NEoN at Night 2019, Dundee, Sat 9 Nov
- David Pollock
- 13 November 2019
Field Music / credit: Kathryn Rattray Photography
Immersive technology, live music and visual art come together for a late night multi-arts shindig
Founded in 2009 to advance and promote digital media and industry in the north-east of Scotland – a region which has been bolstered in recent times by the great reputation of its universities and games industry, and the opening of V&A Dundee – the annual NEoN (North East of North) Festival this year chose to spotlight how digital systems can be used to effect social and political change. Over a seven-day period, a range of talks, screenings, events and exhibitions, and the three-day Re@ct Social Change Art Technology conference, subjects including climate activism, data strike and online activism were explored, many from the pop-up public hub at the Wellgate Centre.
Although the festival still had one more day to run, the symbolic finale took place on Saturday night at Dundee's Church venue, a dark and atmospheric former place of worship. There were two live bands playing amid the first half of the six-hour event, and while they both shared links with very contemporary areas of politics and activism, each was emphatically here for the entertainment value.
Founded after meeting in Cheltenham, which is not renowned as a hub for social activism, BAAST (named, kind of, for the Egyptian cat-goddess) are a duo who make riotous, apocalyptic electro-pop, and whose promo material memorably describes them as '50% gay and another 50% gay, making 100% gay music.' Producer Josh Petkovic-Short (aka Diessa) maintained non-speaking musical duties behind his equipment, while vocalist and MC Beth Griffin (aka Grove, who was recently seen in BAC's Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre during August) was a fiery presence at the foot of the stage, up close with the crowd.
The pair have a Fury Road kind of a visual style, and Grove sings lyrics about Whitney Houston, raps over a sample of Britney Spears' 'Toxic' and dedicates 'Fuck Your Landlord' to Millennial-fleecing property scalpers; 'fucking seize control!' they yell as the song dies down, urging their crowd into action. Yet there's also tenderness in the reverb-heavy spoken word of 'Skin' ('about growing up queer, mixed race and non-binary in a place that wasn't very diverse') and in their delicately romantic signature track 'Red Lion'.
'We've got a record out in January, it's a concept album about the aftermath of the First World War,' explains David Brewis at the outset of Field Music's headline set. 'There's a line I never thought I'd say!' The Sunderland quartet (guitarist Kev Dosdale is at home with his partner and new baby, so Brewis has 'learned to play synth' instead) have selected a special setlist which is heavy with their most political songs; although, as is the case with the opening hymn to Western privilege 'Count It Up', this is music bursting with an infectious, soulful groove.
'This is the bit where we do the first half of the concept album,' says Brewis. 'Give it five minutes then go to the bar if you want.' The record – which is named Making a New World – is played in two movements across the set, and features songs about war-winning French Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the founding of the League of Nations and Harold Gillies, who pioneered both skin graft and gender reassignment surgery. The lead track of the record, 'Only in a Man's World', is an infectious, Talking Heads-like groove about the evolution of the sanitary towel.
With an outing for School of Language's Trump-evoking 'Nobody Knows', and the effervescent gospel of maturity that is 'The Noisy Days Are Over', this overtly billed-as-political set is one which suits Field Music. Further compensation for Dosdale's absence came with the guest appearance of local Andrew 'Wasylyk' Mitchell on guitar late in the set, while the encore of 'Disappointed' repainted the song's perfect, Squeeze-like hook with expansive, arena-ready live power. As the closing club sets from DJs RHL and Wee Beastie approached, the music which had preceded them had proven empowering and enriching for the soul.