Festival preview: Michael Pedersen of Neu! Reekie! on Where Are We Now? at Hull City of Culture

Charlotte Church is appearing at Where Are We Now?, part of Hull City of Culture.
Charlotte Church is appearing at Where Are We Now?, part of Hull City of Culture.
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Part of Hull UK City of Culture, Where are We Now? is a three-day event with a diverse programme. Duncan Seaman reports.

Hull’s City of Culture celebrations continue apace with a three-day event described as “a summer festival like no other”.

Where Are We Now? brings together hip-hop, music, film, poetry, dancing and more in a diverse programme which promises to be as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.

Produced by avant garde collective Neu! Reekie!, it gathers musicians, artists, writers, film-makers and thinkers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland together for “an urgent state of the nation appraisal”.

Among those appearing during the weekend, from June 2-4, will be Linton Kwesi Johnson, Charlotte Church, Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers, rappers Akala and Chester P, artist Jamie Reid, maverick Bill Drummond, poet Hollie McNish and ‘pop oddball’ Momus.

Explaining the concept of the event, Neu! Reekie! co-founder Michael Pederson says: “Hull asked us to put on a festival which was reactive to the times and for us this had to come from the counter-culture. We knew the fact that Radio 1’s Big weekend was happening [in Hull this weekend]; I guess we wanted to be the cultural antithesis of that.

Momus presents his his show Dybbuk

Momus presents his his show Dybbuk

“So many of the most important questions being asked at this point in time are coming from the counter-culture, they’re coming from people that haven’t got a national voice at this point in time and I guess are fighting for one. There’s more aggravation, there’s more desperation and I think there’s more unlimited freedom of expression coming through these voices. It’s still a very important place to look and within the counter-culture we find things which are very local but in the same way have the ambition of being national.

“It’s people trying to define themselves at this point in time and we thought if we were going to put on a festival where a big focus of the performances was for them to ask questions and to provoke alongside being straight up, high quality entertainment, it had to have a question in the titular banner, it had to be asking questions from the word go.

“We were just fortunate enough that we were considering with working with an artist, Momus, who had done a cover version of David Bowie’s Where Are We Now?, which Bowie released on his birthday in January 2013 and Momus covered two hours later and finally got it endorsed and sanctioned by Bowie after having semi-modelled his career on Bowie the whole time, so it was the fact that there was a personal connection to this titular banner as well as it being a homage to David Bowie as well as first and foremost simply being a question which made sure people knew that we weren’t just looking to the past and lionising the kings and queens of counter-culture that came before us. For me the most important word in that question is ‘now’ and I think this festival does have a now-ness to it.

“There is a confusion and a reaction and a sort of empowerment to the fact that we’re doing this at this point in time. This had to be a reactive festival. When we agreed to do Where Are We Now? there was no Trump, there was no Brexit, there was no impending General Election so the content was evolving alongside the political spectrum around it.”

I think we want people to be a little befuddled about it but befuddled towards interest by being curious.

Michael Pedersen of Neu! Reekie!

Pedersen hopes those attending Where Are We Now? will approach the events with an inquiring mind.

“I wouldn’t say it was part of the game plan but we’ve seen a lot of interest in names on this flyer for Where Are We Now? and they’ve seen it’s a festival that’s calling out to question but they’re not really sure what it is. I think we want people to be a little befuddled about it but befuddled towards interest by being curious – what is it that all these people are doing? Why are they coming together? What are they trying to say? What questions do they think they can answer that I don’t know already? What can they tell me about Hull? Are they trying to tell me anything about Hull? We want this to be a spiral of curiosity from the word go. And I think with such a fertile and engaged and galvanising group of artists together in the same place over the course of the weekend a lot of what will happen at this festival isn’t even programmed yet.

“People know what shows they’re doing, people know where they have to be and what they want to bring to this festival but the relationships that exist between these artists outside of these shows are going to create just as many sparks as what happens on stage so to define too intricately what the festival was in advance of that was something we wanted to avoid.

“Provided people are assured of the quality of the programme and the quality of the artists, that we’ve got their interest that’s enough for us at this point in time. Get them into the rooms and get them into the city and the artists will do the rest.”

Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson of Neu! Reekie!

Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson of Neu! Reekie!

Momus will be presenting his cabaret show Dybbuk Momie – inspired by the early work of David Bowie – at Where Are We Now? The Scottish-born singer, songwriter and author – real name Nick Currie – describes Bowie as the “role model” for his own musical career.

“Frankly, if there’d just been, you know, David Essex and Alvin Stardust and people like that when I was growing up, I would have gone into another field,” he says.

“Bowie showed that you could be a multimedia artist working in the electronic media, talking about the important things, being massively popular and influential, being an entertainer yet retaining fierce spiritual grace and sexual power. On the other hand, if he hadn’t existed, perhaps Jake Thackray would’ve been my role model. In some ways, my own work as Momus bears more resemblance to Thackray’s songs than to Bowie’s. There’s no Ziggy, no ‘Heroes’ in my discography, but lots of droll little squibs like Lah Di Dah and One-Eyed Isaac. So who knows?”

Where Are We Now? runs at various venues in Hull from June 2-4. www.hull2017.co.uk/wherearewenow.

Read the full interview with Momus at www.yorkshirepost.co.uk

Linton Kwesi Johnson. Picture: Malcolm Cochrane Photography

Linton Kwesi Johnson. Picture: Malcolm Cochrane Photography

Rapper Akala is among the acts appearing at Where Are We Now?

Rapper Akala is among the acts appearing at Where Are We Now?

Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers are also on during the weekend.

Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers are also on during the weekend.