Festival Review: Iceage and Moses Boyd // Pitchfork Music Festival

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Photo by Sam Huddleston

Magazine giant Pitchfork’s inaugural festival took over London this weekend. Venues all over the capital hosted an eclectic mix of genres, from a PC Music take over of FIRE, to a line-up led by Stereolab at the Roundhouse. The scope of the festival shows Pitchfork’s commitment to championing new music, with most nights transcending genres. There is no clear headliner in sight, with acts ranging from Tirzah and Metronomy to Black Midi headlining their respective venues. The festival pushed the boundaries of a concert, reminding us of the joys of discovering new music.

I was lucky enough to catch Danish avant-punk band Iceage for the festival’s Friday night. The band delivered an energetic set of noise-rock that has been roughed up around the edges. Everything Iceage does has a kind of rawness about it, an urgency that cannot be faked. The set catapulted from a sultry swagger into shouted choruses that have crowd surfers banging their heads on the low ceilings. 

It was clear from their performance that singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt is a seasoned frontman, commanding the stage with a slightly slurred croon and a mop of brown hair. He was kitted out in a blazer, shirt, and woolen tie – because what else to wear to Hackney’s glittered-ceilinged Moth Club – and scoured the crowd like he’s a mean teacher looking for the next child to pick on. His delivery of the rough-and-ready ‘High & Hurt’ saw him saunter from whip-sharp delivery of his most pessimistic lyrics into an anthemic chorus with no hesitation.

The audience frequently resembled a mass brawl, with Ronnenfelt fondly watching the chaos his band had evoked. Meanwhile, on the stage, Iceage are alive with passion, limbs contorting and eyes lost to the music.

On Saturday, Pitchfork took over Hackney’s atmospheric and cavernous Saint Church. In front of gold-plated depictions of saints, the ten commandments, and the Lord’s prayer sits no less than three drumkits, two sets of bongos and the customary array of synths and a five string bass. The venue was host to trumpeter and singer Emma Jean Thackray, indie songwriter Nilfüfer Yanya, and drummer Moses Boyd. Despite the clear jazz leanings of the lineup, the acts felt divergent in their attitude and music, with each performance lending a different feel to the venue.

Headliner Moses Boyd opened his set with his horn section playing from the newly refurbished organ at the back of the church, before keys, guitar, and Boyd himself joined in from the stage in a foreboding rumble. The band are impossibly tight, with full bodied and complex sax lines weaving in and out of an effortless countermelody from Boyd’s skillful drumming. 

From an endlessly complex tenor saxophone solo that ties itself in knots to a seductive and sweet piano solo, Moses Boyd proves that he can master any genre, commanding his kit as easily as if he were just making a cup of tea. His artistry is especially evident in his solo, which flows seamlessly from a militaristic snare into a syncopated and tuneful rhythm.

Emma Jean Thackray’s brand of jazz feels a world away from Moses Boyd, the lyrics “smells like biscuits and weed” on the hip-hop-inspired ‘Golden Green’ striking a sharp contrast with the eyes-closed solemnity of Boyd’s band. Thackray switches from soulful trumpet to singing, her commanding and versatile voice ranging from mysterious to joyful above erratic kit playing and brisk bongo playing. The gently funky nu-jazz has the congregation dancing, but Thackray never seems fazed, continuing to sing nonchalantly as if she is just jamming with her mates. 

Nilfüfer Yanya’s performance sat between the other two, but with it’s stripped back indie styling, it felt the furthest apart musically, swapping out the jazz stylings for growling guitars and melodic indie hits. Her more minimal tracks like ‘Same Damn Luck’ felt a bit drowned in the venue’s echoing acoustics, however in other tracks like ‘Stabilise,’ the church’s echoes gave her simple one-guitar set-up more force. Yanya’s voice expertly balances tenderness and an unflinching ferocity as she stares out of her heavily-winged eyelids, and songs like ‘Baby Luv’ sound more urgent in real life as the growl of her guitar intensifies throughout the song.

While Pitchfork festival is a markedly different affair to the green-field sing-alongs of the summer, its London festival manages to retain the atmosphere of discovery and excitement in the capital’s rainy streets. The passion in each act shone through; from Thackray’s exacting conducting to Iceage’s sweaty and intense energy, you could feel it radiating off every stage.

Pitchfork clearly focused not on which bands would attract the most punters, but on which bands would genuinely excite and enthrall it’s audience of dedicated musos. The festival is run by fans, for fans, and that’s what is so exciting about being there.

Words by Martha Storey

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