British music conferences/festivals could learn a lot from Incubate or the other European events. Only Unconvention comes close in its imaginative ideas and bookings to the way the Europeans have upped the ante for these kind of events.
In the UK conventions, venues are clogged up with endless indie acts and very little variation in the music but over on the mainland they take the word ‘eclectic’ very seriously and your head is bombarded with music from every conceivable style and angle. In the UK it’s all about the latest ‘buzz’ indie band, the latest trendy band to get what’s left of the music business all excited, in Europe it’s about diversity and a whole skreed of musical styles from black metal to ambience from punk rock to folk from free jazz to outsider music. I know events like Incubate are not meant to be mainstream but for a music fan they are pretty amazing, oozing a diversity and talent that all festivals should consider.
Incubate is an annual event in Tilburg in the west of Holland, a small town with a ridiculously vibrant scene it’s the perfect setting for this hectic action. There is a great attention to detail, like putting 100 pianos across the town for anyone to play, unlike the UK where these would just get smashed up the pianos are the focus of attention for the passer bye and it’s quite amazing how many great piano players one town seems to have with even the gnarled old tramps playing sections of classical music.
During the day a large theatre in the town centre is the scene for talks by Michel Azerrad who wrote the brilliant ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’ which interviewed the key players in Americas post hardcore scene from Ian Mackaye to Gibby Hianes, the book is great and the talk covers the attitude of those musicians as they reinvented just what you had to do to make music in that period with a scaling down of rock logistics for nationwide tours and the reinterpretation of punk rock for America which built the foundation of all modern rock in the USA.
In the evening we get invited to a special meal to talk about the Internet with the Dutch government. A collection of Dutch MPs and civil servants listen to a select bunch of web designers and journalists from the Quietus to myself from Louder Than War as we tell them about the internet and it’s pros and cons.
It’s a fascinating debate that touches on filesharing, the nature of the Internet and how it’s changing from what was once thought of being a powerful force for good into a more mixed bag of realities from the polarizing of opinion with anonymous trolling to the powerful forces unleashed on twitter for the Arab spring. The end result is still optimism but a pragmatic response from the Dutch government when they are asked to be more open on the Internet themselves.
The rest of the evening is then a stunning blur of great musics…
Demdike Stare are a mind-blowing trip into a place of dark, tripped out ambience. Cleverly combining samples and snippets of music into a mesmerizing whole the Lancastrian record collecting obsessives build up a brooding soundscape that is stunningly original and with an undertow of the black stuff that makes it eerily nightmarish.
Fronting a huge film that flickers behind them that looks like one of those seventies Dennis Wheatly style half porn, half tripped out, devil party flicks the band sound like they are providing the most decadent of all party soundtracks. It works on a psychedelic level as it takes you on a freaked out trip and works on an ambient freak trip pulling you in with all sorts of textures and sounds and incessant ambient percussive grooves.
Named after one of the Pendle witches that you a real sense of their time and place and with their mode of musical construction where the pair of obsessive record collectors construct their music from layers of found sound from their crackly record collections their whole trip is really effective.
The core pair of Whittaker and Canty rearrange the past with half forgotten sounds and textures from car boot vinyl into whole new soundscapes that all at once sound modern with the warmth of the past utilizing the ghosts of long lost pieces of music. The final result is a real trip, a very English mash up of sound that evokes a weird mixture of long lost satanic ritual, tripped out post hippie parties and the sounscapes of film soundtrack and ambience.
Mind already altered by Demdike Stare it gets further battered by the amazing free jazz of drummer Chris Corsano and Lebanese saxaphonist Christine Sehnooui. Corsano, who sometimes plays with Bjork is probably the best drummer I have ever seen in my life, coming from a hardcore punk background he has done that thing that all free thinking punk rock drummers do and burst through to the other side, deconstructing rhythms and using free jazz as a loose template to explore rhythms and hold the tension for unbearable amounts of time. Utilising violin bows on his snare drum, plastic toys pressed into his drums and an incurable rhythmic skill he has taken free jazz to another place.
The real genius is the pairings he is making over the weekend, two sets a night with a different collaborator, we catch him with Christine, who is a stunning sax player, she puts water into her sax to make it gurgle and plays all sort of skronky, breathless and wheezing sexual splats of sound that make the most human noises I’ve ever heard from a sax. The very instrument seems to be a part of her body as she locks in with the drummer and takes us all on a pretty amazing trip where time seems to get stretched to the maximum. Stunning.
Then we are whisked of to a giggly packed small room where a Swedish dubstep DJ is doing a global mash up with Tanzanian MC Steve Rutta/XPlastaz. The pairing is part of a project to join up the very talented and exploding African electronic music/mc scene with European colleagues, sort let’s make friends with music project but with good artistic results and then pair of them look like they have been doing this together all their lives as they cruise through a set with a cross continental chemistry.
For a direct contrast downstairs Yob are playing filth encrusted, sludge rock that has been slowed down to crank out the maximum pain and misery from it’s form. And all the better for it.
The slower they play and the more they hit that filthy mudslide, core metal core- the better. There is something about metal that when it is slowed down it is far more effective bringing out all its melancholy and Hades filth into the open and finding a groove all of it’s own. Yob are stunning musicians and pull of this form perfectly.
There are other diversions n the night, a British dubstep crew who feature a brilliant DJ and a gonzoid MC, and a blur of clubs and bands that soundtrack this very brilliant festival where every twist and turn you discover something new… and there are still two days to go…