A bitterly cold Friday evening last week set the scene for the opening of Bergen’s very own EKKO fest, now in its 11th year. EKKO is held at Østre – “a house for sound-art and electronic music” – an exhibition space with a 250 capacity gig venue upstairs. The size has proven to be a gift and a curse for EKKO organisers, but Østre remains at the fore of Bergen’s experimental music offering.
The night opened with production-duo WALLS performing their Sound Houses project – a posthumous collaboration of sorts with Daphne Oram, inventor of the Oramics synthesizer and a pioneer on a range of other electronic music fronts. Despite a frustratingly unsubtle approach to progression at times, the dark but quirky sounds of Oram’s revamped and reworked sound-experiments did well to set an initial atmosphere that could be built upon as the night progressed.
Luke Abbott followed: an extremely talented UK producer whose recent releases on James Holden’s Border Community are characterised by the threading together of live recordings, and whose live performances have been known for a healthy dose of improvisation. His set created a beautiful soundscape that was diverse, but held together by an overarching sense of spaciousness that invited the idea of getting carelessly lost amongst. Abbott evoked a lot of off-kilter vibes that toyed with the idea of techno, prodding at its margins, before arriving in an extremely moving ambient section that left you asking how you got here but not really caring anyway. This fluidity was confusing, but obviously commendable, and meant that before you’d had too much time to think about it you were suddenly immersed in the more straightforward pulsating piano-techno-victory-lap that saw out the end of the set.
EKKO’s opening night found its headliner in the way of Sam Shackleton, who I’d seen walk into the venue beforehand wearing a leather trench coat and a bucket hat, briefcase in hand – like a Batman villain armed with bass frequencies, an impressive collection of MIDI controllers and a lovely Lancashire accent. Shackleton’s blistering Berlin-era compositions provided a logical apex to the night. Whether consciously or otherwise, his futuristic, forward-thinking and trance-like techno puts its jungle and dubstep roots on full display, and as a result carries the tremendous weight of its UK rave culture heritage. The first 20 minutes of the set was characterised by incredible music but lacked that sense of being carried off into an otherworldly void by it. I realised I was being caught off-guard by not having all my senses completely thwarted – the large screen that had been erected behind the performers for the lightshow not compensating for the lack of strobe lights. Something eventually clicked though: the visuals became more complex and with that they felt properly in-sync with the music, proving to be a central aspect of the evening’s concept as a whole.
photo 1: residentadvisor.net
photo 2: mutek-media.herokuapp.com