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Counterflows Festival Preview
Stewart Smith , April 3rd, 2012 11:15

Stewart Smith speaks to organisers Alasdair Campbell of AC Projects and Hamish Dunbar of Cafe Oto about this multi-city music festival

Each time some earnest new troubadour appears, guitar in hand and heart on beard, the concept of the singer-songwriter loses something of its potency. New festival Counterflows offers a bracing alternative to that cosy image, presenting intense and adventurous singer-songwriters in the context of experimental music making. Taking place across London, Glasgow and Berlin, Counterflows is a week-long exaltation of song, clamorous avant-rock, and improv both fiery and delicate.

"The idea for this inaugural Counterflows festival was to look at song in the context of experimental music making", explains co-organiser Alasdair Campbell. "We see song as fundamental to all music. Counterflows has developed and moved on since these initial ideas and the festival will explore the relationship with song and experimental music in different contexts. Integrity of expression is the key. Everything is deliberate".

Highlights include a rare solo set from Michael Gira of Swans, who brings his Old Testament rumble to Cafe Oto and a deconsecrated church in Glasgow. Two generations of weird America are represented by maverick folkie Michael Hurley and the remarkable Jospehine Foster. Grouper's Liz Harris will be dipping into her spectral songbook and also collaborating with psychedelic noise mutants Diamond Catalog.

The festival has pulled off a rare coup in bringing Korean acid-folk hero Kim Doo Soo and the incredible Japanese singer Kazuki Tomokawa to Europe.

"Tomokawa emerged from the same 70s underground folk boom as Kan Mikami (who performed in the very early days of Cafe Oto as one of our very first resident artists)," says Dunbar. "It's very rare that Tomokawa travels outside of Japan these days so this feels like a really important event. There is a degree of commitment and intensity to Tomokawa's live performances that you just don't see from other musicians. No hiding behind anything! There is something very exposed and direct about the way he plays that sets him apart from everyone else.

"I am really looking forward to seeing Kim Doo Soo. This is also a very rare opportunity to see him outside of Korea. Like Tomokawa Kim Doo Soo releases on Japan's PSF Records one of the best sources for underground music anywhere. This is stunning introspective Korean acid folk completely unlike anything you will have heard before".

All this alongside the long-awaited return of free-rock maniacs Casper Brotzmann Massaker, the dada improv of Sven-Ake Johansson and the electro-acoustic explorations of John Tilbury and Marius Schmickler, to name but a few.

"I am really looking forward to this duo," adds Dunbar. "It feels quite different from the rest of the festival in many respects. There is a spaciousness and stillness about this music that sets it apart. John Tilbury manages to express more in two notes than most people can in ten times as many".

Berlin gets a few exclusives, including a new project from Carla Bozulich, Bloody Claws, and rampaging organ trio Decoy with free-jazz legend Joe McPhee. The Glasgow leg of the festival, meanwhile, is particularly strong in its representation of the city's vibrant underground, with a number of local bands, DJs and artists taking part. Relentless guitar army Opqaue, featuring Lea 'Kylie Minoise' Cummings, make early Swans sound postively baroque, while Ultimate Trush's gonzoid noise-rock is always a blast. Bill Wells performs with his mischievously named National Jazz Trio of Scotland (they're neither a trio or jazz), while artist Torsten Lauschmann collaborates with contemporary music group Red Note Ensemble on an installation. There's also a free show from Glasgow-Leeds absurdists Volcano the Bear, who join the dots between Red era King Crimson and the UK drone underground.

For Campbell, the involvement of local artists is integral to any festival: "Local music making needs to be championed as not some parochial inconsequential activity but as equal to any artistic pursuit". He enjoys taking the music into a range of spaces across the city, from sweaty clubs to former school buildings. "All art needs to challenge the idea of form and in a music festival it is important to offer the opportunity to take part in various experiences".

In the future, Campbell hopes to expand Counterflows across Europe and further afield, while reinforcing its base in London, Glasgow and Berlin. Long may it run.

Various venues across London, Berlin and Glasgow from 6th-15th April. Full line-up and further details at the Cafe Oto website and AC Projects here.

Kazuki Tomokawa

Kim Doo Soo

Sven-Ake Johansson cucumber/drum jam

Michael Gira