April swings round again, and once more the familiar scents of sweat, beard wax, cannabis and high-quality beer waft down a certain street in Tilburg and three nearby venues; the Roadburn festival is shifting into gear, undaunted by several high-profile cancellations at the last hurdle. A surprise awaited attendees from the very start, the street outside the 013 now serving as a marketplace for records, shirts, patches and God knows what else, with a series of blown-up photos from Roadburn’s past dwarfing the stalls from stretched-out canvases. Familiar faces from across the world happy to see each other, friendly introductions and bonds forged; the otherwise unexceptional Tilburg has become an unlikely musical Mecca for several thousand people each year, the festival now a towering behemoth of an undertaking that grew from a sapling of an event in Eindhoven to the painstakingly organized and broad-reaching milestone we know today. Every year it gets just a little bit bigger, a touch more intricate – a punter can be sure that there will be one or two surprises in store each year, both on stage and off. Clinics, panels, films, art and photography all now play a part in this festival, and it is to be commended that Walter and co. have chosen to acknowledge the significant overlap that exists (now more than ever) between the various art forms.
But of course, the beating heart of Roadburn will always be the music, no matter how far the concept is stretched. Chicago’s Locrian kicked off the proceedings with their unique take on industrial bludgeoning. I have to admit that I haven’t really followed this band since their 2009 album ‘Drenched Lands’; having loved said record, I went in with high expectations, and was rewarded by a skilled, if somewhat bewildering set. The band’s sound has lurched closer to black metal than I remember, and not for the best. It’s a shame really, since the parts that sounded like a less abrasive Godflesh were as engaging as ever, but the attempts at Norse bleakness sounded forced and tired to my ears. But confounding the listener is never a bad thing, so maybe my frustration was the desired reaction to a band that clearly has no interest in pandering to anyone’s interests but their own.
Whatever flaws Locrian may have demonstrated, Sourvein’s typically sanguine performance was an outright disappointment, if only because it didn’t quite reach the dizzying, pissed-up heights of their Afterburner set a few years back (complete with bouncing beer cans). It’s always a pleasure to watch T-Roy’s charismatic performing, but when you set the bar high in previous years (they played a memorably messy set in London one Halloween…), at some point a band is bound to underwhelm, something 40 Watt Sun most certainly did not do. Patrick Walker’s mournful drawl and raw lyrics are something which I only warmed to post-Warning, and if you ask me his current band’s subtle but devastatingly intense performance at Het Patronaat that Thursday was a prime demonstration of a band that has far outstripped its predecessor. Small amps and a vocal performance that was just as delicate (possibly better) than on record made them something of an anomaly on a festival with so much pomp, volume and bombast, but no less welcome than any other band on the bill.
Talking of great vocals, my next foray was back to the main stage to watch the festival’s Marmite band – Beastmilk. Personally, I bloody love everything they’ve done so far, and this was probably the best of the three performances I’ve seen them give. Some people moaned about the lack of vocal and guitar layering that was present on ‘Climax’ – fuck’s sake, you want the record, stay at home and listen to it! Beastmilk live are a far more stripped down entity, and in my book, that is no bad thing. Closer to punk than goth as a live act, more of an early-Bauhaus entity on record; I can live with that, moaners be damned. Kudos for the singing drummer and having a good sense of camp on stage!
As for Napalm Death… well I can’t say I was disappointed, as I haven’t really cared for much of what they’ve done since FETO. I left after 25 minutes of uninspired dirges and not ONE fast song. I will admit that, as with Asphyx last year, I was one of the few heckling: “FASTER!” At least Van Drunen and co. threw a few fast passages in – the slower material only works for bands like this when sandwiched in between the fast and frantic parts. One very positive note: Costin Chioreanu’s backdrop to this musical snoozefest was excellent. Corrections House are another (super?)group that did little for me. I’ll just stick with Sutcliffe Jugend, thanks!
As is often the case, it was up to the newer bands to inject some much-needed adrenaline into a flagging first day; I was able to squeeze into the Batcave (I’m told this furnace is being done away with soon…) to catch 20 or so minutes of Nottingham’s The Cult Of Dom Keller treating Tilburg to an infectiously danceable lysergic movie for your ears. I just about managed to catch Goatess regaling the sweatbox to some equally fun Kyuss-worship, but I’m sincerely hoping both bands reach the UK soon so I can see them properly, in a room that’s not twinned with Demis Roussos’ armpit. Old favourites Crowbar put in a performance I really enjoyed, although I must admit I’ll always reach for the first Eyehategod album or any Grief LP when it comes to sludge, so my knowledge of their output is pretty limited.
Bong are a band which I have seen more times than I care to count; I admire them for their bloody-minded determination to be as monotonous and abstract as possible, not to mention the mind-bendingly gorgeous psychedelic raga that has become their trademark. You either get them or you don’t, but even as a fan I was a bit apprehensive about how they would fare on the main stage. My fears were unfounded – the band stood stationary, in near-total darkness, with a huge backdrop which was simply their logo and a star cluster. I wish they could have played a four hour set, I imagine it would be a form of sonic sensory deprivation, a cleansing experience. But I was delighted enough with the typically zen-inducing hour Newcastle’s best band treated us to that night. And so to bed, where sleep and tinnitus await…
Scribed By: Saúl Do Caixão
Photos By: Lee Edwards
Video By: Mark 208