ART OF DARKNESS: CocART, Torun, Saturday March 28, 2009
Long, long time since I last embraced a huge journey for any music. In fact, the last time it happened was probably for Whitehouse’s show at The Garage in London around a year ago, if I’m to conveniently overlook the fact I since happened to be in Warsaw for a Human Greed show there in December. But that doesn’t count. No, last time was the trip to London for Whitehouse although, similar to this particular instance, there were outside factors to the music concerned. In London, I not only had a chance to finally meet Kate MacDonald but also a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and faces hardly seen for a considerable while (years, even, in some cases): people such as good pal Steve Pittis, Stephen Meixner, Justin Mitchell and Jo, and many others. A good music event can often serve as a great social gathering, too. An ideal way to at least meet people not seen for a long time, if not the best way to actually catch up with them properly.
Whatever. Fast forward. I’m ensnared by a similar circumstance as I travel to Torun by train. Alone. Following almost two weeks of deliberation during which my only friend from Malaysia, Yin, stayed with me for almost one of them. Whilst she was at my place, I made a decision to go to one day of the second edition of the annual CocART Festival in Torun and duly set about setting things up. A little groundwork conducted via old emails between Stefan Knappe of Drone Records/Troum and myself, plus my obtaining the festival organisers’ contact details, and I was in. With Yin on the plus-one. Only the train ticket and place to stay remained to be conquered, as well as the necessary finances for both, but Yin soon took care of the hotel situation and played her part in activating my otherwise latent decision. As such, several days after she left my place for Gdansk and following my usual couple of days teaching in a town 120km away from Krakow, I’m on my way to join her once more…
…via a train journey that lasts over 7 hours and gives me a chance to not only catch up with some much needed sleep but also devour half of Ian McEwan’s incredible Enduring Love in fits and starts clouded by daydreams, idle contemplation and the occasional jotting of notes in a compartment that thankfully becomes my own after Lodz. If anything can justify travelling such great distances for me it’s the fact I rarely make time to relax or sit down with a book at home (most of my reading is done whilst away each week in the town I teach at, Polaniec). Even when I watch a film, I remain restless (at least at home).
Anyway, I get to Torun at 16.40. Tired and laden enough with a bag full of CDs to give to various people. It’s raining, of course, and once I’ve got to the hotel with the aid of a taxi driver who forgets to put his meter on till 2 minutes into the journey (I notice these things…), I am left with all of 40 minutes to settle into my room, freshen up and walk around the very heart of the city that saw Copernicus become the person we all know him as before I have to meet Yin in the reception. I feel tired, but good and at least content. Well, quite content.
Yin and myself meet and I’m pleased to finally talk to somebody who isn’t just a ticket inspector or a stranger attempting to make smalltalk with me on a train. We head for a restaurant and need a beer with our respective meals before heading back out into the downpour and a search for a venue which seems to magically and predictably evade its address. Fifteen, maybe twenty, minutes later, we find it. Opposite directions always seem to make the most sense in such circumstances.
Whatever. Not too drenched and we are truly in. The venue is some kind of art centre and the festival itself takes place in its underground car park: a location perfectly suited to the first group for its notions suggesting escape. Yes, Column One are into their set as we arrive, and I’m instantly reminded of so many groups who think they’re something they are clearly not. I’ve never been really into such music a great deal, anyway, but their mish-mash of horror movie textures, farmyard sounds and intergalactic grunts coupled to a man strutting about in his underwear and a large cardboard tube over his head, plus others in Japanese masks, only succeeds in making me look for a viable alternative: another beer. I’m sure Column One spend time on what they’re doing, and maybe even take their slightly Dadaist performance art sensibility seriously enough to believe it means something beyond all the usual cliches, but their music moves in concentric circles to the point it becomes a powerless and insignificant dot. When it comes to music of this kind of faltering and wispy disposition, I am glad there are other things in life worth savouring far more.
Such as meeting people. Luckily, one of the festival organisers, Rafal, from drone outfit Hati (who performed the previous night), is there to greet me almost as soon as I make my way for a glass of beer. CDs are exchanged, lightening my bag, and I thank him for letting Yin and myself into the show for free before we tentatively discuss the idea of collaborating at next year’s festival. This idea of some kind of Lumberton Trading Company spotlight has been simmering away for a while now, actually. Another flash in the pan mooted for only too long by various parties that must be realised at some point. No question.
Also meet Agnieszka, a photographer who’s been in touch a lot recently. Always nice to put a face to some writing. We catch up a little, disagree over Column One and then watch The Magic Carpathians soon commence their set. When I saw this group in Krakow last year, I was mesmerised by their blend of folk and psychedelia strained with an avant sensibility, but the performance on this particular night started out like a hippie tea party in a church hall and ended as an excuse to get lost in thoughts so far removed from the proceedings it was impossible to return. I think I ended up surveying the audience instead, plus engaging in more beer and conversation with my various friends and associates. I’ve absolutely nothing against music drifting through pseudo-Pagan corridors smothered by the stench of lentil soup and slightly stupid yearnings for ‘a better world’, but it needs to be backed up by something that may actually pull you in, even if momentarily. These mountain folk just couldn’t do it, though. At least, not on this particular night. When it comes to so-called hippie music, I want Amon Duul or Can or whatever. Hippie music with bollocks (and, indeed, a yearning to evade the ghastly hippie trappings it may be attached to in the first instance). The Magic Carpathians may have been striving for that ‘transcendental’ level of music afforded by certain minimalist artists, such as Charlemagne Palestine or, better yet, Christina Kubisch, but nothing actually worked. When the female vocalist started playing around with her own capabilities, Yin remarked that it all sounded like Enya. Which just about encapsulated it perfectly. Hippie trance-out music for office workers isn’t quite what I want from my own listening experiences…
Thankfully, Frenchman Richard Pinhas was up next to save the night. Although, perhaps to my shame, I’ve not kept up with his solo work since his group Heldon disbanded (and didn’t he collaborate with Merzbow recently, too? Mind you, who fucking hasn’t…?!), certain people over the years have often mentioned it as being pretty strong still. And the show here clearly illustrated this. Aided by two other musicians and, between them all, utilising a guitar, laptop and various electronic devices set to some suitably bright and tantalising abstract visuals, Pinhas moulded a molten soundbed of shapes and textures into focus. Sometimes jarring and taking on an almost quasi-noise approach, the music mostly, however, remained anchored to a palette owing as much to his background in Tangerine Dream-inspired ‘70s electronics as its then stretching its tendrils out to more filmic concerns. Ultimately, Pinhas’ psychedelia successfully honours his past without sacrificing its potential stakes in the contemporary arena. On top of this, the moods constantly shifted. With enough abstraction woven in to keep us transfixed, melodic swells crumbled into ominous twilight pools as enchanting and exciting as being reminders of our solitude. This performance was worth the trip alone, and I hope I will one day get the pleasure of seeing Pinhas again.
More drinks, more talking, more lapping up the moment. All is good, and the combination of alcohol, fatigue and having perhaps not eaten enough during the previous few days send me reeling to a space where Oren Ambarchi’s set doesn’t do so much for me. During his 45/50-minutes solo show of electronics, I keep telling myself I should be enjoying it more than I am. Stitching drones and fragments together, Oren’s music once again assumes a psychedelic stance that at least worms its way through some interesting corridors, but I find it hard to get as excited about it all as Yin. I put this down to my own state of mind rather than the music, though. Maybe I’ve just had too much electronic music for one night?
Once Oren finishes, I grab another beer and make my way to an adjoining room, where the smokers are allowed to indulge their habits, and catch up with Stefan and others a little more. My beer quota has reached the point where I need conversation rather than music, plus a little less noise disturbing it.
When I leave this room to return to the main one where the concerts are, a Japanese guy is banging out some techno hopelessly muted by the seated audience and its sounding not only out of place and awkward but slightly out of date.
It’s time to leave.
Yin and myself are asked along to an after-show party at a nearby bar. We tag along for a while, walk into the new venue and decide, after only a minute or two in this smoke-choked and busy environment, that it’s time to head back to the hotel.
I fall asleep knowing that my journey back to Krakow is going to be padded out by a monstrous hangover and that the notion of hell will once again consume me on it. But at least I've enjoyed myself, if not all of the artists on offer.