There may still be tickets left for the “glut of experimental and cross-genre artists” descending on Bristol this weekend for the two-day, twenty-band Wakizashi music festival.
The shared brainchild of two Bristolian gig engines – PROBO Titans (who incubate and deliver bi-monthly rock, pop and experimental gigs) and Harry “Iceman” Furniss (restless jazz cornetter and leading fringeman within the Avon jazz underground), Wakizashi offers an exciting, intimate and intelligent spill of psychedelia, noise, post-punk, math rock, jazz strains, electronica and much more.
PROBO Titans & Harry Iceman Furniss present:
– Get The Blessing + Hysterical Injury + Twin + Iyabe + Iceman Furniss Quartet + Human Bones + Charivari + Luui + Saltings (Saturday)
– Knifeworld + Edward Penfold + Evil Usses + Milon + Halftone + Drone Soul + Rafael Dornelles Trio + Uther Modes + Perverts (Sunday)
The Old Malt House, Little Ann Street, Bristol, BS2 9EB, England
Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd October 2016 – starts 1.00pm, Saturday – information here and here
Harry Furniss makes the most of his own involvement by appearing with his Iceman Furniss Quartet. His flowing cornet leads punk-art jazz moves over dogged springy bass rhythms and shuddering No Wave electric-curtain guitar (care of Danny Le Guilcher from Dynamite Pussy Club, whose other career as a printmaker seems to have literally rubbed off on his playing).
Further jazz directions are provided by Saturday’s headliners Get The Blessing (founded sixteen years ago over a mutual appreciation of Ornette Coleman,) provide rumbling, doomy trip-hop-tinged jazz-rock. They boast a rhythm section of art-rock/trip-hop/drum & bass go-to-men Clive Deamer and Jim Barr (who between them have kept the pulse going for Portishead, Radiohead, Hawkwind, Peter Gabriel and Roni Size) plus saxophonist Jake McMurchie (of Michelson Morley) and trumpeter Pete Judge (Eyebrow and Three Cane Whale), with another Portisheader, Adrian Utley, sometimes guesting on guitar. Their music brings along some of the flash and flair of jazz pioneers, but also the sense of being trapped in a small room with a lumbering, powerful inscrutable beast – with an equal chance of being either impressed or squashed.
Post-punk bass/drums/voice duo Hysterical Injury have a toe in the improv scene and a touch of folk. Their recent press tagging as some kind of “better version of Savages” belies the hovering thoughtfulness and the gentle dignity in their music beyond the softly roiling industrial bass textures. Singing bassist Annie Gardiner has a way with the writing and delivery of a surreal, conceptually suggestive lyric which baffles and entrances.
There’s something similarly compelling about the voice of Sophie Dawes, who sings for Iyabe further down the bill. As it was with missing-in-action Delicate AWOL singer Caroline Ross, Annie and Sophie’s voices and words are clear, weightless and elusive – keeping you listening while you try to figure out the messages and hidden narratives floating past in slow streams of isolated moment and fleeting detail.
Regarding Iyabe – considering that they’re a five-piece, they sound remarkably skeletal. Soft pings, drum clicks, bass shadows. At their most expansive, they’re a pencil-sketch ghost of Seefeel’s dub-rock dreaminess: other tracks are a hypnotic rain-drip of slowly growing consciousness. Recent moves towards alliances with remixers, further fleshing out the band’s sound, may point the way forward: but, as with Hysterical Injury, there’s already plenty in place.
Two more of Saturday’s bands provide further dispatches from rock’s dissolving, dreamier side. The mystery brainchild of Christelle Atenstaedt, Twin’s drawn-out one-woman Gothpop offers a wealth of detail in its hypnotic overlaid folk drones and its reverberant, tangled-roots guitar chug, which seems to reference both Cranes and Sandy Denny. With electric cello adding occasional extra texture to a droning, crashing armoury of blood-stained guitar fuzz, Bath-based post-rockers Charivari have a sombre lysergic depth; plus a repertoire of zurna-like Mediterranean melodies to add to their gloaming-murmurs, their evenstar twinkles and their post-Mogwai cascades of noise.
Begun as a solo project by Andrew Cooke (inspired by ancient ghost stories and the concept of the English eerie), Saltings has evolved into a three-piece drone collective. Andrew (plus string players Liz Muir and Caitlin Callahan) gradually unveil an occult soundtrack full of marine and maritime references, maybe as much inspired by Andrew’s origins in the port of Dublin as by the current trio’s Bristol harbouring. Sampler-moulded sounds (noise-grates, hull-knocks, whistles, water-throbs and motors) are enfolded with double bass and cello parts – whispered, minimal elegies for the undetermined; or baleful shadings; or queasy, discombobulated, John Adams-styled loops both shaken and slurred.
The sole hip hop representative on the bill, Luui, rolls out complex, constantly unfolding raps over seductively silky, time-flexed instrumental samples: slurred, narcotic Rhodes piano doodles, bits of glowing solo jazz guitar smeared into something blunted and sinister. Arced out in short, enveloping doses – most of his tracks are over and done in a couple of minutes – it’s both intimate and claustrophobic: a growing autumnal darkness, a slowly moiling confusion.
As Luui harmonises with himself (in subtle dischords), his flow folds over and over onto itself like piling lava, journeying from memories of childhood cheeriness into an increasing broody adult disaffection, shot with regrets, spiked with quick vicious jabs of obscenities and flashes of temper. As with the best, most unsettling confessional rap, you get a crooked window onto Luui’s unresolved world, see him wrestle with his conscience and his instincts and, though you see a little too much of him for comfort, for a while you’re matching breath with him too.
Initially known for upbeat Lou Reed drawls larded with guitar fuzz, Human Bones now seem to be moving towards a languorous cardboard-box take on Americana. Multi-instrumental looper Steve Strong, meanwhile, has set himself up as a one-man trip hop/math rock band, in which much of the emphasis seeming to be on the drum rhythm. See below for his Godspeedian live take on a grim, violent found story of road anarchy, in which his hopeful, orderly and dreamy guitar introduction gives way (under the growing brutality of the tale on tape) to the controlled heat of a drum beat through which he seems to be trying to slough off the increasing horror.
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It’s an odd festival indeed in which Knifeworld (Sunday’s headliners) are virtually the straightest act on the bill. That this is the case says plenty about Wakizashi, but it also says something about where Knifeworld are at the moment. Currently cruising on self-created, sunny psychedelic uplands, the London octet are enjoying a period of relative bliss and (for now) a more familial creative approach, as Kavus Torabi starts to share more of the writing with the crew of expert instrumental heads who make up his band. But if Knifeworld are the closest that the festival comes to pop, it’s still a zestfully spiked pop – brazen and crenellated, filled with monkey panache, their tunes still running exuberantly out of the ears with loopy spirals of melody and unexpected double-backs. If Henry Cow had woken up one morning and decided to steal a march on The Flaming Lips, they couldn’t have done much better than this.
More lysergic hints string through the day via the sleepy, lo-fi acidic pop of Edward Penfold, whose songs and instrumentals halo the everyday with a softly vibrating warmth. Sometimes they hint at a might-have-been Syd Barrett; one who ducked the madness and fled away to a healing West Coast hideaway, sending missives back to Cambridge in a rested, sprawling hand; faint blue ink on pale blue paper. On the other side of the coin are The Evil Usses – a deconstructive, fiercely humorous No Wave jazz-rock quartet, who share some of Knifeworld’s brassy exuberance but take it over the escarpment and down into a stomping, seven-league-booted Beefheart country.
As with Saturday, two fringe full-jazz groups will be taking the stage. Led by saxophonist Dino Christodoulou, Milon are a mostly acoustic quartet, edging into something more speaker-warping via Neil Smith’s electric guitar and Pasquale Votino’s judiciously over-amplified double bass: Eager Legs sounds like Charles Mingus being pursued down a stuck groove by a bounding ball of Sharrock/McLaughlin electric guitar grit, with Dino keeping one hand on the wheel by some riffling, ruffling Coltrane-ish sax lines. While the Rafael Dornelles Trio might have Brazilian roots, don’t expect samba or even Tropicália: electric guitar, bass and drums are aiming for somewhere far more heatedly lyrical and direct. Tunes like Slave’s Escape and Indigenous Mass grab you straight from the title and power off in muscular, quick-sprung directions, with a fierce and formidable vigour (plus a buccaneering hint of the knife).
Saltings’ double bass player Caitlin Callahan returns as one-quarter of part-improvising, part-compositional, female quartet Halftone, alongside two similarly-inclined Bristolians (violinist Yvonna Magda, flautist Tina Hitchens) and a London ally (cellist Hannah Marshall). Formed earlier this year, the foursome play an unsettling, absently beautiful post-classical music evoking wind in the trees, unresolved conversations and difficulties around corners.
Drone Soul boast about their “sheer bleak nihilism” and stake a claim to the abrasive post-punk heritage of The Pop Group. At least part of that’s true – the post-punk bit, anyway – but I’d bat away the nihilistic posturings. This music might be on the dark and cavernous side, but it’s illuminated with a vivid energy which belies the band’s collective grizzliness. If they’re bringing you news of falling buildings or collapsing people, they’re doing it with an exuberant dark snarl. Think of Iggy Pop in-yer-face, think Suicide’s assault-by-sine-wave; and also give a little credit to a lost Bristol band, Lupine Howl, whose gonzo millenial motorik finds a fresh echo here.
Rhodri Karim – the Welsh-Arabian heart of Uther Modes – used to be a mournful pop scientist, making his name with sepulchural computer-pop songs which bobbed gently at the juncture of philosophy, physics and bedsit soul. More recently he’s swapped this for a new kind of songcraft, strapping up a bass guitar and pulling in other musicians. Now he reels out shifting part-sombre part-jazzy mutters, winding slate-grey but sensual vocals around echoing guitar curlicues; like a fresh breed of post-rock which refuses to stagnate and instead flexes its muscles and goes haring around the park.
While he can sometimes be found paddling around in the warm, shallow pools of downtempo electronica, Traces will shake the drips off his feet once he’s warmed up enough. His studio recordings are fine, but it’s his live improvisations that show him at full strength. They’re heart-warmingly intimate and cheery stretches of pick-you-up synthery – like an enthusiastic half-drunken 2am conversation between Max Tundra and Guy Sigsworth, following which they track down Jean-Michel Jarre, drag him away from his pyramids and lasers and force him back into a kitchen full of analogue keyboards. From tabletop synth noodles to Pong blip and cheekily squirting techno, a cunning wonkiness prevails without diminishing the music’s straightforward ambition. Traces sometimes labels it “devotional”, and I’m not entirely sure that he’s joking.
Finally, there’s the fall-apart electronic gagpunk of Perverts, with their squalling songs about angry muppets and guilty onanists; their one-finger clickstab of synth drums; their beady-eyed sampler-shreddings of lachrymose film music. I guess that they’re there to remind musicians and punters alike not to take it all too seriously. It’s just that they’re staring me out a little too intently. On record, at least, Perverts deliver their spoofs and squibs with a crazed and chilly eye: a brattier Residents with a crappier laptop; a young digital Punch waiting to knock everything down.