live review // Monomania, March 8th @ Aid and Abet & Cambridge Junction
words // Connor Browne
images // Rich Etteridge
That Monomania even happens is a real testament to the breadth of Cambridge’s cultural scene, and promoters Bad Timing are to be commended for this as well as a number of other sterling ambitious and challenging events that might not have happened otherwise. With a focus on solo artists, the art on offer encompasses everything from immersive activities, such as trying to appreciate silences in areas around Cambridge by finding places where a pin can be heard, to live music events.
After partaking in said pin-dropping a quick walk over to J2 for Pete Um’s set in the foyer, bizarrely. He takes it all in his stride, playing a selection of his large repertoire, highlights including the as-yet unreleased ‘It’s All Grist’ with self-proclaimed “horrible drums” and spaghetti-western “amateur guitars” – a promising taste of new music to come, the first since ‘Babysitting The Apocalypse’. Finishing with ‘Joke Teeth’, Um gets a large round of applause from a good crowd familiar with the city’s favourite experimental son.
In the adjacent J3 building, following on from Um is a fascinating film surrounding the life of F.C. Judd, ‘Practical Electronica’, presented by the film’s maker Ian Helliwell. It’s a rare chance to see the film, and a really interesting insight into one of electronic music’s lesser known contributors – someone who has been neglected while peers like the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop are lauded. The film follows his innovative use of new instruments and electronics and is well worth watching if ever the opportunity presents itself. Judd’s single-minded obsession with electronics lends itself to the theme of the festival, as well as Helliwell’s DIY ethic in creating the film virtually single-handedly.
I catch the second performance of Nick Steur’s ‘Freeze!’ performance in the Aid & Abet space, which proves a difficult subject to describe in writing yet a thrilling prospect in reality. Steur places several boxes around the room and introduces his performance by writing on the wall, remaining silent throughout the performance. Randomly gathered rocks are piled one on another in seemingly impossible ways, with Steur’s face focused on the act at hand totally and the audience similarly engrossed and silent. When every rock is balanced, Steur takes a bow and the tension is released – Aid & Abet’s doors were flung wide and the audience breathes a sigh of release. Rarely does something of such intensity come from a seemingly innocuous activity.
Another Cambridge resident C Joynes plays a new set for us, shunning his usual acoustic guitar pickings for an electric guitar run through a tape echo. The sound translates brilliantly, the masterful playing at the forefront. You can see him next on the 27th April at The Corner House in support of the great Cian Nugent.
As the sun sets, and with it the last performances at Aid & Abet, Lee Patterson performs a set of improvised ambient music made up of ingenious field recordings collected throughout the space, influenced by the building’s history and its upcoming destruction. One sound is derived from an amplified fire alarm system while the live burning of objects and hitting of springs forge the rest of the set’s soundscapes. The sounds vary from quiet, rumbling low sounds to loud, screeching sections.
Sean Dower is the last artist to ever perform in the Aid & Abet, and his sparse rhythms seem a fitting end. He performs in a sealed room while the performance is broadcast to the adjacent room on a small screen in the centre of the room. Dower’s performance would have benefitted from a similar environment to that of his cult ‘Curfew Recordings’ LP, but there are still interesting glimpses in his homemade instruments.
Performances at The Junction finish the day’s programme, providing a rather different type of art than seen earlier in the day.
In between spells of Heatsick is the opportunity to see Richard Dawson, a songwriter heavily indebted to traditional folk music but incorporating modern thematic elements. Despite the fairly lofty J2 Dawson sings his solo vocal pieces totally acoustically, and the audience are accordingly silent. When he plays with guitar his playing is masterful and frenzied with the emotional peaks of his songs, an odd contrast to his jovial stage manner and jokes. The heavily-themed ‘Poor Old Horse’ stands out with its harrowing story of a horse’s mistreatment which would surely leave Tesco bosses feeling guilty over their burger content.
Finishing is Berlin’s Heatsick, an electronic producer who utilizes mainly a small Casio keyboard to make heavily danceable, beat-led house. Heavily cloaked in a smoke machine, Heatsick eschews the traditional producer’s live show by including the audience with hula hoops and fortune cookies distributed about the venue. He plays for an impressive three hours non-stop, and it’s a pity the crowd is sometimes sparse. It’s a strange change of tempo from the rest of the day’s music but nonetheless an excellent one.
The festival is a refreshing change to Cambridge’s music calendar, an exercise in non-commercialism and challenging art. Who knows if it will happen again, but it’s certainly good to have this variety in a city where creativity could easily stagnate.