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Other Worlds Festival
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OTHER WORLDS FESTIVAL
Blackpool
April 9-12, 2015

Review by d foist

Other Worlds Festival

Blackpool,
April 9-12, 2015

Review by d foist

Photos by Natalie Webster

otherworldsfestival

In the run-up to the forthcoming Headpress noise book, I took in another festival. Blackpool's many experimental musicians rarely play locally and when they do it is often in front of severely limited audiences. This was something else entirely: Other Worlds has been brought about via funding from the Arts Council's Blackpool and Wyre area LeftCoast project and was curated by the local Must Die label. It took place over several venues, presenting sound art events in galleries and public buildings but also providing three well thought-out concerts.

The festival kicked off on Thursday evening with a genial talk from renowned sound recordist and ex-Cabaret Voltaire member Chris Watson, delivering excerpts from one of his gallery pieces to the sold out, artsy audience via a quadrophonic set-up. These peaked on a ravishingly industrial-sounding rhythmic clangathon from the tunnels underneath Sheffield. He mentioned the advent of BBC surround-sound radio and the importance of microphone “perspective” and gave away humorous secrets about how he lucratively creates sounds for computer games. Afterwards, there was the opening of a tiny art show at Abingdon Street Studios, where we could cheese-grate records, punch holes in flexidiscs and look at tapes filled with daft substances. I'd rather have played them, but any such work is to be cherished on a Thursday night in Blackpool.

Friday's gig opened with some pleasant drone from Preston's Third City before recent convert to northern life Isnaj Dui delivered a set which should be headline material. Her quiet, contemplative blend of flute, loops and all-sorts else was well-received but perhaps unfairly lost under the weight of the vocalists who followed. First among these was the divine Herb Diamante, who was more effective stood in a corner of a North Shore working men's club last year with the locals scratching their heads, although the torch songs about aubergines and wasps in jam jars raised a smile again. Ichi had the crowd in the palm of his hand, arriving onstage on stilts, singing cracked pop songs with long Japanese vowels and accompanying himself with delightful steel pan and home-made instruments: wilfully quirky but undeniably engaging. Thomas Truax closed the night: the hard-working American is also known for his steampunk-style home-made instruments, but didn't employ them as engagingly as Ichi. The highlight involved him taking his resonator guitar not only offstage, through the hefty crowd and out of the front door but all the way round the block and back in through the stage door, much to the confusion of everyone. He probably shouldn't have attempted to take on Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put A Spell On You, but it all went over very well.

Devi/Devas

 

Saturday started early with local circuit regulars the Drop-Out Wives. As a Must Die act, they were bound to crop up, despite not fitting with the festival's intended angle. Their 'slopabilly' was wasted in front of the still-gathering crowd, the band playing entertainingly like they had just woken up. I missed Devi/Devas, although evidence suggests that flesh was on display (a theme for the day), and returned half-way through Leeds-based Arma Agharta's set. He leapt around behind a table in the middle of the room, attacking his equipment and letting the noise run free. I had to leave again halfway through Rough Fields, whose collage of atmospheric locally-sourced field recordings was low-key but shaping up nicely, fierce knob-twiddling at work. Then followed the Ceramic Hobs, more local Must Die recording artists whose turbulent cerebral psychedelic punk sounded as fine as ever.

Image sly and the family drone

Sly & the Family Drone

 

Next came the inappropriately-named Sly & the Family Drone. They set up in the centre of the room, surrounding themselves with a huge amount of (often seemingly redundant or at best unnecessary) gear. Their long set won over most of the now sizeable crowd, Saturday being sold out (although by no means everyone seemed to have turned up). This attendee, however, was left cold. The group offered up a noise rock update of a drum circle, with some of the layers one would expect missing in favour of ever more drums, forever rhythmically slipping away from them. They employed 'enforced fun' tactics such as insisting that people came in close and joined in on percussion, which dissipated rather than intensified things. There was more unfortunate nakedness and perhaps some attempt at cosmic transcendence, which battle had been lost as soon as they named themselves. The highlight for me was some cutting in and out of noise sound sources that reminded me of flashcore, the rhythm playing out on an ever-changing channel of sound instead of on beats or bass notes. Their drumcentric set was followed by one concentrating on multiple bass guitars from Evil Blizzard. It was the second time I had seen this Preston-based group, who have been garnering enviable support slots recently. Despite having a similar volume to other acts on the bill, they were out of place, essentially just a big-sounding rock band. Still, the long, slow, doomy numbers filled the air with malevolence and while the masks are less unnerving as time goes by, they retain some creepazoid value.

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Evil Blizzard

 

Manchester's Gnod are noted for varying their sound and membership: on this occasion we got a five-piece and the Hawkwind comparisons were here manifested more in Sonic Attack-style neurotic vocals than psych jams. There was a political bent and while some of the audience overplayed how loud it was, they were certainly made forceful and given an interesting texture by their soundman, Raikes Parade. The tension was amusingly off-set by their wonderfully sozzled saxman, who fell about struggling to get the instrument in his mouth or over the mic. The night ended with Bass Clef, who has carved out a niche delivering his take on dance music to crowds that aren't perhaps often found in the clubs. I've previously seen him play straight-ahead but inventive dubstep, adding trombone and live percussion. Nowadays, he has pointed himself towards house and techno, with a warehousey vibe. He earns his fee, fingers never stopping, continuously adjusting and adding to the sound. If there was one criticism of his beautifully clear and crisp set, he was so restless in his inventiveness that he rarely let the groove settle. The slightly thinned late night crowd were dancing, but with a little more repetition they might have been really dancing.

Sunday was quieter, both in terms of the music and crowd numbers. Things started with a film about and live set from Must Die solo guitarist Bad Suburban Nightmare, whose CDs are starkly beautiful, showing off his lonesome epics in perfect clarity. The film looked at how music has helped him through a period of ill health to find “some kind of home again”, a not unfamiliar story but an affecting one. Many may have struggled to make sense of it though, as the interview sections were often mangled by technology or difficult to hear over the background music. Part of the story is BSN's nervousness about playing live but the most crushing of such performances could have been illustrated in briefer segments, the inclusion of the whole making the film long and difficult going. This also meant that the actual (also long) live performance that followed (during which he happily appeared more comfortable) turned the slot into an epic of gruelling proportions.

Jon Sterckx followed with his easy-going, bouncy hippy electronica, looping live all manner of percussion from around the world. Everything seemed to fit perfectly into place and yet leave room for improvisation. He is a regular on the festival circuit, where one expects he inspires more dancing than on this engagement. Chris Rainier then delivered the first in a series of very quiet performances (I missed Jez Riley French and Lee Patterson). Rainier works on a lap steel with extended technique, lovely little figures of tunes occasionally sliding out among the microcopic scrapings and creakings. These guys must be virtuoso before they attempt such toying with their chosen instruments, but part of me says that one as mellifluous as steel guitar is probably best heard weeping out some straightforward melodies. It was, however, advantageous for such a quiet performance to be captured in such a hushed, considerate environment. Finally, I rushed back from another engagement to catch the end of Death Shanties (Alex Neilson and Sybren Renema). Set up in the middle of the room again, the drums and sax duo were relaxed among a depleted audience, presenting a stop-start selection of free jazz, a 'modern folk' song from drummer Neilson, some goofing off and a sax serenade from Titanic. It was a strange combination, but the jazz pieces were of a high standard, the pair working fiercely and creatively together.

Some aspects of the festival could be tightened up but it was a highly effective first edition, proving that you can bring interesting and diverse music and decent audiences to a provincial town with relatively modest financial backing.

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other worlds  , d foist  , ceremaic hobs  , book of noise  ,
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