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Punkt Festival 2013

John Kelman By

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Punkt Festival
Kristiansand, Norway
September 6-8, 2013

Punkt is back. Three simple words with greater significance. While the annual festival, which has made its name on the strength of two additional words—Live Remix—had an eighth edition in 2012 that, on paper, should have been nothing short of spectacular, it was ultimately not just disappointing but, for longtime attendees, something that actually engendered real anger.
The reasons were two-fold: first, invited festival curator Brian Eno—a producer and, at least at one time, forward-thinking musical innovator—chose to make the festival's raison d'être completely secondary to a program of main stage acts that ranged from superb (Three Trapped Tigers, Ben Frost, Reggie Watts, múm) to good (Owen Palette, Guimba Kouyaté) to downright poor (S.C.U.M., EBE OKE). By not considering how the main stage acts would be grist for live remix (which Eno actually admitted in his press conference on the opening night), he took away the primary reason the festival was founded. Yes, there were live remixes, and some good ones, too; but, equally, few included the interaction with live musicians—long part of the Punkt tradition—and clearly seemed an afterthought rather than a fundamental part of the plan.
Second, while Kristiansand's wonderful new state of the art culture house, Kilden, was a remarkable building, it was simply too large, too sterile, too impresonal for a festival like Punkt, which thrives on intimacy and transparency.

Fixing the first problem was easy: for Punkt's ninth edition, co-Artistic Directors Jan Bang and Erik Honore were back in the curator chairs, and put together a program that may well have been one of its very best, including world premiers by Bang, for his new recording Narrative from the Subtropics (Jazzland, 2013), and trumpeter Arve Henriksen's Places of Worship (Rune Grammofon, 2013), released on the same day as their double album release show. Punkt also featured the premiere of The Kilowatt Hour, a new electronic project by avant songsmith David Sylvian, guitar sound sculptor Christian Fennesz and electronics artist Stephan Mathieu, while trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer closed the festival with the debut of his collaboration with programmer/synthesist Mortiz von Oswald, soon to be released as 1/1 (EmArcy, 2013). Additionally, Eivind Aarset has been touring his leader debut for ECM, Dream Logic, with his Sonic Codex group, but for his Punkt appearance, he added Bang—who collaborated with the guitarist on the recording—while Punkt fans had the chance to experience pianist/electronics innovator Bugge Wesseltoft on a work-in-progress and a solo performance by singer/soundscapist Maja S.K. Ratkje that ranks amongst her best.

As is typical of the ever-expanding Punkt network, there were some new faces, too: Ethiopian singer Eténèsh Wassié and French bass guitarist Mathieu Sourisseau made their first visit to the festival, and pianist Tigran Hamasyan, too, in a wonderful duet with Bang that also had one of the surprises that are so typical of Punkt. Last, the festival opened with Mariam the Believer, featuring Mariam Wallentin, a tremendous singer/songwriter with a distinct voice and a terrific band to back her up.

And there were some tremendous remix potentials, including the live remix power trio of Bang, Honoré and singer Sidsel Endresen; other remixers included Arve Henriksen; rising star trumpeter Mathias Eick (making his first Punkt appearance); Huntsville guitarist Ivar Grydeland; Per Martinsen; classical composer Rolf Wallin (performing perhaps the year's most unusual remix—maybe even the most unusual in Punkt's nine- year existence); drummer Audun Kleive and, back from Punkt 2012, Vladislav Delay.

But with Kilden out of the question, for a number of reasons but mainly because it was simply not the right venue for Punkt—and with its old home, the Agder Theatre, now out of the running, where to go? Choosing Kick—a club that has, in the past, been used for the Punkt Elope series for young, up-and-coming artists, may not have seemed like an obvious choice; after all, there were no two rooms in which to set up main stage performances and the Alfa Room for live remixes. But adversity sometimes causes people to think outside the box and so, while there was some concern when it was announced that Kick would be used, and that they would somehow use its single stage for both main stage performances and live remixes, there was also the trust in Bang, Honoré and the entire team of Punkt volunteers; if they felt it was possible, then it would be possible.


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