Monday, October 09, 2006

Instal 06

Pack your ear plugs and plump that cushion, cos it's that time of year again, Instal!

Scotland's flagship experimental music festival has become a crucial part of the musical calender, offering such unforgettable experiences as Jandek's first ever live performance, Hijokaidan pushing the noise limit, Richard Young's mesmerising psych-folk explorations, Charlemagne Palestine's teddy bears and Sun City Girls' playing cards.

This year's festival, held as ever at the Arches in Glasgow, promises to be no less fascinating. The world's longest string instrument, drones created from dry ice and hot steel, free jazz combined with Tuvaan throat singing, Osaka scum rock, Keiji Haino, Tony Conrad... utterly fucking essential.

It's also great to see home grown artists get their own festival within a festival, Infest. Wounded Knee, Polly Shang Kuan Band, Ben Reynolds, Hockeyfrilla and the superbly named Kylie Minoise are just some of the deviant minds bringing their ecstatic skree into the wee small hours.

There's also the chance to see Brian Morton in conversation with performers Maryanne Amacher and Tony Conrad and musical workshops with David Dove and Arrington De Dionyso. Hell yeah!

It all kicks off on Friday night. More info here

To give you a flavour of the festival, here's what we had to say about last year's shindig.

Over 12 lumbering months ago the gods of fortune decreed that I would stumble across a stark American enigma standing in a halo of black light clawing a strangled fretboard and howling at the sky with Lupine relish, leading a small group of disciples through a tortured journey. Confused and frightened I would float towards this swelling flux of noise and breath to witness what would turn out to be a very controversial piece of musical history.

Twelve months on and the gods of fortune have cancelled my train, made a bus run straight by me and now have me pacing up and down a damp pavement clutching at my Valium. This time the gods had conspired to keep me very far away from Jandek.

My only saving grace was the little known fact that it's impossible to be late for a Jandek show. The tag of being on at 7.00pm sharp is as much to do with building tension as it is to do with the gangly Texan’s reluctance to enter stage left. In one short year Jandek has gone from being the most reclusive artist in the known universe to a fully fledged rock god and I'm confident his episode of MTV Cribs will be gracing our screens in the near future. The mystery may have gone, but so has the air of preciousness. So, without the hysteria does Jandek's music still stand up? Well, yes and no. This year’s Friday night set at Instal 2005 was pretty much a carbon copy of his Sunday afternoon set last year. If you can't fully throw yourself into the de-tuned anti melody of Jandek's ragas or the choppy semi improv jagging of Richard Young’s Bass or if you can't lose your mind watching the slack jawed wonderment that is Alex Nielsen's one man mission to up-stage everyone he
sits behind then you might get a tad bored. Luckily I thoroughly enjoy this sort of thing, but tonight I just longed for him to be, well, different, to blow me away.

By the end of Saturday night Jojo Hiroshige would have permanently damaged my hearing as part of Hijokaiden, but tonight he made do with sharp barks of spit and sweat, strangling his axe with two clenched fists. He wasn't so much playing the guitar as battling an angry cobra trying to fang his eyes. The set jumped between melodic hushed psych-folk and crunching vocal and guitar mangle.

A one man noise movement, Campbell Kneale has managed to excite me more than any other artist in the last 10 years whether he is straddling the stars with euphoric sonic excursions using wind chimes, bagpipes and Lee Ranaldo or doing straight forward pop on obscure Prince tribute albums. His down to earth attitude gives you the impression he would prefer a pint of bitter and an argument about Sabbath than a glass of Merlot and a deep discussion pondering the virtues of La Monte Young. Tonight sees him make a rare appearance as Black Boned Angel, a demi-god incarnation which has him standing bathed in dry ice, posing elegantly with his Flying V guitar. Pagan like chants fill the air before the doom rock power chords cut the face off the ever so slightly stunned crowd. For almost an hour subterranean post metal rings across the cavernous space of the Arches, peaking with Kneale on the floor pounding at a bass drum until the last flicker of electricity bleeds from the amps.

Bringing the night to a close were Japanese rock outfit Up-Tight. Japanese noise rock has a habit if flaying off the edges and descending into all out assault but these new pretenders prefer a more restrained tuneful approach, almost a Velvet Underground to Keiji Haino’s Fushitsusha's MC5.
(Blair Hamilton)

Campbell Kneale returns the following afternoon in his Birchville Cat Motel guise rocking back and forth as he summons tones both glacial and grinding, the tension building and building until he raises a studded fist to the heavens and unleashes a totalitarian metal riff from his sampler. Dugga duhn duuhnnn! The kick drum and power chord bludgeon us into submission, as Kneale noodles randomly on a pipe. Kick ass.

For his performance as Directing Hand, Alex Neilson is joined by an impressive line up of US and UK avantists, including members of Mancunian improv collective Ashtray Navigations. A potentially explosive combo, or too many cooks? Regrettably, I’m inclined towards the latter view. Neilson alternates between drums and various percussive trinkets, wailing as he pounds out a heavy beat. The other players pile in with churning guitars, shortwave radio signals, violin, noise making gizmos and other esoteric toys. Some interesting sounds are produced, but ultimately it’s too dense, leaving Neilson too little space to lead the group towards something truly combustible and transcendent.

Bobbing around the stage in their funny hats and silly trousers, Rauhan Orchestra are a pixie free jazz group, a charming counterpoint to the more punishing acts the festival has to offer. There’s just enough squawk and squall top balance the whimsy and watching the two saxophonists duck and weave and mimic each others lines is a delight.

The first half of Sun City Girls’ brilliant, sometimes baffling set is effectively a performance piece, full of bizarre satirical sketches and schizophrenic music asides. Like some opium induced nightmare the trio take to the stage in black robes and gruesome masks, wailing and muttering like Arabian Nights banshees. Some of the skits are hilarious. There’s an absurd Elvis monologue and a tribute to St Andrews, home of golf, complete with Alan Bishop pitching imaginary golf balls into the crowd with a light iron. The unveiling of a Bin Laden t-shirt is hardly transgressive foud years on from 911 however. Happily, their straight musical section is superb, a few meandering passages aside. Alan Bishop’s muezzin like wails and bluesy hollers snake around Richard Bishop’s spiky guitar ragas and Arabesques, Charles Gocher underpinning it all with primal Moe Tucker like beats. Their closing murder ballad is a sick and rowdy treat.

Hijokaiden are completely nuts. They’re so loud the staff have been actively pushing ear plugs on us, lest the venue be hit by crippling law suits. Some mentalists go without and doubtlessly go temporarily deaf, but even with ears plugged the ‘kaiden hit you like a brick wall. A small woman stands impassively as she shrieks into the microphone, while a petite drummer hammers out a deliberate pounding rhythm, bringing order to the raging inferno of distortion and untethered feedback created by the two middle aged crazies up front. A kamikaze Pete Townsend, Jojo swings his guitar above his head, striking the strings and body, his every move creating new waves of noise. His partner jumps around like a man possessed, triggering effects and gritting his teeth. Free from the cold, metallic nihilism of some noise units, Hijokaiden are utterly exhilarating, and dare I say it, fun.

If Friday’s Jandek performance was a reprisal of the previous year, his Sunday slot was something else altogether. The first half hour saw Jandek perform a spoken word piece with spectral guitar accompaniment from Loren Conors. His story, a sub-Kafka nightmare about being trapped in a den of iniquity, was more goth than gothic to be honest, gaining much of its power from the otherwordly accompaniment. However, when Jandek picked up a harmonica to wheeze out a campfire lament, the combination was beautiful and uncanny. What followed was truly astonishing: Jandek settling behind a drum kit as Heather Leigh Murray and Alan Licht took the stage. As Jandek pounded out a tribal death march, Licht and Murray worked up a storm of violent guitar and queasy pedal steel swoops, over which she howled. It sounded like a million lost souls crying out in the pits of hell. A purging, harrowing experience, it wasn’t something I could take too much of, but was remarkable nonetheless, the weekend’s most extreme and surprising performance.
(Stewart Smith)

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