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Submerge is a brand new, multi-venue festival that takes place in Bristol over a late November weekend. It presents an innovative combination of music and arts across a handful of novel institutions in the city, such as Church of St Thomas The Martyr and The Tunnels underneath Temple Meads train station. Placing emphasis on the audiovisual experience, each space acts to enhance the performances within them – which are diverse and often graphic in nature.

Submerge Festival - Cone Magazine

Credit: Paul Blakemore

Strengths:

1. Innovative approach to programming. Placing the focus on a visual performance with a sonic backdrop encouraged a medium-sized audience to become more intimate. Each show formed part of a personalised curation for attendants to follow, but tickets were also sold individually which meant that they could pick and mix with what was on offer. We all encircled Hellen Burrough and Phillip Bedwell in the middle of The Fleece as they delivered a disturbingly beautiful act of naked, bleeding bodies and stitching. Therein we received the clear message that boundaries were being pushed. Olivier de Sagazan’s ‘Transfiguration’ evoked immense power through insanity, next door in the ancient church of  St Thomas. A one-man performance this time, with no musical backdrop, viewers were transfixed on a suited Frenchman using clay and paint to transform his face and body.

2. The inclusion of Chk One. Bristol’s first electronic open mic, which takes form as a brand rather than at a venue. They hosted a stage in the Loco Klub, kitted out with three-camera live filming that alternated on two big screens behind the performer, giving off a slightly Boiler Room feel. Giving priority to innovative and perhaps unseen, DJ sets from the likes of Al Kalinity, iLe Flottante and more felt fresh and exciting under an appreciative audience. Claire Northy’s impressive looped-violin performance was particularly commendable and captivating, as she used the many textures and playing styles of the instrument and a soft-spoken, delicate voice to construct mini-orchestras.

3. No feeling of being rushed. Each performance was given the time it required to illustrate a message. FK Alexander’s ‘Translucent Void’ was particularly illustrative of this: Alexander paced back and forth with a ice-pick in hand, taking a hack at a large ice block with each lap. Abrasive, siren-sounding noise provided the backdrop to her heightening madness, intensifying as her strides grew faster and the hacking gave way to uncontrolled destruction. Coupled with the intimacy that each performance evoked was a sense of timelessness that allowed one to become submerged in the immediate experience.

Weaknesses:

1. A little behind schedule. Olvier de Sagazan’s ‘Transfiguration’ started 20 minutes late, which meant that the medium-sized group who had been watching Union over in the Fleece had to wait outside the church gates in the icy wind and rain. Submerge’s use of successive programming created a personalised pathway for attendants to follow, and for the most part this was carried out smoothly and contributed to the overall appeal of the festival. It was, however, kind of bizarre that nothing seemed to be happening between 9pm and 11pm on the Saturday night.

2. Venues were not in close proximity. Again, this is a small weakness, but long distances between venues meant that punters had to make their mission through icy wind to rain to reach the next set of events. Sometimes, this meant crossing half the city. The beauty of the venues, however, overshadowed this immediate weakness: The otherworldly immersion of Dive over at Colston Hall provided the drive that was needed to trek over to ‘Into The Deep’ over at the Loco Klub. ‘Transformation’ provided enough food for thought to get over to the Coroner’s Court.

Submerge Festival - Cone Magazine

Credit: Paul Blakemore

Favourite performances:

1. Olivier de Sagazan’s ‘Transfiguration’ was perhaps the flagship of the festival. His performance merged theatrics with social commentary, and his constant character shifts kept viewers transfixed.

2. Claire Northy: Humble and innovative, Northy utilised the many textures of her violin to re-mould this traditionally classic instrument. The result was delicate yet powerful.

3. Dive: This immersive laser and sound display marked a strong festival entrance, merging the two mediums together to leave viewers feeling like they had literally covered light-years in their journey.

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