INTERVIEW: Northern Electric Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: John Dole

It may be next year before we experience Ouseburn’s own summer festival season in full swing, yet the lifting of restrictions has at least allowed a handful of the Valley’s staples to make a return. Among those taking the plunge is Northern Electric Festival, a passionately curated and strikingly diverse showcase of North East electronic music, held at Cobalt Studios on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st August.

“We can’t wait!” Enthuses co-organiser Steven Chell. “Like most people, it’s not just the live music we’re excited for – it’s seeing our friends, getting back in those environments and being part of the ecosystem again. I think people have been reminded how big a part of their lives the music scene is, and whatever was valuable to us at the beginning of the pandemic is all the more so now.”

Usually a sprawling, multi-venue beast, Steven and company have – perhaps sensibly – kept things simple for NEF’s 2021 comeback – though even this scaled back edition presents a substantial taste of the creative zest the region has to offer.

For most acts, it’ll be a first performance before an audience for some 18 months. The layoff has proved trying for musicians of every hue, but far from ring rustiness Steven backs this year’s line-up to kick back stronger than ever. “The artists have had time to reflect on what’s really important to them as well. A lot have mentioned to me that this period been an opportunity to brush up on skills, learn new ones, hone their musical identity and refine their sound. With so many artists having worked on distilling what makes them special, I think every performance is going to be more distinctly ‘them’ than anything we’ve seen previously.”

With so many artists having worked on distilling what makes them special, I think every performance is going to be more distinctly ‘them’ than anything we’ve seen previously

It’s quite the prospect – particularly considering the breadth of talent on show. Friday kickstarts with the woozy psychedelic grooves of Psydove and the experimental retro-futurist production of SQUARMS, before climaxing with irrepressible DIY beats and absurdist lyricism from Badger.

Saturday’s live bill is topped by vibrant ‘80s-inspired synth-pop outfit Blamire, who’re shadowed by ever-evolving bizarro collective Emergency Librarian 2, Vigilance State’s minimal, dystopian dark wave, experimental alt. rap vibes from John Dole and heart-on-sleeve hip-hop courtesy of Scrannabis. Following Blamire’s headline set, festivities are rounded off with the traditional Northern Electric club night, featuring a trio of sets from Tony Daly, Tokyoacidcru and MOVE Residents.

It’s a scene NEF and various offshoots have done much to foster, yet as the festival’s fifth instalment approaches, Steven admits to a subtle shift in focus: “I feel like providing a platform is becoming less of an important role for us, because the artists who’ve met through the festival are sharing ideas, helping each other out, and now as things open up again they’re playing gigs together,” he says. “We’re still always on the lookout for new acts, but it’s nice to now be growing and supporting a community rather than establishing one.”

At just £15 advance, NEF also continues to offer superb value, with tickets available on the door those who only wish to attend one evening.

“I think gigs over the next few months are going to be really special,” Steven concludes. “There’s going to be an energy, a positivity and a sense of community and gratitude that is so easily lost when we start taking things for granted and under-appreciating these incredible luxuries. It’s a great excuse to enjoy Ouseburn for a full weekend, see your friends, try out some new music and have a dance. Your ticket also helps support local venues, bands, DJs, sound engineers and promoters get back into the swing of things, and to continue working on exciting art and events.”

Northern Electric Festival takes place at Cobalt Studios,
Newcastle on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st August

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