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

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Image: Eiko Ishibashi

As another TUSK Festival rushes towards us, it’s time for my annual catch-up with festival main man Lee Etherington about what we should expect. Etherington was as understated but clearly enthusiastic as ever, and keen to assuage some of the concerns regarding this year’s location. Last year’s move from the old Star & Shadow to Gateshead Old Town Hall was a little disorientating but worked well in the end, the leap in production values making up for the loss of the S&S’s ramshackle charm.  But the latest move up the road to the vastness of Sage Gateshead has alarmed some TUSK regulars. Etherington seems entirely calm about it all. “There’s no need to worry and as you’d expect, it’s something we’ve put a lot of thought into. The Sage as a building can seem quite formal in comparison to a typical TUSK Festival, so we’ve done a lot to make it ours and basically turn it into TUSK HQ for those three days, with activity all over the concourse, exhibitions, projections and so on. And we’ve made sure there’s food and drinks on offer that suit our audience’s tastes and budget. So it’ll definitely retain the character of TUSK and I think our programme this year is probably the strongest one we’ve presented so far.”

As for the potential culture clash with the other Sage attendees, Etherington is similarly sanguine. “It doesn’t worry me at all. It’d be too easy to just view Sage as the regional home of classical or more mainstream music but it should belong to us all and the kind of music we work with should be hosted by Sage too – we all contribute to the arts funding that built and runs the place so we should all be catered for by it. We open with Mark Carroll’s solo cello set on the concourse on Friday so we hope to catch some of that classical audience and give them a cello performance that probably differs a lot to their expectations.”

I think every day of the festival we’ve lined up acts that’ll knock people sideways

Indeed, he seems especially excited about the opportunities the new location offers. “The main shape of the festival will be the same as it’s been for the past few years. Live music all evening in Hall 2; films, talks etc. in Northern Rock Foundation Hall on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. And then on the concourse, we’ll have Bongoleeros performing on Saturday afternoon, Mark Carroll on Friday evening, VA AA LR creating a roaming electro-acoustic performance through the concourse on Sunday, exhibitions, merch stalls, Sam Grant’s piano installation all on the concourse, so it’ll really feel like our building for those three days. And we have Farmer Glitch’s synth-making workshops and Vicky Langan doing her performances in one of the cabins at the rear of the building.”

As ever, the TUSK bill has been assembled with no editorial ethos as such. “Like every year with the TUSK programme, we want to bring people here that we and others have admired for years but have never played here, bring new music to people’s ears and create a very diverse line-up. That’s always been our approach and I think this year we’ve certainly achieved that – music from Argentina, Mexico, Sudan, Indonesia, Japan, the UK, US and elsewhere and almost everyone is performing in the region for the first time. Our ‘policy’, such as it is, is basically: do we love the music and can we fit it into our line-up? It’s all about widening people’s listening, throwing up surprises, creating a unique programme.”


Image: Guttersnipe

It’s almost standard now for the acts at TUSK to have the biggest impact to be the least expected, and Etherington sees plenty of similarly surprising potential in the bill. “I think Senyawa are going to leave people with their jaws hanging, there’s so much impact to their music even with its sparsity, I think it’ll really hit people. Rubber O Cement will just be a gobsmacking spectacle that’ll really feel like it’s from another planet. Los Siquicos Litoralenos sound like Sun City Girls meet Os Mutantes so that’ll go down a storm. Porest is just a genius. Wolfgang Voigt, being ultra-minimalist in a very maximalist way, accompanied by Rachel Lancaster’s visuals on a gigantic screen will have a massive impact. The Scorpios is just beautiful soulful Sudanese music. And Guttersnipe really will blow people to the back of the room I think – there’s massive intensity to their music but done in a brilliantly controlled way, pure maelstrom. I think every day of the festival we’ve lined up acts that’ll knock people sideways.”

Other acts that clearly have his pulse racing are the newly expanded version of Hen Ogledd, with Dawn Bothwell joining Richard Dawson and Rhodri Davies for a live debut which will see them exploring more electronic textures, and an appearance by John Carpenter-influenced techno legend Silent Servant. Fovea Hex, the fascinating experimental folk outfit fronted by Clodagh Simonds and featuring Nurse With Wound’s Colin Potter, are bound to be worth seeing, as is Tokyo jazz improviser Eiko Ishibashi. The almost indescribable Usurper and the beat-driven improv noise of Bad@Maths also promise great things. Wire editor Derek Walmsley is in the house one again, this time talking to Yorkshire psychedelicists Ashtray Navigations and the aforementioned Senyawa. And once again the TUSK Fringe – hosted for the second year at the nearby Old Police House – promises something very special.

“It’s great to see the Fringe grow each year and that’s something we want to keep developing. Mariam Rezaei and the folks at OPH lead on that and are great at getting acts we’ve lined up to do something extra-curricular after-hours as well as involving other acts not on the main bill. “

TUSK Festival takes place from Friday 14th until Sunday 16th October at Sage Gateshead.

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