In Haunt

Intense and haunting visuals projected from a tower, anthropomorphic beings brought to life and dark music dripping with themes of wildness and the unknown: these were just some of the elements of Not Quite Light Weekend 2019's opening ‘Hauntology’ evening, presented in association with HAUNT Manchester on Thursday 28 March.

Hauntology 1

The industrial bunker-like surroundings of Salford’s White Hotel generated a unique intensity between performers and the audience, with a range of artists adding to the atmosphere: electronic duo Zirkus, the innovative Ruby Tingle and Simon Woolham, dark music project Wilderness Hymnal, DJ Producer Black Lodge and sound artist XVelastín: with fascinating audiovisuals provided throughout by Sean Clarke. The acclaimed musician and artist LoneLady followed the event with a DJ set.

Exploring darkness, environs of the mind and the presences of the past were all themes thrown to the surface in a mind-opening display of multi-disciplinary creativity. This is a key element of Not Quite Light Weekend, the festival arm of Simon Buckley’s Not Quite Light photography project. Arriving from 7.30pm, guests were encouraged to explore the industrial space without being directly told the order of events, adding to the atmospheric feel – completed with a coffin which lay boldly in part of the bar room.

Going through into the larger event space where a stage was set up, the feel of the interior was a little like slaughter-house-meets-rehearsal-studio: in the most gripping way. Cultivating a captivating sense of unease all the time, the performers went in succession as Sean Clarke’s audiovisuals pulsed and ebbed around them, projected from a tower-like structure elevated over the room. Industrial imagery merging with human anatomy, pulsing lights and warped voices; this creative channelling by Sean emphasized industry’s ‘haunting’ presence in Salford and the lives it shattered in the process.

First to perform were Zirkus, the mysterious electronic duo of ABB and Pierre (offshoot of experimental rock band Flange Circus), assembled on the stage around a throbbing core of drone and noise equipment. The crowd watched captivated as the pair drew on disparate beats and pulses, bringing a bold sense of unease into the room, echoing the monotony of mills and instigating a cold metallic feel. The improvisational approach of Zirkus certainly leaves an impression, each flick of the finger and twist of a dial releasing new undercurrents into what became a seething atmosphere, building to boil. Intense projections from Sean hammered this home.

Hauntology Ruby and Simon

Following Zirkus’ impressive soundscape were Ruby Tingle and Simon Woolham, presenting an arresting musical and visual response to place. The artistic duo wore costume seemingly inspired by sewer workers: stained white overalls and headtorches that appeared boldly dramatic in the darkened space; the lights on their bodies rather than projections, this provided an intense intimacy. Building mood and sonic force as it developed, the joint performance channelled Simon’s chant-like vocals and Ruby’s soaring voice; with Simon at first assuming the form of a ‘sewer-gator’ – wearing the mask of a frog.  Cracking open themes of environmental damage, industrial wastage and the uneasy nature of urban beauty, this was artistry of eerie enchantment, culminating with Simon manipulating his voice through a piece of piping whilst Ruby looked on.

The evening’s events were after all a notable example of artistic innovation combining with environment: The White Hotel offering a gritty canvas for creativity. The crowd were very much aware that what they were witnessing was utterly unique, a one-night-only experience – something Not Quite Light Weekend delivers well. Crafted and curated with evident skill, the succession of performances, each with a slight break in between, did so with a sensitivity to the atmosphere being created; accumulating mood all the time.

Wilderness Hymnal

 Following fittingly after Ruby and Simon was Wilderness Hymnal, the dark music project of Javier G Wallis – delivering a vocal dynamism that delved further into themes of environmental destruction and the undoubtable power of nature. Against a projection of creature-meets-man pelt and patterns, bathed in brilliant rays of light from Sean’s visuals, this brought to life an ecological energy which had the room hooked, combined with flourishes of keys played with obvious emotion. There were a number of pieces from the latest Wilderness Hymnal album Anthropocene, underlining an artist unafraid of encountering difficult topics through art, as well immersing the audience in a distinct sound and utterly dynamic vocals. Whilst the recorded material often carries a heavy and tribal drumbeat, this instrumentation was not part of the live set – and yet this actually benefited the ‘Hauntology’ theme, Javier adding to the eeriness with soaring, spiralling heights.

Whilst Wilderness Hymnal was outwardly expressive, evocative, emotive – Black Lodge, the experimental DJ-Producer who followed, provided a powerful contrast of another plunge into darkness. Drawing on moods or urban menace and internal decay, Black Lodge presented a gripping gong performance: pounding a sense of presence with great magnitude, accompanied by an atmospheric group of collaborators. Lower lighting matched the surge of moodiness.

Another highly-anticipated performance of the evening was from XVelastín (the artist name of sound designer and artist Xavier Velastín, pictured below) who first appeared at Not Quite Light weekend 2018’s ‘Night Lights’ evening, with a unique performance which took inspiration from the River Irwell. For ‘Hauntology’ he displayed even greater artistic depth, delving into the palimpsest properties of the cityscape by  presenting an intense cyborg-style cabaret: man-meets-instruments in a visually and sonically powerful piece. With  waves of emotion, unearthed  urban mythologies and the magic of city space all exposed and opened, this stood out boldly as not just a thrillingly unique event but an artistic experiment.

XVelastin

Turning these exposed ideas into an opportunity to move and mesh then was LoneLady, who followed the performers with a dark and delightfully gripping DJ set which showed sensitivity to the moods already created.  This was DJing that showed not just inventiveness but intuition; each ebb and flow of the beat brought forth with industrial impact - something LoneLady is no stranger to, her work with sound often inspired by the cold and uncompromising aspects of city edgelands.

Hauntology was not just an evening but an experience – summoning artistry, environment and an audience into a unique enclosure of impression.

Photography with thanks to Helen Darby

By Emily Oldfield

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