LIVE REVIEW: Tusk Festival @ Sage Gateshead (12-14.10.18) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Irreversible Entanglements

Now entering its eighth year, Tusk’s evolution into an annual highlight of the musical calendar has seen it continue to expand both in size and in scope. This, its third year at Sage Gateshead, felt like the best balance struck between not letting the politeness of the venue overwhelm the agenda whilst making the most of the opportunities offered by hosting an event as experimental as Tusk in such a high quality venue. With performances staggered across Hall Two and the Northern Rock Foundation Hall, a level of sound and production value rarely encountered for many acts on the bill, and the opportunity to host ambitious site-specific works like Lea Bertucci’s Double Bass Crossfade, here performed across the entirety of the concourse, Tusk now feels truly at home here.

As always as Tusk, the sheer diversity of the bill – from the manic, freeform avant-punk of Historically Fucked to the striking string drones and sound dust of Sarah Davachi and the glorious songs of Hameed Brothers Qawall and Party – makes for an enriching and exciting if slightly exhausting experience. Vibrant as their set is, Sunday night closers Konstrukt (with Otomo Yoshihide sitting in, adding additional Dark Magus-esque psych guitar fragments) hit a wall alongside their audience near the end of their performance (the perils of scheduling eclectic free jazz performances for after midnight on a Sunday for you there.) Throw in the always enthralling late-night offerings from The Old Police House crew, hosted this year at the Star & Shadow Cinema (a personal highlight being the annual Wrest visitation/destruction mission on Saturday night), the extensive film programme and additional art installations at the Workplace Gallery, and it’s little surprise that this is an even more overwhelming Tusk weekend than usual.

Before that point though, the highlights are many and magnificent. CHAINES is an immediate standout on the Friday. Composer and multi-instrumentalist Cee Haines takes their time in building up their set, but as it blooms the audience is treated to a clutch of beautifully damaged, askew torch songs, Haines manipulating their voice to foreboding and enthralling effect. With a dancer making their way through the crowd during the set and confetti falling at the end, this ambitious presentation deserved special praise.

On the Saturday, Lea Bertucci’s own set dominates discussion, her haunting layers of woodwind and electronics building up to a beautiful climax of church organ and distortion that makes for the weekend’s biggest emotional punch, while Otomo Yoshihide’s solo set proves the rare performances that freaks out even the hardiest of Tusk regulars: whether taking a tuning fork to a set of live turntables or turning Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman inside out on guitar, this frantic ode to high treble is a visceral event.

Sunday night brings the biggest name Tusk have brought to the festival yet, with minimalist godhead Terry Riley appearing in collaboration with his son Gyan. Upgrading to Hall One for the performance, those hoping for an evening of Terry Riley’s more famous work or raga-influenced pieces may have been surprised by the jazz-heavy nature of tonight’s performances. The two Rileys establish a mesmerising interplay though, Terry’s dramatic, rhythmic piano a fine foil for Gyan’s busy lead guitar work. Towards the end, a piece played on melodica provides a rare moment of uninterrupted peace for Tusk, while one piece performed largely on iPad demonstrates that Terry’s experimental desire and interest in new sounds remains undiminished. (Because this is Tusk, this is of course followed by a heroically silly set of strange and playful techno from Dale Cornish. Between his wonderfully blunt and funny stage chat, his disco lights and flowers stage show and his talent for stark but absorbing sound design, there’s no set more charming and upbeat this weekend.)

The true apex of this year’s Tusk however arrived on the Friday night with the headline appearance of Irreversible Entanglements. Led by esteemed poet, spoken word artist and producer Moor Mother, their set starts at a furious pace – drummer Tcheser Holmes in particular delivers a hall of fame performance throughout – and only builds in intensity. Extrapolating from their self-titled album, the inspiration the band take from each other leads to some monstrous, fiery peaks, Moor Mother flipping through her book of lyrics to find the right declamation, the right narrative point or notice of protest for each new twist in the music. This astonishing, exciting set was Tusk at its finest: thoughtful and imaginative bookings, received with delight by an enthusiastic and open-minded audience. A festival of this quality and individualism is rare enough anywhere – to have it call Gateshead as home is some truly special.

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