Dan Deacon. Where do we begin? With the Crocodile Dundee led dance off? The bizarre tai-chi contest. The drummer? The drummer! The cat noises?
Miaouw like a cat!
Damian: It’s got to the point where driving into Haldern feels like returning home. It’s a place we feel welcome, safe and secure in. It’s also a place that fills us with a sense of childish abandon and adventure, (and the wonders of Norma, let’s not forget Norma - Richard) and for that we shall be ever thankful. Haldern, for us, is a deep, spiritual well, a playground oasis that we hold dear and precious. It’s a place with a pull so powerful, we must forsake all the trappings and relationships of modern life and sacrifice a weekend every year in order to make pilgrimage and bathe ourselves in its healing waters (not just the lake, but also those liquids found in a variety of drinking vessels). This year, we approached Haldern armed only with leaky tents (more of which later) and a cool box, thoroughly unprepared for the weather ahead. But fear not, dear readers for your intrepid reporters managed to survive the weekend, (although thinking back we’re not entirely sure how) and have lived, nay survived, to tell you the tale. And what a tale.
Richard: You’d better tell most of this story. I still have flashbacks from looking at the drill bits in Norma whilst trying to buy cheese.
Damian: Let us begin.
Thursday August 13th.
Approaching Germany from Holland in an automobile, you crawl ever-eastwards; the draconian speed limits and lines of caravans frustrating you. As soon as you cross the border, however, giddiness ensues. The autobahn welcomes you, the other travelling companions you share the tarmac with disappear into the distance at a rate of knots and you hurtle your rattling carcass of a car down the road until it’s steering wheel judders and you feel like everything is about to fall apart. Just at that moment, when the dashboard is rattling and there’s a weird vibration altering your vision, you reach the turnoff. Ausfahrt. (Don’t you just love that word?) A few minutes later and you’re driving across the train tracks, entering Haldern proper. Those steel lines act like a threshold. You’re here, you’ve made it, and that giddy look you’ve been wearing for the past half an hour relaxes into a pleased, relieved smile. The pressure is off. Let’s have fun.
Now then, to our minds, the official preparation must be handled as swiftly as possible. 1. Wave hello to Norma, the store for bewildered and adventurous consumers. 2. Turn right after the church and follow the trail of worshippers to the corn fields. 3. Queue patiently with the traffic up the farm track and stop at the white kiosk to pick up wristbands and official lanyards. 4. Rejoin the traffic jam, pass the house with the ceramic blue sheep (who seem to be breeding well, thankfully) and greet the volunteers who hand out bin bags. 5. Choose preferred camping field, stake a claim and then get camp Incendiary erected. It all looks so simple on paper.
Dear hell it was hot. Building tunnel tents is not the most strenuous activity, I’ll grant you, but in THAT heat? It felt like quite an ordeal. Pegs were hammered, fingers were splintered and there was quite an amusing episode involving a pump that sounded like a cow giving birth but before too long camp Incendiary stood tall and proud. Actually, the tents wobbled in the breeze quite worryingly but we were too bloody hot to worry about that. We’d exhausted our cool box supplies and were in urgent need of hydration. And so, to the bar.
Richard: I hate tents. Tents are, in a word, shit. Never ever again. Ever. Also, that heat... Thursday was (using my battered powers of recall) possibly the only time my eyeballs, and my inner ear cavities have ever sweated.
Damian: If you’re fond of a tipple, the Haldern Pop bar is well worth a visit. The love, care and attention that goes into making a cocktail in that bar is quite extraordinary. They also serve Altbier. But at this point in the proceedings we had some official business to attend to. In recent years, the Haldern Pop festival has run a series of interesting and highly informative panels and discussions alongside the main festival. These sessions cover a range of subjects and have become a most welcome addition to the proceedings. This year we were not only here to attend but also, in Richard’s case, host a couple of sessions in this year’s programme. Thursday’s sessions were quite intriguing.
Richard: Luckily my panels took place on the Friday and Saturday, days which I vehemently hoped would be a bit, you know, cooler. We’d turned up today to give panel host Linne some moral support whilst he sweated buckets hosting two presentations (one talking to Harald Kunde, the director of the Museum Kurhaus Kleve, the other introducing artist and academic, Gerhard Lang) based around the theme of “Absichtslosigkeit” ((un)intentionality) in the Arts.
The heat was stifling. Senses were dulled. Somehow, at some moment in the first talk (when my intuition and common sense was at an all time, heat-beaten, sweat-sodden, aftermath-of-being-sat-in-a-car-chugging-tepid-beer low) I found myself asked to describe what a window licker was to a German audience. “Window licker”. “What is a window licker, Richard?” I showed them; leaving, I hoped, very little to the imagination. It soon became apparent that the term window licker has a very different meaning to the Germans. Luckily Gerhard Lang restored some sense of commonality with a bravura performance-cum-lecture round the relationships between the natural world and our own behavioural patterns; incorporating such topics as what to do with a mobile zebra crossing, climbing skyscrapers dressed as a mountaineer, and walking backwards through Manhattan, using a mirror to guide you.
Damian: I have to say, the man who walks backwards worried me quite a bit. I liked a lot of what he said but I’m not sure I really bought all of his reasoning. I did like the zebra crossing routine, however. We should carry one.
By now, the festival itself was stirring into life. Wristbands were being clamped onto wrists and music was being played in the Church by Frances, followed by Low Roar and Bear’s Den with Stargaze. Also the delightful Bernd Begemann was setting up the stage in the Haldern Pop Bar but we played a sensible game (for once) and made our way to the pizzeria to get something to eat. Besides, we’d been ordered by a dear friend of ours to go and check out the first act in the Spiegeltent; Puts Marie.
A short word about the food however. Three small kebabs were purchased. Small? Each kebab was the size of an elephant’s foot, and packed with enough meat to feed an army. Delicious, yes. Value for money, extraordinary but seriously……my jaw hurt from eating it. If you’re a meat lover, or fond of a broodje donner, then you owe it to yourself to visit Haldern’s pizzeria/kebab house. It’s a man vs food challenge of the highest order. Try a large kebab. I double dare you. Just keep the paramedics on standby.
Richard: Vegans need not apply, sadly, but I wonder what kind of vegetable-based Ragnarok you’d get if they did do a vegan wrap?
Damian: Where was I? Spiegeltent. Puts Marie. Did I mention it was hot? My word, there’s nothing like being in the mirror tent when it’s thirty odd degrees outside. Posh people pay good money to enter saunas and sweat boxes of this kind. At Haldern it’s just an occupational hazard. But Puts Marie? They coped with the heat admirably. These guys were a lot of fun! The singer reminded me of Freddie Mercury a bit, to look at and he has an intriguing lisp-like quality to his delivery, although I have to take points away for that vest top. If you’re not Bruce Willis or a bodybuilder, then you have no business wearing one and even then I’d recommend alternatives but still, Puts Marie’s slouchy, ragged mix of styles entertained me thoroughly. They’ve got a wonderful, eclectic approach to songwriting. They create Richard Hawley like torch songs, built on crisp, clear guitars and crooning vocals but into that mix they add dub bass lines, hip hop verses and some quite jazzy drumming. Bonus points were restored when he took that vest off also. Good stuff.
Richard: I liked the bassist because he kept trying to steer the music towards a Jah Wobble solo sound (think a folksy, smoother take on The Human Condition). Which is always good. In fact, it’s pretty rare you hear that throbby, “analogue” bass rumble nowadays. But the singer’s vest? Biffa Bacon’s dad maybe; and then you’d have to rub some brown sauce on it.
Outside we took refuge in the cold sunshine and thirty odd degree heat for a while and caught a bit of White Fence, who basically sound like every good 60’s US rock band you’ve ever heard. They also have an annoying habit of standing sideways on stage and not facing the crowd. While perfectly pleasant, they didn’t really float my boat and so I returned once again to the task of trying to hydrate myself.
Richard: This gig was a classic example of 2 and 2 making 5. Come round mine any time and I’ll dig out my Rubble, Pebbles or Nuggets LPs; or we can dig the Elevators and Syd’s Floyd over a cuppa. I love that music. It’s the music that got me - and millions of others - turning off Wunnerful (BBC) Radio 1 back in the day in search of further kicks. But right now, in 2015, I want to hear a new take on that music. I want to hear it mirror the now, the C21st, the twenty-tens. If it doesn’t (and very sadly for me White Fence didn’t) well I’ll just get my old records out.
Damian: Back in the "steam room", Dotan entertained a young crowd with their radio-friendly anthemic pop and went down a storm, let me tell you. The crowd loved them. Harmonies are their USP and they delight in a bit of whoa-oh-ohhing, something that always goes down well at Haldern. Their songs are the type you normally hear soundtracking adverts full of young happy people drenched in sunshine and at first I was quite impressed with the distinct sound they create when all of their voices combine. After a while, however, the cynic in me began to doubt it somewhat. You see, it didn’t matter how far away from the microphones different band members stood, or how much they moved around, that choral sound was always, ALWAYS, perfect. Exactly the same tone at all times, with little to no variation at all. Now that’s either incredibly impressive or it’s a lie. I hope it’s the former.
Annen May Kantereit wandered on to the Byzanzstage just as we were taking a break in the beer tent, and from a distance the singer’s deep, growling vocals made us think of such rock and roll front men as Ebbot Lundberg from The Soundtrack Of Our lives and so we wandered across expecting to find a large, bearded gentleman and were absolutely gobsmacked to discover a bunch of spry German teenagers on stage. They were kids! Seriously, that boy’s balls have dropped way down low. I struggle to understand how that voice can come out of such small a frame but nevertheless, their German folk rock went down a storm in the beer garden. Next up, Ibeyi, two French Cuban twin girls who brought a lovely mellow mood to the evening’s proceedings. When they weren’t singing in English I thought they were excellent but I must admit I found their English songs quite twee and overly polite for my taste. The crowd seemed to appreciate the appearance of a number of tribal percussion instruments immensely and hey, if you can’t enjoy the sight of a girl slapping her legs and chest repeatedly, as if trying to kill imaginary flies, then there’s something wrong with you. All in all, they were rather pleasant if not too exciting. That sounds like I’m damning them with faint praise, which I don’t mean to do because they were, as I said, excellent in parts and I’d still heartily recommend people check them out and make their own minds up.
Richard: I had the same issue. There is a sense of the everyman about their sound, too; which I hope they work through. But Ibeyi could be a great pop act that could add something genuinely fresh.
Damian: Dan Deacon. Where do we begin? With the Crocodile Dundee led dance off? The bizarre tai-chi contest. The drummer? The drummer! The cat noises? Honestly, watching a Dan Deacon show is like being an audience member in the best kid’s TV show that never aired. His ability to turn a field full of people into a single, collective mass of idiots prepared to do anything, ANYTHING, he says is quite extraordinary. I love the way he carefully and quickly switches the attention of the crowd away from him and onto themselves. Quickly, he makes you aware of the people around you. His silly parlour games help to build an instant rapport and trust among the audience. He basically reminds you that you’re here to have fun, let loose and enjoy being a part of something, a collective something. And if that something happens to be dancing around a field in front of a few thousand people pretending to be a chicken, then so be it. We won’t judge you. Instead, we’ll join you.
Dan Deacon played the spiegeltent at Haldern five years previously and I still regard that as one of the single greatest gigs I’ve ever attended. This, again, was extraordinary. His energetic dance music is so cleverly put together that, even if half of it is unintelligible, it grabs you totally. His hooks are infectious and his ability to swap, chop and change direction within a tune is second to none. And that drummer! He was incredible.
I hugged people I didn’t know. I blew kisses to people I’d never seen previously. I jumped right into a mosh pit feeling like I was sixteen again. I held hands with total strangers and gave thanks to something or other. I danced. I laughed and I got very, very dehydrated once again. Dan Deacon was nothing short of electrifying.
Richard: It was fantastic. Deacon’s continual ability to make a gibbering mess of his audience gets me every time I see him. He plays around with the idea of expectation; of course we all think, deep down, that we’re acting out the worst kind of fizzy drink advert dance-off on a yacht, but hell who cares. Hamming up and indulging in the most perverse stomping about to Deacon’s fizzing racket is fun. Even that chap in the Crocodile Dundee hat couldn’t annoy me. And that drummer…. I know sometimes drummers get called automatons but he was a nutcase; running off the national grid, looking to upstage the Wright brothers. What on earth he was on should be bottled. He looked out of his mind.
Damian: Benjamin Booker eased me back down to Earth after that with his scuzzy, sloppy take on New Orleans bar rock. Part blues, part boogie,part rock, part whatever, Booker’s a guy I’ve got a lot of time for. It’s obvious watching him and his band that they are very, very good musicians but the thing I find most intriguing about them is the fact that they still sound so sloppy. The drummer seems to change time at will, the tempo shifts up and down raggedly and they played an extended white noise heavy intro to one song that had no real meaning or purpose and yet it all seemed to work. Booker’s gravelly voice suits that scuzzy mood perfectly as well and although at times the set veered into territory that seemed actually quite amateurish, I loved every single minute of it. It’s almost as if they don’t actually care about doing things correctly, they just want to play and have fun. Forget the precision, just make some noise. For that reason alone, I recommend him and his band heartily.
Richard: The messiness was great wasn’t it? If Booker’s band had played it straight I suspect I’d have been bored. As it was, the cavalier mood allowed a proper sense of being out there, a feeling that you are after something that won’t be caught, but is worth the chase anyway. The set was actually the perfect end to a night for me; enjoying an act I hadn’t expected to enjoy (and probably won’t see again) always brings a sense of satisfaction and closure. And anyway it was time to get some kip, freshen up for Friday. For one, my undercrackers were saltier than Lot’s wife.
Damian: Bilderbusch were next. Bilderbollocks. They ruined everything for me, however, quickly bringing my evening’s entertainment to a rapid close. Why would anybody want their band to sound like a Red Hot Chilli Peppers rip off? It is beyond my levels of comprehension. If that wasn’t bad enough they also reminded me of Faith No more and Cypress Hill, without sounding anything like as good as either. In the spirit of fairness I will say that the crowd bloody LOVED them, but who are you gonna believe?
Apologies to Someday Jacob and Public Service Broadcasting (whom I like a great deal!) but having failed miserably at staying hydrated, heat exhaustion set in rapidly and, coupled with an ear full of Bilderbollocks, forced me to retire for the evening. Did we mention how hot it had been? I had to peel the clothes from my body. Still, thanks to Dan Deacon in particular, it had been more than worth it.