FEATURE: NARC. Fest | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Free Love by Marilena Vlachopoulou

Some five years since our last Ouseburn takeover, Saturday 15th July sees the long-awaited return of NARC. Fest; a free feast of musical delights spread across the Valley, showcasing some of the brightest and best the North East scene has to offer. A collaboration between NARC. and the community-run Ouseburn Festival, this long in-the-works event offers an eclectic smorgasbord of acts across six stages, programmed by a clutch of our most plugged-in local promoters.

Proceedings get underway at 2pm, with a pair of the valley’s smaller yet most beloved venues leading the charge. Presented by local DIY label Flat Four Records, Little Buildings kicks off with wildly entertaining instrumentalists The Milk Lizards, whose twang ‘n’ bang surf riffage promises to bring beams of summer sun whatever the weather outside. Considering they’ve no recordings yet, we’re obliged to mention that Irked feature members of Blöm, Shy Talk, Cave Suns and more – yet with a succession of thrilling performances, this surging punk outfit are already outgrowing that initial ‘supergroup’ tag. Fashion Tips are a self-dubbed “neurodivergent clown posse” whose synthy noise-rock squall has rapidly established them as an electrifying, must-see live act. Swine Tax, by contrast, have had an unusually quiet 2023, with this their first outing since the release of latest single Annual Leave in April. A rollicking indie rock machine with tunes coming out of their eyeballs, expect a swift reminder as to why they’ve become such a popular draw.

If that sounds like a little too much bang and clatter, compelling alternatives await at the ever-dependable Cumberland Arms, who have laid on an afternoon line-up led by Taliraw – a multitalented Newcastle-based Czech whose spoken word storytelling, cello and electronic flourishes present an intriguing, authentic and genre-blurring experience rife with surprises. Next up, abstract duo Black Moss share vivid and intimate stories through Jimmy Campbell’s unadorned acoustic guitar and Mollie Birmingham’s dramatic, soul-stirring vocal, proving that simplicity – when done right – can remain the most captivating presentation. Finally, the collision of Anna Hughes & Jessie Howard coalesces two of the region’s most prodigious songwriting talents, combining the former’s illuminating folk with the latter’s dreamy melodies in heartfelt slow-burns featuring fiddle, harmonium, electric guitar and wondrous harmonies.

a free feast of musical delights spread across the Valley, showcasing some of the brightest and best the North East scene has to offer

From 6pm onwards, we’ll stretch the party into the night with four concurrent stages. At The Cluny, promoter Wandering Oak kickstarts with relocated Cumbrian singer-songwriter Melanie Baker, whose honest and direct lyrics touch on themes such as anxiety, self-reflection and queer identity. A perennial NARC. favourite, Faithful Johannes’ charming barely-rap vignettes make him a regular warmly-received fixture at such events, while the thumping electro of Glasgow visitors Free Love is guaranteed to incite raptures. Topping the bill are our region’s current psych kings Smote, hot off the back of their second Rocket Recordings album Genog, and set to extend their repetitive transcendence at their biggest hometown show to date.

The Tyne Bar’s outdoor stage has been the busiest of the lot in several previous years, and with promoter (and NARC. scribe) Confusion Is Next handling proceedings, this edition promises to be no different. Swiftly garnering an enthusiastic following with their spirited riot grrrl-inspired punk, Sorority Grrrls prove age is no barrier to making ripples; featuring members of favourites such as Cauls, Canyons and Idle Hands, Weekend Faithful supply stirring whole-hearted rock anthems sure to strike a chord with fans of The Hold Steady; riotous Teesside noise-makers Onlooker bring garage rock riffs aplenty; while multi-instrumentalist songwriter Jonny Sabiston (aka Wild Spelks) conjures scuzzy anthems from a potent mix of post-punk, pop rock and alt. rock ingredients, before ‘joycore’ pioneers Kkett make the step-up to headliners, bringing their noisy, idiosyncratic and fiercely upbeat brand of chaos to one of the event’s most prestigious slots.

Another regular NARC. contributor, Endless Window, is running things over at The Old Coal Yard, offering audiences their usual mix of eclectic, envelope-pushing sounds. Formed amidst the pandemic whilst members resided in two different countries, Iris Brickfield‘s bright, buoyant synth pop sets the scene for John Dole, who shuns rap’s cliches with an alternative hip-hop sound and seamless exchange between melodic croons and straight-up bars. Later, cult collective Swannek bring their delectable blend of jazz and neo-soul to the party; cyber-electro-rap-punks SQUARMS blend the sublime with the ridiculous – always innovative, occasionally baffling, never, ever boring; while the irrepressible force of nature that is Straight Girl ups the ante further still with their unique, explosive brand of electro catharsis. If you’re there, you’d best be prepared to join a conga…

Last but not least, new venue The Grove have put together a bill sure to entice many of us into a maiden visit. Kicking off at 4pm with neo-soul songwriter Rivkala and blues maestro Memphis Gerald, they’re joined later by Taang who put their own characteristic spin on the dancefloor-friendly indie of the ‘00s, before Georgia Mays neo-soul channels R&B, trip-hop and Afrobeat influences into bewitching tales of lust and heartache. The brainchild of composer Benjamin Fitzgerald, Sømnus effortlessly fuses the lush melodies and strings of classical with the rhythm and electronic pulse of dance music, while IMOGEN showcases a huge voice and a dynamic departure from her singer-songwriter roots, closing us out with a set that’s bound to confirm her long-vaunted star quality.

Whether you’ve been priced out of other festivals, or have money to spare for scran, bevs and band merch, this is one all-dayer you’ll not want to miss!

In addition, the wider Ouseburn Festival programme includes a vast range of entertainment on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th July.

Of particular note is a collab between World Headquarters (who celebrate their 30th anniversary) and Miso Newcastle, in which their event Get Together Newcastle take over the Ballast Hills site for a weekend of music, food and art which starts on the Friday night (the only ticketed part, the rest is free).

Lime Street will be the focus for stalls and performances across the weekend, with the Ouseburn Market packed with 60 stalls from local artists and makers behind Northern Print. There’s plenty to amuse families, with free boat trips which will run between Spiller’s Quay and the Swing Bridge; there’s immersive outdoor music, art, dance, circus performance and workshops at the Ouseburn Woodland Takeover courtesy of Skimstone Arts and the Ouseburn Trust; youngsters will love Seven Stories’ Storytimes in the Wild Roots Community Garden; and Toffee Factory welcomes arts organisation CHALK for a weekend of family-friendly workshops.

NARC. Fest takes place at venues across the Ouseburn Valley on Saturday 15th July.




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