The esteemed Substrata festival has come to a close after an epic, final weekend in Seattle. Rafael Anton Irisarri’s yearly ambient/experimental festival, which has been pushing some of the best music to grace this style, and the many (both unknown and known) associated artists, labels and projects, was highly regarded from all corners of the world, and as a result will leave a big hole in the ambient community.
I was lucky enough to attend the past three years, making the journey up from Portland to immerse myself over the long weekend of evening shows. This year was no different, but ultimately very different in meaning. Being the last show, many friends made the trip from across America to show their support and catch the last edition, and it was the first time I got to meet some of them after speaking on email for years. It was a community - a gathering of likeminded friends, more than a festival. We didn’t need to hang out the entire weekend, but we still made the time to grab a beer, a slice of pizza, or go record shopping, then sit and enjoy some beautiful music.
The opening night always seemed to be one of my favourites at Substrata, and 1.5 opened with Tara Jane O’Neil’s murky drones and angelic voice. Rauelsson surprised many with his experimental approach to the piano, harmonica, xylophone, a tape recorder and audience participation - echoes of "Nils Frahm live" heard throughout conversations after, and the epitome of Rafael’s curation - he was one of the lesser known artist's on the bill, but will undoubtedly be one of the remembered. bvdub then closed the evening with his immersive soundscapes and some haunting visuals from Leo Mayberry. Inverted silhouettes, inspired from many of Brock’s album artwork, crossed with slowly descending cats and intense fire-scapes framing the euphoria and concentration emitting from Brock’s on-stage presence.
The Friday night opened with a 7ft Gold Harp alongside Mary Lattimore, plucking and looping, twinkling notes, shimmering around the Chapel space. The highly anticipated Lubomyr Melnyk then took the stage, and began by explaining how scientists had got it wrong - sound, was much more than waves, and he was about to prove it to you. Two pieces of “Continuous Music” in, and Lubomyr preceded a final third piece with a story of a windmill. The story was transferred to his magical fingers and throughout what seemed like a 45 minute spell (it was a little long), page-by-page came to life throughout an entrancing piano master-class. It was then the turn of 12k’s Taylor Deupree to close. More stunning visuals, triggered live by Marcus Fischer, accompanied the descending sunset, with Taylor's intrinsic meddling of the many synths, patches and unknown mechanics laid on the floor in-front of him, showing us a world of delicate sounds you’d likely find hidden amongst the undergrowth on a warm sunny day.
Melodic drones and the warming sounds of both Tiny Vipers and Panabrite teased the highly anticipated Rachel Grimes, where she would be accompanied on stage by Substrata Alumni, Loscil. With Scott’s laptop turned towards the audience, Rachel poised stern behind the grand piano, and the summer heat finally getting to most of us, the stage was set for the most dramatic show of the weekend. The warmth and undertones resonating from Loscil, complimenting the stark beauty of Rachel’s Piano that we’ve heard on many of their collaborations. It could’ve been the finale to end all finales, but that was left to the legendary Shuttle 358 and his graceful return to music after many long lost years - Paul Clipson’s stunning visuals resonating from 16mm film, complimenting the shimmering beauty resonating from Shuttle 358; the perfect drones to signal another legendary weekend in Seattle, and the celebrated end for one of the most important festivals to ever grace the ambient, modern-classical and experimental community.
You can read about a little Crate Digging trip I took whilst at Substrata with bvdub and Mike Cadoo here , and features on previous Substrata Festivals 1.3 (preview), 1.4 and 1.5 (preview). Please note, the lack of photos for this post was on purpose - I decided to keep my attention focused on the music this year.