Raw Power Festival // Live Review

Raw Power Feat

The Dome/Boston Music Room – Friday-Sunday 22nd-24th May

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That was clearly the motto for the Raw Power weekender as it returned to Tufnell Park.

Last held in August, the Baba Yaga’s Hut-run festival seeks to connect lovers of the riff with a kaleidoscopic romp through musical madness. And just like last year, it needed two stages and three days to host some of the best psych heaviness, space rock, synth craziness and leftfield electronica you’ve ever heard – as well as plenty of hair, leather and sweat. Oh, and even a cape-wearing Venezuelan drummer sporting an afro and shades. Raw Power truly rocks the block.

With the festival again revolving around two colossal headliners, Finnish rock troupe Circle and sister project Pharaoh Overlord excelled in replicating last year’s duelling pillars of Japanese noise mayhem, Acid Mothers Temple and Bo Ningen. And once the core of the weekender was in place, the Baba crew showed they had found even greater, weirder and wilder sonic explorations. Here’s how the weekend went down:

Friday night // May 22nd

Gallon Drunk have long owned London’s nights. And in their second decade, singer/guitarist/keyboard player and showman James Johnston confirmed their status as the capital’s favourite scuzzy rockers. They closed out the opening party with a typically visceral set, with the band still producing a truly evil rock sound laced with bad intentions. It was also great to hear the tunes from their latest album, The Soul of the Hour, providing a new sound to their powerhouse groove with new nimble-fingered bassist Leo Kurunis and powerful voodoo drummer Ian White giving Johnston the room to explore his debauched stage show, with their sonic attack completed with some downright sleazy sax playing.

Earlier in the night, the Salford rock collective Gnod set out their stall with a frighteningly well-honed showcase of power metal. But the quartet could be accused of only waking up midway through their brooding, meditative set after stumbling upon some crunching chug-chug-chug riffs to bring the crowd back to life.

If you were hunting for Bank Holiday weekend smiles, they were provided early doors by London’s Luminous Bodies. The quintet had some good – if unclean – fun kicking off the festival between the blazing solos of J Mascis-inspired frontman Gordon Watson and the antics of sweaty second drummer Luca Zoo Franzoni, who kicked over his kit and thrashed a cymbal requiring a mighty tennis serve to reach. It was this performance that set the tone for the weekend’s truly depraved quest for fun.

Saturday night // May 23rd

Things got swinging in earnest on Saturday, with Guapo, Esben & The Witch, Sloath and Hirvikolari all impressing. But the night was yet young. And it was left to Pharaoh Overlord to throw down the gauntlet, with their cerebral motorik metal providing a shift in gears. Think Game of Thrones meets Kraftwerk and you’re not far from how the Finnish supergroup roll. With a command that is second to none, the seven-strong group ripped their way through a mind-bending set of hypnotic power guitar riffs, which was both clinical and jaw-dropping. And at the heart of it lay the barbarian-esque bassist Jussi Lehtisalo who commanded the action with a subtle hand signal here or there. The group boasted a simple, yet devastatingly effective, trick of playing at two speeds at once – one fast, the other half as fast – it gave the music a surreal sense of progress even when the quietly theatrical band was riffing ad nauseaum.

After a quick jump to Boston Music Rooms to hear Sex Swing channel Coil, dirty jazz and Cabaret Voltaire into a frighteningly aggressive package, the crowd flocked back to The Dome to catch Earthless. But instead of icy Finnish precision, the trio blasted out a warm and blissful Californian deluge of Hendrix-like rock led by solo-happy singer/guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, while former skateboard legend and OFF! drummer Mario Rubalcaba and bassist Mike Eginton provided the superglue to hold it all together. It was a fly by the seat of the pants adventure, delivered with consummate professionalism, plenty of fireworks and perspiration, as well as a blues-tinged foundation. And seeing Mario in action was a treat because he drummed like he used to skate – HARD.

With one eye on the Tube timetable it was only the foolhardy prepared to embrace the late-night tropical party, courtesy of Portugal’s Fumaca Preta. The unruly ‘Black Smoke’ crew were led by the spirited and impressively-coiffed Alex Figueira, as they careened their way through a set of inspired funk, glam metal, Zappa freakadelia and Latin melodies. Eyebrows were raised, but the group kept cranking up the heat until the room was a mass of delirious moving bodies. With one of their best songs involving a lyrical witch, they clearly had cast their spell over the early part of Sunday morning.

By the time Sunday evening rolled around and Raw Power favourites Hey Colossus had shredded eardrums, things were reaching a fever pitch. The restless vibe was certainly aided by the duo of power electronics wizard KK Null and power guitar guru Kawabata Makoto who sought to seek and destroy whatever semblance of normality was left in the weekender.

And with the warped Kinks-like psychedelic jangling of Greek band Acid Baby Jesus still reverberating in Boston Music Rooms, it was the familiar faces of Circle who took to The Dome stage. Lining up in reverse order to their Pharaoh Overlord gig from the day before, they were joined by the loose-limbed keyboard antagonist Mika Ratto who helped the band let their hair down. With skin-tight pleather trousers and rock some studded leather accessories, the merry pranksters of psychedelia forged a new level of intensity and fun. Ratto howled into the mic, stretched his feet onto his keyboard and generally shrieked, babbled, threatened and screamed while using his keyboard to stab wonky day-glo chords into the mix.

Where Pharaoh Overlord sought to be cool and precise, Circle were visibly happy to be perfectly deranged and loose with their hot-blooded and slick metal. Besides the other highlights of the weekend, it was a rare chance to see both bands in back-to-back action making the festival a truly convincing event. And once again, it was served up raw and well-done.