Abbeydale Picture House

Review – Sensoria 2015

The eighth Sensoria hit town recently, and yet again, it exceeded its mission statement to bring us a fascinating array of all things cinematic, musical and digital. What started off as a themed film programme at the Showroom has become one of the country’s leading arts festivals, attracting people from all over the country. Highlights from a 9-day festival are inevitably difficult to pick out, but it is what I’m here for, so I’ll take a shot.

image (2)The films this year were hosted by the Showroom and the Curzon, as you might expect, but more unusually in the downstairs mini-cinema at the Picture House Social. The films themselves were equally as diverse. The first one I saw was Wacken 3D, a celebration of all thing metal (in the musical sense), filmed in the small German town of Wacken, which, for a few days each year, stages Europe’s number one metal music festival. Everyone seemed to be there, from Deep Purple and Ramstein to smaller, newer bands who qualified through national heats to get a place on the Wacken stage. The 3D glasses and superb sound meant the mud, sweat and beers were almost as real as if you”d been there, but without the need to take a shower afterwards. I loved Alice Cooper the best, and by the end it almost felt like I’d been to a live gig.

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image (20)The film that’s lived with me the longest, and which I still find myself thinking about, was Deadlock, a German spaghetti western, with a Can soundtrack no less, shown underneath the Abbeydale Picture House. Without Sensoria I wouldn’t even have known that film existed, never mind had a chance to see it. It clearly influenced the likes of Tarantino and Jodorowsky, in fact it has been dubbed as ‘El Topo with machine-guns’ by some. Essentially it’s three men fighting over a suitcase full of money, but the settings and bizarre characters had me transfixed.

image (10)Throughout Sensoria week, I’ve grown to expect a mix of the unusual and the exciting. The most bizarre of this year’s events was when I had a chance to perform some yoga, in the newly refurbished Merlin Theatre, with ambient music pioneer Laraaji. His engaging personality and deep listening exercises certainly loosened my chakras, and prepared me for a visit later that night to see the Asian Dub Foundation.

image (19)They performed live in the City Hall Ballroom along with the 20th anniversary screening of La Haine, a film dramatising the events in the life of a group of immigrant teenagers after a Parisian riot. Their powerful music made an already disturbing film unforgettable. The space underneath the City Hall has an atmosphere all of its own, and somehow the ornate ballroom added to the tensions of the film and the music. As it crashed and hurtled towards its inevitable violent finale, the cavernous hall came alive with the soundtrack fusion of electronic beats, bhangra, hip-hop and punk.

All the way from Helsinki. Dream-pop’s newest star, Jaakko Eino Kalevi turned up in Bungalow and Bears for a charming, musical show mid-week. The audience were suitably impressed by his music, with a charming blend of elegant, electronic pop, putting me in mind of Pink Ariel or Elli et Jacno (that’s enough obscure ’80s electro pop references. Ed). And it was free!

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image (13)Sadly I had to miss the closing night of the Membranes, Baba Naga and Bo Ningen, but I did manage to experience the Abbeydale Picture House main stage performances by Lonelady and Factory Floor on the closing Friday.

image (14)Lonelady is Julie Campbell, who, despite being from the wrong side of the Pennines, found her spiritual home here tonight. Her recent album Hinterland, on Warp Records seems to have taken up residence in my house. I happened to discover that she herself is a fan of Sensoria, so much so, that last year she was here in the audience, so she knew what the Abbeydale Picture Palace main auditorium had to offer. Her astonishingly raw, sharp guitar playing blended perfectly with the pulsating sound of her band, with her stark vocals providing the prefect mix of pop music with industrial, earthy beats.

image (15)image (16)Headlining the night were Factory Floor; the sort of act that has emerged in recent years, creating a live soundscape of beats and rhythms from an array of what I can only describe as electronic kit. Despite just standing on stage pressing buttons and turning dials, they are just as much a band as Lonelady and her musicians, who had just left the stage. Their blend of beats, curated with a continually evolving swathe of electronic sounds and textures made the entire audience feel part of some great rhythmic movement. Electronically created music which was once so emotionless and seemed automated, has is now become organic in its 21st century incarnation, and had the whole place grooving, as we old-timers used to say.

image (17)So, another year done, and apart from an outdoor screening on November 1st at a drive-in cinema up at the old Norton Aerodrome, we can look back on Sensoria 2015 as another triumph, and, if one were needed, a reason why we just love living here in Sheffield.

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