Live Music Review: Cute Owl Festival at The Maze

Words: Benjamin Knight
Photos: Benedict Culm
Sunday 21 January 2018
reading time: min, words

A brand new intimate festival of live electronic music with a variety unusual musical instruments...


Cute Owl is a nomadic bi-monthly gig organised by contributing band tAngerinecAt, showcasing experimental electronica from whatever corner they could find – and out of the acts I was presented with, I was super impressed. Cute Owl encapsulated the kind of mindset I try to achieve with my own event Bag of Secrets, with a focus on music that deserves as much of a spotlight than your acoustic singer-songwriter (Jerry Seinfeld Voice: Not that there’s anything wrong with that). Radium88’s vocalist Jema Hewitt, who compered the gig, promised an “epic, very wild and fun” night when she first contacted me about the show, and she was not wrong.

The first act was Franklin Music, with soloist Emily Franklin bringing an eclectic soup of sound and voices right off the bat. Franklin Music was a medley of everything I’d hoped for out of Cute Owl. She opened with the kind of folksy track with high and haunting vocals and the “devils and killers” subject matter you’d expect from a Johnny Cash ballad and nailing the drawling cowgirl voice when covering Melanie Safka. Franklin dropped us from the comfort of the sad west into the depths of punk and a Macbook beat straight from the shop fronts of a glitched out 90’s virtual mall. Franklin’s set was a journey from the known into the strange, and was the perfect act to start on.

Next up was The Dyr Sister – after seeing Dyr’s Sally Currie bring her viola onto the misty stage I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was fantastically outside of that – TDS' incorporation of loop pedals into heavy breathing and string-plucking started every song in a haunting indie-movie soundscape. But it was Currie’s vocal’s that was a highlight for me; I found that I’d written “If Bjork came from Hull” about three times in my notebook because of her high, howling notes. The subject matter of The Dyr Sister’s music (Being of jigsaw puzzles and beards) was oddly light-hearted in comparison to her own voice, and this made it all the better.

I’ve been excited to see Experimental Sonic Machines, Cute Owl’s third act, since they had been brought to my attention – tell me you make music from home-made instruments while covered in tin foil and you instantly have my interest. Taking centre stage (besides ESM’s organic member Peter Rollings) was Ernie, an animatronic tinfoil robot that played the drums – who was a great distraction from the tuning that took place behind. Each of ESM’s songs started on long build-ups of electric dread, like a game of Space Invaders set in hell or a beautiful computer error. ESM is an example of musical inventiveness and the idea of “making art from anything” taken to its logical extremes, and I loved every moment.

Next up were organisers tAngerinecAt, the big bosses of Cute Owl themselves. tAngerinecAt’s Eugene Purple and Paul Chilton brought not just synth to the table, but a whole range of physical, classical instruments into the mix – most noticeably their use of the hurdy-gurdy, to make their music the deep notes of severe doom and dread that gave it the feeling of a rave in a mausoleum. tAngerinecAt know a lot about their showmanship, given their chemistry and incorporation of a Rupert the Bear toy into an “Edinburgh crowds scream louder than you” preamble. This band lived up to everything I’ve heard about them, and I’m excited to foray deeper into their music.

Cute Owl’s penultimate act, Radium88, brought a dream pop sound to the room, with Jema Hewitt’s drifting and Valkyrie-like vocals pairing up with Tim Thwaites’ cool and nebulous instrumentals. A lot of their faster-paced tracks gave me a bit of an early 2000s dance vibe (I’m young as hell so I associate this with Rollerworld and Dance! Dance! Revolution) with the warped and alien beats. Hewitt has told me that Radium’s music draws from the father of Cyberpunk, William Gibson, for inspiration – and this shows; I can imagine these tracks playing over establishing shots of The Sprawl and Chiba City.

Lastly was Flavolous, composed entirely of the talents of Ashley Tendekai. Flavolous creates industrial soundscapes in a process of what Tendekai describes as “like working out a puzzle”. The warped and twisted fairground-esque sounds Flavolous brings creates a kind of Lynchian nightmare in the buildups, but still rhythmically together enough to throw down in the middle of an abandoned warehouse too. The Maze comes close though, I guess.

With a hugely varied turnout of a passionate crowd as well as the kind of out-there acts I’ve been chasing since entering this scene, Cute Owl was definitely a very cool and eclectic night that’s worth catching wherever it pops up next.

The Cute Owl Festival took place at The Maze on Friday 19 January 2018. 

Look out for Cute Owl Promotions bi-monthly events across on their Facebook page

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