On 23rd February in a conference centre on an industrial estate just off a very sunny Portslade High Street, we witnessed the coming together of some of the most promising alternative music acts around.
The Mutations 2019 festival provided a feast for the ears and sometimes the eyes. Despite some issues with being able to provide enough beer to the thirsty masses, it largely went off without a hitch and provided a huge amount of pleasure to those in attendance.
With that in mind, I present my completely unofficial Mutations 2019 festival awards.
The consummate professional award
Winner: White Denim
Headliners White Denim showed why they deserved to be topping the bill, with a incredibly tight performance and a huge sound that could fill any size of venue. They had to deal with a backdrop that had been glitchy all day but finally gave up the ghost completely at the start of their performance. However, such was the immensity of their stage presence that you hardly noticed.
The audience immersion award
Winner: Snapped Ankles
As soon as Snapped Ankles emerged onto the stage in their modified ghillie suits, looking somewhat like shamanisitc yetis, you knew you were in for an unusual performance.
From the opening bars of ‘I Want My Minutes Back’ you were glued to what was happening on stage. So much so that you hardly noticed the gradual invasion of other ghillie suited performers into the audience. One set up shop right next to me banging on a snare drum in perfect synchronicity to the goings-on up front, while others bounded through the audience flailing their arms as if held in a maddening trance by the sounds emanating from the stage.
The Snapped Ankles set was actually quite short, which may have left the audience wanting more but was probably a huge relief for those in the stifling costumes, given the amount of energy they were expending throughout.
Longest sound check award
Winner: Goat Girl
It’s not often you see a band standing around on stage sound checking for longer than the actual performance, but that’s exactly what it felt like when Goat Girl took to the stage as second top billing act.
They were clearly having some issues with feedback but spent far too long trying it sort it out and eventually the audience got a little impatient.
As a result – whether it was nerves from having stood on stage so long waiting to start, the sound adjustments made, that this new act are still a finding their feet, or a combination of all these things – but the performance was flat. As was the reaction from the audience. A massive shame, as I had really enjoyed their eponymous debut album and had been looking forward to their set for some time.
The ‘Audience in the palm of our hands’ award
Flamingods have been playing their unique brand of exotic psych rock since 2010, and that experience showed as the audience lapped up their performance.
Their full-on set, coupled with some perfectly complementary visuals, made for an, at times transcendental experience that the crowd couldn’t get enough of.
My first experience of this band, hopefully not the last.
The international discovery award
Winner: Ohmme (USA)
This Chicago group managed to meld complex harmonic vocal arrangements with some seriously noisy guitars to create a unique sound that was entrancing and explosive. They could perhaps do with a bass player to pack even more punch, but it’s well worth catching up with their (currently) small back catalogue. They told us after the gig they were straight off to Wales to record their next album. I’ll be reviewing their older tracks in anticipation of that release.
Notable mention: Joesfin Öhrn & The Liberation (Sweden)
And now for the big one…
Truth be told, this was the band I was most looking forward to seeing after the triumphant release of debut album Psychic Data last year (which made the top 20 of my Top 50 albums of 2018 list).
Fortunately they did not disappoint. It was a sparse setup for a group billing second on the second stage. Just a guitar and small keyboard between the two performers and an old CRT television displaying images and lyrics to the group’s songs. But the overall impression conveyed was incredible. The sounds they achieved with such minimal machinery completely drew you in and left your head swirling.
Hopefully they will be returning soon so that we can experience a full-on full set.
Hopefully Mutations will also be returning soon, though next time they might need to stock up on more beer.
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