LIVE REVIEW: Brave Exhibitions Festival @ Cluny | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Brave Exhibitions main man Joel Thompson referred, with his usual wryness, to the bill for this event as ‘a weekend festival based on the theme of my taste in music’ and it has to be said that it was pretty damn close to the theme of my taste in music too. The noise-hounds descended from far beyond Newcastle, and, as Joel kept declaring, – ‘everyone was mint’ and everything ran like a dream, something not many first-time festivals can claim.

Okay Champ kicked things off in Cluny 2 and seemed to have taken a darker turn than usual, descending into a detuned doomy grind underneath John Edgar’s sardonic and bitterly funny lyrics – imagine a noise rock band covering Calvin Party and you’ll get the picture.

Then the first of many scrambles upstairs to find Blóm already killing it. Every time I see them, they seem fiercer and more focussed, and tonight they were wonderful. It wasn’t long before Hells was in the crowd taunting, proclaiming and chanting while Liz drummed like a demon and Erika got noises out of that bass that I still don’t understand. There’s a complexity and invention to their ferocity that demands close attention alongside the lyrics and not for the first time they reminded me of Penis Envy-era Crass. Blown Out never let you down, do they? And once again, I think the restrictions of a shorter set suit them, forcing them to compress their jams into something tauter and more tense, a restrained, teasing middle section giving way to a magnificent full throttle coda. 

Obviously, wearing embroidered robes and chanting whilst playing 30-minute jams isn’t something that should have happened in 1970’s France, let alone Newcastle in 2018, but this is The Girl Sweat Pleasure Temple Ritual Band so they get away with it through sheer presence and invention. Sweat’s maniac death cult vision felt a little restricted on the tiny Cluny stage but I think we all drank the Kool Aid anyway. Sad to say, Black Helium were the only band I saw that didn’t do it for me, which is a surprise given they’re on the exemplary Riot Season label. There was just something a little too ‘rawk’ about it all and it left me cold.

And then something magical happened. That Part Chimp were going to tear the roof off was never really in doubt. But the combination of the Cluny PA, maestro Ross Lewis on the desk and the brilliant vibe throughout meant that tonight’s closing set was as good as I’ve ever seen Part Chimp and as good a gig as I’ve ever seen at the Cluny. What Part Chimp do is remarkable and harder than it looks: they play incredibly loud without ever overpowering the melodies, taking the best bits of eighties noise, garage-punk, stoner metal and more, and turning those elements into about the most exhilarating live sound there is. It’s not surprising they’re on Mogwai’s label – despite the difference in approach, both bands understand that riffs and feedback are cathartic and beautiful. And it’s all done with such self-deprecating charm. Just fucking magnificent.

Everyone already looked a little stunned and festival-weary on Saturday afternoon, myself included, but Ballpeen were a bracing wake-up call. Their brand of furious hardcore lies somewhere between the nineties Dischord sound and the more abrasive bits of Mclusky (and at times vocalist Graham shares a certain bulging-neck-vein intensity with Falko). Workin’ Man Noise Unit were the perfect follow-up, and despite raging hangovers and a long drive north, came out swinging. I love this band deeply, and as with Part Chimp, what they do looks simple but really isn’t – propulsive post-hardcore with killer melodies and a Picciotto / MacKaye vocal double-whammy, delivered with cheap whizz energy and Buckfast intensity. Workin’ Man Blues – from their just released It’s Not Nothin’ was especially gnarly. WMNU have read my mind (or my Last FM profile) and worked out that a killer blend of Black Flag, Rocket From The Crypt, Mission Of Burma and – naturally – Part Chimp would make me explode with joy, and so it proved. Again.

It has to be said that by the time GGAllan Partridge came on, I was slipping into something far worse than a hangover, and if they’d been any less brilliant I’d have probably sloped off for a lie down. But they were even better than their EP suggests, a gloriously off-kilter dayglo girl-gang riot of pop and politics, bad dates and worse mental health, calling to mind The GoGos and The B52s as much as Ill. They pull faces at any mistakes, they try and make each other laugh, the sax player is wearing a pirate’s eyepatch and Danni and Hannah move like sixties dancers who’ve seen too much Vic Reeves. Eyesore might be my song of the year, catchy as fuck but with real pain under the candy-coating, an iron fist in a rubber glove. The Gee Gees (is anyone calling them that?) are your favourite new band.

And then the hangover that had turned into something worse turned into something very bad indeed, I got a cab home and despite my efforts to come back to the Cluny, I spent the next several days in bed with an absolute fucker of a virus. I can’t believe I missed the rest of the weekend – Ill! Terminal Cheesecake! Bilge Pump! – and between bouts of vomiting, read the reports on social media with a mixture of jealousy and happiness. But despite that, Brave Exhibitions was a very, very special thing and we must pray to whatever it takes that it comes back next year.

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