Festival 23: Propagation Of Wonder

7 July
Yellow Arch

“All in good time, my young padawan,” smiles Paul ‘Kermit’ Leveridge, half of Black Grape and one of the significant ‘others’ within the esoteric world into which we have ventured.

Having only a rudimentary understanding of the work of Robert Anton Wilson and Discordianism – arguably an actual religion or a mere errant philosophy, depending on your view – Kermit is visibly amused by my naïve, wide-eyed curiosity. I’ve been to many events at Yellow Arch, but I can safely say that I have neither seen nor experienced anything remotely like Festival 23.

Having had its inaugural event over a weekend in an undisclosed countryside setting somewhere just outside the city last year, its premise of psychedelic endurance has long piqued my interest. This time, they’ve crammed an eclectic plethora of music, art, theatre, talks and magic into 14 hours, with 40 acts spread over four rooms.

Our first foray into the Wonderground – or the Main Strange, as it’s referred to in the accompanying Discordian Training Manual – yields a scantily-clad blue mermaid inviting audience members to take selfies. Tempted but not yet sufficiently refreshed to indulge, we head to the café bar to watch an intriguing trio, Aaltra, named after an obscure film featuring bad tempered farmers. It’s rather apt, as their lyrics and demeanour prove to be witty and wry. Think of Sleaford Mods on a comedown, from Rotherham.

It’s not long before the going gets properly weird. The aforementioned Kermit, along with DJ Josh Ray as part of Super Weird Substance, elicits an assertion from my companion that he can never DJ again, such is the magnitude of their set. It’s not just about the tunes. They are playing with our minds.

As much as anything can, this sets us up to bear witness to the unhinged cosmic dross that is Henge. You could say they’re just a psychedelic band from Manchester, but I truly believe they’re not of this world. Watch them online and then go and see them live. I’ll be doing so again as soon as possible.

The night is rounded off by a debut performance of a play, ‘Tony Blair Walks on Water’ by Lisa Lovebucket, whose passionate and devout performance is completely compelling. In the spirit of the day, several of the acting roles were allocated to people just before they took the stage. This, followed by the aggressive and evocative 'man band' that is The Private Sector, has exhausted yet simultaneously stimulated our collective comprehension and consciousness.

I’ve not even mentioned the earlier magical workshop led by Ian ‘Cat’ Vincent, who provides the participants with practical skills to defend themselves against the dark arts. Festival 23 turns out to be an ecstatic rabbit hole of synchronicity and celebration. With more events rumoured in the near future, keep your third eye open.

Wayne Hoyle

festival23.org.uk


Algorave

6 July
Access Space

Entering the tiny, sweltering box that is the Access Space on this July evening is like simultaneously stepping into a bizarre alien future and somehow venturing back into a retro eighties sci-fi set. Building pounding electronic soundscapes from the bottom up by live computer coding, tonight's acts are at once programming whizzes and electronic music producers, creating a unique experience unlikely to be replicated anywhere outside of this worldwide clique.

Watching code being written live via projector on the venue's walls is like peaking behind the curtain and seeing the inner workings of electronic music usually encased within synths or laptops. The visuals are also live coded to match, and audio and visual artists alike pore over their laptops to create this alien IDM party using the same building blocks of text and numbers.

Often the coolest part of a set is the very beginning, as beats and basslines are built up from nothing at all. Even with zero knowledge of programming, it’s fascinating to watch the lines of text appear and try to work out which lines relate to which sound and what is being changed. This is more absorbing than any normal DJ set, and time flies.

After Sheffield duo A.A.R.D. warm the crowd up with glitchy rhythms that never quite fully come together, it’s Innocent who really gets the powerful rhythms going and things start to click. Class Compliant Audio Interfaces are the highlight of the night, the duo taking things to another level with an extended set of high energy, programmed techno bangers. The renowned Algobabez let their music provide the energy as the pair seemingly do not make any physical movements, instead standing sentinel opposite each other like the faceless human component of a beat-making computer.

Later, Takodoro live streams a set from Japan, adding a dreamy and atmospheric element to the music and visuals, despite some technical hiccups, and drawing attention to the super-modern, completely bizarre nature of the whole affair.

Algoraves bring together two seemingly opposite, stereotyped cultures – computer nerds and ravers – and the audience in Sheffield reflects this. Most nod to the beat while keeping their eyes glued to the projected screens, while others dance in small circles clutching their tinnies of tepid lager. Everyone’s having a great time, in a bubble of alternate reality thoroughly unlike any other.

Richard Spencer

The Tower Festival

29 June – 2 July
Market Rasen, Lincolnshire

When I first heard about The Tower Festival, there were two things that had me at 'hello': a 700 max capacity and a 24-hour music licence. Both lay impressive foundations for this UK festival entering its second year.

Initially there was a lack of people, and some operational issues, but more punters arrived by Saturday evening, including local farmers who stood amicably at the bar drinking pints of ale as they watched enthusiastic dancers do their thing. Also evident was the gender balance among the crowd, plus the number of female artists, though there could’ve been more.

The site centred itself around a monumental tower. At night, its beauty was revealed as it was carefully reconstructed, remoulded and reshuffled by projection mapping, a thoughtful and majestic sight.

The site was small yet seemed to have too many stages, as at times they felt empty. Main stage The Bathhouse was home to many of the weekend’s best moments, not only for music but also atmosphere. Rectangular hay bales were perfectly placed so ravers could rest their feet for five without being torn between hearing the tunes and leaving the stage entirely in order to take a break, like at other festivals.

The stage itself was an example of exquisite carpentry, assembled with a wooden prism which rested on tree trunks acting as pillars. The production was flawless. Rotating tube lighting was accompanied by powerful red and purple hazers that swivelled onto the dancefloor from the trees above to create possibly one of the best outdoor stages I’ve danced on.

Across the site was the Vagina Stage, with the entrance resembling a five-foot vulva. After climbing through, you took a trip down a dark corridor and into a smoke-filled room, which offered elements of distortion through turbulent lasers and hazy bass. It was epic. When ready, you were welcomed to a small dancefloor, constantly filled with energetic vibes by the friendly, ready-to-party crowd.

The Bar Stage had top-notch equipment and the best sound system of the festival, yet at many points it failed to fill. Although the relaxed, no-frills environment the team had created was great, it may have disappointed artists who’d flown in only to have no crowd to play to.

On Friday night, Tornado Wallace began a captivating journey, delivering a comprehensive set, building parallels between Punjabi groovers and fuzzy acidic flings. Afterwards, Optimo played a blinding set, mixing across unidentified house bangers and energising party techno, all stirred into a side of soft-tempo beauties. Come sunrise, Corporeal Face hosted one of the finest moments of the weekend, the sun sneaking through gaps in the trees, delighting the crowd with buoyant disco numbers like Eartha Kitt’s ‘Where Is My Man’ and Sylvester’s ‘Over and Over’, then surprising the crowd with Italo crossovers like N.O.I.A’s ‘True Love’.

On Saturday the festival seemed much busier, and by the afternoon rumours of a hidden stage had begun to circulate. Dusk slid over, clues were collected and vague directions were followed, until a maze was discovered. It felt completely external from the rest of the festival, a Martian land filled with drag queens welcoming you into their karaoke bar, hysterical actors screaming, and sexualised doctors and nurses role-playing in their surgeries.

Deep within the Maze, I followed the sound of bass which led me to a micro stage, where Brighton-based Rut played a fine selection of liquid drum’n’bass. At The Bathhouse, Arturas played an engaging two-hour Italo set, with the crowd upping their game in the dance department.

During Sunday morning sunrise, GiGi FM played my favourite set of the weekend. The crowd was about ten strong, but this didn’t matter because the techno was deep and hypnotic. Later that day, Tommy Gold and Sayang played a number of punchy techno and acid-tinged records, unfortunately cut short by licensing. Relocating to The Bathhouse, the dancefloor peaked to Calypso Steve playing Italo, house and funk, including The Human League’s ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of (Original Dub Edit)’, which suited the weekend inevitably drawing to a close.

There is a promising future for The Tower. There’s an excellent team behind it, whose imagination shone through across the weekend, as well as their efforts to think outside the box. Not only did my time here enthral and energise me, but my friends and I were able to elongate our northern twangs further by making reference to The Tower’s hometown, ‘Grimsbeh’, as often as possible.

Georgia Smith


ROOTS x DEEP MEDI - Tramlines Weekend Special

21 July
The Harley

On the peripheries of this year’s Tramlines, The Harley was home to stalwart dubstep label DEEP MEDi. The occasion was dark and bass-heavy, dissimilar to anything else occurring that evening or throughout the festival.

Jack Sparrow opened the DEEP MEDi segment with finely-produced tracks that often had a harsh and earthy sound to them. The ‘Good Old Days’ producer played definitive dubstep from the likes of Coki, but also travelled into other realms of bass, touching on spacious, grime-like beats to complement an already heavy set.

Toward the end, Sparrow had the experience to cool down his set and the oven-hot venue, by playing lighter tracks, which made for a good transition into Kaiju. The duo, along with MC Son of Selah, delivered a gradual and consistent hour that included a mouth-watering remix of Wiley’s ‘Morgue’ and of their own Flowdan-assisted track, ‘Hunter’.

Dubstep nights are often intense, and after several hours it can be difficult to distinguish one track from the other if the DJ doesn’t explore the vast scope the genre has to offer. Commodo prevented The Harley falling victim to this in what was likely the best hour of the night. Commodo’s selection was distinctive from the off, possessing a variety within the dubstep spectrum not seen in the prior sets, featuring tracks by Sir Hiss and Kahn & Neek. The Sheffield native was refreshing, musically stylish and melodic.

Egoless came after and was the most energetic performer of the night. Parts of his selection were heavily dub and reggae-inspired, with sounds fit for the summer. At points it was hypnotic and at points loud enough for the audience to feel the weight of the drums in the tracks, but his time behind the decks was interrupted by sound issues, which led to the music stopping several times.

Frustrating for the audience and the DJ, but nonetheless Egoless was a perfect finish to DEEP MEDi’s celebration at The Harley and for what was one of the most satisfying nights in a packed weekend.

Akeem Balogun