Distorted Perspectives is a “Celebration of Modern Experimental and Psych Music + Art + Film”.
This weekend was the second incarnation of the festival held within the Regional Cultural Centre, “Letterkenny’s impressive new arts building, placing Donegal in an international context rather than on the periphery”.
If idealism can be defined as “an approach to philosophy that regards mind, spirit, or ideas as the most fundamental kinds of reality”, then it is fair to say that the reality of an experimental music, art and film festival held on the periphery, was the realisation and celebration of like-minded, free spirited idealists who found themselves gathering in Donegal this weekend.
As a current resident in Northern Ireland, for the most part starved of international alternative and independent cultural stimuli, to find an event such as this on your doorstep was a genuine cause for celebration.
It is to the eternal credit of the Distorted Perspectives organisers that they have for two years running, been able to attract the likes of Damo Suzuki, ZZZ’s, Moon Duo and Ulrich Schnauss, not to mention a crop of homegrown recognised and burgeoning talent.
This year the music was supported by some cutting edge multi-media art, from internationally renowned American artist and photographer Richard Noble. There were also short film presentations from “Ireland’s twisted genius of animation” David O’Reilly, and David Holmes’ directorial debut ‘I Am Here’, “an ambient movie about loss and homecoming”, curated by Belfast Film Festival.
The Festival waxed underway on Thursday evening, as if drawn inexorably toward the new moon in symbolic Bealtainic revelry and renewal.
Photograph by Mickey Rooney
Sadly I was unable to attend until the Friday but by all accounts, opening act The Pox Men, who, “fire out rowdy, thunderous, Celtic power anthems, with a dark mystical element, straight from the boglands of old Ireland”, did themselves proud.
Photograph by Mickey Rooney
Next on stage were Red Flare, who have been described as “beautiful collaged experimentation, restrained emotion and slow driving melancholia, somewhere between the closet gentleness of The Velvet Underground’s quieter moments and the atmospheric soundscapes of David Lynch”. Certainly a description which leaves me impatient at the prospect of finally catching them play live.
Photograph by Mickey Rooney
Show closers on Thursday were aspiring showstoppers Autumns, who have been described as “a noise and exhilarating trip of shoe gaze and garage inspired rough fuzz, full of gritty guitars and biting feedback drenched melodies”. The fact that Autumns have secured a support slot for the upcoming UK tour with The KVB speaks volumes.
I later asked Locky Morris of Red Flare for his take on how idealism informs his work;
LM – “Having been freed from the gigging music scene proper for some years I write this two days after the first gig with Red Flare at Distorted Perspectives with that very funny quote from David Thomas of Pere Ubu rattling around the head, “Rock music is mostly about moving big black boxes from one side of town to the other in the back of your car” – nailing as it does neatly the banalities and realities of band life and the absurd aspects to a lot of it. I guess the absurdity of the creative process is something that’s always preoccupied me no matter what form the things produced might take. I had been hard at it earlier this morning removing those black lines of mildew mould that regularly appears around the edges of a shower – one of the dreary chores I had neglected to pay any attention to over the months leading up to this gig. The delicate balancing act of removing them but keeping the silicon sealant still in place was accompanied by a debriefing of sorts about the performance. It took the form of a disjointed babble about the ‘basics’ not even having been achieved and the sound on stage being atrocious, with my wife telling me to ‘Dry my eyes’ and reminding me that the sound on stage is always atrocious. Not hearing any of the vocals in the first song, probably due to a button not having been pressed had me rocked. The mix for the second sounded unlike any of the music we’d been practicing over the last six months. Was it possible to football-flick that bottle of water from under the keyboards towards my mouth while dry-throat singing the third? Struggling then to even play the bits I had mapped out in black permanent marker and lined around the edges of the keyboard as a guide. ‘Where the fuck’ had the drums disappeared to in the last? Could this get any better? This may never work for me. But hey, I’m off soon to see Moon Duo and although I can’t get the idea of them traveling three days in a van for one gig in Fargo at the beginning of their tour out of my mind, I am hoping for transportation of a different sort. That really would be ideal”.
Friday evening kicked off with Nyt Bloomer aka Buncrana producer Conor McNamee “sampling records and field recordings with a taste of Hip Hop vibes”. Conor’s set was accompanied by some stunning visuals, the samples that particularly grabbed my attention had me thinking of Italian occult psych heroes Mamuthones.
Photograph by Distorted Perspectives
At this point I have to offer up my sincere apologies for missing Shammen Delly‘s, “ambient electronica and surreal soundscapes”. I had heard that the installation in the upper gallery by Richard Noble was not to be missed and on planning a quick look between sets, found myself transfixed to the point where time and space collapsed. By the time I regained my senses, Shammen Delly had been and gone. Hopefully I will not have to wait too long to atone for my sins, and I hope to catch up with them in the not too distant future.
Friday’s headliner was the enigmatic Ulrich Schnauss, who “has been known to veer from techno to drum and bass via electronica, his music combines multilayered synths with beats and ethereal vocals, serving as an aural escape route from the trappings of reality”. As a newcomer to Ulrich’s music, it had me thinking of a Can and Kraftwerk inspired sense of euphoric melancholia. Certainly the encores played at the end of a tumultuous set, were as good as anything I have previously witnessed by Ulrich’s noted inspirational electronic acts, such as 808 State and The Orb.
Saturday evening brought the official launch for Richard Noble’s latest works ‘Conception’ and ‘The Miracle Of Life’, mixed media installations blending light, colour, sound and reflection. “I wanted it to have a mesmerising quality to it on the Zen side of things. I want people to be able to stop their lives for a while and just concentrate and meditate on how precious life is,” he explained.
“A visual mantra” indeed. Inhabiting the space suffused with this installation was in itself a defiant act of life affirmation. Perspective is everything, this romantic, utopian vision embodies the intrinsic simplicity of being.
Back on stage, Cian Nugent & The Cosmos, described as “Cian’s wandering guitar playing of the eternal flow of transnational desert blues, psychedelic thoughts on rock, feeling fine, jazz ambitions, and the campaign to legalise jamming”, finds favour with a the packed auditorium. Cian apparently minus the obvious range of de rigueur effects pedals, wows the crowd with his full on sonic free form ramblings.
Festival headliners Moon Duo arrive to rapturous applause, Ripley Johnson sets those gathered at ease by insisting the crowd get a little bit more intimate with the stage. The “acclaimed San Francisco space rock voyagers, hailed as one of the leading exponents of cutting edge psychedelia”, have recently released their 3rd album ‘Shadow of the Sun’, which tonight populates almost half their set.
Moon Duo masterfully orchestrate the ritual appeasement of the Aos Sí, their sonic maelstrom heralding the spring rite, the sacred feminine’s assured fertility conjoined with the waxing power of the sun.
Sunday is billed as the “Closing Party” and gets underway with Robyn G. Shiels, winner of the Northern Ireland Music Prize in 2014. A “melancholic, poetic and haunting singer / songwriter, who targets the dark noise at the back of your life and teases it to the front”. Robyn’s plaintive, soulful phrasings evoke a longing of Appalachian proportions, all delivered with an unmistakable, resounding northern Irish wit.
I had been looking forward to seeing and hearing Documenta since I first stumbled across their video for ‘Idle Hands’ some weeks back. Any band referencing ‘The Golden Bough’, and with song titles like ‘Chiaroscuro’ is guaranteed to prick up my ears.
“Belfast’s purveyors of *Drone Pop* and one of the most exciting live propositions around. Every gig is a happening”. Tonight is no exception, Documenta’s 5 guitar sonic boom of fuzzed crescendos, lilting dreamscape vocals, ushers all present aboard their Bedouin astral caravan.
The final act belongs to local heroes Clanns, “a four piece avant-garde band led by frontman Charlie Doherty on vocals and rhythm guitar, his brothers Al on lead and Conal on bass, with Jason Nee on drums and percussion. Here is a sound that consists of earthy reverb tones with guitars inflicted by delay”. Clanns trademark sound is that of anguished ethereal anthems. Their sometime e-bow and guitar bowing siren song, augmented here tonight by electric violin and disemboweled clarinet drone, is feverishly evocative.
A fitting finale to a Festival that has more than delivered on it’s “Distorted Perspectives” manifesto. A special mention goes out to event Programme & Digital Media Coordinator, Jeremy Fitz Howard, for realising his vision in bringing this event to the “periphery”. Thanks also to everyone else involved in breathing much needed life into a diverse cultural scene, on this often much maligned “septic isle”.
In summation, I asked Jeremy how his personal flavour of idealism had helped shape the event;
JH – “Distorted Perspectives was definitely a shared vision among colleagues, friends, and myself, each brining ideas and dreams for a festival to the (pub) table, and then working out how best to achieve them. Our main goal as the Regional Cultural Centre is to provide the local community with forms of art and music that wouldn’t necessarily have a chance to be introduced into a remote location, and a festival centred around experimental and psych music and art gives us plenty of opportunity to do just that. Numbers are slowly growing each year as local people begin to trust our programming will not let them down, even if they have never heard of the performers before they are beginning to trust that the acts, the visuals, the art, are all of the highest quality and fit seamlessly together to provide a fantastic experience. Audience members have began suggesting acts for me to book, artists to discover, and new and interesting events and workshops to incorporate. It’s important for me now that a sense of community ownership and collaboration on a local level is built, otherwise like many other festivals it will be in danger of fading away.”
As a self avowed apocaloptimist, I for one feel certain that imagination and creativity will triumph over arbitrary and unjust forces, ensuring that Festivals like Distorted Perspectives will continue to redefine the envelope.