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LIVE REPORT: Wysing Arts Festival
Harry Sword , September 30th, 2013 12:54

Harry Sword heads to rural Cambridgeshire for a "full audio beasting" from Cut Hands, Luke Abbott, Blood Music, Venetian Snares, Ryan Jordan and a collaboration between visual artist Keren Cytter, Maria & The Mirrors and Vindicatrix. Photos by Mike Cameron

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I'm standing at the 'Banner Repeater' stall at Wysing Arts Festival and spot a copy of the Hackney Gazette; only it carries no pictures, and is set in a strange neutral font. Talking to the lady that runs the stall, I'm told it is in fact an artwork by Elizabeth Price, inspired by the peculiar story of a man who committed suicide in Hackney by jumping off a tower block with the message 'DEAD BODY, DIAL 999' written across his shirt. The week before somebody else had jumped in exactly the same spot, though no connection was ever investigated. The newspaper is Price's edit of the edition that reported the story, and the first artwork I see on arrival. The paper carries an eerie quality – tabloid newsprint and advertising copy devoid of any visual stimulus looks alien - and feels a fitting introduction to a festival that carries the theme of 'hidden surroundings and structures'.

Combining a calm rural setting with electronic music of fearsome intensity is a great idea, and Wysing 2013 offers the opportunity to wander green fields, peruse book stalls, sup ale, watch acoustic acts and partake in various workshops as well as being given a full audio beasting courtesy of artists like Cut Hands, Russell Haswell, Blood Music and Venitian Snares.

Set 10 miles outside of Cambridge by the sleepy village of Bourne, Wysing Arts Centre comprises a complex of main buildings (spacious, airy, black paint and wood) alongside an arts marquee, bar and a stunning spherical wooden space – 'the Amphis' - in the middle of a field. And though sold out in advance, the space never feels crowded - the layout affording ample opportunity to wonder independently.

The juxtaposition between serene pastoral setting and harsh abrasive audio is brought into sharp focus by an early performance by noise performer Ryan Jordan.

White heat strobe emissions; heart pounding kicks; total sensory overload and temporary ego death through the sheer hypnotic power of NOISE. Jordan is attempting mass hypnosis, alongside a single incessant strobe light. His 'beats' - if they can be described thus - are militaristic staccato while the strobe works in hideous unrelenting synchronicity. Looking around the room is highly disorientating - crowd movements caught in grotesque bursts of violent white light. I feel like Harry Palmer at the end of The Ipcress File.

A few hours earlier, Nochexxx played an AV set the same room. Despite the atmosphere being slightly stilted at such an early stage in the day, with a definite 'gallery' feel he lays down a compelling set that conjures a sense of a perpetually shifting queasy motion – a chase scene that veers from adrenaline charge to narcotic stumble with frequent shifting tempo.

The accompanying images (courtesy of Plastic Horse) are oddball American - greasy muscle cars; leering Mexican death skulls and cactuses; drug burnt imagery that well suit the pulp seedy angle of his tunes. Functional and loose, the beats carry drunken swing and - while techno and electro are reference points in his productions - his tracks have the traditional discipline of neither, focusing instead on creepy synesthesian atmospherics and punch drunk funk.

Visual artist Keren Cytter, Maria and the Mirrors Keira Fox and Charlie Feinstein and David Aird (Vindicatrix) deliver the most viscerally compelling performance of the day in the form of 'Vociferous'. A discombobulated love story, 'Vociferous' opens with a stream of images - pizza restaurant, demolition site and helicopter crash. A voice begins to narrate.

'This is the story of a man who proposes to a women at a party. The woman can't hear what the man is saying because the music is too loud'

I don't get the rest; by this point the music actually is too loud. A subby 4/4 boom, it perfectly emulates the feeling of standing just outside the main floor in a big club; bass reverberating and rattling the window frames. The room is collectively placed in a different zone, with dancing and whooping breaking out amongst the crowd who - minutes earlier – were mostly standing (some sitting) in art 'observance' mode. Condensation drips off the wall - I feel my jaw begin to clench, not because of any clandestine indulgence, rather a Pavlovian response to external rave stimulus; amusingly, I note the exact the same reaction in a few others dancing nearby.

After a few minutes, the narrator strikes up again, solemnly intoning that 'the exhibition is a real treat for the art lover, beautifully curated and featuring a perfect mix of 50/50 male and female artists'. It immediately sets up interesting tension – on screen is a selection of images – found footage from mobile phones filmed inside clubs - where people are lost in a series of moments. 'Vociferous' as art piece is forgotten; by this point it feels like a full on rave, the narration bursting an exquisitely created bubble. Dancing stops, and we collectively return to awkward passivity.

Keira Fox and Charlie Fernstein take to the stage to deliver a cacophonic finale of electronic drumming and a cheer goes up for a stunning piece that expertly uses audience manipulation - and the immediacy of techno - to play with time itself: the attention to detail such that blinking into the sun afterwards feels perverse.

Mildly delirious, I wonder over to the arts stalls and prepare for the voluminous onslaught of Blood Music. A band that trades on serious volume and hypnotic kosmische, noise and drone dynamics, early technical difficulty is forgotten as they find a mighty groove. A barrage of tribal percussion, squalling guitars and pummeling sub pressure ensues – Blood Music building a titanic pulse, great throbbing waves of brutally effective sound that hinges on disorientating physicality.

Having ringing ears before a Russell Haswell set has begun is an unusual state of affairs (and really doesn't bode well for my pore lugs), but there it is. The energetic artist is, however, on fine form tonight, squatting down on stage with a large bank of hardware spread out in front of him. Strange sounds emanate from his boxes, troubling frequencies that threaten to consume the room whole, while tightly controlled visuals – strange wave forms, alien patterns – unfurl behind him.

After the onslaught of both Blood Music and Haswell, Cut Hands is an experience of total uplift. William Bennett's project centers on the human power of belting rhythm. Layered, processed and tweaked to whistle test clarity, Bennett samples extensively from Haitian Vodou rhythms adding his own inimitable dynamics, subweight and effects.

However, a Cut Hands show is a performance of idiosyncratic dynamism and certainly no exercise in dainty tribal appropriation. There is a scent of theatrical greasepaint around Bennett in Cut Hands mode. Lithe, physical, sexualized he raises hands to the air in silent exultation to ye gods and moves with maniacal fervor.

A wonder over to the Amphis sees Luke Abbott in fine form, a healthy crowd dancing to his skewed melodic beats. Venetian Snares, by proxy, sounds tired, not to detract from an often thrillingly programmed day – one that offers a twisted path through some of the more visceral outposts of art and music in a relaxed and convivial setting.


Oct 1, 2013 4:30am

Superb piece. And, that last photo makes me (as a wistful American) want to emigrate to the UK: this kind of thing simply doesn't happen here, or at least not with that kind of wonderfully miscegenated crowd. Well done, on all fronts...

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