Everyone shows up on a bus from London – all genteel with takeout coffees and good manners, though they say it’s a different story at midnight when the party bus leaves Wysing Space-Time Festival for the city. The sun’s out, which is perfect and fortunate, and the setting’s idyllic: a proper modern-architectural art space in the middle of the Cambridge countryside. The program starts on the dot of 12 and I miss the first band because I’m sitting on a grass verge squinting in the sun and eating plums that fell out of a tree. It’s surreal and beautiful, and the various sculptural artworks scattered around the wooded space add to the sense of otherworldliness: a good level. People seem in the mood to get receptive – cider before lunch and avant-garde art feelings.
I make it on time for Ravioli Me Away, whose theatrical costumes, post-ironic 3D estate agent porn and smoke machine camp make me think I’m in for some knowingly artsy music hall moment until they start playing. They’re hard. And tight. And funny, and angry – though I can’t hear the lyrics very well, but what I make out sounds like pissed-off parafeminism with a dose of fuckit-whatever. Smashing out a hard beat on the tom and snare, Sian Dorrer – dressed in a silver hentai jumpsuit – can really sing, and does, all while holding down the rhythm with such a fierce energy it’s impossible to stay unmoved. Alice Theobald, a performance artist in her own right, is on the keyboard synth and second vocal, sardonically intoning half-spoken ripostes that provide a sort of affective texture to the narrative of the beat. Rosie Ridgway smacks out throbbing basslines like a frenetic punctuation of glottal stops, simultaneously soft and hard and round at the edges. Dance? I nearly died.
The day is blurred in places and the program was more or less constant, even relentless; if you wanted you could spend the whole day immersed in music of various kinds, but I didn’t have the stamina. There was Yola Fatoush – ostensibly an electroclash band of the post-punk persuasion, but perhaps also an alter-ego or some kind of performance art hologram? I’m confused by the Ken Burns effect photo experience playing in the background, which looks like a pretty white girl running around some late-summer idyll in a nightie thing and you can see her bum. Two people on stage walk around in printed t-shirts and one of them sings in a mic. It was okay.
Lucy Railton sat alone in a colored spotlight with a cello and some kind of mixing device while the audience, who started out standing, sank literally to their knees, one by one. A low bow across a single note and the sound was starkly eloquent; it seemed to go on and on. One didn’t watch this performance so much as feel it; there were many closed eyes and bowed heads in the room, among them, eventually, mine. The silence in between, a sound like thunder.
Elsewhere, in an art work reimagined as a tiny wooden theatre in the round, Sue Tompkins, best known for her stint in Life Without Buildings but now an artist working mainly in textual forms, performed a set-length poem, if poem is the right word. Her words were so juicy in her mouth that we all ate them up, kids in the front row and all, as she jumped around the stage like a child. It was an extraordinary performance, verging on the mediumistic – utterly affected and entirely authentic at once, like a religious rite.
Later on, Hannah Sawtell’s performance was an immersive and disorientating experience. Lit only by a powerful strobe light, she filled the room with dark synths and distorted drum hits, layering harsh waveforms to staggering effect. At times it was a dense attack on the senses, the sharp highs cutting through the rolling bass sequences. The modulators seemed to be running at multiples of the tempo of the strobe, making the performance encompassing and physical. As it ended after a brutal 30 minutes, one staff member muttered “thank fuck”. Long after the performance I was still mentally emerging from the experience – the outside world seemed to move with more fluidity, and to be a little quieter.
Later still, there was Nik Colk Void, who has been making noise in different forms for a while now (certain nerds might remember her from KaitO), but is possibly best known for being one third of Factory Floor. For the past few years she’s also been working with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle to form Carter Tutti Void, as well as putting out solo releases. Her type of electronic industrialism, infiltrated by techno and ambient, set the evening’s dancers into motion. It was a hard driving set, minimal and effective, punctuated by moments of thundering noise. In front of a degraded video loop of an electric guitar she played her own, bowing the thing to add texture to an already robust sound. Some of the noise textures felt physically painful so close to the speaker. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I left before the night bus, and before Holly Herndon, whose cerebral, sensual soundscapes I was sad to miss. An all-female lineup in a festival subtitled The Future feels like a bold and necessary move right now, and the whole day was infused with this spirit of engagement and experimentation, subverting the hedonic festival spirit in all the right ways. **