20 April 2017

Fat Out Fest 2017, 14th to 16th April 2017, Islington Mill, Salford

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I love this festival. I would attend this festival blind (excuse the pun) without a clue of who was on the bill because I would guarantee it would be an interesting experience. The 2017 edition of the north west’s prime experimental festival was certainly that and in my view it has been the best so far. Sadly I was only able to cover the Friday and Saturday as I was making noises of my own at the Stoke Sounds festival on the Sunday. Fear not, as I have much to report even from just two thirds of the festival.

I had a nightmare start to my weekend with heft train and bus delays followed by the realisation that I had booked myself into the wrong hotel, a blunder adding about another mile and a half to the distance between my lodgings and the Islington Mill. However, the minute I stepped into the venue, all frustrations vanished as Fat Out Fest welcomed me in once more.

So what does Fat Out Fest involve? Sonically, pretty much anything can happen. Visually too, as my forthcoming words will attest. The setting remains perfect, a shabby yet charming old brick mill with added on warehouse area. Wood fired pizza (including vegan options) served from an ancient Citroen van with a chimney. Amazing looking vegan cakes and cookies. Interesting artwork and décor. And the people……

Anyhow, you get the idea, so let us get to specifics.

The first band I encountered were Manchester’s own ILL, who gleefully bashed out their Casio tinged noise rock in a colourful and engaging manner. The sometimes sludgy, sometimes frenetic jump up and down tracks all sounded good to me and in the odder moments even brought to mind some Butthole Surfers weirdness. Powerful stuff with quality female vocals.

Widnes based MUMS were similarly noisy though with a slightly more stoner vibe to the riffs. Sabbath worship with built in and pleasing dissonance, think Big Business fighting with Unsane, thumping out short sharp doses of heavy groove.

Travelling between stages I was sad only to catch the end of GIANT SWAN who sounded immense. Pounding abrasive electronica that was both brutal and also somehow invoked a feeling of elation. Admittedly I only caught the closing portion of their set but it was enough for me to want to see more.

One of the main acts on my radar were TEST DEPT, appearing in ‘redux’ form. I’ve listened to and have owned music by this band since the 1980s but this is my first live encounter with them. I’ve now seem more than my fair share of bands that have returned to action after a lengthy absence and I always brace myself for disappointment as the fires rarely burn as brightly second time around. However, Test Dept clearly have not come to recapture past glories, but to throw down the gauntlet to new battles. Seemingly baited by recent world events, they are sounding incensed and vital. The stage is filled with some of the longest flight cases I’ve seen, spewing intestinal cables to the floor, rusted metal monoliths bearing springs and debris as fruit and the little remaining space is filled with more traditional percussion and of course the personnel. This is no weak attempt to reminisce, this is tribal, raw and powerful. Melded electronic rhythms reinforced by the bashing of ‘things’. Looped noise, manipulated granules of sound are all mighty and also all relevant. Strobing visual backdrops only serve to hammer home the message brought by Test Dept v2017.

I have to mention that at this point I ate a huge double chocolate cookie sandwich dripping with chocolate spread. Nice.

Crumbs still on shirt I headed over to catch some of the HOUSEWIVES set. There’s nothing more cool than a silhouetted saxophone player is there? Housewives look at ease as they deliver a pleasing combination of shimmering shadowy bowed drones and doomjazz sounds. There is a rhythmic foundation at times but largely they bring to mind a late night walk through back alleys drenched in neon lit steam, all angles and shadows with just a hint of menace.

Due to over running sound checks, PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS (or Pigsx7 for the lazy) were shunted up the bill o play in the sublimely lit warehouse stage and it proved to be a happy accident. They took to the larger space readily and delivered their gargantuan riffs with menace and relish. Their sludgy, visceral and trance inducing sound will stay in my memory for some time and they were a worthy close to my first day at Fat Out Fest 2017. My only disappointment was not catching The Bug and Dylan Carlson. Their set running late was incompatible with my last available public transport.

So, after drying out, getting a little kip and drowning myself in tea, I returned to the mill for a jam packed day two. I stopped off at the smaller performance area where I believe SWAGGERJACK were performing. Sounds were blissed out and droning as two fellows tweaked settings on the assembled gadgetry which included an Indian drone machine (I know this as I have a similar model).

A strange sight awaited in the warehouse portion of the venue as the stage was draped in shrink wrap with a large amount of cake, squirty cream and trifle awaiting….something. Performers then assembled clad in dayglow shiny plastic macs and various other lurid embellishments. This could only be the LONE TAXIDERMIST TRIFLE. Musically the sound orchestrators create what might be best described as a histrionic psychedelic jam but in truth this is somewhat overshadowed by the physical theatre provided by this fluorescent collective. The whole thing is almost odd almost to absurdity but one can’t help smile as bobble legged fat lipped helmet wearing gyrators smear cake and cream anywhere they can. Just odd. And my guide dog JJ got to lick cream of some of the troupe. Bonus for him.

Back to the mill I find BODIES ON EVEREST preparing for audio ascent. Voiceover snippets drift from the almost complete darkness before blinding white lights illuminate the source of the blast beats that thrill with their intensity. Then darkness once more, then more blasts. Then a bass line tentatively builds over a comparatively slow time period, feedback accumulates and things get very sludgy. Very bleak and very loud.

In stark contrast, just a few hundred metres away, IRMA VEP take a different approach. One man’s voice and a reverb soaked guitar, both earnest in sound, are perhaps more suited to a Sunday afternoons listening. Surprisingly undistorted in comparison to many of the weekends offerings, his material has a fragile feel with atmospheric and engaging songs.

BLOWN OUT from up in the north east of England probably sound like I expected them to from their name, with a heavy Sabbath-eque sound not unlike some Monster Magnet material. No bad thing at all and the crowd lap up their almost glacial grooves and volcanic volume.

It is time for bending minds as DATA QUACK are in full flow in the warehouse. Scattering time sigatures, angular lane swapping rhythms and a free form jazz approach is going down well with the assembled moving bodies, but while undoubtedly competent, the band are not my cup of leaf so I head back to see what Manchester’s YOSSARIANS have to offer. The goods offered up to my ears are best described as ‘proper’ indie. Edgy guitar driven alternative music delivered with panache, perhaps reminding me in part of The Fall, Half Man Half Biscuit and even The Smiths at times.

I was eagerly awaiting GROUP A, formerly of Tokyo and now of Berlin. They promised something heftily electronic and I wasn’t disappointed. Solid hypnotic rhythms and walls of sound delivered by the war painted due who embellish their sound with an electronic violin, contact mics and other gadgetry I am unable to discern from my vantage point. Needless to say, things get noisy and a little sweaty. While they have an experimental approach, the results remain entirely listenable and enjoyable to consume.

TEETH OF THE SEA were another of the acts on the bill that I already had familiarity and fondness for. Live, they utilised wide ranging audio sources including trumpet guitar and plenty of electronic tomfoolery. The set builds almost ponderously over looped trumpet and guitar sounds, with the addition of synth heavy textures and beefy percussion over time. Part post rock, part electronica and wholly atmospheric.

Reading about MOOR MOTHER I was excited to experience her set as I think her and my output bear similarities. It was obvious that there were technical issues with the sound and she stated that a good portion of her set up wasn’t working. That said, it was still a very powerful performance and perhaps ultimately unique as we were witness to a set with a different sonic focus. The electronic assault she generated was formidable and internal organ troubling and the sometimes Jarboesque vocal delivery were the icing on the cake. I really enjoyed my first exposure to Moor Mother and I will be watching out for an opportunity to experience her as she intended.

The ultimate act of my version of Fat Out Fest 2017 were AUTHOR AND PUNISHER. I’ve followed the works of Tristan Shone from almost the outset of Author and Punisher and I regard his drone metal electronica highly. Again, this festival provided me with my first opportunity to see the ‘engineer to fear’ at work. Tristan fabricates his own controllers for his synth heavy barrages and this makes him largely unique at the moment. The large push – pull pistons and huge throw switches add vastly to this one man performance. It is captivating to see all limbs working independently to trigger and modulate aspects of the sound, which is as fat and domineering as I’d expected. To manage vocals on top of this synchronicity is a feat in itself and further confirms Author and Punisher as a must see act for fans of any kind of harder electronic music.

So there you have it. I reluctantly beat my retreat at this juncture for the aforementioned reasons. However, I know my time away from the Fat Out Fest will be as short as possible if I have anything to do with it. JJ might feel differently but he received enough love from both the punters and the artists and sure he won’t mind coming back either….

There are some of the live sets filmed by the splendid IMPATV that you can watch here

Thank you Fat Out.