Festival Review:


TEXT Isaac Kariuki
PHOTOS Wilf Speller

Experimental electronic music can be an inspired cultural answer to a political problem. To enjoy it is to enjoy ambiguity and the weightless inertia of improvisation;
to lose total control.



Saturday afternoon at Opaque Poetics, in the stunning gallery stage, NaEE RoBErts deployed this politics, embalming the space with purple lights and a set of chilling drone music, occasional vocals fading in and out between reverb. Right after, an audience member was quick to comment on the experience:
“I feel like I’m in a daze.” Now palming their forehead. “That was so intense.”


On this day, attendees are given the choice to decompress on the lush green field after a performance or extend the astral experience and move to the next act. Most chose the latter at the eighth annual Opaque Poetics, the twelve hour experimental music festival taking place at the Wysing Arts Centre in South Cambridgeshire.


For this installment, London-based producer and co-founder of NON record label, Nkisi took the helm of curator as well as performer. The Belgian-Congolese artist enlisted performers who verged on industrial-doom, playing for a crowd eager to descend into the countryside in search of a sound that trembles across their veins.


A mostly white and ornately dressed audience gathered at the Amphis stage, a tiny Bart Simpson treehouse that seemed ready to collapse at the next bass drop. They grooved to the gloomy textures of Venus Ex Machina’s elongated handclaps reverb; they bounced to Sami Baha’s trap and breakbeat offerings. And they swayed to the challengingly inventive samplings of Tribe of Colin. However most were content with sunbathing on the field and hearing the music at a close distance, notably in the early parts of the day.


The standout of the daytime performers was British-Nigerian noise producer Klein, an enigmatic rising talent from South London, who took to the main stage with a body double. Crafting a set that included soft pianos, raging synths and a sample from a BKChat LDN discussion on body odours, the performer shrouded the room in yellow lights and fog, matching her bright blonde hair. Midway through, the doppelgänger left the stage and Klein howled with catharsis for her forty minute set.






Festivals in the countryside can feel like an invasive takeover of a quiet space. Influential youth destroying the land before heading back to their cosmopolitan cities. Wysing Art Centre is located adjacent to Cambridge’s Silicon Fen, the title given to the cluster of tech companies devouring the area. Silicon Fen embodies the “creative class” the young, talented and technology-minded entrepreneurs forging the future of tech in the vain of Silicon Valley. And much like the Valley, Fen is overwhelmingly white, male and seeped in class privilege. This begs the question – is the festival marred by this influence or consciously negating it?


For the most part, Nkisi challenges the ideals of both the idillic, traditionalist small-town England and the corporatised tech-hub by assembling a lineup of majority black and gender non-conforming artists and DJ’s and taking a minimalist approach with the festival’s identity (there was no corporate sponsorship and advertising for tickets was almost nonexistent).


In the evening the venue turned into a psychonautic rave courtesy of Lolina (née Inga Copeland), Kamixlo and various others. By this time there was a considerable difference in audience participation – possibly due to intoxication. Audiences were more willing to stand closer to the stage, even interacting with the performers by taking selfies and performing impromptu vogue battles (I was doing the latter). During NON co-founder Angel-Ho‘s set, the small congregation of black audience members jumped to the front to yell out Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow”, and Chelley’s “Took The Night” before the night ended with a stunning operatic a capella performance from Angel-Ho.


If this year’s Opaque Poetics could be seen as a test drive for what an experimental black music festival would look like, then there is room to forgive the occasional technical slip-ups or even the minuscule racialised moments some black attendees received from staff and audience. If anything, the festival gave the black performers room to try out new ways of being seen and heard. Before her final song, Klein announced to the audience that the track belonged to an upcoming Disney soundtrack in her mind. She then walked off stage and let the music play without her physical presence needed.






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