Thursday evening saw the tenth Stukafest festival taking place in student rooms in Rotterdam. The organisation used to choose artists from all over the world, but for the tenth anniversary edition they decided to exclusively showcase Rotterdam-based talent.

You couldn’t have imagined a more varied programme. The newly appointed city poet Derek Otte, a string quartet, a salsa workshop: they all appeared on the poster advertising the festival. However, the most unusual show was definitely the live tattoo and electronics improvisation session in Anne’s room.

A first partnership

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Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

At first sight, the title ‘local talent’ doesn’t seem to fit Spanish electronics musician Josepet Bass (José) and Italian tattoo artist Jacopo Manelli. Although they’ve only been living in the city for five years, they are very enthusiastic when they talk about ‘their city’ of Rotterdam. José’s Dutch girlfriend suggested a partnership, which resulted in tonight’s bizarre show. Jacopo with his tattoo needles and ink and José with a homemade installation of buttons and dials, which not only make the strangest sounds, but also recently caused his neighbour to move house.

In the dark

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Johan kijkt toe hoe Jacopo zijn tatoeage zet Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

That same bizarre quality is reflected in their performance which, apart from the light from a couple of lamps, takes place in total darkness. As tattoo model, student Johan de Ruiter is the centre of this mysterious show. While the tattoo needle bites into Johan’s shoulder, José distorts the shrill sound into an ominous play of thunder and lightening. The awed audience watches the dance between the tattoo machine and the music installation. Sometimes the high notes of the clarinet drown out the mechanical squeals of the machine: squeals that would otherwise probably have come from the tattoo model during the performance.

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Josepet Bass en het Stukafestpubliek Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

In between the three rounds, Anne Duijndam, student at the Art Academy and hostess for the evening, and her housemates Floortje and Roos look after Johan. “I totally underestimated it, man,” he stammers after the first round, not just referring to the pain caused by the needle. While everyone is initially concerned for poor Johan and not being able to hear the doorbell, after the second round they realise that the neighbours haven’t been warned. What on earth would they think hearing all those shrill noises? A temporary dental practice? An argument between aliens?

The neighbours

Just after 11.00 p.m., after the last round, there’s a ring at the neighbour’s door. A student asks through a crack in the door what I want. I enquire politely if she’s been bothered by the noise. She looks surprised: “I haven’t heard anything, but I did see poster hanging next door. Stukafest, I suppose?” Yep, and if she’d known what had been happening on the other side of the wall…