Interview: Christian Peters of Samsara Blues Experiment

Posted in Features on May 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

christian peters samsara blues experiment

This one’s been a while in the making. Like, years. And as Samsara Blues Experiment guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters says below in his answer, the question I’ve been waiting to ask him as well is the one about his band’s experience touring the US for their 2013 album, Waiting for the Flood (review here). I had been thinking of this as a tipping point for the group to enter into something of a semi-hiatus as they did after that record, touring some in Europe but ultimately stepping back for a few years as Peters pursued solo work, his Electric Magic Records label, and other creative outlets.

My narrative, as ever, was off. It was a long European run that set Samsara Blues Experiment to the task of reevaluating who they were and what kind of band they wanted to be, and as the Berlin-based trio make their return in 2017 via their fourth full-length, One with the Universe (review here), Peters seems nothing if not clearheaded in his feelings on the issue. Joined in the now-three-piece by drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt after parting ways with former bassist Richard Behrens (who nonetheless recorded the new album), Peters seems to be embracing the opportunity to refresh his band’s sense of purpose and direction, and as they’ve never sounded so much like themselves on tracks like “Vipassana,” “Sad Guru Returns” and the album’s title-track, so too do Samsara Blues Experiment come across as assured of the methods by which their creativity is brought to life.

As it turns out, that sense of being assured was hard-won, both on his part and that of the band as a whole, and that tour in the US did seem to be a factor in how they’ve wound up where they are, for better and worse alike. In talking to Peters about that trip and about the album in general, I wanted to get a sense of where they were and where they might be going, and though he was reluctant to speculate on the latter, the honesty and at times philosophical approach to everything his group has been through underscores his knowing how vitally important the band is to him. It’s not something he could just leave behind — it’s an ongoing work driven by passion and a shifting creative spirit.

And after a full decade together, one shouldn’t be surprised to find One with the Universe also is Samsara Blues Experiment‘s most mature offering to-date, but what seems even more resonant to me in reading Peters‘ answers about its making is just how much more a work of spirit it is than simply another batch of parts thrown together. Not every artist is brave enough to admit that about their own output; some like to pretend these things just happen by mistake. Granted a song can come about spontaneously, and often those results are among the most satisfying, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. To pretend otherwise is silly. This is important to Peters. Crucially so. Especially in light of the quality of the work they’re doing, it’s hard not to respect the hell out of that.

Complete Q&A follows here. Please enjoy.

samsara blues experiment

It’s been four years since the last Samsara Blues Experiment album. Tell me about what’s changed in the band over that time and where you feel you are today as a group as opposed to where you were when you did Waiting for the Flood?

The most evident change is the turn back to a three-piece, as it was already in the earlier days of the band. In November 2013 we did this one long EU tour which sort of set the tracks for what had to happen right after this. I for myself was at one point pretty close to a burnout situation then, not sure if everything in the rock ‘n’ roll circus really was made for me, and I had to take a time out from the whole thing then. So right after this tour we had a few weeks of no rehearsals or playing live, and when the four of us met, it was mostly for talking about where everybody wanted to go with the band and with his life.

It pretty soon turned out that Richard, in total contrary to my ideas, wanted to tour even more, play more, turn it all into this sort of a job. Which then was something like a worst-case scenario for me, also because I thought that the four-piece sound really had to be thought about and worked out much more than we did then. I was not always happy with two dueling guitars too. And also, you know, in my belief there has to remain some kind of freedom which probably cannot be maintained if my while life sort of depends only from what I do in the band. I wanted to play better songs, better shows, not necessarily more! But I also wanted something else, of which I wasn´t specific about… I needed to find that out for myself.

So at some point it all seemed to have become a pretty tricky situation because everybody wanted to first of all find a “let’s stay together”-solution, but several other personal things led towards Richard leaving the band and Hans switching to bass. At some point it just happened kind of naturally, also because Hans was a bass player before, and btw one whom I always admired. We had to get used to this new situation and work a lot behind closed doors… So we spent the years 2014 and 2015 with shaping “the new band sound” and the new band as well. And besides from that I also got pretty deep into playing synthesizers and recorded a whole bunch of solo albums and EPs as Surya Kris Peters. I just needed to find other ways to be creative, I guess.

So after these weeks and months of “reshaping,” Thomas, Hans and I agreed that 2016 would be pretty much the year for coming up with new ideas for a new album, and not playing live at all. But since a year without one show can be long, at some point we decided to at least play one Berlin show and aside of that did what we needed to do to record One with the Universe in January 2017, again in Richard’s studio with him on the job, as a friend, now also a “hired studio technician” but sometimes still also a fourth creative input, not more on bass, more like a co-producer.

What’s the story behind “Sad Guru Returns?”

It started as a wordplay, because whenever I went through Berlin last summer I saw these Sadhguru-posters. I just like words, how words sound, how words interact, and I then made up this sad-guru thing and later found these samples of him speaking which could be pretty much be my own thoughts when he says, “we are the most comfortable generation ever, but we are not happy,” etc. — to me it’s like almost everybody seems to be looking for something but rarely anybody starts with him- or herself.

Life’s not about things you know. Not at all. In my humble opinion, it’s mostly about making real connections with people. Then there’s a lot of potential in each and every one of us, to be positive and loving and happy, to be creative, to be an even more important part to the whole thing than we are already. You know, I just don’t dig people dragging themselves and others down, especially if there seems to be no reason for that. All the negativity in people right now it seems to be just too much. At least that’s how I see it. Too much sadness in this world, way too much fear too these days… Everybody can make decisions, to a certain point at least. You can be happy and poor too. We all live, we’ll all die. Think about it. How do you want to spend your time on this planet?!

In the interim between records, you embarked on several solo outings as well. Did this affect your return to songwriting for Samsara Blues Experiment at all?

Well probably, because some of the songs have quite a lot of synths in them, like the whole intro-part of “Eastern Sun and Western Moon” or the title-track. I am just happy that both and Hans and Thomas share some of my enthusiasm for sounds from these “little keyboards,” as someone once described them…

What ultimately made you decide it was time to bring back Samsara Blues Experiment?

Honestly, I went through a really rough time from 2015 on. I lost contact to this once really important person. It was pretty much the first time I thought I had this love-relationship-thing sorted out, but then it turned out I knew nothing at all. I spent a long time in despair, in a dark room with nobody but myself. I was almost crazy and at some point nearly suicidal and I am not saying this to show off or something but it was just one of the darkest periods of my life for sure.

Then I heard of Rutger [Smeets] from Sungrazer committing suicide and it was really like a shock. I barely knew the guy, but we occasionally met and all the guys in Sungrazer were like these happy dudes, always sharing a good story, a BBQ, a bottle of limoncello (I didn´t forget.), whatever… I have no idea why Rutger finally did it, but at this point I pretty much just thought: WHAT THE F**K?! THIS IS JUST WRONG!!

I had a series of other not-too-happy-moments but then really felt like I needed to put myself together and started to finally look at the good things that remained there with me, and as one of the main things, there is this band. Honestly, at that period I also pretty much left Hans and Thomas in the dark, which wasn´t very nice of me to do but I just couldn´t handle it otherwise. Again, I canceled rehearsals and I even went out to play with other guys, just to find out where I belong I guess.

And I still belong with SBE, the band that Thomas and Hans I have formed in these last years and even earlier on, for all the songs we wrote when Richard wasn’t with us, when he was working his sound technician job and we already rehearsed or played live as a three-piece (we played one show in Kiev, Ukraine, as a three-piece when Richard wasn’t allowed into the country because he forgot to bring his passport… one of the many stories).

So to sum it up, I basically had to learn to appreciate thesamsara blues experiment band and to find again my place in the puzzle. I am a musician. Right now this is pretty much what I’d say to some stranger who’d ask me what I do in my life. I live music 24/7 now. Nothing else.

Oh, and at some point some of our fans helped as well to realize what we have here with this band. So, thank you there! We all are part of this picture.

Which came first, the album title or the song “One with the Universe” itself? Tell me about how that song came together, and how does it tie into the album (and, I suppose, the universe) as a whole?

Most times the music comes first, as it was also with this one. In 2016 we always did this one long jam session, based on two or three basslicks from Hans and a few parts from me, and it seemed almost impossible to bring all these pieces together to just one “proper song,” but after something like a half-year we miraculously did it. It was for sure among the hardest tasks in my almost 20-year-long career as a productive musician. I still refuse to learn too much about music theory, writing down notes or tabs or any of that. I know it’s maybe a bit stupid and limiting, but then I also often don’t have a lot of patience, nor a real interest for learning this to be honest.

The title “One with the Universe” just seemed to fit some of the overall topics that are connected with the album. In the first place maybe also that there is a new unity within the band. But also the idea that we all belong to a more “wholesome concept,” that no one really is nor should be isolated. That there is no “us versus them” as it is so often implied with the very cultivated society models we live in, and as it’s also projected even on artists, musicians and their work and recordings. Hey everybody: This is not a contest, you know?! And also, even while I am not a big philosopher or something, but also this man against woman thing, which seems to be part of “our culture.” To me all of this is just not right at all! Again, it’s also pretty much what Sadhguru says, and he is not my guru as more a person with whose thoughts I can partially identify myself.

How was it working with Richard as a producer/engineer as opposed to also having him in the band playing bass?

By now all or most the problems of the past seem pretty much solved. Richard seems to be very happy with his new role, and we are happy with the “new band.” It’s pretty much of a karmic relationship, but if you let all the ego-stuff aside, there´s a lot of great memories to share and a lot of good memories to be made for us still, if we want. You know, I could be angry for a whole lot of stupid reasons that lie back in the past, and so could be Richard or anybody else, but at some point you realize that you made a deep connection as friends and you either cherish that, or you go on bumping into the next karmic relationship. Simple as that, complicated as that.

You came to the US to support Waiting for the Flood. Tell me about that experience, what you learned from it and how you’ve been able to take that and move forward with this record. Will you be back at any point?

Well, this is the question I have been waiting for and it’s a tricky one to answer indeed. As you know we have been in the States as early as we had our first demo recordings, which back then seemed very naive and maybe a bit stupid, but the more the bravest thing a young band could do. Since my childhood I have been heavily influenced by the American way of life. I played baseball with a wooden stick when kids around me thought I’d gone crazy. I even fantasized of once going to US high school and college and becoming a professional in either baseball or basketball, or maybe the funniest: American football! I introduced all my friends to all these “cool things” from America, as in the GDR or the young reunited Germany we did not really have an idea what the real life in the USA would be like: All of it just seemed to be magical. So it was the first and greatest dream to come to the USA, and I made it not earlier than 2009 with the first long tour SBE ever did. It seemed all to be dreamlike still. We slept on dirty floors, we played for a few bucks for even fewer enthusiasts or music nerds or people who just came to the shows because they had some ancestor from Germany, I don’t know… it was okay back then, when most of us were like big kids in a candy store, basically.

Change of scenery, the band now has played a bunch of festivals and longer tours in Europe. We have grown up to adults in our early-to-mid 30s. Some of us have families and jobs and need to compromise on all the things that life brings along when you realize that not all of it is happening in candy stores anymore. Following the call of our not-so-few fans in the USA — as we had recorded three studio albums in the meantime since our first US tour — we found people to help organizing this return, as we thought, until a few weeks before this tour was supposed to happen all crashed down like a castle made of sand. I still have a lot of reason to be angry and frustrated here and I could name a few names, but there is no reason for that as more to say; we do not have very good and trustworthy contacts in your country. People whom we can rely on and who do this for the sake of the music and not because they need to earn their living from this, which just won’t work at all.

We are not a commercial act. We do not think very much in commercialist patterns. We are just not like most of the bands you know, we really basically play for the sake of expressing feelings though music, but when we travel we also expect to be treated with respect and honesty. We would love to return to the USA, but at this point it does not seem much practical or even possible. I am sorry for our fans there, but we will see what the future will bring, and not give up on trying to make “deeper connections.”

I hope this wasn’t confusing.

In the meantime, Samsara Blues Experiment toured South America already this year for the first time. How were those shows and how was that experience overall for you?

In one word: incredible!! People in South America seem to be starving for a good live show, even while we in particular always had quite many fans there, thanks to the miracles of the internet. I am just so grateful for having met Felipe [Toscano] of Abraxas booking, who started out as a fan of our music and now runs this amazing organization, in his free time from work and private life. What an amazing guy, really. What an overwhelming positive vibe on all shows on that continent. I still may be under the illusion of a first naive impact now, but I have rarely felt as welcome as there. It was just amazing, incredible, lovely.

You’ve now made four albums with Samsara Blues Experiment and it’s almost a decade since the first demo surfaced. How do you feel about what you’ve accomplished in that time? Where do you see the progression continuing to go?

I think we’ll just go with the flow, more or less. I am pretty much happy as it is now. I only would like to see us more widely exposed, like playing on more different occasions than just mostly stoner festivals, which isn’t wrong at all but I think we are much more than just another stoner group that likes Black Sabbath. Don’t get me wrong or so, I know where we belong the most, but then we also belong to the universe, and the universe is big. I would like to get things solved with the USA really, also in terms of distribution, but we are samsara blues experiment one with the universeworking on it and hopefully solving some of these issues.

You’ve just done Desertfest and have other festival dates coming up as well. Any plans yet for the Fall or anything else you want to mention?

Maybe we will be doing new songs then, maybe we will travel, or just be with the ones we love the most. Who knows? I think we’ll really try and go with the flow for a bit.

Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe (2017)

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Six Dumb Questions with Vokonis

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on May 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

vokonis

On May 13, Swedish riffbringers Vokonis will issue their new single as a herald for the June 9 arrival of their second album, The Sunken Djinn, via Ripple Music. That June release puts The Sunken Djinn at about 13 months after Vokonis‘ first full-length, Olde One Ascending (review here), came out on Ozium Records as one of the best debut offerings and best albums of the year. Such a quick turnaround can be a tricky proposition in terms of one record being too informed by its predecessor or listeners not being ready yet to embrace a new collection, but this is something that Vokonis have subverted through palpable, willful sonic growth.

Comprised now of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, the three-piece began life as Creedsmen Arise, putting out a demo, Temple (review here), in 2015. When they brought in Johansson to take on the bassist role, they became a different band, and as they move into The Sunken Djinn, they’re clearly engaging in the work of finding out and conveying the band they want to be. In the meantime, a formidable response for Olde One Ascending led to their signing with Ripple and has placed marked fan expectations on what their second record will be. Hazards of the trade.

Listeners who took on the prior offering will be glad to know, however, that Vokonis‘ propensity for crash and nod, heft and groove remains intact throughout these seven tracks. The key difference is a tightness of delivery, an efficiency of purpose, that makes a song like sub-five-minute centerpiece “Blood Vortex” swing as much as it lumbers, and gives the airier vibe of “Calling from the Core” and the noise-wash finale experiment of “Maelstroem” their proper breadth amid an onslaught of chugging, dense tonality. Ohlsson was kind enough to discuss some of the shifts Vokonis has undergone to get to where they are, and you’ll find the Q&A below.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

vokonis the sunken djinn

Six Dumb Questions with Vokonis

Tell me about writing The Sunken Djinn. Was there anything in particular you wanted to accomplish coming off of Olde One Ascending? The songs are shorter this time around. Something done purposefully, or just the direction the writing took?

We took some time listening to Olde One Ascending after its release and tried to summarize what concepts we wanted to bring forward and use in our progression and what concepts we felt we where done with.

Some of those concepts that we left behind were the ”rock” elements we had. We felt that we didn’t really have anything to add in that direction. So we went with shorter, more direct songs.

In conclusion I would say that it was both done on purpose and that it just happened. We tried to be conscious about certain stuff regarding the songwriting process like structures and the length of the songs more on this album, but at the saMe time, what happens happens. So the general sound was just a natural progression.

How did “Blood Vortex” come together? What went into the decision to make it the centerpiece of the album?

It was actually the first song we wrote after we had recorded Olde One Ascending. It’s probably one of those songs that have had maybe three or four iterations before we settled on the form it is on the record. We felt that we wanted to convey to people that we want to do new things. That we won’t release the same kind of album three times in a row. And I think it’s a kickass song!

It seems like Vokonis have built considerable momentum since the name change from Creedsmen Arise. What do you think has allowed you to garner such a response? How much is your audience a factor when you put together songs?

Yes, it does feel like that. And we are happy with the change. It was very well needed for all of us. A clean break and a fresh start. I don’t really have an answer to that other than I hope people understand that we are very grateful to everyone following us and to everyone enjoying our music. It feels like a blessing and we want to make the most of it.

And I think that ties in with how we put together songs. We kinda owe it to the audience to be the best we can be in terms of writing, performing or even our online content. So the audience factors in not in what direction we want to go rather than we try to push ourselves above and beyond for them.

How do you feel the band has developed since Jonte joined? How has the dynamic developed between you, him and Emil over the last couple years? I can hear you on this album beginning to move past your influences and really find your identity as a band. What do you hear when you listen to The Sunken Djinn?

Jonte acts as the glue of the band. He’s a lot older than me and Emil. So he has a lot of wisdom we simply do not have yet. It has definitely caused us to grow closer as a group.

That translates to us knowing exactly where we are musically with each other. Even if we’re listening to a lot of different stuff we know what we want to do with Vokonis.

That’s assuring to hear. To me, Olde One Ascending is a record I am very proud of. It gave us a lot of insight of what it’s like to make a whole album, so we tried to capitalize on that and have The Sunken Djinn become a lot more ”us,” if that makes sense. So when I listen to it, I get this feeling of how much we’ve progressed and how we are able to realize our goals in terms of songwriting.

Tell me about your time in the studio for this album. How long did the recording process take? When were you in, and how do you feel about the tones you were able to capture, and how on earth did “Maelstroem” come about?

We were in Studio Underjord, a really cool studio in Norrköping, Sweden, with a guy called Joona Hassinen. He really brought the best out of us. And we had this enormous live-room to track in. So drums, bass and guitars all have this gorgeous natural reverb.

Recording took about four or five days. It was an extremely pleasant experience for us. We wanted this fat, modern production that I think we managed to get. And that’s just something I’m very proud of. Us being able to record that fast makes you understand how much we’ve grown individually and as a group. I have much more control over my voice now. So I had no problems doing all of the vocals in maybe a third of the time it took to record for OOA.

I should mention that like last time around, this album is a concept album. It deals with the themes of escape and search for something better. I won’t go into detail, But the lyrical content is much closer to my heart this time. And ”Maelstroem” ties in to that. It acts as the aftermath of a certain disaster occurring to the main subject of the album.

Any tours in the works, closing words or other plans you want to mention?

Tours are in the works, but the only shows that are confirmed at this rate is two awesome festivals both located in forests actually, though they’re in different countries. Electric Meadow north of Lviv, Ukraine and Krökbacken festival in Leksand, Sweden.

Thank you so much for having us. It was a pleasure.

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Six Dumb Questions with From Oceans to Autumn (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on May 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

from oceans to autumn

[Click play above to stream Ether / Return to Earth by From Oceans to Autumn in its entirety. Album is out today, May 5, via Argonauta Records.]

After debuting in 2013 with the full-length A Perfect Dawn, North Carolinian heavy post-rock outfit From Oceans to Autumn return with the sophomore outing Ether / Return to Earth on Argonauta Records — a broad-scoped two-disc vision of experimentalist textures and weighted progressive crunch. Led by founding multi-instrumentalist and engineer Brandon Helms, the band seeks to convey precisely what it references in the two-part title, which is the duality between the nonphysical and the physical, the ether and the earth.

This comes through in a methodological split between the two sections of Ether / Return to Earth, the first disc of which is comprised of four tracks, three of which are over 13 minutes long, that conjure a patient and often drumless ambient wash, resonant drones emerging, existing, subsiding in succession as each piece develops, culminating with the 19-minute “Stratus/Vapor” as a singular moment of immersion that cuts on the second part of the record like “Visible Light” and “Isle” seem to directly counteract with their heavier thrust. Of course, there’s still plenty of atmospheric depth to Return to Earth as well, as From Oceans to Autumn show in “Reconnect” or even the latter stages of opener “Arrival,” but there can be no question they’re working from a foundation that is, fittingly enough, more grounded in creating it.

All told, this huge undertaking of mood and exploration comes close to hitting the two-hour mark, so it’s safe to say it’s legitimately two albums put together. I wanted to talk to Helms about how the concept fed into the construction of the material itself and get a sense of some of his motivations in the making — namely whether where he lives in North Carolina played a role in how Ether / Return to Earth ultimately took shape. As you make your way through the full-album stream above, you’ll find the results of the short Q&A below. How’s that for duality?

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

from-oceans-to-autumn-ether-return-to-earth

Six Dumb Questions with From Oceans to Autumn

Tell me about the recording process for Ether / Return to Earth. It’s been four years since your debut. Was there anything specific you were trying to accomplish here to follow-up on that?

We are always trying to push ourselves in the writing and recording process with each release. We also really wanted an album that had two identities, one more experimental and free flowing with the other more focused and straightforward, at least for us. And I think we accomplished this goal on Ether / Return to Earth.

At over an hour and 45 minutes long, Ether / Return to Earth is massive, but that hardly captures the sprawl of the tracks themselves. What goes into writing a song like “Stratus/Vapor” for you? How much is based on studio experimentation as opposed to being thought-out or planned beforehand? What about “Visible Light II” or “Keep a Watchful Eye?”

Honestly a lot of Ether was experimented while in the studio recording. “Stratus/Vapor” is a perfect example of studio experimentation. “Visible Light II” was recorded very much like “Visible Light” on our last album, A Perfect Dawn. It’s more heavy noise/distortion than anything else on the album. “Keep a Watchful Eye” was actually written a few years ago and revamped and rerecorded for this album. It was never released prior to now. Funny thing is we recorded an entire album in 2014-2015 that featured this song that was never released!

What is the difference in mindset for you between the two discs of the album? How do you feel each represents its title, and how intentional was that going into the project?

Ether is more ambient/experimental in nature. The songs are more drawn out and free flowing. Return to Earth is heavier, more straightforward in nature. Together they are opposites of each other.

Tell me about where you’re from in North Carolina. For music so atmospheric, did the physical landscape surrounding you play into the songwriting at all? Do you take inspiration from your surroundings, or is it more just about the musical exploration?

We are from Charlotte, NC, right between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, hence our name. Both landscapes offer a huge amount of inspiration while writing and coming up with ideas. It also inspires us musically to experiment more with different sounds.

Where do you see From Oceans to Autumn developing from here? Will you continue the Pareto Analysis series, and what is the concept behind that? Do you see future works developing along a thematic line like Ether / Return to Earth?

Pareto Analysis series is now complete and available for download on our Bandcamp page. We are currently working on rerecording parts, remixing and remastering our last album, A Perfect Dawn. We also are mixing and mastering an album we recorded last fall, some of it has been released in the form of demos but the final version will sound nothing like it!

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Thanks for having us!

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Six Dumb Questions with Electric Moon

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on April 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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When an artist takes on a stage-name, the proper format is to write it in quotes, like a nickname, but somehow whenever I end up putting together a piece about the work of founding Electric Moon guitarist, synthesist, sitarist, producer, label honcho, etc., Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, I always feel like I’ve got it backwards. Like it’s Dave Schmidt that should be in quotes and Sula is the true identity beneath. Ditto that for bassist/vocalist/graphic designer “Komet Lulu” Neudeck. A big part of the reason why is the continued stamp Sula, Lulu and drummer Marcus Schnitzler have left on heavy psychedelia over the course of this decade.

With a slew of live offerings, a strong improvisational foundation in the tenets of krautrock, classic prog and of course all things kosmiche, the German three-piece long ago set the controls for the heart of creation itself. Their works are often raw glimpses at their own making — the songs captured as they happened, unfolding as organically as possible to rich and singularly immersive effect. After years outside the studio, Electric Moon have newly released the four-track album, Stardust Rituals (review here), through Schmidt‘s Sulatron Records imprint, and for being six years after 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here), the arrival could hardly be more welcome.

Whether it’s the dug-in sitar-laced 22 minutes of vibe they decided to call “(You Will) Live Forever Now” or more song-based pieces “Stardust (The Picture)” and opener “The Loop,” Electric Moon gracefully subvert listener expectation and adjust the balance between improv and structure, and to call the resulting liquidity of Stardust Rituals one of 2017’s best in heavy psych is probably underselling the actual quality of the work itself. Even putting aside the fact that a studio outing from Electric Moon doesn’t happen every day, month, or year, Stardust Rituals gives its audience a solar system to inhabit and worlds or swirl to explore, and if it needs to carry over for a while as the band once more hits stages around Germany and greater Europe, recording and releasing sets as they go (never something to complain about), it should have no trouble doing so.

Sula and Lulu were both kind enough to take some time out to talk about the record and Electric Moon‘s methods in general, and you’ll find the results of that Q&A below.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

electric moon stardust rituals

Six Dumb Questions with Electric Moon

Tell me about how Electric Moon has grown since you started the project. So much of what you do is based on the chemistry between the three of you. How has that developed over time?

Lulu: When we founded the band with the drummer Pablo Carneval, we found out that we had to do nothing else than just start to play and we became one… Over the years, it changed a bit into more frame-based improvisations to get a picture. If you’re on tour, it’s important NOT to fuck up cause 100 percent free improvising night after night can kill creativity and you’re empty then. But we still do it, of course.

Over the years, we had many different drummers so there were also different influences.

But we always try to keep our thing: LET IT FLOW and feel the love. If we feel the love, the music floats automatically!

Sula: In the very first recording sessions we did everything alone, I mean Lulu and me. But then Pablo joined us and we knew we are able make this on stage! That was a great feeling!

What made you decide to go for a more song-based approach on Stardust Rituals? Each track still goes pretty far out, but tell me about incorporating more vocals in the studio. How did these tracks come together to be what they are?

Lulu: First I must say, we did what we’ve always been doing: keeping our studio albums more “song-based” than our live albums cause we have the possibility to do overdubs and recreate stuff, etc.

Sula and me also have so many ideas for songs so we can put them into the music in the studio! “The Loop” for example, was Dave‘s idea on the organ and he showed Marcus and me what he thought and told us what he thinks we should play, and then we did. It took not much time and we got it. It was a lot of fun playing this, by the way!

Also it’s much fun creating vocals for the music while listening to it. The music just tells you what is good for “her”… That’s a loop, haha, but really! I’m spacing out every time I think about these things… So I’m sorry for my weird sentences! Hahaha.

The second thing is, that our live albums are the essence when we three play together. The last records we’ve put out were live albums and we just needed a new impulse, again. So we’re happy that we got the impressions for Stardust Rituals to get it ready. Sometimes it’s hard ’cause the ideas wouldn’t find the way to your soul. But most of the time it’s pure magic.

For me, overdubbing is like talking to myself and, of course, the band. It’s very intimate! Having an idea, sitting down, listening to the song, being alone in the studio, feeling the energy of the music and then do the overdub. It’s really magic. I love doing my overdubs being on my own and it’s also always big excitement when the others listen to them the first time… Do they like what you did or don’t they? It’s big fun to make music with yourself, by the way.

Sula: The first basic recording was in 2014, and was untouched till we started overdubbing. Three of the track’s basics were within three days before we went to the Freak Valley Festival for a gig. That was in early summer 2015. In 2016, we slowly started cutting/arranging the recordings and doing the overdubs. Finally the mastering was done (by Eroc) in early 2017.

Is there something specific about the spirit of jamming that speaks to you with Electric Moon as opposed to other bands you’ve been involved in? Can you hear a part as the foundation of an Electric Moon jam as opposed to, say, something that would become a Sula Bassana piece?

Lulu: No, that never happened yet! It’s more like you hear the Sula Bassana soul in Electric Moon when he did most of the instruments, for example, cause he would influence the song then!

The specific in Electric Moon from the beginning is: Becoming one, let it flow, let the music lead your hands playing your instrument!

Sula: The spirit in the improvisations in the other bands is slightly different, because everyone brings his soul, mood, feelings in. For example, Rainer [Neeff, of Zone Six]’s way of playing guitar is different than mine. So the whole thing has a different energy. The music in Krautzone has a completely different feel and intention as the Electric Moon music. And as Lulu already told, I would never take a Electric Moon recording for a Sula song. Maybe one day I use a lick I played in an Electric Moon concert for a Sula song. But I would do new recordings, with everything played by myself, which will lead to a totally different result.

Lulu: I guess this sometimes happens “by accident” that you play the same lick twice!

Sula: Exactly what I mean!

Where does the title Stardust Rituals come from, and what does it mean for you?

Lulu: I had this idea when I was thinking and feeling a lot about life and death and space!!!

I was reading loads of space magazines and books and thought a lot about the fact that we all are made of stars! Everything and every creature, every plant and every ANYTHING is made of stardust! Our whole planet earth is made of the sun powder… That is so great, it feels so familiar and it’s so soothing when you are sad, for example…

Imagine – nothing and nobody could ever get lost – even if we die! ‘Cause we’d still be stardust in some way… And where should we disappear to? We’re all in space and will be… It feels so true to me.

So the title and also the vocal themes for the album were born. Stardust Rituals is like a complete reflection about this all. The music was talking to me…

And when Sula did the Mellotron in the last track, the complete thing was changing so much – it was so stunning – suddenly the whole piece turned into something different, more intense and beautiful so it made me cry… And then I wrote the vocals and it became the track “(You Will) Live Forever Now.”

Has releasing your own work through Sulatron changed your perspective on writing or recording at all? If so, how? If not, why not?

Sula: No. We always did everything by ourselves and the labels, who released our non-Sulatron-stuff, never told how to do it. They always accepted our music and artwork. So we can say we always produced our music the way we want it! Which is great!

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Sula: We have a lot plans for recordings, releases and so on. Also we could talk about the horrible situation on this planet. But that would take hours… and I hope everyone who is interested in our music is some kind of same-minded, trying to be a good person, without being aggressive or a racist, being without hate, and full of love and positive vibrations. Mankind needs love, peace and freedom. That’s it!

Lulu: And if there are any racists listening to our music we hope they can feel love and forget the racism…

Also – remember: We’re all made of the sun….. We’re one indeed! Physically! We’re all in the same space(ship)! LOVE! Man, I sound like a hippie, hahaha, but my heart feels it like this!

Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals (2017)

Electric Moon on Thee Facebooks

Electric Moon on Bandcamp

Sulatron Records

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Roadburn 2017 Trip, Pt. 8: Guess I’ll Go Live on the Internet

Posted in Features on April 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

weirdo canyon dispatch 2017

04.24.17 — 09.14 — Monday morning — Schiphol Airport Gate B15, Amsterdam

Yesterday, after the folding ritual was done for the last time for the 2017 Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, I sat for a bit in the office of the 013 by myself. I had put music on basically because it was quiet while Lee wrapped up putting stuff online and he’d gone to meet somebody, so I was on my own and it was even quieter. Sometimes you need a minute to process, or to breathe, or to do whatever it is you need to do to have your head right. That’s when I took the picture above. I knew it was going to be a long last day of Roadburn 2017, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

No regrets. Fond memories.

I was up before the alarm this morning. First time that’s ever happened in Tilburg for me following Roadburn. The alarm, by the way, was set for 05.45. A shuttle would be arriving at the hotel circa 06.30 to bring me to the airport. After packing and going to sleep circa 2AM, I was up between three and four and never got back to sleep. I read the recaps of what looked to have been a crappy baseball game. I checked the Times to see if the world was ending yet. I dicked around the way one does when one is just trying to eat minutes.

Speaking of eating, you should’ve seen me pouring and stirring the protein powder into my coffee on the line for the Lufthansa check-in here at Schiphol. Can’t imagine it was difficult for anyone to pick out who was the American in the crowd. With his little battery-powered stirrer like something he bought from a Sharper Image catalog circa 1991. Thing cost me $8 on Amazon. Worth every penny.

A couple Roadburn types around the airport this morning. I’m pretty sure I saw the bassist from Pallbearer going the other way while I was on the people-mover. Another dude in an Ulver t-shirt with his buddy who got the fest hoodie with the John Dyer Baizley cartoon tits on it. Sundry others.

windmillsIn about an hour, I’ll board this death-trap-looking-thing and go to Frankfurt, which if I’m not mistaken is the opposite of the direction in which I ultimately want to go. It was the same deal connecting in Toronto to come to Amsterdam in the first place. Because that’s the kind of sense Boston makes. World class, khed. Local fuckin’ sports.

I’ll hope to sleep on the plane — definitely the second if not the first — and when I land, I’ll magically have back the six hours of day I gave up so willingly last Tuesday to make the trip out. Before that happens, there are almost too many people I need to thank, so I’m going to try to do that.

First, The Patient Mrs. always. So much love. I’m so lucky. Also Walter Hoeijmakers, Becky Laverty, Lee Edwards and all involved with the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch: the amazing, humbling staff of writers that includes Sander van den Driesche, Andreas Kohl, José Carlos Santos, Kim Kelly, Guido Segers, Ben Handelman, Jamie Ludwig, Dom Lawson, Cheryl Carter and Peter van der Ploeg, the artists Cavum and Kim Holm, the photographers Paul Verhagen and Niels Vinck, as well as Jaimy, Gijs, Miranda, Rian and all behind the scene at the 013 venue. What a group we’ve assembled over the last four years. I frankly have no idea what I’ve done to earn a place among any of them except consistently fuck up. Like I say, humbling.

Thanks as well to Jens Wassmuth, Dante Torrieri, Falk-Hagen Bernshausen and all in the photo pit for their kindness and professionalism. I hadn’t shot anything in a while and it was easier to step back into that process knowing I was among the most pro-shop group of people one could ever hope to find.

I was pretty beat this year. Significantly so. I’ve got a lot on my mind. I’m about to lose my job. And there were times over the last few days where I felt like I was so out of it I wasn’t really doing justice to the experience. I tried my best. I really did. By yesterday I kind of felt like I had it right. I don’t know if I could’ve done a fifth day of Roadburn, but by the time yesterday came around I a little bit had my head back. Inclined to take what I can get.

Tomorrow will be Tuesday. I took the day off work. What’re they gonna do, fire me? I’ll make myself good coffee in the morning and a peanut butter protein shake for lunch, have a nice salad for dinner with The Patient Mrs., scritch the Little Dog Dio and get caght up on all the Obelisk stuff that’s fallen by the wayside while Tilburg happened. Lots of news to catch up on, and an interview for Wednesday and this and that. I might actually post some stuff tomorrow or I might just hold it all off. I’ve been social media-ing a lot and see the value in maybe taking a day and not. We’ll see how it plays out. I’m also going to shave my beard. Off. Gone. Done with it. Not much left by now anyway. I decided that in the van on the way to the airport this morning.

As I’ve done for the last however many years, each post in this series (minus the Hard Rock Hideout review) has derived its header title from the name of a song. They are as follows:

Trip Pt. 1: “Dos Soles” by Cavra. I got that record sent to me while I was at the airport in Boston.

Trip Pt. 2:: “Sanctuary” by Elder. A track from their new album that seemed fitting for having made it to Tilburg.

Day One Review: “Wound of the Warden” by SubRosa. Self-explanatory.

Day Two Review: “Death’s Dark Tomb” by Atala. I was arguably at my most ass-dragging and that seemed dark enough for the mood.

Day Three Review: “And Yet it Moves” by Slomatics. Like Roadburn itself, that song is so unbelievably heavy, and yet it proceeds along like the third day of a four-day fest.

Day Four Review: “God Particle” by The Doomsday Kingdom. I wanted to celebrate something rare, like this experience itself. That seemed to fit.

Trip Pt. 8: “Guess I’ll go Live on the Internet” by All Them Witches. It had been a minute since I put that record on. It’s always good for tired mornings. Plus the airport connection is absolute shit, so there’s an element of irony there too.

This will be the last post in the series, and before I bring it to an end, I want to say thank you one more time for reading. All the social media likes and shares and comments are awesome, but even just knowing that when something gets posted on this site someone might actually see it is validating beyond what I can tell you and so deeply, hugely appreciated. It’s been an interesting year and it’s going to continue to be one, but your support means a tremendous amount to me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So yes, thank you again. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I’ll hope to talk soon.

All my best,
JJ Koczan

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ROADBURN 2017 Day Four: God Particle

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2017 banner (Photo by JJ Koczan)

04.23.17 — 22.26 — Sunday night — Hotel room

The last day of putting together the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch started with a panic when the office coffee machine was busted. At first I didn’t believe it and plugged the thing in to see if the sign that had been taped onto the front was bullshit, but indeed, it was not. Could’ve cried. Instead, went downstairs to the backstage area where they serve the meals and got coffee there. Survived.

Thus, the final issue of the 2017 Weirdo Canyon Dispatch came into being. Download the PDF version here.

What used to be known as the Afterburner, the traditional easing between a given Roadburn and the transition back to real life, is now basically just another day of the fest proper. They’ve dropped the name, and fairly enough so. Running across four stages this year, it’s hardly a means of becoming less immersed in the Roadburn experience at this point. If anything, it’s Roadscorch. The absolute last blast from the furnace that is this festival. My brain has turned into Roadchar.

I had no fewer bands I wanted to see today than yesterday or the day before, and a few others that I wouldn’t have minded catching had I been able to do so, so yeah, it was definitely Roadburn. It started early and went late and was packed for the duration. I did one more bounce between venues as I had earlier in the weekend — none at Cul de Sac for me today, but two at Het Patronaat — and was back and forth a few times between the Main Stage and the Green Room at the 013 proper, running past the merch area as well for good measure. Can’t be too careful. Wouldn’t want something to get by unnoticed.

It was a 15.00 start in the big room with Temple of BBV. I knew from seeing Gnod the other night (review here) that the culmination of their residency in a collaboration with Radar Men from the Moon was one I didn’t want to miss, so while it was early, I figured a head-first dive into willful prog oddity was well in order. I won’t like to you — it was a lot for three in the afternoon. Or three in the morning, for that matter. It was a lot, period. 10 people on Temple of BBV (Photo by JJ Koczan)stage, including two drummers, a near-constant throb and pulsations pushing outward into psycho-psychedelic reaches of the bizarre.

They were aggressively strange. On a strangeness crusade. They wore their strangeness like a badge of strangeness honor and as the room filled up slowly, people seeing to be hungover perhaps from the sensory assault Mysticum had provided the night before as much as from actual inebriation of whatever sort, the crowd had no choice but to be subsumed by what Temple of BBV were doing on that stage. Hair of the cosmic dog that gave you demonic space-rabies. Was it weird? Why, yes. Yes, it was.

I couldn’t help but try to remember when last I actually saw Pallbearer as their set got underway, also on the Main Stage. Turns out it was 2013 (review here). I’d also caught them at Roadburn that year (review here), as part of what was then the Afterburner in the Green Room. While I didn’t think it’d been that long at the time, the reason I thought of it was because of how much the Arkansas doomers seem to have stepped up their game in the intervening years. Their third album, Heartless (review here), is newly issued and fresh in mind, but live that material became heavier than it is on record and their presence in delivery was unmistakable. Since the last time I saw them, Pallbearer have become a headlining band.

No question they belonged on the Main Stage at Roadburn 2017. They not only held down that Pallbearer (Photo by JJ Koczan)spot well, but were in full command of their material and their sound, and with shared vocals across the front of the stage, they offered a richness to their doom that only underscored just how much they’ve made the genre work to their interests rather than working to the interests of genre. Heartless cuts like “I Saw the End,” “Thorns” and “Dancing in Madness” were high points in emphasizing their progression, but the churning heft of the whole set was dead on, whether it was those or “Fear and Fury,” “Worlds Apart,” or “The Ghost I Used to Be.” Remarking from the stage that playing Roadburn felt like coming home since it was where they’d done their first European show, they were welcomed as returning heroes and clearly rose to the occasion.

I know they’re like the hottest shit in the world and everyone knows it and Heartless is going to be everyone’s album of the year and blah blah blah so I’m giving away state secrets or anything, but Pallbearer fucking killed at Roadburn. I’ve seen them before and I was still genuinely surprised at how good they were.

Just for fun, I poked my head into the Green Room to catch a minute of Author and Punisher. A boy and his robots. The space was packed out so I didn’t linger, and instead sauntered back over to the big room again to watch Pallbearer finish and await the arrival of Les Discrets, who are also supporting a new album, Prédateurs, released just this week on Prophecy Productions. The moody vibes that the Parisian outfit proffered would make a lot of sense leading into Ulver, songs like “Virée Nocturne” having an element of the dark and urbane to them, progressive even beyond what one might’ve come to expect from their past work in post-black metal and Alcest-style melodicism. Guitarist/vocalist Fursy Teyssier, who also had a showcase of his visual art upstairs in the 013, had a quieter presence than when he led Les Discrets (Photo by JJ Koczan)the band when they played Roadburn 2013 at Het Patronaat (review here), but it worked for what they were doing.

In hindsight, it probably would’ve made narrative sense to stay put in the big room and await the arrival of the aforementioned Ulver. I didn’t do that. First, I went and grabbed dinner — chicken salad over lettuce and arugula with bacon and a bit of chicken/peppers in curry sauce; some bean sprouts in there, no corn, no onions, no celery; two plates, second void of curry and bacon — and was fortunate enough to sit in the company of Norwegian artist and Weirdo Canyon Dispatch contributor Kim Holm, and then I made my way back up to the Green Room to catch at least some of Valborg. I knew that I wanted to watch somebody from the Green Room balcony, and the underrated German martial metallers seemed like the perfect occasion.

And so they pretty much were. I watched as the space below filled up and when the German trio — whose new record, Endstrand, is also out on Prophecy this month (it came out April 7) — took stage, it was pretty clear the crowd knew them well. “Werwulf” from the 2016 single of the same name (review here) was like a riff-led wrecking ball that highlighted how perfectly paced Valborg‘s material is and the genre lines their songwriting so fluidly crosses between death metal, progressive synth textures Valborg (Photo by JJ Koczan)and goth atmospherics. They demonstrated clearly they can roll a groove with the best of them but seem to have little interest in heavy rock or anything quite so not-extreme, but wherever it was ultimately coming from, their sound was on its own wavelength and its complete lack of compromise notched a mark in the skull of everyone who was there to hear it, myself included.

I didn’t get to stay for Valborg‘s whole set because I knew Ulver were soon to go on the Main Stage. I worked my way off the balcony much to the delight of the person who’d been standing behind me while I leaned over the rail to take a couple pictures of the band and down around the back way to the Main Stage room — still kind of strange to me how the 013 works since it was remodeled last year; there’s a hallway with bathrooms there now that I think used to lead to the Bat Cave/Stage01, but jeez, don’t quote me on that. I’d have to look at the blueprints to be sure, and that would probably take hours because I’d have to find a YouTube video on how to read blueprints first. Sucks being useless sometimes. Most of the time, actually.

Anyway, I did manage to get myself one room over in time for the start of Ulver, and when the Norwegian more-post-everything-than-everything outfit got underway, I was really, really glad I’d already heard the new album which was the focus of their set: The Assassination of Julius Caesar (review here). Otherwise all that dark post-New Wave moodiness and nighttime ambienceUlver (Photo by JJ Koczan) might’ve thrown me for a loop. It’s usually safe to assume two things about Roadburn attendees. One, they’re open-minded. Two, they’re pretty well informed. Still, of all the men and women assembled at the 013 to watch Ulver play, I have to imagine there was at least one person who had no idea what they were in for, and so when the band broke out the laser light show and the electronica beats and the Depeche Mode gone prog sexytime vibes they were completely taken aback by all of it. Now that I think about it, it might’ve been fun to be surprised like that.

But when it comes to Ulver, part of the appeal is the band’s willingness to dismantle their own formula, or more precisely, to not have a formula in the first place, so it’s safe to assume that whether this hypothetical Roadburner knew or not what they were getting with the songs featured from The Assassination of Julius Caesar, they were still able to get on board. Still, one day someone’s going to trick Ulver into playing 2007’s Shadows of the Sun front to back — or at least doing live variations based thereupon — and that’s going to be incredible. One for Roadburn 2022, maybe?

I didn’t stay for all of Ulver either. Not for lack of patience or anything, but I could feel my Roadburn 2017 crunch winding down and knew I had to try to pack as much in as I could. That meant getting my ass to Het Patronaat to see The Doomsday Kingdom. Every year I’m lucky enough to be at Roadburn I let myself buy one piece of vinyl. This year it was the special edition 12″ The Doomsday Kingdom were selling at the merch stand. Why? Because Leif Edling, god damn it. The founding Candlemass The Doomsday Kingdom (Photo by JJ Koczan)bassist and crucial architect of what we know to be true and traditional doom metal — yes, I mean that — was making a live debut with this new four-piece at the church, and I knew I didn’t want to regret later not getting that record when I had the chance. It’ll probably get damaged in my luggage on the trip home. Still worth it.

Their set was likewise. Songs like “Never Machine” and “The Silence” offered classic doom very much of the style one might expect from Edling‘s long-established craft and methodology, but hell, I’ve got no problem with that whatsoever. It hasn’t been that long since Candlemass put out their 2016 EP, Death Thy Lover (review here), and they’re still doing shows as well, but before he took over lead vocals from mesh-shirt-clad frontman Niklas Stålvind — who’d been righteously belting out the material up to that point — for the set finale “God Particle,” Edling called The Doomsday Machine his “therapy band.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I sure was glad I stayed to watch their full set, because they were awesome. A couple first-show-type hiccups, but nothing major by any stretch, and after “God Particle,” they even came back out in made an encore of the metallic-galloping “Hand of Hell,” with Stålvind back on vocals, guitarist Marcus Jidell tearing into solo after solo and drummer Andreas Johansson fueling the big rock finish before coming out from behind the kit to take a bow with the band. If that was therapy, sign me up.

From Sweden to Boston. Come to Grief were on next at the church, and if I’d tried, I don’t think I’d have been able to come up with a more appropriate ending to my Roadburn 2017 than to watch the native Beantowner offshoot of Grief play a set of ultra-misanthropic extreme sludge. Tones of home. You Come to Grief (Photo by JJ Koczan)have no idea how hard it was not to shout out “Go Sox!” in a Boston accent before they played. You cannot possibly know. Fortunately, before I could muster the gumption to do same, guitarist Terry Savastano began to unleash maddening floor-shaking undulations of feedback. He, fellow guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Hébert, bassist Justin Christian and drummer Chuck Conlon would soon loose a set that spanned all the way back to the title-track from Grief‘s 1992 debut EP, Depression — which Savastano noted was the first song that band ever wrote — all the way forward to Come to Grief‘s new four-tracker compact disc, The Worst of Times.

“No Savior” and “JunkLove” from the latter (and later) release were featured, but at their core, wherever they were drawing material from, Come to Grief were a mainline shot of visceral abrasiveness. Intense, pummeling and straight from the gut, they crashed each riff with maximum intensity and left no mystery about the sincerity of their intent to kill. It was impressive the way one thinks of primitive humanoids bashing in each other’s heads as a sign of evolution at work. Like I said, the perfect finale to my Roadburn 2017 — one last raw scrub to get the unwanted pieces of myself gone before I get on that plane and go home tomorrow morning.

Did I just say tomorrow morning? Yuppers. It’s 01.40. Shuttle comes to take me to the airport in about five hours, as it happens. When I left Het Patronaat, in addition to looping through the merch area to pick up the aforementioned Come to Grief CD, I made one last run through the 013 hoping to find Walter and say goodnight and thanks, but no such luck. Tired, beaten, missing my wife and with my earplugs still in, I trod past the assembled throngs in Weirdo Canyon and back to the hotel, where packing still awaits and pictures want sorting.

So yeah, I’m going to go get on that.

I’ll have another post up at some point tomorrow, but in the meantime, thank you so much for reading and please find the rest of those pics after the jump here:

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ROADBURN 2017 Day Three: And Yet it Moves

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

roadburn-day-3-banner-Photo-by-JJ-Koczan

04.22.17 — 22.23 — Sat. night — Hotel room

I don’t mind telling you I was a total wreck this morning. There we were, finishing up the third issue of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch (get the PDF here), and holy macaroni, I just couldn’t hack it. I’d gone to sleep at a semi-reasonable time, circa 2AM — which is pretty good, considering — but woke up at around three and was up past 4:30. Just up. Weirdo Canyon Dispatch Saturday issue.Brutally, brutally awake. I could’ve cried.

Instead, I put my head down on the desk in the 013 office while we waited for the test-print of today’s ‘zine and was granted a generous reprieve from the folding process that followed. I folded three copies of today’s WCD: my own. After that, I made the most of my special dispensation and high-tailed it back to the hotel to sleep for another two and a half hours, at the end of which time I pounded water, a protein bar and ibuprofen and it was enough to temporarily trick my body into believing it was human. This weekend has been pure madness, and there’s one day yet to go.

By the time I got back to the 013, I knew I’d missed my chance to hit the photo pit for day-openers The Bug vs. Dylan Carlson of Earth, the somewhat cumbersomely-named collaboration between, well, The Bug and Dylan Carlson, but I still had plenty of opportunity to be assaulted by their combined volume of drone and beats, soundscapes thick enough to swim through and handed out with enough force to vibrate the plugs in my ears and the teeth in my skull. Really. I think I lost a filling. They were very, very loud.

Two experimentalists like that working together, even as a one-off, carried an air of being something special to start the day, and so it was. The Bug‘s rig, flanked on either side by bass cabinets with two more laid down in front in such a manner as to make Carlson half-stack look positively minimalist in comparison, shook the upstairs The Bug vs. Dylan Carlson (Photo by JJ Koczan)balcony where I set up shop for the duration, and the clear impression that came through was that although they used different means of expression — Carlson with his guitar, The Bug with his laptop and mixing board — their work together was way less of a “vs.”-type situation than the name led one to believe. They were very definitely on the same side, but while they played, spotlights slowly hovered over Main Stage crowd, feeding the air of suspicion and paranoia in such a way that was eerily appropriate for what they were doing.

Speaking of collaborations, over at the PatronaatRazors in the Night — AKA John Dyer Baizley of Baroness and Scott Kelly of Neurosis playing oldschool punk and hardcore covers — were just getting started. I stayed put in the big room, however, because I knew I didn’t want to miss a second of Oranssi Pazuzu. The Finnish progressive/psychedelic black metallers have been an increasingly steady presence at Roadburn over the last five years, and after their own slots at the church, they managed to pack out the Main Stage to an admirable degree. People stood outside the open doors for not the last time today in order to catch a glimpse of their malevolent, ultra-deep swirl.

As immersive as it was dark, I couldn’t argue. Oranssi Pazuzu, who released their fourth album, Värähtelijä (review here), in 2016, may have conjured the finest blackened psychedelia I’ve ever seen. It was so much of both, so chaotic and yet purposeful, that to Oranssi Pazuzu (Photo by JJ Koczan)consider it anything less than the work of masters would be completely underselling it. When I was done taking photos, I went out into the hallway to walk around to the other side of the room and I couldn’t believe it was still daytime. And more over, the sun had come out! Something so cosmically abysmal just seemed like it should be swallowing any and all light around it, but so it goes. Stately and ferocious, they cast their waves of of bleakness over a sea of nodding heads, and after years of missing them here, I was finally glad to have been clued in, even if I seemed to be the last one in the entire Main Stage space to have caught on. Which I probably was, because that’s the kind of hip I am. Which is to say, not at all.

Maybe it was partially a case of going easy on myself, but I once again didn’t budge from the Main Stage following the conclusion of Oranssi Pazuzu. Today was minimal back and forth, actually, which suited me just fine after two busy days of Roadburn 2017 bouncing from this venue to that one. I’d hit the Green Room twice before my evening was over, but was at the 013 the whole day, which after all the Extase and Het Patronaat yesterday almost made me feel insecure and restless — “Don’t you have somewhere you need to be, sir? Oh yeah, here,” and so on. Sometimes this festival plays tricks on your mind.

My reasoning in staying put was more than justified, though, with Warning coming on to play 2006’s Watching from a Distance in its entirety. I knew some of what to expect from a Patrick Walker performance after seeing him front 40 Watt Sun here in 2012, but of course Warning brought a presence all their own in addition to his melancholic emotionalism. They struck a hard balance between sonic weight and sheer heft-of-sadness, and yet as morose as they were, and as understated as their aura was on stage, they were never anything but engaging. Rare band, rare album, rare set. Warning (Photo by JJ Koczan)This Roadburn has had its share of special moments, and Warning fit that bill as well. There was something empowering about them, or at least validating, and as deep into their own headspace as they went, they never seemed to get lost there.

It’s not often you see a band play a full album and then want to go and put on that album directly afterward, but Warning doing Watching from a Distance had that effect. I can’t claim to know the record inside and out, but I felt fortunate to have had the chance to see the band bring it to life, which much to their credit, they did without losing the heart-wrenching resonance of the studio versions of the material.

Next door in the Green Room, the focus would soon be about an entirely different kind of crushing execution, as Belfast dual-guitar three-piece Slomatics made ready to take the stage. I got there about 20 minutes before they went on and was still too late to get a spot right up front. Should’ve figured. I’d heard people talking about how stoked they were to see them, and after being lucky enough to see them in Norway last September at Høstsabbat (review here), I also knew they weren’t to be missed. My timing being what it was, I still got there to see Jon Davis from Conan soundcheck the guest vocals he’d provide for closer “March of the 1,000 Volt Ghost,” and it was good to know that was coming.

Davis also released Slomatics‘ fucking excellent 2016 album, Future Echo Returns (review here), on Slomatics (Photo by JJ Koczan)his Black Bow Records imprint, so all the better to have him there alongside guitarists Chris Couzens and David Majury as well as drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey, who even before Davis showed up stomped out the most pummeling tones I’ve heard over the course of the last three days. “Electric Breath,” “Return to Kraken,” “And Yet it Moves,” “Supernothing” — this is the stuff of lumbering, rolling, molten doom supremacy, and as they’re five records deep into a tenure that one hopes continues into perpetuity, Slomatics know how to wield these weapons to glorious effect. I felt like I was going to pass out and ran downstairs to hammer down a quick dinner — chicken in some kind of tomato-based sauce with green and red peppers, jalapenos and cheese over lettuce; two plates in about five minutes — and was back in the Green Room in time to catch Davis‘ guest spot from the side of the stage and jump up to take a picture of the band when they were done playing. I never do that kind of thing, but Slomatics were nothing if not an occasion worth savoring.

Shit would only get more doomed from there. Like I said yesterday, everyone here makes their own Roadburn, and I knew how I wanted my night to go. I wanted it to go doom. That meant hanging out in the Green Room more for Ahab, which I was more than happy to do. The nautically-themed German funeral doomers were not a band I ever really expected to be able to see, and knowing how packed it got for Slomatics, I assumed much the same would ensue. I was right. Ahab probably Ahab (Photo by JJ Koczan)could’ve filled the Patronaat if the press of the crowd behind me half an hour before they even went on was anything to go by, but as it was they beat the Green Room into submission with their guttural, ultra-slow lurch and churning devastation.

It was by no means the same kind of grind that Memoriam were doling out on the Main Stage, but watching Ahab play was like witnessing the giant, five-foot-thick gears of some industrial revolution shipyard turning the assembled audience into powder. The very means of production brought to bear on all of our caved-in skulls. Yes, they were hyperbole-level heavy. Unremittingly so, and to a claustrophobic degree. I don’t know if it was during “Old Thunder” or “To Mourn Job,” but there was a point at which I had to remind myself that I’d actively wanted to be so brutally overwhelmed and so overwhelmed by brutality. Did that make the effect any less punishing? Not in the slightest, but thanks for asking.

There was only one place left to go to continue my downer trajectory: back to the Main Stage for My Dying Bride. Having the UK doom legends play 1993’s Turn Loose the Swans in full made an awful lot of sense after special sets in 2016 from Paradise Lost and in 2015 from Anathema and Fields of the Nephilim — I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Katatonia in 2018; never seen them and they’d seem to be next in line, despite not being British — and the drama unfolded early as frontman Aaron Stainthorpe hit the stage with violinist/keyboardist Shaun Macgowan for “Sear Me MCMXCIII.” Soon enough, founding guitarists Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw, bassist Lena Abé and drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels would join, and the full fray would be unleashed. Chances are I don’t need to tell you how influential My Dying Bride have been on the trajectory of the last two decades of doom, but suffice it to say I’m not sure I could’ve found a darker way to round out myMy Dying Bride (Photo by JJ Koczan) Roadburn 2017 Saturday night than to watch them deliver that level of scathe with that level of professionalism.

And no, I’m not just saying that because Stainthorpe wore a tie. With animation by Costin Chioreanu behind them, My Dying Bride were the consummate headliners. Mysticum were still to follow on the Main Stage with a production I’d caught in soundcheck earlier in the day that was probably the most elaborate I’ve ever seen in the 013 venue, but for me, My Dying Bride marked a culmination of what I wanted the evening to be, and so I knew my night was done. There’s always more to see at Roadburn. Always something you don’t get to. Always someone who, years down the road, you wonder, “What the hell was I doing that I missed that?” but sometimes when you’re in Tilburg, you’ve crafted your experience in such a way that makes sense at the time, and that was me tonight. Would’ve been hard pressed to find anything to top My Dying Bride anyway.

One day left in Roadburn 2017, which is something I know to be true because I only have two protein bars remaining — one for before the show, one for after. Tomorrow’s another early start to fold Weirdo Canyon Dispatch issues, so I’ll leave it there once again and say thank you for reading and if you’re so inclined, you can check out more pics after the jump.

Which is right frickin’ here:

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ROADBURN 2017 Day Two: Death’s Dark Tomb

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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04.21.17 — 23.22 — Friday night — Hotel room

Issue #2 of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch is available here. Get it while the PDF is hot.

Because no attendee of this festival can possibly be in two or five places at once, something with which every Roadburner must contend is the notion of self-curation. You look at the schedule and you pick your own path. I’ve said time and again that every Roadburn means hard choices, but make no mistake, Roadburn is meticulously put weirdo canyon dispatch #2together to enable those who are fortunate enough to be here to be able to find their path among one of the most packed bills in the universe.

Case in point, today was John Dyer Baizley‘s curated day. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Baroness fan. If you are, great. You certainly have plenty of company, especially here, especially this weekend. Just never been my thing. Yes, I’ve seen them. Yes, I’ve heard the records. Not my thing. My priorities, then, were inherently going to be much different today than many attendees. It was a light day for me. For many others, I very much suspect it was not. That’s cool. Like a good choose-your-adventure book, Roadburn 2017 accommodates any number of contingency plans.

Mine started early. I knew after watching them at Cul de Sac the other night (review here) that I was not done with California’s Atala. Today they opened Extase at 14.00. I left the 013 office mid-folding session and was already dragging ass as I have been the last couple days — I’ll explain why shortly — and headed around the corner to the smallest Roadburn venue, where I closed out last night with Backwoods Payback and to which I’d return twice again this afternoon and evening. Atala did pretty much the same set as the other night — reasonably so — but seeing it a second time gave me a better feel for the material that comprised it, whether it was the harshness in “Grains of Sand” and “Death’s Dark Tomb” or the textured hook of “I am Legion.”

But for the flashing strobe behind them, the Twentynine Palms residents were an easy band to watch again, drummer Jeff Tedtaotao and guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton both in YOB shirts while bassist Dave Horn represented Graveyard. Whatever the wardrobe, Atala were righteous again, but the light proved abrasive and hit me pretty hard, so I split after “I am Legion” and headed over to the Main Stage to catch the start of classic French mesmerproggers Magma. I was not the only person who had this idea, and like yesterday’s early headlining gigs from Crippled Black Phoenix and SubRosa, today it was Magma drawing an afternoon crowd into the big room. Soon Roadburn will just be headliners on the Main Stage. All sets headlining sets. Think it won’t happen? It’s already happening.

There was a point at which I was watching Magma, who were no less of a joy today than they were when they played in 2014 as part of the curated day helmed by Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, and trying to imagine what it would be like for a normal person to bear witness to their set. That is to say, what does a square make of the band who for the last 40-plus years have been led by drummer Christian Vander in telling Magma (Photo by JJ Koczan)stories of the planet Kobaïa in a made-up language, who are positively orchestral on stage and so deadly serious about what they do that to insinuate otherwise could only offend band and assembled audience alike? Where I finally landed was that said hypothetical square — how that person would even get in front of a stage where Magma was playing, I don’t know, but for the sake of argument let’s say they did — would probably think they were from another planet.

So in other words, the group’s desired effect would be achieved. Whatever you’re doing, Magma, it’s still working. Keep it up, you legendary weirdos!

Before they were done, my wanderer’s soul had me headed back toward Extase to get a spot up front for Ruby the Hatchet. You know how sometimes you just get a feeling there’s a place you need to be? That was me watching the Philly-area troupe today. Not that I couldn’t see them in the States at some point, and not that I haven’t before, but especially at Roadburn you just know some bands are going to bring everything they’ve got, and the sense I had was that Ruby the Hatchet would be doing precisely that.

To absolutely toot my own horn, I was 100 percent correct in that impression. Getting underway with the new song “Planetary Space Child” from their recently-finished third album, which frontwoman Jillian Taylor announced would be out this summer on Tee Pee Records — they’d also share a cut called “Pagan Ritual” from the record and one or two others the titles of which I didn’t manage to remember when I asked the band about them later outside a cafe in Weirdo Canyon — Ruby the Hatchet completelyRuby the Hatchet (Photo by JJ Koczan) owned that stage and that room. Their organ-laced post-Uncle Acid garage-psych-doom was nothing short of a thrill to behold, and watching them play I look forward all the more to hearing how the obvious growth they’ve undertaken since the release of their 2015 sophomore album, Valley of the Snake (review here), manifested itself in the studio — because it certainly did in terms of their live presence. They were a blast; no question the most fun I could’ve been having at that moment was watching them play.

And yet, I had to bow out. Speaking of feeling like you need to be somewhere. I couldn’t rightly figure out what the problem was, but I made my way to the back of the room and decided to head back to the hotel before Joy went on. Instead of turning right, though, I turned left, and wound up directed back toward the 013. What was going on? I didn’t know. And why was it that the smell of the barbecue cooking outside the venue made me want to take my own life? And why was it that I wanted to build an altar to the French fries being served in paper cones to the eager, smiling denizens of Roadburn 2017?

Suddenly it dawned on me that today was Friday and the last time I had a meal it was Monday.

Joy (Photo by JJ Koczan)Since then it’s been nothing but protein bars and powder in coffee. I was, apparently, starving. And this was a genuine surprise for me to discover.

Well, I didn’t get barbecue and I certainly didn’t get fries — because, you know, self-denial and all that — but I did go downstairs into the basement of the 013 where the crew dinner was set up and have an arugula salad topped with some pesto-covered fresh mozzarella from a tomato dish, other shredded cheese and hot sauteed spinach. Look. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like sauteed spinach saved your life before, but after two plates of this makeshift salad, I was pretty well convinced it had saved mine. And I was at least half-sure that shit came out of a giant can. Didn’t even care. I pounded as much as my ailing system could take and still made it back to Extase in time to catch a most-righteous pre-set drum solo from Joy‘s Thomas DiBenedetto.

One would not usually think of a drummer’s soundcheck as something earning audience response at all let alone rapturous applause, but the dude tore into it and the room was well on board — myself included. And no, it was just post-spinach euphoria on my part either, because once the rest of the San Diego three-piece was ready to roll, they were all-shred on all fronts. Guitarist/vocalist Zach Oakley punished both his whammy bar and his wah pedal thoroughly while ripping into choice leads and bassist Justin Hulson reminded me directly of the subdued presence of Anthony Meier from Radio Moscow — quiet, unassuming, and an incredibly adept player capable either of being the anchor while the guitar goes off or going off himself at a moment’s notice on a whim of winding basslines and classically rocking dynamic.

I dug Joy‘s third and most recent full-length, Ride Along (review here), plenty when it came out on Tee Pee last Spring, but like the best of the West Coast heavy psych set from Earthless on down through the Joy (Photo by JJ Koczan)aforementioned Radio MoscowMondo Drag, etc., they blew the record right out of the water with the energy and power behind their delivery. Head-spinning, really. I knew they were a band I wanted to watch today, but I didn’t know just how much I wanted to watch them until they were actually on stage handing Extase its ass like it was wrapped in a paper cone. Lesson learned.

Though today was a lighter day than yesterday in terms of what I needed/wanted to see, it did have probably my most mandatory performance of the weekend smack in the middle, which was SubRosa‘s mostly-acoustic “SubDued” set at Het Patronaat. I knew to get there early, so I scooted over from Extase as Emptiness were still pummeling the place with their blackened post-Goth and made my way toward the front in anticipation of what was to come. Sometimes in those instances one can wind up sitting in a spot for more than half an hour to watch 15 minutes of a performance before having to run off to the next thing. For SubRosa, however, I wasn’t budging. Clear my calendar! Hold all my calls! No email. No Facebook. No texts. Nothing. For a solid hour, I stood in front of the Patronaat stage and had my mind blown and my spirit lifted as SubRosa reinvented/revisited songs from their back catalog as dark, dramatic neofolk the likes of which seemed to offer nothing less than true Americana redemption.

Set of the weekend? How about set of the year? Every Roadburn brings some landmark moment — at least one — andSubRosa (Photo by JJ Koczan) for me, SubRosa‘s performance of “Mirror” was it. Lined up across the front of the stage, Rebecca Vernon led Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack in harmonies while tapping one of Andy Patterson‘s drum sticks on the mic stand. It was gorgeous and devastating. Patterson backed on percussion, and though bassist Levi Hanna had that song off, his still-plugged-in low end gave heft to the rest of the band’s material, including set-closer “No Safe Harbor,” which with bars of light shooting down from the rig above them proved just as heavy as their runthrough of For this We Fought the Battle of Ages yesterday on the Main Stage. It was stunning. Something genuinely special. In my notes, I wrote, “How stupid I am to every do anything that’s not this. Unreal. In a way that makes reality itself the facade, while delving into its own vision of truth.” I’m not sure what that means, but give me a few years to process what I saw tonight and I’ll get back to you on it. By then I should’ve come to grips with it enough to have it make sense.

My brain duly melted, I stumbled out of the church and across the alley to the 013. I had decided I owed it to myself to check out tonight’s set from artists-in-residence Gnod, but there was still a while to go before they went on. Amenra were on the Main Stage as they were last year, and fair enough, but my interests were elsewhere. I decided to make my way back to the hotel to get a jump on dumping photos from my memory card, which seemed like an especially dangerous proposition only because there was a decent chance I wouldn’t leave again, would miss Gnod tonight and end up calling it a day at like 9PM or whatever time it was. Risky move.

Fortunately, it didn’t happen that way. I did take a brief respite, and was tempted to put my pajamas on to go see Gnod, but wound up in the Green Room still in jeans and all in time to see the dual-bass/dual-guitar UK heavy psych bizarros start their pulsating set. Ultimately, I’m not sure I owed to myself at all in the sense of having in some way earned it, but it was cool to see anyway, and as Sunday opens with a collaboration Gnod (Photo by JJ Koczan)between Gnod and Radar Men from the Moon called Temple of BBV that I’d like to see, catching the former on their own felt like a solid precursor to that. Or, at very least, a molten, liquefied precursor. It got really weird, really quickly, and clearly that’s what Gnod were going for. No regrets for being there to watch it happen, except maybe not wearing my pajamas for the occasion. That might’ve been fun.

Tomorrow’s another packed day here in Tilburg, starting with the ceremonial Weirdo Canyon Dispatch folding session bright and early, so I’ll leave it there and say thanks for reading and if you’re so inclined you can check out more pics after the jump. Bing bong.

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