ROUND-UP REVIEW: Match & Fuse Festival, Zürich (28-30 September 2017)

Isabel Sörling of Farvel
Photo credit: Roshni Gorur

Match & Fuse Festival, Zürich 
(Moods and EXIL. 28-30 September 2017. Review by AJ Dehany)

Match & Fuse is a European touring network that ‘matches’ bands from different countries and ‘fuses’ them together to create new excitement. As a roaming festival since 2012 it has brought innovative and cutting-edge music from across Europe and beyond for three-day bouts in London, Oslo, Rome, Warsaw, Toulouse, Dublin, and now Zürich.

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Today Match & Fuse has a slightly darker character to the gregarious gallimaufry of yore. It always had a heroic fighting quality since co-founder Eirik Tofte tragically died in 2013. They kept going, and intrusive notes from the outside like Catalonia and Brexit only steel their rugged determination. The Zürich edition was co-directed by founder Dave Morecroft and Zürich-based music guru Ayumi Frei Kagitani, with a typically varied and hard-hitting programme of artists from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland, and even the UK.

Zürich, a global financial centre where a pint will set you back a tenner, is a peculiar ‘match’ for a festival of experimental fusion jazz, rock and electronica— but it’s also the capital of international Dadaism since 1916 and no stranger to radical matchings and fusings. Think of Lautréamont’s description of a young boy, in a phrase taken up by André Breton as a key example of surrealist dislocation, as “the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella.”

Match & Fuse is the not-so-chance locus of encounter between visceral sonic brutalism and thoughtfully developed musical intricacy. Swiss trio Schnellertollermeier, mostly playing from their 2015 album X, have the impact of loop-based math-rock trio Battles but without recourse to banks of pedals and computers. Their sound is hard but their parts are intricately arranged in syncopated interlocking blocks. The longer they lock it down without releasing, the more potent it becomes when they smash it. An auld fella at the front was dropping to the floor and dancing like a spider, his spirit feeding the band’s enthusiasm and attack.

Guitarist Manuel Troller of Schnelleertollermeier
Photo credit: Roshni Gorur

Fellow Swiss trio KALI start from a more abstract sound world of piano and guitar dissonances and cymbal scrapes, escalating through rhythmic sheets of noise releasing into a cataclysmic blast of stunning and emotionally cathartic driving energy.

French duo In Girum augment the drums with a Memory Man unit (the incredible looping machine that is a world in a box). The outcome is remorseless. At this point the kit stops being a rhythm device and becomes a sound source. Drums and heavy synth bass lock in to create a whirlpool into which the world’s awesomeness is drawn in and blown back out into your brain.

A more familiar duo might be Soccer 96, named after a shit computer game and formed of two thirds of The Comet Is Coming. The UK synth/drums duo is like a homage to time-capsule jungle and rave anthems with a wisp of dream pop and a cosmic sensibility. Dan Leavers (synth) made a remarkable speech about us all being ourselves in the universe imagining each other.

Re-imagining each other, The True Harry Nulz are an entertaining fusion of two bands, The Great Harry Hillman, and Edi Nulz. Their proggy jazz rock recalls Flat Earth Society or even World Service Project. In their instrumental interplay, the double group demonstrably enjoys working the potential of two bass clarinets, two guitars and two drummers.

As an art bod and crossover fiend I appreciated the fusion of installation and performance from Swiss/Italian DJ & VJ IOKOI & ARIA, in the unusual Laborbar space set out with dolls with creepy faces, abstract visuals and webcam projections. Recorded voiceover and glitchy sound art give way to dark electro soul with searing vocals and doomy synths, before a surrealist chant of “Red parakeet!” leads us back to the installation view: “I remember you caring for me/ all we do now is pretend to care.”

Acapulco Redux, French guitarist Julien Desprez, also has a brilliant theatrical element, one which explained a sign that had puzzled me: “WARNING FUR EPILEPTIKER.” He is wired through electronics that trigger lights that burst on and off, plunging us into darkness between each thwack and tap of the guitar. With each crack of light he reappears in a new position, like a ghost… a noisy, ace, seizure-inducing ghost.

So far, so loud. Yet, pacing between four club and concert venues over three nights, the heavier punches are lightened by more reflective moods. Øyunn are led by Norwegian drummer and vocalist Siv Øyunn Kjenstad. Her songs have a tender beauty and delicacy. She matches that with the drum solo of the weekend— Moby Dick rolls and tight hi-hat, before taking the trio back into their understated languid groove.

Vocalist Lea Maria Fries and pianist Marc Méan opened the festival with a beautifully balanced collection of songs with luminous piano harmonies recalling a sadder Bill Evans, complementing the moving emotional range of Fries’s voice. Opening the second night, Swiss violinist Tobias Preisig accentuates his intense physical tone with delay and looping effects, setting up rich sonorities ranging from fierce digging chords to lighter moments of lyrical beauty. Opening the final night, superb Swedish and Norwegian sextet Farvel range from spare and uncanny electronic textures to deep ensemble journeys into an atmospheric realm of Nordic shimmer and crepuscular light.

Swiss “magic piano trio” Colin Vallon Trio Electric, who are on that most liminal of labels ECM, recall the space and mystery of In A Silent Way pepped up with mesmeric rainy night grooves led by the singular enchantment of the Rhodes piano. Closing with the addition of Otis Sandsjö from Farvel and Speak Low in the second of three appearances over the weekend on tenor sax, his magnificent multiphonic circular breathing arpeggios locked in beautifully with the chiming and electronically variegated tones of the Rhodes to create another space.

Lisa Hoppe of Me & Mobi
Photo credit: Roshni Gorur

It’s a space compellingly explored by Swiss/German trio Me & Mobi. Double bassist Lisa Hoppe’s muscular playing recalls the propulsive energies of Tom Herbert and Ruth Goller, locked into Fred Bürki’s acoustic and electronic drums. The electronics of Philipp Schlotter range from glitchy suggestions to expansive washes of glorious and complex texture. Their fusion of electronic wizardry with acoustic grounding has a rarely matched potency.

I interviewed Swiss-born Berlin-based vocalist Lucia Cadotsch the evening before her headline set on the last night of the festival. READ IT HERE. The concert fused both her acoustic trio reworkings of standards on the album Speak Low with reworkings of her collaborative electronic reworkings of that album, Speak Low Renditions.

Opening with Ain’t Got No/I Got Life, Lilac Wine and Gloomy Sunday, the trio retain the structure of these familiar songs but follow unsettling chordalities that cast them in a darker, more reflective light. The arrangements are driven by the strenuous circular breathing multiphonics of saxophonist Otis Sandsjö (playing an unfamiliar sax after his own gave up dramatically during Lilac wine).

As more musicians are introduced to complete the sextet, the set moves towards more complex electronic textures. It’s like ‘boiling the frog’: the set dials incrementally from more traditional to modern conceptions, one step at a time. Wild Is The Wind is completely reprocessed. The vocal sits uneasily over the sound with ambiguous tonalities floating through it and whistling noise above. Moon River is introduced “for the lovers…” and retains the Mancini favourite’s familiar charm but relocated into an ambient lunar landscape.

Strange Fruit is the devastating centrepiece of the set. The most powerful and harrowing song ever written, the slow boom of an electronic drum slows your pulse. The spaciousness of the setting, with multiphonic saxophone irruptions and slowly gathering electronic noise, chills your blood. The unaffected, considered vocal stops your heart.

Billie Holliday’s Don’t Explain isn’t as crushing but isn’t far off, with rinsing sax and skittish drums. Kurt Weill’s tender ballad Speak Low is played fast with rattling beats. Summer to Spring is euphoric hiphop with looping sax riffs and an enchanting birdsong-like hook tripled on vocal, sax and synth. The depth and strangeness of the Speak Low Renditions are warmed by these moments.

Tim & Puma Mimi close the festival in party style with a set of Swiss-Japanese ‘cucumber pop’. The cucumber in question is used like a theramin for a mad reading of James Brown’s I Feel Good. Further wizardry involves Tim and Puma Mimi seemingly using each others’ bodies as contact mikes to create spraypaint sonic flourishes. It’s hilarious. The stomping K-pop of their version of Belleville Rendezvous is my new jam and desperately needs to be used by Baz Lurhmann in whatever hideous film he does next.

“The spirit of the cucumber!” is an unexpected take-home from the Zürich instalment of Match & Fuse, an edition that evoked the wildness of last year in the squat venues of Toulouse and the liberational impetus of Warsaw the year before. Wherever Match & Fuse goes next (which I believe is Marsden), their unifying vision of bringing musicians and audiences together is a wonderful and necessary celebration of everything that’s good about world togetherness, understanding and empathy.

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

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