Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Friday night, 11th November, 2011...

I got down to this new main venue for the first evening of 'Colour out of Space,' The Old Market, picked up my ticket and wristband, checked the schedules, had a drink in the bar and realised that: a) I don't really like Peroni and b) I would probably spend more time between acts in the Conqueror just round the corner, a great old-school boozer with a friendly welcome, which I had scoped out on psychogeographic reconnaissance the previous evening.  (Butcombe bitter, yum. Double Jack D – cheap. More yum).

The venue itself, a converted market hall, is high-ceilinged, a larg-ish space with a few chairs scattered which geriatrics/the knackered like myself would eagerly pounce on over the next few days. A bit like that kid's game, except you grab a seat when the music starts... The running order looked as tight as ever with quick turnarounds – everything was going to happen in the one space but rotating from the main stage to a small stage situated near the back, to the side, plus various performances that would take place out in the open, as it were. Gave a bazaar-like quality to the listening experience, wandering round from each set. Tonight this would not be too much of a problem – good crowd but not too oppressive.

First up: the Eisteddfod kicked off with Tobias Kirsten and John Lunds, a sax/drum duo from Copenhagen. Short repeated phrases on baritone sax, hammered out in tandem with the crashing drums. Free jazz meets Steve Reich, if that makes sense – improvised but hurled into repeating patterns that subtly shift, driven along by relentless drums. Lunds switches saxes, moving up to tenor, the lines get longer, freer. An exhilarating start...

Next, Infinite Gaah, Tom Roberts, a Northampton denizen transplanted to Brighton. I missed most of this short segment and came in to see the small side stage surrounded. Didn't have much idea what was going on – seemed like a good time as the crowd were enjoying it. And there was a lot of fun over the three days – Colour out of Space has always provides a large variety of musics but is never too po-faced, unlike, say, Freedom of the City, which has become somewhat, shall we say, ponderous. The young crowd help – this is not a congregation of old gits like myself, sat around scratching their beards in solemn witness, thank fuck. (Although I wasn't the oldest here).

Anthony Donovan and Clive Graham followed, on the main stage. I managed to get a good spot down front, stage left – not that position mattered much in this hall as the sound was superb throughout.  Duo  electronics, sat at the table looking quite serious, they produced an orchestral, busy movement that did not falter. Which is the test of all these improvising artists/bands – to fill the time without noodling and to hold the audience. I know Anthony's work from other areas but this was very impressive. They fitted together well, not getting in each other's way.

Back to the bear pit – getting crowded now. I hovered on the edge of the crowd, got a few glimpses of Aki Onda in action, who has a wonderful sense of the theatric/visual to frame his music. Which comes from manipulating cassette tapes. With minimal resources he produced amazing sounds, warm and organic, etched with harsher sounds further in. Starting in pastoral mode, a cuckoo calling, a bell sounding, tapes looped and crossed. Very calm, meditative, the ritualistic feeling extended when he proceeded to walk round the edge of the crowd, some sitting, some standing, all in rapt attention, a small amplifier with Walkman attached, gently swinging like a censer, wafting sound. Ok, fanciful – but there seemed a spiritual aspect somewhere. Bringing in drones now and sharper fragments of song, things shifted into an edgier area. Nearing the end, he suddenly grabbed hold of a lightbulb which hung down from the ceiling on a wire and swung it in a long looping arc just over the heads of the assembled, some ducking instinctively as it described its swirling movements. Wonder what Elf and Safety would have said. The light spun round giving an eery finish to a superb performance. In a weekend when it was difficult to pick favourites – this came near.

Couple of short observations:

Wreck and Drool and Smack Music 7 – three piece ensemble. In my notebook I scrawled 'Brilliant! A BAND!' Vocalised sounds sprung across electronic movements, the whole being loose in its expansive possibilities and yet tight because of the artists' concentrations.

Lichen starts walking round playing his sax, moving over to electronics and loops that produce LOUD throbbing music. Punchy.

The last act I caught ( I didn't stay right to the end) was a brilliant flourish: Crank Sturgeon and 
id m theftable. A duo who truly tests one's abilities to describe them. Vaudeville on acid? was one scrawled note. They were extremely funny while producing a continuous barrage of intelligent sound, showcased by their intensely wacky visual éclat and their ability to engage the audience – such as crazed, bemused chants repeated over and over by id, echoed back by the crowd in wild call and response mode as Crank used thick cellotape with a contact mike attached to produce a battery of sounds as he ran backwards and forwards across the stage, securing the tape to either side, producing several rows, on which he hung himself at one point, arms akimbo in an almost parody of the Crucifixion. Jesus on a washing line... Later, producing a number of cut-out phalluses which were attached – cocks pegged out in a row. Some smutty interplay with these of course. Bizarre – and hilarious.
Loud, raucous, rude. Loved it. Some weird area where performance art crashes into standup comedy, noise and home made electronics (Crank had a merch stall throughout and was flogging his own custom built contact mikes. Nearly bought one but I've a drawer full already and a boy's gotta economise.  But check out his web page - they look really good).  Crank is a whispy bearded thin prankster, id, big, burly full-bearded with an air of outraged bewilderment at the world.  The chemistry between them is superb.  Of course, I share religious beliefs with Crank – also being an ordained minister. (Available for weddings etc). A side thought: American acts, in the main, always seem to make an effort to engage. A big difference usually between them and the Europeans...

I was tired, run out of steam, left for a brief one in the Conqueror and walked back down the sea-front, which left me even more tired when I got to the hotel! Further than I had figured... 

But a great opening night.

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