Malcfest 2005

Four years ago, a man named Malcolm had a vision — that he could put on a festival in his Catford flat, with all his mates’ bands playing in his living room. Now in its fourth year, Malcfest continued to grow, surpassing all previous expectations.

…I don’t envy Malcolm’s neighbours

An unprecedented thirty acts played, including technical metal bands, folk, a choir, a string quartet, post-rock, hip-hop, Morris dancers, fire performers, and anything else you could care to mention. Many of these were taken from bands that had previously recorded with Orange and Blue, his music production company (which also operates from his living room — I don’t envy Malcolm’s neighbours). The setup had improved too. A DJ booth was added to the number of outdoor structures. Three cameras simultaneously filmed each band; a DVD was cut together live from the three angles, and this in turn was played onto a massive projector screen behind the bands. I could happily carry on talking about the infrastructure… but less boringly, here’s a brief synopsis of some of the bands that inspired me to clean the wax out of my ears.

The festival opened with Mumrah on Friday evening. Malcfest stalwarts, they headlined three years ago, and their members are involved in various other Orange and Blue projects. They are mainly a ska punk band, with bits of metal thrown in here and there. But their ability to spread an infectious grin to anyone within earsot comes from their talent for playing incredibly complex structures, with constantly changing time signatures and musical styles, in a fun, comedic way — a perfect foil for the skillful but po-faced likes of Tool et al. Special mention goes to the steel lungs of John, who drummed his arse off, whilst singing in tune and without sounding out of breath, for the duration of the hour-long set.

Headlining Friday night were Tunguska Butterfly, another Orange and Blue favourite. They combine the winding guitar melodies of Rumah Sakit with the driving energy of Don Caballero, and the time signatures of both bands playing at once while falling down a hill. Despite its apparent strangeness, several of the other bands had everyone singing along to one of Tunguska’s songs by the end of the festival, making the Butterfly authors of the most unlikely anthem I’d ever heard.

…they should call themselves the Sado-Morrisists

The Headcorn Morris Dancers played outside on a sunny Saturday afternoon, compered by the irrepressible ‘Gnome’. Neighbours watched from their upstairs windows — it was hard to tell if they were smiling because they enjoyed the dancing, or at the brief respite from the music coming from the living room. Having always thought of Morris dancing as a very traditional activity, I was surprised to learn from Malcolm’s dad Ned that there is a group of BSDM Morris dancers from California, who dance in leather thongs, and have bells attached to body piercings (they should call themselves the Sado-Morrisists). I was even more impressed when heckles for Malcolm to do some ‘prog-Morris’ were met with just that — a dance he had made up specially, which switched between 7 and 4 time.

Nathan Persad is a natural entertainer. He waltzed out to play with an easy nonchalance, but with a big grin that removed any suspicion of pretentiousness. After a few fun songs, (including one about “You know when you meet an ex-lover, and you’re just like ‘oh; shit.’”) he went offstage, announcing the next act, one Frankie Valentine. Minutes later, Basard returns as his alter ego, resplendent in tight white trousers, and frill-fronted shirt, accompanied by the pre-recorded strains of a hammond organ with an electric backbeat. He continued to play a set of crooning numbers, in the vein of Elvis, or Sinatra; the choice of songs and persona allowed him even greater license with his extravagant, yet somehow tongue-in-cheek showmanship.

MJ Hibbert played outside in the sun on Sunday afternoon, singing about everything from the socket on his hi-fi to politics. Most memorable though, was the chorus to ‘The lesson I learned from the Smiths’ — “Just because a bunch of wankers like them doesn’t mean they’re shit”.

Damien Nolan is one of the best and most innovative guitarists you are ever likely to hear. His talent hit every open-mouthed onlooker like a wave of bricks, who watched awestruck as both his hands tapped over and under the fretboard, strummed by flicking his fingers like a shower of glass, hit pinched harmonics here and there, and drummed all over the body of his guitar, all at lightning speed.

Orbit Dear Beacon played an hour-long set consisting of two songs, with an epic beauty similar to Explosions in the Sky or Entrance. They have the ability to create an instantly atmospheric tide of gentle guitar harmonies, building to a densely layered wall of sound, but without ever needing to derive its power from heavy drumming, or metal riffs.

Barrelass brought Malcfest 2005 to a climactic finish, with a Bungle-esque rollercoaster of mayhem. Frontman Spike had a range of vocal styles that would make Mike Patton proud; and even better, each of these was accompanied by a different facial expression (watch out Jim Carrey). As the band sprang freely from crooning keyboard sequences into death metal riffs, into technical twiddling, into comedy noises from the three vocalists, this octet of musical pirates encapsulated everything had been great about the weekend, and were a fitting end to the festival.

…with each person playing some part in everybody else’s enjoyment of the whole experience

But more important than all of the bands put together was the Malcfest spirit. There were far more people who were involved with running the festival, or were members of bands, than there were people who had come purely as spectators. This gave the whole event an organic feeling of something put on by everyone for everyone, with each person playing some part in everybody else’s enjoyment of the whole experience. Malcfest is unique among anything else I have ever seen — nowhere else can you go to someone’s living room and watch 30 amazing bands (free); go into their kitchen and have a cup of tea and then go onto their patio to see two Morris dancing troupes; sit around a fire, and camp in their back garden; and above all, meet such a high concentration of thoroughly friendly and exciting people of all ages, brought together by a shared love of cooperating in the spirit of creativity and fun.

Next year, expect even more ambitious plans, as Malcfest spawns the ‘Catford Carnival’ in the field behind Malcolm’s house. Apparently as well as the normal Malcfest, (which will include even more artwork in the queue for the toilet) there will be workshops in guitar playing and drumming, textiles and art, and crafts and circus skills, for the benefit of local primary schools, plus and a 5-a-side football tournament for band members — plus whatever else Malcolm has up his sleeve…..

Roll on September 2006.

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