Meakusma Festival 2019: Five key performances

  • The small Belgian event with a bold experimental vision turns four.
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  • Meakusma Festival is defined by "patience" said Ben Thomson, AKA Ben UFO, as he bobbed along to 7FO + Tapes's live show last Saturday afternoon. This could be interpreted in many ways, but what he was getting at was that, every year, 1000-odd heads travel to the east Belgian town of Eupen with open minds, willing to be challenged. The festival is also about presenting exciting projects from experimental artists. It could be described as a cross between Unsound in Kraków and the now-defunct Nachtdigital, a mix of avant-garde and DIY aesthetics. Last weekend's fourth edition expanded to include a programme of talks, multiple sound installations in the lush fields surrounding the venue and, for the first time, concert shows in two nearby churches. Meakusma might be small, but its cultural offering was vast. Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
    Decha Alongside Tolouse Low Trax and Jan Wagner, Viktoria Wehrmeister, AKA Decha, is the frontwoman of Toresch. Together they have released two popular records on Vladimir Ivkovic's Offen label. For that project, Wehrmeister's Dadaist vocals are the perfect companion to Tolouse Low Trax's chugging industrial exotica. Her solo work, though, is more charming and poetic. Meakusma's cosy Heuboden area, which fit about 100 bodies curled up on rugs, was the perfect place to enjoy her intimate show. Standing draped in a long white shawl, she comfortably performed tracks from her minimalist LP, Hielo Boca, released earlier this year. The warm melody of "Voy A Ver" and the abstract murmurs of "Zurdupi," with Wehrmeister improvising atop, were truly arresting highlights.
    John T. Gast John T. Gast is a myth. Something of an enigma in the experimental scene, his music feels like entering into a fantasy world of wildly eccentric sound. His live set in the main Halle on Saturday morning began with a looping female vocal sample asking the crowd to "respect me." Bathed in red lights and using an iPad controller, mixing desk, torch and a small arsenal of pedals, he unleashed an onslaught of galloping dub rhythms and earworm melodies. The intensity reminded me of Dean Blunt's Babyfather performances. Halfway through, a large strobe light began flashing every three or four seconds for a solid 30 minutes. People thrashed around, creating a dizzying freeze-frame effect. One guy let out a string of hysterical loud screams in appreciation—or was it despair?
    7FO + Tapes Sunlight burst through the clouds during 7FO + Tapes's debut collaborative set at the Hinterhof stage on Saturday afternoon. Putting this show outdoors was smart programming for the midpoint of the festival, given that both artists are highly influenced by dub and psychedelic sounds. (The organisers brought in a huge sound rig for the occasion.) The duo played reggae-infused digi-dub, building on the music of Jackson Bailey, AKA Tapes, who commanded the sequencing using his Buchla Music Easel, a tape deck and a MacBook. Meanwhile, the Osaka-born musician 7FO jammed twinkling melodies on his Fender Stratocaster. Revellers poured out of their tents from the nearby campsite, grazing on cheese toasties washed down with coffee and fine Belgian beers. One older raver, dressed head to toe in fluro, flailed about for the entirety of the performance. After the show, Tapes celebrated his recent engagement (the festival was his stag do) by dishing out his favourite pickles (Peipsi Kurk), which he had brought with him from his new home in Estonia.
    Tashi Wada Group feat. Julia Holter & Corey Fogel 500 punters shuffled across a sleepy Eupen on Saturday night, heading towards the centrally located Nikolauskirche, an ornate gothic cathedral erected in the 1720s. The most interesting thing about the Tashi Wada Group show was how the three musicians—Tashi Wada, Julia Holter and Corey Fogel—interacted with each other, using the vast space to bring Wada's latest psychoacoustic record, Nue, to life. Holter took to the altar, playing Sakamoto-esque keys and chimes, while panning between celestial and guttural singing. Fogel, the drummer, delivered spare percussion to the right side of the pews. Wada himself was perched like the phantom of the opera on the rear balcony, playing the organ and a set of uilleann pipes. After the show, they each took a bow from their respective spots. It was spellbinding.
    Köhn Discovering new music is one of the best things about Meakusma. At one point on Saturday evening, I found time to explore some of the festival's more tucked-away spaces. Up a stairwell above the central bar, across a pokey hallway and down another short flight of stairs was the discreet Speicher area, a converted storage loft, filled with wooden beams and exotic plants, that felt like a bedroom. Here Belgian artist Jürgen De Blonde, AKA Köhn, was in the middle of playing live to a small yet packed crowd of people in the know. A prolific producer, De Blonde's music meanders wonderfully across a spectrum of sounds, touching on glitch, shoegaze, kraut and hypnagogic pop. Some dozed while others watched attentively. Everyone cheered when De Blonde raised the sign of the horns during a particularly metal section. Photo credits / Caroline Lessire - Lead, John T. Gast Adèle Grégoire - Decha, Köhn Fabienne - Tashi Wada Group feat. Julia Holter & Corey Fogel