State x New Forms festival - Paard van Troije, Den Haag, 11/12/10

Ah State X: one of the shining beacons of sense and good taste in the Dutch musical year.  This year revellers at the Paard and a number of other venues were treated to a line-up that boasted the ever-perverse in Kim Fowley and Lee Scratch Perry, exotic acts such as Hanggai and the sublimely academic in Arnold Dreyblatt.  Incendiary wangled a pass for the second evening (the Saturday) and, once fully stamped and registered,  promptly headed off to the Koorenhuis for to watch Mr Piano himself, Hauschka.
Except that we didn’t. We ended up sitting watching a Czech film in the Koorenhuis foyer which saw a bloke in a gasmask walk over some fields and hang out for a brief time in a dilapidated warehouse. It was a hell of a lot better than I’ve probably made it sound, trust me. Watching this and a couple of other short films (one about British drunks sitting on a sofa) meant that we turned up in time to see the redoubtable Haushka packing up. Off we went, feeling slightly stupid, to the Grote Zaal in the Paard to catch Mr Perry. No way would we be late for this. 
Well before the expected entrance of this venerable professor of dub, the place was heaving: slightly less so than for Sonic Youth 3 years ago, but full none the less and, unlike the ‘Youth gig, filled with an audience who had come to dance and enjoy themselves. After all the great man is getting on a bit and this must be one of the last times he’ll play a show like this. Eventually, Perry, adorned with clock and elaborate hat-come-timepiece strolled on and, after a lengthy introduction with much “how do you do-ing” and general indecipherable patois, clicked into a set of stream of consciousness observations whilst his band – magnificently showcased by the mighty Adrian Sherwood (he of On-U Sound system fame) -set up a rock-steady, occasionally enthralling subterranean amalgam of rumbling beats, daft noises and bubbling guitar runs. Actually the sound was magnificent, allowing Perry to play the existential joker and gnomic high priest of all things dub to great effect. An example of his playfulness: what seemed like 5 minutes, but in reality must have lasted a hell of a lot longer, involved Perry running through a demonstration (involving languid moves and shufflings on his behalf) to show that the act of touching his head meant he wasn’t dead. Other moves included a bizarre ritual about anticlockwise motions keeping you young. Eventually it was exit stage left for Lee Scratch Perry, (with most of us none the wiser, but feeling genuinely exhilarated) whilst the band kicked up a final storm (the bass runs very noticeable for their fluidity and power). A magnificent performance.
Incendiary then headed off to the Kleine Zaal to watch Arnold Dreyblatt; whose muse could not be further removed from the great Lee Scratch. Backed by two blokes, one on drums, the other on guitar (both of whom would wander off-stage when not needed), Dreyblatt laid down a brutal, beautiful soundscape using an instrument that looked like a double bass but I suspect wasn’t. Not in the classical sense, in any case. The musical tone was austere, minimal, but infused with a sensual power: most noticeable were the exploitations of gradations of tone and harmony against a rhythmical, repetitive tempo. At times this all combined to create a throbbing and elegiac dance music. The austerity of the gig was partly down to the music, but also down to the unassuming nature of the performers, (Dreyblatt looked like an accountant on a fag break), which made it all the more weird/annoying/funny (delete as appropriate) when some bearded person dressed in what this magazine has been informed were “hipster” clothes jumped on stage and started dancing in a gushing and self-adulatory manner to the stew being cooked up. Dreyblatt looked like he wanted to kill the imposter, but not even a rage against Feckless Youth could divert him from bringing the piece to its natural, could say clinical) ending. All in all, heroic stuff, for many reasons.
More reflective vibes were being provided in the Grote Zaal by those masters of romantic dubstep: Darkstar. These Mancunians have taken their city’s musical heritage (soul, electronics, atmospherics, morbid introspection levened by caustic wit) and fed it through the Hyperdub label’s mincer. Standing moodily in a line behind their synths - almost parodying the Human League in their “Yuri Gagarin” phase, Darkstar is adept at creating subtle moods and atmospheres. The singer has a hell of a voice and they have some fine songs: the Human League cover Gold, the beautiful Under One Roof and the glorious half-instrumental single, Aidy’s Girl is a Computer. What is lost in the static nature of the stage presence is more than made up for in their music. A fine band.
A quick pint and off to the Kleine Zaal to take in the boisterous eccentricities of Volcano the Bear, two academic looking lads who are into messing about with weird instruments, one of which is very long and makes noises like the horn blares off the Faust Tapes. I don’t know what it is. It’s easy to have a pop at this whole “interesting instrumentation” and wacky stance. It is all a bit Henry Cow and there’s a lot of “it” about. Still this was a great show with plenty of energy, some affecting tunes, drive and a surprising amount of rock swagger. Note to self, check out more. We have the LPs… A break ensued before we went to take in Warsaw Village Band, whose members were taking an age to set up (maybe this was down to setting up their eclectic array of instruments which ranged from the Suka to a set of turntables). Still once started, all went swimmingly, exhilaratingly, even. There’s something very practical about their approach: their marvellous hybrid of Polish folk and mainstream modern pop and dance is crafted with a fine attention to detail.
In one way they have the same manifesto as Hungary’s Transylvanians, but their music is less giddy, more aligned to melody and reflection, and driven by some beautiful close harmonics. There were times when the soaring vocals combined with the most improbable musical backdrop to make a sound that wasn’t far off transcendent. The audience slowly stopped talking and started to really get into it, helped by a band of Polish expats near the front, whose wild abandon was charming and inspiring: in fact they helped make this marvellous show the highlight of the evening for us. After this the charms of Joker sadly receded before the prospect of a hot bath, but I truth – as it always is in our experience with State X, we’d experienced sensory overload. A top, top evening, long may this least pretentious of highbrow festivals continue.