Crater Lake Festival: A First Impression of Leeds’ Noise Scene

The Leeds noise scene is fairly unknown, but it’s a movement that deserves attention. As a newbie to noise music, Crater Lake Festival provided the perfect opportunity for me to experience the diversity of this rather unconventional genre.

Surprisingly, the first point that I pick up on is not related to noise music at all. Wharf Chambers continues to astonish me with how welcoming a place it is, and tonight is no different. It’s a place where any sort of person from any sort of background is able to feel comfortable and safe. The sound of children playing hide and seek and the bustle of conversation between friend and stranger alike stands as a testament to the aegis that the amorous vibe of Wharf Chambers provides for its patrons.

As I walk into the Wharf Chambers stage room, the first thing I see is a stack of old TVs sitting ominously in front of the stage. My curiosity is already peaked. However, this was to be the instrument of a later act; for now noise artist Kay Hill takes to the stage to provide my first ever noise experience. The atmosphere he creates is otherworldly. I am able to close my eyes, and imagine myself on some distant alien planet. The different textures and sounds emulate certain aspects of this new world; the creatures, the geography, the atmosphere. By closing my eyes I find myself encapsulated in this intergalactic cocoon. I like this experience, and the best thing is, there’s more to come.

Next up is Dale Cornish with what can only be described as a ‘bass assault’. You know when you’re listening to house music on a massive PA and the bass drum momentarily penetrates your body to create that tingly feeling? Think of that, only painfully elongated and twice as powerful in the intimate setting of Wharf Chambers. One eventually concludes halfway through his set that the sound Cornish produces is designed to make the listener feel uncomfortable, yet there’s something strangely cathartic about the continuous bass rumble that attacks every fibre of my being. The rhythmic bass flourishes that intermittently play behind the main battering sprinkles the composition with a strange, hypnotic catchiness that at once maintains the listener’s attention span.

As the evening progresses, I learn that noise music is aimed at evoking different sensations. Dylan Nyoukis and Kieron Piercy provide a very creepy undercurrent to this evenings antics. Through tape manipulation they are able to create a mood so unsettling I start to wonder whether Wharf Chambers itself is haunted. The soundscape is made all the more terrifying by the implementation of scary voice samples. One screams in delirious pain and another one says something unintelligible in slow, satanic tones. One can only wonder what the infant on the shoulders of his dad is thinking.

The final act I see is Stephen Cornford and is the one that uses the old TVs I so meticulously spied at the beginning of the evening. The stage room goes dark all of a sudden. Suddenly the TVs burst into a static fuelled rage. Cornford is manipulating the TVs via sensors attached to the screens, and the effect is psychedelic. The static on the TV screens morphs, twists, lightens, darkens, and bounces like the mind of some unhinged madman. The static is the actual representation of the noise being emitted from the speakers, and it’s oppressively captivating to say the least.

Following Crater Lake Festival, my first impressions of the Leeds noise scene are overwhelmingly positive. The thing that struck me most about noise is the escapism it conjures up. The waves of noise become ethereal in quality as they create soundscapes that echo the endless manifestations of the cosmos. I believe that music shouldn’t be confined to limited boundaries and structure, and in this day and age of generic boy bands and prosaic pop culture, it’s nice to think that a little enclave of people in Leeds feels the same way.

Jake Leigh-Howarth



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