Summer Sundae (warning non-museum review)

As Amy mentions below, us 'museum people' are inclined to seek out extra-curricular activities which is why I thought it would be pertinent to do a review of the Summer Sundae festival which took place in Leicester this weekend. Music and museums have not always had a fertile relationship (see the history of the National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield for starters) but perhaps greater links could be made in the future? Arovane, an experimental composer of electronica from Germany, last year at the festival used video images of New Walk Museum to accompany his tunes which I felt was very effective and could be easily transported into the gallery environment. However I imagine a lot of people would be horrified by this thought... so I best move on.

For the uninitiated, the Summer Sundae is a music festival that takes place at De Montfort Hall every year, tending to focus on alternative and relatively new acts. Starting as a one day event it has since morphed into a three-day extravaganza which is pretty amazing considering the small size of the site.... there is a lot going on yet it is almost impossible to get lost. I decided to go for the three days (since poor Leicester often misses out on medium and big name bands the rest of the year due to its proximity to Nottingham and Birmingham) and met up with Amy on the Saturday. Who knows how many more museum-related people were lurking in the crowds?

Sadly there were no overt museum references at the festival this year but there were plenty of interesting acts. On the Friday, Kate Nash entertained the crowds with her Mary Poppins-inspired take on life, which was pretty enough but soon became extremely irritating. She is a sweet girl but her lyrics reminded me of bad 6th form poetry, like rhyming 'bitter' with 'fitter.' More engaging was Candie Payne, a Liverpudlian singer who in my mind has been unfairly compared with Cilla Black. Singing about the less romantic side of relationships like Kate Nash, nevertheless she delievered it in a darker and more engaging manner, backed up with incredible musicians who brought a sense of doom to the sunny day. The last act I saw on the Friday was DJ Yoda and although I managed to appreciate his genius at mixing records together I soon got bored and so went home.

On Saturday there was more time to soak up some of less well known musical acts. Mat Andasun was fine if you like indulgent 'muso' types and five minute bongo solos; The Displacements are a Leicester band but their blend of indie rock was pretty samey and so I do not think Kasabian will lose any sleep; Jeremy Warmsley was a curious singer, just as we started to warm to his rich vocals and warm musical arrangements, he would go and yell or sing in a strange key which made it a very jarring experience. Maps were more of an immersive experience, creating an atmosphere to engulf all the senses (except perhaps smell which was amply provided for by the crowd) in their pretty soundscapes, a contrast to Martha Wainwright who was amazingly powerful for someone with only an acoustic guitar, her voice soaring to the roof of De Montfort Hall. Finally !!! trying to defy the tyranny of the music shop cataloguing system (in HMV they are under Chk Chk Chk - the cheats!!) and presenting a pretty un-identifiable music style to boot, I greatly enjoyed watching the singer pant and pose his way through the high-energy set.

Sunday was more of an introspective and experimental day, especially when confronted with Gruff Rhys (erstwhile singer with the Super Furry Animals) singing from inside a giant TV set. I then thought he was joking when he introduced one song as a 20 minute power ballad about a flight ending in disaster but no, he decamped to the side of the stage, donned a pilot's hat and sat in a flight seat for the performance, which encompassed lyrics about bomb disposal experts, press conferences and everyone living happily ever after. Echo and the Bunnymen were quite a contrast, familiar, traditional, just five men playing music and Ian McCulloch not having to label the songs as everyone knew them. Last of all, closing the festival, were Spiritualized - Acoustic Mainlines. Formerly an experimental band, Jason Pierce (or J Spaceman as he likes to be called) have gone almost (I shall whisper it) 'normal' with stripped down songs played only with acoustic guitar, string quartet, gospel singers and organ. The only nod to oddness was Jason's shiny silver shoes. It was an intimate and poignant performance concerning recent history (Jason Pierce almost died in 2005 and he still looked a bit fragile) and as someone in the crowd next to me said, like being massaged aurally for an hour. It was a very beautiful end to the festival.

And to make this review less tenuous, I imagine if the festival was a museum it would be something like the Tate Modern. There is some familiarity to recognise elements that you feel comfortable with but every so often as you turn the corner something is thrown up that surprises and even disturbs you. And for me that is the essence of Summer Sundae, it has introduced me to a great many bands that I would not otherwise have encountered and challenged some of my prejudices. So it will be interesting to see how this festival develops in the future especially as 'alternative' music becomes more and more mainstream.


Amy said…
Great review Ceri. I particularly enjoyed the projected images during Maps. Really added to the whole experience. So, that's a bit of aesthetics for you.

And remember the seven men spotted wearing kilts on Saturday? There's scope for an ethnographic analysis of men in skirts there. :)
Ceri said…
Oh I had not forgot about the men in kilts only I did not want to steal your thunder ;)

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