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Counterflows Festival: a celebration of experimental and international creativity

ByOscar Leyens

Apr 24, 2018

5th-8th April


Counterflows is an annual festival held every April across a variety of venues in Glasgow. The festival’s focus is experimental music, but it also features film and performance art.

Friday at Counterflows opened with a debut screening of Full Mantis, a documentary about drummer Milford Graves directed by Jake Meginsky. Graves lived in Queens, New York and worked as a sideman for some of the most influential names in avant-garde jazz including the likes of Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler and Rashied Ali. He also mentored many musicians performing at Counterflows, including Meginsky himself, which no doubt contributed to the documentary’s intimate quality. The film is both biographical as well as containing extensive footage of many stunning performances from the 1970s up until the present day. Meginsky does a fantastic job shooting and editing, as the film vibrantly jumps from cut to cut with the same jittery ecstasy as Graves’s drumming. Another stand-out feature of the documentary was Graves’ knack for storytelling, which he uses to seemingly relive and embody each story he tells.

The documentary screening was followed up by a fabulous performance by another of Graves’ students, Susie Ibarra. Her drumming was dynamic, propulsive and playful. Her cymbal and brush-work were particularly inspired and sensitive; there was a wonderful moment where she rolled out of a crescendo into swiping the air through the bristles of her brushes. She retained a true balance between being simultaneously boisterous and delicate.

The day rounded off at The Art School with an industrial noise-scape from Jake Meginsky, followed by an improvisation between Seymour Wright, Paul Abott and DJ RP Boo (AKA Kavian Space). Meginsky’s set was ambient and intense although largely unmoving. However, Wright, Abbott and Space’s improvisation was really like nothing I’ve ever seen. The mix between the serious avant-garde attitudes of Cafe OTO regulars Abott and Wright with Space’s crowd-pleasing antics made for a bizarre combination. I never thought I would hear Wright’s alto sax squawking over a sample from ‘Ni**as in Paris’, but I guess that happened. It was altogether fun to dance to, but overall became more of a novelty than an engaged improvisation given the difficulties of making samples as responsive as live instruments.

Saturday opened with another documentary, Le Plein Pays, about Jean-Marie Massou. Massou is a man who has lived alone in a forest in the South of France for over 30 years. He spends his time digging caves, recording his voice and making sketches. Whilst his work was interesting, the film often felt voyeuristic, depressingly becoming yet another fetishistic avant-garde portrayal of the ‘outsider’. It was followed up in another venue with a slideshow of photos and more of his music which felt slightly repetitive. Things picked up afterwards though, with electronic duo James Rushford & Joe Talia building layers of beautiful atmosphere with field recordings and analogue synthesisers.

The next show was undoubtably the highlight of the festival, opened by Norweigan performance art duo WOL. The stage was set in the middle of the room, with three spotlights directed at it. Wenche Tankred and Lovisa Johansson entered the dramatic setting with piles of sellotape and proceeded to play with it in a hilarious and maniacal frenzy. The art was truly in the comic counterpoint between the two performers, with both of their physicalities a joy to watch. Shortly after this performance, Glasgow-based artist Sue Thompkins performed with Russell Haswell, who created a backdrop of demented and harsh noise to accompany her vocals. The combination was great, as Thompkins’s ageless voice was filled with momentum and exuberance, bouncing off of the scrawl of Haswell’s seemingly homemade modular synth.

My experience of Counterflows ended with an amazing performance by Maryland based experimental R&B artist MHYSA. It was a set that I really have no words to describe or do justice to. She was one of the most powerful and all encompassing stage presences I have ever witnessed, and I would recommend that anyone goes to see her perform if she passes through a venue even vaguely near by.

Image: Cry Parrot

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