had a day pass to hang out. I also chatted to Lee Etherington, TUSK head honcho, who was exhibiting his tidy knack of appearing at exactly the right moment to exude an air of relaxed confidence and say helpful and reassuring things. He is the Mr Benn’s shopkeeper of the avant-garde. I sloped out of ANDREW LILE’s satisfyingly chewy set at the halfway mark to meet up with my panellists and, all of a sudden, it was time for the WHAT HAPPENS UNDERGROUND discussion.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey)

We settled into our comfy chairs, toyed with the microphones we’d been given and I started proceedings by reading a round of introductions:

My name is Rob Hayler and I’ll be your host for this hour (Aside: yes, I did write down my own name – I can usually remember it, true, but I thought it best not to tempt fate in this high pressure situation). For the last 18 years I have performed and recorded as midwich and my LAST EVER SHOW using that name will follow this talk. I also founded the radio free midwich blog and coined the term ‘no-audience underground’ to describe the largely self-sufficient noise scene that some of us here are part of.

Next is Soo Fitz, or Susan Fitzpatrick as her Mam might insist. As well as performing as Joyce Whitchurch and as half of Acrid Lactations, Soo lectures in Geography and has written on such topics as the spatial politics of DIY gigs and the ways the term ‘community’ gets deployed and politicised in the context of urban mega events such as the European Capital of Culture. My RFM colleague Joe Murray described her as “one of the most frighteningly pure improvisers I’ve had the joy to watch.”

Hopefully everyone here will recognize Duncan Harrison from his gobsmacking performance in Sage 2 last night (Aside: I wrote that before Duncan’s performance, of course, but luckily he had smacked our gobs). Duncan is a skilled collagist in both visual and audio art and we love his work because as well as being properly thought through it never fails to be thoroughly entertaining. He’s no stranger to academia but is happy call out bollocks when he hears it and to get dirt under his fingernails with us no-audience scuzzbuckets.

…and here’s Dawn Bothwell. Dawn should be well known ’round these parts, not least for her performance in Hen Ogledd with Rhodri Davies and Richard Dawson at last year’s TUSK and for her other musical projects such as Pentecostal Party. She also curates for CIRCA Projects and The Northern Charter and those that visit The Shipley Art Gallery here in Gateshead during the festival can see the My Part Of Your Home exhibition that CIRCA Projects put together. Yesterday’s Festival is Sudden event there was a great kick start to this year’s TUSK too.

Finally, Adam Denton. A musician and researcher with a background in guitar noise and releases on many very smart labels, Adam plays solo as Swan Hunter, is half of the duo Trans/Human and has worked extensively with Nicole Vivien Watson of Surface Area Dance Theatre. Joe Murray’s one sentence account of his work runs as follows: “generally has a load of gear on the table and makes it all sound pretty gnarly.” (Aside: Adam groaned afterwards at how out of date this account of his activities was so I recommend interested parties get busy with Google to catch up.)

Interesting bunch, eh? I began by asking each panellist in turn for some ideas as to what it means to be ‘underground’ nowadays and we took it from there. As I have no notes or transcript it is safest to wait to hear what was said for yourself once it is available via the TUSK archive. I’ll just talk a bit about the experience and some thoughts that occurred to me as a result. Firstly, having a microphone and a large room full of people waiting to hear what you have to say isn’t entirely alien to me but I haven’t done it for years, nor have I ever had to do the cat-herding needed to keep a five-way, real-time discussion on track in front of an audience. I had, naively perhaps, imagined a light, celebratory hour during which we praised each other’s efforts, made recommendations, told d.i.y. stories and slapped a few sacred cows on the arse, and there was some of that, but there was also plenty of darker and more serious stuff about the appropriation of ‘culture’ and ‘community’, suspicions as to the motives and competence of funding bodies and concerns about the availability of venues and the overall future for d.i.y. art and music.

The topic that has stuck with me is the question of the availability of venues. What with the Old Police House being closed after TUSK weekend and the actions of Gateshead Council clearly causing anger and frustration – see Friday night’s SWARM FRONT performance for one righteously furious spin on it – this issue is currently an open wound. It seems to me that running a venue is not something I have given sufficient thought to in my, *ahem* ‘theorising’. As a promoter I follow the ‘Dan Thomas method’: work out what you can afford to lose on the event, plan accordingly, find ways of getting it done. As an artist I don’t think I’m owed a damn thing, not even by the very few people who give a monkey’s about my ‘work’. However, the lass from building regulations will not be satisfied with a vegan curry and taxi fare, nor can the electricity bill be settled with £20 from the door and a sofa to sleep on. This seems to be the place where all my punkish nobility and integrity gets bloodied by grim reality.

That said, there does always seem to be somewhere. In the decades I’ve been attending shows here in Leeds, for example, many venues have been and gone, or remain and go through phases of welcome or hostility depending on changes in management (The Adelphi – once a Tetley draymen’s pub and spiritual home of Termite Club is now a place where beardos nod approvingly at how reasonable ten quid is for a burger). One of the benefits of there not being many of us is that we don’t need a giant box to sit in. Adam suggested, in a despairing tone, that the future might be gigs in people’s houses but I think, well, yeah, on a temporary basis whilst we sort stuff out, why not? One of the finest shows I’ve seen in recent years was Ocelocelot in Kieran Piercy’s basement… We survive, like the rats we are.

But I digress…

At the end of the hour Sophie Cooper, sat out front, piped up with a glorious gush of love and enthusiasm for music, her friends and the scene and that gave me the opportunity to end on a high. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Soo, Duncan, Adam and Dawn for being game and joining me – I’m sure we could have gone on all afternoon once we’d got warmed up. It was a great thing to be part of and I’ve been pleased that reaction to the debate has been positive with many commenting that it provided food for thought.

One last thing: I promised Lee Stokoe that there would be some biting of the hands that feed us and, aside from swearing at The Guardian, I feel bad for wimping out on that. So, for the record: fuck The Guardian (again) for its sudden and pathetic ‘interest’ in the underground, that rag has become a disgrace to its legacy. Fuck The Wire for being an unreadable, soulless, joy vacuum. Fuck The Quietus for being even worse: a relic of an irrelevant critical empire, a black hole of boredom. Fuck Sage for being a ‘liberal arts’ funding-hoover whilst hosting UKIP and licking up corporate vomit in return for sponsorship money. Fuck the Arts Council for, whoo boy, where to even start with that hive of corruption, that shameful gibberish factory? And finally, fuck TUSK for… heh, heh – nah, TUSK is alright. Sand in the vaseline, innit?

Up next was midwich. Excuse me quoting myself from my previous post…

Anyone who has spoken to me before or after any midwich gig of recent years has heard me complaining about the growing unreliability of the Roland MC-303 Groovebox that has been (almost) my sole instrument since 1999. It’s a remarkable machine but it has been hammered to the point that getting what I want out of it involves an ungainly combo of cajoling and brute force. I have long spoken of a ‘final’ performance. This would be a ‘Greatest Hits package’ ending with the tearing up of the manual and the dismantling of the machine, handing out keys, pots and components to audience members as souvenirs. What more satisfyingly perverse way could there be to end a long term man/machine relationship than with a ritual disembowelment at a prestige venue?

…as this is pretty much what happened. I took my boots off, announced what was to occur and pressed play on a recording of seagulls over Chesil Beach.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey)

I was having my cake and eating it here – sounds of the sea are a ridiculous ‘ambient’ music cliché but, even so, it does still set the mood and it is a lovely piece. When I was ready I slowly faded up into a drone and started wigging out to the rhythms emerging from it. The sound was perfect (hey, it can always be louder), the vibe immersive, the lighting sympathetic, the room full. Much to my amusement I even had a smoke machine. I was very, very happy – in the moment – enjoying myself hugely.

(Pic by Joe Murray, @joeposset)

As an interlude I used Joe’s piece as posset from eye for detail, the charity fundraiser album of midwich remixes. ‘a moment of stillness’ is a selection of my writing for this blog, read by Joe then subjected to his dictaphonic jinking. From this I began a version of the title track from Inertia Crocodile – this throb, collapsing in on itself, was the pan sonic tribute part of the set and, I thought, a fitting last track to play live on this beautiful, soulful machine. It ended with a crescendo as I used both hands and my forehead to hold down every key – this was my ‘A Day in the Life’ moment – before the final hands off.

(Above Joincey, @joincey, below Joe, @joeposset)

OK, now the theatre. I pressed play on my little mp3 walkman again, this time the brunt, a favourite lengthy drone I was going to use as cover and – because I thought it would be funny – put on a white crime scene investigation overall that I’d lifted from a murder mystery themed works away day, comically struggling to get my right arm in. As Sophie wailed…

DON’T DO IT!

I flipped the box and got busy with the screwdriver. The screws were tiny, black and fixed into a black backplate so under the dim stage light and with wildly shaking hands it took a moment to get started. For the obvious reason, I couldn’t rehearse this so I was going off some half-remembered service-and-repair pictures I’d seen on the internet. I had planned a gentle and respectful demise – surgery not butchery – but, as I couldn’t find a couple of hidden screws, I resorted to force to yank out the ribbons and snap the circuitry. It felt… good, complicated. Whilst this was going on Joe distributed the torn pages of the manual in school assembly style (“Take one and pass them along please, I’m afraid you’ll have to share.”). I slipped a couple of bits – including the volume control, bane of our relationship – into my own pocket and lined up the rest of the pieces on the floor in front of the stage.

(Pic by Joe, @joeposset)

To everyone’s amusement, David the stage manager lit them with a swirly lighting effect. And that was that: 18 years of midwich, done. I faded out the soundtrack, took a bow, dug the applause and invited all comers to snatch a souvenir. It was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying moments of my involvement with music, with the ‘underground’, with all of this.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey, note Andy of TQ fanzine in the foreground making off with a massive chunk.)

Fortunately, no other act was following me in the hall so I had a few precious minutes to gather myself together and pack up with the house lights on. David Howcroft of No Audience Underground tapes (see review below) took the entire contents of the bin I’d dumped my CSI suit into so look out for some interestingly packaged tapes from him. I walked out feeling triumphant and shamelessly fished for compliments amongst those milling around on the balcony (although I did make sure and ask Mike Xazzaz if he liked it because I knew that surly bastard would be honest and say ‘no’ which, of course, he did. Heh, heh – I love him so much). When sufficient approbation had been collected I wandered back across the river to the hotel with my pal Ben. At this point I began to notice the blood and cuts all over my hands.

Ben and I met at university in Leeds in 1991 where we shared digs and both studied philosophy. I will be forever grateful that being around the insufferable bell-end that I was at the time (can you imagine me in my early twenties? I shudder at my former twattitude) didn’t put him off me for life and was delighted when we rekindled contact a few years back after he discovered this blog. Now a Newcastle resident and the father of a young lad himself we had arranged to cane Saturday together, albeit in a gentle, tired, middle-aged manner.

The original plan was to go to everything, including the afternoon show at The Old Police House to see LUSH WORKER, but once we sat down in a hipsterish pizza restaurant (it had a full size model of a horse, painted gold, looking out of the doorway – its arse in line with two pizza ovens inside) it was clear we weren’t going anywhere. Ben listened graciously to me babble on about what had just happened – I was beginning to feel a little shaky as the buzz subsided and was replaced with a diabetic hypo – then we caught up on life, parenthood, the world at large. Ben’s unimpeachable politics and the thoughtful, generous way he deals with the insanity surrounding us is an inspiration. His company was perfect.

Eventually we hauled ourselves out and back to Sage for an evening of socializing, showing off my workplace injuries and one damn musical highlight after another. Aside from greatly missing our Mexican cousin Miguel Perez whose appearance had made last year such an unforgettable event (I understand he watched the livestream of my set – bless you, comrade!) the 2017 line-up felt much stronger and more consistent throughout the weekend than that of 2016.

Take, for example, KINK GONG. Laurent Janneau – looking cool as fuck in this wonderful photo by Joe – presented a forty minute collage of chopped and layered field recordings, ebbing and flowing in a near-psychedelic audio approximation of culture shock, of travelling far outside your comfort zone. He also invited us to sit down and relax at the beginning of the set which was very polite. I welcomed the opportunity to stare at my shoes and concentrate entirely on the music though looking up revealed that rarest of exotic birds: a lap top artist who looked genuinely transported by what they were doing. He stared intently, smiled, closed his eyes, nodded to a favourite rhythm internal to the cacophony. It was a beautiful, charismatic performance.

(Pic by Paul Margree, @PaulMargree)

Following that was one of the highlights of the festival, one of those joyous ‘what the fuck?’ moments that are la spécialité de la maison chez TUSK. STARAYA DEREVNYA, a collective of Russian/Isreali anarchists, played in near-total darkness in order to shift our attention from their strange collection of instruments, some clearly home-made or adopted (a rocking chair?), to the work of the artist using iPad software (an app called Tagtool apparently) to create and animate a visual accompaniment projected onto the screen above. I later found out that the band had pre-planned beginning, middle and end points and the rest was improvised, albeit rehearsed in a very disciplined way for a week beforehand. The visual side was sometimes a prompt or spur for the music, sometimes an interpretation of or reaction to what was being played.

At the time, stood in the dark, I knew nothing of these logistics and was simply and absolutely rapt. It was psychedelic and truly dream-like in a way that so little art described as ‘surreal’ gets anywhere near. It was fluid and varied in tone but consistent in atmosphere and never felt unsure of itself. Their was something folkloric about the vibe – like listening to a recording of your great great grandmother telling stories about what lived in the woods on the outskirts of her village in the old country, slipping in and out of a forgotten dialect as she reached back for the details. Ben and I chatted to the lovely Gosha, STARAYA DEREVNYA’s head honcho (for want of a better description), afterwards and he was humble and gracious as we gushed with praise.

(Pic by Paul Margree, @PaulMargree)

Decades of involvement with noise have left me cynical and suspicious of costumes (likewise mess. As a former promoter I rarely enjoy it – this weekend’s melon pulp excepted, of course – as my first thought is ‘oh great, someone is missing the last bus to clean up that crap.’). There seems to be a zero sum relationship between the elaborateness of the set-up and the generic averageness of the actual music: ‘oh great, Mr. Blobby has heard a Merzbow CD’. With that in mind I stood at the back near the stairs for HANS GRUSEL’S KRANKENKABINET but I needn’t have worried – it was ace.

Their squalling racket had an exuberant bounce to it, the rubbery al dente texture of a highly processed, alarmingly coloured food stuff, allegedly of ‘natural’ origin but about eight times removed by the laboratories of food science. The outfits – they were basically dressed as a gingerbread village – suggested the same folkloric setting as the tales interpreted by STARAYA DEREVNYA but this time described by a four year old after binging on cheese strings.

Finally then, Saturday was topped by BRAINBOMBS. At this point I was grey with tiredness and all set to split but the most un-TUSK-like behaviour of the crowd spiked me with something I remembered from my teenage years as a skate punk. There were a lot of people, mainly serious looking dudes in black t-shirts, intent on getting to the front. This was clearly a much anticipated event and when they started playing people moshed, shook fists and (unique in my experience of TUSK) threw a drink at the band. Blimey! This last led to the frontman making a twat of himself by walking off for a comically short time. Aside from the trumpet player looking a little nervous the rest of the band didn’t even stop playing. They were loud, heavy and fortunately the lyrics were inaudible but I’d had enough after three songs.

Walking through Newcastle at that time on a Saturday night proved pretty spicy. Nowt worrying – the only threatening behaviour I saw was one bloke challenging two coppers who were hassling a homeless guy. Good for him, I thought, as I scuttled past – it’s just that I’ve never seen a crowd so pissed. Everyone seemed distressingly young too. It was like walking through a Little Mix video but with all the participants drunk to the point of being unable to stand.  And screeching.

Back at the hotel I bathed my stinging hands, retired to bed and stared at nothing until well into the early hours, unable to sleep, processing the day.

SUNDAY

Sunday I woke early and raw – head thumping, hands aching – but in a buoyant mood. Needing air, I headed to the railway station shops for supplies, skipping merrily over the broken glass, discarded chips and pools of vomit that were already being swept up and washed away by weary looking council guys in a fleet of Scarab street cleaners.

I’d arranged to meet Ben again, this time with his partner Kadie and two-year old son Wynn, so was soon weaving my way through Quayside Market (clocking all the hipster-bait street food stalls with an eye out for my future lunch) and parking my arse on a railing. It was another glorious, blustery day and as I sat waiting I enjoyed the view and the satisfying whirr and clatter of bikes crossing the river using Millennium Bridge. We adjourned to Sage to indulge in more politics/parenthood chat over expensive flapjack before exchanging farewells. I had to hurry to get to Workplace Gallery in time for CLUB PONDEROSA LIVE at midday.

As I stood at a pedestrian crossing, mentally absent, my reverie was punctured by a fellow Tusker, later introduced as Emma, telling me that she’d enjoyed my set of yesterday. I considered this an inspired opening to a conversation and was instantly impressed by her taste and credibility. Indeed, my step got springier as I realised this event might have attendees that I hadn’t already milked for praise. On our arrival it appeared that things were running late, presumably due to the presence of jazz musicians, so pockets of support hung around outside chatting bollocks and wishing each other ‘good morning’. You must have noticed that the first event of a festival day is always considered the ‘morning’ whenever it occurs.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey)

Following herd instinct, there came a point when we knew it was time to crowd in and succumb to the all-enveloping embrace of BRB>CULVER. Kev (Wilkinson, crouched) and Lee (Stokoe, hunched) brought forth a roar of such depth and profundity that I don’t hesitate to use the word ‘perfect’.  This kind of thing is a shortcut to nirvana for me – time and desire are obliterated, I want nothing but to be here now experiencing this noise.  It is primal, without scale, yet full of detail – like the sea pulling a beach down the coast one wave at a time, every pulse dragging uncountable pebbles over each other.  That the pair magicked this into being with such (seeming) nonchalance was too much for me.  I lost my shit.

(Aside: coincidental accompaniment for the performance was a projected slideshow of photographs taken by JOINCEY, which were being shown as part of the TUSK/Workplace Gallery CLUB PONDEROSA exhibition.  JOINCEY’s beat is the beshitted pavements of crap town Britain and his deadpan documentation of the depressingly ridiculous, the comically underwhelming and the occasional, surprising moment of beauty or symmetry is brilliant.)

As nothing was going to follow that (with apologies to ARCHIPELAGO, who did) I let me stomach lead me back to the market, scored some sort of authentically Spanish/Geordie chicken wrap and warmed another of Newcastle’s fine railings with my backside.  Forgetting the film programme and enjoying the clement weather I decided to wander the city centre for a couple of hours.  I was looking at Batman outfits in Primark when I realised that it was time to return to the art.

At 5pm two of Saturday’s favourites got together for a collaboration in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall.  Playing again in darkness, and again accompanying / accompanied by live animated painting, STARAYA DEREVNYA and HANS GRUSEL’S KRANKENKABINET (this time without costumes) pooled resources to return us to a dream of staircases in the forest.  I can’t tell you much about it for the same reason I can only guess at what was passing through my mind as I fell asleep last night.  However, beforehand people sat behind me were discussing William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland and this performance was a glove-like fit for the hypnagogic experience of losing yourself in that surreal masterpiece.  It was great – we stumbled out onto the balcony discombobulated, refreshed.

During KARA-LIS COVERDALE’s skittish and distracting (in a good way) set I found myself getting increasingly skittish and distracted (in a bad way) as I couldn’t find my wallet.  After checking every pocket in my clothing and every flap and cranny of my bag ten times during an extended self-fondle I resigned myself to an unwelcome walk back to the hotel.  It was there, of course, where I’d left it – an indication of how blown my mind was by this point of the weekend.  I arrived back at Sage in time to be ushered out again due to a fire alarm.  I would have really enjoyed a bellowing siren bouncing around that atrium but all we got was:

mahwahbwahmawahbawahanaamahwah

…only quieter and less distinct, which was either some early-NWW sub-vocalising or a safety announcement made through an inadequate PA.

(Pic by Paul Margree, @PaulMargree)

Anyway, fuck all that shit because next for me was KLEIN.  She had a microphone, two metal lecterns – one for a laptop and a mixer on the other – and played with beer can in hand, parka hood (mostly) up.  The set was a rush of disorientating cross chatter, of glistening bubbles and of high velocity, jolting noise.  If KINK GONG had summoned the nature of travel, KLEIN held up a punched mirror to contemporary existence right where we stood.  It was arresting, beautiful, hilariously deadpan, unfathomable.  I grinned, helpless.  During one section – a shining glass pyramid built from shards of techno pop – I felt myself welling up:

THIS IS THE FUTURE!

…I thought.

Afterwards I was buzzing, hyped, gobsmacked, hovering two inches above the floor and all conversations descended immediately into teenage hyperbole:

Me: HOLY SHIT, DID YOU SEE THAT? IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER!

Hapless Tusker: Yeah, it was pretty g…

Me [interrupting]; NO!! YOU HAVE TWO OPTIONS: THINKING IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER OR BEING WRONG!!!

Heh, heh <deep breath>…

OK, whilst putting this piece together, I’ve been torn as to whether to talk about KLEIN being a young, black woman and, if so, what to say.  But I think I have to.  Reading reviews of her recent EP for Hyperdub on sites such as Resident Advisor, her being young and black is not discussed, or even much remarked on, because in a dance music context being young and black is unremarkable.  Unfortunately, in the context of experimental music, especially ‘noise’, it is still unusual.  Looking around at the audience to make sure everyone was appropriately delighted, it occurred to me that KLEIN might be one of only a handful of young, black women in the building, possibly the only one.

Back when dominant trends in noise included leather-coated idiots screaming on about serial killers and race hate the absence of BME voices was entirely understandable – I didn’t really want to be part of it myself – but now, as that side of things has waned, or that anger refigured in more politically and artistically interesting directions, the lack of diversity is more puzzling and shaming.  I think that ‘we’ are a welcoming, open minded crowd with positive, progressive politics but then I would say that wouldn’t I?  I’m white, male, middle-aged, middle-class (more or less) and cis-gendered – and it is probably base assumptions still held by even well-meaning libtard snowflakes like me that are the problem.

For example, one of the most thrilling things about KLEIN’s set had been wondering where the hell it had come from.  I’m not usually fussed about biography but I couldn’t help wondering what influences and experiences led to her expressing herself in this manner.  I began thinking in dad-who-listens-to-1Xtra-when-he’s-washing-up clichés: R’n’B, YouTube, minicabs, pirate radio (showing my age there – is that even still a thing?) because it couldn’t be ‘the canon’ could it?  Then I took a step back and was embarrassed – I don’t know a thing about KLEIN (her hilarious, deflecting blog is no help with ‘facts’ either).  She could spend her evenings discussing plunderphonics and listening to Throbbing Gristle bootlegs, who knows?  Not me.  Sexism and gender bias is in there to.  In the programme notes I described KLEIN’s music as:

…cut-up soul futurism – all silk and pinking shears…

I meant to convey, in a quick and entertaining way, the idea that her smooth source material is chopped into jagged pieces then layered and rearranged by whatever processes she uses to compose.  So why did I use an analogy to dressmaking?  Fucking hell, I’ve got some thinking to do.  Would I have been so stoked had the same set been performed by a middle-aged white guy?  Probably not – I think the music was objectively exhilarating but I’m certain that it was given an edge by the feeling that I was witnessing something new and forward looking.  Mulling it over afterwards, that edge has only been sharpened.  I’m going to use it to cut away some of my mental flab.

By now I was pretty much delirious and sprawled out downstairs with Joe and friends wondering where the energy for the rest of the evening would come from.  Luckily, at that exact moment Joe received a message via the TUSK politburo whispa-ma-phone alerting him to a pizza delivery for the crew.  Using his magic lanyard, he whisked us backstage where we shamelessly stole food from the lovely staff and volunteers who had spent all weekend helping us.  For some reason this moment of naughtiness has stuck with me – a funny little irreverent highlight.  The sustenance was very welcome too.

I surfed the carbs and fat rush to the final set of the festival…

(Above pic by Mike Winship, @MikeWinship, below pic by Kevin Geraghty-Shewan, @deadheaduk)

So, at 11.30pm on a Sunday night in Gateshead I stood at the lip of the stage (no unseemly Brainbombs-style moshpit today) and watched NURSE WITH WOUND. There’s James Worse, dada prophet reciting his own twisted psalms and incantations. I feared the theatricality of his performance might prove hammy but, ach fuck it, his physical gusto – and terrific facial hair – won me over. There’s Andrew Liles, exuding confidence and adding some rock and roll swagger. I don’t know if the stance is ironic – his Bandcamp picture suggests it is – but he is charismatic enough to pull it off in any direction. There’s Colin Potter, co-responsible for Salt Marie Celeste, one of the most-listened-to-albums of my adult life. He looks as jittery as he did when performing a wonderful solo set at a disastrous, poorly attended Termite Club festival years ago (yeah, sorry about that Colin). His frantic concern that everything is working just so, even under huge swathes of clamour, is as charismatic in its way as Andrew Lile’s nonchalance. Finally, there’s Steven Stapleton, the main man, an unassuming presence on the left quietly getting on with his part in the racket whilst a slideshow of his collages is projected above.

I’ve already written about what this act means to me here so I’ll leave that largely to one side. The set itself was a swirling ball of poached noise coloured blood red, concrete grey and the iridescent green of graveyard moss by psych/dada elements. One particularly satisfying all-in tethered crescendo was a highlight. I dug it, it left me satiated. The applause at the end had that multi-faceted meaning it always does when you are in the same room as your heroes, as living legends: relief that they didn’t disappoint (c’mon, you know that is always a worry), congratulations on the actual set and, most importantly, thanks for the decades of work that led to this point.

We also clapped for TUSK – a fitting end to a terrific, beautiful, exhausting weekend. Thank you so much to all that made it happen.

CODA

Despite being a Monday there was a much more cheerful vibe on the train home: better seat, secure luggage and good eavesdropping:

Did you open your presents this morning?

Didn’t get any.

WHAAAT?! NOT EVEN A TUB OF HEROES?!!

Heh, heh.  Once everyone settled down I put Tuluum Shimmering’s Linus and Lucy on my mp3 player, a glorious 75 minute kraut/psych groove on the Peanuts theme tune, and stared backwards at everything that had just happened.  Finally it seemed time to give some serious thought to the question I’d been asked over and over again since Saturday afternoon:

What next?

—ooOoo—

TUSK Festival

2 Comments »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. Gigs in peoples houses is an interesting one, I was down Mabgate Mills last week and the diggers are ominously close to the venues in that area

    • Cheers for commenting Stephen. There’s a new (to me) venue called Chunk on Meanwood Road (used to be 309 rehearsal studio) which I’ll check out soon – could probably walk there in half an hour from my house – and Wharf Chambers is going strong but, yeah, grim to see any potential space under threat. House parties/gigs are something that happened a fair amount in my long-haired youth and were always enjoyable (well, probably not for the neighbours). Volume/hours have to be restricted but necessity breeds invention… Rob x


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: