TUSK Festival has been responsible for bringing dozens of local, regional and international artists into Europe’s experimentalist circuit. Next month it returns to Newcastle and Gateshead for a ninth edition – here the team’s own Joe Murray reflects on what makes it tick.

In 2011 a new name appeared on the UK experimental music scene.  Boasting a three-day  line-up that included local heroes, new faces, and bone fide avant-garde legends, Newcastle & Gateshead’s TUSK Festival 2011 was a banger from start to finish.

TUSK’s ninth consecutive event launches in October 2019 and will bring our artist roster to well over 200, showcasing  some of the most vital and exciting musical artists from across the world.  In addition to the stellar line-up, 2019 will again see us screening a selection of carefully curated films, spawn a writhing plethora of fringe music events, art exhibitions and workshops across a number of venues in Newcastle & Gateshead.

Right from the start, TUSK’s aim was simple: to bring the artists we love to the North East who would otherwise never visit.  Too often, the artists we wanted to see focused on London shows.  We knew there was a music-hungry audience in the North East, so planned a festival to bring the brightest and best in cutting edge music to ‘The Toon’.

This aim helped avoid the ‘pick n’ mix’ identikit approach of many music festivals and built a strong audience, often seeing acts before they had played anywhere else in the UK.  We’ve been delighted to share with North East audiences Mexico’s Skull Mask, Georgia’s Asiq Nargil, Egypt’s  Islam Chipsy & E.E.K and China’s  Torturing Nurse for their first UK shows.

Japan has always been a special place for TUSK audiences, and we have brought the cream of Japanese noise to the North East: Otomo Yoshihide, Fushitsusha, Pain Jerk, Endon and the Kings of Noise themselves – Hijokaidan have all rocked TUSK to the foundations with their ecstatic sonic mayhem.

Closer to home the very best of the US & European underground have graced our stages:  Newcastle’s own Zoviet France, Aaron Dilloway, Guttersnipe and Limpe Fuchs  all re-wired jaded brain pans and set jaws tumbling to the floor.

A bigger platform for local artists

Since the very start, TUSK has been keen to share the best home grown talent with a larger audience, giving a huge stage to North East artists: Pinnel and her breathless air-dub, stately experimentation from the huge Drone Ensemble and Depletion’s warm machine noise.   We gave early shows to 6Music favourite and local gruff-vocal-zoothorn-guitar colossus Richard Dawson along with the soon-to-be-universally-massive Yeah You, also based in the city.

If you wanted to track the influence the festival has had on the city’s music scene you could do no better than visit the TUSK fringe.  Recently the ‘official’ fringe has been curated by Dr Mariam Rezaei and the wonderful Old Police House crew, allowing night owls to drink, dance and raise the roof with a righteous blend of festival guests and local artists at the Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle’s  home of everything DIY .

We have worked with local galleries, zines, promoters and organisations to share the attention TUSK shines on the city.   From TUSK’s roots, many exciting projects have been born over the years: from CIRCA Projects hosting a micro ‘sudden’ festival, to music and visual art combining at Workplace gallery.  Gateshead’s drone king, Culver, set up the splinter event, Dark TUSK in 2016, to run alongside the official festival along with a healthy crop of pop-up exhibitions, making TUSK a multi-limbed, city-wide event.

‘New friendships to be forged’

It’s important to us that we are inclusive as possible so each year a number of events are set aside to be free and open to all.  Since 2018 the film programme has been open to the public on a first-come-first served basis.  Starting in 2016 we scheduled a number of lunchtime shows where all curious ears are welcome, culminating in Lea Bertucci’s powerful ‘push-me-pull-you’ composition for two double basses in Sage Gateshead’s resonant atrium.   This year we are very proud to present Ellen Arkbro’s magisterial work for solo organ to be premiered at Newcastle University and again, free to all who wish to hear huge, heavy sustained drones in glorious meantone temperament.

Since 2014 TUSK has been live streamed, so each and every main stage performance can be enjoyed, as it happens, wherever you are in the world.  Be sure to seek out this year’s coverage on the TUSK festival website and dig into the extensive archive of past performances.

The final piece in this jigsaw is, of course, our wonderful audience.  TUSK has become an important date in the diary for many; a place for old-friends to meet, new friendships to be forged and plans hatched.  Over the years we’ve welcomed more and more visitors from outside the region to TUSK. Now around half the festival audience arrive from other parts of the UK and the rest of the world to experience the eclectic TUSK vibe.

This year seems like one of the most diverse and exciting TUSK festivals yet with a rare performance  from the publicity-shy Jandek, long-form improv direct from Australia’s finest The Necks, French prog legends Magma, Grupi Lab’s traditional Albanian polyphonic singing, a specially composed performance from Moor Mother and the London Contemporary Orchestra, sense-inversions from social commentator Luke Poot, the free vocal maelstrom that is the great Audrey Chen,  future jazz implosion from the Rolling Calf, sunset-blissed-out-drone from Johann Wlight  and of course much, much more.

Whoever you are, wherever you are TUSK has a mind-bending performance waiting for you.

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