LIVE: Mutations Festival 2015

By Jack Hadaway

Spread out across a complex multitude of venues within the neighbouring southern coastal towns of Brighton and Hove lies Mutations festival. With a lineup that has been tailored by famed Brighton music collective One Inch Badge to cater for those who are interested in the most polarising experimental and extreme music that is on offer at the moment, the weekend festival was set to be really special. Throughout the two day festival there are guests from a wide variety of genres including Noise-rock, classical, doom metal, folk and hardcore who are all ready to lay waste to a heavily overcast Brighton.


First up at The Old Market is Brighton natives, Nature Channel, a chirpy and energetic three piece who play with a great amount of enthusiasm considering that there is around 30 people in the room. The alternating vocal performances delivered by the trio’s bassist and guitarist works well throughout their short half hour performance with latest single ‘Rabbit Starvation’ providing a set highlight. The outfit play with a big bassy sound supported with a large amount of guitar feedback which impresses many people in the audience whose capacity has trebled since the beginning of their set. At times, the chat between the band and the crowd comes across as a bit awkward but what Nature Channel don’t provide in stage presence they certainly back up with some high quality indie-punk in the vein of an edgier version of The Subways. Despite announcing that they are going to take some time off for a while, the three piece will hopefully be ones to watch in 2016.

After a quick fifteen minute changeover, an impressive feat that proves to be consistent during the whole weekend, Canadian post-punk and hardcore quartet Chastity take to the stage. The band, who are embarking on their debut UK tour, have just released their new four-track EP ‘Tape’, which has garnered a lot of buzz and approval online and has clearly translated to them having a larger crowd than their predecessors. As a unit, Chastity have a tight sound which meanders between shoegazey post-punk on tracks like ‘You’re Scary Now’ and a heavier, darker and more aggressive sound on ‘Saliva’. Both contrasting shades of the band provide an intimate experience in different ways which compliments their sound rather than separates it.

Vocalist Brandon Williams spends the majority of the set pacing the floor in front of the stage. Clad in an old Marilyn Manson t-shirt and a hooded coat, the tall frontman is somewhat sinister without being overbearing despite towering over the majority of the audience. At times, Williams struts into the crowd to unleash some powerful lyrics upon his audience, notably the repeated refrain, “sentence the innocent, free the guilty.” However, his aggression matches the band’s spooky sound and intense performance. Before leaving, Williams quickly quips about the band’s “trippy” visit to Brighton’s pier before declaring his gratitude to both the festival and the other acts on the bill. For a band who have only played four shows in the UK before this afternoon, Chastity are a delight for the 100-strong crowd.

Next up was a band who were, without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the weekend, Brighton proggy post-rock female fronted five-piece Written in Waters. A bit of curveball, even by Mutations’ standards, considering the other heavier acts that on the bill at The Old Market. However, their sheer presence is utterly incredible. Front woman Beth Cannon is an absolutely mesmerising singer who utterly gives her all throughout the half hour set. Vocally, there is a level of Florence Welch (of The Machine) and Kate Bush echoed in her vibrant performance with impossibly soaring choruses and frightening vocal shifts. Accompanying Cannon are a drummer Bill Burns, keyboardist Joe Habberfield, guitarist and programmer, George McKenzie and Lawrence Jenner, a 5 stringed bass play impeccably.

Although, it is evident that the presence of Cannon is at the forefront of the band’s sound, the instrumentalists provide intimate and complex rhythms, reminiscent of post-rock heroes such as And So I Watch You From Afar. Burns and Jenner provide a thrilling backbone to the outfit’s core sound and as a unit they sound as if they are fused together. Throughout, the band are totally engaging, enthusiastic and excited about their inclusion on the bill especially on just before Chelsea Wolfe. Written in Waters are and oddball group that wonderfully stick out in such a wild lineup.

Last on at The Old Market are, for me at least, today’s main event, Chelsea Wolfe. Supported by a trio of musicians on drums, guitars, bass and programming, the band open with a ferocious rendition of recent-album opener ‘Carrion Flowers’. One thing is immediately apparent, Wolfe’s band are astonishingly tight and loud. All clad in black on a blue dimly lit stage, the unit stand like pitch-perfect haunting shadows on the stage. The band barely move around as they parade through ‘Dragged Out’ among intense flashing lights.

Between songs, the crowd remains unaddressed and are instead bathed in atmospheric guitars and programming drones. Maintaining the mystery presented on her latest record ‘Abyss’, the band seem nearly entirely expressionless during their performance which only adds to their strange, seductive and haunting vibe. When Wolfe and her colleagues play their rich, atmospheric, concoction of folk, shoegaze and doom metal they are utterly focused with what they are playing without showing any sign of deviation. The band’s drummer utilises his whole kit in a unorthodox way, choosing to lay down big tribal beats on the toms rather than using his hi-hat to keep time. On the other hand, Wolfe’s bassist uses a large programming set-up to provide the majority of the band’s drone-like sound which compliments both the percussion and the echoey effects manipulating Wolfe’s vocal talent.

Throughout the hour long set, the quartet play tracks nearly exclusively from ‘Abyss’, choosing to the omit ‘Feral Love’, Wolfe’s most famous song. However, ‘Iron Moon’, the standout track on Abyss more than makes up for its absence. The set concludes with a quiet and appreciative ‘Thank You’ from Wolfe and a short story about the production process of the album in Texas before the band begin ‘Survive’. Wolfe leaves the stage and allows her bandmates to continue building and building the atmosphere with fast drum beats and screeching guitars supported by strobe-like lighting. The tension mounts until the programmer drops his raised hand leading to everything suddenly cutting and falling completely silent. Although reserved and unemotional, Wolfe and her colleagues have truly provided an excellent spectacle to a moved crowd.


For fans of the heavier stuff, Sunday begins at The Haunt with brutal Brighton doom-metallers, Sea Bastard. The four piece bring huge riffs and harsh vocals to the tiny venue which steadily fills throughout their short set. The melodies are drawn-out across epic sprawling 15 minute tracks with one beginning with solely heavily distorted guitar tone for around two minutes. New track, ‘The Hermit’, goes down well with the enthusiastic home crowd and it is clearly a number that the band enjoy playing with the band’s guitarist flailing around in a possessed manner. This contrasts to the vocal performance of the band’s frontman who remains in a calm and controlled state whilst delivering some of the heaviest growling vocals I have ever heard. The pair are supported by a drummer and bassist, both who channel their inner sludge as they pummel through long heavy sections of deep instrumentation. As a doom-metal newbie, it is fair to say that through watching Sea Bastard I have begun my conversion to the heaviest style of metal.

Sandwiched between the two ferocious doom bands is Blanck Mass, one half of experimental electronic drone duo, Fuck Buttons. Playing with a DJ set-up in front of a projection of weird extreme images, you might think that Blanck Mass, also known as Benjamin John Power, would have trouble attempting to fit in among the terrific gloomy instrumentalists on either side of his billing. Playing to a packed-out room, it is clearly evident that this is not the case.

Starting with ‘Loam’, the opener from his latest release, ‘Dumb Flesh’, Blanck Mass steadily builds the tension within the room to a searing level. Behind him, his logo, morphs into some kind of odd pulsing lava ball that looks like it is going to change into a sentient being at any point. These projections rotate during the performance and are all somewhat horrifying. At one moment, it seems as if we are watching some sort of strange colonoscopy footage that has been mashed up with the visualizations that were used on Windows Media Player in the last decade. Other visual elements include a sinister masked face as well as eclectic colours that match the glitchy sound being broadcast.

Within the hour set, Blanck Mass provides a definitively unique experience that is both terrifying and impulsive. Set highlight, ‘Double Cross’ is received well by the crowd with some choosing to dance in some kind of trance whilst others remain captivated by the visualization element of the show. Power does not stop once during his full hour set, nor does he communicate with the crowd except for a solitary wave at the conclusion to his performance.

After being practically deafened by harsh, dark electronica I am not sure if my body and mind can take much more of a sonic pounding but I hang around to catch psychedelic stoner doom gods OM nonetheless. The trio consists of a drummer, another percussionist who also provides support with a diverse range of keyboard/organ sounds and Al Cisneros, of seminal stoner metal legends, Sleep, on both bass guitar and vocals. As a unit, the band’s sound is deep, layered and sometimes trippy in places with smooth chugging bass riffs laid over slow and thoughtful percussion. Cisneros provides pitch perfect clean and echoey vocals that sound like he could stand in as the frontman of Rush if he wanted to.

The band’s songs are very long, building and atmospheric but also exciting in places. It is really quite impressive that OM have such a large, filling and flawless sound considering there are only three people on the stage. In terms of backbone, OM’s songs rely heavily on tightly woven dual percussion and this can be seen in both the size of the drum kit and the range of instruments possessed by the keyboardist. At some moments he can be seen tossing a tambourine elegantly into the air whilst at other times he is huddled over some kind of steel instrument.

Those who were already fans of OM are clearly roused by their faultless meandering grooves on stage, however those were unconverted may find OM’s performance a little slow when compared to what they have previously seen over the day. Although, it is evident that everyone in the room appreciates the technicality and musicianship present even if it does not stimulate them as others have. This is something that Mutations does very well, it confronts you with the most disparate music from one act to the next.

After a mammoth walk on a breezy Brighton seafront to make it to the festival’s largest venue, The Concorde 2, garage-influenced noise-punk four-piece Blacklisters have just hit the stage. Opening with the sludgy ‘Shirts’, the chaotic opener from their latest release, ‘Adult’, Blacklisters play loud and fast to a room which starts relatively barren but fills up throughout. Vocalist Billy, clad in a shirt that represents Smalltown America labelmates, USA Nails, spends the entirety of the set gyrating on stage which is extremely entertaining. Hurtling through new material such as ‘I Knock Myself Out’ and ‘The Sadness of Axel Rose’, Blacklisters play so loud that you can see the parts of the venue shaking as they hurtle through their half-hour set. Their performance is tight, furious and unprincipled with particular praise going for drummer Alastair, whose drum-kit looks like it was being crushed, a sight which will become the theme of the evening.

Batshit experimental noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt bring the volume, the energy and the weirdness to their hour long set. From the outset the band sound exactly like they do on record; rough, frenetic and nonsensical. Masked drummer and vocalist Brian Chippendale provided an extremely intimidating display of the power of the combination of heavily distorted effect-laden vocals over the top of brutal drum beats. For those who have not seen Lightning Bolt before, which included me, Chippendale has his idiosyncratic microphone installed within his mask so that he can simultaneously provide vocals without having to lean awkwardly over to a microphone. In terms of performance, this set-up ensured that he did not have to compromise his frenzied drumming style at any point.

Brian Gibson, the other half of the outfit, also has unconventional style of playing as he utilises a customised bass/6 string hybrid. The range that Gibson can achieve on his guitar far excels that of any regular instrument. Both players rely heavily on effects pedals of sorts to provide the audience with their perfect sound and it is utterly mesmerising.

For me, it was impossible to recognise a single song during the band’s hour long set but that did not matter. Lightning Bolt play with an irresistible amount of gusto and finesse, they sound impossibly messy yet refined at the same time. Occasionally, a sweat sodden Chippendale chooses to talk to the crowd but even then the effects make him sound garbled. At one point during the set he brings two guys onto the stage whom the crowd have labelled as the ‘bad guys’ of the mosh pit. They are made to sit in the front corner of the stage, next to Chippendale as he gives him a thunderous display of warped passion until the end of the set. At one point he even invites one of them to hit some of electronic pads themselves before removing his mask when his vocal duties are no longer needed. The pair are thrilling and leave the packed coastal venue enthralled, enraptured and exhausted.

This leaves, the final main act of the night, Canadian trio METZ an unenviable task. However, like both their peers before them, they play relentlessly. Opting to begin with debut record opener, ‘Headache’, the trio show no indication that they intend to let the crowd lie dormant for even a minute. Much like their UK headline shows from earlier in the month, the three-piece barely stop for breath as they rattle through hits from their newest record, ‘II’. Once again, ‘Spit it Out’, ‘The Swimmer’, ‘Wait in Line’ and personal set highlight ‘Kicking a Can of Worms’ are explosive and energetic. However, it is the bass notes of ‘Acetate’ which really gets the crowd going with shoulder-riders featured aplenty in the dense sweaty circle pit.

Although the front of the room looks slightly diminished when compared to the previous performers, the inexplicably rejuvenated crowd are as raucous as ever and react to every song as if it is the last. Recently released non-album track ‘Eraser’ also goes down well with the Brighton crowd, perhaps more so than on METZ recent headline shows.

Each member of METZ should be commended for their energy tonight. Drummer Hayden Menzies, whose handiwork is flawless throughout, barely looks up from his kit as his head madly whips around to every pounding beat. Singer and guitarist, Alex Edkins, ends the set completely soaked in sweat whilst bassist Chris Slorach looks visibly worn out after a commanding performance. All three do not hit a note wrong tonight and in the end it is to METZ’ credit that they manage to follow-up Lightning Bolt’s stonking performance with one that is equally impressive. Set closer and fan favourite, ‘Wet Blanket’ closes off the evening’s proceedings perfectly with Brian Gibson of Lightning Bolt spotted in the crowd looking as if he enjoyed METZ’ vigour as much as his own.

All in all, in Mutations, One Inch Badge have managed to create a festival that is exciting, relevant as well as exclusive without having to book any huge names. The entirety of the bands I saw over the weekend set up all their own equipment and played flawlessly with passion. The promoters have managed to book some of the most hardworking artists from the most polarising genres yet have still created an experience which feels both hospitable and cohesive. There could be a few minor tweaks, but the UK may just have a brilliant new destination to witness the world’s best weirdness all in one stunning place.