Transmissions VI festival in Ravenna  –  16th March 2013 – Bronson Club

Day three of this annual festival celebrating experimental arts and culture featured musical acts from Italy, USA, Britain and Finland. This is a brief eye-witness account of what went down:

Julie’s Haircut from Northern Italy played a lively and quite enjoyable set. They started out sounding like Joy Division and wound up some  interesting variations of Krautrock. The hugely talented Valerio Così on sax and laptop was a special guest but not used to the best effect. Disappointingly, his contribution was all but buried in the mix.

The star of the show – Daniel Hiiggs onstage at the Bronson.

Daniel Higgs was a revelation. I’ve long been a fan of his solo recordings but wasn’t sure what to expect from a live show. With his ragged grey beard, hobo clothes and astonishing banjo playing, he both looks and sounds he’s stepped from the 19th century.

He commanded the stage for well over an hour to force a rapid rethink for anyone who might have dismissed the banjo as a quaint, but rather limited, old-timey instrument.

His lyrics are mystical, semi-biblical tracts containing pearls of wisdom buried in surreal flights of fancy.

His are poetic missives from an upside down world where fishes fly and birds swim and where, as he says a wise man once told him, to live with freedom in your soul “you have to be mad but not crazy”.

Grumbling Fur consists of Brits Alexander Tucker and festival curator Daniel O’Sullivan. They had a trestle table each full of gizmos and electronic gadgets of which O’Sullivan’s electric violin was the only ‘real’ instrument. Their sound was a incongruous assembly of abstract electro noise and Human League style commercial pop. They busied themselves for over half an hour by which time the small audience that had packed around the stage for Daniel Higgs slowly dispersed or sat on the ground waiting for it to stop. It was self-indulgent, directionless and quite abysmal.

Phaoraoh Overlord strike a pose.

Pharaoh Overlord from Finland were nothing short of a relentless metal juggernaut. Four guitars blast the senses while skinny as a rake vocalist Janne Westelund taps into venomous rage that is part Thom Yorke, part Johnny Rotten.

Ex-This Heat drummer Charles Hayward was special guest for this show and added even more substance (and volume) to their sound. They don’t depart much from the riff-centred formula but they ended the evening on a high note and ensured left with their ears ringing.