Things Learned At Roadburn Festival
, May 20th, 2016 08:58
At this year's Roadburn in Tilburg, Harry Sword finds a deviation from the sound synonymous with the festival's name and learns, for one thing, that "heavy music" has more than one meaning. All photographs by Erik Luyten, www.erikluyten.nl, all rights reserved
Ah, Roadburn. Four days here and you’ll start to feel like a sloe - a pickled human sloe - befuddled by the towering audio bounty in which you’ve been steeped. This is a good thing, of course. Cocooned on the upper balcony of Tilburg’s mighty 013 complex, consumed by, say, the elephantine bass weight of Brothers of the Sonic Cloth; or standing inside the Het Patronaat church just over the road, feedback squalling, Russell Haswell bent over his table of hardware, strobes illuminating the beautiful stained glass windows; or squashed into the Cul De Sac - surely one of Europe’s finest dive bars - fuelled by Duval as The Skull rumble through Trouble era classics. The tribes have assembled, the Tilburg church bells are tolling, ominously. Roadburn seems to slow time to a glorious cough syrup crawl.
Embracing artists from across the full spectrum of immersive heavy music, Roadburn may be (justifiably) known for stellar support of all things doom and stoner, but it has also consistently challenged the very notion of what “heavy” actually means. Thus this year, alongside established titans such as Neurosis, Paradise Lost and Pentagram we got rough shod electronics (Russell Haswell, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare), raucous folk music (Galley Beggar), Buckfast fuelled rock n roll (Gentlemen’s Pistols) and various acoustic performances. It all makes for a bewitching sonic brew.
This year, the Friday and Saturday are also largely curated by Rise Above boss, ex Cathedral vocalist, current With the Dead singer and all round doom legend Lee Dorrian, who brings his handpicked ‘Rituals for the Blind Dead’ to life. It’s a fabulous bit of curation - Diamanda Galas, Pentagram, Blood Ceremony, Russell Haswell, Galley Beggar, G.I.S.M and the Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell all represent and go to show the sheer breadth of Dorrian’s musical passions.
What follows is a personal selection of highlights from the vast programme:
With the Dead are weighty beyond belief
As heavy as Uncle Monty after heaping thirds of roast lamb, With the Dead deal in simple, turn off the brain brute sonics. This is pure doom; a staggeringly scuzzy guitar tone courtesy of band founder and ex Electric Wizard bassist Tim Bagshaw; constant peels of dry ice; bassist Leo Smee’s Witchfinder hat poking through the darkness; Lee Dorrian’s idiosyncratic bellow; peels of feedback.
‘Crown of Burning Stars’ sounds like a lead tsunami tonight, while ‘Nephyts’ is equally weighty. For music of such depth charge filth, however, there is a palpable sense of theatre to With the Dead live. Dorrian can elicit cheers by simply standing stock still for a full minute, wreathed in smoke as feedback rings and the fantastic visuals - grim 70’s midlands council estates; low budget horror clips; the Strangeways prison riots; nuclear blasts - add to the sense of crushing bleakness. Musically, there is a punkish directness to everything they do (no meandering jams here) that hits with a brute swing. Playing the whole of last years eponymous LP alongside a new one called ‘Cocaine Phantoms’ With the Dead are titanic tonight, distilling the very essence of doom in the bluntest of possible terms, the colour purple enveloping the whole 013.
‘Three pints of G and T to the stage, please! Three pints of G and T. Not glasses. Pints’
So goes the call from Louis Comfort Wigett, Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell’s extravagantly mutton chopped bassist during soundcheck. He gets them, too, courtesy of a generous (and slightly wobbly) Dutchman. Booze fuelled, obscenely greasy rock n roll is the order of the day with this lot and the likes of Budgie, early Status Quo, Sir Lord Baltimore are the markers. Performing to a packed Het Patronaat, they launch into a set of almost entirely new material but it’s testament to their ferocious amphetamine attack that they soon have the beer flying and a sweaty crowd bellowing for more. Opener ‘Tired and Wired’ sounds particularly raw and sees them channelling Motorhead in a bruising romp while old favourite ‘Red Admiral Black Sunrise’ rounds proceedings off in fine style as Orange Goblin singer Ben Ward (who looks somewhat ‘refreshed’ so late in the day) runs on stage to exercise his sizeable lungs.
Russell Haswell can make a church vibrate
It’s testament to the welcoming spirit of the Roadburn faithful that a purely electronic artist such as Russell Haswell is not only accepted, but can hold a crowd transfixed by the vast towers of noise he produces with his array of strange and terrible boxes set out on a little table. A long time underground instigator and radical sound artist who works with challenging accepted notions of structure, timing and expectation, tonight - in the cavernous surroundings of the beautiful Het Patronaat church - Haswell pummels the assembled throng into submission with a scorchingly (at times, painfully, staggeringly) loud 45 minute piece - dedicated to ‘Lee Dorrian, G.I.S.M, Repulsion and Diamanda Galas’ - hinged around sub frequencies that had my eyeballs vibrating in their sockets, pounding chestplate kicks (a rarity for Haswell) that shook the stained glass and had condensation raining from the celling, squalling feedback and strange subliminal flourishes and disembodied voices. It was incredibly refreshing to see an (ostensibly) ‘metal’ crowd take his sound for what it is - every bit as complex and “heavy” as anything heard all weekend - and enjoy the barrage.
G.I.S.M were incendiary
Performing for the first time ever outside of Japan, G.I.S.M were a dream booking for Lee Dorrian (and one that took some negotiating, reportedly). Pioneers of raging hardcore both heavy on the frenetic D Beats and underpinned by an oddly brittle, atonal, churning guitar tone, they were incendiary, playing to a rammed out main room and offering nugget after nugget of galloping hardcore that seemed to shake the cavernous foundations of the 013 and install a sizeable circle pit (an absolute rarity for Roadburn). Frontman Sakevi Yokoyama stalked the stage with his distinctive lumbering gait while a strange plethora of animated psychedelic pornographic fractals played out behind, all adding to the sense of wild disorientation.
Break a guitar string? Don’t just stand there! Do some throat singing.
That’s what Tad Doyle did when he broke a string in the middle of a staggeringly weighty performance from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. It was a brilliant moment, and one that wouldn’t have worked anywhere else. They’d been working their way through their eponymous 2015 debut LP (an absolute highlight of last year). Doyle strode to the front of the stage and began to work through some rumbling low end vocal drones that filled the whole room for at least 3 minutes. A wonderful moment.
Foam is good
They give you a little less than a half pint in the Netherlands but with a thwacking great head (three fingers worth) of foam on it. The idea is not to feel despondent at your plastic glass of less than a half pint, but rather to enjoy frequent drafts that never have a chance to get warm, your beer protected as it is from the elements it’s improbably vast head, lopped off at the top by a plastic scraper specifically designed for the task. Always a satisfying sight.
Paradise Lost doing Gothic in it’s entirety was a glorious thing
Conjuring epic, windswept, morose and fundamentally Yorkshire atmospherics, Paradise Lost are well drilled tonight. And while Nick Holmes has not unleashed his death growl in Paradise Lost for quite some time it sounds in fine fettle as they rip through Gothic - with it’s grandiose atmosphere and scuzzy lo fi sonics - in the entirety. Not many bands can claim to have made the sound of cavernous human sorrow - deep, unrelenting sorrow - sound so compelling and they look like they’re having such fun with it, Holmes cracking jokes in between songs and the whole band (frantically head banging rhythm guitarist Aaron Aaedy, in particular) relishing the opportunity to revisit classics like ‘Shattered’ and ‘Dead Emotion’ to a crowd that grew up with them. A feast of cleaving, hard wrought melancholia.
Do you love flutes? Do you love rollicking grooves and swirling organs? Do you love epic tales of the Lord of Misrule?
Of course you do, you pickle headed fool! You love flutes! You love rollicking grooves! You love epic tales of the Lord of Misrule! That’s why you love Blood Ceremony, right? Well, that’s why I love Blood Ceremony. One of the most idiosyncratic bands currently on the underground circuit, Blood Ceremony tell sweeping tales of the fantastic, occult and (carnival) bizarre with a deft melodic touch courtesy of Alia O’Brien’s swirling organ, powerful vocal delivery and frequent flute interludes. There is something inherently mishevious about their sound - the sound of frolics in the majestic midnight woods - and their set tonight leans heavily on superb new LP Lords of Misrule as they play to a rammed Het Patronaat with a captivating command.
Kapsalon is the food of the gods.
A glutinous monstrosity it may well be. Scrap that: a glutinous monstrosity it absolutely is. In fact, I think that if you ate a Kapsalon everyday you’d die within a few years. Your liver would turn to cheap grey pate; your pallid face would swell like a moon; you’d sweat; your heart would pound mercy. But you don’t eat it everyday, do you? You only eat it when you come to Roadburn, so it’s all good, right? What is it? It’s a vast foil container filled with chips, liberally salted, then laden with a vast shower of dubious kebab meat shavings. Then a massive handful of processed Gouda, packed down by the clobber hand. Then under the grill with it, b’gorrah! Then “salad” on top and vast Dutch ladlefuls of gloopy saus. Take the covenant; take the curse; take the Kapsalon! They also do a vegan version at Roadburn too, and it has to be said that it was actually a staggeringly good approximation of the meaty one (I had to test, in the name of research).
Bobby Liebling is one of the greatest showmen on earth
When Lee Dorrian formed Cathedral in 1989, Pentagram were a deeply underground concern, known only to a few dedicated crate diggers. Tonight, about 3500 people are crammed into the 013 main room to pay tribute, and Pentagram rip through a set of crowd pleasers like ‘The Ghoul’ ‘Death Row’ and ‘All your Sins’. Prowling the stage, singing note perfect, leaping and falling to his knees is Bobby Liebling. The fact that he is on stage at all is - as anyone who has seen the 2011 documentary ‘Last Days Here’ will attest- is a minor miracle. The fact that he performs with such gnash is positively life affirming.