Friday, 20 October 2017

On Stage: J. Berndardt @ Tolhuistuin

Belgian alternative darlings Balthazar are still on a break and some of its members are using their spare time to engage in other musical projects. Especially Maarten Devoldere in Warhaus and Jinte Deprez as J. Bernardt are doing well and have released wonderful albums. I saw both of them play a few times now, but I just can't get enough. Time to see J. Bernardt again.

J. Bernardt at Paradiso Tolhuistuin Amsterdam, October 17 2017

Somewhere during the show Deprez mentions it is a sold out house tonight, which is obvious from the packed venue. The first time I saw him with this project at the Into The Great Wide Open festival last year. It was the first show and afterwards I briefly talked to him where he stated it needed some more work since he wasn't really pleased. By now his record Running Days is out and the shows are running smoothly as I already experienced later that year. The lights on the stage create a nice atmosphere (although make it impossible for my small camera to take decent pictures) for the minimalistic electronic music.

Most of the songs are midtempo, which means it won't make you go wild, but it does invite you to dance. Of course Deprez is used to large stages and this smaller one is no problem for him. He's moving around the whole stage and it is obvious he feels comfortable there. I like the sound of his music, the way the calm songs slowly unfold themselves while Deprez is almost crooning as he's singing them. He mostly starts samples and creates loops for his songs to build on while a keyboard creates texture and drums provide rhythm.

Deprez is a charismatic performer who flawlessly feels when the attention of the crowd is slipping. When it does, he will address them to make sure they are back in the game. With only one record out, the show doesn't last very long of course, but it is nice to see how this project grew into a convincing live show.

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Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Desertfest Belgium 2017 Saturday

I like music with good grooves and most music I listen to has exactly that. It doesn't have to be rock music, but can be all types music. I do like rock music a lot which is obvious and stoner rock is exactly the kind that features heavy grooves. Desertfest is a festival in London, Berlin and Antwerp focusing on stoner rock, doom, psych and sludge. Since the Antwerp edition is pretty close and featured Graveyard, we decided to pay it a visit.

Desertfest Belgium 2017 Saturday at Trix Antwerp, October 14 2017

Although not all bands are playing stoner rock and I'm not really into doom and sludge, there are many interesting acts on the bill. We arrive at the venue early and catch the last 10 minutes of A Supernaut. I didn't get a good change to see what they were all about so let's head to the next one.

Hidden Trails

Belgian band Hidden Trails are one of the less heavier bands today and play psychedelic prog rock music, focusing on long compositions that build on atmosphere. Singer Jo Neyskens has a pleasant clear voice and it reminds me of Steven Wilson now and then, especially in the more quiet songs. The trio are playing very focused and I like their sound. The songs have plenty of depth and sound layered. Traces of Pink Floyd and the psychedelic side of Motorpsycho can be heard. A good way to start the day.

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The Vintage Caravan

Somehow it seems Iceland doesn't have a lot to offer to me musical wise, since famous Icelandic acts like Björk, Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men really don't appeal to me. Fortunately there are also bands that can please me a lot better. The Vintage Caravan play no-nonsense classic rock complete with hair flipping and the rock poses that go with it. This sounds like they are going through all the clichés which is actually true, but the band are having so much fun with it and add just enough tongue of cheek that it doesn't get too ridiculous or cheesy. It also helps they have a bunch of good songs, play well and singer Óskar Logi Ágústsson's voice has improved from the last time I saw them. It may not be very original, but sometimes you don't need a lot more.

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King Hiss

The live reputation of Belgian band King Hiss is pretty big by now after tearing down stages at several festivals this summer. I was expecting a fuller house because of that, but I guess most people were getting ready for Stoned Jesus who are playing the main stage later on. It doesn't get this band down at all. Nor do the technical problems at the beginning. Once all amps and effects are fired up, there's no stopping in King Hiss. A mind splitting mix of stoner, smudge and heavy metal rocks the stage and makes the venue tremble. "The bastard child of Mastodon and Kyuss" they call themselves and that is a good way of describing their music. Add to that the incredible voice and charismatic stage appearance of Jan Coudron and it's clear this band is onto something. Coudron is all over the stage, has a few incredible moves and is constantly in touch with the crowd, energizing them with his enthusiasm. What an incredible show!

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Stoned Jesus

Many people apparently did skip King Hiss to get a good spot for Stoned Jesus since the main hall is quite full. For a good reason it turns out, since the band from Ukraine are playing a convincing show. Coming from a stoner doom solo project by Igor Sidorenko their music now has more psychedelic melodies that make their music lighter and brings more variation. Live it sounds pretty tight and the band is having fun on stage. This energizes the crowd who get what they came for, which is a lot.

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Noise rockers Unsane have been around for almost thirty years and the current line-up has been together for most of that period. The band took a break from 2000 until 2003 after founding member and singer Chris Spencer got seriously injured when he was attacked during a concert. The threesome's performance is loud and heavy with Spencer mostly screaming his lyrics. It is definitely intense and you can see these guys have been together for a long time, playing like a well-oiled machine. However they are constantly playing at the highest noise level, without leaving much breathing room. After half an hour we're completely numb from the pounding noise. It would have been better if they could mix in some of their lighter songs here and there.

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Troubled Horse

Swedish band Troubled Horse are touring with Graveyard as a support act which explains their name on the bill. Singer Martin Heppich's face is painted black which gives a gloomy effect on this dark stage. Music wise there's a lot going on in their garage sound, too much actually. All guitars and drums are trying to play as much and loud as possible and it makes their songs really messy. This band is simply overdoing it in many ways and it makes their performance far from convincing. We decide to take a look at the merch stands instead.

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When you're listening to Beastmaker's music it's hard to deny they sound like Black Sabbath. It is clear they draw inspiration from old heavy metal and classic hardrock. The band does a good job recreating that music but they look so serious on stage. Also I find there's not a lot of variation in their music, as if they are playing the same chords, riffs, grooves and fills in every song. In the end it even gets a bit boring.

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Another big name on the bill is doom metal band Windhand and the main hall has filled up again for them. Doom metal is definitely not my kind of music but maybe they'll surprise me. The slow heavy grooves and gloomy visuals create a dark and sinister atmosphere. Singer Dorthia Cottrell has a good voice but she's far from charismatic or active on stage. When she's singing she isn't exactly a ball of energy and during the long solo's she's just simply standing there waiting her turn. This definitely isn't for me.

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Headliner Graveyard on the other hand are definitely something for me. From the moment I saw the Swedes for the first time they have grabbed me and never let go. They were supposed to play over here last year but then the group disbanded to my disappointment. Fortunately it didn't take long for them to reform and now they have come to make up for lost time. Deeply grounded in the blues their music can be heavy with big grooves and a big sound. Other times they go back to those blues roots and play a heartfelt ballad with crying guitars. And of course there is singer Joakim Nilsson with his amazing sandpaper voice that cuts through the music with incredible howls and deep lows. Together with the laid back approach of their music it is why I really love their sound. Tonight again they are showing what makes them such a good band with a focused performance and their best music. I'm really happy they are back and hopefully we can expect some new music in the near future.

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We don't want to go home yet and decide to check out the last band of the day. German duo DŸSE know how to end this day on a high with crazy noise rock music that seems to go in every direction. But the two make sure it never ends in a mess but know exactly what they are doing and play very tight. Who said Germans lack a sense of humour? These two guys have great jokes and don't look too serious while at the same time their skills are superb with great control over their instrument. The duo has a lot of fun themselves on stage and I can see only smiling faces around me. A great way to end this long day.

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This has been a wonderful day at the Desertfest festival. I did notice that many bands are not exactly playing my kind of music but when they have a few bands in the line-up that are appealing enough like today I will definitely be back some time.

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Friday, 13 October 2017

Spinning: METZ - Strange Peace

It only seemed a matter of time before noise rockers METZ would team up with one of the greats of the noise rock scene Steve Albini. It actually makes a lot of sense that Albini would produce an album by the Canadian band, who draw so much inspiration from his work. Strange Peace is the result of that explosive collaboration where everything falls into place.

METZ alreay had the relentless repeating grooves in their kick-in-the-nuts music, but this time they have managed to come up with a more diverse sound, where the eruptions have even more impact. The album kicks in loud and heavy right from the start on 'Mess of Wires'. The drums are upfront in the mix so they keep pounding away on your ears. In 'Mr. Plague' they sound like an unstoppable repeating pile driver with grinding guitars. The intro of 'Drained Lake' sounds like bashing metal where the Johnny Rotten-like vocals cut right through them.

Beyond all that violence, an uneasy feeling is seeping through. 'Caterpillar' sounds dark and ominous where in 'Sink' a pestering guitar predicts trouble. "I've seen it watching constantly" we can hear, "all day long it's been calling to me", any moment you expect that horrific Pennywise to jump you. Songs about those uneasy feelings in life that will paralyze you, make you numb. The uncomfortable feeling in 'Cellophane', about how you can feel powerless, like being wrapped in plastic.

METZ' world is definitely not a happy place, but it never was. The album's closer 'Raw Materials' seems to die down halfway but then slowly rises up again with more trouble coming, until it erupts, tearing everything apart. Strange Peace is METZ at its best where Albini gives more direction to the wild explosive band. This time it is more than just a kick in the nuts, it is someone grabbing them and slowly squeezing. I know that doesn't sound really good, the album is like that, but in a good way: a form of satisfying self-flagellation.

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