REVIEW: BBC 6 Music Festival Day 2 @ Sage Gateshead | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Well, someone at the BBC loved The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard. For the duration of the BBC 6 Music Festival, The Sage has been given a preview of the post-apocalyptic, with foliage, trees and vines bursting through the floor and climbing up every available surface and wall. It looks rather beautiful: the natural world reclaiming the earth after the frivolities of the apes that walked. This is likely not what the team had in mind, but suffice to say I much prefer my reading of the whole thing.

Perhaps blasphemously, we decide against trying to squeeze into Hall One for Maximo Park’s opening performance, and instead we head to Hall Two to see Ghostpoet introduce his new sound. The dark, moody beats of his previous work has been thoroughly discarded in favour of live band art-rock: indeed, he’s made a point of claiming TV on the Radio and Radiohead as the main influences on his new album, in a valiant effort to head off ignorance at the pass. What hasn’t changed is his ear for intelligent, spacious arrangements – the music here is never over-powering, and retains the minimal, architectural power of his earlier productions – as well as his considerable on-stage charm. He’s all smiles and thumbs up between the songs, and his enthusiasm for his new songs gets the crowd fully on board with Ghostpoet Mk. II.

We are in Hall One however for what is, for this writer at least, The Main Event. Trying to compare The Fall with other bands is a thankless, if not outright impossible task. They run to their own rules, Mark E Smith wielding a unique, diabolic power that is all his own. He can, as he chooses tonight, dress like a respectable, retired geography teacher, and he still exudes a rock and roll terror to put Lou Reed or Alan Vega in the shade. Starting with a clutch of tracks from superb recent EP The Remainderer, it takes a little while for the current two-drummer line-up to really click into form, once they do, they are flying.

The new material aired from forthcoming album Sublingual Tablet shows them carrying on down the road of warped, wrung-out-of-shape garage rock they’ve been pursuing the last few years: taut, grinding grooves overlaid with Eleni Poulou’s experimental synth work and pushed to breaking point, with Dedication proving a real highlight (complete with Smith causing ear-splitting feedback as he bashes his microphone over the cymbals). A take on 2006’s Reformation sees the band lurch into bad-acid space rock, while towards the end of the set Smith ushers one of the drummers to come and perform a kind of duet with him – said drummer, naturally, chooses to do so in the style of a Mark E Smith impersonation, offering us a brief glimpse into a whole new world of vocal dis-harmony as the two MES’s battle it out. The band push on long, long after their set time, and who the hell is going to tell them to stop? This is Mark E Smith’s world, we just live in it.

After that, it’s hard to know quite what to do with ourselves. We end up catching Simian Mobile Disco out on the concourse, which proves a fairly present surprise. Having long ago ditched the guests vocalists and big pop sounds of their first two albums, their evolution into a steely retro-house outfit sounding finally complete during tonight’s live set. If they can’t be accused of doing anything new, the way the set slowly, slowly teases and builds shows certainly proves they’ve put in the hours to master their current sound.

Next on the list is Django Django in Hall Two, who are more than happy to deliver on the big dance party that Simian Mobile Disco only hinted at. Although only single First Light is unveiled from their much anticipated second album, what they do play instead suggests that this band already has the festival season sewn up. Every song is treated like a climactic 12” edit, full of extended percussion breaks, blasts of samples and synths and delivered to a crowd more than happy to embrace hands-in-the-air rave etiquette. The utter joy with which the band pull apart, re-shape and re-model tracks like Waveforms and Default is infectious: has Hall Two ever seen anything quite like this before? If they can pull off the same tricks with their new material, then they might have just stumbled on one of the great live shows of our time.

After that, there’s only one option: race back to Hall One to find a spot for headliners Hot Chip. Unsurprisingly, the room is at breaking point for their set, and thankfully the band is more than happy to oblige with an hour of The Hits, from new single Huarache Lights through to established classics such as Boy From School and Ready For The Floor. Their expanded live line-up, complete with steel drums, draws out every last drop of groove and melody from these already over-flowing songs. This is a full-on, no holes barred pop extravaganza, with the room reaching critical mass in time for a euphoric Over And Over. After a whole set of that, the thought starts to rise: is this in fact the greatest singles band since Blondie’s pomp?

The night ends with a trip to the Boiler Shop Steamer to take in DJ sets from Four Tet and Jamie xx. Four Tet, for his part, is more than happy to play cat and mouse with the audience, throwing in some blasting free-jazz assaults before shifting to some more crowd-pleasing dub antics. Jamie xx, for his part, eases into some polished techno and the more polite end of garage to send the Saturday night of the 6 Music Festival out in style.

You can catch more of the weekend’s events on BBC 6 Music and watch and listen to highlights on the BBC 6 Music Festival website.

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