Festival of Endless Gratitude – Ambling the rim of sound (live review)

October 2 2018, af passive/aggressive foeg2018farvel

Reportage from Festival of Endless Gratitude 2018, Copenhagen, Denmark 20-22/Sep/2018, by Javier Orozco. Video recordings by Morten Siclau Bruun.

Festival of Endless Gratitude once again proved it is one of the city’s most relevant outlets for deviant sounds, a vessel for obscure and unusual sonics, via a three day program that assembles local and international underground acts. This year the volunteer-run festival presented its 10th edition in Danish soil across the fourth weekend of September 2018, it also marked the return to KBH volume, the venue that has hosted most of its previous manifestations.

The recurrent attendant may have a premonition of these three evenings: an environment where cult musicians, outsider-artists, new voices and challenging esthetes present their musical expeditions in a venue transcreated by oil projections and interactive art-installations – for instance the VR exploration quest courtesy of FUKK. The visual identity of FOEG plays a role nearly as central as its aural correlate, from the printed programs, the posters, the live projections, the lighting and the art: the festival is an essay in atmosphere production.

To this day the hard-working minds behind the festival have perfected the program’s sequence: one act transitions to the next guided by a disturbed yet coherent logic, for instance, France’s frenetic drones led to the icy technoscapes of Tettix Hexer, subsequently followed by a freak-out disco feast summoned by The Exorcist GBG. The use of space accentuates these changeovers: while a certain performance might take place on an already low stage, the upcoming set might well occur at ground level in a disposition that kindles a redistribution of the audience and traces a different shape between performers and attendants.

Exercises in collaboration are not seldom during the festival, however this year’s edition exploited these mergings more than before with solid results: Mythic Sunship (this time under the moniker Mythic Sunship Astral Family) was joined by members of Jooklo Duo for a monolithic behemoth of a performance, Limpe Fuchs was accompanied by Mette Rasmussen towards the end of her absorbing performance, Anden Enhed sat amongst a group of musicians to create drifting brushstrokes of sound and the black metal collective Korpsånd showcased 5 Mayhem bands from the acclaimed Tour de Garde-compilation performing furiously back to back.

The aforementioned acts were not this edition’s sole highlights. On Thursday Dave Bixby shared spirited renditions of his cult-status songs. Hekla offered a hushed and meditative performance on Friday, later towards the end of the evening Cantenac Dagar by means of their motoric and fierce performance incinerated the dancefloor once started by the beguiling tunes courtesy of Chris Menist’s DJ set. Saturday was a muscular day with remarkable acts inaugurated by the alluring primitive incantations of German instrument builder Limpe Fuchs. Jooklo Duo along with Mette Rasmussen rummaged the space where free jazz locks a groove. Lucas Abela’s performance increased FOEG’s legacy for transgressive sets at the axis of performance art and sound: Lucas “played” a piece of glass, aided by a contact microphone wired through a circuit of effects pedals, the sharp surface against his lips produced cacophonous auralscapes that matched his physical performance. The next to last performer, Simon Littauer, created a robust analogue dance party that addressed both neurons and feet.

The sound palette of the festival is demanding, not holding back on presenting challenging acts, and yet FOEG does not suffer from a lack of sense of humor, it manages to present serious and audacious music with a welcoming smile. There is a latent sense of playfulness, well represented by the installation on the toilet hallway: numerous sagging objects where positioned in a manner that the user had to dodge them or push them aside before reaching the goal. These peculiarities are essential to the personality of this yearly exercise in experimentation, and the size of the crowd reveals that the festival has found listeners for their roster of defying sound performances.

Over the years FOEG has departed – or at least broadened beyond – from its New England free folk-based origins, while withholding a thematic element albeit one that refuses easy nomination, one cannot help to try to decode which shape the subsequent incarnation might take. On a personal level, I wonder if the program could act as a vehicle for minority expressions. However I am unsure if this concern is intertwined with FOEG’s essential ethos nor if it needs to be integrated, yet stimulated by the fluidity of its spirit, it is not hard to imagine a program that explores broader musical minorities propelled by a certain quest for diversity. However should a festival as this one nurture a political stance? Is it central to tie aesthetics and politics in a fashion that it reflects and denounces society’s current concerns? Or is this festival already a site of resistance, a gateway for artists which are not fueled by the thirst for profit enabled by a backbone of cooperation and reciprocal enthusiasm for music?

In my eyes FOEG is already a triumph, yet it could implement certain categories and themes to its subject matter, for instance sustainability, diversity and marginality, not in a manner that threatens its identity but that it reinforces it. Experimentation not only as an esthetic principle but as an organizational guidelight. It is worth noting that in contrast to the immediate previous edition, 2018 presented a line-up that included a stronger female presence, both in individual acts and as partnership performances, thus moving closer to gender equilibrium.

Several moments asserted the festival’s desideratum within Copenhagen’s live music circuit: one of my favorites surged as I walked away from the crowd during France’s performance and gazed from a vantage point: several hundreds were soaked in pummeling drones from an amplified hurdygurdy (!), enthralled by a dense weaving of mauling sounds, the listeners sunk in the loudness embracing the strangeness of shared listening. It could well be that in order to resist one needs collective spaces to disappear, and Festival of Endless Gratitude offers one every year.