‘Wakizashi’ is a new two day festival in Bristol. It has been curated by promoter Proto Titans and local musician and aficionado Harry ‘Iceman’ Furniss.
Day one kicked off with ambient contemporary quintet SALTINGS. This trio make composed crackling soundscapes using a double bass, cello, guitar and synth. The result is a moody, ethereal sound. This group have been at the forefront of creating this kind of moody atmospheric sound in Bristol for about a year. SALTINGS set one of the main themes that ran throughout Wakizashi– musicians who push their craft to the limit. The two string players slapped, bent and generally tweaked their instruments to the maximum creating strange and otherworldly percussive tones, whilst a variety of effects units were employed to stretch and distort the already twisted noise. The small Saturday afternoon crowd were spellbound by the show. Running in the background on a projector was Cronenburg’s ‘Naked Lunch’. The strange cockroach-like creatures, half insect, half typewriter were a fitting background for the instrumental music.
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Four-piece Charivari were up next. This band have a more recognisable rock set up with two guitars, a bass and drums, but there instrumental psychedelic music is definitely in the experimental category. They shook the room up employing their instruments to create peaks and troughs of dense sound.
The third act to grace this small stage stood out from the rest of the line-up. Singer and rapper Luuis was joined by three other Bristol-based frontmen to form super-group Xuuki. Blending R&B and hip hop with synth these boys laid down some smooth grooves, relaxing the afternoon into a more contemplative dimension. The songs revolve around tales of love and romance, bringing a real change of pace to proceedings.
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Twin was next on stage, consisting of Christelle Atenstaedt, this is a relatively new venture for the front woman of much loved local psych act Vena Cava. Overlaying guitar and keys with floaty vocals, Twin’s music is haunting and hallucinatory, evoking such dreamy acts as The Cocteau Twins. The backing film for Twin was Suspuria. This warped and trippy Italian ballet-based horror film fitted the mood of Twin perfectly as the audience’s minds were pushed further and further into a surreal dimension. Twin was joined on stage by classical violinist Alice for the last song- Twin has recently started to collaborate live with guests and this certainly adds a little lightness to an otherwise intense set. The guitar and violin entwine around each other creating waves of looped sound hazily melding into the ether. The music is often quite skeletal and simple to start with, rendered complicated through use of loops and modulation. The composition is made easy to read through this technique, allowing listeners to appreciate the building blocks that go into creating this delicate yet complex sound.
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Spanish hip-hop duo Peluzah and Habitat followed up, bringing a distinct change of pace to proceedings. The two MCs rapped about the trials of living as an artist and even broke into English for one track about Bristol- whilst the rapping was still of high quality, there was a difference in their elocution and flow. In Spanish the harmonies, rhymes and rhythms were evident.
The venue slowly filled during the next break and the venue was distinctly warmer by the time Human Bones took to the stage. This stripped back act consists of Jamie Cruishank on guitar and vocals and Josh on drums. On first listen, they seem to produce simple indie pop, however as the set progressed some different elements were introduced. For instance, singing hair metal guitar licks bubble out from nowhere and story filled lyrics take the crowd on a journey. The duo clearly draws on folk groups for their clear storytelling and simple melodies. They produce a very clean effected sound which was quite refreshing in a festival line up where experimentation is evidently a factor that draws the acts together. Not that Human Bones don’t experiment, it is just a subtler kind of expansion that they pursue. They finished on a high with adrenalin fuelled ‘Pig’, a fast and furious punk song.
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Iyabe were next on the bill. The crowd had grown significantly at this point, whilst the space on stage shrunk as all five members of Iyabe were crammed onto stage with their two drum kits, guitar and bass as well as a fair amount of effects units. This is a band to watch out for, they are interesting, they clearly have fun together and have the skill to back that up. Their lyrics are confident and brash- the first song has a chorus that insists “when I’ve done things I realise I’ve done them on my own.” The bass is passed around almost all members of the band, showing us their shared musical prowess as well as demonstrating how well they work as a group, fitting themselves around their compositions. Their third track in particular seems to stretch out time as the chorus goes, “You should follow yourself, stranger things have happened.” Sophie, the lead singers’ vocals are gorgeous, she does sound like Beth Gibbons in terms of clarity and range, as well as using similar techniques to the Portishead lead singer. The band has plenty of energy as well as integrity. The crowd have truly warmed up by the time they leave the stage.
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The Iceman Furniss Quintet were next up with their brand of art filled, improvised, driving punk jazz. Led by Harry ‘Iceman’ on the cornet, this is a great band to catch in Bristol. They performed at Wakizashi with a significant line-up change. Due to illness the bassist could not join them, so regular guitarist Thom Bryan stepped up on bass and Iyebe guitartist filled in on guitar. Luckily the calibre of these musicians is very high and everyone managed to improvise very successfully. The Quintet still delivered their trademark sound of strange rock, looped and magnified with effects coupled with the cool high tones of the cornet, smoothing out the crags and crannies of distortion and bent notes.
Hysterical Injury then took to the stage. By this point the crowd was large and enthusiastic. This Bristol brother and sister duo introduced themselves by announcing that they’d come out of a recording hiatus to perform for one night only. Annie and Tom Gardiner produce post punk comprised simply of drums, bass and searing high vocals. They started with ‘Under Milk Wood’ a driven grungy tune with a melodic bass line that propels the sound onward. Annie’s vocals are clear, high and perfect. The overall sound is mathematical, tuneful and heavy. Annie rocks out in her silver bomber jacket and matching high tops. For the second track, Annie goes it alone on bass and vocals, while the drummer puts up his feet. This is a new song and the audience clearly feels privileged to be let in on some unheard material. This more minimal approach works to great effect as the room is silenced to listen to the perfectly executed sound. After which Annie says, “Come on bro,” to her brother to cajole him into drumming yet again, “Or, dickhead”- this works to rouse the drummer as the audience and made privy to some excellent sibling face pulling. The rest of the set mesmerizes the crowd, with Annie showing excellent punk spirit just before the last two tracks- “We’ll fly through these last two, the first one has a groove you can sit on and you can lose your shit to the second.” The audience duly follows, with one elderly man, propped up on a monitor wedge at the front of the crowd, head banging away, throwing a piece sign in Hysterical Injury’s direction. There next album is being produced by Jim Barr of Portishead and Get the Blessing fame- this is one to look out for and is due to be launched in 2017.
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By this point the suited and booted forms of alt jazz pioneers, Get The Blessing, have entered the building. The atmosphere is one of excitement as the four members grace the stage for the headline act. Get The Blessing are perhaps one of the most joyful outfits in the country. Despite playing extremely precise, rhythmically difficult and musically complex jazz, the impression is one of four guys getting together to have fun. All of them grin from ear to ear at the others’ musical mastery. The set is mainly centered around tunes from their last album, ‘Astronautilus’, an album, Jim Barr tells us, about stars and fishes. They kick off with ‘Green Herring’- ‘a song about a small green fish’. As the crowd ease into the bands loping and relaxed vibe, the chilled out mentality of the musicians continues. ‘The question is,’ Jim asks, ‘is a mollusc a fish?’ The crowd decide it is most definitely not.
After a blistering rendition of ‘Nautilus’, Jim muses, ‘In a world with so many vaugeries, it is good to know for certain that a fish is not a mollusc!’. As well as the easy-going banter, the band entertain us with their stage presence whilst playing. Pete Judge on the trumpet and Jake McMurchie on sax constantly play off of each other, often meeting in the middle of the stage to cross instruments and howl in each other’s faces. Clive Deamer is fascinating, as always, to watch on the drums, effortlessly driving the band from cool to barely contained chaos. This group are truly at the top of their game and it’s an honour to see them on such an intimate stage. Clive Deamer did not even have time to leave his seat before an encore was being bayed for by the crowd. A blistering rendition of ‘Bleach Cake’ was duly delivered, bringing the crowd to a frenzied high.
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Wakizashi Day one was certainly filled with surprises and was an excellent showcase of some the West Country’s most musically interesting bands. The range of music was diverse and pleasing, with representation from jazz, contemporary classical ambient, to hip hop, punk and grunge. The audience left filled with excitement for what the next day had to offer, buoyed up on the intense energy of Get The Blessing.