PREVIEW: Tusk Festival
By Michael Hann on October 1, 2012 in Music
Festivals are a ubiquitous experience nowadays and one where all tastes and genres are now catered for, whether huge corporate affairs such as Leeds/Reading or events built around single, cult(ish) acts, such as folk heroes Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival.
This is not to say that all is rosy for festival organisers in the current climate of austerity. Recently All Tomorrows Parties have been forced to restructure and scale back their operations and Bloc Weekend in London disastrously imploded over the summer, leaving punters and performers alike out of pocket.
One festival however, which is going from strength to strength while retaining a distinct regional and international personality is Newcastle’s own Tusk Festival. Run by local promoters and label Tusk (Lee Etherington, Joe Murray and Has Gaylani, though Lee runs much of the day to day operations) the festival is now into its second year and to use Lee’s words it is a, “small festival with a big line-up,” boasting one of the finest collections of niche music ranging from folk drone (American band Pelt), esoteric, lo-fi techno (Hieroglyphic Being) and noise laden composition (Hild Sofie Tafjord).
Gathering such a range of people for one weekend at Newcastle’s Star & Shadow Cinema in October (Friday 5th to Sunday 7th) is by no means an easy feat, one which Lee believes is made easier by the guys’ unique approach to choosing their “favourite mixtape” of artists for the festival.
“We started drawing up the wish list pretty soon after the first Tusk, in fact a month or so after the festival had finished.” Said Lee. “For example, we knew fairly early on that we wanted Fushisusha [Japanese noise rock trio fronted by the legendary Keji Haino] and The Tenses [founding members of the American experimental noise collective Smegma] but the main thing is to keep the line up as diverse as possible.
“Saying that, paradoxically we don’t try to fill the line-up completely early on and we do like to leave gaps as we continue to organise things. For one, it makes it more interesting for us and hopefully the punters as new names are added to the bill but also there are logistical challenges, trying to work around people’s schedules, work and family commitments.”
Not only do dates have to tally up but costs have to as well. Making a commitment to bring to the region the finest underground artists means balancing plane fares from across the globe, which Lee and his colleagues manage to achieve by organising other gigs for the artists in the UK off the back of the festival.
Crucially, this means that the festival can continue to take place in Newcastle, as opposed to moving it further south. However, this has not impeded the festival’s success. People are prepared to travel from up and down the country as well as abroad. It also helps that last year’s event sold out, and it seems like Tusk is heading for similar success this year.
“We seem to have got the balance right this year as all the early bird tickets have already been sold and it looks like we’ll only have to sell a few left over on the door,” Lee said. “The main challenge with Tusk is to keep the line-up as varied as possible. If you put on too many bands who sound exactly the same it just doesn’t have the same appeal, especially when it comes to niche music, which is what Tusk is all about.”
So, no major lessons to be learnt from the previous year. What Tusk have done instead is build on the foundations and relationships cemented in 2011. Therefore this year all the shows will be held at the Star & Shadow, which was one the main venues used last year.
“It just has the right vibe for us,” said Lee, “when you go and see bands there the performers are only a few inches higher than the audience and it’s very come close and personal. Also, given the fact that it’s volunteer led, there is just this ethos which is very supportive and all the staff there are willing to help make the festival as great an experience as possible.”
Tusk are also working again with The Wire magazine as a media partner, which has helped to promote the festival and add to its prestige. On top of that, deputy head Derek Walmsley will be returning to carry out interviews with Graham Lambkin (former member of English cult band The Shadow Ring) and Hieroglyphic Being.
Where changes have been made they have been done more to serve evolution rather than innovation. For example, this year Tusk will be working in partnership with Glasgow based artist Fritz Welch, who has produced a number of paintings and installations to turn the Star & Shadow into ‘Planet Tusk’. Welch has also has organised an extensive film programme for the weekend.
Equally, there will be for the first time compères, which will include Rock n Roll Jackie Stewart from The Tenses (who also did the voice over for the promotional video for the festival), Welch and the cities’ own Richard Dawson, who it is rumoured may also play a few tunes as part of his duties.
Ultimately, what remains important to Lee and Tusk is that despite the international nature of the festival that it continues to be a North East-based beast.
“It has always been important to us to put Tusk Festival on in Newcastle,” said Lee. “I may not originally be from the area but I feel like at least an honorary North Easterner and because we are not organising so many shows now in the area we feel like we want to give something back, as the city and area has treated us well.”
- Tusk Festival Announce Line-Up