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FESTIVAL REPORT: Visions 2014
Laurie Tuffrey , August 26th, 2014 06:46

Laurie Tuffrey criss-crosses East London and gets knocked sideways by sets from Young Fathers and Songhoy Blues at the festival's second edition

Only in its second year, Visions is already a welcome addition to the London festival scene. Spread across a nexus of East London venues, this year's line-up saw them congregating the same fine mix of guitar bands and electronics, interspersed with some choice outliers, namely psych vagrants Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats and party starter-cum-arm wrestle adjudicator Andrew WK. Plus - and admittedly the organisers can't take any credit for this - this year was again blessed with glistening August sunshine. Without getting too mired down in psychogeographics, there's nothing like a mid-afternoon sun glinting off a gasometer to stir the soul.

Taking up position for a mid-afternoon sun-glinted set at the Oval Space, Jaakko Eino Kalevi looks to have dressed for the occasion. Last time tQ saw him, at the Great Escape in Brighton, he was as busy supporting the local economy, wearing a Grubbs Burgers T-shirt, as he was laying down his serious, 80s-gilded pop. Today, he's a touch more dapper - drape of hair hanging over a loose white shirt and smart trousers - and even a little less serious. For the most part, he looms over his synths and battered metal kit box, behind him his drummer pumping out finely metronomic rhythms occasionally obscured by clouds of dry ice. Every now and again, though, he bursts (well, quietly shuffles) forward to stand and sing centre stage or throws up some air keys-cum-paws in sync with jabs of synth, his music a swirl of teen angst, Silver Apples-esque cosmic flights and smooth, Hall & Oates-level smooth, pop. At first, it seems wrong that no one is really dancing to this rigidly cool synth wave, pocked as it is with disco hi-hats, but then that probably wouldn't be fitting: much like Kalevi himself, this is (semi-)serious music, pop to keep a cap on emotions to, deftly deployed.

Meanwhile, Songhoy Blues are up at the New Empowering Church, dealing out their titular Malian blues rock beneath selective yellow lights and an electric palm tree. Garba Touré, Aliou Touré, Oumar Touré and Nathanael Dembélé tap both the vitality of the canonical greats they name check, with Hendrix in particular looming large in Garba's dextrous playing, as well as the urgency of their country's own blues. The performance gets given all the more potency for its beginnings, a reaction to the militant Ansar Dine group's criminalisation of music in the band members' native northern Mali. At first, it feels like we're following a well-trodden template - verse and chorus followed by guitar solo - but it gets elevated somewhere else; over a rolling, dubby bass line and backbeat, Garba unfurls rhythmically-synced guitar solos. They're a raring layer of syncopated, scalic runs, deployed with almost sample-like replication, that continue apace underneath Aliou's singing and dancing in angular, rapid movements. Casting aside the individual egotism that can blight virtuosic displays of musicianship, it blends to forge a jubilant, mesmeric whole.

Sadly lacking in vitality and urgency are Perfect Pussy, midway into their 15-minute set by the time I arrive at a ram-packed Laundry. Despite the dark-as-pitch, crammed venue, the band can't connect. The raw, stop-start urgency of this year's Say Yes To Love album gets replaced by unceasing, searing, metallic layers live, forging something that approaches the psych grind of Gnod or the more visceral members of Rocket Recordings' roster but ends up soupy and tepid. On record, Meredith Graves' vocals are veiled slightly by feedback hail, but here they're completely lost, and the end, brought about when the drum kit gets dived on, gets met with a decided shrug from the crowd.

Dirty Beaches' sax-lined lo-fi industrial, however, swiftly remedies any shortcomings. The battering-ram, repetitious beats overlaid with Alex Hungtai's echoey vocals are a fine, Suicide-redolent start but it's when he dons a pair of boxing gloves and fist-pumps his way through the second half of the set that it takes off. As well as being instructive - gloveless maybe, but we all follow suit - it's good to see an artist revelling so much in his own work, electronic oscillations quivering between helicopter hover and liquid sputtering, all pivoting on the same tremulous kick drum wobble.

Hungtai gets followed by Young Fathers, the Edinburgh three-piece, who put in a startling performance, blinding in both brilliance and heaviness. It's not that the music, hazed-out electronic pop laced with rap litanies, itself is heavy, but its delivery is intense as fuck. The four vocalists, switching between rapping and deeply-felt singing, cultivate a bristling, almost desperate atmosphere, which never lets up; there's no glint of a smile here, no reprieve from the disorientating, gloriously crushing mood evoked. The gargantuan chorus drum raps reverberating through the Oval Space's bare concrete bunker in 'LOW' suggest some massive uplift, but the chant that hangs off them, "You lied to me, me, me", counters that all the while. 'Way Down In The Hole', too, opens with coruscating synths and tinny drum trickles before pulling away to distant surges of clawing bass and lyrical invocations of razors and kill switches, delivered like head-spinning threats outside a grubby club. The way the group - Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and 'G' Hastings, aided only by a solitary drummer, and a female vocalist on certain songs - take hold of a festival slot, with its inherently ephemeral, timings-clash-thwarted, have-a-drink-and-you'll-miss-it nature, and hew that 45 minutes into something entirely different and singular leaves them, scorched retina-style, as the best act of the day.

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