Incubate Festival 2014: Tilburg, the Netherlands – five top bands we saw

Incubate’s a great place to see a gig as I’m sure regular readers of Louder than War will appreciate, given the blazing reviews this magazine has posted about the festival’s last few editions. The festival, this year celebrating its 10th anniversary, threw out a bewildering number of choices for the gig goer; but somehow we (that’s Tilburg resident, snapper and underground aficianado Tjeerd van Erve, pop journalist Jasper Willems and myself, occasional Louder Than War scribe Richard Foster) picked out five highlights that sum up this brilliant underground festival’s diversity and edge.

(All photos © Tjeerd van Erve.)

1. Dead Neanderthals and Friends – Endless Voids

(Richard) Possibly the gig of the festival was the Dead Neanderthals Endless Voids show at the studio stage of Theaters Tilburg. TheatersTilburg is a slightly oppressive and very formal concrete and glass arts complex on the edge of Tilburg’s inner ring, built during an attempt in the 1980s to make the sleepy old working class town into a “world city”. As ever with this sort of civic planning, attempts to make a town unique usually end up in making it look like anywhere else, and with less soul and character than before. Maybe that’s why (given the setting) this show was so special.

(Jasper) Well, free jazz dissidents Dead Neanderthals (Otto Kokke & Rene Aquarius) always revel in the unexpected. At this year’s Incubate Festival, they managed to assemble a number of their companions in the Netherlands’ close-knit community of wide-eyed experimentalists: sax/clarinet noisenik Colin Webster, Dirk Serries (vida obmana, Fear Falls Burning), Peter Johan Nyland (Hadewych++, Distel), Steven Vinkenoog (Donne et Desiree) and last but not least, Rutger Zuydervelt, aka Machinefabriek, with whom Dead Neanderthals released the bone-chilling DNMF LP earlier this month on Moving Furniture Records. And Dead Neanderthals have worked out a musical battle plan for all of these guys to carry out. Even the name Endless Voids… heck, it conveys the iconography of some sort of dystopian future. Indeed, for two hours straight, Dead Neanderthals take us someplace else. Unlike a regular – the word “regular” being irrelevant in this case – Dead Neanderthals show, this elaborate ambient piece never ushers into complete pandemonium.

(Tjeerd) One hour and forty-five minutes of drones, the whole concept in itself is epic for one thing. In what seems to be an extension of the DNMF release early this year, Dead Neanderthals and friends dragged the audience in the studio stage into a dark, “doomed-out” bliss. The eight guys piled noise layer on noise layer in a weird freeform mix of doom jazz, metal and industrial. You can say that Endless Voids is the ultimate noise of the underground: and precisely the kind of show you wanted to experience on Incubate. Surprising, amazing, forward-thinking (whatever that maybe) and giving you a lasting experience. No way you are going to forget the depth and intensity of the thick layers built up by the saxophones, mixed with industrial percussion and deep doom drones.

(Jasper) All of the musicians on stage served as a cog inside the machine, a machine that meticulously builds up an intense pressure. Zuydervelt’s use of the modular synth and tone generator provided some rigid textures, whereas Kokke and Aquarius utilised their instruments as abstractly as possible. Each person has equal – yet somewhat stationary – leverage to propel the music forward, funnily enough compelling the listener to look inward. The whole thing conveyed some pretty vivid imagery, in my case a huge spaceship taking off and landing on the surface of some idle celestial body. Endless Voids was a massively forceful, magical ride that hopefully hasn’t lapsed just yet…which is to say, it could’ve even lasted longer given the chance, couldn’t it?

2. Carter Tutti Void 

(Richard) Carter Tutti Void found themselves part of the Thursday “Female Pioneers in Electronic Music” showcase in 013; a night that alsosaw a number of brilliant gigs by Holly Herndon, Puce Mary, Stellar OM Source, The Space Lady and Gazelle Twin. The whole package was superb, even if doing something presented as “Female Pioneers in Electronic Music” would lead to queries in people’s perceptions of what should have been there. Or whether we should really care about what sex people are when they make great music; female, bi, male, transgender. But fuck it, sometimes general and seemingly crude statements force us to realise and appreciate the obvious and remember specifics make up the whole; and I’m pretty sure that’s what Incubate had in mind.

I don’t think Carter Tutti Void have played that many gigs together previously; and I’m not sure whether they’re the sort of act that does, or will, or even should play that many shows. But in one of those brilliant subversions what should make things good, the Carter Tutti Void gig confirmed that when the spirits move you and you find like-minded souls to break your artistic bread with, anything is possible. They made a brilliant album with Transverse last year and in the cavernous and spooky Main Hall of 013, supported by huge abstract visuals which had something of Bridget Riley about them, Carter Tutti Void proved that their vision could be made flesh; laying  waste to the gonzoid, freaked out crowd in 013. It was like watching the three priests coming back from the sacred hill to enact an instructive socio-magic ritual, in front of members of the tribe. Primal juddering beats created a space to feel encased in. Cosi Fanni Tutti’s voice added a never-caught but dimly remembered memory that soothed and unsettled. And slashes of Void’s guitar cut through the swampy rhythms like a bronze knife scraping across the sacrificial altar stone. There was a palpable feeling of future-past in the room, a sense that mind-maps pertaining to our future conduct could be glimpsed, (if we concentrated hard enough). Could the audience work it out? It’s funny that in these times where our ears have been de-tuned to such an extent and in so many ways by the digital revolution music that was once seen to be subversive, unlistenable or even evil is now embraced so readily, and with such need. It was an incredible experience.

3. “Polska na Incubate” 

(Richard) It seems there are a hell of a lot of great Polish bands about. Incubate showed a number off throughout the week. Picks for us were the free electronica/jazz-improv of Baaba, (WAY better than I make it sound) the tough Fugazi/Warsaw howls of Hokei, and the brilliant “Play at Home” take on Terry Riley that Innercity Ensemble created. Such was the quality and invention shown, we could go on about them all at considerable length. What I will say is that most seem to share a “make do and mend” philosophy as well as a deeply communal, collective spirit; probably borne by a worldview that incorporates experiences, memories and passed-on folk tales of social and artistic adversity as well as just getting by on the minimum. Of course, I’m wildly guessing here, and probably sounding like a right patronising first world twat. But – certainly going on the evidence of the bands showcased in “Polska na Incubate” – the amount of personnel and stylistic interchanging on show did create this organic collective, and multifaceted vibe. And we want some of whatever Innercity Ensemble are on.

(Jasper) Here’s the thing about Incubate… Whether an artist is depicted in the festival guide as drone music, free jazz, folk or post-punk… It’s never ever as obvious as the – often blatant – compartmentalization you perceive on the surface. Coming to watch bands feels like this unwrapping of a present. The music’s not just there for you to take in, you have to be receptive to it. Once you look beyond that surface, you’ll find the stuff that truly sparks your curiosity. However the most special cases are those bands who completely sneak up on you afterfailing to do just that. Innercity Ensemble was that band for me this year.

This unit from Torún, Poland were about as riveting as it gets. Frankly, I haven’t heard anything quite like them. Despite the name suggesting some kind of metropolitan imagery, their artwork actually depicts more an emphasis on the organic, kind of “environmental” bliss-out. And that was going on in the music too. During the performance, jazz, ambient, indigenous music, progressive rock all felt as if they’d been joined together and preserved for ages, submerged beneath a rich and fertile layer of topsoil. And it’s just unbelievable the way this band can completely retract and unfurl on a whim, pulling you in like a tropical storm (or whatever force beyond human control you wish to name). Innercity Ensemble’s music just keeps building on this wave of  instrumentation, coalescing around a theme just to depart to somewhere else, it catches you off guard each and every time, leaving your left brain scrambling. Bliss.

(Richard) I thought they were this remarkable, organic take on Terry Riley’s work with John Cale; Church of Anthrax. A sort of drum-circle evening take on psychedelic jazz. God that sounds bad. But it was very Velvet Underground in that metallic, thin, but enriching way the Velvets could spin out an ever-changing, steely-eyed groove. They were amazing.

4. Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra

(Tjeerd) Fifteen minutes before the show there is already a small crowd pressing against the doors of the main theatre hall of Theaters Tilburg. Maybe the queues before the shows of Wovenhand and Goat day before at Midi had led to a determination amongst these music lovers not to miss out on the Canadian band. Ninety minutes later we know they were right to wait; this show was a display of true greatness. Starting of with “Fuck Off Get Free” the five piece took over the cultural centre and created their own autonomous art zone. They were in tremendous form, bringing their growling noisey postrock to a stupendous level, blasting the new material of Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything with an unexpected extra level of energy. This was music that washes over you, offering the escapism and rest needed after such a full week of bands and experiences. The only thing somehow bothering was the restriction of the theatre seats, since especially on the crescendos you want to throw your hands to the sky, just to let the band fuck you over a bit more. And then when they kick in “What We Loved Was Not Enough” the tears come: yes it was tiredness, but mostly it was about beauty. This is what you came for you.

5. Tusmørke

(Jasper) Combining a Druidical get-up, psychedelic British folk, Jethro Tull and a Funkadelic swayback seems like a bizarre equation, butwhen a band can make a steady alchemy out of these components, it’s definitely something to behold. Oslo-based quartet Tusmørke have somehow figured it out. Its obvious they’re willing to go to great lengths to impose their esoterics on this Paradox crowd, with the singer/bass player making his way to the stage through the crowd, wielding two iron bells.

The crowd responded in mixed fashion: some were left bamboozled, while others completely immersed themselves into these arcane musical backdrops. Tusmørke seemed to relish playing on tenterhooks as opposed to doing everything by design, which really is a good thing. Thriving on those primeval Black Sabbathian theatrics and malice, right down to the singers Ozzy-like scowl, this band was refreshing to watch. All the thespian Aleister Crowley lore in-between songs actually served some purpose too; leaving the listener more bemused than amused. Announcing a song about the rich elite leaving the rest of earth’s population at their own peril… That’s bound to add a certain gravitas, regardless of the Norwegians’ apparently “comical” shadowplay.

(Richard) I still don’t know what to think of Tusmørke if I’m honest. Initially I thought that watching something that had SUCH recognisable elements (Jethro Tull and Gong, and to the point of pastiche at times) wouldn’t really get me anywhere. But I still had bags of fun; as they were great at times, and weirdly bad at others. But always compelling. Further, post-gig exploration (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kMmWp2DqtQ) shows them to be pretty poppy in a “gloopy” Super Furry Animals way. But as I said, at times the gig really did captivate and you get the feeling that if they could stop teasing us and give us a clear sign that their pagan trip is either the real deal OR inconsequential fluff, we could get more out of it.  And to be fair to them, on the day in the brilliant Paradox venue, their gig was very very entertaining and the stage banter was nothing short of brilliant; apparently there are 4 plants in Oslo’s Botanical Gardens that we must revere. Make of that what you will.

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