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LIVE: Contemporary Music Weekend

10 October 11 words: Mike Atkinson
With Kirk Spencer, Origamibiro, 8mm Orchestra, Flotel, Tray Electric, Betty and the Physics and many more

Framework is a Nottingham-based charity, which supports homeless and vulnerable people in the East Midlands.  At a time when it should rightfully be celebrating its tenth anniversary, the charity has been hit by funding cuts of nearly 50%, which threaten its services just when more people are in need of them than ever before.

Displaying admirable resourcefulness in the face of looming crisis, Framework have organised Raise The Roof, a month-long festival of music and performance that seeks to raise funds and heighten awareness of its work, as well as offering a diverse and well-chosen range of entertainment. During the rest of the month, there will be classical and choral concerts, film screenings, gigs, club nights, exhibitions and even a sponsored bike ride – all of which have been set a high standard by the Contemporary Music Weekend that took place at Nottingham Contemporary on October 8th and 9th.

With Sunday’s line-up focussing on the jazzier end of the spectrum, Saturday night was given over to electronica, dance, rock and experimental music. In the café bar, Si Tew added fluid, rippling live keyboards to his funky house beats, creating an ideal early evening soundtrack. Later on, crazed knob-twiddlers Betty and the Physics did amazing things with their home-made synthesisers, and Royal Gala’s Jody Betts performed as the dance act Tray Electric.

Over in The Space, which had been cleared of its seating, a large crowd gathered for a return visit by Origamibiro, who launched their album Shakkei there in August. The trio combined traditional instruments – double bass and bowed guitar – with live-looped samples of torn paper, rustling plastic, a vintage typewriter, and a Rolodex-like contraption that displayed flickering images of a waving child. Using a small hand-held device, the samples were filmed as they were created, and projected onto the back walls of the venue. There’s a risk with this kind of approach, as the intricacies of the process could distract the listener from focussing on the musical content, but the sounds that emerged were sufficiently beautiful to captivate the room.

After rather too long a gap, which threw the rest of the running order back by an hour or so, the boffin-like Robin Saville offered cerebral laptronica, which journeyed from twinkling prettiness to richly layered, drone-like wooziness. Ambient music can suffer in public performance, if some – quite understandably – choose to treat it as an amiable conversational soundtrack, but the chat never converted to cacophony, and Saville’s more immersive moments rewarded all who cared to concentrate.

The natterers were duly silenced by Flotel’s abstract soundscapes, which floated free of conventionally recognisable structures, bombarding the room with disquieting force. Unfortunately, none were more disquieted than the performer himself, who abandoned his set due to sound problems. The murmurs of dismay which greeted his abrupt exit confirmed that although Flotel couldn’t properly hear what he was doing, we were all enjoying it just fine.

Although two members of 8mm Orchestra are regularly loaned out to Ronika, the band’s all-instrumental post-rock sound couldn’t be more different. The music veered between still, meditative passages and broody, crunchy freakouts, all performed with a somewhat incongruous rock-star swagger that isn’t often found in music of this nature. While the quieter moments sometimes felt like extended interludes, which would have benefitted from a more defined sense of direction, the heavier stuff hit the spot with cranium-denting exactitude.

By the time that Kirk Spencer and Marita took to the stage, the average age in the room had dropped appreciably, the early evening culture crowd replaced by eager moshers whose appreciation was more physical than cerebral. This was only fitting, given the shifts that have taken place in Spencer’s approach.  Having progressed from the instrumental, Indian-influenced electronica of his Enter The Void EP to the more song-based Shangai Underground EP, Spencer’s live set is rawer and rockier than his recorded music might have led you to expect, with an emphasis on live guitar, drums and vocals.

Although an imperfect sound mix dampened most of the bass frequencies, the energy and infectious good cheer of the performance more than compensated. Earlier tracks were rendered almost unrecognisable, as Marita chanted and freestyled over the music like a soul diva MC, while songs such as Scars and the Radio One-playlisted Gold demonstrated why the Spencer buzz has been building so rapidly in recent months.

DJ sets from Geiom and Spam Chop brought the thirteen-hour event to a close, hopefully leaving the organisers with heaving collection buckets, and a re-confirmed optimism for the rest of the month.

The Contemporary Music Weekend took place at Notingham Contemporary on Saturday 8 October 2011.

For further information on the Raise The Roof festival please visit the website.

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