The beauty behind Howling Owl’s annual knees up has always been the element of surprise.
Even though you might think you know what to expect you’ll almost definitely find yourself unable to control a gaping jaw at some point during the evening. 2016 was no exception.
We arrived too late to catch Repo Man and felt oddly gutted to be told they’d sounded like a hybrid of Fugazi and, um, Primus. Next time Repo Man, we promise. We tardily entered the all-black cube of Arnolfini’s lecture hall to the sound of cyclical beats and undulating synths. Chrononautz were smashing out analogue techno on a set-up that looked like the set of a 1960s science fiction series and their visuals hinted at similar themes. Space-like horizons twirled frenetically behind vaguely scientific words that initially felt cheap, but somehow seemed completely apt by the end of their set. Their brand of pummelling, noisy electronica was a very warm, if slightly boorish, welcome.
During the first interval the foyer was bustling with a performance from local art collective Champ. We fought our way through enormous papier-mâché monsters moving to rhythmic chaos just to get in the queue for a drink – all part of the deal at New Year/New Noise.
Next up in the main room was Rhain, an Isle of Wight resident with a wicked sense of humour and a vocal register that could probably shatter a coffee mug. As her wandering voice propelled musings on love, witty observations on family life and a well-timed Pavlova simile around the room, we left feeling sultry, stoned and surrounded by whispered Björk comparisons.
In contrast, London’s Blood Music swung a truncheon of power electronics, spoken word and harrowing, distorted beats. Main man Simon Pomery – joined tonight by Sophie Coletta – found himself encircled by the crowd as he charged onward with a live assault of screech and clamour generated by a mixture of simple instruments and the kind of machines that look like they might take years to really understand. Having recently released on Powell’s ever-reliable Diagonal imprint Blood Music was an intriguing concept from the get go and the pair proved their worth both artistically and technically.
Rounding off the night Spectres, the Bristol-based noise unit formed by Howling Owl founders Joe Hatt and Adrian Dutt, managed to completely swallow the room in a headache inducing swell of pandemonium. Playing songs from their critically acclaimed album Dying against a backdrop of haunting visuals, their homecoming bewitched the audience and left us dizzy and strangely cleansed. Joined at the set’s apex by a wash of drummers and guitarists from Howling Owl affiliates including Taos Humm, Velcro Hooks and Jesuits, New Year/New Noise ended with an all-encompassing rinse that could (and perhaps should) have shaken the warehouse-cum-gallery to its foundations.
For a night built on chaos, disarray and confusion New Year/New Noise is a surprisingly accessible prospect. The yearly gathering thrives on eclecticism and inventiveness and, once again, delivered a suitably eclectic and inventive line-up to a sold out venue. The legion of loyal followers Howling Owl has accrued is down, in no small part, to their continued commitment to the fringes of experimentalism and an ear for genuinely arresting music. There are simply not enough nights like New Year/New Noise.