Sensoria diaries 2013

The Sensoria festival was in town last month, and I always make it my business to catch as much as I can, and even though it was a little shorter this year, there was no shortage of gems to discover. This year, for the first time, I was also going to take in the Sensoria Pro day, where industry professionals and others who are just fascinated by the UK’s premier festival of all things music/film/digital converge on the Electric Works for their annual get-together.


I started out with our old friend, the installation. It’s one of my favourite aspects of the art world, and this one at Trafalgar House did not disappoint. It has always been a venue worth exploring during the Sensoria festival, and this year was no exception. The entire space had been occupied by ‘Evangelist’, an immersive audio visual installation about the life of US evangelist, Granville ‘Oral’ Roberts. After a brief slideshow introduction, I donned headphones, picked up an mp3 player and walked round a series of purpose built ‘rooms’, each one of which had its own dedicated piece of music to listen to. Moving from room to room took me on a journey through the increasingly bizarre world of this strange but charismatic preacher, who at the height of his fame, kept the company of US presidents, and who soon realised that evangelical preaching and TV were the perfect bed-fellows. This was never more so than when the donations started to pour in from his devoted viewers. The projected film, the displays in each room and the music all combined to make me want to know so much more about the guy. Wikipedia here I come, and what better way than this to start of a celebration of music, film and digital arts?



I made my way to the Showroom next, to see the UK premier of a Belgian film, The Broken Circle Breakdown, which charted the love affair of Elise and Didier. Their passionate love affair was mirrored by their love of bluegrass music (not what you would typically associate with Belgium I’d be the first to agree). It was a harrowing but inspiring journey that the film took us on, but somehow the music perfectly balanced the mood when the film could so easily have become caught up in its own sadness. After the screening the director, Felix Van Groeningen took part in a fascinating Q&A, revealing so many facets of the story behind how the film was adapted from a stage play into a film. As always befits a Sensoria event, the discussion carried on in the bar afterwards with some live music to keep us in the mood.


Friday was SensoriaPro Industry Day, and was a first for me, as Jo had kindly invited me to sample the delights of industry professionals getting together for a day of talks, panels and discussions with a host of expert speakers. I got to speak to Nitin Sawhney, who was there to discuss his new direct-to-vinyl record, I listened to a discussion on music blogging, and we heard the entrants to a sound-tracking competition, where candidates had to add sound to a cinema trailer. All of them were there to hear their work critiqued, before the winner was announced. I also had a go on the helter-skelter in the Electric Works building, which has been something I’ve wanted to do since I first realised it had been build inside an office building. So cool. The best discussions seemed always to take place in the refreshments queue, or the bar, but that’s how it’s intended to be on a day like this.



In the evening I hiked up Solly Street to what was a venue new to me. Despite living in Sheffield since 1977, I’d never ventured inside The Catholic Men’s Club, attached to St Vincent’s church. Ian Nesbitt had made a short documentary about the Cresswell Colliery Brass Band, which we and the band all watched, before they played us some of their repertoire. The evening finished with Bill Morrison’s film ‘The Miners’ Hymns’, an elegy to the mining industry, with only a musical/ambient soundtrack, letting the compilation of assembled archive images tell their own story. A typical and unique Sensoria event. Even though that’s clearly a contradiction, you know what I mean.



Saturday started for me in the Workstation, with Deregulation Dancefloors, where Matt Cheeseman kicked it off by posing the question, ‘Who owns the dancefloor?’ We participate in it, and it wouldn’t be more than an empty space without us, but do we own it? Well, for a short time at least, this afternoon we did. From the most casual of participants to some folks who definitely knew their way around the wheels of steel, we all had a go at producing a mix of sounds for everyone to dance to. Some had brought their own disc, others picked from those on offer, but we grooved along to what all of us collectively chose to put on.


Afterwards I wandered over to Castle House, which had been re-opened for the weekend and a stage erected in what was the last part of it to remain open, the post office. They served drinks over the old post office counter whilst Rob Lee and Sharron Kraus led a panel discussion of the nature of folk music and who decides what ‘traditional’ really is in the folk world. After a wander up to our newest urban park in Edward Street, where they were about to show Grease, I grabbed some food before the most anticipated event of the weekend, Drenge at the Lescar. Now, unless you’re living in a musical exclusion zone, you’ll know that they are currently one of the hottest acts in the music world. A duo, from Castleton no less, who used to be quite happy to be going on first at the Washington, as it meant that they were sure they get the last bus back to the Hope Valley. You can check them out on out In Session section, and when you do you’ll realise how exciting they are. Check out the bands Exposed In Session here.


Drum and loud guitar, but with a real dynamic level of playing, far too mature to be expected to come from two such young lads. I had a word with them after they blew the crowd away, and they revealed they had intended to play along to a film, but the pressure of time meant it never happened. Despite their love of Danish cinema, their cinematic ambitions were a little more down to earth. ‘One thing we’d love to do is play along to a screening of a football match.’ they told me.

My Sensoria finished for this year with a Sunday stroll through Netheredge. The leaves were a rich golden yellow and hadn’t been rained on yet, so were just drifting around the streets like golden confetti, and I was on my way to see the world premier of ‘Now You Will Listen’. I’ve long been a fan on I Monster and their side projects, and this looked like being one of the best and most interesting. They’d teamed up with long time collaborator Mike Ward, to produce what they called ‘an illustrated audio visual book of horror stories and surreal poetry’, and was performed in the beautiful, gothic setting of the Lantern Theatre. The audience was a nice mix of parents and children, and the whole event was a charming afternoon of narrations, animations and live music. My last event of this years’ Sensoria, and by far the best. I’d like to think that this will be seen by a much larger audience than just two performances at the Lantern Theatre, perhaps at the Children’s Festival in the summer, who knows?

I couldn’t make the night-time drive-in movie sadly, where American Graffiti was being shown on what I was told was the biggest screen imaginable, but Sensoria 2013 was as good as ever. Always leading the way in the field of the unusual and the fascinating. 

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