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

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Long (long!) after the pubs have shut, when the world outside is dark and still, there’s something rumbling in the deepest recesses of the internet; groups of musicians, artists and noisemakers are gathering, intent on showing off their strange colours and weird sounds to an audience of nightowls and seekers of underground, off-kilter culture.

As we reported last month, the increasingly ground-breaking experimental festival TUSK kicks off a two-week exploration of sounds from late September. Its stranger sibling, TUSK Fringe, will also emerge across two weekends (Saturday 3rd-Sunday 4th and Saturday 10th-Sunday 11th October), bringing an even more diverse line-up of weird and wonderful sounds and discussions after the main festival has ended.

Curated once again by The Old Police House, the Fringe is the place to come when you just can’t get that sexually frank gabba and electronic scree itch scratched anywhere else. TOPH’s activities are masterminded by experimental turntablist Mariam Rezaei, performer and composer Adam Denton (aka SW1N-HUNTER) and Mark Wardlaw (Kenosist) – who, rather aptly, collectively speak to me about their plans for this year’s virtual fringe festival.

The main TUSK festival is of course a wonderful thing, but by its nature it requires a certain degree of predictability. TUSK Fringe is the chaotic underbelly, with set-times kept loose and documentation often scarce. We provide a bridge between the edifying official culture and the dark recesses of the underground.”

One of the undoubted highlights of TUSK Fringe is in the unpredictable nature of the performances you’re likely to see. But when musicians rely on improvisation and volatility as their calling cards, the relative one-way street of virtual viewing can be a challenge. “With an online format there’s always less room for the unexpected, although we still try of course.” They reassure. “Initially the challenge was to capture the TUSK Fringe vibe in digital form, but ultimately it’s gonna be more interesting to lean into the situation and make something new rather than an imitation of the ‘real thing’.”

TUSK Fringe is the chaotic underbelly. We provide a bridge between the edifying official culture and the dark recesses of the underground

However, as with the main festival, online participation also has its plus points. “Geography has stopped being an issue when booking artists, so we’ve been able to get artists from the US, mainland Europe, Japan and Russia that it would never have been feasible to bring over in person.”

As for the line-up, it’s as eclectic as we’ve come to expect from the TOPH crew and they cite a handful of highlights: “Ghösh are one of the best pop groups in the world right now, with a sort of hyper-accelerated Atari Teenage Riot-meets-grime thing. Drvg Cvltvre is a master of rough ‘n’ weird house/techno. We also have inevitably-incisive lectures from Marie Thompson and Josie Sparrow. Electronic producer and DJ Shelley Parker will be performing an exclusive live set for us and we will be hosting an online exhibition of YOL, our TUSK Fringe Artist in Residence this year. We had some amazing performances in our TOPH Housebound TV series from several artists including Stable and FK Alexander, Adam Campbell and Tina Krekels, Firas Khnaisser and WANDAGROUP and we’re looking forward to sharing more new work from them too. The weirdest thing we’ve programmed this year is our first ever robot, 2DRUNK2CODE, and we have absolutely no idea what that’s gonna sound like!”

Add to all this a lecture programme which features discussions on improvisation from Yeah You’s Gwilly Edmondez and Scottish journalist and academic Stewart Smith, who also chats with Discus Records’ Martin Archer; underground legends David Howcroft and Andy Wood talk to Mariam about TQ N-aut and there’s an incisive lecture about the importance of Newcastle’s Morden Tower. “It played a vital role in multiple generations of North East weirdo music, and it’s a story that hasn’t really been told. We’ll of course have Alex Niven talking about the fabled Basil Bunting days, but we’ve also got a panel discussion with some seriously undersung local legends setting the record straight.”

Stay up late enough, and you never know what you might stumble upon…

TUSK Fringe takes place online on Saturday 3rd-Sunday 4th and Saturday 10th-Sunday 11th October. The main TUSK Virtual Festival continues until Sunday 11th October

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