Bring on the High & Dry Launch Night 2009 – Half fundraiser, half teaser and a whole lotta fun. Set in the darkened underground lair of the Oxford Arts Factory we seemed a world away from the industrial, gritty backdrop that has previously been synonymous with events put on by the Figureight clan. Yet, even though the fluoro ridden seediness of our surrounds threatened to put a strangle hold on the evening, once down the wide staircase my posse and I were immediately engulfed by the sheer impressiveness of what lay in front of us.
We arrived just in time to catch Brackets kicking off in the main room. Playing to an arriving audience is never fun, but a few songs into the set Brackets managed to use their on stage presence and obvious band dynamic to draw in quite an assembly of listeners and create an intimate feel in an initially dispersed and sparse crowd.
The multi-sensual experience was then introduced as the crowd was entertained by performance troupe B-erth. Spectators were presented with larger than life insect like creatures, lab technicians, glass cages and incredibly long and complicated calculations were also thrown into the mix. In a clever move to ensure audience interaction and awesomeness maximisation, the beings of the live art presentation eventually escaped and were joined by others to rove around the venue for the rest of the evening.
Next up was Unkle Ho from Elefant Traks who gave an absolutely rockin’ performance filled with great samples and fun beats, accompanied by trumpet, theremin and an assortment of other equally obtuse instruments. Amazingly this crowd favourite brushed off the praise as only just excusable due to jet lag. If those fantastic beats were a reaction to sleep deprivation, I say wash down a handful of No Doze with Red Bull and keep it coming.
Wandering between rooms, we were intrigued by James Nichols & The Dub Table Tactile Experiment. This amazing feat of engineering and imagination lets the operator control prerecorded Dub loops by placing, sliding and rotating handheld controllers across the table surface. With people swarming the table it was hard to get a good grasp on the ingenious contraption, however, even more fascinating was watching the captivation and amazement on other people’s faces as they interacted with the device and created their own music. If you are ever lucky enough to be in the same place at the same time as this table of dubly goodness I strongly suggest you have a fiddle.
Tearing ourselves away from the Dub Table we caught The Phonies. These guys started out strong and only got better. Their sound, a fusion of Hip-hip, Dub and Jazz was delivered to perfection by the band and engaging front man Joel Rappaport. The Phonies have really developed a big following over the last few years and it is easy to see why. They have an amazing energy on stage with a tongue-in-cheek attitude that the kids go crazy for.
The last band of the night was Juke Baritone and the Swamp Dogs. These guys ROCK, in a surprisingly difficult way to describe! Perhaps their sound could be likened to a strange aural concoction of a gypsy influenced Tom Waits doing cabaret from a swamp location? Maybe, but not exactly, either way we’re definitely getting warm.
Throughout the evening there was definitely an unspoken warmth and sense of community – a great mixture of people all enjoying a brilliantly put together night filled with solid performances. This is a testament to the focus of the organisers and indeed a reflection of their very dogma. Bring on High & Dry V.2 I say, we are certainly intrigued.
Photos By Stewart Rimes and Iona Uzell