My world is flurry of festivals this week. Festivals here, festivals there, festivals in the unlikeliest of places – crypts, cafes, woodland, concert halls. I went down to the kitchen during the night for a glass of gin, and there was a festival happening in my cat.*
No, I speak of the local kind. Lots of music, unconventional venues, and the ability to go home at the end of the night instead of fighting your way into someone’s tent while saying “it’s alright, I’ll just curl up at your feet, you won’t even know I’m here!”
This bank holiday weekend’s roll call includes Rochester Sweeps Festival, Canterbury’s City Sounds, Smuggler’s Pop Up Festival in Deal, and the Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival.
Sounds New was born way back in 1997, and was revamped in 2011. The strap line is “an essential platform for the music of our time”, comprising eight days of contemporary music and poetry at various locations in Canterbury’s two universities, as well as in city centre cafes, galleries and churches.
Its reputation for presenting new music from across the world without elitist restrictions is well established, and it has received rave reviews from The Guardian and The Telegraph in the past.
We’re all thinking it – ‘contemporary music’ sounds dangerously broad and potentially twee. I’ll admit. I was dubious when I heard about it. Because…..what exactly is it?
|Dan in his element- the Colyer-Fergusson concert hall|
|Tinkling the ivories|
In true jazz style, we settle into the booth of some dark rum shack** and sink a few Dirty Martinis*** while the beer-swilling bar flies snap their fingers to a scratch cut of Coltrane’s finest****, and we talk shop.
“I love contemporary music because it is fearlessly inventive,” he explains, fizzing with excitement over his frothy latte. “My passion is jazz – jazz is a monster that plunders and recognizes no musical boundaries. You have people mixing hip hop with jazz, you had prog-jazz, classical. It doesn’t recognize pigeon holes.
I cut right to the chase: just what IS contemporary music?
“Contemporary music is the music of our time,” he says.
I’m about to pound the table and insist that it must be more complicated than that, when he continues…….I really must stop reacting in the middle of people’s sentences.
“It spans everything from that very inaccessible classical music – you know, squeaky strings, and odd musical languages and effects – to current pop, rock and jazz.
“Classical music no longer sits in an ivory tower above all other genres. It rubs shoulders with them, and they plunder from each other. It’s about inventiveness, not the same thing preserved for years.”
“From our point of view, there really isn’t another festival like ours in this area,” he explains, and he’s not boasting. “That was very important for our identity from the start.
|Copyright Neil Sloman/Sam Bailey|
“Collaboration is key. Along with the music happening in Deal, and at Revelation St Mary’s in Ashford, we are all working to let people know that there is a solid and diverse music scene in this part of Kent.”
Browsing the Sounds New catalogue left me more excited about this festival than any of the others I will sample in the coming days and weeks. Such a gutsy celebration of the new has to be worth a punt, and after all, the best festivals the ones in which you wander from tent to tent, stage to stage, busker to busker, picking up new sounds.
If you love music, or if you are bored of it, go and enjoy something from Sounds New. It might rekindle a long lost desire, or inspire you towards something completely different
That is how we all started with music, isn’t it? By trying something new.
(Full programme here)
- The Ice Breaker ensemble with BJ Cole perform a piece by the master of ambient, Brian Eno, against background footage of the moon landing. (Far out)
- The London Sinfonietta culminate a four-day residence at Christ Church College University with a performance of Protest Songs, in which both the music and the ensemble respond to social and political themes. (Fight the power!)
- A 70th birthday performance from world-leading saxophonist and free-jazz legend Evan Parker. (I can play the saxophone. Not well. Or at all. But I can)
- The Brodsky Quartet who have collaborated with the likes of Bjork, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney. (Their version of Hyperballad? TAS-ty)
- The 12-strong vocal group Exaudi combine renaissance music with the new. (Haunting)
- Sarod maestro and composer Wajahat Khan, who descends from a 400-year old family of celebrated musicians in India, and has performed to great acclaim in over 40 countries worldwide. (I had to look up what a sarod was but now that I have, I want one)
- Piano in the Woods – in 2012 a piano was placed in private woodland and improvised performances have taken place on it every month since, responding to the instrument’s changing state. Saturday marks its final performance from regular pianist Sam Bailey while lithophone virtuoso Toma Gouband playing stones and other found objects alongside it. An photo exhibition of the various performances and collaborations will also be on display at the Sidney Cooper Gallery during the festival (I won’t be able to see this one, as I am away, so you all have to and then describe it to me an exquisite detail)
- A new favourite of mine, folk instrumentalists Arlet make camp in Mrs Jones Kitchen alongside The Leon String Quartet, with dual compositions promising to scale folk, jazz and classical influences. (They almost sound French, but really REALLY good French. You’ll want to drink wine and then skip)
- There are also many, many excellent poets at different events throughout the festival. Please support them and enjoy their work as well as the music.
*Django IS a jazz kitty. He has an odd gait, so he walks in three paw time. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA he calms my dark places.