A special report on the proceedings at this year's UK Electronica festival. Words by Tony Mills; pictures by Alf Annison, Stuart Catterson, Tony Mills and Chris Jenkins.
This year's UK Electronica festival was even more rewarding than the 1983 event - for exhibitors, musicians and public alike.
The move from Milton Keynes to Sheffield did this year's UK Electronica Festival of synthesiser music no harm at all. The fans were still there, the musicians enjoyed themselves, and the atmosphere - if a little lacking in last year's breathless excitement - was as friendly and positive as ever.
The reasons for the move to South Yorkshire included use of the wonderful Octagon Centre in which the evening concerts, featuring Spanish synthesists Neuronium supported by Mark Shreeve, were held. Daytime acts had the use of a smaller hall with few facilities for visuals or lighting effects, and the fact that every act found its enthusiastic fans says much for the variety and quality of the music played.
Doors opened at 11am with an immediate flood of punters to the Lotus Records stand, which was packed as ever with albums, tapes and rare items such as the limited edition UK Electronica 1984 T-shirt. Other stands included Pulse (with albums by Jade Warrior, Richard Pinhas and White Noise), Haze (the Sheffield rock band who filled in at short notice for Jade Warrior, who unfortunately couldn't appear), Integrated Circuit Records and Tapes, Mirage (tapes from Fortuna, Carl Matthews, and many others), Chris and Cosey's CTI, Hawkfan, and of course organisers INKEYS with the Klaus Schulze/IC fan club. E&MM were also out in force, selling back issues of the magazine and its sister publications (Home Studio Recording and Guitarist), thrusting T-shirts into the arms of unsuspecting passers-by, and relieving the Student Union bar of excess quantities of John Smith's Yorkshire Bitter...
Daytime concerts were opened by Frenchman Dr Phil, a Hawkwind follower who used synths, guitar, sequencers and drum machines to produce a selection of songs and tunes ranging from the cosmic Tim Blake style to a heavier rock feel - all completely unassisted by backing tapes. Next up were industrialists Konstruktivits, who layered tapes, a Casio, synths and distorted vocals to provide a sound collage admired by many for its power and dynamism.
During the short break the audience were able to wander around displays from Computer Music Studios (showing the Voyetra and alphaSyntauri systems and Mainframe's Apple-based DS3 polyphonic sampling system), Mensana with their Spectrum and BBC-based MIDI sequencer, and the local Carlsbro branch with a wide selection of synths, sequencers and drum machines.
The next concerts were by Carl Matthews, who made his first ever live appearance with a gentle set of floating synth/sequencer music which went down well after the heavier first part; by Haze, who played progressive rock from their Cellar Tapes and album C'Est La Vie; and by Tamarisk, another progressive group who merged synths, guitars and drums in a very satisfying package.
Paul Nagle then took the stage to a welcome whose warmth was probably boosted by his bad luck on the technical side at last year's event. This time there were no such accidents - a very accomplished set using his newly-acquired DX7 showed the possibilities of his gently rhythmic style to the full, with able accompaniment by keyboardist Michael and flautist Kathleen.
Acoustic instruments seemed to be making a big contribution this year, from flutes to double-neck guitars to 'real' drum kits, so it came as no surprise when ex-Tangerine Dream stalwart Steve Jolliffe took to the stage with a Revox, DX7 MIDI'd to a JX3P and a stand full of saxes and flutes.
Jolliffe's set was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the day, and received sufficient audience enthusiasm to force the man back for three encores. Those who missed his Journeys Out Of The Body album will last have heard SJ on the Dream's Cyclone, and in many ways his use of voice and wind instruments over churning sequences, huge string chords and Eastern backdrops harked back more to the Cyclone days than to Journeys. In fact, the Sheffield material will form part of his next album, Death of a Japanese Butterfly, which now has an expectant audience awaiting its release.
The end of the daytime acts led to a wait of about an hour before the evening concerts, mainly due to problems with Neuronium's light show and with the recording facilities in the Octagon. For the rest of the proceedings there was nothing but praise for the sound crews from the University's Ents committee who did Stirling work all day: by the time Mark Shreeve took the stage they deserved the two hours' rest they were to snatch before cracking everything down again.
Mark was joined by Julian Shreeve, American madman Jasun Martz and the sepulchral figure of Sue Gresty, who got the proceedings off to a sinister start with a little recitation from Steven King's 'The Stand'. A massive thunderclap took us into 'Flagg', which went down well last year and which had been rearranged to make full use of Shreeve's DX7, Jupiter 6 and MSQ700 MIDI system. Then straight into a new piece which combined some breezy sequencer lines with Shreeve's typical Sturm und Drang approach, and then all hell was let loose in the form of Jasun Martz striding around the stage with a massively-fuzzed guitar and a fine disregard for the conventions of tuning. In fact, there was a fair bit of guitar work, and before the set was over Julian Shreeve's Juno 106 (loaned for the occasion by Roland UK) was battling against two of the things as Mark too struggled under a guitar strap and slid into a few well-timed breaks. As for the end, suffice it to say that the Assassin concept from Shreeve's Jive album of the same name had a little visual help, but you really had to be there....
Neuronium's set was a little gentler at first, with slides casting images of both the macrocosmic and microcosmic over the heads of synth player Michel Huygen and guitarist Santi Pico, but after five minutes of slow chord work in a piece composed especially for the show, the sequencers started pulsing, a TR909 opened up its output channels and Pico was gyrating on his stool as if caught in an earth tremor. Huygen's performance on Jupiter 6, DX7 and Moog Prodigy became hysterical (in a very refined way - he doesn't move much on stage!) and heads started banging amongst sections of the audience across the hall.
After another slow piece, the duo launched into 'Torquemada' from their recent Jive album Heritage, and Pico switched to acoustic guitar to lay some Knopfleresque licks over Huygen's synths and sequencers.
In fact, most of the duo's set came from Heritage, and a cleverly-constructed programme built up tension and then defused it again in just the right proportions. Finally, the pitch-benders came out, Huygen began tearing his lead lines out over a six-octave bend range and Pico positively attacked his much-abused Les Paul and guitar synth. It's difficult to believe two men could make so much noise: not a backing tape in sight and an almost perfect blend between guitar and synthesisers.
A slow encore piece left the audience wanting yet more, which duly came in the form of a modified 'Torquemada', which I reckon deserves to be a single in its own right, quite apart from Huygen's solo 12", 'Capturing Holograms'. A better combination of support and lead acts would be hard to imagine - who could possibly do it next year?
On the subject of UK Electronica '85, organisers IN KEYS already have some idea of the programme and are attempting to find a London venue, costs permitting, for the sake of easier communication, transport and so on. In the meantime, those who missed this year's show will shortly be able to regale themselves with a cassette of highlights, a video, and a booklet (cufflinks, computer game, scarf..?) courtesy of INKEYS and Lotus. Oh and by the way, if anybody wants a T-shirt...
Music Review by Mark Jenkins writing as Tony Mills
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