Wysing’s annual Space-Time music and art festival is rigorously curated each year around a new theme – this time on ‘altered states’ in the gallery and ‘multiple identities’ in the Amphis structure, in line with the overarching annual theme of The Multiverse which informs the centre’s activities across the year. It’s an event with a reputation that attracts an informed audience from far and wide to spend an intensely programmed 12 hours on Wysing Arts Centre’s rural plot outside Bourn, Cambridgeshire – you can even camp overnight.
To describe the programme by musical genre would be difficult: the trend simply being for experimentation, which often results in ‘noise’. From knob twiddling electronica to ‘indie’ with twists, there was a general bending or eschewing of the rules of melody and pop. It’s a programme of the kind of music that is made to be performed, rather than recorded; to be experienced rather than shuffled. Music that considers the atmosphere, the feelings, the process, the concept, that you have to be there, engulfed, to fully appreciate – but at the same time, with electronics, sometimes it’s just the music that is performing rather than the people.
The first act I caught in the Amphis stage were Orlando, a five piece making swirling hallucinatory melodies with atonal injections of attitude from distortion. As can be expected from a group writing theme tunes for telepathic amphibians they possessed an unaffected strangeness, drawing in so many disparate influences that their sound became their own. The highlight for me was their use of screeching jazz-style flute (and just one part of a flute) – sharp acid mixed through an aural pool of warm milk.
Early technical problems were overcome professionally, with singer Cathy Lucas using opportune instrumental sections to attend to her unresponsive guitar. Anyone without a clear view of the stage would have walked away none the wiser, but they would also have missed the singer juggling shaky eggs later on. Orlando were a highly watchable, motley group of people clearly loving the noise they were making. We left wondering where and how they met and formed a band.
Entering the Gallery Stage for the first time, we’re met by the serious slouched figures of three middle-aged artists sat at their worktable. With bleak rural landscapes projected over them, Bruce Gilbert and BAW, clearly forcing their droll expressions, make feedback loops of synthesised sound from a mess of wires, knobs and boxes. Naomi Siderfin of BAW sits centre, lackadaisically cutting strips of text from paper, piling them up, shuffling them, and speaking them into the noise, fragmenting poetic descriptions into the pulsating drone controlled by the men to her side. It was sound you feel, sound that spills all around you, wrapping you and osmosing into your flesh and your bones; sort of relaxing and sort of distressing, a raw, guttural, almost sexual throb. Though taking themselves very seriously, to end their set, Siderfin took the roll of plastic WET PAINT tape that had been left prominently and wrapped her fellow artists round and round in it, smothering their faces, while they struggle to maintain their straight faces: a quirky simple, visual end to an aural treat.
The line-up extended beyond the stages but not intrusively so. The Studio space was a site for talks and installations and all things Multiverse; in the early hours of the festival there was a room of rotating reflections and looped projections, a voice periodically repeating the word “Enchanted”. You could get a haircut from London-based DKUK, whose practice surrounds the customer with art pieces that might not otherwise be experienced in their entirity. In the zine marquee there were men in stovepipe hats making prawns out of gloves, a stall handing out chocolate business cards and tarot readings from Jo Waterhouse & Rosalie Schweiker’s beautiful custom deck (Jealousy, Outsider Artist, Glue Gun…) I no longer have the business card.
The first time I was moved to really dance during the day was during androgynous Joey Fourr and band’s set: colourfully upbeat, pansexual pop with descriptive narrative lyrics and the kind of passion and charisma in performance that some other acts of the day lacked. Again in the Amphis, Tomaga gave us a new take on the classic combination of guitar and drums creating soundscapes of distortion and rhythm that sounded tribal, or like the rainforest.
Reminded that the theme of the Gallery Stage was ‘altered states’, the sound took a turn towards what one might call music of MDMA culture, first with Beatrice Dillon’s trancey, bassy electro interspersed with distorted gurgles. It came into its own when later in the set, she was joined by a saxophonist who improvised over the beats, elevating the dance music to something more unusual. Jesc Bunyard curated the visuals for the Gallery Stage as well as the promotional material, her psychedelic imagery shifting and melting throughout Dillon’s set.
Continuing the afternoon art-rave, a personal highlight was the collision of electronica and live dance from producer James Holden (on electronics, with live drummer Tom Page) with dancer Lucy Suggate, creating pounding and rhythmic tunes. The collaboration is not without precedent, having previously appeared at Sonar 2014, though I expect this is the kind of opportunity most of Holden’s gig environments don’t allow for. This is where Wysing’s context comes into its own. Suggate responded to the music with furious physicality and precision as though the beats and crashes were wrought out of the sheer movement of her body through the air.
You could see the audience wanting to play too; Holden’s sound is one of continual climax, and were the dancefloor clear the audience members tentatively bopping in the front row would have been only too happy to fill it. A brilliant performance from two artists unique in their respective disciplines.
Come Ravioli Me Away’s set, the crowd’s impatient flood into the Amphis had little to do with the chilly air. One third of the group, Alice Theobald is also a Wysing artist-in-residence and consequently the show feels like a hometown gig of sorts. Their post-pop punk is reminiscent of a feminist Gang of Four or modern day X-Ray Specs, the same surreal irreverence laced with a healthy dose of gaudy synth pop. It’s the first time the audience were truly rowdy, so much so that at one point the band had to stop to get them to calm down. “What are we, 5? This is a sad song. It’s about nothing. Life is meaningless and we’re all going to die.” One of the more confrontational groups on an already experimental bill.
Space-Time: The Multiverse was an exceedingly well-curated festival. The day was spacious with plenty of quality time to explore & discover without feeling harassed by tight scheduling. The programme was one of persistent innovation; a truly diverse selection of groups that live between multiple genres or exceed their limitations altogether. The night continued and I hope the party atmosphere grew, because music like this is made to move people, physically as well as emotionally.
Words from Daniel Pitt & Wesley Freeman-Smith.
Images by Sylvain Deleu.