Pure Phase Ensemble are an international musical collective, created especially for participation in the 2014 SpaceFest festival. You may not have previously heard of this project, but you should certainly be aware of several of its prominent members. For instance there is Mark Gardener of world famous shoe-gaze pioneers Ride, and saxophonist Ray Dickaty, formerly of the celebrated space rock outfit Spiritualized.
SpaceFest itself is a blossoming music festival, that is held annually during the first week of December in Gdansk, Poland. Starting back in 2011, the main aim being to act as a festival of shoe-gaze, space-rock and alternative music, though it also includes workshops for musicians gathering together from Poland and abroad, and meetings with legendary artists.
There is also a competition for young bands, and live album releases. The invited musicians collectively compose a concert’s worth of music, which they will then present live to the festival goers. Each year, this unique performance is recorded live and is subsequently released as an LP and download.
The programme for each workshop is jointly curated by Ray Dickaty, and Karol Schwarz, who manages Nasiono Records, the company responsible for the organisation of the festival, and the subsequent vinyl release of the weekend’s proceedings. Along with these two key figures, every festival involves a new musical director, often a legendary and internationally recognised musician, who is invited to co-curate the workshop. Previous years participants have included Laetitia Sadier from English alternative rockers Stereolab, Chris Olley from Nottingham band Six By Seven, Steve Hewitt from Placebo, and Jaime Harding from Brit-pop band Marion.
The recorded music here, certainly doesn’t fail to disappoint, capturing the feel and vibe of the live event with aplomb. The album’s intro building ominously, establishing an otherworldly ambience through the use of airy electronic sounds, and subtly reserved guitar riffs. It becomes increasingly dream-like as it progresses, whilst all the time remaining minimal and serene. Morning Rise gradually growing out of its wake, and slowly adding to the celestial feel as more, and more instrumental elements join in. The saxophone of Ray Dickaty adding an especially nice texture to the ambience. It eventually establishes an affecting beat that soothes yet excites simultaneously, with typical shoe-gaze’esque vocals.
A haunting melody sets in to glide alongside the music, and to endow the atmosphere with an absorbing ethereal edge. It reaches a loud and lively crescendo before transitioning into the bustling, sequenced rhythmic beginning of Notaki. This long and at times meandering undertaking, slowly develops, gradually adopting an increasingly purposeful pace as the sequenced drums are joined by real drums, and half sung vocals. The tempo continues to rise as it accelerates towards an energetic instrumental exhibition that takes off at around the halfway mark.
It all ultimately tones back down as it leads into the brilliantly biting guitars of Zostań na noc. This is a lot heavier than its predecessors, despite its relaxed rhythm. It gradually grows in scale and volume as percussion pounds out forcefully behind the penetrating guitar riffs. There’s a brief respite about a third of the way through, before things blow back up into the tumult of a menacing crescendo later on.
Peter Song follows, and is a slow and sedatory composition that feels refreshing in the wake of its somewhat epic forebears. Doing My Head In succeeds it as another gentle addition that continues to sooth the senses in true shoe-gaze style. Happy Dancing Woman returns to a more animated air afterwards, proceeding to skip along briskly upon a warm and optimistic beat, bringing the musical showcase to a suitably fervent finish.
Live At SpaceFest 14 is indeed intriguing. Bringing together as it does, an eclectic and somewhat adventurous combination of genres and elements, including shoe-gaze and prog-rock, the sound is extremely psychedelic.
While the quality of the recording is far from pristine, it does manage a great job of capturing the vibe of being in the crowd during the performance, witnessing the festival event first hand. Highly recommended.