Mutations Festival Review
The Mutations Festival saw two days of the most diverse and out-there music descend on various venues around the city, in many ways following on from last year’s One Inch Badge weird-fest DRILL to ring in the season of brilliant strange.
It seemed like the wet and windy weather that hit the coast didn’t stop anyone from filling the venues around town, from 1pm on the Saturday all the way through to the late hours of Sunday night. A great combination of local bands (Written in Waters, Nature Chanel, Mindofalion, Sea Bastard, etc) with other British groups (Blacklisters, The Bohicas, Blanck Mass) and a number of well-known international artists (Chelsea Wolfe, Chastity, BRNS, Josh T Pearson, Lightning Bolt, METZ, Om), meant we were somewhat spoilt for choice.
There was so much going on that it was impossible for us to catch everything, even with a four-strong SOURCE team in the field. In any case, the organisers did a good job ensuring the schedule reduced the chance of clashes. It meant the bands were playing to full venues too.
First up on Saturday we were at the Hope & Ruin for three excellent acts, starting with Ohio band Saint Seneca, who played their Decemberists style indie folk with verve. They were followed by Widowspeak, a band led by Molly Hamilton on vocals and the outstanding Robert Earl Thomas on guitar (who at one point was playing it behind and over his head). Then came Willie Earl Beal, whose fake disdain for himself and his audience (his band was his iPod) couldn’t hide a stunning, impassioned soulful performance, nor his charming self-depreciating humour.
The Old Market was host to some darker doom-laden gothic rock, with the lead singer of the band Chastity deciding after the first song to perform the rest of the set in the midst of the audience. TOM started to fill out for the dark distorted vision of Chelsea Wolfe, while we went to All Saints Church to see a slightly jetlagged and unfussy performance from the alt-country star Neko Case. That was followed by former Brightonian (and SOURCE cover star) Abi Wade, whose looped keys and cello exhibited her undeniable talents.
It’s been a few years since Josh T Pearson has graced a local stage, but he was on top form playing songs from his outstanding ‘Last Of The Country Gentlemen’ alongside newer ones such as the should-I-laugh-or-should-I-cry tragicomic ‘Still Born To Rock’. He then was then joined by friend Calvin LeBaron to perform as their Two Witnesses gospel duo, which included a cover of the Louvin Brothers ‘Satan Is Real’ and an outstanding cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Jesus’.
As if Josh Pearson wasn’t memorable enough, he was followed by Christopher Owens (formerly of the band Girls) with a heartbreaking solo set that tore the audience in two. Some found the raw emotion on display too much to take, others (like ourselves) were transfixed by the richness and intimacy of Owens’ songwriting. It was a fabulous end to an excellent day of music. (JS)
Saturday at Mutations was so good it felt like Sunday had a bit of a hangover. We started out at Green Door Store where four excellent young rock-shaped bands were on display. First up were three-piece Kagoule, who, despite all being 18-years-old have mastered a dynamic punky sound, mixing power and melody with aplomb. Next came local duo Atlas Wynd who created a punchy dynamic driving set from only drums and guitar. They were followed by the indie-rock passion of Sheffield’s Best Friends, who brought the best of the poppy jangly indie heart of that city.
By the time Canada-based Ought took to the stage the Green Door Store was heaving with expectation, and this dynamic intelligent four-piece did not disappoint. Their set mixed parts of The Fall, Talking Heads and Joy Division to create a sound that was still very much their own. They could have filled a bigger room and played for twice as long, but as it was they gave a full and entrancing set, that few in the room wanted to end.
We were flagging by this point, truth be told, but whilst some were taking in the dark doom of Sea Bastard and Om at the Haunt, we fell into Patterns for the electro-experimentation of Brighton-based Foreign Skin, and DJ Mount Bank. They were followed by the alternative pop of Jane Weaver and her band. (JS)
Dan Friel, Hope & Ruin
Dan Friel performed on a small school chair with an arsenal of pedals and pads taped to a wooden board decked with fairy lights on his lap, and the sound he made mimicked this unconventional set-up perfectly. Tapping out a simple keyboard riff, he took the crudest and most childlike keyboard lines into Armageddon and back, distorting, flipping backwards and generally just messing up whatever sweet melody your head managed to grasp, before swapping it with some other sound entirely. On paper, this might sound like hard work, but in the flesh, Dan Friel, a one-man Fisher Price car accident, was 100% charming, and should definitely have been further up the bill this weekend. (JK)
Sea Bastard, The Haunt
Brighton’s own Sea Bastard saw themselves placed before the altogether more danceable Blanck Mass at the Haunt on Sunday, but their sound – now devilishly more sludgy and quite possibly slower then ever – made no attempt to pander to anyone getting in early for that following act. In fact, they trod the same doom path they always have, but now seem yet more accomplished. The four-piece, topless and heavily tattooed, lurched from one track to the next and conjured up images of Sabbath, Sunn O))) and more. On the few tracks that did speed up, breaking the doom mould, there were glimpses of a band all-too-ready to take their game to the next level with a more confrontational, stop/start sound. Generally though, whatever Sea Bastard do next is fine with us. (JK)
Brothers Will and Matt Ritson of pop-electronica duo Formation kick things off with a DJ set at Patterns as Mutations holds its final show of the weekend. It’s not too long after doors open that the steady stream of people has built up into a nice crowd, while Formation are neatly blending funk and disco house into deep grooves and party music to get everyone in the mood. The duo are known for catchy pop-funk productions and, even though we’re only getting a DJ set from them, their energy shines through and makes for a smooth introduction into the night’s proceedings. By the time they finish and Tourist sets up, the club is full and the crowd are enjoying themselves. (JP)
London’s Will Phillips has been releasing a steady stream of EPs and singles under his Tourist alias for a number of years, building on the soft synth-pop and electronica style that has been dominating UK radio charts for the past few years. Playing his own material live, Tourist weaves his way through four-to-the-floor slowmo pop-house and synthy half-step beats, replete with looping pitch shifted vocal samples. The crowd are dancing and cheering along to the build-ups and drops, but we’re not really feeling it. It all feels a bit 2011 dubstep/pop blandly re-hashed with not much new to offer. He definitely gets the crowd going, but doesn’t do much for us. (JP)
John Talabot B2B Leon Vynehall, Patterns
Tourist finish and Talabot and Vynehall step up to the decks. This is the first time the Spanish producer/DJ and Brighton’s very own Vynehall have played together, and it’s billed as a ‘world exclusive’. The switchover from the last act is seamless with a nice palate cleansing beat-less synth track that bounces around the speakers, lulling dancers into the steady groove they construct over the next two hours. The pair builds the room up with hypnotic melodies and stomping kicks until every single person in the crowd is moving with the rhythm. As the night goes on they move into more disco-infused house, ending on a high towards the last few minutes with some Joy Division which goes down a storm. JP
Lightning Bolt, Concorde2
The US duo of Brians, Lightning Bolt, who’ve played their unique brand of furious, drum-driven noise rock for over two decades, still might not yet play a venue the size of C2 in Brighton if they were billed alone. But as part of Mutations, their sound and placing made perfect sense, and the intense fuzz of the bass (co-strung with guitar strings) and insanely mesmerising patter of Brian Chippendale’s drums more than filled the room. At one point, the drummer pulled a pair of moshpit trouble-makers over the barrier, forcing them to sit alongside his kit where they could no longer cause hassle to anyone. Shamefaced, they sat as transfixed as anyone in the crowd that night, as Lightning Bolt pounded tracks from their last album, ‘Fantasy Empire’, into the brains, memories and most significantly, eardrums of the packed venue. Needless to say, it buzzed long into the next day. (JK)
Blanck Mass, The Haunt
As one half of Fuck Buttons, Benjamin John Power is no stranger to working a crowd to a climax. And his other project, Blanck Mass, sandwiched on Sunday between the seismic rock of Om and Sea Bastard, did just the same. Performing beneath his usual projected chaos of mad, withering shapes and somehow perfectly timed hallucinogenic colours (including one spectacular combination where a track was performed to what looked like a small camera travelling round an intestine!), Blanck Mass’s music built and dropped but evaded comparison to other, bigger name DJs who work with similar tools. Perhaps it was the volume, or maybe the pleasure at seeing the rock fans there fully appreciating how a DJ can have the same guttural effect as guitars and drums, but Blanck Mass’s set – rammed as it was – felt like one of the ‘I was there’ moments of Mutations. (JK)
Rounding off Mutations you had to feel slightly sorry for Canadians METZ, whose devastating second album, ‘II’, never quite garnered the same attention as 2012’s scissor-sharp eponymous debut. Nevertheless, the trio turned in one of the most astonishing sets of the entire festival – playing as brutally punishing and tightly as ever. They dealt out an equal number of tracks from both albums, so everyone was happy, and never once seemed dulled by almost three years of constant touring. Vocalist/guitarist Alex Edkins still screams with the perfect pitch of his younger self, flicking his hair and head spasmodically at all the right points; it was hard to take our eyes off him. METZ made (and make) the kind of punk music that defies anyone to challenge it, and in precision form. Meanwhile C2’s whistle-clear soundsystem worked its magic too. Loud was not the word. (JK)