If today’s mainstream music is now regurgitating ever shortening cycles within cycles of half-remembered cover versions of last week’s latest covered Youtube wonder, the PUNKT remix festival is like some kind of organic sonic food spa for the ears – with only freshly performed, reassuringly real sounds created and recycled in state-of-the-art remakes – right before you in real time. Now celebrating its 12th edition this year’s event presented two slyly contrasting main evenings; the first with a triple bill of folk-tronica, warm 1970s harmony-laden prog rock and biting electro-thrash that got the jazziest remixes, while the second night pooled together more overtly jazz artists undergoing remixes that plumbed the darker recesses of electronica.
Opening proceedings was Hardanger fiddle player Erlend Apneseth (above), who first emerged as a heralded new star of his country’s traditional instrument, yet who’s Trio have forged a new path exploring drones, glitchy trilling effects and reverb-soaked spaces. This was perfect fodder for their remix partners Stian Westerhus, Arve Henriksen and Rolf Lislevand to stretch and spin into a brilliant if all-too-brief remixed response. Band of Gold (below), a group that includes members of In The Country and Elephant9 and won the Nordic music prize last year for their beautifully burnished eponymous debut that while nodding to the luxuriant harmonies of Fleetwood Mac, boasted horn arrangements by Jaga Jazzist’s Lars Hornveth. It was soulfully affecting stuff and was given a sympathetic reworking by Mungolian JetSet. But better was still to come.
British trio Three Trapped Tigers (below) formed several yeas ago to create their own take on the music of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher but have since forged their own heavyweight maelstrom of industrial strength beats, blazing guitars and face-slapping synths. Their jazz-trained drummer Adam Betts is actually part of Squarepusher’s live band, Shobaleader One, and as for TTT their head-banging, floor-shaking sound more than matches their inspiration’s menacing assaults. Reshaping this set immediately after, festival founder Jan Bang, drummer Audun Kleive and Elephant9/Band of Gold bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen brought some artfully funky moves to bear on TTT’s titanium-coated chaos. The whole evening wound up in suitably twisted beat-laden style.
Saturday’s line-up was almost in reverse with opener Stian Westerhus (top of page), with his vast array of pedals and four huge amps, creating a cathedral of sound that’s as crushingly powerful as any five-piece band. Westerhus’ past includes stints with Jaga Jazzist and his own bands Monolithic and Pale Horses, but it’s his newly unbound vocals that created the biggest stir among those present – his phenomenal guitar work is already a known quantity – but his startling, rasping yet eminently soulful voice is something of a revelation. Creating intense loops of surging guitar, it’s the otherworldly sounds extracted from his archtop that send the coldest chills, as when he breaths like Nosferatu across the pickups to produce wraith-like veils of sound or when he unleashes a magnetic storm of thudding, shuddering sonic waves that crash over the speakers, before bringing back his anguished vocals that rise like voices from the other side. It sounds like a personal exorcism of thunderous proportions, wailing in the void, poems from purgatory, one never sure if we're heading to heaven or hell. There's something dark and devilish about it all, that, along with the macabre lighting and Westerhus' haunted features makes for the most transfixing spectacle. Remarkably he even bows the guitar to create a fiddle like sound akin to those of Norway's rich folk roots. He may be impossible to categorise but Westrhus is some of the most astonishing music today.
If Stian represented the devil, then the Atmosphères band is certainly as angelic as you would wish them to be. Tigran Hamasyan (above) has long brought the Armenian music of his culture to the mainstream, with a finely wrought precision, and he's found the perfect partners in Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang (below) and Eivind Aarset to take this music and into the realm of the ambient and the ethereal. Creeping like mist over some spectral plane the music slowly built to a nebulous cloud of notes, Henriksen making the first advance with some melodic ideas soon followed by Tigran, yet it was Bang’s extraordinarily flexible live sampling that jerked this out of its torpor, sending electric shocks across the layers of sound. The quartet finally dug into something deeper with Tigran piling up up the bass notes and Henriksen finding purchase with some diminished runs – out of which emerged another Armenian piece that was doubled by his voice and Heniksen’s trumpet. Far from being me are ambient wallpaper or flotation tank music, this is a deep cultural dialogue between four extremely compatible friends, yet its a soundworld that needs to be pushed into more challenging sonic areas. The ensuing electronically charged remix by Simen Løvgren hinted at the deeper, more threatening textures the group could explore, with powerful bass notes and twitching rhythms lurching out of the sonic fog.
A beaming Bugge Wesseltoft fired up his latest incarnation of his New Conception of Jazz band – notably an all female one featuring tenorist Marthe Lea, guitarist Oddrun Lilja, tabla player Sanskriti Shresta and drummer Siv Oyunn Kjenstad (below) – on what he said was the second date of their tour that would visit Japan, the US, Europe and UK. It probably wasn’t meant as a caveat but, while this group is another that’s taking its first steps, it also sounds like its still finding its feet. Lengthy guitar and sax intros added suitable amounts of tension and the opening song’s multi-layered groove-while-soloing approach revealed much empathy between Bugge and the band, yet it was often his keyboard wizardry that upped the ante. Things peaked with Bugge foraging for filthy synth bass line which underpinned a striking sax melody and some shimming chords from Lilja, the band cranking up to a higher gear with all signs pointing to lift off. And yet this funky storm soon blew over and things settled back down into a lower simmering groove, which still held the attention but didn’t pack the same pulse-quickening punch. If they can build a set around these electro-funk foundations, then they’re on to a winner – the talent is in no doubt – it’s direction they need now. The ensuing remix from guitar/electronics/drums trio of Jens Kola, Johannes Vaage and Stian Balducci once again brought out a heavier darker side to the music, providing a darker reality to the lighter one before.
The wonderful thing with PUNKT is that it provides a state-of-the-art space for some of the world’s most restlessly creative musicians to experiment on a grand scale – fearlessly diving into the unknown – while giving the audience the chance to hear some extraordinary music for the first time ever. Twelve years and counting and this great sound experiment continues to cook up sumptuous sonic surprises.
– Mike Flynn
– Photos by Petter Sandell