Monday, 1 December 2008

Hokaben, 93 Feet East, 7-8-9 November

Hokaben Festival @ 93 Feet East. 7-8-9 October

Culture casts a wide net these days. John Cage pulled off his 4’ 33” of silence all the way back in 1952, so in a sense extreme music has already been pushed as far as it can ever go. Equally, listeners tend to accept almost anything on a CD as music, even if they can’t stomach it or don’t understand it.

Aufgehoben do their damndest to push that concept to its limits. Two drums engage in a perpetual clatter-battle backed by a guitar tricked out to deliver notes as white noise, and behind them chirrups and ambient sighs are teased from a tabletop of buttons and boxes. People are standing very still, earplugs safely installed. Concentrate. Concentrate! This is art! This is avant garde!

Aufgehoben aren’t the only band this weekend to pose the very open question: music, art or noise? Hokaben is billed as bringing the weirdest, heaviest and craziest bands together with, in their words, “not a foppish indie band or yawnsome postrock band in sight.” There are beards, there are moustaches, and there are males - lots of them. An asexual politeness pervades proceedings, almost extending into a tolerance rather than an appreciation of the bands, only a handful of which are well-known. The rest may have consigned themselves by default to a fringe existence: Bilgepump, Chops, Arabrot. Not top 40 stuff, on the whole.

Hokaben challenges the accepted boundaries of music, so much so that during another set of ear-warping heaviness the thought creeps in: is it possible that not all the bands playing are even supposed to be good? Guys like Trencher and DJ Scotch Egg tinker knowingly on the divide between music and noise, staying just on the right side of listenable. Occasionally though, the line-up veers into wildly different territory, forcing you to think a bit harder about what is and is not music. Illegal Seagull ‘curate’ the Gallery Bar on Saturday, and it’s basically a disaster. Looking like they got lost on the way to Bar Music Hall doesn’t really get the beardies onside, and their music is pure trash – garbled shouts over tacky backing tracks. Most take one look and leave, but you can’t help wondering if this was a Hokaben joke, pitting noise against noise and exposing the prejudice of one ‘alternative’ crowd against another. The Shoreditch kids and the beardos may like to pretend the other doesn’t exist, but in a sense they have the same ideas and ambitions for their art, driven by concepts of confrontation and alienation.

As a three-dayer, Hokaben is a weird one. By removing any trace of corporate sponsorship and branding, the Plan B magazine organisers have created a unique space for the audience to engage with music, art and noise. Playing different kinds of experimentalism off against each other, Hokaben exposes a rich seam of adventurism and artistry situated well and truly on the fringes.