Sharpe is the new music showcase event launched this year in Bratislava – the fast-growing capital of Slovakia that is only 40 miles from Vienna making them the two closest capital cities in the world fact fans!
Already feeling like a firm fixture in the new kind of showcase festival that has the very east side of Europe commitment to cutting-edge bands and forward-thinking, it has swiftly joined Ljubljana’s MENT and Tallinn Music Week as one of the new wave of showcase events. Events that are pushing forward from the older business based models and offer up bands that change your life instead of the mundane queue of ‘buzz’ bands and groups that are embraced by the music industry which make your heart sink.
Astonishingly SVIN have been around for a decade since they formed in Copenhagen yet our acute antennae have somehow missed them.
Within seconds they are our new favourite band of the moment.
The three-piece recorded their fourth album, “Missionær” at Signor Ros’s studio in Iceland and deliver a stunning set of ‘abstract rock, drone-based folklore and ambient noise’ that somehow marries Swans relentless heavy groove with free jazz skree and wonk excursions but you can dance to it.
They rightfully claim that they are delivering ‘ layers of polyrhythmic drums, floating keyboards, roaring saxophone and explosive guitar they have made room for airy, meditating melodies and circulating motifs; and it’s powerful and propulsive and underpinned by the most bear-like drummer hammering out an engine room beat that locks in with the keyboard bass creating perfect dark dance that brings the room to a powerful celebration. Normally bands like this create their genius in the flickering shadows on the underground but SVIN have enough ammunition to go the whole hog and take the dark power onto the main stages.
They are that good.
They are a band that formed in the free jazz underground and has migrated onto the fringes of the big scene without even knowing how magnetic their powers are. These grooves are infernal and the whole audience is dancing no matter what style of music they came to expect from the band. This is not head-scratching Avante-funk but pure delirium. SVIN interrupt the groove with free jazz breaks played on a curious plastic synth that is controlled by the breath. They experiment, they push boundaries and buttons and they leave the room awash with sweat and joy.
We need to get this band to the UK now!
2. 52 Hertz Whale
Fronted by a sweat-shod, much loved local eccentric who puts on a real heart on his sleeve impassioned and intense performance, 52 Herz Whale are another Bratislava possibility who somehow shoehorn the kind of melancholic heartfelt anthems of the Chameleons into the descending bass line, dark indie of early British Sea Power or even that dark lord avalanche of Exit Calm but cranked with a real power that belies some potential rock roots. The guitar does that flange thing and the songs are full of melody, heartache and desire.There is something totally compelling about the band whose intensity pins you to the floor and their songs melodic touch deliver a real compelling sucker punch.
Slovenian locals Autumnist offer something pretty original with their combination of samples, loops and a grinding, honking sax that explores a middle ground between soundtrack and indie dance grooves of 808 State and an experimental soundscape take on John Carpenter jamming with Massive Attack and a hypnotic blend of up-to-date electronica.
The drummer is wearing an Ian Brown t-shirt and if the band are no bunch of scallies and more earnest players they have that whiff of indie dance and trip-hop ‘scapes about them. A mysterious vocalist joins them for some of the tracks and her powerful cutting vocal that is the perfect foil to the grunting sax and the songs slave to the rhythm.
4. Andrea Belfi
From Verona, Andreas Belfi creates a brooding, dark, death disco soundtrack to the most dystopian film that you have never seen armed only with his stunning drumming and a self-generated wall of electronics. Playing with or against the pulse-beat he creates a dark mist that is like Hans Zimmer reduced down from an orchestra to one man and his imagination.
This is simple, stark stripped down dark soundtrack at its best and a stunningly original take on the form and proof of the octopus abilities of one person on stage armed to the teeth with modern technology and imagination.
Andreas has form- he grew up playing in punk bands in Verona before exploring the possibilities beyond the straight 4/4. He has toured with Mike Watt, Carla Bozulich, Jóhann Jóhannsson or as a member of B/B/S/ and The Swifter.
His stunning drumming nods at Shellac’s polyrhythmic brilliance or the pulse of electronic or the pounding brooding power of classical but he is very much his own man- the combination between his powerful rhythms and counter rhythms and the electronic pulse are stunning – the classic collision between the human and the machine creates the bright spark of another world.
Slovak band Papyllon deal the big rock – with a charming take on the stadium rush of a Muse or even U2 – their singer sings high and opens his heart and the butterflies of high octane emotion pour out. It’s gloriously impassioned stuff and avoids the juggernaut oversimplification of feeling that hampers the big bands and its scope and scale of ambition is quite impressive in a small room. The singer has a Jim Morrison charisma and hangs on the mic like a Jesus Christ of the high decibel. The band also vary their sound from quieter and more subtle moments, grandiose neo-Queen ballads and huge dirty industrial anthems.
6. Blue Crime
Dutch band Blue Crime bring their dreamy post-rock that pulls you into their introspective and tripped out ‘mysterious psychedelic moon pop’ world. It’s utterly beguiling and highly effective- a swirl of sound and ideas that shape-shifts and never settles into cliche. There is drone, dreamy melodies and slipping and sliding tunes that are a dense and fluctuating deep forest of sound and are truly hypnotic.
From Copenhagen Dominik Suchý and Matúš Mordavský deal a filthy dark and intense set of laptop techno from a duo whose roots are in noise rock. It’s this background that they bring to the fore in an avalanche of sound that respects the dynamic of the noise form and explores the exhilarating rush of high decibel and dense rhythms but with the added density that only digitally generated music can bring. The machine is cranked to the max with dark and distorted rhythms that they like to term ‘maximal techno’.
8. Manon Meurt
It would have been hard to believe thirty years ago that when My Bloody Valentine used to support my band, the Membranes, and slowly began to morph from dark garage Cramps filth into to lush soundscapes after Kevin Shields borrowed my Rat pedal and quadraverb for months that they would inadvertently invent a whole new oceanic space for music to move into.
So many of these festivals are filled with bands who take the so-called shoegaze template and somehow find another way to twist its endless vistas into something of their own. From the Czech Republic, Manon Mert are the latest band to do this.
Inspired by the British shoegaze movement of the early 90s and bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Ride or Slowdive have clearly helped shape the band’s sound characteristic by the beautiful ethereal vocals and wonderful guitar work.
The PA may not be able to contain their ambition but that doesn’t stop the band’s innate brilliance from cutting through the high decibel as delicate melodies surf the corrugated sound.
Diego drip with the brooding big Brit indie – the melancholic tinged stuff the dominates the daytime indie stations of these times. There is a whiff of Elbow to them with Guy Garvey’s lush, heartfelt, intelligent elegant ballads or the Editors dark post-punk, 21st-century indie pop. Every now and then they hint at a noisier past with a scurrying beat of something a bit filthier before switching back to their plaintive and deceptively melodic pieces.
10. Katrina Malikova
An event like this is never complete with an exploration of the local folk music culture which more and more has been reinvented into the 21st century. With her convergence of traditional folklore, classical music and contemporary art-pop Malikova creates a soupçon of sound pulls you in.