LIVE REVIEW: Northern Electric Festival @ Various Venues, Newcastle (20-21.07.18) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Me Lost Me [I Lost My] by Sam Wall

Words: Ali Welford

Now in its third year, Northern Electric Festival has joined NARC. Fest and Evolution Emerging as a fixture of the Ouseburn calendar. An idiosyncratic celebration of our region’s somewhat overlooked electronic scene, this latest edition descends upon the Valley with its most diverse and adventurous series of line-ups to date, with sister events at Cosmic Ballroom and Tyne Bank Brewery stretching proceedings into the early hours. Given the wealth of talent and more than reasonable price of admission, it’s disappointing to reflect on a rather modest turnout, with Friday in particular drawing decidedly thin crowds.

Fortunately, audience interaction is strictly off the cards at Cobalt, where Lore kick things off in a blur of cinematic sounds and visuals. An alluring collage of drone, ambience and astral beats, their set grows increasingly enveloping the longer it draws on; my first pleasant surprise of the weekend.

Things aren’t quite so smooth for Novyi Lef over at Little Buildings, whose intro bears all the stutters, false starts and misplaced cables of a duo getting their heads around a new setup. Once they’re in business, however, new single Blue Lampshade proves a delicious slice prime New Order-ish electro, while older numbers such as Old Flo and Death of History morph into striking, scarcely recognisable forms. There’s even time for an aptly-chosen cover of LCD Soundsystem classic Tribulations, all of which whets the appetite for debut EP Ethic or Aesthetic, which they launch with a show at the same venue on Friday 24th August.

Next we’re off to The Cumberland Arms – the first of numerous shuttle runs between these two stages. I must confess a degree of indifference the last time I saw Mayshe Mayshe, but tonight her delightfully layered pop puts me firmly in my place; moulding everything from bells to hair-dryers into immaculately minimal DIY gems.

There’s no such subtlety once N/\L/\ takes to the stage. Whereas Mayshe Mayshe draws you into her world with a blend of charm and intrigue, Holly Readman’s brash, hyperactive beats leave you little choice, as though seizing an arm and dragging you through the crowd towards a sweaty, strobe-lit dancefloor. Fortunately, this particular captor is among the most thrilling newcomers on the circuit, and casts aside her supposed anxiety with magnetic technicolour bangers and an insatiable lust for performance. An essential watch.

Things aren’t much calmer back at Little Buildings, where Jennifer Walton rounds off what I can only assume was a knockout set in typically chaotic, gabba-fuelled fashion. By this point clashes have come into play, so having caught a grand total of 10 minutes it’s back up the hill for what’s left of The Cumberland’s headliners. With a palate leaning heavily towards krautrock and classic psychedelia, there’s no denying Behold a Pale Horse feel a tad out of sync with the rest of Friday’s offerings. If you’re going to push the envelope, though, there can be few safer bets than this quintet, who swiftly quash any tonal misgivings with another vintage showing.

Of course, all of this was a mere warm-up for the evening’s true centrepiece: the feverishly anticipated (among certain quarters) appearance of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Speed Donk Experience. Ever wondered how it’d feel to be violated with pneumatic drills while watching EastEnders or working your way through Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes? Well, rest assured… the donk gods hold all the answers!

Onto Saturday, where a delay at Cobalt allows us to gently ease into proceedings with the help of Mark Wardlaw. Okay, I’m being disingenuous – though a hair-raising avant-jazz drone generated by a cramped seven-piece line-up will at the very least have freed any dust still somehow lingering after NUTSDE. Luckily, my tinnitus just about subsides as Waskerley Way embarks on a dazzling showcase of recent full-length Fairlight; his heavily processed vocals lending an otherworldly quality to an expertly crafted cluster of hip-hop beats and worming basslines.

Next, we’re back at The Cumberland Arms, where a centre-stage ironing board heralds the appearance of everyone’s favourite barely-rap wordsmith, Faithful Johannes. With Outside Your House on hold, Tim Head’s emergence as a solo artist has plugged a significant hole in the local circuit – even if live outings look set to dry up for the remainder of the year. Luckily, there’s a warmth, humour and wonkiness running through the likes of Diplomatic Interventions which not only to leaves a lasting impression, but also to cements his standing among our most endearing and charismatic performers.

One of the weekend’s most eagerly awaited performances follows in the form of Video Spring; a brand-new project featuring Kate Edwards (formerly of Agerskow) and ex-Yellow Creature Marc Bird. My plan was to catch about half of their set before decamping to Little Buildings for Me Lost Me [I Lost My], but their gorgeous, mellow dream pop had me hooked from beginning to end. It’s the most accomplished live debut you could hope to see; infused with a delicate, understated charm and revealing a depth and register to Kate’s voice scarcely heard in previous projects.

Thanks to some favourable scheduling, there’s still time to catch the majority of Me Lost Me [I Lost My], whose growing reputation is reflected in the only truly packed-out room I encounter over the two nights. With a debut album on the horizon, it’s noticeable how the folkier elements of Jayne Dent’s repertoire are coming to the fore. There’s still an absorbing selection of drones and loops, but the chief consequence of this shift is to widen the scope for her vocal – a truly mesmeric gift, and one that’s increasingly assured in gracing the limelight. By way of a parting gift, we’re also offered a sneak-peek of the more beat-based material she’s developing in new outfit Halcyon Jane, and the effect is no less beguiling. A spellbinding set from a truly exceptional up-and-coming artist.

Finally it’s one last trek up to the Cumberland – and who better to round things off than the mighty Parastatic? It’s three years since our pre-eminent psych trio’s last release, Recall Fade Return, and if tonight’s fresh additions are anything to go by their follow-up appears to be roving in more of a post-rock-oriented direction (closer Béton Brut in particular carries the distinctive whiff of vintage Mogwai). Moreover, this is one of those nights where everything falls into place. The band themselves are on fire, while their characteristic light show – strobes, lasers and all – goes off with nary a hitch. Superb stuff, and a fine conclusion to an event which – patent curbs notwithstanding – delivers on its eclectic USP.


Emergency Librarian by Sam Wall

Words: Damian Robinson

Bar, say, a 50% share in the Pet Shop Boys, the North East has never really hit the big time in the world of dance music. Though we’ve certainly had the talent and the ability, we’ve lacked the luck or timing that an act needs to propel it from the ‘cool’ underground to the mass mainstream.

Building on this theme, it’s great that the Northern Electric festival sets its stall out with the mission of ‘celebrating electronic music and artists in the North East’ in an effort to build awareness and showcase the talent of our underground synth movement. 

On Friday night at Cobalt Studios Chlorine took us into the cinematic with a set propelled by searching soundscapes reminiscent of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack before things got harder with the tour de force Dressed in Wires. Thomas Ragsdale, the evening’s most intense act, brought his style of dark Trent Reznor energy and matched it with a blend of Ultravox’s Underpass and Cabaret Voltaire’s Red Mecca to create harsh, industrial, sounds. 

On Saturday SkinMechanix hit the Tanners early on with a hark back to the 80s synth sound reminiscent of The Normal. Their dreamy, hypnotic, sounds with interesting vocal lines was the perfect start to the evening.

Faithful Johannes and Emergency Librarian offered humour, interesting beats and sharp intellect in styles reminiscent of early Streets and Devo respectively. Visual, imaginative and intellectual, they both got loud cheers.

Finishing off at The Cumberland Arms, Parastatic brought their optimistic, OMD upbeat synth sound, and blended it with veiled political messages of unity. As always, they were brilliant.

Northern Electric proved a great festival for showcasing home-based, DIY-styled electronica. Not only did the festival succeed in raising awareness of local acts it will also have inspired more people to pick up an instrument and try the same. This was a weekend where the machines took control.

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