Scalping

Sharpe Music Festival Bratislava, Slovakia, April 26-27, 2019,

May 03, 2019 Photography by Dom Gourlay Web Exclusive
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Barely a week goes by now without at least one showcase music festival appearing on the calendar. Long gone are the days when the only credible platforms of that kind were South By Southwest and The Great Escape. Nowadays, it's actually possible to construct an entire year-long world tour around such events. But, of course, that amounts to nothing if the ends don't live up to the means.

In recent years, Central and particularly Eastern Europe has seen an increase in such events, mainly coinciding with an upsurge in recognition for its previously understated music scenes. One of those in question would be Sharpe Festival. Still in its infancy as 2019 marked only Sharpe's second year of existence. However, if this weekend's proceedings are anything to go by, it looks set for a long and prosperous presence. 

It is held in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, a city with a population of less than half a million that is handily situated on the banks of the River Danube just an hour by road away from the Austrian capital of Vienna. Its placement is central to the festival's core policy of attracting the best new music from Slovakia and its neighbouring countries.

Taking place over the weekend of the 26th and 27th of April at Nova Cvernovka, a multi-floored space in Bratislava's industrial heartland on the outskirts of the city. Formerly a secondary chemistry school, Nova Cvernovka now houses over 50 studios occupied by its creative community specializing in photography, graphic design, music, and IT among others. There's also a library, fashion outlets, and a rehearsal room, all of which play a focal part in Sharpe's infrastructure.

The festival itself is split between three floors. Six stages varying in shape and size play host to more than 50 artists over the course of its two days. While Saturday's daytime schedule boasts a selection of panels, talks and workshops ranging from a keynote speech by former Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner to discussions around the future of music PR and whether Radiohead are ever going to play a show in Slovakia.

Nevertheless, it's the music Under the Radar is primarily here to see, and from the moment the festival opens its doors we're immediately spoiled for choice. While the majority of acts on the bill might not be household names just yet, they provide an extraordinary representation of the festival organizers' desire to put creativity before what's considered commercially viable. In UK terms at least. As a result we're treated to a weekend's worth of musical treats that transcends every genre we can possibly think of and probably more besides.

First to give us the goosebumps are an outfit called Market. Hailing from the Czech Republic, the five-piece play loose limbed, jazz tinged experimental rock with elements of hip-hop and pop that sounds improvised and probably is. Instruments are swapped between songs, which break down towards the end only to start up again as something else entirely different. Comparisons with artists past and present are inevitable, with Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, and Dexys Midnight Runners immediately springing to mind. London co-operative Squid are probably their closest compatriots of the present day, and fellow masters of the unpredictable in much the same way.

Slovakian trio Walter Schnitzelsson play a more familiar but no less enticing sound that's steeped in classic rock influences ranging from The Replacements and Guided By Voices to Teenage Fanclub and Interpol. Songs swathed in melody dissipate then cascade once more in a halo of pedal infused noise. Playing a set comprised mainly of songs taken from long awaited second album Sugar Kids Won't Stop Screaming, which came out in February almost six years after their debut. Their performance on the Radio FM stage brings out the punters in droves, and rightly so.

Leftfield electronica has arguably been at the center of musical innovation since the turn of the century and Slovakian musician Fvlcrvm is no exception. His one-man excursion through lo-fi techno and semi-acoustic folk also proves a big draw on the Underground stage, making its debut at this year's Sharpe. Austrian outfit Tents prove something of an anomaly by comparison. Taking regular post-punk stylings then adding electronic and occasionally hip hop based overtones, it sometimes feels as if they're stuck between a rock and a hard place but on the moments when they get it right, such as on the dreamy, beat infused "Summer of 17" they nail it to perfection.

Better still are Scalping, a four-piece hailing from Bristol, which has become a hotbed of incredible new music over this past decade. Regulars on the UK experimental, noise and post-rock circuits for a while now, they're one of the most challengingly innovative units we've witnessed in a very long time. Coming on stage at the aptly scheduled time of midnight, their incendiary melting pot of squalling techno, heavy basslines, post rock time signatures cut with angular, math rock swathes makes for a transcendental experience to welcome in the early morning hours. Playing in front of visuals that owe as much to Blade Runner as they do Scary Monsters-era Bowie, their 40 minutes gradually becomes the undisputed highlight of an impeccable first day of music. 

Day two starts as its predecessor left off. Ukrainian duo Ptakh_Jung make futuristic techno with post-rock overtones that could soundtrack a spaghetti western co-ordinated by David Lynch and Ennio Morricone. They're a transfixing entity whose music is matched by the visual journey taking place on the wide screen behind them. The duo of Anton Dehtiarov and Volodymyr Babushkin barely move or say a word throughout their performance. Not that they really need to, as the sound they convey irreverently speaks for itself.

Innsbruck duo Molly take their inspiration from the halcyon eras of shoegaze and ambient pop respectively, so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise their eagerly anticipated debut is being released by highly respected independent label Sonic Cathedral this summer. Technically one of the most musically proficient acts on the bill, Molly make their beautiful noise sound effortless, particularly on the dreamy "As Years Go By" off the band's debut EP from 2016. Playing a mix of old and new material, their six-songs set glitters with consecutive aural delights to create a still tranquillity throughout the 40 minutes they're on stage.

Polish outfit Trupa Trupa have just signed a deal with legendary U.S. label Sub Pop, and within precisely 45 seconds of their opening number it's easy to see why. Their uncompromising blend of post-punk, grunge, and psych rock makes for a lethal concoction that's one part Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, one part Hawkwind, and the rest garnered from any number of late '80s slacker bands you'd care to mention (we'll go for Dinosaur Jr). We're entranced but not as much as we are by local heroes The Ills' unannounced secret set over in the aforementioned library, which has become the setting for SOFAR's acoustic sessions this weekend. While their customary noise-laden post-rock finds itself stripped to the bone this evening, they're a no less gorgeous entity. Aided and abetted on one number by Dominik Prok of fellow Slovakian experimentalists 50 Hertz Whale, their quiet is the new loud set providing the perfect precursor to what comes next.

Because that just happens to be the highlight of the entire weekend. Hailing from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, The Sweet Release of Death might have a name that reads like something that just crawled off the centre pages of Metal Hammer. However, their music lies beyond categorisation. The trioAlicia Breton Ferrer (bass & vocals), Martijn Tevel (guitar), and Sven Engelsman (drums)play taut, experimental noise pop that's perfectly executed from beginning to end. Each member contributing tirelessly to what the overall collective delivers, focused intently on the job at hand as it were. Playing a set that's evenly split between new material off their forthcoming third long player and its self-titled predecessor, they're an unparalleled joy whose sonic palette owes as much to the tribal rhythms of The (Death) Cult and Theatre of Hate as it does first wave noiseniks Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine.

It's left to Slovakian outfits Mobius and Shallov to bring the weekend's festivities to a deafening and spacious climax respectively. Where the former's doom-heavy sludge metal regales the Radio FM stage soundman into proclaiming them the loudest band of the entire festival, the latter's prog-infused hardcore draws immediate comparisons with The Mars Volta. Both suitably impress, strenuously highlighting the rich vein of talent that lies in Bratislava's musical underbelly at this moment in time.

As showcase events go, Sharpe is at the forefront when it comes to making exciting and at times unexpected musical discoveries. Long may it continue!

www.sharpe.sk

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