‘Wakizashi’ is a new two day festival in Bristol. It has been curated by promoter Proto Titans and local musician and aficionado Harry ‘Iceman’ Furniss.
Day 2 saw the audience start to drift slowly into the Old Malt house, blinking as they got used once again to gentle stage lighting and a dusty atmosphere ripe with expectation for experimental sound. They were soon woken up by the first act to take to the stage. Perverts are a force to be reckoned with. The act starts with a small wind up music box being placed on the lead singers head while he sings an off kilter version of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’. This is followed by a shouty, disgusting and puerile song ‘Everybody Knows that you Masturbate’. Their tone is punky, with shouted lyrics, a drum machine, guitar and bass. Nothing is in time, but through this, their sentiment is perfectly expressed. The set is peppered with props, an Elmo doll is flung to the crowd and two other puppets feature. A highlight is a song about going out on the town and feeling beautiful- this is inspirational stuff. Perverts describe themselves as a Marmite band and indeed their sound does split the crowd, but they certainly provide a hefty dose of enthusiasm.
Uther Moads were next on the bill, they were without a drummer but the use of drum machine really brought a Sunday vibe to their minimal keyboard, guitar and bass compositions. Lead singer Rhodri has some excellent tones, adopting either a pure, R&B style falsetto, or a deep Scott Walker like bass, these are some smooth grooves. The lyrics focus mainly on sex, love and longing and how we all use each other through these relationships to get what we want. The result is an intriguing blend of difficulty and ease; mellowness and discordance. This band are certainly interesting and ones to follow.
Rafa Dornelles followed up- this was one entertaining act. Rafa plays psychedelic, Brazilian jazz inspired guitar and has all the posturing to go with it. His band is tight providing all the right backing with deep grooves and thumps along the way. The band love playing together and this instrumental jazz odyssey fit this stage in the afternoon perfectly. With Santana like swirls, noise- tapestries of guitar based hallucinations are spun out. The crowd were certainly entertained by Rafa and his group. They finished with a cover of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, which could have been a poor choice, but the tune was infused with warmth and a mellow Latin vibe that seemed just right.
Halftone took the afternoon in a completely different direction. This flute, cello and double bass trio create improvised compositions that involve playing their instruments in a wide variety of ways. They tweak and hit the strings, hum into the flute, bow backwards, create percussive whisperings and chirps for example. This was a perfect example of how diverse the programme for this festival is, bringing together a huge variety of styles, genres and presentations to give an ever-changing slippage of experience.
After this strange musical interlude punk drone meisters Drone Soul took to the stage. The band is charismatic, sometimes evoking the sound of latter-day Bowie, or The Fall. The lead singer owns the stage, strutting around in a suit, full of easy going confidence. The rest of the band is as at home with playing- this is a very experienced band indeed and they have some stories to tell. This is a Wakizashi band, so as expected there is plenty of controlled musicianship on display. The lead singer employs two microphones with different effects, switching between them to control the warmth, depth and resonance of his voice. The drums, bass and guitar all feature the fuzz of shoe-gaze, but the overall effect is punk. This band certainly have swagger, cool and strong D.I.Y attitude.
The saxophonist, bassist and drummer who make up Milon slip in a mini-set of two songs before they slink away to another gig. This is a whirlwind of sax driven jazz- the crowd are rudely shaken awake, to find, with pleasure, that they can shimmy and shake to the heavy musings of Milon. Wakizashi got to witness a stripped down version of the band, usually there’s a double bass and guitar in the mix. Somehow this version distilled their sound however, creating a more basic, but driving version of their jazz.
After this brief interlude, Ed Penfold and his band were up. The lead singer of Bristol band Taos Humm has created a talented and melodious super group. There are eight people in the band, sometimes two on drums (one drum kit this time with a player using mallets and one on sticks), keyboards, guitars, drums, flute and violin. Ed’s traditional psychedelic sound certainly brings to mind the likes of Syd Barrett and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. The tunes are deceptively sweet before slowly opening up into worlds of delightful strangeness. Slightly warped ‘Sunny Day’ is a good example, the time signature is just a tiny bit too slow, and the vocal a little off. The result is sumptuous- good band to witness live. Ed’s voice is the ideal clipped perfectly British accent. There are tones of Beatles here too- a very welcome addition to the Bristol scene.
Traces comes on stage to perform a one man glitchy beaty dance set on synth and keys with a whole load of buttons. He turns the audience inside out, taking us on a convoluted journey, bouncing us around corners and inversions with every press of a button.
Instrumental band Evil Usses warm us up ahead of the main act. Label mates with Ed Penfold on Stolen Body records, this band are equally accomplished as they are fun and extremely cheeky. Evil Usses are a quartet comprised of guitar, bass, drums and sax. Their off-kilter instrumentation is always threatening to fall apart, but somehow there is a thread of composition throughout. They pull apart the tune to reveal off-time fractured alternative dimensions to the music. This is backed up by a spirited and energetic performance; open to interpretation the music provides multiple portals to slip into, explore and get lost.
With the Malthouse now full up and the crowd well lubricated, Knifeworld fill the diminutive stage with their mighty octet. Lead singer Kavus Torabi takes centre stage in his pristine white suit in a line-up of Saxes of all sizes, bassoon, and singer Melanie Woods. Behind them bass, keyboards and synth and drums are squished in: this is an intimate experience. Their full sound at points threatens to dominate the small venue with a cacophony of competing sounds. They are at points terrifying, at times soothing. Their swift switching of time signature, coupled with the scary underpinning of bassy bassoon and rolling drums proves a fitting crescendo to a festival so involved in pushing the boundaries of music and composition into a no man’s land of uncertainty. The crowd clings onto those musical hooks that promise some comfort before being swept off once again on a cloud of chaos. The group are forever inventing and reinventing and with a new album in the works it will be exciting to hear what is up their overlong sleeves.
Wakizashi was successful in its remit as a showcase of new music that truly expands, bends and warps its theme. Particularly when showcasing the many Bristol and West-country acts that do exactly that; from contemporary classical acts, to perverted punk collectives. This is underpinned and supported by strong nationally renowned outfits that reinforce their experimental desires. Roll on next year, Wakizashi has plenty of horsepower under its bonnet and hopefully it will drive into the future with a passenger load of phenomenal new acts.