Opera North Blog

RECON Festival: Who Pioneers, Where and How?

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With excitement building towards one of Yorkshire's most exciting arts festivals RECON, Andy Abbott, RECON co-director and Fellow in Music, University of Bradford tells us what to expect and why the festival is so important for the region. 

Frank Zappa said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. When Tom Hammond, James Islip and I first got together to discuss putting on a festival of the kind of art, music and film we like, the first hurdle was trying to work out what that stuff is called. ‘Leftfield’, ‘experimental’, ‘sound art’, ‘underground’, ‘weird’; for us, none of these descriptors really hit the nail on the head. We settled on ‘pioneering’ - with a few extra adjectives in the tag line - feeling this was a fair way to frame the acts we’d hope to attract as part of RECON.

The likes of Gang of Four, Blixa Bargeld, Oneohtrix Point Never, Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher, or Stephen O’Malley are regularly described by the mainstream press as pioneers in their field, but we were more interested in the reappraisal of acts like Vibracathedral Orchestra, The Bongoleeros, Etai Keshiki and Hameed Brothers Qawwal Party that RECON’s language could prompt. Whereas most gigs and even festivals accept and further the categories of ‘headliners’ and ‘supports’, or ‘touring acts’ and ‘local bands’, we hoped to prod at these and show that a band, artist or filmmaker can be considered pioneering regardless of their level of industry success, mainstream recognition or location.

This celebration of the local is easily done when you’re surrounded by the wealth of talent that Leeds and Bradford offer and have a dip into their legacies of against-the-grain culture. As regular DIY gig-goers, the three of us had experienced an epiphany seeing Bilge Pump melt the roof of some non-descript pub, and had our preconceptions of music tested at a Termite Club event in a dank cellar. The history of Leeds and Bradford’s underground scenes were equally inspiring: learning more about The 1 in 12 Club in Bradford - one of Europe’s longest running autonomous social centres - and the overlaps between art, music, performance and radical activism that laid the foundations for the post-punk, hardcore and noise scenes that emerged from the squats of the Woodhouse area of Leeds.

With a diverse programme that links venues as disparate as Howard Assembly Room, Wharf Chambers Co-operative Club, Gallery II at University of Bradford, The Brudenell Social Club, The Tetley and Leeds West Indian Centre, we hope to challenge notions of what it is to pioneer, where that happens and who does it. It’s commonly accepted that innovation comes ‘from above’, and progress requires industrial quantities of money and resources. We aim to show that innovation is as likely to emerge from the not-for-profit grassroots, marginal fringes and basements as it is from established cultural centres and hotspots with a line-up that mixes the legendary and internationally-recognised (the aforementioned Stephen O’Malley, Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld, James Yorkston, Lori Goldston, Anand Patwardhan, Zounds, David Larcher, Kenneth Anger and Slum Village to name a few) with the cultish mavericks of the North, many of whom are appreciated far and wide like Ashtray Navigations, Richard Dawson and Iration Steppas as well as first-time visitors like King Ayisoba from Ghana.

Grants from Arts Council England and Leeds Inspired have allowed us to commission new works and collaborations unique to the festival including Amorphous Orchestra’s Frozen Music that promises to melt the architecture of Leeds Art Gallery through a series of projection mapping and live improvised music experiments shaped by transmitted electrical brain activity; a ‘silent gig’ by That Fucking Tank and Yvonne Carmichael; and the meeting of thirty-piece anti-choir Juxtavoices and Bradford Scratch Orchestra at the German church hall of Delius Arts and Cultural Centre.  

We hope you’ll join us on the trail through the muddy depths of the underground to the high peaks of experimental sound art and film. As the old adage that appears in so many editions of DIY listing’s fanzine Cops and Robbers goes: ‘See you down the front!’

By Andy Abbott, RECON co-director and Fellow in Music, University of Bradford

RECON Festival runs across various venues in Leeds and Bradford from 18th – 29th September. Full details of the events can be found at here.

Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld perform Still Smiling in the Howard Assembly Room on 26 September followed by James Yorkston and David Thomas Broughton - with Juice Vocal Ensemble on 27 September. 

Photo by Steve Gullick

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