Dortmund-based Denovali Records held its annual festival in London earlier this month. Not your typical dance music festival with sun and Hawaiian shirts, it instead simply prides itself on showcasing “experimental and adventurous music”. Previous years have seen the likes of Haxan Cloak, William Basinski, Nils Frahm, Demdike Stare, and what more fitting setting for an experimental festival to take place than in the solitary and quirky confines of St John at Hackney Church.
In a very unholy manner, however, the evening’s opening act made us feel like we were in the middle of a séance; writing on a piece of paper, burning it with a candle before blowing away its ashes. Brian Pyle of Ensemble Economique swamped the church with his strangled sounds shocking the audience into attention from the off. A one man ensemble, he switched calmly between keyboard, pointedly plucked guitar chords and trepid singing that fell ghost-like on the church walls.
Raising the bar afterwards was Orson Hentschel, possibly my favourite act of the evening. The drumming was excellent. Set upon a blacked-out stage with a line of about ten strip lights behind that flashed either in time with the drummer or fizzed with Hentschel’s pulsating atmosphere, it had everyone gripped from start to finish. Visuals were integral to Lakker’s set, too. Represented on this occasion by one half of the duo, Dara Smith, who was touring their new V/A set for their album Struggle and Emerge, which focuses on the industrialisation of the Netherlands against its flooding problem. It progressed from optimistic clips of the Dutch industrial advances to dire images of the flooding rendering those feats futile. Lakker’s techno built powerfully on this premise, becoming more sinister as the set went on. An interesting portrayal of man vs nature and the role of technology in attempting to harbour the latter.
Despite being treated to an array of laudable acts thus far what many had been waiting to hear, or come specifically for, was the chance to hear Andy Stott give a live preview of his 4th album. Too Many Voices takes influences from Yellow Magic Orchestra and modern grime – an odd combo that doesn’t help to paint you much of a picture. To do it for you, it sounded like grime on steroids. There are crystalline synths, mirror shattering claps (think Texan producer Rabit) blown up by Stott’s signature sub-loaded atmospherics. Afterwards there were murmured doubts over whether it would be a successful album and in a way I felt the same. One of the best features of Stott’s work is that there is never too much happening at once, he doesn’t crowd a space, he doesn’t employ too many quirks in one track. Instead it was a more challenging listen with more oddities to each track than usual. Whether that will be to the album’s detriment or whether it will just take more time to appreciate, we will have to see.
All in all Denovali did what more music festivals should do. It showcased interesting, relatively unheard talent and bridged gaps between the popular, the experimental, art and culture. Being in a non-club setting there was no pressure for the artists to get any immediate reaction from the audience. They were left to share, and we were left to listen. Electronic music is often under pressure to make people dance and not necessarily listen, so it was refreshing for a music festival to focus on the latter. We look forward to next year’s offerings, and many more.
Words: Joe Mills
Images courtesy of Denovali