Six years after they first began producing events in Scotland, the UK and all over the globe, avant-garde art collective Neu! Reekie! are gearing up for their first ever summer festival. Pooling, in their words, "all our favourite rabble-rousers, mavericks and marvels to make it as formidable as whales and skyscrapers," they've decamped from their usual Edinburgh home, to set up a curiosity shop in Hull, with the likes of Young Fathers, Charlotte Church, Akala and Bill Drummond converging on the city to ask the "soaring, searching question with which David Bowie kissed us goodbye" (namely, Where Are We Now?).
"The UK has reached a crossroads. Where it goes next is anyone's guess," Neu! Reekie! state. "Dark divisive forces of racism and prejudice are stirring across the UK (and Europe) in the wake of Brexit and across the Atlantic following the election of Donald Trump. We need to ask our artists, musicians and writers where they stand."
V Festival this is not. Get your tickets for Where Are We Now? here and have a read of our interview with Neu! Reekie! wordsmith Michael Pedersen below.
What makes Where Are We Now? different to all the other festivals happening this summer then?
Taking the cultural heartbeat of the UK is our raison d'être raison from the word go -- it's not simply a case of delivering high quality performances, but leaps beyond. We're curating a festival that's asking more questions than it intends to answer. When we plotted to produce Where Are We Now? there was no President Trump, no Brexit, and no impending General Election. We're a reactive festival so have been absorbing these decisions as we go and altering and evolving content to engage with them.
WAWN? is genre busting and disparate by careful deliberation -- we value all our art forms and the gaps between them. That's why spoken word sensations like Linton Kwesi Johnson and Hollie McNish will be performing on the same stage as Young Fathers and Charlotte Church's Late Night Pop Dungeon; on the screens behind them avant-garde animations/ BAFTA winning filmmakers will project with purpose. There is no hierarchy -- just kindred spirits and shared interest. And you can get your shoes shined by Bill Drummond!
Wedged in between Radio One Big Weekend and The Turner Prize it is a fertile breeding ground for the free-thinking jamboree we'll be unshackling upon the city. Keep us close.
How did you settle on name? It's a Bowie nod, right?
Fucking right it is. We needed to have a titular banner that puffed out into a question -- after all, we're inciting and inviting performances and commissioning content that asks questions. And, yes, counterculture king (and queen) David Bowie is where it started.
Bowie released a song on his birthday in January 2013 called Where Are We Now? An artist whom the Neu! Reekie! collective regularly work with, Japanese-based pop oddball/former Creation Records Maestro Momus, had covered this song. Not only had he covered it but went on to release the cover hours after the track arrived from David. It must have lit the right fuse because, soon after, it was sanctioned and promoted by David Bowie and the management team. Momus has paid homage to Bowie throughout his entire career, and admits he wouldn't have existed in this capacity without him -- this was thus a euphoric moment. Capturing these personal takes on wider known, or perhaps more instantaneous cultural notions, are key to the inner workings of Where Are We Now?
Oh, I might add we took Bowie's question and then added in some Jamie Reid magic to make the banner/logo. Having the artist that pioneered the Sex Pistols imagery (and later Pussy Riot) sculpt our signage was a serious statement of intent. We've taken that one step further and have Jamie Reid in person preparing a bespoke wall collage to be unveiled for the opening of the Festival.
Is there a common thread between the artists that you have performing?
It's back to asking questions for this one -- questions that surface before, during and after the performance. Many of the artists Neu! Reekie! have established relationships with and this is about taking this to the next level -- that's the likes of Young Fathers, Hollie McNish, Charlotte Church, Mark Cousins, Stanley Odd, Andrew Weatherall, Sabrina Mahfouz. Then there are those that burst onto the radar when the counter-culture banner was triggered -- Linton Kwesi Johnson, Bill Drummond, Akala, Jamie Reid -- and we simply couldn't be without them. Each of the acts is proffering something that seeps out of the show. We're expecting a flurry of happenings to surface simply from having all these folk in the same place at the same time and being receptive to their whims and desires.
Alright, alright. So where are we now, generally speaking? The UK certainly feels at a bit of a crossroads...
Not where we want to be, so this is about finding out what we're looking for -- cause let's face it, most of us haven't worked that out quite yet.
And why is Hull such a good place to be exploring all this?
Why? It's the UK City of Culture, silly. For a lot of the artists this will be their debut appearance in Hull and they'll be working the city out as much as it's working them out. Others are old hats looking to revamp and reimagine what it means to perform in Hull -- and with a potpourri of new venues and galleries springing up that shouldn't be too tricky.
Hull is the end of the line, you don't pass through Hull, you're there because you came for it. We like that.
Like Edinburgh Hull stares off into the North Sea, into a ruminative abyss split open by the Humber (in our case the Firth of Forth). This oceanic behemoth helps put things into perspective. With land over ocean in all direction it's also open to suggestions beyond borders. Hull's sounds are beaming across to Europe and up towards the Nordic states. Naturally, Hull was an overwhelming EU leave vote. Scotland was not, the driving forces behind Neu! Reekie!, too, were not. That's not to say that was without qualification, we're for all sorts of radical change and are open to exploring every avenue of political thinking associated with those.
Because of Wilberforce and the Freedom Festival and the principles that pulse in this.
Because the Telephone Boxes are cream.
What would you like in return from your audience over the weekend?
Collective coruscation. Let's start with full houses and we'll take it from there. Wait a minute… are sold out gigs at odds with the counterculture mandate? No matter, it's a new age.
Neu! Reekie!'s Where Are We Now? festival takes place across Hull from 2 - 4 June.
Text Matthew Whitehouse