It’s a little before 11am on a Saturday morning, and I’m at Jupiter Rising, a two-day festival of music, art, film, performance and dance held in the grounds of Jupiter Artland, the expansive and enchanting sculpture park just outside of Edinburgh. I’m one of a dozen or so people sitting in a small gallery space, held quietly enthralled by a performance lecture by Beatrice Searle, a meditation on how to approach a conversation with a stone which mixes research, readings, rubbings, personal anecdote, folklore and live stone-masonry to tell a moving story centred on the privilege and wonder of seeing something unique for the first time.
I’m sat on a towel as I’ve just come from a gloriously sunny bathing session in Joana Vasconcelos’ Gateway, a newly-commissioned artwork in the form of a colour-splashed psychedelically-tiled swimming pool, set in an immaculately-trimmed ornamental garden, that’s a minute’s walk away. The previous afternoon, the festival had opened with HQ – (I Feel So Mezzaniney), a dance piece performed around this same pool, with speakers set around the space and three dancers performing in the round. Although just one iteration of an evolving collaboration between musician Steven Warwick and choreographer Carlos Maria Romero, it’s been adapted specifically for this location and there is an unquestionable feeling that we as an audience are lucky to be here, witnessing something this unique and extraordinary in what feels like the absolutely perfect space, at the absolutely perfect time.
The piece explores performative labour under platform-capitalism, the cowboy-hatted dancers dressed in wetsuits modified with the lacy frills of maids’ uniforms. An uneasy tension is created between the driving, repetitive bass thuds coming from the speakers, the virtuosic and demanding choreography (can they really be comfortable doing that in those heels?), and the sweat visibly dripping from the performers’ faces on this unexpectedly warm day, as they alternately work the floors (with mops) and the crowd (with their bodies). After the upbeat opening movements, the piece becomes increasingly melancholy. With dusk drawing in, the dancers momentarily retire, and Warwick leaves his place by his laptop to lie on his front by the pool, oblivious to everything and everyone except his phone. Then he’s floating on a lilo in the water, isolated from his maids, from other human beings, and even from the tech who follows him with a microphone on a pole as he floats in and out of its range, his repeated enunciations of a single word (“sorry”) becoming increasingly loaded, even as they drift in and out of hearing. The performance ultimately ends with the audience being ushered into the pool’s small adjacent geodesic sauna dome. We’re not sure what we’ll see, but after queuing we’re faced with the sight of the dancers/maid’s showering, stone-faced, exhausted, even these most private of their moments now a part of the spectacle of their lives. It’s an astonishing piece, and one that really encapsulates the strengths of Jupiter Rising, a small festival with a perfectly-curated programme that allows attendees to discover wonderful, unusual experiences in an environment which has a down-the-rabbit-hole agenda of encouraging curiosity literally built into its grounds. The Warwick-Maria Romero performance was just the opening keynote, but of course there’s a full and varied itinerary still to come, and it’s similarly packed with unexpected delights.
Being a festival, music is still the most prominent artistic axis here, and there’s a wealth of it over Friday evening and all of Saturday. My personal highlights are the excoriating yet exhilaratingly positive politicised hardcore of Glasgow’s Overwhelmed, and the surely bound for bigger things melodic post-punk of fellow locals Current Affairs, fronted by Joan Sweeney’s distinctive vocals. The weekend will also witness a magisterial performance from Cate Le Bon, the incendiary uplift of The Comet Is Coming and the evergreen jangle of Scots indie legends The Vaselines (who leave me forever grateful by playing Monsterpussy), as well as a myriad of lesser-known but no less intriguing artists, many of whom blur the lines between music and performance art (Pauline & The Matches, Jer Reid, Mary Hurrell). I miss plenty, but another highpoint for me is Saturday’s set by Elaine Mitchener & Apartment House, an abrupt left-step from anything else on this weekend’s line-up (amongst several) but no less welcome for it. A seven-strong ensemble, featuring vibraphone, strings, flutes and piano, all fronted by Mitchener’s remarkable vocals, the linchpin of the set is their take on minimalist composer Julius Eastman’s Stay On It (The Otolith Group’s excellent video meditation on Eastman’s work, also featuring Mitchener, was screened earlier in the day as part of the festival’s cinema programme). They begin, however, with Frederic Rzewsk’s Coming Together and Attica, and we’re also treated to some of Mitchener’s own pieces. Despite covering the works of multiple composers, the set has a unified feel, all of the music born from the same minimalist principles, accumulating and growing sympathetically in deeply felt, soulful, hopeful swells. Mitchener’s highly impressive singing stretches from the operatic to jazzy free vocalisation, with parts of one solo vocal piece even seemingly surprising their fellow band members. It’s an experience that demands our full attention, but it’s easily given, and the set is received ecstatically by those audience members who have traded the blazing sun outside the main marquee for the not-dissimilarly energising and enriching glow of this special performance.
As well as about four times as much music as I’ve mentioned here, there are also workshops (make some artwork, build an instrument, join a band!), at least two cinemas, a drop-in zine library (care of Glasgow’s Communal Leisure and Rattle Library), Bum Notes Karaoke (unexpectedly proving that Robbie Williams’ Angels has a place even here), and tarot readings from Mystika Glamoor. I never quite work out where the Scottish Queer International Film Festival’s programme is being screened, but in the festival’s defence, I also didn’t ask. Which was silly, as the site is filled with young volunteers from the Orbit Youth Council (here to design and sell merch, host a walk-through dress-up photo experience, run make-up stalls, and scientifically assess the leech content of the nearby duck pond) who would surely have gladly told me. But it’s fine. The programme, particularly on the Saturday, is so absolutely packed from start to finish that there’s more than enough to do anyway, and that’s before even accounting for the time desperately needed for lounging by (or indeed in) the aforementioned duck pond, as the warm weather has forced many of us to do (dear reader, rest easy, no leeches are reported).
All this embarrassment of riches inevitably leads us, come nightfall, to the OH141 stage, returning to the woodland glade, which it so definitively claimed as its own as part of last year’s Romanti-Crash, the second of two precursors to this year’s slightly larger festival. The stage, designed once again by Furmaan Ahmed, is a large free-standing cube which, stood amidst the leaf litter beneath the tree canopy, feels of a piece with the other more permanent sculptural installations that inhabit the woods around us. The cube’s exterior is covered in a fine transparent mesh, separating us subtly and softly from the performers, and the interior is entangled with snaking, ambiguously earthly/alien tendrils and branches. Seen during the daytime it looks like a butterfly house, but by night, set to the unnervingly irregular flashing of a white light, it’s more reminiscent of the box used to temporarily capture malign spirits in Twin Peaks: The Return, and this Lynchian feel is well suited to Friday night’s first act, Cucina Povera. Their layered vocal compositions have at times a somewhat medieval or New Age feel; entering the wooded glen where the dance stage feels a little like transitioning to another world, and Povera’s entrancing set only heightens this sensation.
This is the calm before the storm, however, as we’re soon swept up in the raw energy of Tribe of Colin’s lo-fi techno, the highlights of a diverse set being one or two tracks that could easily be lost Aphex Twin acid masterpieces. Speaking of acid, Karen Gwyer is playing at the same time on the festival’s main stage, just a short walk across the water via the hillocks and mounds of Charles Jenck’s monumental Cells of Life sculpture – their set is a high-bpm maximalist assault that has the crowd going nuts, but is slightly too manic for me at this stage of proceedings. But no matter, as back here in the cool of the woods, Ribeka is set to unleash a masterful 90 minute set of breakbeats, bass, hardcore and bleep that has me dancing joyfully through to the end of Friday night’s session.
Saturday night in the woods begins with DJ Scotia keeping the old-school-meets-new feel going, before DJ Plantainchipps takes things in a different but no less fun direction (NB. it’s never not fun here). Part way through their set they’re joined by Gloria; clad in body-hugging lycra and looking like an alien pop star, they emerge to deliver a live PA of futuristic, soulful R&B, a suite of songs from a forthcoming concept EP that conflates the problems of the modern woman, related with a powerful directness, with Greek mythology – all this while giving one of the performances of the weekend. It’s simultaneously familiar and otherworldly, futuristic but melancholy, and, yeah, it’s all happening in this weird alien box in the woods, in a place that feels just slightly divorced from the real world. As their emotional performance reaches its peak, Gloria tears at a break that has formed in the transparent mesh, climbing through to join us momentarily on the dancefloor. Once again, it’s an absolutely perfect combination of talent and time and place, and while I’m sad to have to leave to collapse exhausted in my tent at around 2am (not before dancing some more to Aisha Mirza’s set, but I sadly miss OH141 overlord Sarra Wild, rightfully closing proceedings), I’m conscious again of how lucky I am to have been here, witnessing such a magical and special combination of performers and place.
But this isn’t by chance; it’s thanks entirely to the cunning plotting of the event’s canny curators. If I’m lucky, it’s only that an event like this exists on my doorstep, that I’m lucky to be a neighbour to an arts organisation as open-minded and forward-thinking as Jupiter Artland. Jupiter Rising? Hell yeah! See you all there next year.