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Festival review: I'll Be Your Mirror

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Replacing the eeriness of out-of-season British holiday camps for the grandeur of Alexandra Palace, All Tomorrow’s Parties launched its inaugural sister event in epic style.

I'll Be Your MirrorTaking on curating duties are trip-hop legends Portishead, whose reputation has bought together a stellar line-up of incredible and mind-altering sounds.

Few bands could coax the likes of PJ Harvey fresh from another Mercury nomination for her masterpiece new album Let England Shake, and Nick Cave’s Grinderman along as ‘support’ acts.

Saturday brought a rare UK performance from hip-hop masked crusader DOOM, whose razor-edge flow cut a harsh note in between Bristol roots reggae collective Black Roots and the audio/visual extravaganza of The Books future-retro mix of live and found sounds, and bizarre video cuts.

With her sombre new release Polly Jean Harvey ran the risk of being buried by the grand venue but brought surreal gravitas in a mesmerising performance focusing on Let England Shake. Her odes to the horrors of war brought the desired disconcerting effect, in an equally beautiful and unnerving recital. Few tracks from her back catalogue make the set list but a stripped down version on ‘C’Mon Billy’ proves a testament to her as one of our greatest UK artists.

Those who manage to drag themselves to Ally Pally for the lunch time start of post-rock legends Godspeed You Black Emperor are in audience for one of the truly great musical experiences of modern times. Apocalyptic in sound and imagery, the Canadian eight-piece’s intricate rock orchestrations build from subtle aural nuances to crushing crescendos seamlessly. Eerie projected imagery projected portrays beauty and darkness in equal measure – it’s hard to imagine the sun is shining outside and the world is not on the brink of ending.

Liars’ rampant inventiveness doesn’t really translate live, but they put in a frantic, scattershot performance which largely pulls from last year’s Magnus opus Sisterland. Angus Andrews dancing is as surreal as the sounds bounding from the stage. Few bands can bounce from idea to idea so seamlessly.

Beach House subdue proceedings with some floating, summery surf-indie which is perfect for the scorching heat outside, while Berlin femme fatale Anika is a decidedly chillier prospect. An icy Nico clone, with an emotionless Germanic delivery over Krautrock-infused rhythms, the sounds are far more interesting that the vocals. The contrast of funk-dub danceability and slow non-descript ‘singing’ makes her an intriguing proposition but one that never quite gels.

The relentless, full-on aural assault of extreme-noise legends Swans is still reverberating around the place when Nick Cave and Co launch into the sleaziest, most rock n roll set possible. If music be the food of love, Grinderman are the aural equivalent of a dirty, one night stand. Stripped back, visceral and energetic - Cave holds court like a pervert shaman – a man in his 50s still putting the young guns to shame. Ode to sexual frustration ‘No Pussy Blues’ sums the whole thing up perfectly. Grinderman are pure, unadulterated rock n roll power.

Sitting on top of the whole pile for both nights Portishead prove why they have such a grand reputation. Their lush melancholy sounds like nothing else on this planet (or any other). Beth Gibbon delivers her ethereal voice of pain and anguish clutching to the mic, eyes closed, like her life depends on it. Nothing the band plays sounds remotely dated – ‘Glory Box’ still has the power to mesmerise in a way that few songs ever have.  From its spooky jazz, vintage-vinyl, scratched hip hop through the cinematic spy-movie cool of ‘Mysterons’ and the repetitive electronic drone of ‘Machine Gun’ Portishead breath a life of their own to everything they touch.
This set is visually, aurally and emotionally perfect.

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