Ort: Den Haag - Paard
Datum: 15.12.2007 - 14.12.2007
APHEX TWIN – KILLL – JACKSON AND HIS COMPUTERBAND – FOOD FOR ANIMALS – KTAOABC
“Could you please turn the monitor for the Cello a little bit louder?” We’re ten minutes into the first set of the evening and already, the State-X New Forms Festival is proving itself the ultimate Crossover experience it had promised to be. This, after all, is not a classical concert but the gig of a band equipped with electrified guitars, drums and an array of electronic effects – hardly the place one usually identifies with a string section. I’m sitting on a stool in a concrete basement, the name of the band is Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat and things are off to a flying start.
Just an hour earlier, the place was still all but empty, anticipation growing with every minute of “Dronevolk”, a sixty minute documentary on the Belgian folk and drone scene, shown as an appetizer to the performance. Director Jef Mertens has followed four of the genre’s main protagonists, catching their motivations and music in short sentences and extensive video sequences, shot mainly at the famous Kraak Festival.
For me, at least, “Dronevolk” is a first introduction to the work of projects such as “Bear Bones, Lay Low”, “Ignatz” and “Silvester Anfang” and it opens up a whole new cosmos of fascinating sounds, full of pulsating guitar walls and meditative rhythms created by Shaman-like banging on bells, shakers and tambourine. “Dronevolk” has turned out a timelessly unspectacular but all the more intimate portrait, focussing on nothing but the essence and leaving hype and medial mysticism far behind. While it is not all too well spent for the largest part of the audience, who are hungry to get on with it, a small section of the crowd has sat down to follow the images attentively.
KISS THE ANUS OF A BLACK CAT
But then, of course, we’re on a live festival. As Stef Heeren enters the small stage in the corner of the basement together with the other stage members of Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat, there is suddenly a cluster of hungry fans standing round him, ready to absorb every word and every heartfelt, churned-out chord.
Heeren has played in Punk bands before, but it is obvious that his new brainchild has little to do with that any more. Anarchism and a sense of somberness are still points of the compass in his search for truth, but they are now embedded in a mesmerising and darkly beautiful ambiance of meditative mediaeval storytelling, molten into a frozen-lava monolith of razorsharp harmonies, a visionary vocal delivery and dense musical textures. Kiss The Anus Of a Black Cat are the present-day version of jugglers and players, singing of strange places and bizarre events at the border of apperception.
Heeren, who is all soft and friendly in his announcements in between songs, leanes into the microphone with everything he has, eyes wide open and his throat exploding as he builds up the pressure with each syllable. After what probably constitutes the most intoxicating moment of their set, he tears a string and needs to take a short break. Just five minutes later, he is back in full flight again. While his guitar provides the melodies, his backing band builds multilayered drones, supported by a magnetic bass, a sweet cello and a trance-indusing drumset. In the 70s, this would have been called psychedelic rock, but Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat make a point of strictly ending their pieces before boredom gets the chance to strike. A raw and yet finely nuanced performance of surreal majesty.
FOOD FOR ANIMALS
I then wander over to the big stage, where a complete change of scenery awaits me. The podium is empty, except for a small table with an iBook over which a slender figure is standing, bent in complete concentration. On his left and right, two men are positioned with microphones in their hands, one of the sporting a wildgrowing beard and a pullover with different dogs breeds on them. This is Food For Animals, but their “perfect grandson” appearance only holds for a second or so. As the beats set in, the men start jumping, running, rocking and rapping and we’re in for the biggest party of the evening.
Food For Animals have a background in Noise, but the shredded chains of hihats and the utter distorted sine wave massacre they unleash on their audience always have an upbeat twist to them, surfing on a tidal wave of energy with a smile. Next to the eclectic and lightningspeed rhymes of the front duo, Food For Animals boasts Ricky Rabbit, a highly dynamic beatbuilder. As it turns out, this is the man behind the iBook and his minimal, but suggestive arrangements have a strong digi-funk aspect to them. Most of all, however, they have a gargantuan bass flowing underneath, sending low streams of radiation into the hall.
For a moment, I have to hold on to my hat, afraid it could be blown away by these rippling waves. But as the concert progresses, the vibrations turn into a kind of aural massage and the mood brightens more and more. While Food For Animals may not be reinventing HipHop as such, their enthusiasm is contagious and they have plenty of catchy tunes and irresistible lines in their luggage. They finish, discuss with the organisors of the State-X New Forms Festival to be granted three more tracks, finish again and carve out yet another deal for one last title. Food For Animals don’t want to stop tonight and the public, at first reserved, then empathetic, doesn’t want them to either.
I make use of the small intermission to check out the location a bit more. The “Paard” has always been The Hague’s number one club, but it had to be closed down for repair work for a number of years. Its return has been triumphant and it is easy to see, why. This is an up-to-date concert location, with a big and a small stage and plenty of space in between the two. This space is taken up by stands with Vinyl, CDs and t-shirts of the bands performing over these two days.
Already now I can tell that the State-X New Forms has done a good job. The Friday had been completely sold out for months, but still the place is not crammed. You can move from one hall to the next easily and without the usual traffic jams. The place looks bright and inviting and there are happy faces everywhere. Instead of the typical pizza and fries, the kitchen offers goat cheese and pesto sandwiches and drinks are priced at a sympathetic 2 Euros. Security guards are always present, but never obtrusively so. If there is something to complain about, it must be the fact that it is seemingly impossible to find a place of silence at the State-X New Forms Festival: Even the Foyer has been turned into a club with DJs and VJs mixing visuals with sounds in a sportive multimedia battle. On the other hand, the quality is high everywhere I go.
JACKSON AND HIS COMPUTERBAND
The big hall has become more packed by now, as Jackson and his Computerband take the stage. Hailed as one of the more important French Dance acts of the past years, Jackson Fourgeaud has turned into a favourite both in his homecountry and all around the world thanks to a deal with seminal record company Warp. The Press information stresses the importance of his family ties, as Fourgeaud likes to invite his mother, his grandma, sister as well as his four-year old niece to his sessions. But tonight, Jackson has left all of them at home to engage in a dialogue with his computerband.
Essentially, this is a regular one-man-and-his-laptop performance, but Fourgeaud somehow manages to take it into risky waters. For almost three quarters of an hour, he changes beats and styles at half-minute intervals, turning his appearance into a vortexian megamix. It is an almost confrontational concert. You can hardly dance to it, for the sheer speed of the changes and there is no real flow to it either, as each new sequence takes time to build up from scratch again. On the other hand, Jackson and his Computerband is clearly a techno-oriented project, which feeds from its physical qualities instead of intellectual concepts. The first reaction is a bit of confusion, therefore. In the final quarter of the gig, however, the individual passages get longer, more hypnotic and steamy and at the sounding out of the last note, Fourgeaud has won over the crowd completely.
In the meantime, KILLL (pictured) have already started playing on the small stage. When I enter the room at just before two o’clock in the morning, I am witness to the most bewildering site of the State-X New Forms Festival in 2007 thus far. In front of a multicoloured screen, four men are bending into the most unhealthy postures, their anguishes twisted as if in a fit. While the drummer has his eyes in a glaucomic gaze, the two figures in front move and look so much alike that they appear to be mirrored by an invisible device somewhere.
The walls are plastered with warnings, that the KILLL lightshow can “cause epilepsy” and the results are right in your face: Bathing in a continous strobe thunderstorm, the mind is hard pressed to find peace, as the musicians on stage are hammering out the same powerchord for minutes in a row. Everything is pressed to the max: The volume, the stage act, the dynamics. I go to order a glass of water at the bar and am almost served three beer. All around, people are checking their ear plugs, afraid they could be pressed from the shells and expose the fragile inside to this sheer noise terror.
It is more than obvious that KILLL have made a name for themselves by acting against all the rules of the game: Their performance is close to insanity, their intensity aggressive and oppositional and they have vowed never to release an album. Next to the monochordal guitar and bass riffing, the threepiece is supported by an industrial keyboard act, which sends shockwaves of sound and carricaturesque organ solos at intermittent intervals. Occasionaly, barked vocals will end a piece, but other than the gig is an instrumental neverending aural attack.
Even though the avant-garde nature of the project is obvious, there is also room for humour. At one stage, percussionist Martin Horntveth even provides for a Donald Duck impersonation – at a felt level of 1.000 Decibel, of course. With this complete madness, the band systematically empties the room, even though a small crowd of true fanatics groups itself even tighter together in front of the stage. Which is a bit unfortunate, because there are moments of incomprehensible beauty, when the fourpiece allows their feedback to meander slowly through the room, breaking through the surface with tender noise splinters and spacey effects. All in all, a memorable event of the first night of the State-X New Forms Festival, albeit hardly the most listenable one.
And so the evening goes into the final round. It is time for the absolute headliner of this year’s edition of the State-X New Forms festival: Aphex Twin. Few people have managed to fit the image of the computer nerd more, few have managed to transcendend it like he has. Back in the 90s, people were already comparing him to Mozart. By now he has attained an almost untouchable status. After a long absence, Aphex Twin returned under a different alias (AFX) and churned out a string of limited singles of strictly oldschool music for a year, which, out of the blue, turned into a remarkable success story.
Noone seems to be bothered about the fact that his act tonight is a mere DJ set either. And why should they? Behind an oversized, gloomy red-glowing light bulb, Richard D. James spins record after record as if in David Lynch movie, transporting the crowd into a world of melodic bass lines, loveable alien sequencer snippets and 80s hiphop drumkits. The borders between electro, rave, house and artificially intelligent techno are becoming irrelevant, as Aphex Twin glues them together in one long tension arch. Much more than about genre, his set is about sound, the colourful palette shimmering like a corona over the ecstatic mob.
Clearly, everybody has waited for this. Even though James is anything but a technically brilliant DJ, his gig has something so many others painfully lack: Ambiance and personality. The timbres are mysterious and sensual, the mood is always optimistic and full of longing. Where he gets these records from will remain his little secret and it doesn’t really matter anyway. Each of these tunes could be an Aphex Twin original and with the amount of unreleased material still supposedly lying in his archives, they just as well could be.
This party could go on forever and there is still the DJ set by Mogwai in the pipeline. But after roughly five hours of music, I decide to catch my bus home to stay fit for the second night of the State-X New Forms Festival and concerts by equally gifted people: Fear Falls Burning, SUNN O))) and Jesu.
SUNN O))) – SCOUT NIBLETT – JESU – MOTORPSYCHO – FEAR FALLS BURNING – PLAYLAB FEAT. KIM FOWLEY
There’s a moment of stress for me right at the beginning of the second day of the State-X New Forms Festival: The performance of Fear Falls Burning has been brought forward from 10:45 pm to 09:30 pm! While I had planned on strolling through the building without haste and obvious direction for the first hour of the evening, I now find myself running over to the basement to make it in time.
PLAYLAB INTERNATIONAL FEAT. KIM FOWLEY
And still I can count myself lucky I found out at all. For just until a short moment ago, I was still standing in the small hall, watching the “dirty old man act” of Kim Fowley conducting the Playlab Orchestra. Well, in fact, it looks like a regular band on stage, but there’s a trick to the line-up: It has never played together on stage before. Playlab is an idea rather than a group. For six years already, its organisors invite over five musicians for a meeting, an afternoon of rehearsals and one performance in the evening. After that, they will go their own separate ways again.
Equipped with harmonica, organ, cragged acoustic guitar and a rapper, Playlab develop a muddy, swampy and thickly flowing sound. Just the perfect basis for Kim Fowley’s lyrical improvisations. After one track is over, he quickly asks for the name of the next song and then builds instant American short stories from there, stories about dreams, desires, longing and lust. The band is completely under his command: They start and stop at his will, follow his directions in terms of dynamics and even their frontrapper delivers his rhymes at a wink of his little finger. Fowley turns into a father figure, who wants his children to do well and grow, but feels the great need for his advice. His act is not strictly surprising, but this man has such an utter presence on stage that one immediately forgets about that.
FEAR FALLS BURNING
I leave the hall for a brief moment and then find out about the abovementioned change of plan. When I check in at the basement, I arrive to the last minutes of the second screening of “Dronevolk” (the documentary about the Belgian Drone- and Folk scene I’d watched in its entirety last night). When the credits have ended, the light goes on in a corner of the room, where Dirk Serries is sitting behind a bunch of effect pedals spread out on a blanket on the floor. “Hi. Welcome to the Guitar Drones of Fear Falls Burning from Belgium” he says, then plays two or three crunching, seemingly random chords on his guitar. All of a sudden, there is a change in the air, the pressure rises, everyone clusters in front of the stage and a deep, sonorous groove of tones begins.
The session begins with a haunting melody, occult almost, full of mystique and magic, floating on top of the distorted chords. At first, there are holes in the texture, bound together solely by the ambient atmospherics Serries waves into them. But more and more, he sews the islands together, smoothening out the gaps and billowing the resonance into the pounding heartbeat of a supernatural entity. This is a drone if ever there was one! The PA is not even that loud, but the various layers, which are being manually changed and adjusted, fill the entire room and hit the audience full in the face like a cloth soaked with hot water.
In stark comparison to other drone builders, there is actually something to enjoy on stage as well. There are neither dancers nor any kind of choreography whatsoever. But the way Dirk Serries, this two metres tall man, sits crouched and cringing on a tiny stool, his entire body folded over his guitar, his eyes fixed on the fretboard, his fingers gripping it as if it were a gun, leaning forwards, backwards and back again, gives him the aura of a Blues singer. The minimalism and purity, the broken beauty of a man with nothing but his instrument baring his soul is gripping.
In the second half, the Fear Falls Burning sound at first leans towards a more open mood, but Dirk Serries pushes through and unites the loose ends into a single stream. At the end, high, ascending bends, close to the sound of a boy’s choir, are pitched ever more upwards in a transcendental hallucination. Then the gig ends as suddenly and spontaneously as it had started. Serries pulls the plugs and I run back into the night again for the dark wonders of Motorpsycho.
The band has already begun as I enter the big hall and are in the middle of a long improvisation. I am standing at the back of the room and because I have accidentally broken my glasses in the afternoon, the only thing I can see from back here is a huge screen with flashing images in spectral colours and some vague figures marking time and shaking their long hair from left to right. I ascend to the highest balcony to get a better view. To my complete surprise, I find out that there actually just three musicians performing. Motorpsycho have played about any style imagineable over their long career, from garage rock to psychedelic pop, but tonight their songs are long, meandering symphonies full of modal moves and sudden switches in tempo and arrangement. It beggars belief that this small trio could be responsible for this orchestral sound, but the evidence is standing right in front of me.
Quite a bit of that can be attributed to the incredible drum performance. Kenneth Kappstad has built up his drumkit on a red carpet and it really looks as though he were playing in a world of his own. His style ows a lot to the great Jazz drummers, is filled with myriads of minute shuffles and fills, yet never looses the big picture. Guitarist Bent Sæther, meanwhile, plays fuzzed out chords through an array of stompboxes, enriching the functional bass lines of his congenial partner Hans Magnus „Snah“ Ryan. Their communication is wordless, yet tight, their frail but piercing voices joining into lustrous choruses in between the instrumental excursions. Motorpsycho are recreating an illusion of the 70s that is all the more exciting because it is infused with futuristic technology.
While Motorpsycho are a telepathic unit and the crowd are airdrumming and headbanging along as if there were no tomorrow (and for the State-X New Forms Festival, that is actually the truth), the sound leaves a lot to be desired. Blurry and opaque, hardly a riff comes through clearly and the vocals all but disappear behind the frayed-out wall of noise. Probably the band wants it that way. In the moody ambient passages, their sound actually impressively approaches the drone genre, the guitar chords echoing into themselves and eruptions of harmonics exploding on top. But the heartfelt version of “Vortex Surfer” at the end shows that Motorpsycho do not need to hide behind their effects and makes one wish for just a little more acoustic openness next time around.
After half an hour, it is time for yet another three-piece to make their appearance at the State-X New Forms Festival. Jesu is the latest brainchild of Justin Broadrick and after his mindblowing and seminal work with Napalm Death and his industrial fantasies in conjunction with Godflesh, he now seems to have found his own personal spot. Jesu is all about heaviness and frailty, it is an objectively futile search for resolution that is rewarding merely for its own sake. On stage, the show consists of nothing but Broadrick hammering out the riffs to a stoic bass and the powerful and triumphant drumming of Ted Parsons, but Jesu build a deep ambiance of yearning and desire, circling the same painful spot forever.
Again, I am watching the band from the balcony high up above and it is remarkable how stripped-down the performance is. The instrumentalists never ever leave their assigned spot, their immobility mirroring the loop-character of the music, which is built around simple, but emotionally charged, repeating chord progressions. Even though Justin Broadrick is clearly the frontman of Jesu, driving the songs with his painfully bare and naked vocals, it is the sludgy and overwhelmingly dense sound that the band creates as a whole which turns this into a memorable act. The songs are astoundingly similar, but it is this very feat of never reaching one’s goal which makes Jesu so strong: In its constant suffering, the band reaches an emblematic uniqueness, which sublimates their outwardly easy guitar/bass/drum exercises to art.
After this exorcism, I am in need for something slightly more tangible and concrete before the doom mass of Sunn O))) begins. I return to the small hall, where British-born US resident Scout Niblett has already started her set. Niblett has just recorded an album with famous producer Steve Albini and it is easy to see why this combination should work perfectly. Scout is an angel and a devil up there, a creature of love and goodness, of envy and deceit. Her pieces are song-made fantasies, sometimes consisting of little more than a few simple words and the demand to “put on that dress!” Her melodies are sweet and lenient, yet interrupted by sudden outbursts of contradicting emotions half-way, as if Niblett were haunted by Tourett’ean visions. Somewhere between punk and folk, singer/songwriter and associative poetry, her style finds a niche inhabited by noone but herself. Of course, the fact that she is supported by a male drummer will have many calling this a reverse shot of the White Stripes, but Scout Niblett has enough stamina to put her own stamp on things – including a voice which can go from whisper to meticulously exact screams in a fraction of a second.
I can unfortunately not see the end of her set. The time has now come for the biggest event of the evening: The celebration of the drone by Stephen O’Malley’s Sunn O))) (see picture) Just a couple of years ago, this band was nothing but an obscure footnote to the Doom Metal genre. By now, though, they have ascended the ranks of the experimental scene. For me, this is the first time I will witness one of their concerts live and after several accounts of what to expect, I am still unsure whether or not this is going to be a pleasant experience or not.
I hurry back to the big stage again, where the Sunn O))) fans are already piling in. I make my way to the front, where you can feel the anticipation looming everywhere. Already, smoke is being blown onto the stage, obscuring one’s site of a gigantic wall of amplifiers, stacked upon each other like a work of modern art. The light is down, the spots are a blackish green and blue, the pressure’s up. Then five figures clad in monk’s robes enter. One of them carries a trombone. He takes his place in front of the microphone, then starts to play.
At first, there is nothing but a pentatonic melody, reverbing cathedral-like through the room. The motive takes on stray notes, gets more abstract, ghoulish, bizarre. Stortorous echoes are interspersed with the main theme, turning the music more textural and elusive. Bass notes trickle in, loose at first, then developing into formations, clusters. A morbid air of nothingness is spreading pervasively, as the sweet smell of smoke reaches the outer capillaries of the lungs, but there is a strange sense of beauty lingering in this picture as well.
And then it starts. From way behind, a deep resonance amasses, working itself into a low register attack. The sonorities get broader, more spacious and wider. Gradually, the whole piece is transformed into a landscape of pulsating waves, hitting the audience again and again.
I can feel my ear plugs moving, shaken by the music. My body is put into different sorts of vibrations, as the chords change at intervals of minutes. There are long, soothing vibrations and shorter ones, constant, breathing frequencies as well as those turning into a stutter towards the end. All around me, people are staring in disbelief, but hardly anyone is leaving the room, transfixed by what is happening on stage. Whenever they are not playing, the monks are raising their arms towards the ceiling, waiting patiently before delivering the next blow. There is something ridiculous about the image, but noone’s laughing. The work lacks any kind of recognisable structure, works exclusively with pitched down power chords. It takes a short break with broken guitar splinters at the middle, before diving into the deep again.
The music of Sunn O))) is sort of Rock n Roll insider joke. In the world of Metal, the quest has always been to be harder and more brutal than anyone else. Sunn O))) has now taken this to the max: Beyond this border, there is nothing but pain. On the other hand, the outcome of this approach is a daring experiment as well. On a physical level, music is nothing but manipulated airpressure and the band is making it felt. As the piece develops, you can actually sense yourself judging the next chord on the merits of its impact on your body, instead of its value in terms of music theory. Just like Francisco Lopez (whose subsonic tectonics are also placed at the frontline of what is still audible), Sunn O))) have taken an improbable idea and turned it into a reality. Taken on its own, their work defies categories and can no longer be rated with the regular means at our disposal.
It’s not an easy ride: After the last note has subsided, I feel elevated, relieved and a little bit seasick. The public, however, thanks the band with a long and emphatic applause, which the monks relish with arms upraised.
Moving Ninja & Goodbye
I then pay a short visit to the crunching digital drum n bass of Moving Ninja, who has the small hall in ecstacy, before again taking the nightbus home. This evening, with its emphasis on amplifiers and drones, has numbed me down as much as it has thrilled me. The constant synaptic attack is certainly making itself felt now. Other than that, however, I know I have just experienced something special here which will definitely remain with me for quite some time. The convergence of styles the State-X New Forms Festival is aiming at has worked out organically and impressively and I certainly hope to return again next year. For now, though it is goodbye to The Hague again with thanks going out to the hospitality of the organising committee!