In the far distant future, the dimming sun flickers through its final millenia and the Earth is a wearied husk. We camp, wander, forage, across bleak dusty plains and lifeless scrub. ‘Cities’ and ‘nations’ are the stuff of myth; long-decayed, half-remembered. There is only the endless nothing, the yawning sky, the cold wind, and the strange horned demon-beasts that creep through the mountains like shadows. Nobody asks where we are, or where we are going. Everybody knows this is nowhere.
The cold, the hunger, the sadness drag on… until one Spring day. Today, we see the green. In a valley, trees, like in the fairy tales: noble conifers, growing in a ring. And amongst them, buildings, and tents, unimaginable colours, shapes and smells. I race down the chalky hillside, my eyes ablaze with wonder, tears brimming with shock and awe. In the middle of nowhere – there is something. Something living, something growing.
The sign calls it “Somerville.” A guard awaits at the gate, but he is not a cruel guard. He nods, wiggles his moustache and lets me pass. Inside, the wild beasts with their gnarled horns and glassy eyes scramble around the treetops, but for once they seem to pose no threat. They seem appeased. Maybe even… at home.
A cosmic pulsation resounds. A shimmering spirit announces itself as MAYOR DADI, and sends rich flashes of blue and purple vaulting through the clouds. It moves in a metronomic way, erupting at times with cavernous noise and noodling melodies, but it drives ever forwards, deeper and deeper into its own private vortex. A Jefferson Starship thumps and licks and sways as the beat abides. Mayor Dadi completes its immersion into the wormhole and is gone.
I trip around a corner and find a GRIFFIN in a court. His audience, who sit near him and shake bells, call him ALEX. He is strumming a hollow guitar and singing about “no pretty white girls in lace by the river” and other strange things. He chats with those around him, even when his talon starts to bleed from all the strumming. The last tune he plays is by an old man named Satie. It’s a very different sort of tune.
I encounter a CRAFTsman named DAVID who is clad all in black and sings like an earthquake. His songs are dark but beautiful, and the birds fall silent to listen. Two girls appear with guitars and cables and robot beats and colorful outfits – they share the name PURO INSTINCT and though they seem a little silly their silvery guitar sounds and thick waves of rhythm come on strong like tiny storm clouds.
NEW WAR are an aggressive team of bandits, all desperate singing and broody bass, clanging drums in perfect measure. They don’t seem very friendly, but they are experts at making their noises fit together like rigid squares on a filthy grid. The singer creeps around like a hyena and wears sunglasses. I’m not sure why he wears sunglasses; the sun’s been dim for a long time now.
New War had reminded me of the desolate darkness beyond the green trees, but TENNISCOATS arrived to warm my soul like a hot spring. One woman, one man – the man played guitar and the woman sang and played a tiny piano with an air-tube. I didn’t understand their language, an unfamiliar tongue from the north-eastern seas, but I understood the feeling with which they sang and played, the twirling, lilting melodies that drifted through the air like sweet pollen. They hopped down from their podium and skipped through the crowd, still singing and strumming and humming through the little piano. I felt the skies open up and golden sunshine plash down. TENNISCOATS carried with them a rare magic. I will never forget it.
I came to the mouth of great stone dolphin, and ambled down the dark tunnel of its throat. Its belly was a grand chasm, filled with darkness and smoke and bright laser-lights dancing like comets. Here, fabled disc-spinners like BEN TAAFFE, JO LETTENMAIER and ROK RILEY conjured wondrous thwomps, clicks and textures from their hefty bags of wax. A young man named JAMES IRELAND came along with his glowing apple and grille of buttons, and with these arcane tools wrought a set of sheer beatific beautfy. Neither bright nor dark, but deeply joyous, thick and chameleonic, the sounds percolated through my bloodstream. The enchanted fusions of tone, melody and beat in their purest yet most carefully tweaked forms clutched my heart and shook it til it fizzed. It was good: too good. It was scary in how good it was; so I ran, ran out of the dolphin’s jaws, back to the dim light and the free-flowing air.
THE BANK HOLIDAYS jangled sweetly, with gilded voices interlocking like soft, ghostly fingers; CHRIS COBILIS, in the nearby court, screeched, howled and summoned eruptions of black distorted filth at such a volume as I have never heard. It was not music, it was something like being caught in a thick flock of hissing, sharp-clawed bats. But its brutality was good, a reminder that one’s ears and skin are mere flesh, that one’s senses are simply windows unto a ruthlessly physical world. Then he played a quiet song on the hollow guitar and sang in an absent-minded, floating way. He seems a very peculiar man, the sort of man you could learn many odd things from.
A pair of handsome travelers called HTRK set loose an extended, mellifluous din of artificial drums, half-distant guitar and shadowy vocals, before a gang of HOLY SONS laid out a string of suprisingly rocky songs. Then rumbling with mythic power and winking with the twang of the south, came GRAILS, mounted on a fiery chariot. Strident drums, echoes, slide guitars and doughy keyboard met in a wild seance, taking the brain on a kaleidoscopic flight through desert canyons, glowing nebulae and dense croaking swamps.
I returned to the Dolphin’s belly to fling my limbs about while IKONIKA and SLUGABED relentlessly fired thumps and synthetic stabs into the dark, though I ventured out again to witness the intense and spooky art of XIU XIU. A man named Jamie Stewart gasped and howled and spluttered and screeched, strumming hand-held harps, sling-shotting pebbles at gongs, twisting knobs on noise-boxes, while Angela Seo struck, bowed and tinkled a vast array of percussive objects from enormous drums to smooth, resonant vibraphones. Xiu Xiu’s brief appearance left me feeling drained amidst the self-loathing, the impending doom, the unabating ennui and distress, but it was a deft and spectacular thing to be hold.
Night had fallen and at last a great TORTOISE rose from the Earth. The tortoise was immense, wise, with the experiences of aeons in its shell. Was this the tortoise that the Earth-disc rested upon, come to greet its passengers? It very well could be. I supposed its movements, its sounds, would be slow and heaving, but no, it was fast and nimble, twisting with agility along intricate trajectories. Its song seemed both ancient and very new; it sang with double-drums, digital whirs and hits, throbbing low-end notes, ornate rustlings and pummelings, jazzy guitar envelopings. It was a beast the likes of which I have never seen, its every aspect firmly united, yet capable of dozens of hugely varied tasks. I underestimated the great Tortoise perhaps, yet it expanded my mind, and I owe it thanks. No wonder it supports the world on its shoulders, no wonder at all.
But all great things must end. As the Tortoise receded it took the weird world of Somerville with it, the green trees, the stone dolphin, the nomads and creatures and ales and banquets. Once again – only the quiet, the black night, the ice breeze. Will this curious carnival return, one day, bringing light, noise and bewilderment to Nowhere? I hope so. I really do.
Photo by Laura Mangen Photography