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2018-05-13

ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2018 • DAY THREE : Saturday, April 21st

- If it doesn't make us wiser
Doesn't make us stronger
Doesn't make us live a little bit
What are we doing? -


Bell Witch

The first sign of what was to be expected from Roadburn 2018 came shortly after last year's edition in a fashion many announcements cast their first shadows these days: with a change of the profile picture on a facebook page and a slogan in form of hashtags.
In this case the image showed the flower decoration during the Scepticism show of 2016, accompanied by the tags #Forthosewelove and #Forthosewelost.

It's hard to imagine what expectation this would have generated at most other events. Probably ninety-nine percent of rock music festivals would have deemed this the uncoolest of all thinkable advertising moves and slapped their promoters in the face for it.

But knowing Walter Hoeijmakers' approach of putting each year's festival edition together with a holistic artistic vision, there was no doubt that remarkable things were about to happen.

The background is that "Mr. Roadburn" had to deal with hard personal losses and he made the decision to channel parts of his grief through Roadburn, making it not only a celebration of life and love for music (which I saw primarily reflected in the participation of those many psychedelic groups from East and West), but also very openly a work of mourning.


So after already two days (and one night) of live music it was on Saturday that Roadburn truly bared its soul, with performances of artists whose latest work have very impressively dealt with grief work and overcoming pain.



If there is one album of 2017 that connects to this notion more than anything else and also speaks the musical mother language of this festival, it's of course Bell Witch's 80+ minute one-song epos "Mirror Reaper".

Exactly that giant piece filled the Koepelhal - both sonically and in terms of capacity - in the early afternoon.


Bell Witch

It's hard to put anything about this concert into accurate words. Even the pure anticipation I felt before the start, when the full cover artwork was shown on the screen, was different than at the other concerts of this festival.
Roadburn does the unthinkable, the things you couldn't imagine happening anywhere else, so frequently that it's easy to get used to it and take it for granted.
On this early afternoon I didn't. The sheer fact that a funeral doom duo would perform this one sad, crushing, slow piece of orchestral scope in a hall filling with 1200(?) people was stunning by itself.

And how wonderful did it turn out to be! The daylight coming from the milky windows in the East made the Koepelhal feel like an industrial cathedral, a huge brethren of Het Patronaat. And everyone in it was experiencing this mass in a different silent way. Oh, this wonderful silence. I can't stress enough how much the audience gets it at Roadburn. You could hear the needle fall in the quiet parts - or let's say: you could hear the plastic cup being stepped on.

The performance of "Mirror Reaper" was amazing. Bell Witch is no show act with significant stage action. But whenever you went out of your personal zone and took a look there was always something interesting to see. For once the song was accompanied by an eerie black and white movie which thematized the circle of life and death in powerful images.
But also the musicianship of Dylan Desmond on bass and Jesse Shreibman, who besides the drums also multitasks the organ with his left foot, is always something amazing to behold. The probably most important virtue of the duet band format is how it amplifies the role of each member's individual personality. And these guys know how to put a lot of that into their art.

The hardest job however may have fallen onto the "third member" of Bell Witch, who has been contributing guest vocals on each of the band's albums and whose fragile Patrick Walker-like voice carries the second half of "Mirror Reaper".
So there is this huge thing happening on stage, everything runs more than smoothly, and after over fifty minutes you have to come out there and join it as an equal part. Nope, no pressure. So you could tell that Erik Moggridge naturally was a little nervous for the first few minutes, but he totally nailed his part. Somehow reminding me of a Damian Wilson of solemn doom, his performance was the final ingredient which lead this concert to indisputable perfection.


This show was everything I wanted it to be - and more. As expected this was the epicentre of my Roadburn 2018 that transcended watching just a couple of guys delivering some nice tunes by far the most. This will be with me as a life experience.

In my review of Thursday I mentioned one of the two biggest goose bumps moments of the festival. The second was when after a short pause at the end of "Mirror Reaper" the applause set in.



I've read about other fans that they needed to take a break after Bell Witch to process the profound gravity of what they had just witnessed. And in retrospect I must admit that I would have needed that break, too.

But instead I went straight into the main stage of the 013, where Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik delivered a show I just cannot honour the way it surely deserves.


Hugsjá


Hugsjá was the name of their current take on Norwegian lore and history. And as we know it from them they presented it in grand epic folk songs, which were able to open whole world of the imagination. At least I suppose so. Even though it didn't have the magical depth of the related Wardruna show in 2015, I could tell that this still was really good.

But after that larger than life and death Bell Witch experience, everything else just seemed small and far away and quickly vanished from my memory.


After a couple of songs I went over to the Green Room. And while I waited for the next show I felt that now - finally - my mind was ready for new sound adventures again.


Damo Suzuki & Minami Deutsch


Backing up early 1970s Can singer Damo Suzuki for a purely improvisational jam, the second show of Japanese kraut rockers Minami Deutsch promised a lot of those adventures.

It's shortly after midnight as I'm typing this right now, so forgive me that I don't even bother trying to explain the range and kind of sounds Suzuki delivered in his language-free adlibbing, which was in the forefront of this performance most of the time.
Minami Deutsch very much focussed on following his flow - and that was what made this improvisation so special to me. It was very controlled in a way you can only achieve with very good knowledge of your musical partners. Most of the time it was all about subtle details and nuances, while the rhythm section carried on in a steady fashion. A break could just be filled with one soft but so rightly placed guitar ring.

But when the point of every jam on Earth came where the drummer does that sudden explosive shift that has the potential to catch the other instruments off-guard, everybody was totally on board and executed it with the utmost precision. 

Minami Deutsch are a psyck rock band with a special flavour and jamming with one of their heros obviously was a big inspriring encounter for them, which made this show even better than their "normal" performance the day before. I'm glad I could watch it unfold, even though I couldn't stay for the end, because there's always the next thing you don't want to miss...



Mizmor


Back in the Koepelhal another full album performance was heralding the early evening. Mizmor, who rarely play live at all, since "they" are only a one-artist project in the studio were playing the 2016 work "Yodh" in full.

Even if you've never heard the album, chances are that you've seen its rememberable, staggering artwork which has turned to a hilarious meme in certain places. Almost more amazing than this painting is the fact that the singer / guitarist of Mizmor in a strange way has a very similar facial expression to those entities while performing. I hope one of you pit photographers has captured that striking resemblance! My toy camera possibilities are a bit too limited to frame something like this right.

And damn, what a killer black / death vocalist he is!

But the music was also top-notch.
I've heard the album a couple of times before, so I knew that beginning was ok, but not the strongest part of it. But when the black metal opus is finally infused with a serious amount of doom, "Yodh" gets really big and glorious. Damn, this was good. A great cristic's favorite album, presented in a worthy environment.




Directly after the show one of the strangest things of the whole weekend happened: the vast hall emptied.

For a moment there were more people behind the bar than in the audience. If the following artist was peeking from behind the stage now, she must have been horrified that being an "outsider" even for Roadburn standards almost nobody wanted to see her here.

But luckily half an hour later the Koepelhal provided a more than thankful setting again - for a singer who albeit being artistically independent and dealing with very dark subject matters cannot be described without uttering the evil forbidden p-word: pop.
    


Zola Jesus
Zola Jesus


If "pop" is often equated with shallowness - that formula doesn't work for Zola Jesus at all.

Especially her latest release "Okovi", which unsurprisingly dominated her show, could hardly be a darker and more sincere affair. Her electronic music was performed as a trio with one very ambient, noise-orientated guitarist and a female violin player - who a certain german webzine review transformed into a male drummer. Ok, close enough, I guess.

Apart from some catchy melodies and dancable beats the pop appeal of Zola Jesus mainly originates in her stage persona. There was the optical side with her dress and hints of a choreography, which thankfully never went too far. The music still was very much the focus here.
And of course there was her voice! I have used this description before, but since it works: Zola Jesus' raw emotional power is not unlike that of Florence Welch, mixed with a pinch of - hold your breath! - Rihanna. Combine this with a musical mix of Björk's "Homogenic" phase with the darkness of "Pain Is Beauty" Chelsea Wolfe and you get a mesmerizing piece of art, be it in the studio or here in this life setting, where Zola Jesus who claimed to either be too pop or too weird at many festivals, was welcomed with open arms.

Rightfully so, because her show not only had integer substance, but it also was just fucking awesome. And Jesus, what an exit! I honestly don't remember which song she played at the end, but wow, that furious intense performance!



Jump cut from Zola's sweaty face to the sea of sweat that was boiling inside the Hall Of Fame, where my Japanese psych journey continued with its wildest chapter.


Dhidalah


Pairing their traditional "Eastern" kraut and psychedelic influences with heavy stoner riffs, noise attcks and ass kicking in-your-face power trio rock Dhidalah probably was the Japanese band that was stylistically closest to the "West" (aka the groups of the San Diego Takeover).

Do I still have super detailed memories of their show? No, sorry, some impressions just get a little buried in the overwhelming flood of musical information. But I still know that it was damn good and just the kind of wild ecstatic rush I needed right then and there.





After Dhidalah I took a longer break. All Pigs Must Die were on my schedule, but I could here them good enough while exploring the merch area to realize that they were a tad too angry for me at this moment.

The final shows I had marked on my running order were ex-The Oath guitarist Linnéa Olsson's Maggot Heart and following them Hair Of The Dog, but I already had scrabbed both much earlier in the day in favor of the grand psychedelic rock finale on the main stage:



Under a phenomenal, but at the same time also a bit silly picture of King Kong fighting Godzilla the members of "Artist in Residence" Earthless teamed up with Kikagaku Moyo, who I was super keen to watch again, for the epic "East meets West Jam".


Earthless & Kikagaku Moyo


This clash consisted of two half-hour long pieces. The first started only with one guitar from West vs. one Sitar from the East. It was a slow build-up which unapologetically had fun playing with some cultural clishés, but at the same time had enough depth and athmosphere to fully pull you in.

It took a patient time until all musicians were finally on stage, with most of the Kikagaku Moyo guys (including the drummer who didn't play his original instrument at all here) performing multiinstrumental duties, thus adding a wider sound palette with acoustic guitar, cello and several percussions to the mix.
Of course there was a lot of layering signals whirring around, but especially the two bass player did a a good job of tying it all together.

The second improvisation was designated to be a wilder ride. And indeed at some time it became an unstoppable colossus that just gloriously pushed on and on. Sometimes this beast seemed on the edge of losing control over itself, but the central guitar heroes on both sides were wise enough to see that everything already was operating at maximum and to not even put extra layers on top of it, the Earthless West by just concentrating on providing a steady basement and the East by not even touching the six strings again and just having a good time on the cow bell.


So while on the nitpicking side I would maybe have enjoyed this even a little more with the Kikagaku Moyo drummer behind the kit, my overall judgement of this gathering can only be that it was absolutely magnificent!

What better high to close yet another unforgetable Roadburn day? This was without a doubt one for the "Live At Roadburn" record wishlist.








HIGHLIGHTS OF THE DAY:

Bell Witch, no surprises from me here.
Behind that I would say Zola Jesus and the Earthless & Kikagaku Moyo jam are in a tie, even though I prefer to look back on all the psychedelic rock shows I watched this Roadburn as one wholesome experience.


MOST PAINFULLY MISSED:

Well, this Saturday was a bitch - until it wasn't.

On paper this whole cluster around Zola Jesus seemed like the worst clash fest of all time. (And according to Walter himself this was indeed the most painful day to plan for him in Roadburn history.) Erik Moggridge's project Aerial Rune, an ambient performance with participation of NYIÞ, who I loved in 2016. The motherbefuddling Heads!

But when the time of that clusterfuck was there, I was content with my decisions and never regretted it. So most of my misses were just a pity, but nothing more. That also goes for the opportunity of diving into the dungeon synth genre with Old Tower or the acoustic Cave In tribute to their late bandmate Caleb Scofield, that was added to the programme on short notice in Het Patronaat even before Bell Witch. I'm admittedly mostly unfamiliar with the man and his work, but from what I've read this performance must have been very moving.

The one show that really still itches me though is the full performance of "Absolutego" by Boris and Stephen O'Malley, a drone worship ritual of Sunn O))) proportions, it is said.

But fuckyeah, that's Roadburn, too immense for one mortal human to cover. And it for sure wouldn't be the same if that ever changed.





reviews of the other festival days:

- Attakk of the Evil Belgians -


ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2018 • DAY ONE :
Thursday, April 19th

- Put me down where I can see the Bong of Doom and Christmas -



ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2018 • DAY TWO :
Friday, April 20th

- Go Spread Your Psych -

 

ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2018 • DAY FOUR :
Sunday, April 22nd

- Leave the lights on
I'm going blind -





Bell Witch:

















Hugsjá:







Damo Suzuki &
Minami Deutsch:

















Mizmor:











Zola Jesus:



















Didalah:
















 
Earthless &
Kikagaku Moyo:


















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