Festival Preview: Safe As Milk

Festival announcements for 2017 have been coming thick and fast over the past couple of months and each year there seems to be more choice than ever before. However, there’s one in particular which stands out from the crowd. Named after Captain Beefheart’s acclaimed 1967 debut album, the inaugural Safe As Milk combines a leftfield line-up featuring a diverse range of boundary pushing artists, with a host of extras including DJ sets, films, talks, artworks, Beefheart-themed craft ales, specialist foods, pop-up record stores and an on site pub which will play host to exclusive performances, among other exciting events.

With the legendary All Tomorrow’s Parties resigned to history there was certainly room for another holiday camp weekender on the festival calendar. Scheduled to be held at Pontins Prestatyn in North Wales over three days from 21st to 23rd April, it finds the brains behind the North East-based alt.vinyl and Tusk Festival coming together and partnering with quality underground music publications The Wire, The Quietus and Bleep.com to bring one of the most intriguing festival line-ups of recent years into being.

With 40-plus acts performing over three days across two main performance spaces, each with respective capacities of 2400 and 1000, you’d be hard pushed to find another UK festival line-up that’s as diverse, mind expanding and international in reach, mixing past pioneers with rising newcomers from genres covering everything including the kitchen sink. There’s alternative rock, experimental rock, psychedelia, metal, Krautrock, hip hop, synth pop, art pop, Afropop, folk, noise, industrial, avant-garde, as well as a variety of electronic styles from techno to house to ambient and all else in between.

The biggest draw of the weekend will most likely be an exclusive performance by the one and only Butthole Surfers. Making their first UK appearance for five years, and so far their only scheduled show of 2017, having the Texans play at the festival is a real coup. With a reputation for being one of the craziest bands around, particularly during their late 1980’s and early 1990’s peak, their headline slot has the potential to be one of the gigs of the year, especially considering that it will be the classic line-up of Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary, King Coffey and Jeff Pinkus that will be performing.

Fresh off the back of the release of their latest album The Ghost of Hope on 24th March, featuring reconstructed tales of late 19th century and early 20th century train wrecks, anonymous avant-garde performance artists The Residents will be bringing their surrealistic spectacle to the North Wales coast. Established in 1969, the madcap satirists have grown to become an award winning multimedia institution with over sixty album releases to their name. Recognisable for years by their top hat sporting bloodshot eyeball helmets, the art collective were recently the subject of the excellent Don Hardy documentary Theory of Obscurity.

The third headliner also offers something completely different in the form of English folk icon Shirley Collins. One of the leading lights of the folk revival and subsequent golden age during the 1960’s and 1970’s with albums such as Folk Roots, New Routes and Anthems in Eden, she would take an extended break lasting four decades before finally returning last year with her eleventh studio release Lodestar. The 81-year-old has inspired artists as diverse as Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, David Tibet of Current 93 and the singer-songwriter/left-wing activist Billy Bragg who has described her being “without doubt one of England’s greatest cultural treasures.”

In another festival exclusive, Craig Leon & Martin Rev will perform their very first show together ahead of the release of their debut album later in the year. However, it’s not the first time these two men have worked together. Martin Rev was the keyboardist in Suicide, while Craig Leon, who was instrumental in launching the careers of artists such as The Ramones and Blondie, produced the the duo’s influential 1977 self titled debut. Martin Rev is also notable for playing a major role in influencing much of the synth pop movement which filled the charts during the 1980’s.

On the subject of pioneers, there will also be a semi-improvised set by none other than Jeff Mills & Tony Allen. One of the main men behind the Detroit techno sound during the 1980’s and 1990’s, Jeff Mills has been a major influence in electronic music over a number of decades. Joining him will be the legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, inventor of the Afrobeat during his time with Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 and a man Brian Eno has described as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived.” After playing together for the first time in Paris just before Christmas, watching these two legends bring Afrobeat and techno together should be something else.

When it comes to pioneers of percussion, Brian Eno has hailed the drumming of Neu!’s Klaus Dinger as one of “three great beats in the 70’s” alongside the work of Clyde Stubblefield with James Brown and the Afrobeat of Tony Allen. Klaus Dinger passed away almost a decade ago, but the founding member of highly influential Krautrock outfits Neu! and Harmonia (and also one time member of Kraftwerk) will be making an appearance. Michael Rother will be joined by Hans Lampe of La Düsseldorf and Franz Bargmann of Camera with the trio set to perform classic Neu! and Harmonia tracks, alongside a selection of Michael Rother’s solo material.

Safe As Milk also offers up one of the last opportunities to see the highly influential and inventive multi-instrumentalist experimental rock trio This Is Not This Heat, who will be calling it a day as a live outfit after 2017. Gareth Williams passed away in 2001, but the remaining two members Charles Hayward and Charles Bullen recently decided to reform This Heat after over 30 years apart, performing with a series of special guests. Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth joined them at London’s Cafe Oto last February, and while it’s not yet known who will be joining them in Prestatyn, it’s likely to be a special performance whoever it turns out to be.

Norwegian collective Ulver began life as a folklore-inspired black metal band during the early 1990’s, but have since become one of the most eclectic and genre-defying acts around today. Past albums have incorporated almost everything including electronica, chamber music and various forms of rock from noise to prog. It’s often difficult to know which direction they will take things in next. However, with a new album titled The Assassination of Julius Caesar scheduled to be released the same month as the festival you can almost certainly expect a performance of epic proportions from the Kristoffer Rygg-led band.

One genre well represented at Safe As Milk is undoubtedly electronica, with a range of artists to give even some of Europe’s finest electronic-focused festivals a run for their money. The diversity of styles represented is quite remarkable. For starters, there’s the dub-influenced R&B stylings of the Wirral-born Forest Swords, the psychedelia-inspired industrial rave sound of Fuck Buttons member Blanck Mass, the murky ambient techno and house of Actress, the dark ambient and industrial techno of Manchester duo Demdike Stare, and the cosmically-inclined Afrofuturistic dance of Hieroglyphic Being.

Elsewhere, there’s German-based Detroit-techno outfit Dopplereffekt (featuring one of half of the influential Drexciya), the ambient industrialist sounds of Basic House, the cut and paste UK bass constructions of Basic Rhythm, the liquid techno offerings of Karen Gwyer, the enigmatic genre-melding duo Rezzett, as well as Newcastle/Manchester duo Warm Digits who count the legendary Andrew Weatherall as one of their fans, describing their style as “machine funk kraut-a-delia”. Fans of manic melodies may enjoy prog poppers Cloud Becomes Your Hand, while there should be a good crowd hoping to catch the experimental art pop of Scottish electronic composer Anna Meredith and her live band.

Grime may have been stealing all the headlines when it comes to British rap, but the bass-heavy blend of hip hop, dancehall and dub that Brixton-born Gaika has been producing since his 2015 debut has been causing quite a stir within UK’s underground. Joining him from across the pond will be fiery Afro-Nuyorican rapper Princess Nokia who brings a range of styles to the table including trap, R&B and jungle. Also from the States, Philadelphia-based Afrofuturist poet, soundscape artist and activist Moor Mother will be performing material from her sociopolitical/historical experimental debut Fetish Bones.

Safe As Milk also has a very international feel to it. Aside from the artists already mentioned, there are several represented from the Middle East and Africa. One name most will surely recognise is Omar Souleyman, the Syrian wedding singer whose synthesised Dabke music gained widespread attention in 2013 after the release of his Four Tet-produced album Wenu Wenu. Joining him from across the Mediterranean in Egypt will be the energetic Islam Chipsy & EEK who meld energetic keyboard flourishes with two street drummers. Also from Africa there’s the infectious Ghanian pop of Ata Kak, as well as the German-Senegalese combination of Ernestus’ Ndagga Rhythm Force, which sees German dark techno legend Mark Ernestus joining forces with  The Rhythm Force from from Senegal.

Image result for Nurse With WoundMost notable among those performing from the noisier and more experimental end of the spectrum will be Nurse With Wound. One of three underground acts examined by David Keenan in England’s Hidden Reverse, the industrial legends will be making a rare appearance. If you want insane noise, then Leeds duo Guttersnipe will likely to produce one of the most deafening rackets of the entire weekend. Elsewhere, repulsive Swedish garage punk outfit Brainbombs will play their first ever UK show after four decades together. Experimental rock trio Zs, which includes Liturgy drummer Greg Fox as one of its members, will also be showcasing their crazy blend of avant-prog and free improvisation, while Baltimore quartet Horse Lords will be offering up an experimental rock concoction which includes elements of Krautrock and free jazz.

Legendary mid-70’s rockers Chrome will bring their bizarre blend of space rock and electro-pop to Prestatyn, a band worth seeing for the guitar work of Helios Creed alone. Keeping the psychedelia vibe alive over the weekend will be the prolific and playful rockers Circle from Finland. Glaswegian quartet The Cosmic Dead will also be showcasing their synth-washed blend of psychedelic space rock. While from Japan there’s experimental rock outfit OOIOO, whose lead member Yoshimi P-We (also of Boredoms) was the inspiration behind Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips.

At the opposite end of the scale, Grouper will offer up some slow-paced minimalism that’s nothing short of stunning. While along similar lines, there’s the subtle atmospherics of Australian-born synth pop artist Carla dal Forno who will perform tracks from her beautifully spacious and introspective 2016 debut You Know What It’s Like. Also at Safe As Milk, singer-songwriter with a difference Richard Dawson will be performing with a band for the first time in one of only a handful of select shows scheduled this year, while Georgian saz virtuoso Asiq Nargile returns to the UK with her passionate folk poems.

In addition to all that mind expanding music over two performances spaces, the on-site pub will also play host to several exclusive performances including an acoustic set from Finnish psych rockers Circle. At the pub you can also find Detroit techno pioneer Jeff Mills talking about how his favourite comic books have inspired his work, a Fall-themed karaoke where you can re-enact the drunken sing-slur of Mark E. Smith, as well as a selection of other great events including a documentary screening of Mirage Men, The Quietus Hour live radio podcast and a synth workshop.

A number of DJ sets will also take place across the weekend, with tunes being spun by the likes of BBC Radio 6’s Marc Riley, Charles Bullen of This Is Not This Heat, Jamal Moss a.k.a. Hieroglyphic Being, Mark Ernestus of Basic Channel and Rhythm & Sound, as well as a mix of Middle Eastern and African dance music from John Doran.

If you’re looking to purchase some vinyl or any other merchandise, then there will be a number of pop-up record shops hosted at the marketplace by great labels such as Ninja Tune, PAN, Blackest Ever Black, House Of Mythology, alt.vinyl and many more. There will also be a variety of books and artworks available from the likes of Strange Attractor, GrassiArt and Lathe Revival.

These can be found along a variety of specialist food stalls selling a selection of vegan foods, pizzas, steaks, pastries and coffee, as well as three Captain Beefheart-themed craft ales produced at the local Conwy Brewery: a Safe As Milk milk stout, a Clear Spot golden ale and an American IPA called Lick My Decals Off, Baby.

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