Archive for June, 2010

Friction Fest @ Berlin, Germany, 7th May 2010 – Part Two

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2010 by Noise Road


After attending gigs solo throughout the world for 6 months, I finally had my first gig buddy!  Noise Road’s good friend, DazVision, joined me for Friction Fest in Berlin.

Our first experience of the venue, in the alterno suburb of Friedrichshain was a bum p!ssing a couple of metres away from us, as we explored the surrounding abandoned rail buildings.

Whilst there were bums lurking in the area, it also appeared to be a hang out for punks, alterno and arty types.  When we left later that night, some of the buildings that we believed derelict in the daylight turned out to be popular nightclubs.

Hacride

There was a pretty sparse crowd in the large main hall when the French act, Hacride, boarded the stage.  I know it was early on a school day, but still it must be disappointing to play to a nigh on empty venue.  They didn’t play like a band disappointed though…  and thankfully, the crowd did grow during the set.

Hacride only had a 30 minute slot on the bill, but their opening track lasted 15 minutes.  Listen to this track, To Walk Among Them, the first song off their last album, Lazarus.

Like the Ocean who played on the same stage later in the day, Hacride take the listener on a journey throughout a song.   Thick guitar riffs and double kick, give way to ambient noodling and a jazzy touch.  The changes throughout the songs feel natural and far from jarring.  Perhaps where they differ from the Ocean is in a sense of groove that they create.  With just one guitar, bass and vocals, there is room within the music.

Hacride’s vocalist was particularly impressive.  These days you don’t know how many layers or studio magic is being used to produce metal vocals – especially in the case of melodic passages.  But the dude from Hacride has got all the tools a metal vocalist needs.  He didn’t make an attempt to protect those tonsils either.  During the closing moments of the set, he thanked the crowd sans mic.  He was clearly audible.

Master Musicians of Bukkake

A bigger crowd had started filing in when the smoke engulfing the main hall signalled the Master Musicians of Bukkake’s arrival.  There were a lot of parallels to fellow avant-garders, Sunn 0))), in the opening stages of the Bukkake set.  Like Sunn 0))) you couldn’t spot Bukkake early on amongst the smoke and low lights.  They also have an enthusiasm for the theatrics (where Sunn 0))) are druidic robes, Bukkake are beekeeper outfits with a Burka/ninja clad frontman).  And like Attila out front of Sunn 0))), the Bukkake frontman rasps, and acts out the music.

Despite the Sunn 0))) parallels, Bukkake are closer to Secret Chiefs 3 in sound.  Middle eastern instrumentation and riffs are a theme throughout.  So are noisy electronics.

It’s a razor’s edge that Bukkake walk.  A lesser band with over-the-top theatrics and a noisy eastern heart would come off as pretentious or silly.  While I admit I was sceptical for the first track or two when I saw them at the Roadburn festival a few weeks previous, I was with Bukkake from the start of play at Friction Fest.  The music is interesting, but the live performance is engrossing.  When the vocalist isn’t rasping, he’s seems to be summoning demons.

Wolves in the Throne Room

We managed a double wurst attack between the sets of Bukkake and Wolves in the Throne Room.  Double Wurst Attack sounds like the name of a film I once downloaded…  Daz and I ate two bratwurst each in front of a power vegan.

Power vegan?…  A straight edger cooking up tasting vegan treats for the punters had the words “power vegan” written across his apron.  And if any one is a power vegan, it was this dude.  That guy must eat soy beans every second of the day that he’s not hitting the weights.  German vegans must have awesome restraint.  There is bratwurst temptation on every corner.

While entertaining ourselves by bratwursting up amongst the power vegans, we left our run a little late to get to the start of the Wolves in the Throne Room set.  The crowd had grown significantly, and as such we were stuck in a less than ideal position in the hall.

I’ve grown to like black metal.  Although I’m far from tr00 or br00tal.  I like black metal that has something going on apart from being pure or evil or kvlt.  This goes for most styles of music.  I like artists and acts that bring something different to their chosen genre.  There are always exceptions to the rule.  There are always great bands that do one thing and do it awesomely.  But how many AC DC’s do you need?  How many Ramones do you need?….  Everyone else needs to bring something different to the table.

Wolves in the Throne Room do bring something different to the table.  They play a brand of black metal soaked in atmosphere.  Ambient passages colour their wall of sound…  And on record even their black metal passages bring an atmosphere – It’s something that you can zone out to.  Live, I was expecting it to be a ritualistic trance-like experience.

But it was a little disappointing, to be honest.  I wanted to be lost in the dark atmosphere.  I wanted to feel the primitive forces being summoned – but I just was struggling to feel it.  I really don’t think the back of a big hall is the place to experience that kind of show.  The atmosphere must be hard to build in such a venue.

But also there wasn’t much of the ambient passages that there are on the records.  The performance was pretty much straight up black metal…

I am willing to give them another go if our paths cross in a dingy club, but as for today, I was left somewhat underwhelmed.

The Ocean

After a beer break at the second stage, checking out a band featuring a wall of keyboards and a xylophone, we headed into the main hall early, in order to get a position right up the front for the Ocean set.  We weren’t ideally positioned for sound, but man, was it a good spot to catch the show.

The Ocean’s set was a true journey, man.  Some bands start with one thing and play that one trick for an hour.  The Ocean bring a set that at times crushes you with Meshuggah like chunky, oddly-timed riffs.  At other times the set displays subtle jazz-fusion nuances.  Even with some good bands, this kind of variety can make a set a little disjointed.  Sometimes the contrasts are too large and too frequent that they may jar.  What is unique about the Ocean is how they are able to mesh these dynamics into a cohesive performance – on record.. and live.

We were camped right in front of the guitarist who was cramped in front of the drum kit.  Sure there were lots of people on stage – there was the 5 piece core of the band, plus a three piece string section and a pianist.  But that dude was by far the most active on stage, and he was afforded the least real estate.  He repeatedly knocked over cymbals, as he jumped off the foldbacks and thrashed about.  The bass player on the other hand had most of the stage to himself to just quietly lurk in.

The advantage of our spot was being able to get such a clear view of the drummer’s work, side on.  That dude should be in some crazy @rse jazz band, man.  His approach is all deft touch.  Yet the guy brings the metal too.  Star of the performance in my view.

The set was a mix of material from the last 3 albums.  There was at least 3 tracks off the new album, which has divided the Ocean fans.  The source of the division often centres around what the new singer has brought to the Ocean.  Some have even gone as far as to describe his sound as having a commercial rock vibe.

But the dude has pipes.  He can do the harsh vocals and he has an excellent melodic voice that doesn’t rely on metalcore-y soaring.  I like bands developing and trying something different.  The new vocalist has definitely added a different dynamic to the band.  Although being the Ocean, there are large instrumental passages…  and his awkward backup dancer approach to these sections was amusing in a “not-laughing-with-you-dude” kind of way.

Entombed

Entombed have been around forever, but I’ve only ever listened to them in passing.  When I saw their name on the bill, I checked out their myspace and I enjoyed what I heard.  Sounded like it would be fun to hear live…

…  and fun it was.  There is something about that punky beat that just makes you want to bounce up and down.  I don’t think that they were the best band on the bill – but I don’t think we had more fun watching any other band.

Entombed use the growly, death metal vocals throughout, but their music incorporates many of the heavy styles.  The set started off hardcore, before becoming more thrashy.

When Entombed commenced their set, we were quietly chilling at the back of the crowd.  We decided to head to the front to try and get a semi decent photo in the low lights – but instead we got caught up in the fun of bouncing around with the hardcore Entombed fans.  You couldn’t get the smiles off our faces….

If we were having a good time, the vocalist was having a great time.  I’m pretty sure his German was worse than mine.  It didn’t stop him having a drunken, awkward Swedish crack though.

Bohren and the Cub of Gore

There was a massive contrast between Bohren and any other band on the bill.  I saw Bohren at the Roadburn festival, so I knew what I was in for.  But Bohren is a German band – so the punters  at Friction Fest also knew what to expect, and their subsequent approach was interesting.  They treated Bohren as the house band in a jazz dive bar…

You might think that an ultra-slow, minimalist jazz band would be an odd choice of closing act for what is at heart a metal festival (albeit an adventurous one).  But it was an inspired way to end the show…

It had been a long day of muzaque and everyone took the time to chill out and wind down.  People sat and even lay down to soak in the music.

For those who have never heard Bohren, it is a very unique experience.  They only play with enough lights on the stage so that they can see their instruments.  The tempo is so slow that you anticipate every snare strike…  it’s got to come eventually.

Usually people talking during a show and slowly filtering out would shyte me a bit, but it kinda suited the vibe.  We were in after party mode.  Friction Fest was chilling the kids out after pumping beer and metal in to them all day.

We exited as Bohren finally got to that last snare strike.  As we passed the punks in the decaying buildings of Fredrichshain station, we talked about what a unique day we had.  A truly different setting and so many different styles of sets.  From the minimalist after-bar experience of Bohren to the outright moshy fun of Entombed to the avant-garde theatrics of Bukkake to the sheer musicianship of the Ocean.  A memorable experience in one of the most interesting cities in the world.

Friction Fest @ Berlin, Germany, 7th May 2010 – Part One

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , , on June 23, 2010 by Noise Road


After the beekeeper-ninja theatrics of the Master Musicians of Bukkake’s set, we stepped out of the venue for a bratwurst and a beer.  The venue was one of several disused railway buildings alongside the tracks of Friedrichshain station.  Whilst demolishing our wurst we had a clear view of the adjacent building – it no longer had a roof.  The remaining walls may have been held up by structural graffiti and gig posters.   A hundred metres down, another of the abandoned buildings had been converted into a skate park.  Opposite, a disused silo had become a mountain climbing facility.

Noise Road’s good friend, DazVision, and I  were at Friction Fest in Friedrichshain, the alterno area of Berlin.  Germany is one of my favourite countries to visit.  How can you can go wrong with excellent beers, bratwurst, schnitzel and pork knuckles?  In fact I ate so much pork in the 5 day tour of Berlin, that I believed I spied a pig trotter in my stool.

Often in major European cities, you visit the sites of the triumphs and tragedies of dudes that lived 400 years ago.  I fully agree that its important to learn and understand this history – but I personally find it hard to identify with people who lived such drastically different lives to me.

In contrast, Berlin has had an extremely dramatic recent history.  The people who experienced this history lived very similar lives to you and me.  They too liked modern music and sh!tty movies.  They too hated their 9 to 5 job…  and then the evil of fascism was allowed to arise, 90% of their city was flattened by war, their women r@ped by the victorious communists…  and then a literal wall divided them from their neighbour, as their city became the physical frontline of the cold war.

The Heroes of Berlin

A week before I was due in Berlin for Friction Fest, my credit card was skimmed and subsequently cancelled by my bank.  I was left stranded in London with a few pounds in my wallet.  Enter my recently arrived friends from Australia, DazVision and Meow Zedong.

Daz and Meow not only joined me in my travels to Berlin, but I became their dependent child as they sponsored my hostel bed and funded my life for 5 days.  I can’t thank them enough.

Berlin

Book your flight to Berlin now.  Not only has Berlin the most important history of the last century, but it is also a visually spectacular city.  They never did things small in Berlin.  Everything is on a scale to impress – the buildings that survived WWII, the squares, a central park as big as some CBDs and Nazi buildings that were designed to last a thousand years and leave ruins to dwarf the Roman’s…  Even the modern centres like Postdamer Platz have taken on this sense of scale.

Friedrichshain

For those that came in late, a little thing called the cold war occurred for around 4 decades after WWII.  Germany was literally divided by a wall separating the east and the west.  The East became a communist puppet state of the Soviet Union.  The west became a democratic state under the watchful eyes of the allies.  Berlin, the old capital of Germany, was located over 100km into the Soviet controlled east.  However under agreements in the dying days of WWII, Berlin was carved up amongst the victorious allies.  The west of Berlin controlled by the US, British and French, was eventually surrounded by a communist erected wall.  A wall to keep the eastern Berliners in communist East Germany.

Effectively the west controlled an island in the Soviet Union.  It could only be accessed by strictly guarded rail lines and a designated air path.  The Soviets did everything they could to try and pressure the west to leave.  For their part the US artificially propped up West Berlin to be a symbol of the virtues of capitalism to the surrounding communist east….

The west was nigh on paying people to live in West Berlin.  At one point this lead to an influx of artists like Nick Cave…  If there is a place paying people to do nothing, artists are going to be there.

I can’t help but think this has left a mark on Berlin.  Just walking down the street, there is a disproportionate representation of mohawked punks and alterno types.  We stayed in the same area as the festival, Friedrichshain.  It is part of the former east, but it is a haven for these arty, alterno types.  There are art galleries, rock bars and venues throughout the region.  Friedrichshain also reflects the history of the East Germany and it’s former economic woes.  While Germany as a whole is Europe’s financial powerhouse, Berlin has 20% unemployment.  Friedrichshain is a stone’s throw from the centre of Berlin, yet there are still abandoned buildings and vacant plots.