Afterthoughts: No Bounds Festival 2019

Boasting a variety of non-music events, workshops and talks, it’s clear that No Bounds is more than just a music festival.

Just as the trams flow through the city’s streets, electronic music has long coarsed through the communal veins of Sheffield. In the 70s and 80s, new wave royalty such as Cabaret Voltaire and The Human League called the Steel City home. The 90s saw Warp Records pioneer the distinctly-local strain of bleep, a Yorkshire institution that still maintains a clear influence over contemporary production. In more recent years, bassline is another genre originating from the city’s club systems and house parties.

No Bounds continues to add to this rich musical history, championing local labels and producers whilst bringing international acts to the North of England.

Something liberating and freeing can be found whilst strolling around a city festival, pacing from venue to venue in search of that next sonic fix. It’s an interesting and novel way to explore, and, despite the opportunity to pre in Spoons, is far more than a glorified club night.

The Kelham Island Museum transformed from a homage to the city’s industrial past into an immersive space layered in antagonistic lighting and full-blooded sound, fully focused on the performance at hand. The layout of the stage created a setting prioritising the performance rather than the performer, as artists were tucked into a light-less corner to focus eyes and ears on projections and sounds.

Lee Gamble’s A/V set combined combative sounds with equally fierce visuals, producing an abrasive experience for the viewer. Expressing brutality through weighty, dynamic kicks, samples of screams, and jungle-esque cymbal-work, the Birmingham-born producer interjected this striking sonic sequence with silent pauses, sparing the crowd for brief moments before continuing his assault. In tandem with the shape-shifting visuals on screen, this was an awesome display of sound design and artistic provocation.

The atmosphere shifted in between Gamble and Lanark Artefax, the room becoming engulfed in orange lighting and more soothing sonics, prompting festival-goers to lounge about on the floor and take a breather. Technicians re-arranged the stage, introducing a door-shaped screen projecting luminescent visuals onto the viewer. Artefax’s set was less harsh than Gamble’s, but provided a similarly heady experience. Drifting between club-oriented sounds, textural interludes and ambient breathers, and in sync with displacing lighting and evocative visuals, the performance was the highlight of the night. The introduction of ‘Touch Absence’ was a significant moment, climaxing amongst a sea of flashing strobes and spell-binding lasers.

After a walk across the city, we reached Hope Works, the venue for the opening rave. The warehouse can be seen as another relic of the city’s past, repurposed into an industrial club setting, whilst the music on display reflected the scene today. Inside, wonky rave characters hang from the ceiling above sofas, whilst the towering Sinai System blasted frequencies across the dance floor. The crowd was boisterous and energetic, cutting shapes that would confuse even a university maths lecturer.

The Hyponik stage hosted the likes of Shygirl, Zuli and Winston Hazel, a lineup promising a selection of sonics spanning genres and continents. Explosive kicks and leftfield melodies dominated the night’s soundtrack. Typically raucus and expressive, Shygirl belowed out distorted vocals over equally heavy rhythms. Zuli’s expansive selection kept the crowd on their toes, throwing in Randomer’s ‘Freak Dub’ and TSVI’s ‘Hossam’ amongst a healthy dose of Arabic-infused tracks and hefty percussive rollers.

Boasting a variety of non-music events, workshops and talks, it’s clear that No Bounds is more than just a music festival. Even with a focus spread across the artistic spectrum, the sonic side of things is helping to bolster an already healthy scene, bringing DJs and musicians not normally associated with bassline and bleeps to the Yorkshire city. Whilst we wait to see what 2020’s edition has in store, check out some pics from across the whole weekend below…

(96 Back)

(Zuli in Hopeworks)

(Prequel Tapes x Debbie Chia Light & Sound Bath)

(Black Dog Deep Listening Pool Sessions 4)

(Nkisi in the Courtyard)

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Words: Jens Berring

Featured Images: Alex Morgan, Frankie Casillo

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