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

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Image: 75 Dollar Bill

After a tentative start in its new home at Sage Gateshead, last year’s TUSK felt like something of a standout for the festival, something main man Lee Etherington acknowledges. “The first TUSK at Sage Gateshead in 2016 was quite a nervy venture as we really weren’t sure if merging our aesthetic and Sage’s was going to work, but we left at the end of that weekend just amazed at how well it worked, so we presented last year’s event with a lot more confidence and we’ve also developed a really good working relationship with the Sage team. The production values at that place can’t be beaten anywhere else for miles and TUSK is all about showing our audience new music in the best possible circumstances, so yes, it feels like home now.”

As ever, booking the acts for TUSK is a complex mixture of personal taste – Etherington’s, but also Hassan Gaylani’s and Joe Murray’s – and artist availability. “I’d say the three of us at TUSK have a certain collective aesthetic and also we’re not into the idea of crowd-pleasing, which I know may sound perverse but TUSK is about hearing/seeing stuff you aren’t likely to have had the chance to before. We also want the line-up to be really wide-ranging stylistically – we like the idea of each act being followed by someone utterly at odds with what you’ve just seen, and to make the whole weekend a sensory rollercoaster.”

we like the idea of each act being followed by someone utterly at odds with what you’ve just seen, and to make the whole weekend a sensory rollercoaster

The big news this year is that having scored a performance from Terry Riley – one of those artists who genuinely deserves the term legendary – the festival is taking over Hall One for the first time. Etherington is clearly excited by the prospect. “Much as we love Terry Riley, and he’s possibly influenced the kind of acts we present more than most, we never thought we’d be in a position to bring him to TUSK, and it happened by chance really. His set will include some of his solo work and then go on to the duo with his son Gyan. We’ve been looking at using Hall One for a while but it’s a matter of getting the right act to justify it. Terry Riley will bring a bunch of people into the world of TUSK that might not have experienced it otherwise, and then we can hurl other music at them too and hopefully they’ll come back again next year and dip their toe a little deeper.”

Another exciting booking is Moor Mother, although because of her comparative ubiquity at similar festivals this year, she wasn’t originally considered. “But then we heard Irreversible Entanglements and loved that immediately,” explains Etherington. “We hassled their agent into setting up a tour – we were probably a bit of a pain in the arse and it was quite a hassle for him but he managed to do it and I think they’ll definitely be one of the fieriest things of the whole weekend. If only we had time to get them and Konstrukt on stage together too, that would be something. But then we’ve got Konstrukt with Otomo (Yoshide) and I’m so excited about that.” 

75 Dollar Bill are another likely highlight. “Their set up couldn’t be more stripped down yet they produce these really hypnotic grooves. There’s something very desert rock about it even though they’re from New York, almost like if Neu! had been from Western Sahara.”

As ever, the Tusk Fringe promises great things too. The TOPH crew are now based at the Workplace Gallery and will be hosting what Etherington describes as “a full-on program of late night mayhem. They have Lee Patterson in residence all weekend and have Heat Sick and Rian Treanor coming, amongst others. Workplace is another of our partners – they’ll host the Drone Ensemble’s exhibition there from late September and right through the festival – TUSK, Workplace and Culture Lab did a call out for North East artists to apply for a commission to create an exhibition for the festival and Drone Ensemble were chosen. They’ve used the commission funds to build a whole load of new instruments, including gongs that are fired in a kiln and all kinds of amazing stuff; it’ll be an interactive exhibition so you can add your tones to the eternal drone.“ 

Visit the website for the full far-reaching programme of music on offer. Our advice is to be unafraid of the unexplored, unexplained and downright weird…

TUSK Festival takes place at Sage Gateshead from Friday 12th-Sunday 14th October.


Image: Full Mantis


Another way in which TUSK is expanding its reach and hopefully drawing new audiences into the fold is by making this year’s film programme free to non-festival goers. A lot of this is down to strength of the screenings. “With the minimal resources afforded to them, Joe [Murray] and Has [Gaylani] produce a brilliant film program for TUSK every year so we felt it was time it got more recognition,” explains Etherington. “They put together a series of stuff that you’ve very likely never seen before and they unearth some incredible films. So we wanted to maximise the number of people that saw the film programme and a way to do that is to invite non-festival goers to come along for free too.”

One of the most enticing elements promises to be the Rajasthan Live Cinema performance. “We showed a film last year that was basically a trailer for what has become Rajasthan Live Cinema – travelogue footage by Seb Bassleer and Marten van der Glas of the Dutch collective Rebel Up! Soundclash. They basically visited the Indian holy city of Pushkar, which is famous for its huge camel fair, its religious iconography and its street music. So plenty of visual stimuli for someone with a camera. And then their set will be a live remix – audio and visual and with other layers added – to create a really disorienting, almost psychedelic piece.”

Other unmissable screenings include the much lauded film about jazz artist Milford Graves, Full Mantis. “It submerges you into the rhythm of his playing and then swims around through various aspects of his life, his teaching, his martial arts and repeatedly back to his drumming. So it’s more a series of impressions and feelings, like swimming under water and then popping up to find yourself in another part of Milford Graves’ world.”

The TUSK film programme will be presented in Sage Gateshead’s Northern Rock Foundation Hall on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th October.


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