Probably my favourite day of last year was spent at the Venn festival in Bristol. From Hauschka and Infinite Livez to Snorkel and the Corey O’s, via an art installation in a scout hut, it was left-leaning heaven and ridiculously fun. Venn may have sadly expired, but the excellent QU Junktions continue to broadcast music of the same frequency, co-opting tonight’s Arts Council-sponsored, double headline bill into a two room mini-festival of the awkward and great. Certainly Silver Stairs Of Ketchikan operates in a tune-free zone, being a lone woman looping moans and tones behind a black sheet-covered table. Behind that table though, is an electric guitar, and it soon gets plucked sparsely and loudly, to spooky effect.
It’s an evening that gets driven into life by Silver Pyre though, and their artful, percussive sea shanty jams. Bells and rim cracks feed into tonight’s theme of fantastic drumming, building a shifting base for the duo’s standing half’s meandering guitar and laptop drone. Long, knotty, drawn out songs, and, by the end, with accordian lending weight to almost motorik rhythms, bloody great songs. Buying beautifully made, wax sealed EPs after is the least we can do. Then a quick dash upstairs to the dark room, to walk into a man violently frigging a double bass. Fuck knows what the start of his set was like, but Nat Baldwin gives it a further few minutes of jazz welly, before stopping, and letting a couple of starkly played, intensely sung songs end his set. This ghostly young man, a last minute replacement for Lucky Dragons, has skeletal charms.
If you only push to the front of one gig this year though, make it Wildbirds & Peacedrums, fast approaching divine status. Sometimes quiet and elliptical on record, on stage the Swedish duo move as if shot through with a massive electrical charge, stomping and raving and pounding possessed. Andreas Werliin drums phenomenally, and shoots tiny smiles to Mariam Wallentin, ricocheting in silver, occasionally striking instruments, more often letting fly on or off mic. In sheer uninhibited spirit and forcefulness, it’s hard not to think of Patti Smith. Crossed with a hurricane maybe: truly, one of the best things I’ve seen.
If Wildbirds & Peacedrums leave you feeling like you can do anything, Gary Smith leaves you with the feeling you shouldn’t necessarily. He slowly rubs his palm over an ultra-amplified guitar, and I need a break. Early trains and full rooms deprive us of Dirty Projectors and Matt Elliott goddamn, which leaves… jazz. Delicious hot, pretty tasty cold too. Polar Bear may look like a group of glum teachers from the ’70s, but their mix of hard bop and gentle experimentation fizzes more often than not. Yer sullen man stage left is the star here: playing guitar with a paintbrush, making weird electronic noises with a videogames controller, and, er, inflating and deflating a balloon. These avant stretches nicely separate movements of locked on groove, one sax wailing over the other’s riff, and which reach a delirious crescendo at the end, laptop echoing and blaring brass through the room. Happy we run to the station.
(photos by pixieglas)