The Sword Of Musical Righteousness: Incubate 2015 Reviewed
, October 2nd, 2015 08:54
John Doran, Sophie Coletta, Mat Colegate, Richard Foster and Willam Doyle report on another excellent week in Tilburg
I could move to Tilburg, I really could. Just wandering around its back streets, with its higgle-piggle of architectural styles, you can feel your mind expanding. You can feel that there's room to think when your head isn't being crushed by the overbearing conformist architectural weight of London or Manchester or wherever. The small town - roughly the size of York - has three of the world's best festivals - Incubate, Roadburn and a highly regarded world music festival, not to mention the biggest openly gay funfair in all of the Benelux territory. What more could you ask for? It is this expansiveness stemming from compactness that inculcates an inquisitive nature in the open-minded listener. Incubate has a great track record for getting legendary underground figures to perform amazing shows. (This year Cabaret Voltaire and The Ex are both stunning highlights, and previous years have seen jaw dropping performances by the likes of Nurse With Wound, Laibach and Chris & Cosey.) But really, it is best just to wander round Tilburg's practical back streets and utopian plazas past new build castles and studio houses that look like shuttlecocks, to dip in and out of venues taking part in a musical tombola, without any prior knowledge of what you're about to experience. Without any preconceptions you can truly have your brain cleaved in two by the sword of musical righteousness. John Doran
Photo by Hans van Wijk
Christian Fennesz and Arve Henriksen & Shining
I must confess to having a little doze partway through the pairing of Christian Fennesz and Arve Henriksen's set at the Concertzaal on Thursday, but, dammit, I refuse to feel guilty for something that felt so perfect. Drifting in and out of consciousness while Fennesz's guitar scrapes, rattles and glitches around Henriksen's gentle trumpet ululations is like being drugged and guided gently into a computer simulation of a quantum level event. It's utterly lovely. It also gives rise to possibly the Most Incubate pairing of the week. The festival is one in which punters can, just by wandering from one stage to another, enjoy all manner of strange contrasts and comparisons, but nonetheless wandering into Shining's full-pelt mix of The Foo Fighters and Borbetomagus following Henriksen and Fennesz' set was a bracingly hilarious experience in the ridiculous following the sublime. Lead singer/guitarist/saxophone colossus Jørgen Munkeby struts around the stage like an big-bollocked pony, foot on the monitor, blasting out atonal saxophone solos while high-fiving the audience and, most pleasingly, leading his well-drilled troupe in a rousing performance of King Crimson's '25th Century Schizoid Man'. It's brilliantly entertaining stuff, all the better for having a good sense of its own folly, and rendered even more luridly brilliant by its contrast with Henriksen and Fennesz's hushed devotionals just moments before. It's these moments of clash and comparison where Incubate has pretty much every other festival you could name beaten. Mat Colegate
Little Devil is a classic Incubate venue. Cramped and cussed, it smells of roach ends and unwashed fabrics, and is full of lads and lassses who look like they've escaped from Alberich's workshop. We are here to see footsoldiers and High Priests from the Dutch squat scenes indulge in some serious pedal abuse. Two great acts from Leiden play in the gloaming. First we see Krush, who bash out a ferocious set of warnings to The Man. We also witness a corking gig from Toner Low, who couldn't be more horizontal if they tried. Things are hotting up nicely. Still, nothing can match Dutch prankster legends FCKN BSTRDS when it comes to deconstructing all time and space. How to describe the gig, or indeed any FCKN BSTRDS gig? We could talk about the duo themselves: dressed in rubbish, garden implements and glitter, they come on like two huge squealing alien babies looking for a nipple to suck. Then there's the never ending crunch and growl of their sound, which somehow manages to be bracing and sentient in a "Call of Cthulhu" manner. But we should really describe the psychic mess around us. Whilst FCKN BSTRDS carry on ululating like two randy bison in a 24 hour garage, we note that people are being tossed about in blue wheelie bins. The place smells like a refuse collection point behind a supermarket. Lil' Devil's stage is - to all intents and purposes - being beaten up by Aztec punks. Somehow, sometime during the next decade, the gig ends. We get the feeling however that somewhere else, possibly just below the Earth's crust or in the darkest recesses of our minds, they are only halfway through their set. Richard Foster
Photo by Niels Vinck
Incubate festival's commitment to music from all around the world is demonstrated most clearly this year by its Eurabia evening, where Acid Arab and hyperactive Dutch Electro Chaabi missionaries Cairo Liberation Front both perform. However it is the prospect of seeing Cairo's Maurice Louca opening proceedings that is most intriguing. His last album Benhayyi Al - Baghbaghan (Salute the Parrot) is a blazingly psychedelic meeting of the electronic and the traditional and one of the best and most arresting albums of the last year. And, indeed, Louca is tremendous, marshalling his army of electronic instruments through a series of wormholes and slippery tributaries whilst always remaining furiously danceable. However, whether it is a lack of familiarity with the material or a lack of rehearsal, the drummer and the (over-stringed) bass player that he has bought with him fail to recognise a good deal of the music's subtlety, and some of the busier moments threaten to collapse in on themselves due to overplaying. It's a shame, because when the music is stripped back and Louca's electronics are given a chance to breathe there's something genuinely wonderful here. Proggy and tripped out but always firmly focussed, Louca at times sounds like he's channelling a mix of Earth, Wind and Fire and Blade Runner-era Vangelis. It's potently heady stuff but please, Maurice, next time leave the 'real' instruments at home and embrace the inner robot. Mat Colegate
Photo by Jan Rijk
When great work is created in spite of the distress and depression that shrouded that period, is it the fascination of having been able to succeed against the odds that preserves the attraction to it? The abyssal lows Mercury Rev suffered after the spectacular failure of 1995's 'See You On The Other Side'- and then the flickering lights of hope that were sought in writing the songs that formed their 1998 classic 'Deserter's Songs'- are indeed the crux of tonight's performance in collaboration with the local Tilburg Conservatorium Orchestra. The band have dealt heavily with orchestration since the mid 90s, so while on the surface there may seem nothing particularly novel about this pairing, frontman Jonathan Donahue explains that the band have actually been waiting a long time to be given the chance to perform in this way. Launching somewhat bizarrely into Neil Young's 'A Man Needs a Maid' but followed up rapidly and assuredly by new album cut 'The Queen Of Swans', the set then continues to sway between originals and covers, context for which are given throughout via resolutely sincere and heartfelt monologues by Donahue, some of which rendering me rather damp-eyed on more than one occasion.
The band and orchestra visit, among many things, the rural Catskill mountains and fairytales of Donahue's childhood, his tenure as guitarist for The Flaming Lips (complete with a stunning cover of 'Love Yer Brain'), and being informed of the death of his friend Marc Linkous, better known as singer-songwriter Sparklehorse (followed similarly with a bracing cover of 'Sea of Teeth'). The glowing musical highlight here though is 'Holes', the synthetic orchestration of the recording transformed into a beautiful dynamic counterpoint by the Conservatorium Orchestra, a feat they achieve several times throughout the evening, Donahue adamant that to simply use the orchestra as a token "volume knob" would be a severe disservice. Donahue prefaces the song by recalling the band's severe lows at the time of writing, but also explains how it marked the beginning of being dragged out of the dirt and into the light, both band and orchestra then flourishing to provide one of the most outstanding and emotional performances of the festival. William Doyle
Russell Haswell & Yasunao Tone
I'm not entirely sure why witnessing Yasunao Tone's wounded CD work and Russell Haswell's modular noise explorations in tandem isn't exactly what everyone else in Tilburg fancies spending their Friday evening doing, but the sparse turnout for their performance at the edge of town Concertzaal would suggest as much. More fool them. Sat behind a modest table on a spectacularly grand stage, the two hunch over their machinery hyper-alert, seemingly unaware of anything else around them as they bombard the entire room with their glorious scratchy racket. The contrast between the two is somewhat amusing; while Tone sits impeccably still at his laptop, eyes forward for the entire performance, Haswell fidgets, glancing between their hands and pulling his feet up to squat on his chair. (Later, on Saturday night I spot Tone wandering around the during the Diagonal Records showcase wearing a suit and a straw boater, surveying the dancing like one might a particularly pleasing ornamental garden).
I get up to take a break, and upon wandering through the labyrinth of carpeted corridors outside discover that their performance is being piped into every space within the venue through small circular plastic speakers screwed into the ceiling, even in the toilets. Vaguely amused but eager for more cacophonous sound levels, I head back inside and take a seat. Everything is entirely chaotic and ridiculous, frequencies screaming, guttural sonics disembowelling themselves over and over, clamouring at my very pores. While sonic enveloping is often associated with a feeling of not being in control, of entire bodily submission, here it feels both overwhelmingly empowering and calming. I find myself slipping into an obtuse awareness of my own inner stillness. I think about once reading an interview where Haswell referred to noise music as "brain floss", and suddenly feel the contents of my mind slipping into careful order, tiny specks of thought detritus retrieved and discarded by endless shreds of invisible tape. Luckily, before I can tidy away my mind to a useless cerebral kernel, the whole thing comes to a close, delicately steadying itself over the course of the remaining ten minutes. After applause, the two stand, shake hands, wave cheerily and walk off together to Otis Redding's 'Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)' playing over the house system. It's both hilarious and brilliant. Sophie Coletta
Photo by Niels Vinck
Paradox. Yeah, Paradox. My favourite venue in Incubate. An urbane and ever-so-slightly hippy space, but not above being naughty when the mood suits. And you get free nuts at the bar. Tonight, after a day of great gigs (East India Youth, Leafcutter John) we are up for sonic mischief courtesy of John Richards' Dirty Electronics project; with added sonic fun courtesy of Napalm Death's Nick Bullen. Sat behind what is to all intents and purposes an electronic nature table, and gently prompting each other to make yet another atonal honk or wheeze, Bullen and Richards crank out their eccentric racket. Bullen speaks to what looks like a kitchen fire lighter at one point, which prompts Richards to start up with a lot of odd movements. Eyes shut, lips pursed, and maybe like a medium at a seance, he's feeling his way round the headspace they've created. But then at other moments the gig looks like the pair are trying to fix the wiring inside a toaster. What on earth are we doing here, watching two gentlemen in their prime sitting behind a table full of metallic detritus making growls and hisses and blurts? We try to work out what's going on. We take up Richards' tenet of "shared experiences, ritual and gesture." We gesture towards the pair. "This is like being bollocked by your alien foster parents for not doing your homework." We share our experiences with each other. "Imagine this as owls reading the shipping forecast." "It's like watching Gilbert and George lashed on Tennents Super." But make no mistake; although we are laughing while coming up with these remarks during the gig, they are all meant in the most respectful and honest spirit of enquiry. You see, we've been moved, inspired, to make them; as we are completely sucked in. Richard Foster
One senses that Richard H. Kirk doesn't really do nostalgia. His show under the name Cabaret Voltaire at the Concertzaale on Saturday night doesn't feature any of the old favourites – No 'Nag Nag Nag', no 'Spread The Virus' – which anyway would probably be un-doable in the absence of Cabs co-conspirator Stephen Mallinder. Instead Kirk reaches back through time for his old tool kit and fashions something thrilling and corrosively contemporary. The chugging, clanking rhythms of old are all here, re-wired, souped up and given a massive injection of pure volume that has the seats in the hall throbbing with the weight of the sub-bass. It's clatteringly aggressive, and even when hints of the later, more relaxed vibe of Cabaret Voltaire's oeuvre raise their heads – a smattering of disco-ish bongos here, some handlaps there – it still prods your chest like an angry giant's finger. For the visuals Kirk has also replicated the look of those tracking-line corroded VHS tapes that you used to be able to buy from the back of RE/SEARCH magazine. Explosions of lime green and pink static over a never ending stream of cut-up news footage, featuring the customarily stark imagery of domination, war and horror that industrial thrived on in its heyday in the early 80s. However in updating the footage used – Saville looms large, for example – Kirk manages to turn these old fashioned techniques toward something that feels viscerally alive. Obviously it helps that recent fashion has turned back toward these techniques, but what is also noticeable is that the same message that Cabaret Voltaire's theatre of cruelty was putting across back in the day is still painfully relevant: Everything is connected. Everything is broken. Mat Colegate
Photo by Ed Jansen
There's a worrying amount of people sat down inside Studiozaal before Factory Floor's Saturday evening performance, and it comes as a great relief when Gabe Gurnsey and Nik Void stroll out from behind a curtain and everyone obediently heaves themselves forward onto the wooden floor before a low bench crammed with gear. With the recent departure of Dominic Butler, Factory Floor have initiated the next stage of their continual state of flux. As revealed at the Ten Years of Perc Trax party at Corsica Studios earlier this year, Gurnsey has abandoned his drum kit, Void her guitar, (neither makes an appearance here either), and instead both now take on the mountain of hardware before them, easing relentless sequences from their machines, twisting dials, plunging wires, hands never pausing for thought. It's still very much Factory Floor: the same controlled minimalism found on record, the same repetitive obliteration, the same vocal stammers on tracks like 'Fall Back' rising up through the boxy rhythms, but there's something else here too, elements of giddy darkness layered over the grid of familiar arpeggios, and, (even though it's been noted before I've never quite spotted it myself until now) disco – at one point I become convinced they're going to veer off into an acid-inflected cover version of Sylvester's 'You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)'. It consumes those on the wooden floor and feeds them out in a jostling pre-inebriated fervour. It's not quite the Tate Modern show, or the Cosey Club show at the ICA, but why on earth would it be just yet? Factory Floor are dead. Long live Factory Floor. Sophie Coletta
While dropping in on Philly Kev (Casual Sect/Black Impulse) to help out on his radio show I get to witness a magical set by Tomaga, an ambient industrial drone jazz unit featuring Valentina Magaletti (Orlando, Bat For Lashes, $hit & $hine) and Tom Relleen (The Oscillation, All Time Low records) spinning out a smoky web on minimal kit and Korg synth. They are joined by Cathy Lucas of Orlando who coaxes a dark pulse out of her musical saw. And all outside the glass fronted studio, children play in the sunshine, curious pensioners peer in through the window and happy lowlanders drink beer under parasols as the session is broadcast to all. Once again, the patronising idea that members of the general public will automatically have a nervous breakdown if exposed to experimental music is smashed into the ground.
Before I've even had time to recover from this amazing set, I pop into the Dudok converted church to say hello to my pal, erudite Accrington ex-pat and hip priest Richard Foster and various members of The Ex. While there I see a band who knock me out. Selvhenter are down one drummer apparently, but as a four piece they contain more power than I can barely cope with. The remaining drummer Jaleh Negari attacks her kit like she's taking part in some free form, mixed martial arts contest and seems to rise up, growing in stature, like some kind of colossus as if she may burst through the church rafters by the end of the show. Maria Bertel's trombone has been fed through so much FX that I momentarily feel like I've fallen through a K-hole back into that terrifying SunnO))) gig where I got my dosage catastrophically wrong. When she plays an open C, she flings the slide out and catches it by the tips of her fingers - it feels like something more than just a musical performance is at stake here. Violin player Maria Diekmann is locked in a trance and becomes the glue holding it all together while Maria Bertel on sax, freaks the hell out, using an array of pedals to create waves of processed feedback. This band is on fire and ruled the festival for me, even more so than the mighty Fire! (No pun intended). John Doran
Ah, The Ex. Often dismissed as old hat or too alternative in the Netherlands (amongst some who really should know better), the band have had something of a comeback in recent years. On the Sunday they are both curating and playing Dudok. They take full advantage of this situation to have as much fun as possible. Arnold de Boer's booked the obscure but brilliant chanteur/"straat jonge" Arend B Blau to belt out Dutch language paeans to his mother and Amsterdam. Terrie Hessels and Andy Moore play hooky from their parent band to crunch out some seriously hot shapes in jazz-noise project, Lean Left. Dudok has the feel of a classroom where Teacher's swanned off for a fag.
When The Ex themselves walk on stage, there's a feeling of expectancy but also curiosity. Here was an audience ripe for plucking, right for mashing. And the band, past-masters at summing up a situation, realise they can let rip. It's very apparent that alongside their usual craftsmanship and nous there is something else on show. This most easygoing and unpretentious of bands have an aura about them tonight that warms the hall. "Essence of Ex. As worn by Punks". They are still as precise and determined as ever; deconstructing the audience, packing them up and shipping them off. But there's an extra richness and presence in their three-guitar attack.Their sound buzzes and saws through Dudok; tracks like new song Shut Up and Addis Hum and How Thick You Think are glitter-sprayed komodos swaggering through space. Kat's spot with 'Top Of My Lungs' is beautiful without being the least sentimental. 'Every Sixth Is Cracked' is just killer; the song's stop-start groove balancing the melody brilliantly, and Arnold's ending is manic and funny. Gott in Himmel, tonight The Ex chime and soar, their gravelly sound sparkling and flashing, like wet shingle on a sunny beach. Terrie's guitar growls and grates, driving the brilliant closer Maybe I Was the Pilot into a parallel space. This gig by The Ex at Incubate is triumphant. Richard Foster
It's been a long but brilliant day at Dudok. The Ex's curation has been a triumph; hosting acts from the dankest, dustiest corners of the Dutch underground to those who regularly tread the international jazz, folk and "world" circuit. uKanDanZ are last up; four tall, serious-looking Frenchmen and a short, solid Ethiopian lad with a grin a mile wide, wearing the most buffed up shoes outside of Chelsea Barracks. For the record, uKanDanZ are a crunch act who draw on both traditional Ethiopian songs and a bit of Steve Hillage when it suits; often at the same time. Here in Dudok, they patiently set about their business; encouraging the sax and guitar to wind their way round the incredible sonic structures the rhythm section has set up. People start to nod along. Even at this early stage the music is already "somewhere else" and we are quickly aware that we are not watching a standard set of songs. The music is utterly infectious. But it's impossible to describe the uKanDanZ gig in much detail. Their songs have the ability to make you feel utterly refreshed, without remembering what you've just heard. Still it's obvious to all present that round the midway point, the band have crossed into a place where only meltdown is possible. The tempo picks up and the playing gets utterly frenzied, they start pulling weird faces and gurns at every available opportunity and singer Asnake Guebreyes belts out a range of melismatic squeals and wails. More worryingly (for the shoes at any rate) he starts indulging in a set of high kicks. Things get hotter and hotter, and somewhere in the back of everyone's minds a bell has rung. Pandemonium. The places howls, shuffles and wails along. Everyone is dancing. Even the "African Music Fans" have forgotten to beam out their (terrible) beatific smiles and have got sucked into the swirling jig down the front. Three encores ensue, including an incredible incantation that starts the closing track. What has Dudok just witnessed? Richard Foster
Photo by Thomas Quack
Wire's festival closing set at Midi on the Sunday night is customarily joyous. Who better to end a weekend of raucous noise, frantic rock and scorching electronics than Wire? A band who have between them had dabblings with all of the above types of music and have always demonstrated an ability to meld them into fascinatingly alien textures and forms. As grittily enjoyable and hell-fuck noisy as their set is though, it's the appearance of the Pink Flag Guitar Orchestra on stage following the main set that gets the blood pumping. For those not familiar, the Pink Flag Guitar Orchestra is what happens when Wire corral everyone they can find with a vague understanding of which end of a guitar is 'up' – tonight including various East India Youths, GG:ulls, Orlandos and more from around the festival – and get them all to merrily blast along in the chord of 'e' to their classic 'Pink Flag'. The result of 20 guitars going of in your face in this close proximity is like taking a pumice stone to the brain. It's as loud as the gates of hell clanging shut and as refreshing as a scalp massage. Everyone on stage - from the hairiest of rockers to the skinny indie types seeking refuge in their fringes – is grinning from ear to ear, and a look around confirms that most of the crowd are, too. What simple creatures we humans are, that something so un-mysterious and so sublimley dumb should be so thrilling. But after a week of incredible music, a lot of which has deliberately and systematically sought to provoke and challenge, its a terrific reminder that sometimes the greatest pleasure comes from simply bashing the crap out of the nearest thing that will make a racket. Mat Colegate
Circuit Des Yeux
As the final grains of Incubate's sand are pouring into the base of the hourglass, I pop into Paradox just in time to get floored by Circuit Des Yeux. This avant drone folk project creates a singular, unnerving and bewitching sound - with Hayley Foh's vocal style being the hook that won’t let you go. Over pedal FX drone, minimal DIY electronics, 12 string finger-picked guitar and accompaniment from flute and violin, she slowly reveals a singing style which can only loosely be described by reference to Robbie Basho, Antony Hegarty, Diamanda Galas, Patti Smith and something wilder, untamed and street corner; perhaps Pussy Galore's Jon Spencer or even, weirdly, The Trashmen's "Papa-oom-mow-mow" gibbering drummer, Steve Wahrer. As I stand and watch Foh - hair dragged violently over her face like a wraith from an Extreme Asia horror movie dressed in cool dimestore clobber - I get that thrilling sensation that I'm experiencing something entirely unlike anything else I've seen or heard before. John Doran