ROADBURN FESTIVAL 19th – 22nd April 2018 Tilburg, Netherlands
Already months before the festival start, the hype was oh so real. Announcements about new venues, specially commissioned pieces, mindblowing collaborations, exhibitions, panel talks and listening sessions, kept rolling in and not least the announcements about the incomprehensible number of musicians and the artistic versatility coming along with them from all corners of the globe. Deciding on the acts to see has always been a total struggle at a festival such as Roadburn, but this year seemed to be the toughest yet. However, in order not to completely lose my mind, I’ve decided to go with the mood flow and thrown a couple of must-see’s in the mix. I’m happy to report it has worked pretty swell.
This year’s curatorship role went to none other than Jacob Bannon, a household name at the festival, who was heavily praised for bringing some really interesting acts to his year’s edition (Zola Jesus, All Pigs Must Die, Thou x The Body, Godflesh, etc.). Add to that Earthless as ‘Artists in residence’, spearheading the whole San Diego Takeover and playing three sets in three consecutive days, and you already had some mouth-watering experiences lined up.
Speaking of San Diego, yeah, somebody already said it, where other festivals book bands, Roadburn went ahead and booked the whole scene. Or two scenes to be precise, one of them hailing from the West Coast and the other from the farthest East. I’m talking about The San Diego Takeover & The Japanese Psych Experience, artistic concept which brought together a multitude of bands from both scenes spread over multiple venues and days. Stay tuned for more on that.
The novelty we’ve been trying out this year were live videos for Cvlt Nation’s Instagram. I’ve been taking short video clips with my phone which were fed straight onto the platform for those of you who didn’t have the chance to be in attendance. Hopefully, they succeeded at least a bit in recreating the atmosphere from the concerts.
DAY ONE – Thursday 19th
Bands seen: Waste of Space Orchestra, Toby Driver, Earthless, Converge, Uniform, Kælan Mikla, Hooded Menace, Future Occultism, Dawn Ray’d
I’ve decided to focus on personal highlights this time around so please allow me to tell you about Waste of Space Orchestra. This has been one of the collaborations I was looking forward to see the most. I mean, Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising are already monstrous sonic entities in their own right, but having them combined was to spawn something inconcievable. Theirs was one of the specially commissioned musical pieces for Roadburn, performed for the first and the last time at the festival. Occupying the main stage of 013, ten musicians accompanied by elaborate video projections, took us on a complex celestial journey facilitated by the characters of The Shaman, The Seeker and The Possessor, opening a portal to a different reality and, towards the end of the piece, melting into a collective consciousness. Or at least, that’s my abbreviated and completely insufficient translation of the concept behind the performance. I watched it from the front row, I went to the back and climbed up to the galleries to grasp the sheer scope of the act, then I went back again to the front when the DBR singer, in the sinister guise of The Possessor, started writhing on the floor, piercing the air with intricate hand gestures. All the while the video projections followed the mood and the intensity of the performance. This was the musical Gesamtkunstwerk and it left me completely dumbfounded. They set the bar so high that nothing, at least that day, could’ve come even close. I was ready to shut my ears for the rest of the day. This was enough. In case this unique performance was indeed a one off (such a pity), we can still hope to see it perhaps released as one of the highly coveted Roadburn Live vinyls.
Waste of Space Orchestra
Anyhow, I did see other bands, it would just be a total shame not to. Out of sheer curiosity, I went to check the Future Occultism collective which were to present their three different chapters. I only got to see the visionary eclectic Bong-Ra and the glimpse of Servants of the Apocalyptic Goat Rave. Bong-Ra‘s set opened with ‘Pharoah’s Serpent’, a song from a forthcoming new album, which pretty much set the tone for the entire performance in a heavily packed Green Room. The man himself was looking majestic in a red tagelmust accompanied by a similarly dressed drummer. From the opening tones and sultry female invocation all the way to the last riff, the music was enhanced by rather intricate Ancient Egyptian-themed animations, the myth of creation and the path of the sun god. I arrived with no expectations and ended up with an absolutely mesmerizing show.
I also popped into Hall of Fame, smaller of two new venues, for Icelandic Kælan Mikla whom I discovered while they were touring with Drab Majesty. If I haven’t mentioned it thus far, the weather in Tilburg was a scorching and unexpected 27-29 degrees C which resulted in a lot of sweaty commotion, especially in the venues with no ventilation or air-con such as this one. It was a humid sauna with a water-dripping ceiling, the heat further augmented by lighting, people, smoke and incense. One and the same single entrance/exit. No windows. This, I suppose, was the main rationale for venue getting full to the brim in minutes and people leaving the premises almost just as fast upon realizing how suffocatingly unbearable it was. Towards the end of the festival, I soldiered through three band sets on two different occasions in there and noticed all the bands suffering the same problem: 2/3 of the venue being empty.
So, Kælan Mikla had the misfortune of playing there, however they were completely unfazed and the situation didn’t lessen the impact nor the claustrophobic feel of their own special minimal yet playful synth sound. Add a rather unnerving vocalist to the mix and you got yourself a real treat. Throughout the audience I’ve spotted random members of Icelandic black metal bands and thought it was really sweet how they supported each other.
The closing act for the first day of the festival was a tip-off in a grabbing-by-the-collar-and-screaming kind of way. I guess it meant seeing the band at all costs. I wasn’t familiar with the guys before but it turned out that Dawn Ray’d, with just a couple of band years under the belt and a powerful, visceral message, succeeded in leaving a lasting impression on their peers. The Liverpudlian trio is ferociously outspoken about their anti-fascist stance and anarchist convictions. They ooze from every clearly articulated shout from the stage, every chord and every beat. Even if you had no idea what you’re walking in on, like myself, you were quickly swept off your feet and violently pulled in the moment, transfixed by the display. Seamlessly blending the vehemence of black metal with atmospheric, almost mournful, violin passages, they were giving no quarter and none was asked. The themes highlighted through their music seem nowadays more relevant than ever and I do not doubt they will be resonating more and more with the audience hungry for change in our society.
WRECK AND REFERENCE
Servants of the apocalyptic goat