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Things Learned At: Raw Power
Toby Cook , July 27th, 2015 09:50

Toby Cook reports on sets from Sex Swing, Luminous Bodies, Circle, The Cosmic Dead and more

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Photo by Jo Wells

Luminous Bodies know how to kick things off. Literally

Deciding to book Luminous Bodies to open your festival, as it transpires, is a bit like deciding to start your day with eggs, toast, Special Brew, glue sniffing and brown acid – there's a reason why people have been telling you over the last year-or-so that "dude, you have to check out Luminous Bodies. No, dude, you HAVE to!" And, judging by the size of the crowed that greeted the London based drunk-psyche-punk troupe as they ignited Friday night's proceedings, I wasn't the only one witnessing the blisteringly warped rhythmic chaos for the first time.

Featuring two drummers (one of whom pounds away at a minimal kit – that appears to be largely comprised of parts fished out of a canal – in a manner that is part Animal, part Stig Of The Dump) and members of Terminal Cheesecake, the throbbing, psychedelic slop summoned by the quartet – or their "scumbag lysergic racket", as they like to call it – isn't just enthralling, it's like being possessed by Beetlejuice's peyote chomping cousin. As their screeching tumult dips and peeks, as the racket of guitars and palpitating dirge makes way for almost native American-like chanting, the senses overload and you really have no idea what's going to happen. Is that the bassist seizuring on the floor over there? Have they just kicked a hole in the rented kick drum (despite the fact every other band this weekend is supposed to use it?) And why can I taste purple?

Experimentalism comes in many guises, and it's alive and well

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable and exciting aspects of a festival like Raw Power is that you could virtually stick a pin at random anywhere in the bill and you'd be almost guaranteed to hit on something you've never quite seen the likes of before. Yes, the lysergic, heavy-blues odysseys of Earthless, the camp-metal insanity of Circle and brooding indie twiddle of Esben And The Witch will be familiar to plenty, but looking beyond these comparatively more established acts is like throwing yourself into the trans-dimensional wormhole in 2001….

From the jarring noise manipulations of Anji Cheung that seem to craw so far under your skin you're digging them out at your desk Monday morning like ticks, to the ferociously captivating harsh noise blast of Makoto Kawabata & KK Null and the almost disco-backed pop-noise collage of Jiboia this year's edition was built on a foundation of experimentation more challenging and varied than many festivals would even dare think about, and nowhere was this attitude more apparent that by the booking of Experimental Sonic Machines.

With 'instruments' seemingly constructed from repurposed trash and children's toys – the home made punch-card/disks wired into the circuit board of cheap Casio keyboard to create a sort of Blue Peter drum machine; the 'guitar' made of a length of wire nailed to a plank of wood with a cereal box dragon head attached – and wearing a variety of masks that look like the sort of things Attila Csihar might construct in a primary school arts class, never has a festival discovery caught me so completely, and wonderfully off-guard.

Circle are the best live band on the planet. But then you already knew that, right?

Are they metal? Heavy-Kraut rock? Are they even a band at all – are they 'real'? The Finnish group are an enigma in the truest sense of the word – far beyond the campy, dayglow light-bondage and underneath the crushing, headbanging torrents of trad' metal, however, the troupe represent real, uninhibited entertainment and uncontained joy. There is perhaps no other band on the planet that can switch so effortlessly between Iron Maiden like riffs (if they were being played by Soft Cell or something) and ultra-repetitive, almost meditative wanderings, and yet as indulgent as their oeuvre is, it's how the Finns present it that sets them apart from virtually every other band in the universe. Tonight there's gymnastic poses, toe-sucking and hair stroking, crazed psychotic stares and a slow march to a closing group pose that sees the six members (plus Makoto Kawabata, who appeared late on to add washes of wah-ed-to-hell guitar to everything) join together like an avant-metal version of the Power Rangers' Megazord. Keep your stadium-sized pantomimes, propped up by pyrotechnic distractions; keep your fire breathing and rollercoaster drum-risers, if you think there's a more entertaining band anywhere in the world, then you're wrong. Bang wrong.

I probably should've checked out The Cosmic Dead before now

If we're to be truly honest with ourselves all of us have at least one band lurking deep within a dusty folder marked "I really should have seen this lot before now"; bad luck, bad timing and bad habits have conspired to ruin every plan you've ever made to see this band, and you do any number of mental gymnastics to convince you self that "nah, I mean they can't be that good, right? Or else I'd have seen them by now, yeah?" And then you finally get to see The Cosmic Dead.

Like a careening, uncontainable torrent of Buckfast-powered kosmische chaos, whatever your feelings towards the Scottish quartet's synth-washed space-jams on record, their performance here is something like having Ken Kesey and Spacemen 3 pour Irn-Bru directly into your third eye. Far, far beyond the clichés of "we've got an echo/delay pedal and I'm going to us it"-isms the group are to the usual space rock/jam band rules what punk rock is to everything. In their relatively shot but uninhibited set, the groups dilithium-levels of energy seem to wring every particle of juice from their instruments; beards get caught in straps, someone crowd-surfs with a cymbal stand whilst another on the front row ends up with a guitar. The rest of us, locked in by a stoic groove and pulled ever further into the always building astral-mire by some sort of weirdly anarchic sonic tractor beam, can only hope that upon our return to earth our abduction hasn't left us incapable of scooping up what remains of our brains from between the crushed beer cups on the floor.

Have I mentioned Sex Swing yet?

"No, Toby, that joke isn't funny anymore…

All jokes aside, no band of late have so profoundly struck a distorted, torturing chord with me as Sex Swing. But, I can understand, if you're yet to be totally convinced by the groups throbbing, sax-addled maelstrom, why you probably just think I'm being a bit of a dick. That is to say, I can understand it only if you didn't witness the quintet's near-weekend-stealing set on Saturday night. Was it simply because they were playing later? Was just the weed and warm beer hanging heavy in the hot air, adding to the dazed and loosely agitated atmosphere conjured by psych/noise supergroup? Was it just the simple fact that people are starting to get it, creating a sort of intangible and ever-building feedback loop – a game of intense sonic one-upmanship, a back-and-forth of our increasingly involuntary movements and rabbit-hole focus verses their ratcheting tension and awkwardly compelling grooves? I'm probably the wrong person to ask.

I told you Rat Salad were the perfect way to end the weekend

"You put Rat Salad in you festival preview, didn't you?"

"Yeah."

"Like, you know they're just a Sabbath Covers band?"

"Err, yeah."

Okay, look, I get it: When you proclaim that a Sabbath covers band are going to be one of the highlights of a festival that includes the likes of KK Null & Makoto Kawabata, Gallon Drunk, Gnod, Hey Colossus and many other fiercely unique and forward thinking artists, it sounds a little bit odd. Its sounds, in fact, a bit like your professed love of experimentation is a veneer, that under your Sex Swing t-shirt is a heart that beats in time to dad rock and Brothers In Arms, that there's only so much jam band-cosmic-kraut-freak-out-noise that you can really take. But, isn't that sort of the point? After a weekend of Gnod, amphetamines, Circle, Psilocybin, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs and The Cosmic Dead, part of you just wants to totally lose you shit to something you know, something you love, and something that briefly features a dad rocker in a white suit fucking nailing the harmonica part of 'The Wizard' whilst someone spills rum and Coke down your neck. And I certainly wasn't the only one.

Same time, same place next year, yeah Raw Power?

From the bands to the performances to the atmosphere, I don't think there's any doubt that this year's Raw Power can be considered a complete success. Many of the lesser known artists have certainly found news fans, with the likes of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Blown Out, Anji Cheung, Sloath and Satelliti in particular galloping from the lips of many a recent convert throughout the weekend, whilst the likes of Circle, Pharaoh Overlord, Earthless and a wildly rejuvenated Gnod not only made the most of a monstrously loud PA to confirm exactly why they are so highly regarded in their scenes, but made you wonder why – in the case of Circle especially – how it is that they're not selling out venues twice the size already.

But it wasn't always like this, in fact, and as wildly diverse and crammed with talent as last year's festival was, ticket sales were poor. It's a depressing sight to see the likes of Bo Ningen or Terminal Cheesecake puncture holes in reality in front of about 45 people – so in many ways it took a lot of guts to bring Raw Power back for a second year. That it virtually sold out this year, then, is testament to Baba Yaga's Hut and all involved in running the festival and they deserve as much praise as the performers for not only taking the risk, but also pulling of one of the festival highlight of the year. If you book them, they will come.