White Noise is a new festival based at The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, in Cumbria; its manifesto to inspire young people under 26 to reflect on and question the world around them through a mixture of music, theatre, spoken word and art.
Friday began with Sh!t Theatre’s, “Woman’s Hour”. Billed as a satirical exploration of how women are portrayed in the media, it was well constructed with lively and enthusiastic performances. The two leads provided some good vocals which carried the musical aspects well as the performance covered a range of well-worn feminist issues and stereotypes. Some of the comedy grated but was well received by the almost exclusively youthful female audience. Ultimately, this was an engaging but slightly underwhelming hour, but maybe that’s just a male perspective. (6/10)
After a brief break for refreshments in one of the Brewery’s bars the Malt Room beckoned. Under the banner of “New Transmissions”, the evening offered a diverse selection of Cumbrian talent. First up was Annemarie Quinn, a young singer songwriter from Keswick. Armed with a growing collection of varied material, a great voice and an infectious stage presence, her hour long set was a real success. (8/10)
Cassie provided a complete contrast as the South Cumbrian duo pounded the ears with their powerful math rock. Technically excellent and well received by many, this certainly challenged the expectations of some of the more youthful audience contingent. There could be no doubting the band’s talent but minimal interaction with their audience left a nagging sense of experiencing a musical masterclass at the expense of a little soul. (7/10)
Named after a roundabout in their home town, Hardwicke Circus (9/10) are a group of 18 to 20 year olds based in Carlisle. Purveyors of classic rock n’ roll, reminiscent of early 1970’s Rolling Stones at their very best. Armed with a set full of self-penned songs that do justice to their swaggering self-confident stage presence, they impress both musically and visually. Every so often a band comes along that has something special. Dave Robinson, (one time Stiff and Island Records supremo) recently saw them in London and promptly became their manager. He was on hand to lend support on Friday night and his presence will surely provide contacts and open doors. They may be out of step with current UK musical trends but this is a young band with talent to burn and huge potential if they can find their audience.
Saturday afternoon saw some intimate acoustic performances together with arts, theatre and poetry workshops. Arriving early that evening it was pleasing to see some of the fruits of these events displayed in the foyer bar.
Luke Wright, a poet performing an hour-long play, “What I learned from Johnny Bevan,” sounded an intriguing prospect in the theatre. Entering, it was immediately apparent that the audience, predominantly aged between 30 and 60 did not fit the target demographic.
So what did we get? Well actually something rather special. Here was a tale of friendship and disillusionment with astute political commentary on the rise, fall and betrayal of New Labour and beyond; a thought provoking commentary on the clash of urban working class and suburban middle class values and expectations; a telling portrayal of student life in the 1990’s and how dreams and the demands of the material world pull people apart. This was not just a broad sweep of things. The characterisations of student life and of those who currently populate the PR world of music festivals showed a great and accurate grasp of detail. Lyrically excellent, with thoughtful changes in pace and some impressive audio-visuals, Luke Wright’s performance (10/10) was stunning. More than anything else during the weekend, this achieved the festivals’ agenda of questioning and reflecting on the world around us; such a pity that so few within the target aged range were there to witness it.
So where were the lost youth? They were to be found queuing for music at the Malt room where security had to create a separate line to issue under 18 wristbands. Anya Asia (6/10) had already begun by the time your reviewer managed to negotiate the queues. The amalgam of raga, jungle, drum n’ bass was really well received by the audience waiting for The Dub Pistols. Such was the enthusiasm of some of the more youthful elements it was tempting to wonder whether the band had bused in their own teenage fan club from Carlisle. Anya certainly has the voice and personality for success but she and her co-conspirators on decks and vocals seemed like a work in progress with some rough edges.
It had been evident from early evening that there was a much broader age range present on Saturday with many buying tickets just for the headliners. Whether late night in a festival tent or in a low beamed, hot sweaty venue like the Malt Room, the Dub Pistols (8/10) are guaranteed to make an audience move. The mix of rock, ska, techno and anything else with an infectious beat, combined with the knowledge of how to work an audience could not fail; and many in this audience weren’t new converts, singing along lyrics and choruses. The Pistols did what they do best, leaving the crowd hot and sticky, wanting more and more and more.
Was the first White Noise Festival a success? In terms of audience appreciation and quality of performance it undoubtedly was.
Did it inspire reflection and questioning for pre-26 year olds? It without doubt opened ears to a variety of musical genres and opinionated spoken word and Friday’s crowds largely matched the target audience. It’s a pity that Luke Wright’s most inspired social and political commentary was only witnessed by a handful of that age group.
Overall rating: 8/10
Author and photo credit: Trev Eales