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2022-05-03

ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2022 • DAY ONE: Thursday, April 21st

- Tumult of magic, turmoil of transcendence. -


Lili Refrain

Wakey, wakey! On Thursday I'm still fit wie ein Turnschuh, as we say in Germany, so after breakfast I visited the nearby inland dunes. I made sure that I didn't have a long walk to get there and kept my visit rather brief to preserve energy. I would need it urgently much later in the day...


Quick note for the uninitiated, who may wonder why these pictures and most my live photographs looks so "weird": It's not a filter. Apart from a couple of (square) smartphone snaps the illustration of these reviews is all done with the Digital Harinezumi 3.0, a cute little Japanese toy camera, by which people actually often recognize me, since I bring it to as good as every show I'm attending. You can see me holding it on this audience shot from Saturday:

pic by Jostijn Ligtvoet

I had also brought a Digital Harinezumi 4.0, which unfortunately can only be used attached to a power bank for a very short time to shot a couple of super 8 style videos in the dunes. If you're interested in that and also want to listen to some 20+ years old 4-track DX7 synthie music from me, you can do so here.




But now it will be 2 pm soon, so let's head over to Tilburg City, where the festival will take off inside the Koepelhal!

Once again the location introduced in 2017 and fully integrated in 2018 as compensation for the loss of both Het Patronaat and the Cul de Sac, has developed quite a bit. There's a food area outside and the whole merch at the Pit Stop. The familiar stage has been improved by further darkening the vast room and the stage itself. It's now called The Terminal. In the next room there's a new stage called The Engine Room.
Due to constructions (like everywhere in Tilburg) the Hall Of Fame had moved outside the building complex into a tent - which may sound cheap, but actually looked really good. I honestly liked it better than the original. But who knows what they will have done there until next year...
The Ladybird Skatepark is also temporarily closed, but that didn't mean it wouldn't open for several shortly announced surprise shows during the weekend. It even had a proper stage now. But I wouldn't find an opportunity to visit it until Sunday.

Right now I was headed for The Terminal, where a beloved trio had the honour of starting the procedures.





Big|Brave

Bam, what a wake-up call! On the three occasions I've seen them so far, the minimalistic, yet huge almost-no-wave drone rock of Big|Brave has always been an extraordinary experience. Not only in terms of crushing sonic might, but also regarding the emotional impact of Robin Wattie's high voice above the noisy rumble. The sensation of all this finally happening again and the sheer quality of the material from last year's album "Vital" only added to a stunning performance, which was also just fun to watch for the great band chemistry on display.
Big|Brave had already been on tour for a while and when Robin, who took medicine between the songs, talked to the audience, she had that hilarious hoarse squeaking in her voice, which immediately made her laugh herself. Pretty amazing how she still pulled off the singing in this condition - the first hero of Roadburn 2022 for me.









Bruit ≤

Other than planned I had stayed at the Big|Brave show until the very end, so The Enginge Room, where Bruit ≤ were about to start in a couple of minutes, was already quite packed when I entered. I still got close enough to the action, but it just didn't click for me.
Maybe it had to do with just having witnessed how enormous only drums and two guitars could sound, while the French post rock band came with strings and horns which didn't have any noticable effect at all. As great as their album "The Machine Is Burning And Now Everyone Knows It Could Happen Again" might be; this unfortunately didn't touch me, so I decided to leave very soon.

Getting outside was annoingly hard, since the stage was positioned in a way that didn't correspond with an ideal audience flow at all. Not a good premiere impression of this location, which made me glad that I didn't have many artists on my schedule here.








Vile Creature x Bismuth

A couple of minutes to walk (and cross a heavy traffic junction) later, I arrived in front of the Main Stage inside the 013 venue, where the sludge duos Vile Creature and Bismuth performed "A Hymn Of Loss And Hope", their collaborative commissioned show, which had originally been announced for Roadburn 2020.
I'm not sure if the long extra time was helpful, because the performance was a mixed bag. I loved the slow and heavy doom sound which immediately gave me this comfort of being in my home away from home again, but it never seemed like this transatlantic cooperation could unleash its full potential.
You had a total four members, but most of the time there were only three of them on stage. You had three vocalist, but they all kind of did the same thing. And you had a grand piano on stage for a rather underwhelming section that could have been done with a mini synthesizer beside the mic stand. All in all the thing wasn't really made for this giant stage, on which Vile Bismuth always seemed to be a little lost. It still wasn't bad, but it didn't come close to Vile Creature's "Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!" and there have been far better Main Stage opening sets in the past. Im confident the piece would have benefitted from a performance closer to its inception in a more confined space.










Messa

Using the break as one of the few opportunities to grab something to bite (or did I do that afterwards? These details get blurry.) I returned to the Main Stage for the Italian doom metal band Messa, who presented their fantastic new album "Close" as a whole. With guest musicians on lute, saxophone, keys and other instruments, they delivered a flawless show. Of course the ethereal, but still powerful voice of singer Sara was the mesmerizing icing on the often oriental, sometimes almost jazzy post doom cake. All in all this band has a perfect, compelling balance of just great rock songs, experimentalism and charisma.
Hard to imagine that anyone would leave this spellbinding evocation of awesomeness already at its halfway mark during the hit "Pilgrim". But of course this is Roadburn and a good spot at one of my most anticipated shows had to be secured...









Slift

The French psych rock power trio Slift playing their game-changing masterpiece "Ummon". What else can be said that does this comet ride any justice? This was just what their "Levitation Sessions" had promised - and more. The rhythm section bursted with energy and the lead guitar was firing lasers in every possible direction. This band's combination of cosmic creativity and almost punkish attitude is just on fire. With an energy level rivaling top form King Gizzard you could either step outside of yourself or start a moshpit to this. Which some fans did during the finale, starting a whole thing in a certain corner of social media... However I was not involved, because once again I applied the lesson that in order to get a good spot for the next happening, it is often crucial to let go even of the greatest shows a little sooner than you actually want to. Slift being Artist in Residence this year at least meant that this hadn't been the last chance to catch them during this weekend.









Lili Refrain

After the steep upward sloping curve of Messa and Slift I had finally arrived at my first true Roadburn high, floating on the wings of this festival's unmistakable magic. Or at least so I thought - until Lili Refrain stepped onto the Hall of Fame stage, adorned as a shaman of pure musical joy, who had the audience intrigued right from the start, as she began to build loops of tribalistic drums and percussions, droning electronics, guitar... and her absolutely stunning voice, which reached planes of mesmerizing transcendence that could only be matched by masterful folk singers like The Mystery Of The Bulgarian Voices or the otherworldliness of the one and only Anna von Hausswolff. The primal life-affirming force of this performance moved me deeply.

Lili Refrain's compositions are endlessly heightening climaxes, all going way beyond the sonic richness you would expect to be unleashed from just one single person, until they are just walls of a thousand voices, notes and noises washing all over you. It felt like a pure catharsis and an instance of connection rarely occurring between artist and audience. No moment emphasized that better than when Lili stepped to the edge of the stage and a fan asked her to hold his hand while she was singing. Which may sound super corny in description, but hell, after two years of severed connections this was just so damn honest and poignant. And it also played out with a healthy dose of humour. The whole show was one of those barely describable experiences that made me feel every possible emotion at once in the best way.

I wish I had bought one of her albums at the merch later, but that plain and simply didn't happen for the stupid reason that I hadn't memorized her logo and wrongfully thought she hadn't been able to bring it for some reason.
 








Sólstafir

I've seen the Icelandic quartet several times over the years now, but I'm still not super familiar with their discography. Tonight they did a full-album anniversary show of a work I didn't know and I honestly didn't pay much attention after the Lili Refrain revelation, but just relaxed a bit. So apart from the dry fact that there was a song with a bariton guitar, which they had never done live before, I couldn't even tell you whether this was good, medium or bad Sólstafir.




In hindsight all my memories are overshadowed by the sudden realization that I had left my merch bag in front of the Hall of Fame stage anyway. I had successfully resisted most temptations so far, but even the two items plus my fleece jacket in that bag would have been a haunting annoyance to have lost, so I ran in an adrenaline rush while cursing myself.
Of course my stuff was still there and maybe I could have stayed there too at least for a couple of minutes to watch Wyatt E., whose new album I absolutely love, but instead I didn't even notice how many people were on stage, because I just had to get down from this sudden test of my fitness now - while still arriving in time for the next good spot at a brand-new Roadburn location I hadn't seen from the inside yet.

The Paradox is an acclaimed jazz club, which hosted a curated program of mostly avant-garde and other adventurous jazz (and related) artists during the festival. It also had two rows of chairs in front of the intimate stage, which was a dream come true right now, because I could really need to fucking sit.




Zaäar

The band I was about to see now was one of my most anticipated groups, even though - or maybe because - I only had very diffuse ideas of what was actually about to happen here. I'm talking about Zaäar, the self-described "collective born from a rib of Neptunian Maximalism".
Quite different to the bombastic Sun Ra meets doom grandiosity of the Belgian arkestra, this was a much wilder, more unpredictable and much more improvisational beast. Especially the electro drones and Guillaume Cazalet's performance, which jumped between throat singing, chants, percussions, flutes and the instant effect modulation of all of those, gave this extreme free jazz ritual a sinister note. In this performance anything seemed possible at any time. Faithfully following the spirit of Zaäar's debut double album "Magická Džungl'a" this performance was pure bubbling chaos - the tumult of the jungle, the turmoil of creation itself.

While I'm sure that I would also have loved this show ten hours earlier, it doubtlessly only enhanced my perception of it that the day had made me tired and that I additionally was exhausted from the merch panic run before. Floating in a state you might otherwise need substance help to achieve, the music at  multiple instances made me zone out as if I was caught inside a god's fever dream. Too much to handle for a mortal mind perhaps. But also just enormously sick shit. I loved it.   










Russian Circles

Meanwhile on the Main Stage, deliberatly distanced by a heavy focus on the light show, Russian Circles were putting the crowd into a post rock trance. Spiritually already overloaded by the cumulated experiences of Slift, Lili Refrain and Zaäar my mind could still enjoy their heavy grooves and atmospheres, but wasn't able to dive too deep under its surface at this point.
I admittedly can't remember with certainty if I stayed until the end or if I was content to use a couple of song to ease myself into parting from the premises, but I do know that the trio made me I leave happy after this first Roadburn Thursday after three long years.




CLASHBURN:

There are a bazillion ways to create your own Roadburn running order and there are always painful clashes and surprising decisions against artists you had sworn not to miss. Yet still - and that's the luxurious beauty of it - you can hardly do anything wrong and will always have an extraordinary time no other event can quite evoke.
Despite a short shaky phase after the opener the highlights of this day complimented each other in a magical dramaturgy for me. And even though I've been to several shows since last September, including Prophecy Fest and a four day music trip to Denmark - finally being here again and taking in the uniqueness of Roadburn, unrestricted by any pandemic restrictions, made the return of live music, the bliss and magic of musical discovery a whole lot more real again.

I don't have hard regrets for Thursday, but I still I can shed a couple of tiny tears for the shows I couldn't attend:
The björkish voice and experimentalism of Fågelle would probably have been a closer, more intimate experience than Messa, as fantastic as they were. Messa's tour companions Wyatt E. sadly just overlapped so badly with Zaäar that it didn't even make sense to watch even a part of their show.
And finally my original plan had been to end the day at the Next Stage with the booming sub-bass of The Bug ft. Flowdan & Logan, but I just didn't feel like squishing myself into the packed room anymore. And the choice between Kevin Martin's project an Russian Circles had always been a very close one anyway.





reviews of the other festival days:

- Burn your burdens in the Temple of Rebranded Ignition! -


- One day you will find me here
Hiding behind the sun with a thousand loaded guns -

- The call of a thousandfold sounds:
Once upon a time in the Church of Cartography -


- Sinner get jazzy! Jammer get heavy! -






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