DAY THREE – Saturday 21st
Bands seen: Hugsjá, Damo Suzuki & Minami Deutsch, Panopticon, Volcano, Boris & Stephen O’Malley, NYIÞ & Wormlust: Hieros Gamos, Dhidalah, All Pigs Must Die, Thou x The Body, Earthless & Kikagaku Moyo: East meets West Jam, Occvlta
Probably owing to PTSD and compartmentalization, I only just remembered that it was on the Day 2 that I became the first victim of the glorious gaping black hole, strategically placed in the middle of the photopit in Koepelhal, one of the new venues. It earned me some bruising and a proper limp for the remainder of the night. But let me stop you right there, mid-smirking – the same damn hole claimed the legs and heads (thankfully, not equipment) of at least another seven fellow photographers before it was taken care of. Such are the challenges in the wild and uncharted new territories.
At any rate, on the morning of Day 3, I was able to walk normally again and took my blue suede shoes (black trainers really) to a lovely panel chat on beers and beer-brewing hosted by Mr Ben Handelman of Black Metal & Brews with Austin Lunn and his Panopticon brethren as guests who provided a unique insight into the world of HammerHeart Brewing Company, sampled and appraised a number of local Dutch beers and regaled the audience reminiscing about their metal beginnings.
Missing some of the Japanese psych bands’ solo shows, catching Minami Deutsch was a top priority and probably the last chance for the foreseeable future. Having them paired with Damo Suzuki for the occasion was just unreal. Once a teenager who set sail to Europe, living in a commune in Sweden, Damo was travelling and busking away on the streets of sprawling cities before being recruited in Munich as a singer for German krautrock legends Can. The colourfully complex life of this individual including, but not limited to, his fight with cancer, being an ex-Jehovah’s witness or almost dying in the desserts of Sahara, could fill several voluminous books and yet, this seemingly fragile looking man, commanded the stage with his striking presence and sang to us in tongues. One ecstatic fan was waving and hugging a Japanese flag throughout the whole performance which put a smile on the singers concentrated face. The rest of the crowd seemed just as transfixed and jolly, relishing the delirious jamming and glossolalic improvisations.
Damo Suzuki & Minami Deutsch
In the ensuing rushing madness, I caught a glimpse of Minami Deutsches’ label-mates Dhidalah, and later, Kikagaku Moyo in improvisational East meets West jam with Earthless. They were both a part of the Japanese Psych Experience concept this year which brought together bands centered around the Guruguru Brain, Amsterdam-based label focused on underground music in Asia. Dhidalah, as a truly heavy, experimental space rock trio provided a subtle counterbalance to the smooth, sitar-driven tunes of Kikagaku Moyo.
On the other side of the musical spectrum, another Japanese trio, joined by none other than Stephen O’Malley himself, came together for a one hour long droning spectacle in the form of their debut ‘Absolutego’. Seeing the wall of amps stretching over the entire Main Stage brought to mind a memory of another festival where terrified security guards, just before Electric Wizard came onto stage, started handing out earplugs to the front rows, telling people it might ‘get a bit loud’. Even though Boris‘ audience should’ve known what they were getting themselves into, some were still spotted without any ear protection. Ouch. The monstrous droning soundscapes they built from amp-feedbacking and ambient echoes reminded me how incredibly ahead of its time their music was some 20 odd years ago and how au courant and relevant it still sounded. Considering the band’s expanding musical exploration over the years, it was particularly fascinating to see in flesh where it all once started.
Stephen O’Malley & Boris
Allow me to tell you a little secret. I have never set foot in the US of A. My earliest encounters with American culture come from watching TV shows such as Seinfeld, Cheers, Murphy Brown and Monlighting. Beverly Hills 90210 made me think California was the best place to live in, that American teenagers were so much cooler than anybody else, being so young yet driving their own cars already, and just about everybody hung out on the beach all day long, having a great time. Was it ever like that? I have no idea. Maybe for some people. But what stayed with me was that fanciful picture of the Golden State, so when I read about the San Diego Takeover at Roadburn, I already pictured in my head all these high-spirited, sun-kissed guys and gals who use the word ‘gnarly’ a lot. Skaters and surfers too! In the end, apart from Earthless, Volcano were the only other band from the San Diego scene I caught. By the time I got in, everyone was dancing and I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a band having so much fun. Nobody wanted to miss their show – even the sides of the stage were packed with their friends and band-mates showing support and camaraderie. I can promise they were radiating with swag and coolness and there was definitely some of that West Coast vibe in the room. Since everybody’s asking about an album – guys, please get that stuff released asap. Let the lava flow!
Again, the versatility of Roadburn’s artistic programme also meant that, in a span of couple of hundred metres, it was perfectly possible to walk and switch from groovy, afro-inspired psychedelia to the nightmarish collaboration of Thou x The Body. The atmosphere in Koepelhal was already dense and filled with anticipation, while the backdrop with the opening line ‘Everyday, things are getting worse’, revealed quite clearly that the only way this was going to go from here was an earthward plummet. Words escape me when I try to recount the enormity of their live performance. I had a flashback of someone saying once how Chip always sounded like a man set on fire, menacingly screaming and howling, wishing for death. It was a true nihilistic ordeal, one that drained the life force out of me and I couldn’t do more but run for cover. In my naïveté, I walked into Het Patronaat for the last ten minutes of Occvlta. All the lights were off, stage was covered in darkness and as I was nearing the front, I could make out silhouettes of people engaged in what seemed like a violent circle pit, all the while furiously raw and primitive black metal was blasting from the speakers. On and on it went, grinding away, until it suddenly stopped. The show was over and the audience looked stunned as if they’ve just been released from a spell. It was time to call it a day.
Thou x The Body
All Pigs Must Die
Earthless & Kikagaku Moyo