Roadburn 2018 Day Three: No Evil No Demon

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 21st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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04.21.18 – 11:31PM CET – Saturday night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

A text came in this morning from The Patient Mrs., who told me she wanted me to be kinder to myself in how I described moving through the world around me. I saw this right when I woke up this morning, so had no idea what she was talking about. It was all the “galumphing” and “lumbering” and “waddling” and whatnot I’ve been doing the last few days. I told her it’s a running gag and that in describing my every movement from placebell witch 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) to place today, I would use the word “farting” exclusively.

It was a busy day. I did a lot of farting back and forth. We did not set a new land-speed record in getting the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch to the press, but we did still manage to get it out on time like the pros that we are. It was a good thing, too, because Roadburn 2018 day three started extra early with Bell Witch at Koepelhal, and it was not to be missed. Clearly there would be no time for farting around.

The Seattle-based duo play here tomorrow as well, but today they were performing last year’s brilliant and affecting Mirror Reaper (review here) in its entirety, with six-string bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer Jesse Shreibman joined by Erik Moggridge, also known as the solo-performer Aerial Ruin, to contribute guest vocals as he does on the album, which was written in memory of former drummer Adrian Guerra, who passed away in 2016. The piece, an 80-minute single-song full-length, was to be rendered in its complete form, with all the crushing tones and searing emotional resonance brought to life.

I’ll be honest with you, it felt a little voyeuristic to watch. I’ve seen tribute sets at Roadburn before — one recalls the Selim Lemouchi tribute in 2014, and even as Bell Witch were playing today at Koepelhal, back at Het Patronaatbell witch (Photo by JJ Koczan)Stephen Brodsky and Adam McGrath of Cave In were paying homage to their late former bandmate, Caleb Scofield, who died in a car accident last month. But still. Maybe it’s just because it was so heavy coming from Bell Witch, or maybe it was the way Shreibman started out with his head down on his snare, or how he, Desmond and Moggridge all came together on vocals, but there was something so raw about the grief on display that it would’ve been next to impossible not to be affected by it. Powerful. Moving. One only hopes there some measure of catharsis derived from the process, because they managed to turn the darkest of feelings and sounds into something beautiful.

Somewhat dazed, I dragged my oafish, unworthy, hideous fucking carcass out of the Koeplhal — where in the merch area they couldn’t even find a Sacri Monti t-shirt big enough to wrap around my bloated fucking form (shit just got tragic; dial it back) — and over to the Hall of Fame where even-younger-than-I-thought-they-were-and-I-thought-they-were-pretty-young boogie rockers Supersonic Blues were getting set to go on. Hall of Fame is the smallest of Roadburn 2018’s venues, and I hadn’t been supersonic blues (Photo by JJ Koczan)inside yet other then to pop in on Petyr playing heavy ’70s covers yesterday, so this was my first real set there. Supersonic Blues also did a set of covers at some point in the last two days, and they worked a UFO song into this set of originals as well, I suspect because they just don’t have that much original material yet. They were allotted 50 minutes, and they’ve only released one two-song single (review here), so yeah. Maybe they just ran out of songs.

As happens in some fortunate occasions with young acts who aren’t arrogant as hell, Supersonic Blues are a better band than they know. They were somewhat timid on stage, or at least subdued, but their boogie, their tones and their swing were all right on, and their material was warm and classic feeling in a way that fit with some of the San Diego Takeover groups — PetyrArcticSacri Monti, etc. — but laid back enough to still be its own vibe. I was already looking forward to their next release and am only more so after seeing them play.

My next move was something of a debate. In the Green Room, Minami Deutsch and Damo Suzuki were doing a set together, which sounds like, yes, something you want to stand in front of for as long as you can. On the Main Stage, however, Panopticon were doing a full-on full-hour, and well, I watched both Minami Deutsch and Damo Suzuki yesterday — albeit in different contexts — and I’ve never seen Panopticon, so the Minnesota-based, folk-infused American black metallers won out. Not a phrase I say often. Led by guitarist/vocalist Austin Lunn, who also owns and operates Hammerheart Brewing in Minnesota, which smells delightfully like fresh-cut and/or burning wood when you go therepanopticon (Photo by JJ Koczan)Panopticon absolutely packed out the Main Hall, and with family members to the side of front of the crowd, they unleashed a torrent of USBM intensity that made no bones about its intent to scorch.

For a band who doesn’t tour nine months out of the year, their ownership of the big stage was complete and unflinching, and as they have a brand new record out in the form of The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I and II on Bindrune, their energy level was no less ferocious than the material itself, though there was plenty of dynamic to be had as well. I knew I wanted to be back in the Green Room for Volcano, so I hopscotched out of the Main Hall and downstairs to grab a quick bite to eat. Some vegan meatballs and seasoned mystery (actual-)meat later, I lubbered up to the front of the Green Room and there planted myself to wait for Volcano to hit it.

And I mean hit it. Led by the keys of Harsh Toke‘s Gabe Messer and the guitar of Joy‘s Zach Oakley, with Red Octopus‘ Billy Ellsworth on bass, I don’t even know who on drums, Sacri Monti and Joy drummer Thomas Dibenedetto on percussive sticks and Earthless‘ own Mario Rubalcaba sitting in on volcano (Photo by JJ Koczan)bongos and other percussion, Volcano were an Afrobeat-inspired melee of psychedelic funk, starting out their set with a song called “Naked Prey” and ending with their previously-posted single, “10,000 Screaming Souls” (discussed here), and in between, they were an absolute blast of rhythm, vibe and motion. “No Evil No Demon” invited shouting sing-alongs, and as my understanding is that their record is already done and they’re already signed to Tee Pee for the release — hardly a surprise given the personnel involved — I was thinking of their set as something of a preview of what’s to come when the album lands, but they were already crazy tight, locked in, and looking and sounding like they were having a total blast.

It was their second show. Two. I’d sat next to Ellsworth on the bus ride from the airport to Tilburg the other day and he told me the band figured they might as well get one under their belt before playing Roadburn. Their second show. In the Green Room. And they totally killed it.

They are a band about which you will no doubt hear more in the months, maybe years, to come, and they made an excellent lead-in for the psychedelic masterclass that long-running UK cosmotrodders The Heads delivered in the same space. I’ve seen The Heads at Roadburn before — they played the Main Stage in 2015 (review here) and subsequently released it as the live album, Burning up With… (review here) — and their history with the festival and with Walter goes back much farther than that, and as he worked the live video mixing projected behind them once again in the Green Room, the swirl was unmistakable and irresistible. Before they went on, the heads (Photo by JJ Koczan)I had been reading a news story about diamonds found in a meteorite that were supposed to be leftover from a planetary collision 4.7 billion years go or something like that.

Could there possibly be a better analog to what The Heads bring to the stage? Diamonds from space? Shit, as I watched them conjure a gravity well with “Coogans Bluff” and “Widowmaker,” all I could think about was a giant rock slamming with a couple billion years’ worth of momentum into the earth and Paul AllenWayne MaskellHugo Morgan and Simon Price popping out of the thing like a presidential birthday cake and jamming a swirl hot enough to melt crucial elements into new molecules. Heavy. Psychedelic. Perfection. I don’t think there’s really any other option when The Heads play except to stand there with your mouth agape and just try to retain as much of it as humanly possible. The only challenge is not snapping back to reality when they’re done and realizing you’ve lost time, like on an old episode of X-Files.

Oh, and by the way, The Heads are really, really, really fucking good.

I did not at all envy Sacri Monti the task of following them up, but the San Diego five-piece represented the Takeover well, with a contingent of their clique on hand to watch as guitarist/vocalist Brendan Dellar, guitarist Dylan Donavon, organist Evan Wenskay, bassist Anthony Meier (also of Radio Moscow) and Dibenedetto sacri monti (Photo by JJ Koczan)on drums tore into songs from their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) and some new material from the follow-up that that first album is due. I’ve no idea what the state of their next record is, but what they played sounded right on and though they were less spaced-out than The Heads, one could still get a sense of the intended continuity in the Green Room as they played, which started with Petyr and Minami Deutsch with Damo Suzuki, got far out with Volcano and The Heads and came back to the boogie via Sacri Monti before Sweden’s Maggot Heart closed out the room for the night with more of a post-punk vibe.

After poking my laughably-gargantuan cranium into the Main Hall to take a peak at Godspeed You! Black Emperor, whose second set of the weekend I’ll watch tomorrow, I poor-coordinationed my way over to Het Patronaat to close out my night with a blast of Japanese sludge from Greenmachine, who were performing their 1997 debut, D.A.M.N., in its entirety. Their onslaught was immediate save for a small technical issue with one of the amps, and they delivered a pummel worthy of the underground influence they’ve had in their home country and beyond. I was digging the hell out of it, but have no problem admitting I was done before they were. When it’s time to go greenmachine (Photo by JJ Koczan)back to the hotel and write, there’s really nothing else to be done except that.

With the banana I’d found earlier in the day backstage still in the side pocket of my cosmic backpack, I knuckledragged back to the hotel through a Weirdo Canyon that looked like some kind of clash of civilizations, with dance clubs open and beardo metallers sitting out in cafes red-eyed and addled from a long day of whathaveyou. The anthropologist in me — and no, there isn’t an anthropologist in me — wanted to start interviewing members of different subcultures to see how they could possibly exist in the same space at the same time, but, well, there’s still Day Four of Roadburn 2018 to go tomorrow, and plenty enough already to keep me busy in the meantime.

You know what I did tonight? I introduced myself to Ester Segarra. Zero chance you remember, but a couple months back, I posted about how incredibly talented a photographer she is (and she is) and the collection she had coming out via Season of Mist and I said that in all the years I’d seen her in the photo pit at Roadburn, I’d never been brave enough to introduce myself. Well, as I was on my way from Sacri Monti to Greenmachine, she was walking the opposite direction in the front hallway of the 013 and I stopped her, shook her hand and said who I was. It might’ve been the bravest thing I’ve done this weekend up to this point, and to be frank, I don’t really see myself trying to top it tomorrow. But hey, I said hi to Ester Segarra. And she didn’t even tell me to go fuck myself. She was super-nice. Bonus.

More of my nowhere-near-as-good-as-Ester-Segarra’s photography after the jump, if you’re up for it. Thanks for reading.

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Roadburn 2018 Trip Pt. 5: A Letter to Planet Earth from Planet Roadburn

Posted in Features on April 21st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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Dear Planet Earth,

Hope you’re well. We’re here, sort of tucked away into this little corner of the universe, doing fine.

It’s been two days now. We’re right in the thick of it, this temporary alignment between our two worlds that comes once a year always right around now. Next year it’s a little earlier. But it’ll still be springtime. Boy, we’ve lucked out on the weather this year, I’ll tell you. If it wasn’t so indicative of imminent planetary disasters, floods, storms, etc., it’d be downright pleasant.

Anyhoo, it seemed like it was time to drop a line. The first thing you need to know is that we’re okay. All of us here. We’re fine. Don’t worry about us. I know it’s easy to look over at your neighbors on Planet Roadburn and see a bunch of beards and black shirts and beers and smokes and whatever else. See people in the cafes in Weirdo Canyon and up by the train tracks outside Koepelhal and think the whole thing’s gone to hell. That’s not really the case. We’re okay.

The second thing you need to know is that you don’t understand, and that’s okay too. Nobody expects you to. Hell, a lot of us don’t even want you to. It’s fine. Just let it be what it is. It’s been two days now with two more to go and we’ve just about achieved galactic apogee. This is a special time for us. Today is a special day. So was yesterday and the day before. Tomorrow will be too.

We’ll be back sooner or later. Our two planets will move out of sharing the same spacetime continuum for another year, the dimensions will move out of phase, and we’ll go back to whatever we’re going back to a little bit different than when we left. That’s why we do this. If you don’t get it, no worries. If it did, you’d be here and not there.

The most important thing we want to say is thanks. Thanks for giving us this corner of space to exist while we can. We wish you nothing but the best.

Thanks again. Stay in school, eat your vegetables and don’t be a dick.

Your friend,
Planet Roadburn

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Roadburn 2018 Day Two: Sessions of Light

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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04.20.18 – 11:25PM CET – Friday night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

You know what I did this afternoon before the show started? I slept. For about an hour. It was fucking crazy. A post-‘zine, pre-Roadburn-day-two nap. I’m not sure I can convey to you the novelty of such a thing. With a 3:10PM start to the day, it never would’ve been possible before, as I’d be folding copies of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch. Yesterday, today and tomorrow that task is outsourced. Sunday will be folding penance. But damn I enjoyed that nap.

I also enjoyed an inhuman(e) amount of espresso today. You might say I’m sipping one right now. By the time Motorpsycho took to the Main Stage for their two-hour early-headlining set, I’d certainly had a few, and they came in handy in keeping up with the Norwegians’ semi-psychedlic heavy progressive rock. I will not at all pretend to motorpsycho (Photo by JJ Koczan)be an expert on the band — I saw the a few years ago in Eindhoven and they were doing a concept show or something and it didn’t really hit a nerve — but what may or may not still be their latest LP, 2017’s The Tower (review here), was a thrill, so to hear cuts from that like “In Every Dream Home (There’s a Dream of Something Else)” was likewise and as they settled in for the longest haul to feature today on the Main Stage, the crowd seemed to do much the same.

For anyone in the US who might be reading this, Motorpsycho are a huge deal over here. They are legends, legitimately. They’ve been at it for nearly 30 years, and they have a discography that at this point is nigh on insurmountable to which they continuously add releases. They’re relatively obscure in America compared to some other progressive rock-type outfits, but they’re the kind of band who can get on stage, play a song called “Starhammer” from an album called Heavy Metal Fruit and have a couple thousand people absolutely wrapped around their collective finger. Their material is enticingly complex, with ebbs and flows in energy and volume, and when they want to, they can be quite heavy, but while their delivery is technically precise, they’re not overly showy, and the sense of class with which they play holds firm throughout. They, and the response they got, were both a joy to watch.

There was, however, a reason I only stayed for an hour and 45 minutes of their full two-hour set, and that was because over at Cul de Sac, Toronto’s Comet Control were on next, and I was taking zero chances when it came to the potential of missing them. I showed up too late for Insect Ark yesterday and missed my shot. Getting to see Comet Control meant showing up as Ulsect were finishing and waiting the 40comet control 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) minutes for them to load their gear in, set up, soundcheck, etc. Time well spent as far as I’m concerned, because as I think I’ve said several times by now, there was simply no way I wasn’t going to see them.

My vigilance in doing so was rewarded with a shit-eating-grin-on-my-face life-affirming set the likes of which I’ve only ever experienced at Roadburn. I stayed down the front of the Cul de Sac and stood in front of the stage the entire time. They were my first complete set of the weekend (and only one to this point) and were so good that I wanted to sit it down and explain it to them. Or write a letter. “Dear Comet Control: You guys and gal are fucking awesome. When you played ‘Blast Magic’ I thought my heart was going to explode.” They did that track and “Dig out Your Head” from their excellent 2016 sophomore full-length, Center of the Maze (review here), and were joined on stage by Mario Rubalcaba from Earthless who took over on guitar from Chad Ross for a song — holding the instrument upside down to play left-handed — before they dug back into Ross‘ and fellow guitarist Andrew Moszynski‘s former outfit, Quest for Fire, to play “Greatest Hits by God” and “Sessions of Light,” the opening and closing cuts from 2010’s Lights from Paradise (review here; discussed here).

That. Well. That. That kind of felt like a birthday present to the universe. Quest for Fire played Roadburn in 2011 in what was then called the Bat Cave. I remember standing there in the hallway of the pre-redo 013 and watching them through the door in the smallest of the then-three rooms in the buildingcomet control (Photo by JJ Koczan). Cul de Sac isn’t the smallest venue at Roadburn 2018 — that honor goes to Hall of Fame, up by the Kopelhal and the merch area — but it was an intimate, packed show all the same, and it was the only time so far this weekend that I pulled my earplugs even part of the way out of my ears during a set to let the loudness in. Ross‘ and Moszynski‘s guitars were a wash across two channels, and even though the skin on the kick drum broke, the band made it work. They were my one “must” of the day, and completely justified my anticipation. I sincerely hope this isn’t the only time I get to see them.

When they were done, I lumbered clumsily back to the 013 proper to check out Crowbar on the Main Stage playing Odd Fellows Rest in full as part of Jacob Bannon from Converge‘s curated day. They very much sounded like Crowbar, and that’s not a complaint. The New Orleans sludge purveyors are pro-shop the whole way through and their set was likewise. It’s always interesting to see who gets into the spirit of Roadburn and who plays it like another gig. Again, nothing against Crowbar, who’ve no doubt played European fests in front of tens of thousands of people, and it being a full-album performance, it was still something special to see, founding guitarist/vocalist Kirk Windstein thanking the crowd profusely as well as Jacob Bannon and Walter for having them back.

I dipped out to grab a quick bite for dinner — there’s this fish in like a lemoncrowbar (Photo by JJ Koczan) cream sauce kind of thing this year in the catering room backstage; I felt like I didn’t want to stop — and made it back in time to catch Crowbar play their cover of “No Quarter” and close out their set with a couple other tunes before Windstein said they were gonna “do that gay thing everyone does” and take a picture on stage with the crowd behind them. Pulled the wind right out of my enjoyment of seeing them. Like a balloon making a fart noise as the air escapes. Bummer. You can call me PC or whatever. I don’t give a fuck. Crowbar has ruled for a long-ass time, but that shit is lame. Moving on.

The delightfully punctuated Seinäjoki, Finland, progressive psych outfit Kairon; IRSE! were wrapping up in the Green Room around the same time, so I waddled in there and caught the end of their set from the balcony. The assembled masses before them were clearly loyal to the cause and it was easy to see why. Heady stuff. They’re on Svart, which is all the endorsement they need as far as I’m concerned, and I may yet pick up their albums in the merch area, where the label has a table all set up that I’ve now visited twice, but I was really in the Green Room to catch Minami Deutsch.

My thinking was that I owed it to myself to catch at least some of the Japanese Psych Experience while I was here — set up by Walter with the minami deutsch (Photo by JJ Koczan)label Guru Guru Brain in a similar kind of thing to the San Diego Takeover, only, you know, from Japan, with acts like Kikagaku Moyo, Dhidalah and Minami Deutsch playing — and I’d heard all along that Minami Deutsch were the mellowest of the bunch. That suited me just fine. I waited for them to go on and when they did, it was easy-groove spacial drift the whole way through and it turned out to be just the vibe I was looking for. I was not the only one, as the room was loaded with people all the way out the door. How many times in my life will I get to see them? I don’t know. Maybe twice if I’m lucky. Point is they were right on and especially as a part of the J-psych theme, a band I felt extra fortunate to be able to catch.

Speaking of possibly-once-in-a-lifetime experiences, up at the Koepelhal — which is on the other side of the train tracks from the 013 in what, with the weather so nice and all the people laying in the grass outside smoking, drinking, whatever, looked like the Roadburn Annex — it was nearly time for Earthless and Damo Suzuki to fuse their mind energies for a set of what I believe was fully improvised psychedelic wandering. There was a little time, so I hobbled next door to the Hall of Fame to watch Petyr play heavy ’70s covers for a minute or two, and perused the merch again, only making myself sad in the process on any number of levels. These are interesting days. Did I mention I ate dinner?

Anyhow, when it was time for Earthless and Damo Suzuki to play their set — which, once more, is the kind of thing that may or may not ever, ever happen again — the Koepelhal was absolutely rammed with bodies looking for a bit of psychedelic communion. As it happens, damo suzuki earthless (Photo by JJ Koczan)that is precisely what they got. The mood started out quiet and built up and came down, with Suzuki on mic, someone else playing another stringed instrument, and EarthlessIsaiah Mitchell, Mike Eginton and Mario Rubalcaba not quite playing the role of the backing band, but definitely giving Suzuki respect on stage and the space to do what he does in terms of proclamations largely indecipherable but completely in the moment. The whole thing, really. Completely in the moment. That seemed to be the entire point.

And maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was the humidity, or maybe it was just me being a sucker and remembering how good they were last time I saw them here in 2013, but something drove me back toward the 013 Main Hall in order to catch the start of Godflesh performing 1994’s Selfless in its entirety. I knew I wasn’t going to see the whole thing — writing to do — but I also knew there was no way I’d be able to consider the night complete without watching them at least for a while. So I did. I peeled myself out of Koepelhal and floundered back to the 013, wheregodflesh (Photo by JJ Koczan) Justin K. Broadrick — with hair, no less — and G.C. Green went on about 10 minutes past their allotted start time and only built on the tension that late start created with their dissonant, crushing industrial aggression.

Like few bands I’ve ever seen, Godflesh seem to have the power to just reach into your lungs and squeeze them until they’re all the way empty. It’s something to behold. Selfless had them beginning to experiment with melody, but the electronic beats and the intensity were (and still are) there to be sure, and Broadrick and Green captivated a full Main Stage area, spaced out across the stage just as they were when I saw them play their 1989 debut, Streetcleaner here in 2011. That was also an adventure in sonic brutalism.

After a while, the get-to-work itch started to become unbearable and I blundered my way back through Weirdo Canyon to the hotel where so-much-and-yet-not-enough coffee awaited. It had been another excellent day — it was hard to believe it was only the second one of the fest itself — but Roadburn 2018 picks up early tomorrow with Bell Witch playing Mirror Reaper in its entirety, and well, if I’m going to have my head cleaved open with doom, the very least I can do is be well rested in advance for it.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump and more to come tomorrow.

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Roadburn 2018 Trip Pt. 4: Thawing Antarcticans

Posted in Features on April 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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04.20.18 – 11:22AM CET – Friday morning – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

We beat yesterday’s record in getting the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch to the press by upwards of four minutes. Pretty damn impressive if you ask me. Yesterday was 10:46AM. Today was 10:42AM. It’s all gone so smoothly up to now that it’s hard not to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sooner or later, disaster will strike. Probably Sunday earthless thumbs upwhen we’re doing the folding and printing in-house.

I wandered up to the merch area last night as I mentioned in the review (which Earthless were kind enough to re-tweet and give a thumb’s up). One thing I didn’t get to talk about that I saw was a flyer for a liquor shop that promised “the best brews near Weirdo Canyon,” and then had “Weirdo Canyon” in that psychedelic font that everyone uses. Like a lot of people, I very much enjoy naming things. I don’t even remember how long ago I called that stretch of cafes and bars Weirdo Canyon for the first time, but it’s awesome to see how it’s caught on over the years.

Last night as I was waiting forweirdo canyon liquors Mirror Queen to go on, I saw the news that Sleep have a new album out today. I love that they dropped it like a Beyoncé record or something. No prior notice, just here it is, on April 20. I’m making my way through it for the first time as I type this, and while “Sonic Titan” and “Antarcticans Thawed” are familiar from live clips and so on, the opening noise wash title-track and bongripping nod of “Marijuanaut’s Theme” are certainly welcome advents. Few heavy bands could get away with putting out a surprise record after about 15 years since their last non-reissue release. Actually, Sleep are probably it. I’ll have a review up next Wednesday, which is basically the first day I can do it, and I hope by then to have heard the record 50 or so more times and found some more info on who recorded it, etc.

New Orange Goblin track as well today. You’d think it was some kind of magical stoner holiday or something.

I’ll take the new music as it comes, of course, but there’s still plenty to seesleep-the-sciences today around these parts. Comet Control are my must, and I’m not sure yet if the day will wrap with Damo Suzuki & Earthless at Kopelhal or with Red Octopus at the Hall of Fame, but we’ll see. Not stressing out about it worked pretty well yesterday, so I think I’ll give that another shot.

Yeah, this Sleep is pretty right on. Like a birthday present for the universe.

Gonna try and crash for an hour or so, then lunch and on with the day and Motorpsycho kicking things off on the Main Stage at 3:10. Tomorrow is my busiest day, but there’s a bit of back and forth today as well, so better to be as rested, hydrated and generally ready to roll as possible.

Roadburn 2018 day two. Off I go.

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Roadburn 2018 Day One: Gifted by the Wind

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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04.19.18 – 11:33PM CET – Thursday Night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

Long day. Great day. I saw more bands than I photographed, which was among my most essential goals for Roadburn 2018: Just watch music. Just enjoy it. Don’t sweat getting down the front. Don’t sweat anything. This is a good time.

That whole “not sweating” part? Pretty much impossible. It’s apparently Global Warming Week in the Netherlands, so while Waste of Space Orchestra — the first of the weekend’s two commissioned projects, with members involved from Finnish fest-veteran outfits Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising — were tearing the Main Hall to shreds with their avantdelic blackened swirl, outside the sun was shining brightly in a conceptual contrast that, to be perfectly honest, was almost too much to take. waste of space orchestra (Photo by JJ Koczan)Outside, the cafes of Weirdo Canyon were packed to the hilt with libation quaffers. Inside, the goal seemed to be who could be first to prove the human soul exists and then tear it apart.

Hyperbole, you say. Fucking a right. How’s this for hyperbole? Waste of Space Orchestra‘s set might have been some of the most forward-thinking music I’ve heard since BorisFlood. Maybe. I’d have to hear it recorded, which hopefully will happen in a Live at Roadburn-style context, if not an actual studio album — it seems to me the substance there is too great to be left as a one-time-thing-and-gone experience. The ebbs and flows from almost-nothing drones to full-intensity, dual-drummed madness set a scope worthy of its dream-based concept, and there did not seem to be a moment of it that departed from the central mission of exploration. The gorgeous derived from the hideous and vice versa. A laugh in the face of anyone’s expectations, my own included. A first “holy shit” moment for a span of days that promises many.

My brain already so much goo only kept from leaking out of my skull by my earplugs blocking the way, I galumphed in that American-with-a-sore-back kind of way over to Het Patronaat to watch Colorado’s Khemmis play their first European show ever. Imagine that. Your first show on the continent, and it’s at Roadburn. I hope anything else on the tour measures up, because they absolutely packed out the church, and the assembled congregation bid them much welcome once they got going following a moment of turns-out-this-isn’t-plugged-in technical difficulties. That is to say, the crowd knew them and knew their two albums, 2016’s Hunted (review here) and 2015’s Absolution (review here), so there was none of that awkward getting-to-know-you phase. Everyone dove right in.

In fact, that seemed to be the way it went all around, not just for Khemmis or even Waste of Space Orchestra. Sometimes it takes a day khemmis (Photo by JJ Koczan)or two for Roadburn to really dig in. Not this year. From the moment Sannhet started in the Green Room, the vibe was set. Whether they were inside watching the bands or standing in the open air having a smoke of this or that — did you know Europeans put tobacco in their joints? I’ve been coming to the Netherlands for a decade and that’s some shit I just found out today, which I guess tells you how concerned I am generally with the matter. Still, fascinating.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, the vibe. The vibe was right on. I don’t know if it was starting off the Main Stage with such a landmark performance, or the sense of gratitude that Khemmis had from the beginning of their set on, or just all these super-laid-back West Coast dudes walking around, but it was quick immersion in and about the 013 venue. The good times were immediate. The rooms were jammed right from the beginning, and in the best way possible, it felt way more like day three than day one. Again, I did my best to take it easy and just enjoy it, soak in everything I could.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a bit of back and forth to the evening. Plenty, actually, but I knew that Earthless were on my must-see list for the day. The forerunners of San Diego’s heavy rock boom are wrapping a European tour here supporting their new album, Black Heaven (review here). They had a decent portion of acolytes rocking out at the side of the stage, and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell casually noted that it had been 10 years since the first time they played the fest, which of course resulted in the now-legendary LP, Live at Roadburn (discussed here). He wished everyone a great weekend. My big question going into their Main Stage set was how their new material, specifically that with his vocals, would fit alongside the three-piece’s longform instrumentalism.

The answer couldn’t possibly be dumber:earthless 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) It just does. It’s the same band. It absolutely works. After about 20 minutes of their set, and further, as they moved into “End to End” and “Gifted by the Wind,” I began to wonder exactly what the hell I thought was going to happen, like all of a sudden Mitchell would start singing and bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba would stop and be like, “Dude, what’re you doing?” in the middle of a song. It’s a big transition they’ve made with Black Heaven, but they 100 percent pulled it off on the record, and they did likewise live. Once they started playing, there was no doubt. They absolutely owned the stage and owned the room, the dynamic between each member of the band and the others making all of them utterly essential to the whole; a classic power trio with boogie enough to move thousands. I know. I saw it happen.

And while we’re on the subject, bonus points to Rubalcaba for wearing a t-shirt representing their tourmates Comet Control, who play tomorrow at Cul de Sac and are my absolute must-see band for the day. Like, not staying the whole time for Crowbar, missing Supersonic Blues‘ covers set, Panopticon and Kikagaku Moyo to see them. That’s how fucking essential I consider that. I also hope to get my own shirt.

My intended next stop after Earthless was Insect Ark, at Cul de Sac. I ran back to the hotel room to throw water on my face and drop off the issues I’d snagged of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, but got back to the venue in Weirdo Canyon itself 20 minutes early and probably about 10 too late to get a spot down front. They went on and I stood in back nursing my regrets and my umpteenth espresso for the day that I picked up from the machine in the hotel lobby, then tweedledummed my way back to the Main Stage toearthless 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan) watch some of Converge playing last November’s The Dusk in Us.

I made it in time to catch the title-track, which frontman and Roadburn 2018 curator Jacob Bannon took a moment to explain was about depression and that if anyone “could relate,” the most important thing to do was survive. “Nothing is more important than you,” he said. I had to stop for minute as the song got going with its slow build and dramatic semi-spoken lyrics and realize that I’ve never felt that to be less true. I don’t begrudge Bannon the sentiment, but yeah. Not a chance, bro.

Harder to argue with Converge‘s on-stage delivery, though. They’ve been at it for nearly 30 years, and while I can’t claim to have seen them in 1990, the passion seems not to have dulled in the slightest. My stop in the Main Hall was temporary though, as I knew I wanted to head to the Green Room to catch Ex Eye, about whom I’ve been hearing more or less since I got to Tilburg yesterday. And actually much longer than that.

Somewhat telling that I walked into the Green Room with more than half an hour to go before the New York-based four-piece took the stage — they were soundchecking at the time — and still couldn’t get a spot to take a semi-decent photo. When they actually rolled in, Ex Eye represented the league of hyperprog better than anyone I’ve seen in a good long while. Guitar, sax, Moog, drums — though no shortage of low end. Instrumental experimentation turning metal into jazz and jazz into metal in a way that would have Cynic blushing and Colin Marston breaking out his Warr guitar to try and get in on the fun. Now I know what people who saw Blind Idiot God in 1989 must’ve felt like.

And I guess by that I mean outclassed by a decade or two. I’d never heard Ex Eye before — look at me, trying new things! — and they were as opaque as they were breathtaking, but it was clear they were on their own wavelength.ex eye (Photo by JJ Koczan) Is extreme prog a thing? If it is or it isn’t, they are.

Having some time before my last stop for the night, I popped up to the merch area to see what was what for shirts and CDs and the like. Part of my annual sojourn in the past has been catching up on Nasoni Records releases by buying a host of CDs, but there were none to be had. I consoled myself with some treasures from Svart — Talmud BeachGarden of WormKimi Kärki‘s solo record, Hallatar — and an old compilation on Hellhound that I’d never seen around before. Distros had a lot of vinyl, same as everywhere, and I usually allot myself one piece of it before the weekend is out. I may yet, but didn’t this time. I’m sure I’ll get there.

But as to that last stop for the day, it was Mirror Queen back at the Cul de Sac. A bit of New York to wrap up a day that spanned even more broadly in terms of style than I could’ve planned had I actually circled names on the schedule. If I could end every night of this fest with some good old fashioned heavy rock and roll, I think I could only call it a win. Mirror Queen brought exactly that: wholesome ’70s flavor with not an ounce of pretense to be found. They’d been on tour for a week alongside Lonely Kamel and were tight enough to make one believe it, and they pulled a good crowd supporting their new single “Inviolate” (video premiere here) and last year’s full-length, Verdigris (review here), which was likewise rife with classic heavy charm and a naturalist modern presentation.

Not my first time seeing them by any stretch, but in my experience there’s always a difference between seeing a band at Roadburn and seeing them anywhere else. Plus, this was my first time watching them play with guitarist Morgan McDaniel in the lineup alongside founding guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal, drummer Jeremy O’Brien and bassist James Corallo. I saw McDaniel here a couple years back when he played bass in The Golden Grass, but he can and did shred on lead guitar and it was a pleasure to watch. He fit right in that band in a way that made me hope he stays.

After taking pictures down front, I made my way to the back of the room for a mirror queen (Photo by JJ Koczan)bit to catch my breath prior to heading out. It had been, as I noted at the outset, a long, great day, but the get-back-to-the-hotel-and-start-writing-you-jerk itch was making itself felt, so I eventually departed the boogie proceedings and lumped it down Weirdo Canyon and back here, where I remain, somewhat stunned by the news that Sleep are apparently releasing a previously-unannounced album tomorrow, on April 20. I would be very surprised if some clever venue DJ doesn’t have it playing somewhere here this weekend. What a way to end day one.

Up in the morning early to work on the ‘zine again, so I’ll leave it there for now. I’ve got some more pictures up after the jump if you get the chance to check them out. Thanks for reading either way. More to come.

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Roadburn 2018 Trip Pt. 3: Getting Weird in the Canyon

Posted in Features on April 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

weirdo canyon

04.19.18 – 11:55AM CET – Thursday morning – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

I get asked a lot how I do this every year. Roadburn. The lack of sleep. The back and forth. Well, I’ve had about nine espressos from the machine in the 013 office so far today and I seriously doubt they’ll be my last, so I’ll just say there’s very little mystery when it comes right down to it. The fact is Roadburn comes once a year. The fact is I’m so, so, so fortunate espresso machineto be here. The fact is heart palpitations are a small price to pay for spiritual rejuvenation.

Those are the facts.

The first issue of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch with a review of the Hardrock Hideout by me that bears an awful lot of resemblance to a much more concise version of that which was posted here last night is done. Starting an hour earlier because of the new printer was no thing once we got in the 013 building. We weren’t even the first ones in the office. Busy busy.

Deadline to have the issue out was 11AM though and it was sent at 10:46 by my watch (Lee had 10:45), so I’d say that’s pretty good for a first day. Usually there’s some manner of lost passwords, failed connections, printer malfunctions, etc. I didn’t hear any explosions when the PDF was sent off to the press, so like the supervillain that I am, I walked away confident that the giant laser would split the hero in half starting at the crotch exactly according to my overly complicated evil masterplan. Because that’s how it works, right?

I walked back to the hotel through Weirdo Canyon. There’s a kind of tension in the 013 and the area surrounding. The air is tight. I think for many who come here repeatedly, Roadburn is an experience of what my country’s former secretary of defense might classify as the known-unknown. It’s easy enough to have the lay of the land roadburn 2018 issue and pass— though don’t ask me where the Koepelhal or the Hall of Fame are — but every year, something different unfolds in this space. It’s a heartening moment right now, and that tense edge is part of it. I think it’s called excitement. Yeah, that’s it.

For me, I’m going to do my best to remember not to pull my bracelet off this year — felt like quite the dumbass after doing so the first night in 2017 — and I’m going to try to take it easy, enjoy the day for what it is and bask in that wonderful Roadburn thing that every year when I go back to the States, The Patient Mrs. remarks on how refreshed I seem. Admittedly, it’s a different process of disconnecting from home for a few days — Walter came in the 013 office this morning and first thing accused me of missing the baby; I denied it outright and then video-chatted The Patient Mrs. just to recite a few memorized lines of Hippos Go Berserk for The Pecan — but the weather here is beautiful and the happening here is beautiful and I will soak in as much as I possibly can and write as much as I possibly can because these are the days one lives for.

Roadburn 2018 starts now. I hope I’m ready.

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Live Review: Roadburn 2018 Hardrock Hideout, 04.18.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

butcher on stage photo jj koczan

04.19.18 – 12:11AM CET – Wednesday night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

The Hardrock Hideout is Roadburn‘s annual way of bringing fest-goers into the world of the happening itself. I’d say it eases them in, but there’s usually very little easing happening at all. This year? Three Belgian acts — one multi-genre noise assault and two thrashing speed-rippers each more metal than the last. It was a bill organized in conjunction with Babylon Doom Cult Records and booked in honor of Bidi van Drongelen, who worked at the fest, was close with Walter, and passed away last year. Thrash with a purpose, then. So be it.

One consistent theme for Roadburn each year is growth and I look at how the personality of the Hardrock Hideout has changed even over the last couple years as an example of that. There’s still space for the occasional bit of doom — Atala played, as did The Skull maybe two years back — but the dominant persona of the evening is way more metal than it once was; a capsule analog for how the festival itself has redefined and expanded its scope.

It was an 8:30PM start for a bill with Witch TrailSpeed Queen and Bütcher, in that order, and after a nap that I was going to take whether I wanted to or not, I made it down to Cul de Sac well in advance of the start time.

Here’s how it went from there:

Witch Trail

witch-trail-photo-jj-koczan

I already wish I’d bought a copy of their 2017 album, Thole, which doesn’t bode well for the weekend to come in terms of pulling the trigger on merch-regrets, but so it goes. The three-piece were easily the odd-men-out on the bill and that seemed like a position they should be well used to considering the complexity of the stylistic blend they play, running anywhere from alt-noise riffing in the ’90s style to doomed crash and plod to blackened blastbeating and screams. Based in Ghent, they impressed on cuts like “Splendour” and “Unnatural Caresses,” which took their time unfolding the aesthetic gamut, but never seemed more patient than was warranted or failed to justify one turn into the other. They were right on, in short, and it’s a good thing Thole is up as a name-your-price download so at least I can mitigate my not-CD-buying woes. It’s not the same of course, but it’s hard to argue with, anyhow. They had a couple hiccups during their set but were my pick for the night, hands down, with a sound that seemed as likely to pique the interest of Fenriz as that of Thurston Moore. Not an easy bridge to cross for most bands.

Speed Queen

speed-queen-photo-jj-koczan

High tops, studded belts, two guitars speed-picking, fists raised, beer downed, Speed Queen had the thing nailed, and the thing was classic thrash. For their traditionalist West Coast presentation — see above re: high tops, etc. — they were notably tight, which was doubly remarkable considering the liberal amount of beer pounded while on stage. Frontman Thomas Kenis, with “1992” tattooed on one wrist and an infinity symbol tattooed on the other — it’s good to have goals — didn’t even lose his balance in all that windmill headbanging during songs like “Speed Queen,” “Midnight Murder” and “Live Hard” early in the set. “King of the Road,” somewhat sadly, was not a cover (in fact it’s the title-track of their 2017 debut EP), but “Nice Boys Don’t Play Rock ‘n’ Roll” was, and they gave the Rose Tattoo track a thrashing sneaker to the ass no less fervent than that delivered to their originals. By the time they were deeper into their set, the shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” were coming from more than just their road crew, and it was plain to see Speed Queen‘s classic style had won the hearts and increasingly addled minds of the assembled.

Bütcher

butcher (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Their setlist promised a “Speed Metal Attakk,” and that’s precisely what Antwerp-based five-piece Bütcher delivered as they supported last year’s debut album, Bestial Fükkin’ Warmachine. Need I say more? Probably not, but I will. A rare moshpit was formed at the Cul de Sac, which generally I wouldn’t think has the size to support such a thing, let alone the festival temperament, and yours truly got shoved around a bit as I watched the band deliver their oldskööl metal onslaught, one slicing, punishing cut into the next. Frontman R. Hellshrieker was quick to throw a spiked-armband claw when not holding onto his upside-down-spiked-cross mic stand, and guitarists KK Rippeand DB Deströyer tore into classic-style everything while bassist JA Pulsatör and drummer PB Tormentor pummeled ahead into the forward-thrust grooves. It was heavy, duh, and while I could say I was tired, jetlagged, needed to go back to the hotel and write, and so on, the truth is that Hellshrieker and his elaborately named companions gave oldschool metal a culminating representation worthy of being called true homage, and still managed to find space to inject a personality of their own into the proceedings. I’m telling you, I’ve seen a lot of bands play the Cul de Sac. I can’t recall any of them inducing a mosh. Clearly that takes something special in intent and execution, and Bütcher‘s unabashed metal-for-the-love-of-metal was exactly that.

I’m at least several things, if not many. Two or three. One thing I’m not is the “partying kind.” Socialization? Good times? Sounds utterly horrifying, and I don’t care what anti-anxiety meds you put me on, it won’t be enough for me to not notice how much that party isn’t me-in-front-of-laptop. Weirdo Canyon was jumping off for a Wednesday night — a whole other level on which Roadburn 2018 was being launched, and as I walked out of Cul de Sac, I not only saw Walter and Becky, but Lee from The Sleeping Shaman — with whom I’m once again sharing a hotel room and considering myself fortunate to be in his company — and the artist Cavum, Yvonne, the photographer Dante Torrieri, the dudes from Mirror Queen and a goodly portion of the San Diego Takeover guys with whom I’d rode into town this morning. Strange sometimes to feel like you don’t belong in the one place you belong. That’s all I’ll say about it.

Tomorrow’s a busy day. First day of the fest, sure, but also the first day Lee and I will be finalizing the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch and, for the first time, sending it off to a professional press to be done ahead of doors opening. That makes me less guaranteed to get a copy, but I’m going to try anyhow, of course. This is our fifth year of the WCD daily festival fanzine. It’s hard to imagine how stupid lucky I am to be able to be here and to work on that as a part of my trip every year. I’ve been looking forward to sitting in the office for months. Really.

Lots more to come. Thanks for reading in the meantime. Some extra pics after the jump if you’re up for such things.

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Roadburn 2018 Trip Pt. 2: Hello Again, Tilburg

Posted in Features on April 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

san diego takeover dudes at roadburn 2018

04.18.18 – 1:26PM CET – Wednesday afternoon – Hotel Mercure, Room 200-something

The flight was a flight. I had my middle seat, someone on either side of me. Full plane. I availed myself of the entertainment package and watched that inexplicable but not necessarily awful Blade Runner sequel. That ate up a decent chunk of time. Then I slept for about the last two and a half hours. As well as one does on a plane, and by that I mean my eyes are closing as I type this. Ker-plunk.

I was supposed to share a car with Stephen Brodsky from Mutoid Man — or, you know, the dude who sang “Jupiter” when Cave In were the shit — but I waited for like an hour at the shuttle place at Schiphol Airport and he never showed up, so Dave Sweetapple, who helped organized the San Diego Takeover, plays in Witch and Sweet Apple, and is responsible fora lot of the awesome shit that Tee Pee has put out over the last however long and his very kind wife Robin were generous enough to offer me a spot in their van. Actually they were two vans.

And I don’t know who else might’ve been riding around, but these might’ve been the two gnarliest vans on the road in the country at that given moment. Dudes blasted tunes, dudes shouted random stuff about Dutch cows as we passed farmlands. Dudes laughed it up with enough inside jokes that I felt like I’d been invited to sit at some other clique’s lunch table. They tried twice to stop for beer atweirdo canyon in progress gas stations — to no avail either time. Drugs were discussed. A can of beer was thrown.

Rowdy only begins to cover it. It was high-performance shenanigans and though I was falling asleep by the end of the ride — much as I am now — it was still a good time. Got to the venue, my bag was unloaded with the rest of the gear, and I grabbed it and made my way back here, walking down the street of an in-progress Weirdo Canyon, which gven how nice the weather is here, should be packed for the next few days.

Roadburn 2018 starts in a few hours with the Hardrock Hideout. I’m going to crash and see if I can buy some fruit or yogurt beforehand. Fingers crossed and more to come.

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