In Haunt

Do you know folk horror when you see it? Manchester Folk Horror Festival III is preparing to plunge attendees into an esoteric realm of live music, weird art, film, spoken word, talks and much more exploring the genre on Saturday 1 February within The Northern Quarter’s hidden haven of The Peer Hat.

Running from 1pm until the early hours, underground and overground, this is a unique opportunity to see some of the most pioneering creatives cracking open experiences beyond the human, the sinister side of folklore; involving everything from an audio-visual artworks and ambient soundscapes to avant-garde cello playing and even underground anti-pop.

Folk Horror Festival III

The impressive all-dayer format of the festival highlights the variety on offer – and this eclecticism has been a key feature of Manchester Folk Horror Festival since the onset. The first edition was launched back in 2017, significantly organised by Nick Alexander of The Peer Hat – determined to bring a range of creative artists together in their explorations of other-worldliness, animism, the rural and urban weird, folklore, The Uncanny and nature. 2018 then saw the festival incorporate even more; including an academic panel discussion, artistic installations and music downstairs until the early hours. This year, creative content will take place both upstairs in the main bar and snug of the venue and also downstairs on-stage.  According to Nick:

“My feeling this year is that I'm hoping to pull away from the academic/anthropological and into the experienced. I want this to be a guiding tenet for future events; where 'folk horror' becomes code for a peculiar revolution within the imaginal. ‘Find the others’.”

For 2020, the festival approach has widened further into the realm of esoterica, encountering themes such as ‘Invisible Neighbours’ and ‘Hidden Devotions’, considering animism and the super-normal in our everyday lives. An example? From unusual ritual traditions to how certain figures achieve ‘cult-like’ status, folk horror and esoterica continue to unfold. Manchester Folk Horror Festival has in turn evolved to reflect this, with the third edition featuring a range of artists ‘who look to evoke to one degree or another, something of the incomprehensible consciousness’.

The line-up includes the art-music collaboration of Common Eider, King Eider (involving Rob Fisk, Vicky Fong, Andee Connors, Andrew Weathers and Blaine Todd); an enchantingly dark experience layered with drone, viola, choral arrangements and field recordings. Other artists include Taras Bulba; the duo of Fred Laird and Jon Blacow, opening up ambient soundscapes shaped by Eastern and Asian sounds, whilst Rotten Bliss is the creation of Jasmine Pender; an avant-garde artist playing cello through FX pedals, fused with an art rock edge and powerful vocals.

Incorporating electroacoustic music in an utterly unique way will be Dr Mark Pilkington - the mind behind ‘Thought Universe’ (EMS) - an independent  electronic music studio specialising in composing music that investigates art and science, and also his stage name. Mark will be unleashing his audio-visual piece Bug Data at the festival; aiming to give a voice to unseen creatures living in our waterways.

Bug Data

This is a fascinating scientific approach, considering the displacement of non-human species by making their experiences audible through creative sonification and data visualisation. Mark spoke to Haunt Manchester to tell us more:

“I’m really excited to be performing at this year’s Folk Horror Festival III at The Peer Hat. It will be a great opportunity to perform a new piece of electronic music called ‘Bug Data’ that extracts data of macroinvertebrates gathered from dammed rivers in the North West of England. This piece is part of an ongoing body of electroacoustic compositions that investigates and addresses ecological concerns affecting multiple species.

“During the festival, I will also perform a number of additional musical works that reflect an ecological theme. Sound is my preferred medium of choice, it encircles, transforms and questions visual dominance. The beauty of nature is shrouded in mystery; a strangeness has arisen between cultural and political differences that has misrepresented folklore through an articulation of myth. Our appreciation of nature has become a human-centric endeavour in all thoughts and matter. Our understanding of the world is based on visual dominance; we see the world in our own image. What if we could see and hear the world as a creature that inhabits our waterways? 

“‘Bug Data’ is a data-driven sound piece that adheres to an energy outside of the human condition, in this particular case the distribution of unseen species forms a musical composition to question the fragility of ourselves.

Mark Pilkington

"The samples of species taken from the rivers was a chance occurrence, a scientific way to present an image of typologies, behaviours and habits of macroinvertebrates that inhabit our rivers. When this data is applied to the parameters of music composition an evolution of ecological frameworks takes place presenting us with an experience that is no longer fixed on past ideologies, but adhering to a dynamic system that interprets music as nature-as-process. My musical gestures and articulation of sound becomes part of this process: offering new insights into the way multispecies cohabitation can be experienced. The data samples of macro-vertebrates has been kindly supplied by Dr. Francois Edwards of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“It will be a fantastic experience to engage with audiences outside of academic and institutional settings. The Manchester Folk Horror Festival offers a platform to promote diversity from a cross-section of multidisciplinary artists.”

 There is also plenty more audio-visual performance, with Waterflower being the project of Sabine Moore – taking audiences into a combination of 19th Century Art Nouveau inspiration and multi-layered electronica with a touch-sensitive synthesiser. A Sci-fi journey coming to the stage? It certainly sounds like an experience.

Also performing will be Chelsea Hare - the creative expression of Tom Hollingworth – an incredibly diverse palette of music with a unique and profound voice. And in terms of unique voices, The Fates are another highly anticipated feature; led by Manchester punk icon Una Baines, charged with a DIY ethos and plenty of attitude. The Fates released their LP Furia back in 1985; a fascinating fusion of folk and drone, drawing together influential members of the original Manchester punk scene with the inspiration of the 16th century Pendle Witches. Una told us why bringing The Fates to Manchester Folk Horror Festival III matters:

“There is more to this world that can be seen with our eyes. We sense it and use our creativity to express it. That is what this festival draws upon and allows us to experience something usually hidden. The Fates are moving between the light and dark and reveal some mysteries that are alien to patriarchal thought.”

Thought-provoking and experimental instrumentation as well as ideas seem a key feature of the festival, with Ecka Mordecai being another highly-acclaimed artist involved; not only an expressive cellist, but also known for the use of unusual instruments such as egg-flutes. 

This is a festival where genres are broken open, after all. Unnerving orchestral music created using cut-ups, layers and loops, plunging the audience into the fascinating piece that will be SPIRITUALIST CHURCH///Symphony, is composer Gary Wilkinson. He says:

“It was actually the Folk Horror Festival that inspired me to create my piece SPIRITUALIST CHURCH///Symphony which explores the terrors I would imagine as a child and the hauntings in the working class houses of the mining village where I grew up. Having been inspired by the event previously, I was totally thrilled to be included in this year’s festival.

By Gary Wilkinson

Becca Smith“I create orchestral music using cut ups and loops of public domain classical pieces which I mash together to make new music. Yes, it’s a different way to create music but The Peer Hat is great for embracing acts that are different and the festival has brought a lot of different acts together which creates a great opportunity for us all to reach a wider audience.”

The Manchester Folk Horror Festival continues to be an event where the audience are not just passive consumers – they are involved, and often inspired. Celebrating this is the return of the highly popular Stranger Than Life Drawing - an artistic experience led by practitioner and artist Becca Smith, guiding those involved to venture into their own eerie and surprising creative work. According to Becca (Pictured left - Becca Smith at Cuckstoolpit Hit, Macclesfield, the site of a ducking stool and pond, used for an outdoor life drawing tour of sites where 'Cursted Queanes' (women) were punished in the town's history):

"Stranger-than-life drawing comes from my visual, conceptual and spiritual obsession with cinematic folk horror and The Gothic in the English landscape and liminal spaces. To participate in the session is to be part of a ritual, the act of creating a likeness, the veneration of an idol. The images produced seem other-worldly, childlike, the product of a seance."

Poetry and sound will also come together in a folk horror fusion, as writer Emily Oldfield takes to the stage - reading new pieces inspired by her own Edgelandia explorations of the mysterious Winter Hill - alongside Flange Circus; the enchanting hauntronica trio. Flange Circus also unleashed the superbly sinister soundscape for the Rural Eerie at the Gothic Manchester Festival last year (at The Peer Hat) and it is their alchemical blend of dark bass, intense electronica, field recordings and keys that will surely set the scene. The band told us more:

“We're delighted to be playing the Folk Horror Festival. As a band, we don't often fit in with many other events like this, but this feels different - this feels like somewhere we should be playing. We're excited to do an abridged version of Rural Eerie that we performed last October and to, once again, soundtrack the brilliant poetry of Emily Oldfield and the writings of a very special guest...someone to whom Folk Horror fans needs no introduction!" 

As well as performance poetry, another element of the festival is a series of talks and spoken word; featuring author and musician Phil Legard (also one half of the band Hawthonn), photographer Sarah Hannant and writer and Fortean Times contributor Christopher Josiffe.

(Pictured below: Emily Oldfield and Flange Circus performing 'Rural Eerie' at Gothic Manchester Festival 2019 - by Ian Drew) 

By Ian Drew

Plunge into the peculiar, crack open comfort zones and look beyond within this unique festival. Tickets are available online, starting at £8. 

By Emily Oldfield 

Image credits - Image 1: with thanks to Nick Alexander, Image 2 & 3: with thanks to Dr Mark Pilkington, Image 4: provided by Becca Smith, Image 5: with thanks to Ian Drew. 

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