Middlesbrough Sonic Arts Week 2023 Gig

SAW23: Middlesbrough's Sonic Arts Week

A celebration of sound, music, and art on Teesside
August 1, 2023

Middlesbrough’s Sonic Arts Week 2023 (SAW23) was a celebration of sound, music, and art running from the 15th – 22nd of July 2023. 

Orchestrated by the team behind studio, workshop, and exhibition space, The Auxiliary and the North East’s largest contemporary arts festival, Middlesbrough Art Weekend. A series of free workshops and day activities ran over the seven days alongside several evenings of Pay What You Decide gigs put on by local cassette label Industrial North. Having been floored by Middlesbrough Art Weekend the past two years, this year I took in some of the events of SAW23, to experience Boro’s brilliant arts scene.

The week started with rain, but this wasn’t going to stop play. Dodging the showers and armed with a SAW23 map, I roamed around Hill Street Shopping Centre making my way over to Pineapple Black to check out An Echo by Vision 25-C. Commissioned for SAW23, the piece sat on a wall outside the art space, consisting of two screens with a speaker. The ‘workplaces emphasis on the built environment in contrast to the natural world and how we, as humans interact with both.’ When viewing the artwork, and taking in the meditative sounds, I couldn’t not think about the significance of human interaction with built environment. Located on the wall, outside what was once a New Look, (and now a versatile art space), between a Home Bargains, the public stopped to view the film on the small pavement to be transported faraway to rural landscapes. 

Sonic Ats Week, Middlesbrough

Avoiding biblical showers, I then popped into The Masham, run by Navigator North, to check out their new show, the fox and the girl. Part of this summer's nationwide, Historic England ‘commission taking the form of street parties and carnival celebrations on six high streets across England’. I was warmly welcomed and tried some of their “Boro Brew”, created by community members and Miki Rodgers as part of the project.

At noon the rain stopped, and just in time for several encounters throughout town. I used my ears, following the sound of horns, to arrive at Captain Cook Square. Here, the surrounding buildings created a wall of sound for a brass section and sound system. Dressed in unique dystopian costumes, performers Oceanallover took the crowd on a sonic journey to another dimension! There was dancing, live vocals, and music that transformed from Biophilia era Bjork to Burial, to psychedelic funk. The crowd grew but the pigeons outside Waterstones didn’t seem phased by this treat.

Experiencing a total high, I moved over to Centre Square where in the shadow of Claus Oldenberg’s Bottle of NotesSound Horn by Katie Anderson was laid out. Soothing ambient hums brought me back down to earth. Comprising of 6 gramophone bells growing out of the ground, this immersive sculpture worked in harmony with the wind blowing through the squares’ trees. A passing shower sadly interrupted and the artwork had to be popped indoors whilst the heavens opened again. Taking refuge in MIMA Kitchen opposite, I strike up a conversation with an elderly chap who's visiting the region over the weekend. Informing him that he’s picked a good day to explore Boro, I hand over my SAW23 map and send him in the direction of The Masham to have a cuppa.

A family enjoying Sonic Arts Week, Middlesbrough

There is something so resilient about the arts scene in Boro and not just it putting up with dismal British Summer weather. There’s a DIY spirit I’m yet to experience elsewhere. It was evident in no other place than Middlesbrough’s International Community Centre on the Friday night of SAW23. Facebook informs me that the previous event hosted here was a Pentecostal church service. A versatile space, (which seemed like a space from childhood where an afterschool club would’ve taken place) was hosting an Industrial Coast gig. Having put on a series of acclaimed gigs over thespring/summer in town under the guise, A Monday Night in Middlesbrough. This Friday multidisciplinary artist Russell Haswell was performing, with support from Monocrete, Kenosist, Brb>voicecoil and Burning Pyre. The residents on Abingdon Road must’ve been curious as to what was going on between these four walls for it was an audio odyssey that had to be heard, for machines were manipulated and frequencies pushed. You had to be there.

Very much looking forward to Middlesbrough Art Weekend returning now, from September 27th –October 7th 2023.

Images: Rachel Deakin