Words and photos by Ged Camera.

What do you want from a music festival? Is it the tried and tested staple you might find at a Donnington metal event, or would you take a dip and see smorgasbord such as Glastonbury, one where you are not quite sure what is about to enter your ears, but you are open to it? Well after Blue Monday, Manchester had a couple of events to tickle people’s ear lobes. Soup Kitchen featured the LooCoo event and Gullivers played host to the first Cute Owl experiment.

Dressing in binary colours of black and white seemed apt for a duo that dealt in electronic generated music. Joining forces as Code: Marla vs. Spire Cranes, Richard Smyth & C.J. Thorpe create ice cold, yet emotionally intense songs. The boys like their toys, and there is one gadget that appears to be an iPad sunken into a bass guitar. Let’s call it an iBase, a specially created unit (£1100 including shipment costs from Australia) that C.J. has not quite yet mastered but promises much when he does. To provide some warmth to the glacial sounds, up stepped Millie Davis for a few songs, in the manner that Alison Moyet fitted snugly into Yazoo.

When Stephanie Finegan took to the stage, it was a minimum of fuss. No introduction’s by the organisers or by herself. It could have quite easily have been interpreted as a warm up, a loosening of the vocal chords, only it wasn’t. Part of her modus operandi is to explore how sounds can be created and manipulated, whether it be guttural urgings, slapping the wooden frame of the guitar or, well, anything that’s within arms length.

These sounds are mixed with intriguing lyrics dispatched at a rate approaching a John Cooper Clarke effort, and allowed her to emerge as the winner of the Swansea Poetry Slam festival in 2016.
tAngerinecAt have been gigging extensively over the last 18 months or so around Manchester and much wider afield, but wherever they play, the duo leave a lasting impression. That could be due to the sight of someone playing a hurdy gurdy (part guitar, part keyboard, part wind up motor) whist spitting out fiery, politically charged lyrics. Or it could be efforts of the second member of the duo holding up an introducing to the crowd, a miniature glove puppet that resembles Rupert the Bear. When fully wound up and with the laptop churning out deep, penetrating, rhythms the intensity is palpable and will either fully engage with watchers or leave them cold.

The crowd had thinned out by the time that Cynthia’s Periscope took to the stage, and in a way to exemplify the theme of a musical experiment, perhaps it was the darkest act to perform. Paul Morrice is a one person entertainment factory, both visually and aurally. Taking to the stage he wore an ankle length dress, and, if the red stage lighting did not deceive my eyes too much, red lipstick seemingly applied in the manner that Heath Ledger wore in his role as the malevolent Batman.
There is a similar edginess to Cynthia’s performance, one that those remaining initially struggle to understand. Accompanied by a single drum and a few effect pedals, the self confessed creator of “weirdo pop varying from melodic and tender to brutal and cathartic” delivered songs demonstrating that ability.

The experiment seemed to have been a success.

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The Cute Owl Experimental Music Festival took place at Gullivers on Saturday 21st January, 2017.

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