INTERVIEW: Tusk North 2023 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Laura Cannell

Despite being one of the most culturally significant forces in the city, Newcastle’s magnificent Tusk organization has had a period of upheaval of late, buffeted by austerity, ridiculous xenophobia around artist visas leading to cancelled shows and some significant changes in the team structure. But as the triumphant gigs they put on towards the end of 2022 showed, they’re emerging bloody but unbowed.

Next up is the second instalment of Tusk North, the compact but bijou companion to the main festival which returns to the Lit & Phil on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th of March. Last year’s inaugural edition was a huge success, with the Lit & Phil hosting excellent performances from the likes of Bad Amputee, Penance Stare, Apartment House and Kenosist. If anything, the line-up for Tusk 2023 is even stronger and artistic director (and Tyneside experimental motherlode) Mariam Rezaei is in a positive mood. 

“The post-lockdown gig economy has changed quite drastically” she concedes “but TUSK powers on with a curious and cheeky spirit. We want to see new, mixed and adventurous line-ups. Tusk North holds something new for everyone coming along.” It’s long been the Tusk way that the only real organizing principle behind what gets booked is that they’re into it, and that still holds. “We love the music from all of the acts we’ve programmed – it’s as simple as that.  We’re excited to see all of the acts at the Lit and Phil. There’s a unique power in acquiring and witnessing beautiful music in a gorgeous, historic and forward-thinking space. Collaborating with Newcastle University and The Lit and Phil library ties perfectly into TUSK’s ethos.”

Rezaei has some formidable and important ideas about how organisations should be programming festivals that are very much in effect here. “It’s important Tusk continues to put its ideas and hopes for the future of new music into action. We don’t sit and preach the need for change; we put it into action… What’s the point in just programming the same as everyone else? Tusk has always worked hard to program both mixed and specific lineups and we hope we’re smashing some hierarchies and keeping it refreshingly mixed. I honestly don’t know how it’s still ok to have all male-lineups ANYWHERE.”

You can see that attitude reflected in a line-up that has the wonderful East Anglian recorder and violin player Laura Cannell, whose blend of early music and the avant-garde has been producing astonishing sounds for a decade or more,  heading a Friday bill that also includes Nakul Krishnamurthy, Nagruska, Sgerbwd, David De La Haye’s Networking The Flight Of The Monarch (an intriguing blend of field recordings and networked live performance) and the debut appearance from The Agarfinger Inexperience, a new and potentially terrifying combination of local underground stalwarts Jonas Halsall and Shaun Thomas. Saturday is headlined by People Like Us (aka Vicki Bennett), the plunderphonic audio/video collagist who’s been blowing minds for three decades, performing Mirror. It also features the likes of Strange Digressions, Verbena Folk Ensemble and – for the second year – Edward George recording one of his remarkable Strangeness Of Dub shows.  There’ll be artist talks with Edward George, Laura Cannell and Vicki Bennett too.

Tusk North takes place at Lit & Phil, Newcastle on Friday 3rd March and Saturday 4th March

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