Thursday 9 July 2015

Thursday 9th July: Manchester International Festival - Bjork & Tree Of Codes

A day at Manchester International Festival last Sunday with a Matinee of "Tree Of Codes" and ended with Bjork's European premiere of "Vulnicura".  Both with a kind of Icelandic link - the ballet was art directed by Olafur Eliasson.  As one of my favourite artists this was very exciting!!!  The entire stage of the Opera House was devided up with graphic partitions of iridescent stained glass.  The shapes moved within the panels and between these the dancers paved a path with their own shapes in the form of moves.  For the majority of the performance the entire cast were on stage which was incredible for both their endurance and that they seamlessly snaked round each other, never clashing. The soundtrack was an original score by JamieXX from which Wayne McGregor choreographed the acts, bringing together both contemporary dancers and classically trained ballerinas to compliment each other.  What was a magic afternoon became an even more cosmic evening with Bjork's performance on an open-air stage in the Roman Amphitheatre.  She was supported by the producer of the record Arca, who had live visuals for his own set from collaborator Jesse Kanda.  Then later as sunset drew in, spectrum smoke-bombs fired in the sky and then glitter gold fireworks closed the show when the night turned dark.  With an intermission of a sneaky fish & chip supper and pint of Boddingtons, I managed to pack in the perfect Manchester Festival experience into one day.   I also packed 3 looks!!
There's still time to catch "Tree OF Codes" in addition to a Damon Albarn musical, Twigs concert, FourTet curated DJ night, and performance capture installation by Ed Atkins at the Manchester Art Gallery.
See the whole programme of these and more here.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Tuesday 7th July: Glastonbury Festival - Record Collection of Gideon Berger, Co-Founder of Block9

Over the years that I have been going to Glastonbury with Block9 I have always marvelled at how despite the varying weather conditions, Gideon has always DJ'd with vinyl.  If its not treacherous mud underfoot then its scorching heat - neither recommended conditions for storing or transporting records.  Yet every year there he is delighting in the crisp sound of his 7" selections.  Its enough for me to wheel my flight case across London without losing my shit, let alone lifting and schlepping a week's worth of wax over the fields of Worthy Farm.  And herein lies the answer to half that battle.  He drives the whole lot onsite in his home.  I've peaked through the port-hole at his collection when its been pitched backstage and dreamed of having a dig thru.  Last week I had the opportunity to get my fingers dusty and stroke the spectrum spines of the multi-colour sleeves.  Gideon obliged to my request for a Through The Keyhole type invasion to document "who could possibly live in a house like thiiiiiiiiiiiiis?".  "Lets look at the evidence.................."  artefacts & literature from the African diaspora, art deco armchair, record collection spanning Disco, Soul, Funk, Acid House, Rare Groove, Reggae, a tape-measure and tools ...............
Alongside Steve Gallagher, Gideon is partner and co-founder of Block9 , responsible for the NYC Downlow.  He's also broadcaster on SohoRadio and their own eponymous Downlow Radio.  Apparently these four walls have hosted some monumental parties, packed so full that you could crowd-surf from one end to the other without touching the floor.  I get a picture of how the Block9 phenomenon might have been first conceived.   My visit fell on a quiet and calm afternoon in the midst of the festival week and month of his stay for the build.  Perfect for a chat about his love for rare black gospel soul, his teenage experience of the Glastonbury Festival and his inherent social consciousness inherited from his activist Grandmother.  I want to know more but there isn't time.  Wallpaper want a piece about the design ethos and The Guardian want to get to grips with the fake moustache ticketing policy.  I forget I'm interviewing and naturally slip into simply hanging out,  whilst sipping on rum and ginger.  I think that's ok though.  I think that's actually what blogging is about and the friendships you form from genuine inquisitive research with no agenda.  It's taken so long to write this up because Ive had such a nice time listening back to an archive of his shows and equally of Downlow's DJ's to get a proper sense of the family sensibility that's the foundation of these set-building blocks with partner Steve.  All of that can be read in the previous post underneath this ................... enjoy.    I did :  )

Follow Gideon's Soho Jams show on Soho Radio here and DownlowRadio here.      

Tuesday 7th July: Glastonbury Festival - Block 9

The next Glastonbury Festival will be the 10th Anniversary of Block9 which is going to be the ultimate legendary legends of lifetime legenderousnous for all the legendary children.  It's an entire field of joy which blesses the festival and the acts who play feel blessed to be brought on board.  From what you might already know it's a nocturnal destination with drag queens who will give you a dressing down at the door if you are too dressed down for the dress code............ before indeed physically undressing you ..........

What you might not realise is that the whole concept arose from a love of good music and the desire to set up the best sound-system on site.  Whilst the performers are fulfilling their duty of showing off and showing out at the Downlow, there are two invisible characters crackling walkie-talkies and running the show.  Gideon and Steve are the creative duo who devised the Downlow which has divided, duplicated and given birth to another two stages which now make up the complete complex of Block9.  So whilst you have the world's best boogie nation under a groove in the NYC nightclub you also have "London Underground" for Dubstep, Dancehall & Drum & Bass and then "Genosys" for all the latest cutting edge cuts inbetween.  

The Utopian vision of offering an all-inclusive riotious and ridiculously fun-packed party has attracted the masses and now that disco is officially back, its peaked it's appeal.  Gideon's passion for quality sound played LOUD coupled with their social consciousness to keep it credible and resist corporate incentives has maintained its magic.  For those in the scene its been a haven for hedonistic escapism from the trappings of our tail-chasing urban lives.  Now the word has spread and the line-up of universally acknowledged acts has caught the attention of electronica aficionados.  The NYC Downlow girls are sirens beckoning you in to one of the most memorable clubbing highs of your life and that could well turn out to be a mix of ATFA's Nigerian High Life, Horse Meat Disco, Hercules & Love Affair and Kieran Hebden.  

The crew have been going to Glastonbury since the days of the travellers in outskirt fields and the free-thinking fellowship of the festival.  With a nod to that history and an encounter with early Burning Man epic proportions of visual staging, Block9 set out to create a cosmic space for a future other-worldly Worthy Farm.  The first corner for Queer Culture came as a stage in the Cabaret Field's "Trash City".  Fast forward a decade, Block9 has now been given its very own arena.  A team of 40+ technicians have become a family affair after bonding the first year against inhospitable rain which sorted the fair-weather from the life-timer volunteers.  For four weeks they reunite to put up, maintain and dismantle the temporary tenement city.  Behind the facade of fake towerblocks lurks a secondary set-build of the crew bar know as "Maceos" which is a complex of shipping containers and buses.  Infact the main bar hangs off one of their own homes-on-wheels with the optics neatly mounted down the wing of the truck.  Its a case of park up, roll out the barrels and you've got a fully functioning dashboard of real ale pumps.  In my photos above you'll notice a wig peaking out of one the bar's plant pots.  Thats a hallmark horticultural twist form Art Director Tony Hornecker who plants his own beautiful greenhouse balcony for VIP's to view from above.  This backstage enclave of Maceos is a place to escape the pile-up of punters and catch the more questionable acts held back from public view (such as a Whitney Houston drag act on her drug torment to "I will always love glue", "Its not right, but its ok, I'm gonna take it anyway".)

In previous year's reports I have chronicled the festival's fashion for glitter and flower headdresses which have unknowingly stemmed from San Francisco's Cockettes and how Block9 is truly the original place for festival flavour.  Now this year I want to flag up that the reason you may have only just discovered it is because their pioneering music taste has also now caught up with mainstream.  Block9 has been hosting the best in beats for the last 9 years but never blown its own horn to announce it.  Its been having too much fun tbh.  If you scroll down the list of DJ's and it reads like the greatest selection of BoilerRoom sessions rolled into one weekend then you're not wrong.  Remember House Music was invented out of the gay clubs in Chicago in early 80's ...................... well um, Downlow is a recreation of exactly that energy.  Go figure.  And go get your stamina because once you enter you might not leave again - its just become a round the clock roster of day and night scheduling.  

Read my archive articles here and here.

Photos top to bottom:  Scottee, Genosys stage, Tony Hornecker's greenhouse, Maceos crew bar, NYC Downlow, the rainbow crew hi-vis vest, me loving the homage to Keith Haring, Luke Howard, Amber with Legs & Coq, Florence Welch guest appearance)  

Tuesday 7th July: Glastonbury Festival 2015: Block9, Awesome Tapes From Africa

Brian Shimkovitz (a.k.a ATFA) rounded off a 4 month stint of worldwide touring with a weekend on Worthy Farm.  Block9 booked Brian to bring his crates of cassettes to DJ both a night time disco set in the Downlow tent and a daytime boogie on the Genosys stage.   Here is his precious cargo unwrapped in its Ghanaian fabric and the tape decks which are his prerequisite equipment to play.  To explain for anyone not familiar with his act = it is kind of already explained in the name and comes from the blog he started in 2006 "Awesome Tapes From Africa".  Out of this resource of music that he finds on field trips and uploads for public listening  pleasure, has now become a record label re-reissuing personal favourites.   Here he is wearing one such artwork on his T-Shirt of this year's release "Ata-Kak" and also the actual tape from which he played "Bome Nnwom" on the Saturday afternoon.  Later on in the early hours of Sunday morning his set was the soundtrack for the Downlow's disco divas dancing on stage and intro-ed into a secret special appearance from Florence Welch.   It's a vision that I will never forget.  London's east-end drag-queens perfectly shaking their hips in time to South African house music, in a nightclub that's a recreation of 1970's New York Disco, dug out of a field in Somerset.  For that reason I think Brian had a ball and an exceptional experience to close a chapter of travel before heading straight home to LA.   When he first arrived onsite and his tape decks had gone missing from the Park Stage and the clouds broke into an epic downpour, events could have gone a different way.  But that's the beauty of the Glastonbury anomaly and one which he embraced, enjoyed and took in his (mud slide) stride to bless Block9 with his highlife beats.  
He's returning to the UK in a few weeks to play Cafe Oto in London and the Port Eliot Festival in August.  Listen back to his recent interview on NTS to hear the whole story behind the Ata-Kak album and how he tracked down the artist.
Also listen to two of the label's tracks on my marathon mix-tape compiled by Coby Sey.