Sharpe Festival 2023, Bratislava, Slovakia, April 20-22, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, June 14th, 2024  


Cloudsurfers, 52 Hertz Whale, FLCRVM, Krapka;KOMA

Sharpe Festival 2023, Bratislava, Slovakia, April 20-22, 2023,

May 18, 2023 Photography by Tomáš_Kuša Web Exclusive
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So good it collapsed my lung”. That is the pull quote Bratislava’s Sharpe festival is getting for next year’s promo run. It’s no joke.

I coughed, spluttered and struggled to breathe my way through one of my favourite festivals, culminating in a hospital stay and surgery. Don’t say that Sharpe doesn’t know how to party!

Of course, it was nothing to do with an event that was, again, a shining pillar of new musical discovery from across Europe, with exceptional discussion on the big industry issues and its usually inclusive laid-back vibes in the halls of Nová Cvernovka - a repurposed chemical institute transformed into a cultural centre.

It again sandwiched an enthralling conference (especially the keynote talk with Stephen Budd telling the story of key parts of his career through a selection of songs) in between three nights of incredible music focused on regions we don’t often hear from in our Anglo-American bubble.

It is a small event, with the biggest ideas, and, in general, one of the most exceptionally curated events in terms of new music in Europe. How could I miss that, even with a collapsing lung?

It’s three weeks later, and I’m still alive, my brain addled by strong painkillers (mmm codeine and morphine cocktails!), so the recollections might be a bit of a haze, but, hey, “music journalism” has been forged from such states of mental cloud and intoxication in the past, so here goes.

I arrived just in time for some of the opening night, and was hit by the multi-sensory, multi-media explosion of sight and sound provided by local favourite FLCRVM, who crafted future pop that veers into EDM. The light show (was it fluorescent LED glasses? I’m remembering a man adorned in coloured lights like a Blade Runner street seller, or something), dazzled, the beats were big and his vocals were tinged with a little soul (and often autotune/vocoder).

Highly respected Slovak producer Blame Your Genes ended my first night by pillaging the 90s with his lively house sound. Tinges of breakbeat (Goldie anyone?), some passages of big beat bombast, think Chemical Brothers shows “Genes” to be a consummate pilager of the past to craft something for new dancefloors. And who can “blame” him? (ha ha)...

Day two, after a grand tour of Bratislava that took in a cycle commune, venue on an old tram car and a riverboat lunch, plus opening salvos of the conference, the night felt full of possibility. Immediately, local newcomers Krstni Otcovia set an incredibly high bar with their hyper-rhythmic take on post-punk. Driven by driving motorik beats, slight psych tinges and the joyous jangle of the Velvet Underground, they provided an intoxicating, kinetic kraut-punk party.

Germany’s Public Display Of Affection didn’t drop the quality level but added some weird jazz tinges to the post-punk (goth in this case) template. There’s a lot going on in a seemingly simple sound. It reminds me of a UK band called 4,000,000 Telephones, but also a slowed down Birthday Party, a jazzy Cramps, and a load of other things. Again, it’s kinda intoxicating. The performance is tight, but jittery.

52 Hertz Whale are one of the best guitar bands in Europe, I’ve been told that by several people and on a second live viewing at Sharpe (the first was at MENT back in 2020), I’m inclined to agree. This time they were untethered, unleashed and brought an intense performance (especially from the stalking frontman Dominik Prok) with their highly melodic take on melancholic alternative rock. They mine the depths of emotion from madness to euphoria with tunes that make you want to dance, smash things, or both.

UK “jazz” renegades Taupe should have been a highlight, and their set was absolutely packed with energy, but, maybe it was my mental state but their sheer relentlessness and skronky take on composition made my head almost implode on the night. All the notes, crammed into a loose semblance of a song, any given night would fire my loins (I mean I love Cardiacs with a passion) but this time it left me cold. They are a talented band, making challenging music that should be celebrated.

Hope”, we all need hope. The German band that is! Their set at Sharpe, was a masterclass in minimalist restraint, not in the music theory way, but in the manner of understanding exactly what each song needs. Every musician, every part only did what was needed and this “restraint” made it all the more powerful. Live the guitar layering, subdued on their recorded materials, glistened with vibrant noise, enticing an eruption but never quite bubbling over, the whole set ached with expectation that was both delivered on and never reached. Christine Börsch-Supan’s sit interestingly for English ears, with singing in English as a second language, the intonation and the pronunciation are “off”, not in a bad way, but in an intriguing way that draws you in. Her speak-singing style is clear and evokes the spirit of Billie Holliday in its cracked emotions. Hope’s set of gothic rock, with trippy electronics and post-rock highs was incredible.

The basement of the venue is an intense, claustrophobic space and was perfect for Anglo-Ukranian duo tAngerinecAt’s eerie, gothic electronica tinged with folk traditions.Zhenia Purpurovsky (Ukraine) and Paul Chilton (UK) have crafted a tense, stalking sound that seems perfectly fit to the turmoil of these days, especially with current events in the Ukraine. The constant whir of Purpurovsky’s hurdy gurdy crafted a swirling, tense drone unlike other acts in this sphere, while the intricate soundscapes coming from ambient, noise, industrial and even breakbeat recalled all number of other acts. Chilton’s squirls from his duda created a tribal air, the past dragged into a dystopian future, all evoked by dual vocals that at times are soulful, at times directly sinister.

I was waning by the time local buzz-trio Berlin Manson bought their visceral, electro-punk to the stage. There’s is a huge punk energy delivered in a blaze of riffs, live drums and synths - it ignores genre and production tropes, but also comes out resolutely familiar. It was a lot of fun and bristled with a sense of unity. Post-punk rhythms danced with synth-pop melancholy and big punk riffs. A serious moment comes when they stop their show to usher people upstairs to see their friends band play, before continuing their own set afterwards (I forget the band, and even if this really happened - blame the lung, regardless “print the myth”).

And so there was a final day of music to come, after an afternoon slot on the Listening Panel comparing drone music to the sound of a decaying western world and musing of the purpose of music in teenage rebellion, I was more than ready for it.

Matching how impressed I was by this music as part of the Listening Panel, French artist Ariel Tinar continued to win me over. A polyglot singing in French and Creole, Tintar combined classic French musical traditions (Gainsbourg and the rest of Ye-Ye), with soulful ease while mining pop ideas from the past 40 years to drag it into the modern age. Electronic and live beats danced, and Tintar’s near virtuistic keyboard playing made it a set to admire. Sometimes you just have to admit the talent and this was one of this times.

Back down in the basement confines, Pafgens shifted through their musical personas with ease. Whether playing lush, slowcore tunes, soaring drone numbers or electronic shoegaze the duo created a singular joyous tone. Melding songs together with intermittent soundscapes, creating an almost constant flow, Pafgens is clearly a band that understands the huge aural world they have created and are inviting us all to reside there with them. If Low, Maps or Divide & Dissolve do it for you, Pafgens are worthy of exploring.

After hearing from UTR Festivals Editor Dom Gourlay that Dutch lot Cloudsurfers are one of the best live bands he has seen in a while, I was hardly going to miss them! And he wasn’t wrong. With two drummers and an onslaught of garage punk riffage, they provide the missing link between Dinosaur Jnr and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. They never dropped the performance energy below intense, they have the songs and the skills. Basically, they provide everything I want from a rock show, they even leave on a particularly messy Nirvana cover (no I can’t recall which one, my notes are nonsense - blame the lung).

My time at Sharpe ended with Ukrainian duo Krapka;KOMA, multi-instrumentalists who journey through trip-hop, nu-jazz and electronica with their set. It was lovely stuff, recalling that time when “chillout” was pushed as thing by major labels trying to cash in on “trip-hop”. The vocal harmonies are grand, each song is intricately crafted, but there is something else. Through the niceness is activism. Take “Standing Firmly” (a downbeat trippy number) with its lyrics “Firmly standing my own ground, would you like to play around,” sends a message of distinct defiance to what Putin’s invasion is doing to their nation. Recently they have been playing to raise funds for healthcare for Ukranian fighters, and in support of Ukranian culture via the Musicians Defend Ukraine foundation. All in all great music, with an inspiring message, what more is there?

Krapka KOMA
Krapka KOMA

And with that Sharpe was done, two excruciating flights and a hospital stay later I’m piecing it all together. Was it all worth it, damn straight it was!! I’ll be back next year with a fully functioning body, or here’s hoping!


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