The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Stow Fest This Weekend
The Quietus , September 15th, 2016 12:32

Four days filled with the manifold essence of psychedelia, festival organiser Julian Marszalek explains

Stow Fest is set to take place in Walthamstow this weekend with over 100 bands billed to perform across a number of different venues around the London borough of Waltham Forest.

One of the aims of the festival is to exhibit aspects of Walthamstow's musical diversity, opening various venues to live performances by acts, local and from further afield, stylistically ranging from blues to acid house. The event also includes talks and a walking tour telling the musical history of Walthamstow, a story which has only recently begun to surface, as Julian Marszalek tells us below.

Events will take off on Thursday, with a reggae night at the Mirth, Marvel & Maud with local dub-crew Foundation Sound International headlining the bill. On Friday, things get going with The Oscillation (w/ Hanging Stars & The Left Outsides, see below) headlining a bill at Ye Olde Rose & Crown and disco-funk night at The Chequers, featuring DJs from the Eastern Front Soundsystem, amongst others.

The next day, The Raincoats' Gina Birch will talk to former Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon and journalist Neil Taylor about the history of DIY culture in Britain. Also on Saturday, St Michael & All Angels Church will hold acoustic performances by performers associated with the London Forest Choir. Of course, there are a great number of better- and lesser known bands playing on all days, with events on Saturday and Sunday beginning at noon each day. The festival closes with a party at the Wild Card Brewery featuring Freerotation resident Leif and Arsenic Mines. A large proportion of the events listed will be free of charge.

We caught up with festival organiser Julian Marszalek to discuss (Waltham-)Stow and psychedelia's unbroken appeal.

How did the idea for the festival come about?

Julian Marszalek: The Stow Festival started in 2011 as a grass roots festival, run and curated by volunteers, and was a reaction to noticing how much musical talent was based in Walthamstow. The initial idea was to the showcase that talent and bring it to the attention of the wider community and utilising spaces such as bars, cafes, libraries and the like that weren't being used as music venues. It was also a great way of bringing the community, talent and local businesses together.

Since then, the festival has grown exponentially on a yearly basis. The inaugural event showcased around 35 bands over 10 or so venues. Last year's event saw around 7,000 people attend the events over the weekend - and that was up from the 4000 the previous year. This year's event features about 100 acts playing in around 20 venues.

We're really pleased that we've managed to attract bigger names to the festival. Last year saw a sold out headlining performance from Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind and this year we're really thrilled to have attracted a wide range of names including The Oscillation, Guadalupe Plata and The Bonnevilles through to house DJs such as Ashley Beedle and Dave Congreave. Factor in grime, hip-hop, reggae, country music, techno, experimental, classical and indie - just to name a few - and we've got something that represents the borough and caters for a lot of tastes. And that's before we even mention the musical history walking tour and panel discussions.

Tell us about the Small Wonder exhibition.

JM: The Small Wonder exhibition is part of the Punk Waltham Forest programme, was put together by journalist Neal Meads, and it celebrates the role played by record shop and label, Small Wonder, and Walthamstow, during the early years of punk.

Originally selling reggae and prog records and based in E17, Small Wonder owner Pete Stennett had his head turned after seeing the Sex Pistols play the Walthamstow Assembly Hall in 1976 and so became one of the first record shops to actually sell punk records in London. As such, as well as being a destination for nascent punks, the store also operated a mail order business that sent out punk records all over the world.

They then became a record label, first releasing 'Mucky Pup' by Islington band, Puncture, before going on to release debut singles by The Cure ('Killing An Arab') and Bauhaus ('Bela Lugosi's Dead') and many other bands that just wouldn't have got a look in from the record industry.

What the Small Wonder exhibition does is contextualise the history of the shop and label, the times that it happened in from a cultural and political perspective - you've got to remember that was the time of a high right-wing and fascist presence on the streets - utilising artefacts from the time. These include original flyers, record sleeves, posters, missives, fanzines and photographs.

We've had quite a lot of Small Wonder's original customers come through the door and they've been sharing what boils down to the same inspirational story: these were kids who found music that inspired them to either form bands, write fanzines, put on gigs of their own or have their ears opened to new musical sounds and possibilities and get involved in activities that might otherwise have passed them by and Pete Stennett and his shop and label motivated them to do that. And it's something that has had a profound effect on their lives, even to the present day.

Why is psychedelic music so important?

JM: Psychedelia is a gateway to so many alternate possibilities and crucially, it's not just about one thing. And what it definitely isn't is a row effects pedals going 'whoosh'. It's about exploration, discovery, taking a look at another point of view and coming back from that with a new perspective.

I think it's especially important in times like these. It's a music that flourishes under strife, largely because it reacts against it. There's no doubt that there's an element of escapism about it but that's no bad thing; who the fuck wants to be stuck in this reality all the time? But that said, challenging the status quo through music and how you react to it can be a life changing experience. And you've got to bear in mind that psychedelia is a broad church. It isn't limited to guitar music. You can get as much of a psychedelic experience from dancing to house or disco as you can getting your head blasted by someone like The Oscillation.

Ultimately, it's importance lies in not accepting things as you might perceive them but in taking a glimpse at what might be and the attempting to apply that to your reality.

Tell us about the Hanging Stars and The Left Outsides (both might
 not be known to all readers at tQ).

JM: What I'm really pleased about with the line-up for The Stow Festival's Psychedelic Night is that it covers different forms of psychedelia. Take The Hanging Stars, for instance. Theirs is a really interesting and melodious take on cosmic Americana that really is a thing of beauty. And it's heartfelt, too; they're not a pastiche but a band that genuinely applies psychedelic methods of altering perception through a form of music that doesn't obviously spring to mind. It's worth checking out their debut album, Over The Silvery Lake, because they've delivered something really quite special that deserves to be heard by a wider audience.

The Left Outsides are Alison Cotton and Mark Nicholas and I caught them at the Green Man festival a few years back and I was really chuffed to find out they were from Walthamstow. It turns out we'd been drinking in the same pub for years. Now, they're coming at psychedelia from a pastoral angle. This isn't some hippy-dippy bollocks but instead are a seductive venture into drones, harmonies and acoustics that lifts the form out of the ghetto of cliche and into areas that might not have been otherwise explored. They've worked with Martin Noble from British Sea Power and Bark Psychosis' Graham Sutton and I think they're bringing something really arresting to the psyche party.

You put a strong emphasis on visual aspects. What makes this audiovisual 
combination so crucial to the psychedelic experience?

JM: Ah yes, the hypnagogic light machine will be at the gig. This is a device that produces kaleidoscopic effects within those who use it while inducing a sense of bliss. Psychedelia is as much about all of the senses as it with what occurs in the brain. The A/V aspect of the whole thing is a reminder that we're not using our senses to anything near their full potential.

Certainly, as a society and in the times that we live in, I think we're getting increasing alienated from each other with far too much emphasis on the self rather than the whole. In a very small but no less important way, I'm of the opinion that a shared psychedelic experience is a force for good that brings people together. Let's face it, you're always going to have a good time with head people into head music rather than some gakked up pillock on his tenth lager.

Stow Festival runs across various Walthamstow locations from September 15-18. For more information, click here

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.