After a bloody morning, day two kicked off in 013 in energetic style from the marvellous Action Beat, (in this guise three drummers, and five guitarists) who informed us many times that they were “The Noise Band from Bletchley”. (Incidentally their sense of place outside of Bletchley seemed somewhat vague, at one point – I hope for his own sake ironically - the leader of the band expressed his heartfelt gratitude for being “back in Belgium”). Incendiary digs their LP quite a lot so it would have taken a gig of epically shit proportions for us not to rant on about how good they were, and luckily for all, Action Beat’s thrashy, jovial take on Glen Branca and Rhys Chatham was given a proper airing.
Lots of new tunes were played, all sounding pretty much like everything they have already done; but in some ways this is not a bad thing for them. They have their template, and they should stick to it, and stick to it for the foreseeable future: (you could imagine them still doing this in 40 years’ time, becoming a never–changing British Institution, like the Rolling Stones, Thora Hird or David Hockney). And the crowd absolutely loved them; maybe it’s that innocent, communal, school project vibe that they have but whatever, it strikes a chord somewhere deep in the Dutch soul. Up we ran to the Batcave to check out Eklin who had come a little way from the dire gig they played last time we saw them in Groningen. But despite the addition of projections, and a marked improvement in the sound, I still don’t get it. Everything seemed too monotone and one-paced. If that’s the point, well I’ll be charitable and say they are just not Incendiary’s cup of tea.
Something more fluid and multi-dimensional was offered by Citay, whose gig in the Kleine Zaal was one of this festival’s highlights. Citay played their dreamscapes and song-spirals with aplomb and verve, tracks like Careful with That Hat and Dream Get Together being marvellous work outs. There’s the briskness to their music that stops anything becoming too drawn out and sloppy, (probably down to the fact that synchronizing a twin-guitar attack must take some effort); even though there’s a goofiness about them that is irresistible. This is not meant in a derogatory way at all… but they do look like the Banana Splits made flesh... The guitar sounds are pleasingly like Michael Karoli’s work in mid-period Can, there’s an appealing rumble and thump to the bass lines and the band showed a considerable subtlety when the girl singer belted out Mirror Kisses over a stripped-down accompaniment. A fabulous moment.
Forsaking 013 in favour of the Cul de Sac (more for a change of scenery than anything else) we found ourselves in time for Bikes, a three-piece garage band from Hamburg boasting a two guitar attack (which seems to be all the rage these days). Right from the off there were issues with the sound, whether caused by the band (the singer did seem to have his mic at a very peculiar angle) or the sound guy… It was a shame because there was something that appealingly ramshackle and charming about them and their basic stripped down garage pop that would have been magnified tenfold had they been a bit louder and the vocals more coherent. Oh well… After a surprisingly good Mexican meal made and served by the sort of teenagers who you would NEVER expect to cook, let alone cook something nice, we went back on the music beat with Circle at 013. Circle are an intriguing bunch, one of the few genuinely unclassifiable bands around. I know that they can be seen as a metal act, and yes, the preponderance of guitar shred-outs in their songs do give credence to this claim, but they are truly out there. Any band that can slip between thrash metal, psyched-out drone rock, jazz and abstract electro in one gig (as well as collaborating with Sunburned Hand of the Man) has considerable powers to hand...
After a weird sound check (namely a complete indifference on behalf of the band as to where they were or what they were supposed to be doing), Circle trooped off to get changed into their leather pants and chains. Singer Mika Rättö sported a white sailor’s cap which only accentuated his remarkable facial resemblance to Lenin. Luckily his spats, leather pants and various assorted chains gave him a strange hybrid appearance far removed from Vlad; two parts Freddie Mercury, one part Fred Astaire, and a considerable amount of Finnish nutcase. Despite all the paraphernalia, this band is also deadly serious, if they weren’t you’d get the feeling that everything would fall to bits. Rättö’s vocals are one of the most noticeable and propulsive elements to the overall sound, and the sinuous qualities of his voice, combined with the generous helping of theatrical styling really played well against the three guitar attack, which smashed around the hall like quicksilver.
At times there was a suspicion to this reviewer that Circle were attempting to set the Kalevala to music. Indeed such was the weird power of their vibe, such was it’s strange hold on the audience that when bassist Jussi Lehtisalo snapped a string midway through some epic story of killing dragons or translating Euclid, no-one seemed to notice, or care. The band certainly didn’t…
It was time to get out of 013 for a while so we popped out to take in Vanilla Riot, who were bemusing the audience by the truckload in the Buitenbeentje. Vanilla Riot’s act is an uncompromising one it has to be said; in the festival brochure they described themselves as a “contemporary intermedia group” (read: they use computers and other gadgets). At the gig itself, the musicians (hidden behind a screen that flashed white light projections at the audience) performed a set full of electronic clangs, bashes, bleeps and other uncompromising noises that had something of Cluster and Su Ra about them. It was very Exploding Plastic Inevitable and one of those gigs that needed a little bit of patience on behalf of all present… Funnily enough, sitting outside the Buitenbeentje proved to be the better option as it allowed you to both avoid being blinded or having a fit, and take on board the complex and subtle structures that underpinned the band’s work. I enjoyed them it must be said.
Serena Maneesh was playing in the Kleine Zaal, so we thought we’d drop in to watch them for a wee while before heading off to see Feeling Of Love: their tremendous blitz at Haldern still being fresh in our minds. Now they are a very loud and inspiring band, and approaching the height of their powers - certainly as a live act; but I wonder if their collectively gawky appearance (plus that headscarf worn by Tommy) has been one of the things that seems to keep them on the margins. I’m actually not being flippant here, because they make thunderous, inspiring buzzy rock music that actually has a presence about it that is hard to formulate. Especially stuff like the rumbling behemoth that was Ayisha Abyss, which was a real highlight. They are a great band who everyone will be saying they saw, (once they’ve split up) that is for sure. Off to the Cul de Sac, where we were to watch much-talked about French garage band Feeling of Love, who are a three-piece (guitar organ, drums) and who make astonishingly crisp and surly garage pop. Frankly they were brilliant, even if the first songs were a tad garage by numbers and had a little too much surly cool added to the mix. Yes, there’s a soupçon of Stereolab, Jacques Dutronc, and any hip garage act from the mid-sixties you care to mention, especially Chocolate Watch Band; but they have enough presence about them to make this genre their own for now. The last two tracks were extended wig outs that both bordered on the completely deranged, and which had everyone going mental, a rare thing for the studious Incubate crowd. Incendiary bought the vinyl, no band gets higher praise than that in our books!
Saturday’s report has to end on something of a low note; scheduling dictated we missed tremendous shows by Dan Deacon (try and find a review of his show in a farmhouse just outside of Tilburg), Psychofagist, Richard Youngs and the Cumbia Cosmonauts: names I mention purely in the hope you will check them out on other, gibbered and garbled recommendations. You can’t win ‘em all…