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PREVIEW: Tusk Festival
Stewart Smith , October 6th, 2014 14:01

Stewart Smith speaks to Lee Etherington of Tusk Festival, which takes place in Newcastle this weekend and features all sorts of Quietus goodness, including a set from Islam Chipsy (pictured)

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Now in its fourth year, Tusk Festival is firmly established as one of the highlights of the experimental music calendar. Taking place in Newcastle's beloved DIY music venue and cinema, the Star and Shadow, and surrounding spaces, Tusk combines an international outlook with a local grassroots ethos.

This year's highlights include Quietus favourites E.E.K. feat Islam Chipsy, bringing their Nile Delta synth mania to the UK for the first time this month. Noise fiends will be writhing with perverse pleasure to Japanese legends Hijokaidan and the hair-on-fire saxophonics of Borbetomagus, while the beautifully minimalist constructions of Andrew Chalk and Timo Van Luijk's Elodie offer a quieter, but no less intense experience. There's also the British debut of the great Georgian musician Asiq Nargile and a rare show from Rajahstan masters Irshad Ali Qawwali Party. Watch out too for turntablist Philip Jeck, synth outlier Jahilliya Fields and Newcastle ambient-industrial :zoviet *France. Offsite highlights include a church organ set by Aine O'Dwyer and Mark Fell's sound installation in a tunnel beneath the Ouseburn estate.

Stewart Smith speaks to Tusk's Lee Etherington about this year's festival.

To those unfamiliar with Tusk, how would you sum up the festival's ethos? What makes it stand out from other experimental music festivals?

Lee Etherington: Well, our focus is mainly on acts that never or rarely appear in the North East and the UK, and we like to bring a few acts to the stage that almost no one has ever heard of too, so you get a whole weekend of amazing performances by artists you've mostly never seen live and sometimes never even heard of before.

Perhaps it's unfair to ask you to name favourites, but which acts/events are you particularly excited about this year?

LE: I suppose its predictable to say I'm excited by all of them, but what we get a real kick out of is seeing the audience's reactions - I'm sure the audience will go absolutely nuts for E.E.K., Irshad Ali Qawwali Party, Hijokaidan, Borbetomagus and all the more raucous stuff we've lined up, but we attract a lot of 'deep listeners' too so I don't doubt people will be blown away by Spires That In The Sunset Rise, Laura Cannell, Aine O'Dwyer and others too. Seeing people get excited by artists they've just heard for the first time is great too, that's when you know you've got your programming right.

Having seen them in Glasgow a few years back, I'm looking forward to another annihilating Hijokaidan set. I'm particularly intrigued by their virtual J-Pop set. Can you tell me more?

LE: Hatsune Kaidan is Jojo, Mikawa and Okano from Hijokaidan plus Mai Nishi as the human embodiment of Hatsune Miku, a voice synthesizer that has become a massive phenomenon in Japan. A lot of what they do is really well-known covers and really straight, sweet Japanese pop, then laced with the harsh noise you'd expect from Jojo etc - it almost shouldn't work but it's weirdly mesmerising and just so ultra-Japanese and un-English I think people will have their jaws on the floor.

You're working with the Sayat Nova Project to bring Asiq Nargile over and are also screeningMountain of Tongues. What interests you about this aspect of the festival?

LE: Well, we're always excited when we stumble across a musician that we've never heard of but that stops us dead in our tracks on first listen and that was certainly the case with Asiq Nargile, who Stefan of Sayat Nova told us about. One of those moments when the hair stands up on your neck - so we immediately got excited by what the project had been up to, and of course we love to expose our audience and ourselves to new listening, so we immediately knew we wanted to bring Asiq Nargile to play and Stefan to do a presentation, plus there'll be some Sayat Nova stuff in the film programme too. I guess its the appeal of a glimpse into another world.

The Quietus are big fans of EEK feat Islam Chipsy. What appeals to you about their music?

LE: Islam Chipsy is a shameless showboater and one of those rare people that can get away with it, I think, and with the two drummers cranking out the shaabi beat turned up to 11, its going to be absolute mayhem - i half expect the atmosphere to be like the first time Omar Souleyman played here, but at double speed.

You've got a couple of off-site events this year: Mark Fell's tunnel installation and Aine O'Dwyer's Church Organ. You're also using nearby studio spaces for Junko. Perhaps you could tell me a little about these and the appeal of using different spaces.

LE: About the Junko and RE/CEPTOR shows at BLANK - we work closely with BLANK on the festival and a few things these days and their studio is just over the road from the Star & Shadow. Their live room is windowless and about 4m x 5m so it just occurred to me you could do some very intense shows in their for 10 or so people - we did it with the Bongoleeros in July and now we have these two sets of shows, very intense. And yes we've got Mark Fell's installation in the old coal tunnel, the Victoria Tunnel, lasers, strobes, hazers and incredible sound (please book in advance!), the Jad Fair and Andrew Chalk exhibtion at Holy Biscuit and Aine's organ concert at St John the Baptist.

Its a combination of two things really - we want to broaden the experience of those coming to the festival for the weekend but also draw in the wider population into what we're doing - all these things outside the Star & Shadow programme are open to everyone, you don't need a festival ticket and its a way of involving the wider community who wouldn't otherwise encounter the festival unless they shared our esoteric music tastes.

Newcastle seems to have a great grassroots music and arts scene. Can you tell me about the local acts playing this year?

LE: We're never short of choices when it comes to people round here we want to play at the festival. Smut feels like she's local even though she lives in Yorkshire as she's so tied up with the Northern tape scene and so on and we've wanted to have Lucy play here for a while. I saw Charles Dexter Ward open a show earlier this year - like a lot of openers, most of the audience missed him but he blew me away, Fripp-ish drones, synth, fantastic. Girl Sweat will be great opener, like a one-man psychobilly Mark E. Smith. RE/CEPTOR are a mixture of several acts we'd been interested in and seen around Newcastle for a while so that feels like we're getting several treats in one. And of course :zoviet*france: who we were bound to bring to TUSK eventually and you can argue are a big reason why a lot of folks round here are doing anything at all anyway.