Wolf Eyes and Autechre live at Version Festival - the other music

8 -10 July @ ms Stubnitz, Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK Whoever had the idea to send a German WWII boat (the ms Stubnitz) around Europe to end up hosting three days worth of high profile and local experimental music in Newcastle Upon Tyne needs to be given some sort of peacetime medal. Being internationally renowned for beer and football, the burgeoning scene in the area has long been overlooked and acts are reaching unseen peaks of potential simply because about thirty years ago it was 'Grim up North'.Having Autechre headline the Friday guaranteed an early sell out and
many heads in attendance for opening Newcastle act Cathode (Steve
Jefferis) whose corporeal manoeuvring of beats gelled magnificently with
the manipulation of vocal lines and cloud obscured tunes. Any fears
about the quality of non internationally awesomely famous acts were put
straight to bed with his set. Monolake's one man show may have been the
first to inspire some 'I don't care who is watching' dancing and have
had a smart looking projection but the music lacked a light and an
involving energy that Cathode had shown us was possible in the boat's
upper venue belly. Pixel's minimal banging works on record (I've heard
it post performance and quite enjoyed its subtle shifts) but live the
intricate reallocations of percussive sound and bleep were too tiny to
really focus on. The sound system seemed to display every other artist's
minute tweak but Pixel's performance was one dimensional tribal
thumping. Plus he wore a ridiculous yellow cagoule. Autechre's day
closing show in the very pit of the boat was played in near darkness;
lit only by occasional flash photos, the glow of their spliff and the
glare of their machinery. It took them about five minutes or so of an
awful bass drum pattern to finally hit their stride revealing so clearly
their Hip-Hop and Drum and Bass roots. Abstract, arrhythmic, funky hard;
a hybrid of the history of dance music with absolutely no concessions to
the dance floor massive.

With the early Saturday stint I managed to miss all of D_RRadio and most
of Andrew Hodson's (pop Seefeel?) set listening to Jazzfinger's
first-rate all day DJ session (shame they couldn't have played instead),
drinking lovely German beer and tomato juice (not in the same glass).
Things peaked rapidly with A Hawk and a Hacksaw's Accordion breath of
fresh acoustic air performance and it was undoubtedly the best received
set. Clashing American Folk, Klezmer, Romanian / Middle Eastern amalgams
and balladeering he played a skilful one man percussion with drumsticks
on his hat and knee and well as foot pedal drums. Their set (he was
accompanied by a capable fiddle player) was an unexpected highlight of
the festival and especially from a man who looked like an Amish serial
killer. I don't know what problems Stars as Eyes had experienced before
they arrived onstage but the excuse they mumbled to the audience for
their total lack of preparation was something to do with George Bush and
a time machine. Songs were cut short and the gaps between these
fumblings became longer and more awkward and in the end they just sat on
the floor behind their gear to muted applause. Afternoon headliner
Fennesz turned his normal style on its head and played a Morricone
widescreen set of his timid ambience but burned by walls of hectic
guitar noise burrowing the elaborate soft melodies under washes of hard
to decipher sound; interesting but unexpected.

Saturday's late set technoed me out pretty early on as Quinoline
Yellow's BoC / Aphex set was average sub Warp material. The highlight of
the laptop dullness was next act Chris Clark bum rushing the stage to
set up his equipment as QY continued to play, presumably, overrunning
his allotted time. Clark certainly appealed to a good portion of the
audience encouraging the most dancing of the weekend, but it definitely
sounded a little repetitive from where I was sitting (yeah, I sat down
that's how much it moved me). The summer sun's residue and the heat
within the venue was beginning to become slightly uncomfortable as Pan
Sonic hit the stage and gave the audience a mild digital TG Finnish
banging. The beats and precise circuit board scarring shook not only the
ship but my dehydrated tipsy head and I bowed out of the day completely
missing headliner Scion.

If Saturday night's line-up had been for the techno heads and their
shuffling feet then Sunday afternoon's was for the more eclectic
listener. Alasdair Roberts and band hushed the venue with their pumped
up utterly compelling and captivating folk narratives which was about a
total 360 turn from the previous nights output. Vocally much richer and
with a much thicker regional accent than on vinyl he brought these old
tunes back to life for the electronic generation. I wasn't alone in
never having heard of Tunng before their set and I wasn't alone in
buying their album straight after the set either. With a heavier
emphasis on the folk than the tronica they mingled melody, harmonies,
handclaps, The Wicker Man and sea samples with a range of
instrumentation to produce something very extraordinary and involving.

An outstanding Bloc Party cover ("Pioneers") rounded the show off in
style which they refused to name or identify for the curious post gig
congratulators. Even hardcore Khonnor fans thought his set was bizarre
bordering on the shite, expecting laptop shoegazing we were instead
treated to Rupert the one eyed Bear and Dick Turpin performing a dirty
distorted and frankly wank version of his LP. Where "Handwriting" has a
budding hazy sound here we were forced to listen to some teenager
showing off and singing about spicy sausage, chest hair and his mother's
vagina. No, seriously.

Battles commandeered the basement (do boats have basements?) and I was
privileged to witness an outstanding performance of one of the best
drummers I have ever seen. John Stanier's engine room drumming was
powerfully gargantuan yet lean and sharp to easily turn corners into
100mph tempo changes through funk, punk and dance. The rest of the band
seemed to be looking to him for cues but how he had the time to do
anything other than punish the kit in 1000 different ways is beyond me.

The reason I got a ticket to the festival were sitting two feet from me
on the Stubnitz's top deck; Wolf Eyes. Looking like doom metal redneck
survivalists (yellow lensed shooter glasses, camouflage and band
patches) their live show truly proved that their brand of noise metal
places them in a category of their own while the imitators continue to
build in number. Hilariously macho, deafeningly loud and aggressive
beyond all reasonable expectations they damaged equipment and skated on
the edge of no control via Carcass mics, gongs, suitcases of broken
wires and detuned white noise guitar. With Aaron Dilloway taking time
out from the band due to dubious commitments he was replaced by metal
head Mike Connelly who proved himself handy at scraping metal, guitar
and black boxes creating the apparently "ultra-gnarly Phaze 4" of Wolf
Eyes. My recent seduction by noise music was totally vindicated by their
performance and if I could afford to keep up with their ridiculous
release pace I'd be up there with their biggest supporters.

Where else can you get Wolf Eyes, sunshine, tofu chilli and ginger beer
/ tequila?