In just five editions the ‘Space-Time’ festival, hosted annually by the Wysing Arts Centre, has established itself as a key fixture of the UK arts calendar, attended by a small but loyal audience constituted, in its majority, of arts professionals and musicians. The timing of its inception seems particularly auspicious: during its five years of existence the festival has borne witness to an exciting flourishing of the relationship between visual arts and music in the UK cultural scene, a historically rich crossover that felt somewhat dormant in the noughties but that is once again vibrant and expanding. The majority of music bands and solo acts that played the festival this year, for example, count members that are also practicing visual artist or have attended art school.
This year’s edition, gathered under the label of ‘The Future’, featured an all-female line up, which made for an exciting and cohesive frame despite the varied range of music styles, although an emphasis on the electronic and post-punk genres was felt throughout. The female bias was a thrilling idea and it resulted in a fantastic group of gigs and performances. I particularly appreciated the fact that the festival programmer, Wysing Arts Centre director Donna Lynas didn’t feel the need to make great claims and sweeping statements to justify the direction, letting the quality and energy of the musicians and artists do all the talking.
Opening the festival from the Gallery stage promptly at noon, the Newcastle noise-pop band Silver Fox got off to a delightful start that set the bar high. With their dreamy lyrics delivered through beautiful harmonies, interspersed with noisy guitars and hollers, Silver Fox felt like an amalgamation of 80s and 90s punk and shoegaze sounds – from The Fall, My Bloody Valentine, Slint and X Ray Specs – that still manages to sound completely unique: cheeky and demure, girly and ballsy, all at the same time.
Following suit was one of the highlights of the festival for me: the London-based trio Ravioli Me Away, which stole the show with a handful of short, punk-esque songs with a pop heart that recalled the best moments of ESG, Bikini Kill and the B52’s. The band clearly benefits of the strong stage presence of its members: the artists Alice Theobald and Rosie Ridgway and Sian Dorrer, a key figure of the Hackney music scene thanks to Power Lunches, her successful gig venue-café-rehearsal studio set in Kingsland Road. With just couple of drums, a bass, a keyboard and three mics, Ravioli Me Away delivered a tight set of catchy melodies and confrontational feminist lyrics that had everyone dancing, cheering and wishing their gig had been scheduled much later in the day.
Interestingly – metaphorically holding court in a (mostly) twenty-something band landscape –, three spiritual godmothers of the current art school/music band crossover featuring wordy, shouty vocals were also present: Ana da Silva & Gina Birch (from The Raincoats) and Sue Tompkins (performer, painter and singer from the short-lived but enduringly influential Glasgow band Life Without Buildings) graced the Gallery stage and Amphis stage in the early afternoon and evening to a packed crowd in which one could see many of the members of the younger bands occupying the front rows.
On the studio stage an appealing programme of screenings, including works by Rachel Maclean, Sonic Youth, Babette Mangolte featuring Trisha Brown and Jodi.org, explored the moving image side of things, but I must confess that I was too busy ping-ponging between the two music stages to attend the fantastic performances of Yola Fatoush, Hannah Sawtell, Jenny Moore and Trash Kit to make it the studio in time.
As the night fell, things veered towards electronic sounds, with performances by Nik Colk Void (from Factory Floor) and Holly Herndon amongst other renowned female electronic musicians. But the highlight of the evening came courtesy of Karen Gwyer, who delivered an engrossing performance of one hyper-layered, slowly evolving track that was beautiful and enveloping, introspective at some points and propulsive at others.
The festival ended with a DJ set of techno and electro bangers by Helena Hauff, who had everyone dancing like crazy and begrudgingly leaving the floor at midnight, like sweaty Cinderellas, towards the London-bound coaches. As I tried, and failed, to fall asleep in the bus I felt energised by all those great female performers. In a moment when commercial, commodified acts such a Beyoncé have (somewhat ridiculously) appropriated the feminist banner to mask a patriarchal agenda, the line-up of ‘Space-Time: The Future’ made the term make sense all over again, as something you do rather than claim.