@Newcastle The Cluny 2, November 12 2016
With its DIY spirit and commitment to breaking down barriers and opening minds, the annual Great North Amplifier Worship (GNAW) fest has a place in the hearts of Tyneside’s underground. It has proved a successful stomping ground for bands such as Palehorse, We Are Knuckle Dragger and Pet Slimmers Of The Year, as well as a host of unsigned upstarts, and its line-ups have delivered extremity and diversity in equal measure.
This year, GNAW arguably raised the bar even higher. Bagging ambient doom duo Nadja as headliners, for instance, was a huge coup for the organisers, with the Canadians a rare sight on these shores. Yet there was something special about the whole event – and in the dark confines of The Cluny 2, GNAW’s home since its relocation from the Star and Shadow Cinema, you could forget the political turmoil of the last few weeks and surrender to titanic, crashing soundscapes and crushing rhythms.
Newcastle’s Knots are a tangle of abrasive, Albinified guitars and juddering bass, an AmRep/Dischord lovers paradise, and the trio marked their GNAW debut with a typically feisty set, fresh from playing the Northumberland Arms the night before. They rock, in the best traditions of US alt and post hardcore (when the term actually meant something interesting).
GNAW mainstays and curators Waheela followed, immediately pushing into a much faster, more urgent set than we are used to. The quintet’s semi-improvised shows often build gradually to a climax – here they started eviscerating their audience from the first drumbeat, yet as usual, they deftly layered their riffs and built up a wall of white hot noise, punctured violently by Adam Potts’ fierce screams.
Corpse Twitcher, in contrast, brought the tempo down, with a set of apocalyptic drone pulled straight from the abyss – they even employed a saxophone to add to their unearthly squall, while Newcastle drone/noise oracle Culver (aka Lee Stokoe) also unleashed his considerable talents on the Cluny 2, via a mind-boggling array of keyboards, effects pedals and cassette players. Again, this was something of a coup for GNAW – the man, now two decades into his career, manipulates and conducts waves of sound, studying music’s currents and tides…watching him is an education.
GNAW’s crowd learned a great deal from Nadja too. They learned how a gentle, mild mannered couple can create some of the most awe-inspiring, beautiful and deeply heavy music you’ll hear in a live environment, how their immense riffs and hypnotic beats can create a state of near euphoria, how movements like doom, ambient, drone and post-rock can all flow into something utterly compelling. Jaws dropped as Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff, wholly engrossed in their sublime art, pulled everyone present into their world. GNAW isn’t about headliners and rock stars, but Nadja more than justified their status as the closing act.
Make no mistake, GNAW is a place where your imagination can be fired up, your limits pushed – and its sixth edition will take some beating.