Monday, 7 October 2013

INCUBATE 2013 Part 1

The annual INCUBATE event, this year at its IX edition, is part of the enviable cultural arsenal of the vibrant Durth town of Tilburg, near Eindhoven (world capital of design, and hot hub for cutting-edge art and innovative approaches), already on the international map courtesy of the prestigious Roadburn festival. Between 16th and 22nd September, happy punters (the passe partout ticket was very democratically priced) were able to enjoy - at any time of the day and night - concerts covering a vast spectrum of independent music, art exhibitions, performances and conferences spread across 17 different venues, all within the radius of the delightful old town center.

I flew over on Thursday 19th, ready to kick off an intense weekend by checking out the exhibition by Rafaël Rosendaal titled Showroom Art & Cars in collaboration with Ford. Welcoming a taboo-breaking era of hybrid fields of action, the discourse focuses on whether commercial collaborations tarnish the credibility and integrity of art. The Amsterdam multimedia and installation artist lent his contemporary vision to the transformation of the latest Fiesta model into a glow-in-the-dark arlequinesque sculpture encaged within black walls and resting on a bed of glass shards. While the reflections and the fluorescent colors did not work as powerfully as they do on video (a reality that I often encounter in my own work), it was the actual substance of the piece that I questioned. Visually it left me cold (unfortunately, the matt quality of the fluo paint does not visually match the shiny gloss of the car paint itself), and the lack of content left me intellectually bereft of any kind of stimulus. Art has always thrived under rich patrons (from Popes to Kings, Emperors, bankers and wealthy merchants) seeking to hire the most fashionable masters. Salvador Dali “hybridized” (read blatantly commercialized) his provocative art by designing for dubious advertising campaigns, so with Rosendaal we see nothing new or shocking. Within the same showroom premises there was also an exhibition by Gallery Pepper graphic and visual artists, which was quite vibrant, ironic and thankfully often political. Last but not least there was an area dedicated to art performances, where I saw audio-visual duo Ground extracting surprisingly intriguing sound by means of interaction between in promptu graphite sketching and electrodes. 

I chose to dedicate Thursday night to poetry and music. The renowned 013 venue was staging a cool poetry reading event which I was keen to experience in the hope to run into an English-spoken performance. It was not to be: the line-up was Dutch and Belgian, but it was really interesting to see the poets recite with informal expressiveness their pieces on the small stage, aided by the stimulating improvisations of a clarinet and an electric guitar player. Through my frequent visits, I have been trying to take in the local language for some time now, so far with very little success it has to be said: I was pleased to be able to catch the odd word while enjoying the cadence and the rhyming, but unfortunately this was solely for a Dutch-speaking audience after all.

It was time to end my first day at Incubate with an act I had been looking forward to see for some time: MÚM. The Icelandics are undoubtedly children of goddess Bjork, at least to our foreign eyes (maybe all the inhabitants of this mysterious Viking island are mad, eclectic and clever Peter Pans!), as their perfect mix of indie, post-rock, folk and electronica is rooted within a classical/jazz/experimental background devoid of pretentiousness and rich in child-like charm and artistic poignancy. The two pretty ladies upfront boasted exquisitely delicate voices, and were delightful while playing the cello, strange colorful bells and a charming blow-organ called melodica. The expressive drummer played almost all the time with a cymbal covered by a piece of cloth to soften the sound, while the keyboard player (oblivious of his recently broken finger) swapped bass and guitars with the rest of his friends. Visually enjoyable and aurally mesmerizing, the band was opening a European tour in support of the new album, and offered us a real treat by transporting each of us into a wondrous, magic dimension, comfortably touching the inner child within. And for this reason, Múm should be experienced live by everybody, regardless of their musical taste, at least once.

I shall dedicate a separate space to Friday (metal fest day!) so here is my report for Saturday and Sunday @ Incubate 2013!

Saturday 21st saw yet more extreme metal in the unshapely, flithiest form of grind at pub-venue Little Devil’s (amongst which Check nutters Ahumado Granujo and Rectal Smegma) and some interesting stuff at Exstase (such as Tulus and Orthodox) but the main event was at the 013 once again with an Acid House celebration. 
I began my day by visiting an art exhibition called The Plant Orchestra, where artist and musician Alexandra Duvekot explored the language of plants by converting their vibrations and data into audible sounds and interacting with it. The exhibition itself was located in an old shop and the feeling was that of browsing through the findings of an enthusiastic botanist of Victorian times, with a lot of plant samples, sketches and hand-written notes. The actual sonic performance saw the artist creating music at a 432 Hz. pitch, which is the natural key note of the universe (440 Hz. is the standard in today’s music), vibrating on the principles of the golden ratio and unifying the properties of light, time, space, matter, gravity and magnetism with biology, including human consciousness. The second performance I attended at The Showroom was named WOW: The most Minimal Record Ever Made, masterminded by Berlin sound artist Karl Shilde. 4 turntables connected to huge sub-woofers were used to create, by altering the spinning velocity of 4 records simultaneously playing, a wall of hyper-low tones which pulsated across every single cell of our body and shattered the ears. I found the flat monotony and the aimlessness of this high-brow art exercise, not to mention the highly fastidious sensation in my chest and eardrums, rather annoying. I wonder what Mick Harris (Scorn) would have mode of this... 
Over at 013, unfortunately I only caught the tail-end of Pete Swanson’s gritty yet cosmic avant/noise/dark techno set, then I experienced one of the high points of my personal Incubate courtesy of PRURIENT aka Dominick Fernow. 

The prolific American is one of the most influential names in noise/electronic music, and has a certain following within the black metal circles. I was gutted to have missed his performance as Vatican Shadow (dark techno/trance/EBM) the day before, but tonight’s show featured 30” of memorable, hefty, hard-hitting avantgarde noise/drone/electronica which had the power to cause the only real, venomous mosh-pit I witnessed throughout the fest: it sparked off suddenly, when a devastating blast of dark beats kicked in only to last a handful of seconds, leaving devastation on the floor in front of the stage (including some unsuspecting photographers and their large and expensive equipment). Luckily, i had positioned myself at one side of the stage...

The show was mesmerizing. Fernow performed with his back to the audience, focused and completely lost in his terrifying universe, which we could glimpse at through his facial expressions during the gut-wrenching moments when he mangled two microphones to produce hair-raising screams heightened through his evil knob-box. During the show I found myself swept away into another dimension, unmistakable sign of witnessing something special, something that can be called art. 

The unsettling moment for me came with the reminder that this synthetic form of music can far heavier than extreme metal, far darker than most black metal. Because electronic beats - no matter how slow or fast - are fundamentally tribal, they connect you directly with your primordial consciousness: stirring, dark electronic music (even better when merged with psychedelia) has always been very important in my spiritual journey, as for me it effortlessly opens up the doors of the unknown universe. 

It had been a while since I exposed myself to this prodigious wonder, and today my rekindling with dark electronica kicked off in the most perfect manner, setting the night’s standards to hefty heights. It was in fact the start of a long diaspora, which saw me looking for something I was not going to find... 

Curious, I ventured myself to pry on influential post-punk legends GANG OF FOUR, featuring guitarist Andy Gill as only original member left, while the rest of the group is made up by young and very good musicians. The vocalist sported a retro New Wave look and was quite engaging but their sound, albeit of sure quality, did not do much for me.

It was already dark. Outside the venue, thanks to the great weather, people were gathering over a seated area facing a screen to enjoy, literally, a Long Night of Short Films, an array of short films showcasing differnt approaches over content and techiques, on rotation. 

Back inside, in the large arena I duly sampled a bit of legendary DJ A guy Called Gerard, but his set was not kicking off, so I moved my yet unshaken ass to the Kleine Zaal for some CHRIS MOSS ACID: great move, as the Brit’s set was finally delivering some adrenaline and my old dancing skills returned as by magic for a nice workout of nearly an hour in the thriving room. Fun!!! There is something liberating about dancing in general, but moving to tribal rhythms is actually deeply cathartic: in the right situation, it can send you on a mind-blowing cosmic journey even without the drugs. Well, I have always felt a little sad for my “hard” metaller friends who – albeit clearly enjoying the music – would not be seen dead on the dance floor, probably for fear of facing their real self while letting go without inhibitions... Having to hold full pints of beer instead, is a serious task and a great excuse to hide behind. In the room we all felt disappointed when Chris’ enjoyable acid techno set was over: hoping that the following bigger acts in the big arena would offer some happy moments was wishful thinking, at least for me.  

DJ Pierre might be a legend, but looking around, everybody else also seemed to be waiting for something meatier, to no avail: overall, his classic acid house set was fit for a pensioners’ party. Disconsolate, I wondered whether perhaps times/drugs have changed since I attended a dance party (wonderful psychedelic trance in 2005), or maybe it was just Prurient’s fault for spoiling everything for me right from the start! I had been looking forward to some 808 State, if anything because I never saw them back in the days (much like today, I have always been attracted to the smaller, harder, filthier acts playing in the smaller rooms). Their heavy Mancunian accent made me a little nostalgic of the UK, but yet again the music was not doing it for me, as it did not feel "retro" (as in "cool") but rather outdated. So I tried my last resort: the Wirwar Soundsystem in the foyer. The Tilburg DJ collective has been around for a long while and, judging from the small crowd gathered around – a colorful mix of hippy-punk squatters and assorted alternative types – they could have been what I was looking for. And indeed they did drop some ok stuff, eventually coming ever so tantalizingly close to injecting some hard-hitting psychedelic trance in their varied mix (that’s what I yearned for all night long, even though I knew that acid house was indeed the general theme), but in the end at 2:30 AM it was goodnight for me, missing out on Kosmik Kommando.

Sunday 22nd, the concluding day of this week-long orgy of all kinds of music and art, featured one of my most awaited for bands, Doom, but first I enjoyed some excellent hardcore energy from Belgian Hessian, who count on passion and intensity while mixing grueling HC with slower, almost doomy stuff. But DOOM were finally about to arrive... 

Oh, how much do I love those guys?!... Yes, I have a hardcore punk background (that’s how crust was originally called in the UK) and I looked up at people like friendly guitarist Bri or drummer Stick, who was also part of legendary and influential Extreme Noise Terror (like Mick Harris and Barney of Napalm Death, amongst a long series of others). Having last spoken to Stick while hanging in a notorious alternative pub in Birmingham (I remember he was then living on a boat on a river somewhere, moaning about the freezing cold and the bone-melting humidity levels), and of course having seen him on stage at Roadburn 2011 with one of the most memorable sets of the entire fest (thanks to Voivod’s Away and his good taste in music), it was for me a real treat to be able to enjoy Doom once again in the Kleine Zaal. 

Only “problem” being, they were the second band to play on an early Sunday afternoon... They had just arrived in Tilburg after some heavy smoking sessions in Amsterdam, so they were sympathetic with an audience still dealing with the aftermath of the two previous long nights. But we were all there nevertheless, ready to enjoy! The beautiful set, clad in banners and images carrying socially aware statements (at last!), was lit up in deep blue lights and a glorious intro in the shape of the mind-blowing spoken lyrics of 1979’s “Reality Asylum” by CRASS  ( covered me in goose bumps... Now this is stuff that puts to shame the sterile anti-christian pantomimes of todays' most black metallers, so it was wonderful to see that even the youngest kids in the audience recognized this breath-taking masterpiece of activist avantgarde poetry. 

In spite of the fact that a Doom gig without a furiously healthy mosh pit is an extremely rare anomaly, the band gave it all and it was totally wonderful. The regrettable early slot was frankly a waste but, but on the other end I was able to enjoy them from right under the stage without losing any teeth! We also learnt that the guys are about to release a new album unapologetically called "Corrupt Fucking System", to which I am looking forward massively. Respect!

A brief peek at GGU:LL, Dutch doom/post-metal band whose singer sports a cool Nihill shirt, then I  took a break, eventually making my way to a cool venue located at De NWE Vorst for another highlight of mine, CLOCK DVA, legendary masters of avant-garde electronica. Two clever men, their computers and a massive screen projecting awesome computerized visuals in stunningly vivid colors: what more could I wish for? Tiredness was creeping in but Adi Newton and his partner in crime’s top quality performance mesmerized me and soothed my soul. Some music is indeed timeless… 

Back to the 013, I was lucky enough to catch half of atmospheric explorers BARN OWL’s set for another fabulous and this time unexpected experience. Left the guitars aside, the duo performed a fully electronic set of stupefying beauty: immersed in deep, dark blue lighting, their slow, cosmic sounds took the audience on a truly spellbinding journey. Amazing were the hyper-slow, softly rich beats that dotted the passage of nebulae, star clusters and pale comets across the inner universe they created for us. Definitely a side of the band I want to keep a close eye on. Frankly, after such beauty, neither Worship’s doom nor the (embarrassingly) danceable industrial of Front 242, had quite the same appeal as the x-large shower and comfortable bed back in my favorite hotel.

So my first Incubate experience was coming to an end, and it was clear it won’t be my last: this Dutch festival is a true revelation for me, mixing so many different styles of independent music with edgy art and culture. Imagine a smaller version of Edinburgh’s Fringe for a public with far “heavier”, more alternative taste. The winning card this year was to dedicate an entire day to extreme dark metal under the same banner at the 013. The juxtaposition of extreme metal with an alldayer featuring some dark, experimental electronic music has the potential to become a real treat and a winner in the eyes and ears of broad-minded music explorers. I am already fantasizing about seeing the dark of the darkest united once again in 2014: from DHG to Oranssi Pazuzu to dark psychedelic trance and filthy underground techno, back to back… Now that would be quite special! Next year will be Incubate’s X anniversary and I am sure they won’t spare any ammunition. See you then!

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