Sharpe Festival 2021, Bratislava, Slovakia, 3-4 September 2021 | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, September 16th, 2021  

Bulp

shishi, sinks, Zbigniew Chojnacki, Baits, Warm Graves, Tea Sofia

Sharpe Festival 2021, Bratislava, Slovakia, 3-4 September 2021,

Sep 09, 2021 Web Exclusive Photography by Tomas Kusa Bookmark and Share


What, exactly, have we been missing? In the new normal, live music felt often like a distant past dream. What was all the fuss about?

But standing in the repurposed old school building in Bratislava, Slovakia (its outdoor area in the shadow of a monolithic grain silo) that Sharpe festival calls its home, the amplified sounds that emanated from the stage, the energetic performers giving it their all, the noise, the heat, the sweat, the emotion, everything comes flooding back. Live music is connection, it is community, it is freedom - that’s what we have been missing.

This is really not an overstatement. And Sharpe, offering the first fully-amplified performances I’ve witnessed since MENT 2020 (and strangely in attendance with many of the same faces) was an education in the best music Slovakia and a wider net of EU locations has to offer over two intense days.

Sandwiched in between the two bouts of live-action was a conference bill that tackled such topics as sustainability for music festivals, the future of record labels and the role music plays in the fabric of city life.

Wonderfully curated and respectfully managed in these strange times, being in attendance at Sharpe was, at times, enough to bring a tear to the eye. In these circumstances, it may not have mattered whether the music was any good or not, but thankfully it lived up to the magnitude of the occasion.

Sat in a concrete-lined basement room, Poland’s Zbigniew Chojnacki started proceedings in fitting fashion. In a world adapting to a new normal, with glimpses of our old ways breaking through his experimental glitch accordion excursions were a fitting reintroduction to live music. Chojnacki’s deconstructed and reimagined what this traditional (and often archaic) instrument is through effects pedals, gadgets and nobs, producing a cacophony of strangeness from his deep meditative creative trance. The drones squelches and reverberations that emanated from the stage were difficult but enthralling, sounding like both the end of the world and a way to rebuild it.

Lithuania’s shishi doesn’t challenge in the familiarity stakes, their set was a joyous explosion of power-pop. In a manner that their recorded output doesn’t do justice to, the trio burst with relentlessly likeable energy, tapping directly into the most enthralling of early 80s new wave. Their catchy rhythmic pulse and angelic, often call and response, vocal harmonies recall the likes of the B-52s and the Go-Gos with added surf-guitar twang and soul. Performing perfectly, full of humour and smiles, this is a band who doesn’t take themselves too seriously but make seriously good music on stage.

shishi
shishi

The haze of a long day was kept going by German three-piece Warm Graves who revel in that oft lauded Teutonic groove, dancing on a wave of kinetic drones and warm washes of guitar noise. The odd jazzy flourish kept it from being purely a hypnotic affair, as they found flashes of light in a dark sound.

The face-melting improvised techno of HRTL, all pulsating bass and relentless repetition and the sheer punk energy of Austria’s Red Gaze were enough to stave off sleep a bit long. The latter’s pure, classic punk aesthetic and abstract lyrical onslaught is a perfect end to a long day.

Starting the music on Saturday after a day of music industry intellectualism Austria’s hotly tipped Baits didn’t disappoint. Playing rock transported directly from the period after grunge exploded worldwide, they played big riffs with a penchant for pop melody, driven into the noise. Led by enigmatic singer Sonja Maier, whose gruff, angsty growls echo Kat Bjelland but with a touch more knowing humour in the delivery. Baits transported the radio-friendly rock of the 90s, with energy, bite and infectious tunes.

I caught just the last few tracks of Raptor Koch, a head-spinning experience where nothing, it appears, is sacred. A surrealist blend of Devo, The Fall and Cardiacs anyone? Maybe they could release an album called Q: Are We Not Men, A: We are Bingo Master’s Seaside (if you know, you know), or something. In essence, the band is a man and his ever-evolving circus of strangeness, and in that moment it was enthralling, confusing and exhilarating, but maybe I got it all wrong from that cursory glance?

Baits
Baits

This weird revelation started a run of incredible acts that topped the weekend’s entertainment with ease. The genre-hoping continued with Bulp, the electronica project of Samo Stefanec, who at a station of synths, drum-pads, effects pedals and laptops delivered a deep dive into electronic music history, experimental vibes delivered with club euphoria, the majority of the set flowing from one track the another and with several big drops. To a backdrop of stunning video visuals, Bulp took on jungle bass, minimal techno, trip-hop shimmers, Prodigy style post-rave, deep dubstep riddims and even, at one moment, floating Vangelis-like classicist synth. When he cracked out the vocals, there were moments of pure synth-pop that could bother the charts. This was a set that warrants the progression to bigger stages very soon.

What can I say about sinks? The Czech noise-rock trio is simply one of the best new rock bands in Europe right now, which anyone that caught their sonic onslaught would attest to. Singer and guitarist Antonín Mika stalked the stage, playing with the energy of a young Kurt Cobain, spiting oblique, almost spoken poetry, driven by a rhythmic core of Vendula Pukyšová, Peter Štímel who give Fugazi’s rhythm section a run for its money in the strange shapes it concocts while keeping the funk and groove. Pukyšová in particular lifted the band with her complex bass lines. All in all the melee recalled everything from Killing Joke and Jesus Lizard, to Big Black and Mudhoney but never fell into the trap of pure mimicry. For anyone, who likes their rock challenging but hook-laden, Sinks is your new favourite band.

The power of punk is borderless, language less as was shown by Spanish hardcore-and-much-more crew Podium, fronted by whirlwind performer África Mansaray, who stalked the space in front of the stage, screaming with guttural rage. I don’t speak Spanish but this felt important! Musically, the four remaining players took us through a journey of the widest understanding of what “punk” is, one moment they are expanding the template like Fucked Up, another taking the rhythms to strange places like Shellac and in another blasting like Discharge at their most visceral. Add in the penchant for industrial scuzz and the odd Oi number, and you have a punk trainspotters delight. And it was LOUD, in the best possible way, blowing away any ideas of sonic restraint from the past 18 months.

Podium
Podium

With a 4am departure time looming I managed to catch a quick glimpse of Czech Republic’s Tea Sofia, who I have been tipping for over a year. Her woozy future RnB/electronic pop translated well to the stage but an arduous journey home was calling me back to the hotel.

And that was that, a stunning reintroduction to “real” live music and at an event that specialises in curating the best talents from a region we don’t hear a lot about over in the UK and mores the pity.

Sharpe Festival official website




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