Gareth Branwyn: 3 Days of The Equinox

Boing Boing former guestblogger and bOING bOING editor Gareth Branwyn just returned from the Equinox Festival in London. He's kindly agreed to give us a taste of the magick in a series of posts. Gar writes:


Well, I made it to London on the mangy tail end of a ten-hour flight from DC that was supposed to take six. Since there's been one light rain since I got here, apparently the rain gods got it all out of their system before I left the States. We were held on Dulles tarmac for close to four hours while the plane was repeatedly power-washed in an apocalyptic deluge that even the flight crew said they'd never seen.

As detailed in a previous post, I've come to London to do some research on a novel and to trace some of the haunts of my beloved William Blake.

My first stop was the Equinox Festival, a fascinating experimental music fest and occult spirituality conference put on by multimedia artist Raymond Salvatore Harmon (along with Simon Kane and Andrew Hartwell). The Festival was a rather hit and miss affair, with that awkward, fumblingly vibe so often accompanying first times. Ray, Simon, and Andy's hearts were definitely in the right place and that made up for some of the late starts, schedule changes (which caused me to miss at least one important talk I'd come for) and other shortcomings. I heard surprisingly little grumbling, and overall, people seemed to be happy to be there and pleased with what they were getting.

Some of the highlights for me:

The Equinox Festival catalog – Not your typical event booklet. This is a substantial 200-plus page book of essays by the speakers, beautiful artwork, pieces about the intent of the Festival from the organizers, background and interviews on the artists at the Festival, and more. There was great spirit at this event, such great intent, but things got lost in the newbie kerfuffle. This book is a wonderful take-away which supports what happened and will allow it to take root much more effectively for those who were there. I've read the essays of several presenters and the interview with the re-united band Comus after their performance and it really helped deepen my experience. They were selling extra copies of the catalog at the event. I hope they sell them online afterwards. If they do, it's definitely worth getting a copy. It stands well on its own as something of a snapshot/ad hoc manifesto of the current "occult revival" (if, in fact, such a thing is happening). The book was published by Strange Attractor and lists for GBP 11.99.

The nighttime music programs – The Festival was set up so there were lectures and films by day, one ritual performance piece in the afternoon, and musical programs each of the three nights. Each night's music was my favorite part of the event. Some of the music was rather noodlely, "difficult" (it ain't called "experimental" for nothin') and I tended to gravitate more toward familiar soundscapes. Percussionist Z'ev, whom I hadn't heard in years, was powerful, and avant garde saxophonist John Zorn's performance was memorable — they were the headliners for the "Opening Gala." The next night, I was pretty much onboard for the entire line-up, which included K11- Pietro Riparbelli, doing his "Voices from Thelema" piece (of short wave radio receivers set up inside the ruins of Crowley's Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu), Clay Ruby's Burial Hex (whose gloomy graveyard droning beneath pounded piano I found extremely effective, psycho-active), and the surprise of the night for me, Comus. I was only passingly familiar with this band, in the context of '70s British prog/acid folk. I saw their sound check and it was pretty ragged (as sound checks have a right to be, but it still makes you wonder about the performance ahead). Their set was a revelation. Maybe because everything else had been so experimental, not easily accessible, their music was so beautiful, welcoming and familiar (at least in comparison), while dealing in those typical 70s progressive staples of fast tempos, odd time signatures, stops and starts, etc. I missed a bunch of the final night's music, but did manage to catch TAGC (The Anti-Group Company), Adi Newton's (Clock DVA) current project, Aethenor, and Peter Christopherson's Threshold House Boys Choir. TAGC performs multimedia pieces with hypnotically strobing, symbolic imagery and trancey music. The Threshold House Boys Choir is just Sleazy in a great bold-patterned robe (that he described as looking like something from 101 Dalmatians) speaking in a low, gentle voice while playing rather soothing soundscapes, all the while showing videos of such "alternative realities" as public ritual tattooing and amateur films of the Taiwanese sex-trade.

By far, the most interesting performance I saw was by Arktau Eos, a two-person ritual performance art/musical group from Finland (here joined by a percussionist). They did this inexplicably weird ritual, with all three of them in black tunics and what looked like burlap bags over their heads (think: Scarecrow from Batman). Very effectively anonimizing and creepy. They chanted, bowed, made intricate hand gestures, moved somnambulistically from the stage to the floor of the hall, lighting incense, unfurling cryptic banners, spewing liquids into the air, while a droning soundscape filled the hall and a blurry video of a Blair Witch Project-like woodlands jittered behind them. If the art at this event was supposed to allow you to enter some other state, another green (or black) world, this was the piece that provided the gateway for me. The rest of the ritual performance pieces, while interesting, didn't speak to me beyond curiosity and maybe an intellectual twiddle or two. This piece did. My only criticism was that it stayed at a similar tone, a similar level, for the entire piece. There was no break, no dynamic. It would have been far more effective for me if it'd had more variation in it.

As usual with events like this, the people I met and hung out with was the highlight for me. I spent a bunch of time with Erik Davis (Techgnosis, The Visionary State) and Aaron Gach (Center for Tactical Magic). They also gave talks that were among my favorites. I interviewed both of them and will have another piece about them. I also got to meet and spend some time with Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech of Scarlet Imprint. Peter is the author of The Red Goddess, an amazing devotional history of the goddess Babalon (and her historical roots in Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte and the other holy whores and love/sex goddesses of Western religions on up through Crowley, Jack Parsons/the Babalon Working, and up to today). It was the most interesting book I read last year and I'm still poking my nose in it from time to time, drawing more out of it. I've bought all of the Scarlet Imprint titles at this point and each of them is a wonder. They take their "talismanic" publishing seriously, with each volume cast as a beautiful and thoughtful artifact that's worth every pound you pay.

In the festival catalog, they proclaim this Equinox Festival the first of an annual event. I can definitely say that I would return next year, and would be willing to lend a hand, to help smooth out some of the rough edges. And that's probably the best review I could give.

[Image from the Arktau Eos website]