Grit – Martyn Bennett @ Edinburgh Playhouse

An emotional and powerful re-imagining of Grit, Martyn Bennett’s final work and a landmark of Scottish dance and folk music, arguably became the highlight of the 2016 Edinburgh International Festival programme. 

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Martyn Bennett’s legacy of dance-infused Scottish folk music pulled folk music away from the traditional “misty-eyed” picture that once sprung to mind. His final project before succumbing to the Hodgkin’s Disease that plagued him for over three years, pushed boundaries far beyond limits others were only willing to dream about in the early 2000s.

By twisting heavy dance orientated beats around samples of various Scottish travelers and Gaelic west coast singers, it was a liberating and beautifully uncomfortable departure from traditional Scottish folk music. Groundbreaking in the truest sense of the word.

Martyn described the work, generally agreed to be his most mature as a producer and musician, as “offering an alternative to those who think that traditional music is being spread thin amongst urban trendiness”. Ten years on it does so much more – it brought the old to the new, and in doing so became a permanent marker in the landscape of Scottish music.

In the documentary Grit, Martyn went on to explain, “musically I like to find contrasts, I like to go from something quite serene and suddenly burst in with something that shakes the rafters”.

“Grit is about real voices, real people, real lives” further explained Bennett, no more so than his own life, having once described his cancer as “a piece of grit inside your soul which you can’t get out, so you have to try and make something of it”.

“Grit is about real voices, real people, real lives” further explained Bennett. A real life no more so than his own, having once described his cancer as “a piece of grit inside your soul which you can’t get out, so you have to try and make something of it”.

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Bennett’s collaborator and friend Greg Lawson took on the challenge of translating his masterpiece into a live orchestra production, recruiting an A-team of Scottish musicians to give it the full works.

This is Scottish music’s answer to the re-imagining of Goldie’s Timeless by the Heritage Orchestra.

Three thousand festival goers squeezed into the Edinburgh Playhouse and were given a stunning performance by Lawson and his assembled orchestral dream team. Staying true to the album the performance worked through the tracklist, recreating the often manipulated sounds organically and with incredible accuracy. Sheila Stewart’s warbling vocals in Move performed by Fiona Hunter and Annie Watkins in Nae Regrets performed by Karen Matheson, helped piece the Grit story together perfectly before our eyes…and ears.

The savage bassline of Chanter was powerful and at times emotional to witness performed live. With a mixture of percussion and brass instruments giving the ‘oomph’ needed, heads were bobbing in the crowd and more than a few feet itching to get up and start moving. It felt like the majority of the stalls were using all their might to remain seated, ready to pile on down to the front. Spoiler alert – the encore featured Chanter again and the second chance to get on our feet wasn’t missed!

In place of the late Michael Marra, Scottish actor and voice artist David Hayman took on the recital of the translated Psalm 118 before momentary silence launched us forward into an explosion of noise, and fired headfirst into the meat of Liberation. 

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Greg Lawson’s ace was giving the crowd an insight into Bennett’s unreleased track Paisley Spin which was earmarked for the album. Interestingly the track sampled Gerry Rafferty which came under scrutiny from his people. To wriggle out from this potentially uncomfortable confrontation, Martyn had tried to convince him and his lawyers that it was actually himself impersonating Rafferty!

I’m not sure if it’s an indication of Bennett’s strong talent for curating an album or shrewd legal head for not entering into an unwinnable copyright battle…!

Overall an emotional and powerful evening that predictably had the crowd hoping that Lawson would skip back to track number 1 and start over again. It wasn’t to be sadly, but the memories of this performance will certainly live long in my memory.

Steven
UKB

Deep Time – Edinburgh International Festival opener

The Edinburgh International Festival has a habit of making a big bang when it comes to August, increasingly at the start of the festival as opposed to the annual fireworks display on the final night. Carrying on from 2015, this year we were introduced to the fantastic “Deep Time” concept #deeptime by 59Productions, the team behind the 2012 Olympics projection work.

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Image: Wee Photos

Last year’s Harmonium Project which transformed the Usher Hall into it’s sophisticated  and elaborate canvas was followed up by an even more impressive epic outdoor public artwork.

Deep Time brought together spectacular animation, lighting and an equally powerful soundtrack from Scottish band Mogwai (also playing this month without projections!) for a truly awe-inspiring opening evening in the capital.

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Image: Murdo MacLeod

The theme of the projection was the tumultuous 350 million year history of my hometown, Edinburgh, from volcanic eruptions to dinosaur remains to the present day creative melting pot where Edinburgh welcomes the world to the biggest arts festival on earth.

The performance was 20 minutes in length, but that passed by in what felt like a couple of minutes – testament to the spectacular show on offer – and made the hour or more wait more than worthwhile to several thousand spectators.

 

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Image: Murdo MacLeod

As a fan of clean lines and block colours, some of the projections were very much in line with my taste in art. Towards the end of the performance the sequence following the exact mapping of the projected Edinburgh Castle on top of the real thing will live long in my memory, and on the desktop of my PC. Sections of the castle were illuminated in fantastic bright colours piece-by-piece with the rest of the buildings plunged into darkness. Simply put – an incredible sight. Edinburgh Castle has never, and may never, look the same again.

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Image: Edinblogger

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Image: Edinblogger

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Image: Murdo MacLeod

Although the free tickets were nabbed before many got a sniff, the Edinburgh International Festival filmed the full performance, which you can now enjoy below. Relive the magic, or experience it for the first time, online.

 

Steven
UKB

Street art tour of Barcelona part 4 – Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies

A year and a half since my last trip to the Catalonian capital, I found myself back in the streets of Gracia, El Born, Raval and El Gotic once again on the search for the cities best street art.

Last time I spent a lot of time traversing the various districts of the city. This time I spent less time on the streets, and more time in galleries, such as the Montana Gallery’s Paola Delfín show and the Martillo Fine Arts Workshop.

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A quick snapshot of some pieces from the point of view of my refurbished Polaroid.

But in my final days in the city I set aim for the semi-organised Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies space that displays some fine work over a number of large, clean walls, and an interesting hollow concrete cube. The work here is produced with a phenomenal turnover, so much so that there is a website dedicated purely to documenting the walls from week to week, and even then it doesn’t cover everything that has gone up.

What follows is a blow by blow account of what lay in store during the second week of June 2016, such a wide range of art from wildstyle letters to calligraphic work, as well as a decent spread of really cool character based pieces.

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Artist unknown

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Artists L-R: Vejan, Rizo.

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Artist: Vejan

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Artist: Stefano Phen

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Artist: Fork One

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Artist: Kler

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Artist: Mugraff

 

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Artist: TriumDSC_1455

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Artist top: Pez, Artist bottom: Fork One

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Artist: Fork One

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Artists unknown

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Artist: Sime

Finally, and a little off topic, but one of my favourite things about graffiti on the continent, white van men succumbing to the beauty of a tagged van. Plumbers, electricians and joiners of the UKk take note…

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Steven
UKB

UKB Resident Mix – Steven Blyth

This week I put together a minimal mix, a genre I am becoming really enamoured with after my last mix for the UKB Guest Mix series. With a number of tracks earmarked for downloading, I was really excited to put them together this weekend.

I also recently became the owner of a new sound system in the form of Sony’s GTK-XB7, one of a trio of new High Power Audio speaker systems they’ve recently released. It’s a nifty one-box high power speaker geared for use in the home but seems to pack near enough club level quality, at least from the immediate use I had after it arrived. It can also be used on its side or vertically meaning if you’re tight on space, as I am, it sits nicely next to a chair or snuck away into a corner.

Anyway, since it arrived at my flat, I really wanted to create a mix to test out it’s “Extra Bass” function which I’d heard packed a good punch. A quick play around seemed to suggest that the rumours were indeed correct!


I put together an hour long mix of 122bpm tracks that I’ve been collecting lately from the likes of Dani Rivas, Victoria Engel and previous UKB guest Christian Schiemann to really push it – and possibly my neighbours – to the limit. This new found love of the minimal sound spawned from a week I spent in Romania last year where this sound dominated the underground music scene of the country. Since then I’ve become a little obsessed with that genre and Bucharest’s clubbing scene. 

After recording the mix I played it back via the GTK-XB7, and it’s sound quality is undeniable. The response from the massive woofers sitting at a serious 16cm each – at least twice the size of any other speakers I own, is incredible. Importantly it doesn’t sacrifice bass power above all else, the high end sounds are still seem just as crystal clear. The “Extra Bass” function I’d been itching to check out really takes the sound to a new level, you can imagine it taking control of a house party or barbecue very easily!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the mix I put together, the first in a new series of UKB Resident mixes, regardless of the speaker system you use. As always, feedback both critical and positive is always welcomed so let me know what you think!

Tracklist:

  1. Litico – Victoria Engel [Indepth MusicRec]
  2. The Phantom (Manna From Sky Remix) – Manna from Sky, Raffaeke Effe, Giovanni Savoca [Zoo Lab]
  3. Rustico – Carmelo Gargaglione [Act Natural Records]
  4. Nemea – Chad Andrew [VL Recordings]
  5. Multiple – Dani Rivas [Innocent Music Ltd]
  6. Beguda – Dani rivas [Act Natural Records]
  7. Good Reason – Christian Schiemann [Les Enfants Terribles Music]
  8. Ebony – Chad Andrew [Deep Tech Records]
  9. Something About – Pony M [Deep Tech Records]
  10. Disolve – Marina Karamarko [Deep Tech Records]
  11. Vampire (Martin Dacar Remix) – Martin Dacar, Konrad Dycke, Daniel Broesecke [Deep Tech Records]

Steven
UKB

Making Africa @ CCCB Barcelona

Running until late August, the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona – CCCB) hosts Making Africa, one of the most extensive collections of Contemporary African design ever, in an impeccably curated exhibition.

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A diverse range of creative fields are on offer including object and furniture design, graphic arts, illustration, fashion, architecture, urban planning, art, craft, film and photography (both digital and analogue formats).

The exhibition showcases the work of over 120 African artists and creators and illustrates how design fuels economic and political changes. Making Africa speaks, from Africa, of a new continent “under construction” and places emphasis on its possibilities over its problems.

Consulting Curator of Making Africa Okwui Enwezor opens the exhibition with a wonderful statement on the exhibition statement on the CCCB website saying:

“Thinking about the future means thinking about our possibilities in the world. The future belongs to Africa, because it seems to have happened everywhere else already.”

Even before setting foot in the exhibition space I thought this view on the future of Africa was incredibly profound.

I really like the idea and optimism that Africa’s turn to take its deserved share of possibilities in the world is just around the corner. Other continents have already experienced their political, social and economic futures, so it only makes sense that Africa is next in line. There’s a simplistic beauty to this. A statement that no doubt gives hope to many and for others confirms what is already becoming a reality.

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The contemporary works in the exhibition forge a link with the middle of the 20th century when a young generation of Africans celebrated liberation from colonialism and took their place in the world. Other more recent works sit beside them offering a chance to understand what’s changed in the intervening years and how it has fed into the creative processes and outputs of an entire continent.

The exhibition flows through 4 distinct areas weaving a story of African design under each of the themes.

Prologue looks to give examples of how contemporary graphic designers are representing Africa in a new and completely different way, challenging what we think we know about the continent. I and We delves into how Africans express themselves in the modern age and how younger generations have represented themselves in various unique subcultures. Space and Object is devoted to people and the places they live, and finally Origin and Future looks at Africa and the bright future it holds in its hands.

Prologue

Walking into the first room of this exhibition Cyrus Kabiru’s series C-Stunners (2012) greets you, an interesting and thoughtful piece setting the tone for Making Africa, a sort of mish mash of art, performance, fashion and design.  An internationally acclaimed body of work, the Kenyan self-taught artist creates intricate sculptures from second hand, discarded materials.

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These eyewear sculptures focus on transformation as a key theme. On a physical level, the ingenuity and creativity involved in transforming mundane items into something so attractive is transformationally impressive. On a more abstract level the eyewear represents focus, and narrowing of vision through lenses. However, this focussed and more narrow vision is not always positive, and in the case of Africa stereotypes and stigma persist, and are far less easy to put aside than a pair of glasses.

Moving between the artwork, lining the walls and dominating the middle of the expansive space, Studio R!ot’s work, in collaboration with Nosarieme Garrick, founder and creator of the documentary series My Africa Is… drew my attention.

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The bold, colourful and simplistic but multi-faceted poster design depicts an African woman with her hair worn up into the shape of a black fist – a symbol of solidarity especially within African communities. The colour and design elements, particularly the blue pattern, pays homage to the African continent. It’s such a powerful poster design. I’m a big fan of colourful and minimal design like this, and luckily there was more to follow in this exhibition.

I and We

Sat in a glass case displaying graphic design and fashion were Karo Akpokiere’s Tokeria slip ons designed for BucketFeet. They, much like Garrick’s poster design, combine distinct African patterns and striking geometric shapes that really caught my eye, combined with aesthetics of Japanese woodcuts.   

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Akpokiere has a keen interest in understanding how his drawings can be applied to other materials, such as clothing, to make them more accessible and visible. This chimes well with the purpose of BucketFeet who aim to make “wearable art”. The internet has become an essential part of how he connects with new audiences worldwide, but also in collaborating, sharing ideas and engaging people far beyond his immediate physical surroundings.

There’s an undoubted trend in the design work from Making Africa that I enjoyed the most, bold statements, bright colours and simplicity appeal to me a lot. Kabelo Ramasobane’s work Gaborone Couple struck a chord with me, the illustrator and designer having put this personal artwork together for a friend’s wedding.

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Both characters are depicted with natural hair, a trend that is returning tracing its roots to the African Renaissance Movement. Coupled with the retro design and block printing/relief printing aesthetic, the outcome is two portraits that depict a confident and middle class urban couple in modern Botswana – a positive and encouraging image of modern Africa perhaps often overlooked.  

Space and Object

This penultimate room in the Making Africa exhibition held the pieces of most interest to me. Partick Waterhouse and Mikhael Subotzky’s documentation of the life of Johannesburg’s Ponte City skyscraper is a tumultuous tale. The 54 storey building was once one of South Africa’s most fashionable buildings turned dangerous and decaying, but now on the rise again with increasing investment.

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Viglism, otherwise known as Olalekan Jeyifous, displays his work Cardboard Cityscapes, digitally rendered images that question and examine the urban planning of large cities, the societal consequences and architectural tradition. According to the artist ultimately these “suggest the changing contours of urban settlements and an idea of a degenerate futurism.”

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These fascinating images echo the typologies of the worlds biggest cities, such as Lagos, the capital city of Nigeria with roughly 20,000 people inhabiting every square mile making the total population of 8 million. The image uses cardboard to represent areas of the futuristic city plan, a nod to the inventiveness, ingenuity and creativity to many on the lower rungs of society living in the world’s megacities today. This is a lifestyle not settled upon by choice, but by necessity.

Finally in this section the portraits of Vincent Michea untilted (black with spot) and untitled (orange with chairs) with collage and strong graphic elements featuring to distort, conceal and enhance the characteristics of the subjects within, were fantastically minimalistic yet powerful. Created from things he finds in his native Dakar, these portraits change the seemingly unremarkable subjects into something quite different.

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For example, (black with spot) combines a piece of common local Dakarian architecture and semi profile to create a portrait where the subject appears to be Nefertiti-esque, transforming her into a “Grande Dame d’Afrique”.

Origin and Future

My own obvious interest in street art meant Haroon Gunn-Salie’s intervention video documenting his street art project in 2013 was a crucial piece of this exhibition. The short video of his intervention forces an interesting dialogue about the past and future of the central Cape Town district of Zonnebloem. Performed using vinyl stickers, the street signs of Cape Town were altered to read “District Six” in place of “Zonnebloem”.

District Six was a neighbourhood of the city that until 1968 was the only place where a closely knit, multi-cultural and multi-racial community existed peacefully. In 1968 it was declared to be a “whites only” community, creating one of the most iconic sights of forced removal during apartheid. The area was renamed as Zonnenbloem, or Sunflower, which it is still called to this day.

Gunn-Salie’s intervention brings to the forefront the concept of District Six as a place and idea and the contemporary politics that now surround the site. It’s an area precious not only in real estate but historically. Interestingly, months after the intervention was staged, authorities had yet to remove the stickers and restore the Zonnenbloem name…

Steven
UKB

UKB Guest Mix #39 – Laurence Nolan [UKB039]

Local DJ, producer and promoter Laurence Nolan is in the mix for an hour of house and minimal selections on the latest UKB podcast.

Weaved together on two Technics 1210s and a Xone:92, this all-vinyl mix showcases Laurence’s taste in music, his love of digging deep for forgotten records and his evident talent for building varied and well balanced sets.

Since 2009 Laurence has been playing throughout his hometown of Edinburgh, with gigs elsewhere in the UK and Europe now commonplace. He’s a familiar face on the Scottish clubbing scene and has spent plenty time on booth sides of the DJ booth at the vaults of Cabaret Voltaire and the famous booth at Glasgow’s Sub Club.

This wealth of dance floor and behind-the-decks experience has helped him develop his own Edinburgh centred party Etiket, which has brought talented artists like Hunee, Christopher Rau, Brawther and Jane Fitz to intimate venues.

The key ingredient of the Etiket headliner selection being quality above all else.

Steven
UKB