REVIEW festival Mutations Festival

Mutations Festival left me dazed and discombobulated

The inaugural year of Mutations Festival promised a two day bonanza of up and coming music spread across a variety of venues in Brighton and Hove. The line-up blazed a bold and bright trail with a mash up of genres and styles from indie to avant-pop to metal to Texan to mayhem to grunge to doom and mountains more. There was plenty to choose from, but thankfully whoever put the schedule together allowed some generous changeover times, as the distance between some of the venues was a fair trek.

The Saturday schedule turned out to be a bit of a ‘reviewer versus hurricane’ situation. Incoming squally storms meant that I ended up confined within one small section of the festival. After a visit to one of the ‘secret sets’ of the weekend with ‘Jacko Hooper’ nailing it in his always awesome way at the Mucky Duck, it was a quick, wild, wet and windy dash over to The Hope and Ruin for what turned out to be the performance of the first day.

‘Willis Earl Beal’ appeared in the small upstairs room like an understated superhero in desperate need of a dependable sidekick. Eyes masked and cloaked in a gigantic black swathe of darkness, Willis delivered a set filled with touches of genius, heart-wrenching passion, and held the whole room captive with his discomforting uneasiness. Perched atop a bar stool, at times he seemed close to shattering into a million pieces, and truly gave his all in a theatrical, experimental and deeply emotional work of art.

From here, it was a taxi ride off to the middle of Hove, to the terrifically grand and imposing All Saints Church. The sanctity of this sacred space, beautifully lit in shades of green, blue and violet, induced a reverential hush amongst the filled pews as ‘Abi Wade’ emerged with her cello.

This was a first for me in all my years of gig attendance, a poetically picturesque and achingly beautiful performance in a church from a girl wearing a razor-sharp black and white onesie, playing a cello while simultaneously twiddling synth keys.

After a brief interval, the final act of the night in the church began, ‘Josh T. Pearson’, an angelic vision of white denim, Stetson and tasselled leather. With a guitar. I couldn’t quite take him seriously following his introductory remark of “phones off vibrators on ladies” and his downright neediness with his raw, almost too intimate, troubled troubadour tales. Time for bed I said.

Sunday morning and after a swift refuelling, it was a trip to the Green Door Store, which was one of my favourites of the venues over the weekend. ‘Kagoule’ looked very much like three bored teens from Nottingham, but they filled the room with the sweetest and purest unsullied grunge. It was hard to match the vacant and disdainful looks with the gratifying sounds.

Next on was ‘Atlas Wynd’, guitarist/singer and a drummer who played with such fury and desire that he seemed to lose all sense of time and place. He exuded a hunger and sheer energy that shook the room and sent waves of beats flowing through the air, unnerving every bone in my body. The volume went up even more with the next band ‘Best Friends’. Anyone left with a bleary post-lunch slump after that combination of mid-afternoon music was probably either dead or not alive.

Much as I would have liked to take the lazy way out and stay at the Green Door until closing time, there was still a multitude of music to discover. So it was a speedy hike to The Haunt for my first ever bit of live doom. It was at this point that ‘Sea Bastard’ completely and utterly bastardised my already tired and tender head. A disparate bunch of doom filled, dreadlocked pirates, with a bassist so covered in tattoos that I couldn’t actually tell if he was playing for the skins or the shirts.

The only lyric I could pick out was “whhhhhhyyyyyyuuuuu” and it was so sickeningly loud it made not only my bones but also my heart start to shake. Beautiful to see the mesmerised crew at the front moving back and forth in unison, like ocean waves surging in to shore.

My final venue of the weekend was the basement club venue Patterns, where I caught up with one of my favourite new indie bands of this year ‘Blaenavon’. Following their set of ever improving indie lost boys ghost-jazziness, there was a bit of shift in sound.

Foreign Skin delivered realms of synthy ambience, which although audibly delightful, felt a little misplaced at 5pm on a Sunday afternoon. Mount Bank was next with a mix of deeply resonating reverberations, which set every part of me to vibrate. It couldn’t have sounded deeper if he’d been in a submarine at 20,000 leagues under the sea.

Another change of style and audience, and the room was suddenly starting to feel a bit crowded for the closing performance of this venue. Jane Weaver headed out onto the small stage, full of northern deadpan, wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” with a large glass of red wine held aloft.

This was her last show of the year following a hectic tour schedule, and at times the delivery felt a little flat and jaded. The audience seemed spellbound though, and were mostly hanging on every word and breathy gasp uttered. It didn’t light any particular fires for me and the drumming at times failed to correspond to the rest of the band. As the band that closed the festival for me before my departure for the train station, it was a bit of a comedown, but in no way tarnished what was a fabulous little weekend of new music.

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