OK. So, for those who have no idea what the Punkt Festival is (I both
pity and envy you folk, as you are missing out on something amazing, but have
the overwhelming rush of your first time ahead of you), here is a little
description of the Punkt premise:
An act performs a live concert. Immediately afterwards,
another act remixes that performance before your very ears. And so on, three
acts and three remixes for two nights.
(NB: The opening night tends to be reserved for performances
only these past number of years, but that's beside the point.)
The venues have changed, back and forth, over the years. Initially it was based in the Agder Theatre, with occasional excursions to the Fønix Kino (now Kristiansand Kino, in a rebranding that can only be described as a descent towards beige-ness). In 2015, the entire festival was based there, with multiple remixes occurring after each concert (a one-time occurrence, and one I personally don't miss much, although it wouldn't upset me, either, if it happened again). Other venues around the beautiful town of Kristiansand have been home to parts of the festival program, perhaps most notably in 2008 when Jon Hassell re-programmed the church bells to play something somewhat more secular than usual, and thus turned the entire city centre into Punkt's stage. Since 2013, with that exception in 2015, however, Kick, a nightclub, has been its home.
In addition to all of this there have been various events at the Kristiansand Kunsthall, the Kristiansand Kunstsenter, and the Musikkenshus. The Kilden Theatre also played host to the entire festival (in a year curated by Brian Eno, no less).
Enough history … now the disclaimer part …
I have been involved with Punkt since 2006, and have attended every year since 2008. Lord help us all, I have even been Fiona Talkington's understudy (Fiona has been the festival host/MC since the beginning, with only 3 years where she was not in full attendance, and one of which she covered one evening). Only twice have I not had work to do there in some capacity, whether for Punkt itself, or related projects – 2012 and this year, 2017. Now, as you'd expect, I have an undying (read: unkillable) fondness for the festival and everyone involved. However, I like to think that I'm honest, and what is about to unfold is just my honest opinion of the festival this year. And that being said, my views are my own, and in no way reflect the views of Jan Bang and Erik Honoré (the festival founders and curators), the festival committee, the volunteers, or any other official position.
Now that we've got the preliminary stuff out of the way, let's get to the festival itself.
I shall lightly skip over the opening of the festival at Kristiansand Kunsthall, as it was predominantly conducted in Norwegian. Suffice to say that Tori Wrånes and Sandra Mujinga each gave excellent performances, both beautiful and bewildering, and Kristin Evensen's art was absolutely fascinating and delightful.
Moving location to Vaktbua, a small venue on a hill
overlooking the more tourist-oriented area of the town seafront, we were
treated to an outdoor stage. Vaktbua has been part of the Punkt venue directory
for a number of years now, hosting Punkt Klubb, the after-party (as well as a
different Punkt Klubb that happens outside the festival on a (more or less) monthly
basis, but more of that later). This year was Vaktbua's debut as part of the
concert program, and it was no bad thing.
The first act was Rakel Nystabakk and Ingrid Wesenberg Eskeland, two students from the University of Agder (UiA) that have been playing as a duo since 2016. The combination of Eskeland's double bass playing and Nystabakk's laptop processing was familiar Thursday night fare, experimental, expressive, cruising the broad expanse between abstraction and melody, chaos and rhythm. It was a perfect opener, gently easing the crowd into the Punkt experience – familiar to veterans, instructive to novices. Nystabakk and Eskeland are both very talented, and since they were effectively the opener for the musical end of the festival, surprisingly calm and collected. Music is definitely in their future, as well as their present, judging by this performance.
Things took a sharp turn thereafter when Rohey took the
stage. Now, another disclaimer is required here: Rohey are signed to Jazzland
Recordings, a label I have worked for for over 12 years (!) Additionally, I
happen to love what they do. So, did they disappoint me on my first hearing of
them live, up close and personal? Not a bit – exactly the opposite! They were
energetic, charismatic, utterly assured and accomplished. For such a young
band, they pack in a lot of vibes I would only expect to find in more seasoned
performers. But enough: this probably seems like nepotism …
Owing to the nature of Vaktbua, the remix by Ole Andreas Undhjem Hagelia happened indoors, and the indoor part of Vaktbua is definitely on the small side. I could only hear vague murmurs of the remix, so won't comment. However, I only heard very positive feedback about it, and thus must apologise to Ole Andreas for not hearing it.
Thus ended the Thursday and opening night.
FRIDAY: UNIVERSITY OF AGDER
Friday and Saturday are traditionally the main course of Punkt, with their array of seminars during the day and their concerts and remixes in the evening (and I'm leaving out the other activities, which this year included a special set of screenings of the documentary "David Lynch: The Art Life").
Friday began with only a single seminar (in this case, a
masterclass) given by the Punkt 2017 Artist in Residence, Daniel Lanois. In the
marvellous setting of a music room in UiA, Lanois talked through his approaches
to harmony and studio production, and with his co-vocalist and bassist Jim
Wilson and drummer Kyle Crane, as well as assistance from "Dangerous"
Wayne Lorenz, he gave a fairly rounded discussion of the meat and potatoes for
being a composing-performing-producing musician. His demonstrative style was
clear and effective, but I feel more could have been teased from him during the
question time. Saying that, I didn't ask him anything, so hell-slap-it-up-me and
call me a hypocrite. Slight comedy moment: a student asked a question, and all
was fine. Lanois asked what she was studying, and it turned out she was a
laptop musician – this concept seemed to baffle him a little. Well. It made me
laugh a little inside. OK. Onward! (NB: Have since discussed this with Erik
Honoré among others … couldn't think of a better title for a "laptop
musician", but at the same time part of me wonders whether the
"laptop" part is essential. After all, we don't talk of "laptop
designers", or "laptop architects", or "laptop poets" –
these "laptop musician" guys are musicians, and if a qualifier is
needed, perhaps "electronic musician" is enough. "Laptopist"
is too vague … but fun to say three times fast).
FRIDAY: KICK SCENE
The first concert of Friday night was given by The Necks, the cult Australian trio. These guys have long been overdue an appearance at Punkt, and finally, this year, the stars aligned and their tour schedule and Punkt were compatible (I'm assuming that scheduling was the only reason they hadn't played Punkt previously – repeat: this is an assumption, not "insider knowledge"). Their set was an extended improvisation, a tad Yuletide-like in tone, what with the sleighbells and the video/lighting effects showing falling snow. However, it was beautiful, moving over billowy snowdrifts and dangerously thin ice. It built itself from the ground up, a mighty crescendo of sound for just three men on a stage with acoustic instruments. In short, it was a typically superb set from a band that is in the rare category of being stamped with "100% satisfaction guaranteed".
The Lanois remix that followed was, perhaps, one of the least remix-y remixes of the entire festival. Yes, it utilized processed sounds taken from The Necks' performance, but they were heavily treated to become a soundbed over which Lanois, Crane and Wilson delivered their own brand of spacey jam (many commented – jokingly - that they were waiting for U2's Bono to appear and do vocals, a notion that I fully comprehend). It followed on from what he had demonstrated in the masterclass earlier that day (and was a prelude to the performance on Saturday night). It didn't set the world, or even the remix world, on fire.
Next came a long-awaited performance: Sidsel Endresen and David Toop. Surprisingly (especially to me, as I had a false memory that came from God-knows-where that contradicted reality) Endresen and Toop had never worked together before. Now, this is probably the part of my review that is hardest to write, harder to not edit before publishing, and most likely to raise a few hackles. I didn't like this performance very much. I felt Toop's provision of sound was didactic rather than performative, dull and instructive rather than surprising and entertaining. Everything he did might have been better if he had done less of it. Yes, there were moments – I liked his use of a bunch of sticks particularly, but it felt like it should have been something else, particularly as he was accompanying a vocalist. Sidsel, as much as I truly love her, was left somewhat exposed, and her experimental vocal chattering, breathing, whooshing and sing-song, her extended vocal technique par excellence was left somewhat adrift on a sea of near-nothingness and felt much lesser than it should have. And to a degree, I felt it raised a question in me: has Sidsel exhausted her vocal experimentation options, as there was nothing she did I hadn't heard her do before (and that experimental style has an unstated demand that innovation is to the forefront). This concert was my big disappointment of the festival (and I didn't like the questions it raised in me, either). I am sure many would disagree (which is fine!) Had this been a solo Endresen performance, I feel her approach would have been different, and more satisfactory. Likewise, if Toop had been solo, there's a strong chance that a better result would have emerged. But together, on this occasion, neither particularly rose to the auspices their pairing foretold. Next time, perhaps.
By contrast, the remix by Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, Eivind
Aarset (three quarters of the classic Punkt remix team) along with Anders Engenand Mats Eilertsen was a feast for the ears and mind. It was a truly beautiful
meditation on the concert that preceded it, and it gave Sidsel's voice a more
appropriate and deserving setting, fully reminding me of the sheer beauty of
her voice, and eliminating my despondence with the concert it sprang from. No
surprise, since her (as yet undocumented) collaborations with Jan Bang never
fail to astound. This remix underlined how much Sidsel's style can be dependent
on interplay with a collaborator, and David Toop did not provide sustenance for
that kind of interplay (at least, that's how I'm reading it). Anders Engen and
Mats Eilertsen seemed to thrive in this environment, and as a whole, the remix
was a stunning highlight of the entire festival.
Next to take the stage were Broen, a young group making
waves these days. I'll be honest: their performance was utterly wasted on me. I
could appreciate that each musician was exceptionally talented. I could
appreciate what they were trying to achieve. However, I felt it was a tad
scrappy (and even if intentionally so, it wasn't necessarily very pleasant to
listen to), and from their cheap-and-silly sub-Mungolian Jetset attention-seeking
garb, to their proto-Kate Tempest/Linton Kwesi Johnson lyrics, to the affected
accent in which said lyrics were delivered (dear God, but I wished Marianna S. A.
Røe would sing rather than rap! Her singing voice was excellent and very underused) I was left with that
horrible feeling of watching something completely contrived and somewhat
dishonest. Maybe in a few years they'll have nailed down what they are exactly,
but for me, what they are doing is almost certainly a distraction from whatever
honest and genuine thing it is they should be doing instead. Sorry, Broen. (NB:
The crowd seemed to love their performance, so I'm probably in the minority
The remix of Broen by Anneli Drecker, Peter Baden, Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and Ole Andreas Undhjem Hagelia (who remixed Rohey the previous evening) was – for me, at least - another redeemer. Texturally diverse, playful (Rolf-Erik seemed to be pushing the envelope anywhere he could), and surprising, it showcased Anneli Drecker's vocal talents (including throat-singing!) and gave us a new perspective on her as a performer. As a collective performance, it was sterling stuff, riveting, happily dancing between the placatory and the pugnacious. In summary: an A-grade remix. It would have been an A+ if it had travelled just a that little bit further. To where? I have no idea, but it left me with a hankering for more exploration.
Leaving Kick, it was back up the hill to Vaktbua and the open air where Frøkedal & Familien were performing. Let's sum this up in a (slightly long) sentence: top-drawer song-writing with no song overstaying its welcome, distinctly Norwegian, yet slightly Celtic ("they would absolutely KILL it in Ireland" says this Irishman), superbly sung and performed with honesty and integrity by a beautiful group of young folks. Top notch stuff, and something new to Punkt. 10/10. Gold star. Etc. Will it change Punkt? Not likely. Was it enjoyable? Absolutely. Any band that has a balalaika that looked like an electric wooden spoon is cool in my world.
After this came a DJ set by the one and only DJ Strangefruit. The man is a marvel (also my mate, but still … we're honest with each other, so I wouldn't lie) – he has a supernatural ability to play the right thing at the right time. Many legs were left tired but happy by the spell he wove. Top bloke, as well
Thus ended Friday night.
SATURDAY: KICK SCENE
Saturday saw three seminars kick off the day, all of which I missed because I was talking with the aforementioned Strangefruit and his lovely fiancé. Which on a personal level was fine, as I didn't feel like intellectualising about music at that point in time. However, I confess a great deal of regret at missing Erik Honoré's seminar in particular, and I know I would have enjoyed both Jez riley French's, and David Toop's seminars (dare I say it: probably would have enjoyed his seminar more than Mr Toop's performances) and the panel talk with Anneli Drecker, Mr Toop, and Kåre Chr. Vestrheim. But my humanity was in play. Sue me.
I also missed the performance by Eirik Ask and Walter Laureti at the Kristiansand Kunsthall (an honest oversight on my part, not an intentional choice).
Returning to Kick for the concerts, I was filled with a high degree of expectation. The evening's line-up promised great things, new things, surprising things. Some expectations were lowered due to performers from the previous evening not delivering a performance to be excited about, admittedly, but there was bristling electricity in the air.
Arve Henriksen, a key part of the Punkt family, and regular performer/remix participant, was giving a rendition of his album "". With Arve onstage were other Punkt family members: Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré – thus, what we were watching was effectively the Punkt "house band" giving a performance rather than their usual remix. And it was a revelation. An astoundingly beautiful performance, one that reduced some members of the audience to tears (the phrase "Stendhal Syndrome" was heard more than once after the performance was over, amid the glistening eyes and occasional loud sniffles). Despite Kick's naturally noisy ambience (may God strike down those fucking credit card gizmos behind the bar and forever silence the beer coolers!) this often delicate and rare beauty of a performance held sway over the entire room. Even the inevitable ignorami at the back were magically inclined to shut-the-fuck-up. I can't put this performance into words, as it was simply too good for my lumpen sentences to even partially convey what it was, what it was like, how it made us feel. A true "you had to be there" moment. And, if you weren't, you missed something truly special. Four masters worked together in perfect synchronicity, and the result was near-divine.
Oh dear God help David Toop and Jez riley French. They had
one helluva task to follow that concert at all, never mind remix it. Once again
though, the feeling was of a demonstration of process(es) rather than something
truly musical. It was devoid of emotion, a purely intellectual exercise (which
can be fine too, but it felt colder than usual in its position of following the
Henriksen set). And apart from JrF's slightly comical adventures around the
stairs down to the Kick toilets with a contact mic, it was a little bit boring.
Or maybe a lot boring. I'm still not sure. Part of me was very interested, as
well. Strangely, though, it was exactly what the idiomatic doctor ordered,
and hit the audience's reset button: a reset was certainly needed after the
system-crashing emotional overload of the Arve Henriksen performance.
Next was a glimpse into the future of Punkt in the form ofThe Punkt Ensemble. Featuring Johannes Vaage, Idar Eliassen Pedersen, Jens Persheim Kola and Stian Balducci, The Punkt Ensemble is a collective that has formed out of a mixture of UiA students and affiliates and a loose monthly performance at Vaktbua throughout the year, named "Punkt Klubb". Stian Balducci in particular has much riding on him as a successor to Bang/Honoré (it seems, at least – that's often the way many speak of him). His record label, Gråtone is releasing music that is suitably Punktian in intent, or literally and totally in the case of its most recent platter, The Periphery of a Building by Audun Kleive and Jan Bang. Their performance was much as one would hope for the future of Punkt: quality musicianship giving a genre-blind performance. However, it has still to find its own voice (many echoes of other Punkt alumni, from Nils Petter Molvær and Jon Hassell, to Stian Westerhus, etc etc etc, were present). This, or a similar, line-up in 10 years will be more interesting, and will almost certainly deliver the big goods when it matters most. And 10 years is probably a lot more than they really require. Given their talent, and the progress some have made since earlier appearances, next year might prove to be the year of full blossoming. We shall be waiting with interest!
The remix of The Punkt Ensemble by Yann Coppier, Peter Baden
and DJ Strangefruit was a remix that thoroughly lived up to expectation,
delivering exactly what was both wanted and needed: a beat-driven exploration,
shot through with perfectly chosen samples from the preceding performance, and
an energy and whimsical inventiveness that these three characters possess in
bucketloads. It never became overbearing, or overburdened, never once making
you wish they'd dial anything back, nor amp anything up. They knew exactly what
they were doing. These three could take anything as thread for their collective
loom and spin fine musical silk or weave the toughest danceable hessian to bag
any crowd's full attention. "Nailed it!" is the phrase that sums this
Artist In Residence time!
Daniel Lanois, Kyle Crane and Jim Wilson took to the stage, ably supported by Dangerous Wayne, and rocked. That's exactly what they did, in every sense: they rocked. These were sounds almost fully alien to the Punkt Festival – raw guitar crunching, thundering root-of-the-chord basslines, driving drums. The degree of influence Lanois had on U2 is almost frightening, and infinitely more obvious than Brian Eno's (seriously, what was The Edge's input in those Lanois-produced U2 albums? Did he make a good cup of Joe, or skilfully massage Eno's tired shoulders?) Feet were stomping along, Dangerous Wayne danced in a manner that was a wonderful counterpart to Jan Bang's spasmodic state-of-bliss moves, and the crowd ate it up like mother's favourite recipe. Yet this set's most resounding success was not heard until the remix (and to be honest, it was not as good as the crowd's appreciation would have suggested; it was high-level OK – a B-grade, if you will).
The Punkt dream team - Audun Kleive, Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang, Erik Honoré and Arve Henriksen (they've never really procured a dream team bassist, but no matter; though, saying that: HELLO, MATS EILERTSEN!) took to the stage. If anyone was expecting what they delivered, they must be psychic, because it completely defied my expectations. Not an inkling had I of what came. They rocked as much as Lanois. Yes, there were moments of "the Punkt sound" but embedded in a fresh new framework. And then there was the strange voice that suddenly emerged, spouting some kind of beat poetry, likeTom Waits in the early-to-mid-70s. Where did that sample come from? A brief scan of the stage and the realization that the voice belonged to Arve Henriksen, reading the lyrics of Lanois's songs from his iPhone (or similar device). The remixing of Lanois's lyrics into the musical remix was astoundingly effective, somewhat whimsical, yet strangely convincing (it simply should NOT have worked, yet somehow it did). Arve has done this kind of trick before (his remix, as part of the house band, of "Stars Spill Out Of Cups" (I believe) by Sweet Billy Pilgrim in 2008 also incorporated Arve's sung and spoken performance of that song's lyrics), but this time felt unquestionably new and different. Whatever chord Lanois struck in Henriksen reverberated through the mix, and the dream team showed all present exactly why they are called that by Punkt regulars – they can turn their hand to almost anything, are capable of not just leaving their comfort zones, but rocketing out of them into unknown reaches of musical space. If ever there was an appropriate remix to end the day, this was it. It delivered on all counts, ticked all boxes for those who keep such score sheets, and will be discussed by all who were present to hear it for many Punkts to come.
Then everyone went to Punkt Klubb at Vaktbua where I fell asleep standing up against a wall. True story. (I was probably exhausted from all the talking I did. I was literally like a running monologue with unfortunate folks being focussed upon while they went near me. Next year, I speak only one haiku per person. But what can I say – I'm like an excited child at Christmas when it comes to Punkt – not just because of the music, but because of the wonderful people to be met there: not just the artists and presenters, but the volunteers and the regular attendees (Punktoholics), the newcomers, the people of Kristiansand. Three days of magic in the last sun of summer in the southlands of Norway. It's kinda hard to beat.
How would I characterise Punkt 2017 as a whole? Well, for me, it was a year for the remixes. While a couple of performances didn't work for me, the concerts were exceptional in the main. However, the remixes were of exceptionally high quality when they succeeded, and the majority did.
Broen (not quite authentic enough, whatever that might mean)
Daniel Lanois (not his performance or masterclass, and even his remix was passable – in Punkt terms, it certainly wasn't the worst; I was disappointed that as Artist in Residence he didn't do more, particularly some kind of collaboration. Think of John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin in 2010: not even an artist on the bill, and he did a small solo set, joined Supersilent for a mega-jam, and came back the following year – still not an Artist in Residence – as part of Minibus Pimps. That's how it's done, Mr Lanois.)
Rohey (yeah – I'm biased. Doesn't mean I'm wrong, though)
Frøkedal & Familien (highly enjoyable, while simultaneously being as un-Punkt as possible)
The houseband/dream team remixes (both amazing)
Arve Henriksen's gold standard "Towards Language" set – sheer beauty in sound.
And, now that another year has ended, I'm already dreaming of next year.
All photos by Ruben Olsen Lærk