LIVE REVIEW: Boundaries (Day One) @ The Peacock & The Fire Station, Sunderland (17.06.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

Image: Ivan the Tolerable by Lee Fisher

Indefatigable? Stubborn? Bloody Minded? Graeme Hopper might be all of these things, but he’s not a quitter. The second Boundaries Festival had even more hurdles to jump than the first (no funding, last minute Covid-based cancellations, the usual travails of promotion crammed into a two-day event). But know this: by the time the tenth Boundaries comes around, the council will be erecting a statue of him outside The Dun Cow and giving him a key to the city.

Friday evening kicked off in The Peacock with a decent turnout of the people you expect to see at these things, and a few you don’t, all out for a lovely time. The Ashley Paul Trio were an intriguing proposition – Ashley Paul herself has a long history in experimental music in myriad forms, and this relatively new trio sees her saxophone and genuinely remarkable voice backed by Yoni Silver on bass clarinet and Otto Wilberg on double bass. It took a while for me to appreciate what was going on – initially things seemed to veer randomly between delicacy and skronk without making a lot of sense, but by the end I was fully won over. Paul’s vocals – so childlike and intimate they reminded at times of Stina Nordemstam – would lull you before menacing bass stabs and Silver’s low-key but threatening contributions would unsettle and alarm, especially once Paul’s saxophone kicked in, by turns emitting balloon-squeak outbursts then a full-throated blast. I started conjuring images of Company Of Wolves-style fairy stories and such (childhood innocence beset by unseen terrors, that sort of stuff), but I shan’t bother you with all that.

The loss of The Unit Ama to the ‘rona was a blow, especially since there was barely any time to replace them on the bill. But you can count on Oli Heffernan – Stockton’s answer to Joe Meek AND Mike Patton (in productivity not sound) – to step up, hastily assembling a version of Ivan The Tolerable featuring regular collaborator and Zen Master drummer Neil Turpin (Bilge Pump, Objections, all the other bands) alongside Edwin Stevens (Irma Vep et al), who’d never played with them before. No rehearsal, no soundcheck, just straight into it. And it was, of course, a blast. The first track saw Heffernan and Turpin setting up a driving Dinger beat for Stevens to let loose across, making a glorious psych racket without really being psych, thankfully, The rest of the set was built around some pulsing rhythms – Heffernan and Turpin really do have an almost telepathic connection – with Stevens adding waves of guitar, unflashy but impressive. Their set was a delight.

Everyone then headed to the comparatively new and unfortunately far too large Fire Station across the square, settling in for two very different performances. Harrga – part of the loose Avon Terror Corps collective – is normally a duo but tonight Miguel Prado was absent, leaving us with Dali De Saint Paul/Nzumbe and her pile of equipment. Brilliantly lit for full drama, the first half of her set was powerful stuff, as electronic scree and skronk backed her often raw, exposed vocals, sometimes spoken, sometimes sung, sometimes screamed. That it was all in French inevitably reduced some of the impact for the monoglots in the audience but you got her (very angry) gist. At times it was like The Bug backing Diamanda Galas or something equally coruscating. Things came unstuck with the latter part of the set – there was a section that was dangerously close to performance art and some of the overall effect was diminished by it going on a bit too long. I suspect that might have been a function of missing a member. But for the most part this was impressive, harrowing stuff and reading interviews after the fact show the duo’s focus is on gender politics, sexual violence, racism and immigration (Harrga means burn in a Moroccan dialect, a reference to immigrants burning their identity papers to seek asylum).

Rian Treanor’s closing set drove home the idea that the stylishly austere venue could serve as a dark techno superclub a la Berghain, and Treanor made full use of the sonic possibilities of the place and its wonderful sound system. It would be easy to mistake Treanor’s work as some impressive and functional industrial techno but while the momentum and pacing of the tracks could find a home on Tresor or Downward, deeper listening revealed a much more varied and inventive palette. My notes mention Surgeon, Aphex Twin and Autechre and that seems fair. By the end of a creative but punishing set, there was a handful of festival goers throwing some drunken shapes in the pit and plenty of whoops from the cheap seats greeted his drops.

By all accounts the second day was equally varied and impressive and we can only hope that Hopper keeps ploughing onwards with this venture, Sunderland needs it and so do we.

Like this story? Share it!

Subscribe to our mailout