Up Close & Personal with 12 Points Festival 2015
The opening day of 12 Points is always an exciting one. Many of the artists arrive to Dublin, check into the hotel and jump straight into soundchecks and interviews. Employees of Improvised Music Company (IMC), who are the organisers of the festival, work non stop to get the venue and stage set up – Everyone is full of energy. After all, it is the day they have been preparing for all year.
For me, the most admirable aspect of the whole festival is the immediate feeling of closeness between everyone involved. The IMC crew ensure they are personally introduced to each artist, volunteer and delegate, which provides an overwhelming feeling of warmth and welcome. Each artist or band has a designated artist liaison. The artist liaisons are people who have volunteered their time to take care of the musicians and make sure they are comfortable and enjoying themselves. It is a priceless experience; the volunteers get to know some new, interesting people and get to hear a diverse range of music, while the artists get a personal guide and experience the best things about Dublin – The friendly people and the local craic.
By the time the first dinner comes around in Odessa, more artists and delegates arrive and get settled in. There are friendly vibes around the tables as everyone introduces themselves over their meals. Some are 12 points veterans and some are brand new to the festival. Either way, everyone is delighted to be involved. The level of networking is something that is quite rare. The festival provides a huge opportunity to meet new people in the same industry from all over Europe. Journalists meet new photographers, artists meet new producers, managers meet new festival organisers. Sparks fly between musicians, delegates and volunteers. They have so much to talk about and the new people quickly realise that they have become involved with an incredibly special festival. It is a networking dream and everyone has something to learn from each other. The atmosphere is inspiring.
As the time comes for curtain call, the atmosphere is buzzing backstage in the Project Arts Center. Hearing the warm ups and instrument tuning always gives me goosebumps. You can already gauge how diverse the styles of music is going to be. The artists who are on the line up are usually found in the audience ready to experience the showcase before the time comes for them to take their place on stage. This creates a lovely feeling of support and shows that the artists are not just there to perform themselves, they are there to hear other artists who are doing something different in Europe. Everyone is ready to soak up the new styles, tones and techniques.
Four piece French band Auditive Connection have the nerve wrecking responsibility of kicking off the festival. Their distinct and sometimes bizarre sound surprises the audience in the best way possible. They play some structured pieces which lead into open improvisations and each member gets the opportunity to show off their incredible individual talent.
Behind the scenes, Norwegian band Moskus prepare take the stage. They are a young trio that have been together for 5 years, and this comes across strongly. They are relaxed and laughing backstage, and they dress very bright and casual – The drummer, Hans Hulbækmo, doesn’t wear shoes. Their free style music is performed effortlessly and they completely captivate the audience by playing non stop for the entire 50 minutes.
The final group of the night, STUFF.’s energetic funky style and hip hop beats explode on the stage and the audience can’t help but groove along with them. They completely blow me away, along the rest of the audience. The talent of these individuals is brilliant, and best of all, they looked like they were having a brilliant time. Constantly exchanging smiles to each other, it is obvious that they are as excited as the audience and they perform an outstanding set of electronic jazz influenced future funk.
The night comes to an end and everyone in the Project Arts Center walks away with a smile on their face. The audience is completely satisfied with the wide range of music they had heard and performances they had experienced. And that was only the first night! The first three bands set the bar high, but that is the beauty of this festival – It is brimming with talent and no one ever leaves disappointed, only wanting to hear more.
By day two, the artists feel quite at home and the organisers are happy. There is a feeling of ease about everything now. The first day is over and done with, any technical issues have been ironed out and everyone is ready and waiting to experience another night of experimental jazz.
The first group, AMP trio from Hungary captivate me with their strong and adventurous improvisation. The take hold of the audience and leave them feeling exhausted after the intense non-stop performance.
Berliner Elias Stemeseder is the only soloists to play at 12 Points this year. His uninhibited and beautiful performance takes my breathe away. He takes the entire audience on a journey through his music, they are so quiet that you could hear a pin drop in the room.
Finnish band, Virta, are the final act to play Thursday nights show. Their expansive electronic sound is pleasant to drift away to. They play together perfectly and enchant the audience with their gorgeous Nordic style.
Another unique aspect of 12 Points is the jam sessions held after the showcase. To kick off Thursday night jam session, The CEO Experiment take to the stage in Sweeney’s, and treat the artists, delegates and organisers to some smooth and swinging jazz before encouraging the European artists to get involved. The highlight for me was having pianist Elias Stemeseder, guitarist Chris Guilfoyle, drummer Lander Gyselinck and double bassist Ajtal Péter play a flavoursome jazz improvisation piece. To have these artists, who may have never met before this festival and who have such varied styles, jam together on the same stage with ease and perfection is an aspect that is very inspiring about the festival. It brings together unlikely artists and allows them to get creative and in sync with each other. Making these artistic links is what the success of 12 Points is really about. The night is finished with mix master Menno Steensels from STUFF. who gives a very special, funk filled dj set on the turntables. The energy is high and the variety of moves on the dancefloor is something that could not be competed with!
Day three of the festival rolls around and there are more one of a kind events held in Dublin city. This day is not just about the music, it is about all creative minds in the music and events industry. A conference is held in Smock Alley, called MusicFutures. Audience members include delegates and artists from 12 Points festival as well as journalists, event producers, venue owners and musicians. Jim Carroll hosts three panels, including guests Trevor O’Shea from Bodytonic, The Ark founder Aisling O’Gorman, musician and filmmaker Myles O’Reilly, 12 Rutland Place founder and musician Shane Latimer, Joanna Archbold from Block T and Choice Cuts founder Mark Murphy.
The discussion covers topics ranging from the need and opportunities for cultural aspects in Irish events to how we can strategically use the spaces to boost the level of culture in Ireland. Important points include the fact that we are not using enough Irish event resources collectively or recognising the value of events like 12 Points, which influence big culture tourism and bring a lot of money into the country. It is also highlighted that there is still a problem in which artists are still struggling financially and not getting paid sufficiently for their work.
Following the interesting and inspiring discussions, the audience is treated to what can only be described as an eleven piece supergroup. Members of Irish bands Alarmist, OKO and RedivideR join forces to give a once off performance in the intimate surroundings of Smock Alley. They beam energy and the audience is again reminded of what the true ethos of 12 Points is; Bringing artists together and giving them the opportunity to play music to new crowds.
After another dinner bonding session with all the artists and delegates in KC Peaches Dame Street, everyone is ready for another night of diversity. And it is nothing but diversity that they get!
To kick off the night, the Laura Jurd Quartet takes to the stage. The young group from the UK don’t fail to impress with their young groovy jazz. They have incredible synergy and their performance is smoking hot!
Next up, Danish four piece band SVIN take reign of the stage with their chaotic and explosive energy. I am incredibly impressed with the circular breathing technique used by Henrik Pultz Melbye on sax. The band ooze charisma, with drummer Thomas Eiler making the audience laugh in between their sometimes intense, sometimes heartwarming performance.
To finish off the night, charming Dutch band BRUUT! give a superbly upbeat and technical performance. Their soulful jazz set was one of the unmissable segments of the festival for me.
The final night of 12 Points festival is as energetic as the first. That’s the pleasant thing about the festival – There are no headline acts. Every artist is equal and are appreciated and celebrated by the audience the same as the next.
Swedish four piece, Black Dough, start the show with a dark and mystical performance accompanied with haunting lyrics from front woman Miranda Bjerking Raeder. The immersive and passionate performance is lapped up by the 12 Points audience.
The band representing Ireland in the festival, Umbra, take to the stage next. Composer and guitarist Chris Guilfoyle supplies a vibrant set of original and thrilling pieces, and the band play effortlessly well together with excellent groovy synergy.
Swiss group Hildegard Lernt Fliegen end the festival in outrageous style. They incorporate a rare mix of technical excellence, astonishing musicianship and comedic style into their music. The six piece band entertain each other as much as they entertain the audience, some members bursting into laughter throughout the hilarious and imaginative parts of the show. World class vocalist Andreas Schaerer teases his way through the dynamic and incredibly fun performance, and the band gets a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.
And with that, the festival comes to an end. The audience, musicians and organisers breath a sigh of relief and satisfaction as they head over to the last jam session with Leo Drezden in Sweeneys. The sold out festival was enjoyed every night to it’s core. Everyone involved comes away with a feeling of belonging, taking away a very special music experience they will not forget. There is no better festival to experience the breadth, energy, ambition and diversity through which young European musicians are making the jazz of the future. It is a true celebration of budding European artists and their music.
The lesson learned is that 12 Points festival is like no other – It is not just a festival, it is a concept and a community that everyone wants to be involved in, from musicians to journalists to punters.
What is so admirable about this European festival is that it is run by the small Dublin based family that is Improvised Music Company, a non-profit event organisation. A handful of team members pull off this event seamlessly with an unbeatable personal touch year after year. IMC are a force to be reckoned with, they are the root cause of Irish jazz interaction within Europe. They are not just participants from little old Ireland, they are creative giants who inspire and influence the European jazz scene in a big way. They give priceless opportunities to both Irish and European musicians. The knock on effects of the festival are felt throughout the rest of the year, and that is where the true value is. At the end of the day, it is not just about the music, it is about the experience that is taken away by everyone involved, and the 12 Points experience is truly special.
To view the full Up Close & Personal 12 points 2015 album click here
Words and photos: Ciara Sherlock (contact)