Apparently there is some sort of arts festival in Edinburgh at the minute. If that’s the case, can someone please explain to me why I have to travel through to Glasgow to see some decent music through the month of August? For ten quid the line up at the Volcanic Tongue curated Subcurrent festival totally urinated over the middle-aged mediocrity of the entire Jazz and Blues Festival (Curtis Stigers anyone?). Fine, there is a market for it but surely we have to be mixing it with something a little more progressive??

I know, I know, stop moaning and do something about it. Subcurrent is a perfect example of a small independent music festival that survives without council backing or corporate sponsorship. Although, I suspect Volcanic Tongue’s David Keenan has a healthier phonebook of willing artists than most. To my shame I missed Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides (who are a perfect example of the sort of artist that I would like to see playing a contemporary jazz and blues festival) and Smoke Jaguar (who I know very little about but would be more interested in seeing than Curtis-bloody-Stigers). Still, there was plenty to make the meagre entry fee more than worthwhile.

After a laboured mission to get there it was a relief to be sitting down with a pint in hand to see Heather Leigh take the stage. Her voice, with just a little echo, cut through the atmosphere. It reminded me of the moment in the theatre in Mulholland Drive when Rebekka Del Rio sings Crying in Spanish; hugely moving and disorientatingly poignant. If her voice cut through the atmosphere, the introduction of the pedal steel guitar completely lacerated it. As the intensity of sound built her vocals returned, rising and falling until perfectly in key with the pedal steel, the two becoming totally imperceptible in a crescendo of ear-splitting noise before falling away again. It inspired awe and panic in equal measure.

I’ve been listening to as much Richard Youngs as I have anyone else this summer, with the release of the incredible Inceptor (for Volcanic Tongue) and his equally incredible (but totally different) ‘pop’ album Beyond The Valley Of Ultrahits. Here he was playing a live Ultrahits set, an album which kind of establishes a reverse of the career of Scott Walker or David Sylvian. Whilst still being some distance from modern chart pop music, the album works, as good pop should, by creating a series of hooks and choruses that get in your head and demand repeated listens. I was intrigued to see how it would work on stage, especially coming from an artist not known for his live performances. He appeared on stage a man possessed, intent on filling the role of the popstar, he restlessly paced the stage, demanding audience participation on each chorus. Sandwiched between two atmospheric artists and at an all-seated event, it was awkward at times. Despite the enthusiastic applause that followed each track the crowd was not the raucous mob that Young seemed to want or need. The fact he was singing over a backing track and reading the lyrics as he went added to the paradox of the performance. He seemed like an artist out of his comfort zone, out on a limb, pushing what was comfortable for an already intrinsically experimental artist. It didn’t quite work conventionally, certainly not as a polished pop performance, but it was compulsive viewing. There are no doubts about the quality of the songwriting or delivery but this was matched by the awkward tension of the performance.

The final act, MV & EE, provided the perfect tonic to the dramatic approach of Heather Leigh and the highly strung performance of Richard Youngs. Matthew Valentine and Erika Elder, with guest guitarist Mick Flower (Vibracathedral Orchestra, Sunburned Hand Of Man), built their nebulous soundscape slowly, varying the levels of intensity and pace as they worked their way seamlessly through folk, blues, eastern raga drone and psychedelia. I was unfamiliar with their work before the performance, but recognised a stripped-back version of the amorphous, hazy sound of Forest Swords or Sun Araw which have dominated my listening this year, interspersed with more traditional Americana and finger-picked motifs. It is difficult to believe Mick Flower doesn’t play more regularly with Matt Valentine such was the level of understanding between them, they formed an intricate and intense motion that Erika Elder’s delicate contributions seemed to float across. It was a meditative performance, completely free of any pretensions, and one that I got completely lost in.

Subcurrent 2010, as you would expect from David Keenan and Volcanic Tongue, was a true celebration of experimental music. Each artist pushed the boundaries of their art, all with incredible emotional resonance. And, excuse the Aberdonian in me, BUT ALL FOR TEN POUNDS. And I missed almost half the acts. And I missed the last train home. I can’t recall an occasion of money better spent.

Some lovely photos here.

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