Hard to keep to my idea of not writing ‘reviews’…and wondering why anyone would want to read anything else (or even that)… still…what an odd experience the Denovali Swingfest was. It meant being incarcerated in a dark dancehall in Kings Cross for the weekend,. And this was a weekend that turned out to be the closest that London had got to spring in the course of 2013. But maybe the other celebrants were not worried about this. What we were attending was after all a kind of Masonic meeting for the obsessed. I’ve been there before of course…recently Touch organized a similar (if more diverse) affair in the homelier Beaconsfield Arts Centre and ECM orchestrated a shrine in the form of a museum exhibition and a whole series of gigs in Munich. I didn’t realize I was in thrall to labels this way. And I’m not sure if I was really aware of Denovali until I happened upon this event. This was, in its way, more intense than either of these other events though…us listeners, the audience, needed more stamina and had to exhibit more commitment to the doctrine.
Saturday was something of an onslaught of guitars and decibels. The audience was quite prepared to stand for the duration – about 10 hours from the Pirate Ship Quartet through to Andy Stott (though this is guess work on my part as I bowed out at around midnight before Mr Stott made an appearance). It all began with dry-ice and maybe there should be legislation to prevent the use of dry-ice before 8 pm…and while we are at it someone should introduce a ban on certain guitar poses. I am thinking particularly of the one foot on the monitor position. Along the way there was fantastic noise/sound/music call it what you will. Body shaking bass form the Bersarin Quartett and a teeming wall of sound from Fennesz.
As if everyone had already read the script, Sunday’s audience immediately sat down and proceedings were more acoustic, quieter, and, from time to time piano based. If Saturday was relentless then the sound of Sunday was more reflective. The dub card was played with thrilling conviction by Greg Haines, complex polyrythms were provided by Poppy Ackroyd, resonating 12 string was served up by James Blackshaw and icy landscapes were evoked by Thomas Köner. I was left wondering why almost no one addressed us the audience (apart form Poppy Ackroyd…the sole women on stage for the weekend…coincidence? I think not).
I find it hard to separate the sound-space and the experience of that space from the making of the music. The Scala’s particular penumbral resonances made for a sometimes uncomfortable musical environment. By way of contrast my companion and I sought solace (more than once) in the unlikely surroundings of an ersatz pub newly arrived in Kings Cross Station… a ‘parcel yard’ miraculously re-instated on the first floor above the station platforms. This is a comfortable staging post for some on the way back to Hertfordshire and for us was a respite from the nether world of those dark dance hall days. Considerably better beer than the Scala…but when you sign up for a cult it is not usually for the quality of the refreshments.
The running order for both days was:
The Pirate Ship Quintet (UK)
Omega Massif (GER)
Bersarin Quartett (GER)
Andy Stott Live (UK)
Carlos Cipa (GER)
James Blackshaw (UK)
Greg Haines (UK)
Thomas Köner (GER)
Poppy Ackroyd (UK)
William Basinski (USA)