Sensoria 2017: A week of events, reviewed
So, Sensoria sort of comes of age, and reaches its tenth anniversary. There have been highlights too numerous to mention over the past 10 years, but one thing is certain. We have a world class festival every year here in Sheffield. The celebration of all aspects of music, digital arts and film is never done better than by Jo Wingate and her dedicated team, and I for one couldn’t be more thankful that they try, and succeed, in making this better and better each year.
This year is no exception, just take a look at my Sensoria week:
Tuesday – Moomins and the Comet
I’ll have to be honest the Moomins phenomenon has passed me by. I know I might be accused of living in my own cultural bubble, but when I looked for Moomin references online I was astonished. Maybe, like me, you vaguely remember them as a 5-minute kids TV show sometime in the Eighties, but wherever you’re coming from, it must have been quite a surprise to see a sold out audience in the Drama Studio for the showing of ‘The Moomins and The Comet’ from 1983. I now know that this was from what is known amongst the fans as the ‘fuzzy felt’ era of the Moomins. There’s a CGI version planned for 2018.
Apart from a rare opportunity to see this on the big screen, Sensoria had managed to arrange for a live soundtrack performed and re-scored by the original composer Graeme Miller, from Leeds no less. He’d been commissioned by children’s TV producer Anne Wood to write the music for a stop motion Polish/Austrian/German animation back in the day, and this was an extended episode.
The voice over was by the velvet-voiced Richard Murdock, and perfectly set the tone for 40 minutes of fuzzy felt-inspired delight. Live soundtracks are something of a Sensoria staple, and as with all the best ones, it fitted seamlessly and often unnoticed into the film.
Wednesday – Raving Iran
On Wednesday I made a nice relaxed visit to the Picture House Social and found my way to the small cinema tucked away next to the table tennis room to see Susanne Regina Meures’ documentary, ‘Raving Iran’. For me, the best documentaries, whatever they are about, hold a mirror up to your own life and invite you to reflect upon it.
A film about techno music DJs in Iran didn’t seem to be the one to trigger such a response, but by the end I found myself having a new appreciation of the freedoms that I, and everyone around me, take for granted. The film follows Anoosh and Arash as they get a life-changing chance to escape the oppressive Iranian regime, but will they take it? It would inevitably mean leaving their family and friends behind. A moving and thought-provoking film which asked more questions than it provided answers, but was all the more fascinating for it.
Friday – SensoriaPro
Friday was the annual SensoriaPro day where composers, music supervisors, film-makers, music publishers and games developers all gather in Sheffield to share and to network, which was a perfect lead in to the biggest event of the Sensoria week, the return of the 3 Ring Circus. Like last year, three artist played three venues all in the same night, hot-tailing it between them, so audiences didn’t know who was supporting or headlining until the artists came on stage.
Richard Hawley is again the lynch-pin of this set up, and this year he had recruited Lou Doillon, (daughter of film director Jacques Doillon and Jane Birkin, after she had spilt from Serge Gainsbourg), with James Dean Bradfield, (lead singer with the Manic Street Preachers), making up the threesome. In my head I’d decided on a preferred order and that was actually the one we got at my chosen venue, Trafalgar Warehouse.
Lou started off the show with her gentle, unique and very individual songs, accompanying herself on the acoustic guitar. Next up was the ever reliable, and extremely popular Richard Hawley. It’s hard to imagine he could ever put a foot wrong in front of Sheffield crowd, but just there was any doubt, he decided to sing a song about how he didn’t think the council should be cutting down the trees. Cue a lot of cheering and jeering at the council’s expense.
For the finale, it was obviously now known it was going to be James Dean Bradfield, so no-one was surprised that an acoustic set, which was a selection of hits and b-sides, ended with everyone singing Design For Life at the tops of their voices. There can’t really be a better song for anyone to end a set with can there? I did feel a little sorry for him though. He must have to sing that song at the end of every set he ever does now for the rest of his career, but hey, there’s worse songs to be saddled with.
Saturday – Synthfest
On the Saturday, as a thanks to the people of Sheffield, Sensoria put up and enormous inflatable tent on Devonshire Green along side a cinema screen to entertain the folks of Sheffield for free, but for me I was drawn inexorably up to the University for Synthfest. Geeks, nerds and synth addicts from all over the UK assembled to pay homage and share their obsession with electronic music in all its many and varied incarnations.
The main event for me was away from the blinking lights and knob-twiddling, and was down in the seminar room, where magic came alive. The session was called ‘Deconstructing the Dr Who theme tune’, and was conducted in reverential silence as BBC Radiophonic Workshop legend, Paddy Kingsland himself. He talked us through how Delia Derbyshire, now recognised for the pioneering genius she was, put the world’s most famous piece of electronic music together. Even for non-obsessives, it was astonishing. Not that there was any chance that any non Dr Who obsessives were in there, drawn as it was from an audience of Synth-heads. I queued for almost an hour for a seat, and there were many people disappointed by not being able to be in there. Perhaps a bigger room would have been more appropriate, given the guaranteed interest in this.
The BBC disbanded the Radiophonic Workshop some years ago. They went from actually creating electronic music at a time when there was none, to essentially having no role to play as more and more sophisticated electronic musical instruments were being sold on the high street. Late in life though, they have found a niche market, performing live now that the technology has caught up with their innovative sounds, and enabled them to perform their music on stage. Their amazingly good set, which received a standing ovation was in the Drama Studio later on Saturday night was my final event in Sensoria 2017.