Over the past four years, Gdansk, Poland has been the host city of Space Fest, an annual festival of shoegaze, space-rock and alternative music featuring concerts, workshops for Polish and internationally-based musicians, meet and greets with legendary and renowned artists, a competition for young, up-and-coming bands and live album releases. And for a city that’s long been known as a hopelessly drab Soviet bloc port city, the youthful energy that the festival brings is transformative — but it also suggests that the Polish city is a forward-looking city that can attract dreamers, artists and diehard fans of shoegaze, space-rock and other eclectic genres. (It actually sounds like a festival I’d love to attend.)
One of the biggest highlights over the past couple of years is a collaborative collective that festival organizers, Nasiono Association have dubbed Pure Phase Ensemble. The project is done in a revolving door fashion and features only two permanent members, Ray Dickaty, a British saxophonist and former member of Spiritualized, and Karol Schwarz (KSAS), who also manages Nasiono Records, and every year they’re joined by a new set of Polish musicians and one internationally-recognized musician as a guest director. The guest director then helps lead the group for a week of workshops and joint songwriting that culminates with the group performing their new material at the end of Space Fest.
The last Space Fest had Mark Gardener, the frontman of shoegaze pioneers RIDE take the role of guest director and curator. And as Gardener explained in press notes, ” . . . it’s perfect because it reminds me in some ways of how some of the early RIDE songs came together… I didn’t come in with a script; nor does Ray. There is no pre-work on this. It was just completely spontaneous.”
Recently, the organizers of Space Fest released some live footage of Pure Phase Ensemble 4 plus Mark Gardener performing “Morning Rise,” which interestingly enough is the first shoegaze release Gardener has worked on in well over a decade. “Morning Rise” is a slow-burning track that evokes the sensation of looking at the sun rise over the horizon, while sonically the song sounds as though it draws a little bit from Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd as mournful saxophone notes are paired with shimmering guitar chords and ethereal vocals. In other words it’s a gorgeous and moody track that reminded me of two phenomenon I’d remember for the rest of my days: staring out of the window of a Bad Soden-bound S3 S-bahn train and seeing the sun part the clouds and set over the German countryside — a sight that as a Queens boy, who’s terribly uncomfortable with flying would have never thought I’d see; and of staring out of the window of a Charleston, SC-bound AMTRAK train and seeing the sun rise and cut through the fog of farm land, just outside of Orangeburg, SC. And although the song is mournful, it has a hopeful air that suggests that with the start of another day, everything begins completely anew.