Archive for April, 2010

Roadburn Festival @ Tilburg, the Netherlands 15-17 April 2010 – Day One

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2010 by Noise Road

EYEHATEGOD - Jimmy Bower

After a surprisingly good sleep in a boat hostel on the Amsterdam canals, a few hours later I found myself in the middle of a field just outside of Tilburg.  I was at the Roadburn Festival campsite, attempting to pitch a tent for the first time in over a decade.  My personal triumph was soundtracked by a fellow camper blasting Black Flag’s My War from their camper van.  I totally lied about NOT being the outdoor type.

Although it did take me the entire length of the Black Flag album to pitch one of the simplest tents on the market.  My War is like their longest album isn’t it?

I Lied About Being the Outdoor Type

After pitching the tent, I boarded one of the most metal looking buses you’ll ever see… a bus full of black t-shirts and beards.  Unfortunately though, the bus had the local radio station playing over the speakers.  Ke$ha is not metal.

Metal Bus

The shuttle bus dropped us off in the centre of Tilburg, just outside the Roadburn Festival’s main complex, the 013.  Tilburg was destined to host this festival.  The 013, houses a large main hall and two smaller venues (the Green Room and the Batcave).  Across the street from the 013 is a smaller building that had plenty of space for band merch tables, a record store outlet and a basement bar to show music documentaries.  A couple of minutes walk around the corner, there was a fourth venue, a mid size theatre named the Midi Theater.

All the festival venues were located hard up against Tilburg’s main cafe strip.  It was a pretty cool site to see what is probably a very trendy cafe strip completely overrun by massive beards, leather jackets and black t-shirts.

In a fiscally sensible move, the cafe strip, and indeed the wider town, had embraced Roadburn.  Every food outlet on the strip seemed to sell a “roadburn burger”.  There was even an official Roadburn “coffee shop”.  Only in the Netherlands.

Kylesa

Kylesa Bass

Kylesa kicked off proceedings in the 013 main hall.  The main hall is an excellent viewing space.  It has a relatively small floor, before the long, deep steps start climbing.  Most of the crowd is on these steps with very clear visuals of the stage.

The terms “stoner”, “doom” and “psychedelic” are probably going to get pretty old, pretty quickly in a review of a Roadburn festival.  Kylesa for their part work the riff heavy end of stoner (think Baroness and the more accessible Melvins stuff).  Like the Melvins, Cult of Luna and even Modest Mouse, Kylesa make use of two drummers.  How did bands ever perform with just one drum kit?  Two kits seems like the bare minimum.  The Kylesa drummers work smaller kits, with one of the kits having a large bell attached.  I don’t care if they use the bell less frequently than Slayer’s Dave Lombardo uses the gong behind his kit.  Having a big @rse bell on your kit is pretty damn cool.

What I enjoyed most about the Kylesa set (I mean apart from the bell) was the interplay between the band.  They were tight, but it was more than just being well rehearsed.  I got the feeling that this was a band that works as a band, not one person’s vision performed by 5 people.  The stage right guitarist provided mid range vocals, the female guitarist slightly higher screams and the bass player the odd guttural vocal.  The bass player freed from extensive vocal duties was able to display the most physical movement and visual energy.  But the music itself conveyed good energy…  and when both those drummers are working the kick drum and floor tom…  Man, I could listen to that forever.

Jarboe

Jarboe

Kylesa was a great start to the festival.  Immediately after their final kick to the drums, the first big decision of the festival arrived.  Do I head over to the Midi Theater for Norwegian jazz metallers, Shining?  Or do I stay in the main hall for the more avant-garde, Jarboe?  I was keen to catch Shining again after enjoying their show in London about a month previous.  However I’ve never seen Jarboe and she keeps working with bands that I like.  I had also heard that Cobalt’s main man, Erik Wunder, was Jarboe’s touring drummer.  I really dig the last Cobalt album, Gin, which is equal parts Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway and Neurosis.  It’s like someone sat down and wrote an album for me.  So I took a chance on Jarboe.

It was somewhat of a risk because I’ve never heard a Jarboe solo recording.  I know some of her work as part of Swans, and her collaborations with bands like Neurosis and Cobalt.  I know she has a like for theatrics and costumes.  And I’ve read articles where she talks of wishing to summon spirits during her performances.   I feared that her set could be a little pretentious.  I also thought that there was a chance that it could be a set of inaccessible, avant-garde noise.  When Jarboe walked out in full length robes that wouldn’t look out of place at a sacrifice, my fears were still present…  but it was really quite accessible… and really quite good.

Most of the set was building, trance-y, psychedelic rock – with Jarboe speaking, singing and wailing over the top.  The bass was noticeably high in the mix (I assume intentionally), as the guitar provided texture, unless the guitarist was wailing at the crescendo of the psychedelic build.

Jarboe’s assembled a great touring band, and the music was interesting but still accessible to a casual listener like myself.  Blind, or in this case deaf, risks don’t always come off, but I’ll class the Jarboe set as a win.

Yob

A massive crowd had assembled for Yob’s set in the main hall.  This was the first doom act that I caught for the festival.  Doom metal was the music of choice for the punters this year.  There was a stack of doom metal acts on the bill and all the doomy acts attracted the biggest crowds throughout the 3 days.

I quite like doomy music, but I do have a saturation point.  I can’t listen to 3 days of straight-up doom.  But I guess if you’re nicely toasted, 3 days of doom is probably the greatest time of your life.  And there were enough doom acts that you could have watched nothing but doom for the whole festival.

For those not in the know of Yob and the doom genre in general, think slow stoner metal, with lots of low end, lots of reverb and sustain, and frequent delays on the vocals.  The sound is so saturated in weed, that you get the munchies by the end of the set.  Or maybe that was just all the passive smoke around.  All I know is that I needed a doner kebab afterwards.

Yob’s singer/guitarist, Mike Scheidt, walked out struggling to speak, and lined up more drinks by his pedals.  Apparently he was suffering from “jet lag”.  He managed to push out the words “We will play four songs.  And that will be one hour”.  Enough said.

Yob brought polished, well performed doom.  But like I said I have a saturation point for that stuff.  I’ve got my Sleep records.  Do I need a Yob record?  Throughout the festival the doom that I liked lay in the deviations from the generic.  Sometimes the plod of doom can start to sound the same.  Yob did have enough variation, especially in the vocals, to keep me interested for the hour.  I thought their last track, the Great Cessation, was by far their standout.

EYEHATEGOD

EYEHATEGOD - Light

If Yob’s frontman seemed toasted, EYEHATEGOD took toasted to new heights.  I’ve never seen anyone more enthused while setting up their equipment than Jimmy Bower.  He thanked the crowd for already being on the barrier and he thanked the DJ for playing southern tinged tracks.  No one in Tilburg was having a better night than Jimmy.

From all reports frontman, Mike Williams, is clean.  From all appearances he ain’t.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was just drunk or maybe his body just has junkie-frontman muscle-memory.  In the movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels one of the characters says to another “You’re fat, and look as though you should be, but you’re not”.  Mike Williams looks like he should be junkie-skinny, but he’s not.  He’s got a bit of a pot belly.  I guess that means he’s healthier…  right?…  maybe.

EYEHATEGOD - Mike Williams

EYEHATEGOD are an interesting mix of hardcore starts, sludgy breakdowns and a southern feel. Guitarist, Brian Patton, bassist, Gary Madder, and drummer, Joey LaCaze, seem to be holding the ship somewhat together.  Jimmy Bower and in particular Mike Williams seem to be constantly on the brink of falling apart.  Mike Williams repeatedly dropped the mic.  I haven’t decided if his performance was genius or terrible.  However there is something to be said for the charismatic, junkie frontman performance.

I found EYEHATEGOD’s performance exciting.  It was an hour of authentic, snotty, messy rock n roll.  They constantly felt like they were on the verge of disintegrating.  Rock music is often too safe and too sterile.  Too often it lacks an element of danger.  EYEHATEGOD have it.

Would I go see EYEHATEGOD again?  Feck yeah!  Am I confident that they would be good at every show?  Not at all.  But if they were bad, they would be spectacularly bad….

Enslaved

Enslaved Frontman

A surprisingly small crowd welcomed Enslaved to the main hall.  The black metal tinged acts at this year’s Roadburn enjoyed nowhere near the popularity of their doomy brothers.

This was my first Enslaved live experience.  I have been very keen to catch Enslaved ever since our great friend, Stavros, pushed their albums my way.  Up until the last couple of years, I had been avoiding most black metal for a series of reasons that reeked of double standards.  Apart from the vocals, Enslaved’s music is now closer to prog rock than it is to black metal.  Still, for me, Enslaved were a gateway band into the exciting acts operating on the experimental fringes of black metal.

Enslaved opened up with To the Coast off Vertebrae.  While I wasn’t expecting a pig’s head on a stake, I did think they may still have retained a sense of the black metal theatrics. However there was no excesses or props or any remnants of black metal gimmicks.  In between songs, they even joked in what seems to be the awkward Scandinavian way.  Unexpectedly they had a very traditional rock band presence.  They have a wailing lead guitarist.  And unlike many metal bands, the keyboardist seems well integrated.  He does not play in a symphonic style, nor does he hide in the shadows playing the odd chord.  He even sings the majority of the melodic vocals.

The focus of Enslaved’s performance was on their later, more progressive material.  They played the title track off Ruun, the Watcher off Vertebrae, and my personal favourite Return to Yggrdraslll off IsaReturn was nothing short of epic.  I was ready to pack my bags, move to the Norwegian forests and embrace the old northern gods.  If you don’t know Enslaved, head to their Myspace and stream Return.  If you’re not a black metal fan, try to look pass the vocals.  You will learn to appreciate their place in Enslaved.

Enslaved mixed it up with a much more straight-up, black metal track from their first demo.  Shining’s saxophonist, Jorgen Munkeby, also joined the band on stage for a track.  The saxophone is now metal…  well I guess it’s always been metal.

Enslaved Guitars

By the time Enslaved wrapped up their epic set of black-tinged, prog metal, I was exhausted.  That first night in Tilburg represented the sixth different city where I had slept in seven nights. So while I believe that the Goatsnake performance was the highlight for many punters, I was just too exhausted to pay them sufficient attention.  I watched the first 20 minutes of their set from the top tier of the 013 main hall.  Goatsnake have that famous Sunn 0))) tone that may or may not violate sub-audbile frequency warfare conventions.  Where Goatsnake differ from the other Sunn 0)) projects is the bluesy frontman, complete with harmonica.  It’s certainly interesting.  Does it work?  I don’t really know. I was really tired and a little doomed out to really give them a fair chance.

The highlight of what I did see of Goatsnake, was the happenings “off” stage.  Well almost off stage.  EYEHATEGOD’s Jimmy Bower wasn’t just enjoying the Goatsnake set from side of stage.  He and his female guest wandered well into view of the crowd and constructed a table made of crates and guitar cases for their drinks.  As I said earlier, no one in Tilburg was having a better night than Jimmy.

As much as I wanted to give Goatsnake a chance, and as entertaining as Jimmy Bower was, I was about to fall into a coma.  With 2 more days of the festival ahead, a tactical retreat was required.  I headed back to campsite, to find my tent still standing.  Another victorious day.

Roadburn Festival @ Tilburg, the Netherlands – The Calm Before the Volcanic Ash Storm

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , on April 29, 2010 by Noise Road

Roadburn Wrist

First of all, apologies to anyone who had to sit anywhere near me during the Roadburn trip.  I smelt, dude.  I smelt bad.

The clothes in my backpack had not seen a wash in the 3 weeks immediately previous to the Roadburn mission, as I had been travelling through Morocco at a hectic pace.  Add to that 3 week rankness, a day of passive dope smoke in Amsterdam, 3 days of tent-dwelling at Roadburn, and a post-volcanic-ash day of travel through 4 countries; and I had a mean stench on by the closing moments of the journey…  But that stench was the stench of a victorious campaign, my friends.  Victorious.

I landed in Amsterdam, on Wednesday the 14th April, oblivious to what those mischievous northern gods had in store for myself, Roadburn and indeed the whole of Europe. Eyjafjallajokul had only just begun its rumblings, and the northern gods had yet to vent their anger at the modern world that has turned its back on them.   I think by the time the first wave of Icelandic volcanic ash was engulfing northern Europe, I was trying my best to not look retarded as I pitched a tent in a field in Tilburg.  As you can imagine, the campsite was pretty low tech, and when I did leave the campsite, my time was spent in venues listening to psychedelic rock.  I was effectively off the grid and blissfully unaware of any Icelandic shenanigans.

Amsterdam Canals

But back to Amsterdam….  Amsterdam has too much going on for me to get my head around it, in just a one night stay.   I didn’t go into Amsterdam with my eyes shut.  You’d have to be reasonably ignorant to not have heard of the Netherlands’, and in particular Amsterdam’s, liberal policies on drugs and prostitution.  In addition to that assumed knowledge, I did have the misfortune to stumble upon Antwerp’s depressing red light district a few months earlier.  So I wasn’t exactly an innocent babe in the big bad woods.  However as I strolled through the beautiful old buildings on the canals of Amsterdam, I couldn’t but help thinking that all those stories of Amsterdam must be exaggerated.  Then as night fell, I stepped into the red light district…

Hacking coughs from young American tourists freely lighting up outside a coffee shop, women in windows, men pausing on their evening stroll to window shop at the g@y cinema….

It’s the scale of the red light district and its contrast to the pretty city that I had seen just a few minutes before, that got me.  The red light district doesn’t seem quite authentic.  I wonder how many locals actually frequent the area.  It’s like a tourist attraction… a dope disneyland.  There are coffee shops throughout the city and indeed country.  And I’m sure a pro isn’t hard to find either.  So there’s no need for a local to visit the freak show to light up or release excess seed.

On a side note, in Holland, if a coffee shop sells weed, and a cafe sells beer, where the hell do you get a coffee from?

After the red light district, I continued on to the centre of Amsterdam’s nightlife, Leidseplein.  It is a very lively place (but possibly quite touristy), and it would be a great venue to have a big night with your mates.  However as I was a lonesome traveller, I thought that I’d save a big night in Amsterdam for another time when I can visit with others.  So I decided to retire to my digs for the evening…  My digs were of course a cabin in a boat on the canal.  If you had the chance, wouldn’t you stay on a boat?

Hostel Ship Avanti

Like I said Amsterdam is far too much to comprehend in one night.  The place is full of art galleries, s3x shows and boats.  Hopefully I will get back to look at it properly, with friends in tow, and give my head a little extra time to understand the extreme contrasts.  But early to bed, young man.  You’ve got to get yourself to Tilburg in the morning to hit the three-day, psychedelic-rock fest that is the Roadburn Festival.

Suffocation @ the Underworld, Camden, London 30/03/10

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , , , on April 11, 2010 by Noise Road

I’m hacking at this French/Arabic keyboard from what must be the dope capital of Morocco.  Here in Chefchaouen, I’ve been offered hash by 13 locals in just over 24 hours.  When they try to sell you carpets in Morocco, they invite you in for mint tea, “no obligation to buy”, and then the hard sell comes.  It’s the same with hash in Chefchaouen – except it’s not mint tea that they are offering for you to sample….

 

A few days previous, I was amongst the subterranean pillars of the Underground in London, for death metal blueprinters, Suffocation. 

It had been a busy few weeks in the UK leading up to the Suffocation gig.  My budget to make it through to the Wacken Open Air Festival in August was already starting to look a little stretched.  And then my laptop died.

Most disappointingly, it didn’t even fail in a spectacular way.  After hauling the weight of a laptop for 4 months through the snow of Scandinavia and the sketchy streets of Chicago, you’d think I’d at least get a somewhat interesting story from its demise.  But no. Sadly there was no interesting story about my computron being stolen from a Brussels hostel room, or my laptop shattering after being dropped down a flight of stairs in a Glaswegian B&B.  Very boringly, the moulded-in chip set failed 2 months out of warranty.  Feck you, Sony.  Feck you up the @rse.

 

I started chasing a few hours of work to keep the Wacken dream alive and to maybe to replace the laptop.  My options were either giving wristies to Japanese tourists under London Bridge, or a return to my corporate wh0ring ways.  So after 4 months of wearing my backpacking/gigging uniform of faded and frayed jeans, tired converses and my trusty Dillinger hoodie, I spent a couple of days in a suit in Portsmouth and Southampton trying to coax a few pounds out of some local engineering firms.

It was a long couple of days.  The meetings were drawn out and full of the usual empty promises.  Selling your soul is a time consuming business.  Consequently I didn’t get in to Camden until the third band of the evening, Nervecell (from Dubai!), had already boarded the stage. 

I’d forgotten just how much fun you could have at a death metal gig.  Nervecell kicked off a night of raw enthusiasm and raucous joy – both from the crowd and the stage. 

There was no doubt that Nervecell were happy to be there and that the crowd was more than happy to have them.  Sometimes the opening bands for such a seminal act as Suffocation can be met with an unsympathetic crowd.  However there were no turned backs, or crossed arms tonight… Sure the average blood alcohol level of the floor helped, but the crowd definitely appreciated the energy that Nervecell brought to their set.

I must admit after having a trying few days, I was imbibing a few pints of Carling myself.  So you’ll have to forgive me, if these words represent an overview of the experience rather than a detailed blow by blow account.

 

Local lads Annotations of an Autopsy kept the death metal train rolling for the evening.  Soundcheck has been a short and smooth process for every other gig that I’ve been to in London.  Soundcheck for Annotations lasted for a good 20 minutes while the booze-fueled vocalist asked the crowd for soccer chants of “Chelsea!” and “Arsenal!”, whilst abusing the sole Tottenham supporter.

I had not previously heard any of Annotations’ work, but I enjoyed watching them from alongside the mixing desk.  There was a constant stream of stage divers throughout their performance.  It was like watching a Napalm Death video from 1989.  The vocalist even took to launching the kids off the stage with wrestling throws.  Samoan drops and suplexes… the dude had a full repertoire of WWE moves.  It was like watching a death metal Chris Benoit (except for the whole murdering of his wife and child thing).

That morning, I’d accidentally packed my camera for the flight the next day to Casablanca.  So the crappy camera on my phone would have to do for the evening’s photos.  But halfway through the Annotations set my phone stopped responding.  First the laptop fails me… and now the phone.  Ted Kaczynski was right… 

But what can you do?  Best to just shrug the shoulders, head to the bar, drink in double time and head down to the floor for some premium quality metal. 

Anyways as a result of the evils of technology, there are no photos of Suffocation at all in this post.  Which is a shame, because frontman, Frank Mullen’s performance was so animated that a photo could have captured the spirit in the room.  The man has charisma that you can’t learn. 

Cosmo Lee at Invisible Oranges has talked about Frank Mullen’s signature move, the chop (or Mullen’s death metal spirit fingers to the blastbeats).  It’s a participation sport these days – the crowd often join in with the chop.  Frank’s face shows that he is genuinely feeling the music.  He slaps his face, shakes his head.  And the banter introducing songs is hilarious…

Mullen often referred to the crowd as “my friends”, but then he qualified what he meant by friends “I say friends, but don’t come around knocking at my door at 2am…  cos I will shoot you… and I mean it”.  I couldn’t stop laughing.

The rest of the band are able to exude energy without much movement.  It’s in the sound that they create.  A euro type in the crowd explained to me that Suffocation are the perfect mix of technical and brutal.  And I think the “brutal” is the energy that is conveyed.  The music is complicated and interesting – but the energy of an element of grind comes though.

On a side note, that exchange with the euro type wasn’t my favourite conversation of the night.  Earlier in the evening, when I was studying the merch table, a local gent bumped into me, causing me to spill a few drops of my drink.  He said “sorry, geezer”.  I’ve finally been called a geezer by a local in the UK.  I have nothing left to accomplish in this country.

But back to the gig…

I believe that all albums were represented on the night, though I did have a few more in the belly than usual, and I won’t pretend to have been a devout Suffocation fan since birth.  The material of the new album was the highlight for me.  Blood Oath has been high on my rotation in the lead up to the gig, and on the night the title track was huge.  Mullen straight faced told us that we need to make sure that we had more bullets than our neighbor because Cataclysmic Purification was coming. 

The set was not without technical difficulties though.  The most significant being a bass string requiring change out mid set.  What this reinforced for me is that live music is not about perfect sound.  It’s not about your equipment working perfectly.

The crowd were giving Suffocation everything.  The floor was full, the kids (including the vocalist from Annotations) up the front were stage diving. And the band were giving it back.  I love the Underworld.  It’s a dank dungeon of a place – with severely obscured views and far from perfect acoustics.  But the Underworld has atmosphere.  The crowd that night was just keen to have a good night.  And isn’t that why you go out to a show? Suffocation were suffering technical difficulties, but were still able to convey the music to a crowd eager to grasp it…  Or maybe I had just drunk too many Carlings.

Either way.  I had a fantastic night.  Feck corporations screwing you round.  Feck your computer and then phone dying on you.  How can you be unhappy after a great night of death metal?

I grabbed a yiros across the road from the venue and tubed to a heathrow budget hotel.  I had two hours sleep and headed to the airport for the flight to Casablanca.  Life is good.