Live review

Punkt Festival 2019, Norway – Part 2

Punkt Festival – Part 2
(Kristiansand, Norway, 5-7 September 2019. Round-Up by Martin Longley)

Thurston Moore (Photo © Petter Sandell)

It’s unusual to hear the Thurston Moore Group play instrumental music, but that’s what’s promised on their soon-coming Spirit Counsel album. Their hour-long set at Punkt could have been an extended version of Alice Moki Jane, or might have been specially penned for this appearance. Or perhaps it was a trimmed-down reading of the forthcoming Galaxies. Moore jangled on 12-string, flanked by two other guitarists, setting up relaxed strum-riff cycles, periodically switching gear, tentatively heightening the drive. They built slowly, with a Velvet Underground choppiness, razoring towards a series of escalations, tootsies poised over effects pedals for simultaneous texture-switching. A phase of drumsticks-on-strings worked up to a scratchy freak-out, with the second half of the set attaining gratifying levels of psychedelic rock-out power.

Ståle Størlokken mentioned later that Supersilent had considered a peaceful, sensitive remix, but ultimately they decided to go for the Friday night blow-out, delivering surely one of the most extreme reconfigurings ever heard at Punkt. The front stage lighting rig lowered, to reveal the members of Supersilent in their rear hatch, caught in the act of illicit sampling. Their gargantuan noise emissions reached the threshold of pain, but the Kick sound system could handle this, and the Punkt engineers lovingly smoothed this immense din into an all-parts-audible hi-fi experience, as Supersilent ripped out the heart of the joint with their industrial drilling symphony. Størlokken was a frontal black silhouette, with Helge Sten and Arve Henriksen bathed in a sinister crimson glow. Trumpet swirls, cosmic bleeps, and what sounded like a close-miked bathtub, with slasher metal scrapes, as Henriksen made gruff vocalisations in a Beelzebub undertone. After a savage bass whoom, Størlokken found a haunting refrain, played in front of a savage blizzard assault. To close, they took it all down towards spaciousness, concluding one of the festival’s best remixes.

On Saturday morning, Moore took part in the seminar, at the Sørlandet Art Museum, with Eva Prinz, who runs their Ecstatic Peace Library publishing imprint. The highlight was when Moore read the foreword from his own collection of words, Stereo Sanctity, detailing his first discoveries in rock’n’roll, speaking like he was relating these old passions for the first time, making that formative period live, as he dreamed back to The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, when they made their revolutionary about-faces from hippy-rock.

At 6pm, the entire festival moved to the seafront concert hall Kilden, where the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra were set to give the world premiere of composer Dai Fujikura’s Shamisen Concerto. This Japanese lead instrument was played by Hidejiro Honjoh, with a ‘plectrum’ spatula as big as a hairbrush. The shamisen is a banjo equivalent, with its third string made to buzz by the placement of a small adjustable screw. The orchestral strings were carefully sculpted, making spaced bursts of sound, flooding suddenly. Fujikura was surely avoiding having them sound like a conventional section, making them repeat sounds as if they were themselves some giant sampling machine. A drove of bass bows smacked and clattered, then a soothing suspension framed the lead shamisen statements, contrasting with its percussive picking. Around half way, the horns became subtly alive, and then a full flood exploded, cutting suddenly to solo shamisen. Fujikura was intent on marking out the massive contrasts possible through these two aspects.

The remix by Jan Bang and vocalist Sidsel Endresen had the orchestra sounding like a decelerated 78rpm platter, pinched into a hollow chamber. Endresen can sing backwards, in tongues, cutting and splicing her own phrases, sounding like a human collage. The bright lighting had now sunk into a sickly purple patch, as Endresen perfected her Twin Peaks lounge eeriness. Often, these live remixes can cram in significant sonic information in a relatively short time, condensing what’s transpired into a richly subversive dessert.

Guitarist Kim Myhr played his You | Me piece, which maintained the growing weekend theme of massed guitar-strumming action. The remix by Pål-Kåres Elektroshop tended to swirl around with a steady minimalism, lacking in activity and variation, although several fellow audience members were heard to enthuse about it, after the set. Sometimes, we might have an urge to discern more obvious trace elements of the preceding sets, especially when some particular or unusual instrumental configuration is employed.

Rymden (Photo © Petter Sandell)

Rymden are getting better throughout 2019. This was the third time that your scribe has caught them, even though the first was only the last 20 minutes of a set. Even this full Punkt appearance was only 45 minutes in duration, but this festival tends to keep times down, otherwise, when coupled with a live remix, the night (or rather, the day) would end up being overly long. This time, the trio of Bugge Wesseltoft (keyboards), Dan Berglund (bass) and Magnus Öström (drums) didn’t have as much time to delve into their further-out electronics abstraction, with most of the numbers revolving around acoustic piano. Even so, they still played a fine set of inventive jazz expansions.

Time was a problem with the live remix, which featured trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and Dai Fujikura alongside the regular Punkt core of Bang, Erik Honoré and Eivind Aarset. They opened with low level hesitant activity, but Bang found a compulsive bleeping groove, getting into a monomaniac dance trance. Molvaer responded, but this was after a few minutes of each member making requests for fine-tuning of their onstage monitors. When the remix once again became abstract, there was a yearning for a return to the pulse, which could have risen up to greater heights, as surely Molvaer had many more potent licks waiting to be released. On the one hand, it had been a long evening programme, but on the other, one of the most promising stretches seemed to be cut short prematurely.

Punkt will be transporting itself to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2020…

Part 1 is here

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