Punkt 2012: Kristiansand, Norway, September 6-8, 2012
From the opening notes of England's S.C.U.M.named after radical feminist Valerie Solanas' Society for Cutting Up Men Manifestoit was certainly clear that something different was going on at Punkt. It's not that Punkt hasn't booked pop bands before, with everyone from Anja Garbarek and Hanne Hukkleburg to Jarle Bernhoft and festival favorite, Sweet Billy Pilgrim. But as the droning sound that introduced the band turned into a propulsive rock beat with the entry of drummer Melissa Rigby and bassist Huw Webb, it became clear just how different Punkt 2012 was going to be, at least in part.
S.C.U.M.'s origins were more in goth territory, but following its 2008 debut single, "Visions Arise," as the group evolved it morphed into something more art rock/post-punk, with plenty of atmospherics to swirl around singer/occasional guitarist Thomas Cohen (soon to be married to Peaches Geldoff, daughter of rock star Bob Geldoff), whose delivery blended early Roxy Music with more contemporary fare like Throbbing Gristle. When Cohen entered the stage, it became clear that the performance was to be as much about attitude as it was anything overtly musicalCohen adopting a multitude of poses, while Rigby, Webb, guitarist/keyboardist Samuel Kilcoyne and keyboardist Bradley Baker played with seeming indifference. While the first couple of tunes were engaging in a retro kind of way, by the third tune things were becoming a tad monotonous, with similar tempos, similar rhythms and, from Cohen, the kind of disinterested delivery that made for a set which was, sadly, not a particularly good opener for the festival, at least from a musical perspective.
That said, it did become clear from the outset that Punkt's move to Kilden was going to allow it even greater potential in the realm of staging and visuals. With a series of projection screens behind the group, Knutsen and Martin Vågen created a constantly shifting backdrop and, with the multiple banks of lighting above, evoked everything from red light-drenched silhouettes to starker clarities. If there was any saving grace to the set, it was the visuals, which made it fascinating to watch, if not a particularly engaging listen.
For the first live remix of Punkt 2012, Britain's Marconi Union was invited to reinterpret S.C.U.M.'s set and, unfortunately, it was not particularly daring, though a number of factors at play may have explained why the trioelectronics artists Richard Talbot and Jamie Crossley, plus relative newcomer/pianist Duncan Meadowsdelivered a less- than-inspiring set. Due to travel delays, the trio arrived very late to Kristiansand and, without much in the way of a sound check, was thrown deep into waters with which longtime Punkt attendees were already intimately familiar. It wasn't that the remix was bad, but there was the sense that the group could have gone much further than it dida feeling borne out when, the following day, the trio returned for a remix of Cyclobe that, by all accounts, was much more engaged and engaging.
As a performing group in its own right, Marconi Union has actually been around for some time. First formed by Talbot and Crossley in 2002, with its independent debut Under Wires and Searchlights (Ochre, 2003), the group scored the the interest of All Saints Records (an early Eno connection), which released the duo's sophomore effort, the darker Distance, in 2005. Becoming a trio in 2010 with the addition of Meadows, the group's Different Colours (Just Music, 2012) reflects ongoing evolution in the group's sound, with a largely gentle ambience that combines ethereal soundscapes with soft pulses and spare, atmospheric melodies.
In some ways, while Marconi Union redeemed itself with its second remix, it would have been better to see the trio as a main stage act. Its own music certainly fits within the Punkt continuum; as much as the trio ultimately proved a good remix choice even with a less-than-successful first attempt, which may well have been the result of not realizing just how far it was possible/allowable to goits own music would have surely provided some fine fodder for another group of musicians to remix/rebuild.
If S.C.U.M. and the Marconi Union provided an inauspicious start to Punkt 2012 and Eno's curation, then Three Trapped Tigers redeemed both, with a set that was edgy, complex without being overly considered, and absolutely exhilarating. A trio featuring guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Rob Calvert, keyboardist/vocalist Tom Rogerson and drummer Adam Betts, Three Trapped Tigers was an early Punkt hit, playing songs from its first full-length CD, Route One or Die (Blood & Biscuits, 2011) and Numbers 1-13 (Blood & Biscuits, 2012)which collects its first three EPs into one discas well as some newer music.
Lie Route One or Die, "Cramm" opened the set, the group quickly establishing a modus operandi that included serpentine lines, thundering, odd-metered rhythms and no shortage of improvisational élan. Betts was a force of nature, thundering through the set with near-relentless energy. Calvert avoided self- promotional pyrotechnics while, at the same time, making it clear that he was another force with which to be reckoned. Rogerson's role appeared to be more textural, until it became clear that he was carrying plenty of responsibility, delivering gut-punching bass lines, soaring, otherworldly electronic sonics and, at times, wordless vocals (doubled by Calvert) that were simply another instrument in the trio's vast aural toolkit.
And just as it seemed that the group's energy and power would be unrelenting, passages of calming beauty emerged, creating a dynamic flow to the songsand the setthat made its Punkt appearance one that was still being talked about days after the festival was over. If Eno, in his press conference earlier in the day, professed to not liking progressive rock because "it sounded like a lot of people counting," then he clearly wasn't concerned that Three Trapped Tigers' music was as metrically challenging as any legacy band (more, even, than some). At a time when some of those legacy bands continue to trade on their past, Three Trapped Tigers is surely making progressive rock music for the future; predicated, to be sure, on things that have come before, but with the sharp teeth and vigorous energy of youth.
Not unlike Sweet Billy Pilgrim, which has appeared at two Punkts in Kristiansand and one in Mannheim, Germany in 2009, the between-song patter was down to earth and self-effacing, with Rogerson thanking the festival for the opportunity to play in such a terrific venue and, as the trio moved into its last number, saying, "hopefully next time we'll be back in the more familiar surroundings of an empty pub." It revealed how Three Trapped Tigers' music may have been challenging and seriously conceived, but the group did not take itself too seriously.