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No Bounds Festival 2019: Alex McLean & New Noveta / Saturday Rave / Otis Mensah / Rian Treanor & Jan Hendrickse

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By Richard Spencer

Alex McLean & New Noveta

Once stage hands and sound engineers have cleared a space in the middle of the crowd and told audience members sitting on the floor that they "definitely don't want to be sitting there in a minute", Algorave legend Alex McLean and performance art duo New Noveta continue the experimental theme. McLean, seated cross-legged on an upturned flight case with his laptop on his legs, begins this short show by programming improvised electronic music via live coding.

The beats are groovy and leftfield, pulsing synth pads phasing in and out through the impressive soundsystem. With no-one on the stage and McLean himself very unassuming in head-down concentration, it's clear that the crowd don't know what they're supposed to be looking at, until New Noveta appear from the back of the room.

The beats are groovy and leftfield

The two young performers get straight to work making the attendees at the edges of the room feel uncomfortable, grasping each other's bodies, screaming and crying, while brandishing what appears to be a giant folding fan made of 2ft blades. The pair chase each other on foot through the crowd, pushing people in all directions and never looking anything other than distressed, disturbed or downright terrified. It seems to take a while for people to catch on to the fact that this is part of the show.

Eventually, still screaming unknowable tongues at each other, the pair untie some long ropes from the walls at the side of the room which attach to the ceiling above McLean's head. After pulling the taught ropes around the room for a while, with zero care for whose heads or necks might be getting caught and tangled in the process, New Noveta escape through a door near the stage, and McLean brings his 15 minute progressive soundscape to a close with a wry smile.

Hope Works Saturday Rave

It doesn't take long after entering Hope Works to realise that No Bounds has brought a slightly different crowd compared to what you'd normally find on a Saturday night. For the first two or three hours, the number of young sesh masters is at least matched by the chilled-out older hippies and electronic music nerds and there's a lovely community vibe between them all.

Aurora Halal provides a sublime set

Despite a thin crowd at the start of the night, Aurora Halal provides a sublime set of deep techno beats mixed with some purifying ambience. Despite the visceral power of the Hope Works soundsystem - which seems to vibrate your eyeballs to the point of them exiting your skull - Halal's set dips at times to a level of atmospheric quiet that brings almost transcendent joy to her devoted crowd. That said, when the tracks bang, they don't hold back, with an understated groove keeping heads nodding throughout.

In the courtyard marquee, CCL commands a much smaller presence, both in stature and in sound. A small audience cluster close to the young Seattle-based DJ as they ease through a mesmerising set of otherworldly, hypnotic bass music. The kicks are heavy, but the overall texture to the set is more akin to a mystical forest gathering than that of a tent in a concreted smoking area. This is a truly transporting set of comparative minimalism, hitting a perfectly relaxed vibe and riding it out in a way that could easily have kept people entranced for hours.

Otis Mensah

As appointed by Lord Mayor Magid, Sheffield's first poet laureate Otis Mensah has made quite a name for himself locally, nationally and now internationally too, despite his self-styled DIY approach. The cosy surroundings of The Holt may not seem the obvious venue for a hip-hop show, but once Otis takes the stage in front of a crowd of ten people, most seated on soft furnishings and sipping warm beverages, it becomes clear that this is actually the perfect location to truly absorb his messages.

Unassuming from the get-go, Mensah performs a number of songs from his new EP Rap Poetics alongside older tracks, all accompanied by beats he sets running from his nearby laptop. He also intersperses spoken poems and thoughtful, off-the-cuff theses on the background to his songs and how they relate to universal human feelings.

Mensah's delivery is at times breathtaking

Musically his beats take cues from the classic, jazzy East Coast US sound, based heavily in sampled brass, pianos and breaks, as well as some more modern electronic styles. Mensah's delivery is at times breathtaking. Even in this quiet setting, he doesn't hold back in releasing his tightest and fastest flows, compacting a ludicrous number of ideas and words into short and complex patterns, never allowing one syllable to be lost in translation.

Every word drips with personality and there's a playful but personal energy to every word rapped, spoken or sung. Topics from institutional racism to personal loneliness are covered deftly. It's a real showcase of the creativity that lies in the hip-hop underground right on our doorstep.

Rian Treanor & Jan Hendrickse

In the spacious surrounds of the Kelham Island Museum, dry ice and thrumming bass set the atmosphere for local DJ and producer Rian Treanor's collaboration with composer Jan Hendrickse. Building up a disjointed pulse of clattering beats from nothing, Treanor stands sentinel at his decks, while Hendrickse's shadowy form carefully selects from a small arsenal of wind instruments.

Hendrickse wavers around like a wild spirit

There are fleeting moments of greatness, where the challenging electronica builds up to a complex rhythm akin to the most experimental side of Autechre's discography. Hendrickse wavers around like a wild spirit before his microphone, the flickering flute tones and piercing ocarina melodies he produces splashing up against Treanor's scrambled kicks and snares.

On the whole, this stuttering and confusing half-hour set feels much longer and, although the admittedly intriguing soundscape garners a lot of respectful applause, it'd be hard to argue that it truly connected with people.

Next article in issue 140

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