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

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Image: Magma by Georges Besnier

Beyond a vague notion that the TUSK Festival programme will cover everything from radgy improv noise to soothing drones, deranged guitars to alarming performance pieces, it’s always a pleasant surprise each year when Lee Etherington and the TUSK team begin to gradually roll out the names.

Last year marked the first time TUSK moved into Hall One and this year it’s Magma’s turn in the big room. This French outfit have been confusing audiences for 50 years now (notwithstanding a lengthy hiatus in the middle) and while their music is essentially prog, it’s all so much odder than that. Frontman/drummer Christian Vander formed Magma as a response to the death of his hero John Coltrane, invented a cosmic backstory and language (Kobaïan) and his band shares much in common with the likes of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and Funkadelic in their maximalist approach to performances.

Another big catch this year is The Necks, the legendary Australian improv trio who whilst ostensibly jazz in structure, take it somewhere very different indeed. Their performances tend to be fully improvised, around an hour long, and never repeated. Camae Ayewa (aka Afro-futurist rapper and poet Moor Mother) has been something of a fixture on the more interesting European festival bills for the last few years. This year, following some Twitter-based serendipity, Ayewa will be collaborating with the lauded London Contemporary Orchestra on a specially commissioned piece called The Great Bailout.

There are mysterious, cult artists and then there’s Jandek, the deeply reclusive underground musician who has released just shy of a hundred albums since the seventies without anyone really knowing who he is and without appearing live until 2004. He’ll be meeting his rhythm section for the first time on the day of his TUSK performance and your guess is as good as mine as to what we should expect. Remarkable Swedish composer Ellen Arkbro will be opening the festival with a free lunchtime appearance at Newcastle University’s Kings Hall, using that hall’s magnificent organ to generate huge tones and drones to rearrange your body chemistry.

Other likely highlights in an extremely strong bill include a rare performance from Eleh, who produces incredibly detailed drone and flutter pieces; Jorge Boehringer (Core Of The Coalman) and Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh (Woven Skull, Cian Nugent) appear as the viola duo Swiss Barns; Newcastle’s very own ‘Satanic lounge act’ Mondo Sadists bring the ugly/beautiful sludge; TOPH director and remarkable human dynamo Mariam Rezaei will be collaborating with the equally prolific Lasse Marhaug to perform The 42 Mirrors Of Narcissus, a four-turntable plus string quartet set-up that sounds absolutely intriguing; agridustrial mad scientist Farmer Glitch is back for three sound-hacking workshops, and there’s polyphonic vocal drones from Albania’s Grupi Lab. 

There’s so much more, so go check out the website and then get a ticket.

Tusk Fringe

The Fringe programme of TUSK Festival has grown in size and ambition over the last few years. The three key players are Adam Denton, Mariam Rezaei and Mark Wardlaw – all ridiculously prolific mainstays of the Tyneside underground who operate as The Old Police House Collective. As well as the vast amount of other projects the trio are involved in, work on the TUSK fringe programme is constant. “There is no overriding focus beyond our personal tastes, but we’re always mindful of existing in late-night after-party context, and often gravitate towards music at the intersection of the dance floor and more experimental realms.” They explain.

The Fringe programme always has a strong showing from local artists, and while the TOPH crew feel the scene is as vibrant as ever, their main concern is “the loss and increasing precarity of venues, which of course we’ve had first-hand experience of.”

When asking about some of the notable events in the programme, it was inevitable that Gwilly Edmondez would come up. “Gwilly is a very special man,” they explain. “He’s been supportive of TOPH since the start and has played some legendary gigs over the years in various formations. Given his performance last year (in which he cut his way out of a suit he’d been secretly wearing all day), we asked him to curate it this year. There’ll be no announcements as to who or what is scheduled, just chaos throughout the night.”

Another key contributor this year is Luke Poot. “We’ve long been admirers and supporters of Luke’s singular work. There is something arresting in Poot’s approach to performance that is difficult to define and that we feel just needs to be witnessed. As with all of our residencies, we wanted to give him the support necessary to realise something he’s had in mind for a while but maybe lacked the time and resources to make happen. So along with a plethora of Poot interventions across the weekend, we have the privilege of staging the premiere of Richard & Judy The Opera at Alphabetti Theatre, featuring an all-star cast of TOPH and TUSK associates.”

Asked for their suggestions as likely highlights of this year’s Fringe, the TOPH crew seemed very enthused about Itoa. “He is one of the most interesting footwork-influenced producers in the world right now so it’ll be interesting to see what he brings. Blood Sport played some legendary TUSK Fringe sets in their time and they’ve now begat Hyperstition Duo. Also Mark is hyped for his own Kenosist set where he’ll be DJing with three decks plus drum machines and modular synths, and it’ll probably go horribly wrong. Also the live debut of the mighty BLACKDAMP.”

TUSK Festival takes place at various venues from Friday 11th-Sunday 13th October


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