The Dome/The Boston Arms – Friday 29th-Sunday 31st August
If ‘Bo Ningen’ isn’t how you say ‘Raw Power’ in Japanese, I’ll be damned. Because no other band at this weekend-long party managed to truly live up to the moniker of the thrilling new festival.
But organisers Baba Yaga’s Hut left it late. Saving the best for last, it was the London-based Japanese psych-rockers who conquered the Tufnell Park Dome stage on Sunday night. Nah, they absolutely killed it. From the first note, chaos ensued as the foursome launched into a whirling dervish of flying hair and guitars. Along with their fellow countrymen and headliners from the previous night – Acid Mothers Temple – they set the standard, with their wild assault of outlandish rock freakery and exploration of tonal sensitivity.
With headliners of that calibre, the organisers were able to have some fun with the rest of the bill, ranging from the disarming attack of Girl Band to the outlandish theatrical pomp of Evil Blizzard. Here’s a look back at this unholy clusterfuck of noise:
Across the huge spectrum of punishing music on display in NW5, it quickly became apparent that there was only one other band capable of headlining – the shamefully overlooked six-strong Bristol behemoths of Hey Colossus. Left to contend with the inferior soundsystem and smaller stage of sister venue, Boston Arms, they were crammed onstage like sardines. Never mind, the half-dozen noiseniks said, as they went about their business in ferocious style showing every inch of progress they’ve made over their 10 bloody loud years.
Led by captivating frontman Tim Farthing, they progressively cranked up the tension as the set unfolded – building, building, building, as the riffs melted into a dreamy sludge. Credit goes to Farthing for his ability to stitch the unwieldy and rampaging tunes together with his eerie, expressive singing.
And frankly, it’s that sonic variety Bad Guys were missing. Armed with two double-neck guitars, a powerful drummer and a frontman with an attitude problem, they churned out some convincingly brutal and classic crunching rock. It was refreshingly no-nonsense shit with Stu’s tortured, sweary singing qualifying for a guttural case of black metal agony.
But forget the guys. How about the girls? Well, the four lads from Girl Band were the surprise package as they entered on a wave of gushing praise (well, we like them). They didn’t have much to show for the enthusiasm, aside from a 7” and a recent support stint for Slint. But if the Irish quartet were worried about the reservations, they were soon laughing out the other side of your face after closing the Boston Arms stage in style on Sunday night. Bathed in an ironic kelly green light, the group displayed their impressive ignorance of the need for notes. Why not just paint in huge smears of abrasive guitars and cataclysmic drums? Not that towering lead singer Dara Kiely would have noticed if the venue was empty or packed. He was busy nervously looking into space – snapping back only to crank out another outburst of ‘CHA CHA CHA’. Imagine the sound of a really, really pissed off Pavement and you’re close to what these unassuming Dublin lads can serve up.
Want to travel further into leftfield? Then Teeth of the Sea and Flamingods were for the bands for you. Both reached optimistically for something extra-terrestrial, with the former looping a trumpet into a 4/4 house beat to result in as many scratched heads as dancing feet. While the latter employed bongos, a ukulele and other chimera to craft a bizarre calypso funk and a shambolic fusion of quasi-devotional high life hippie-ry.
However, the only musician of the weekend to achieve real eye-closing rapture was French guitarist Richard Pinhas. Left to fend for himself on the Dome’s big stage, he cranked out a celestial display of guitar pyrotechnics with his army of pedals, absolutely lathering on the layers of distortion. The lazy haze of his Saturday afternoon slot saw him improvise his way through huge slabs of sound as he made full use of his fretboard.
The trial and error approach saw him play the mad scientist, jabbing away at his guitar’s switches, knobs and strings – while maniacally pressing buttons. And his best moments of consisted of blissful, delicate fretboard runs combining perfectly with the ugly, distorted drone he’s gleefully hammered out in the background.
Far less subtle was the pig mask and pink jumpsuit- wearing Evil Blizzard, who somehow managed to make sense of an outlandish bevy of bass players and a singing drummer. Unfortunately, what was missing from their set was the pinpoint sonic precision of the Lancastrians’ recent album, leaving their stage show to seem more spectacle than truly fulfilling.
This returns us nicely to Saturday night’s curtain-closing set from Acid Mothers Temple. Long ago perfecting the art of the extended cosmic jam, the loping bass runs, chirping guitars, wooshing Roland-inspired time travelling sounds and powerful metronomic drumming, it was down to one the better guitar players alive – Kawabata Makoto – to drop jaws. His playing is both majestic and completely nuts, single-handedly powering the group into the stratosphere of extreme hair guitar antics while the rest of the band paid their debts to Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Captain Beefheart and Pink Floyd.
In doing so, the Japanese veterans forged a comfortably numb psych-rock assault that was both powerful and persuasive, if at times gloriously meandering. In thrilling contrast, there was nary a wasted note or extravagant detour on Sunday night from their colleagues, Bo Ningen.
Their vicious, relentless rampage of riffs was the best the weekend had seen, as bassist and frontman Taigen Kawabe’s bludgeoning bass pushed the group on. When he wasn’t showing off his creepy, spider-like fingers to the crowd, they were dancing compulsively across the frets. The resulting onslaught finally triggered an ugly, riff-induced mass wig-out up front.
Raw power had been achieved.