Damnation Festival @ Leeds, UK, 6 November 2010
The Ocean, Alcest, Dillinger Escape Plan…
I turned, after being slapped on the @rse, to be wished season greetings by six Santa Clauses (what’s the plural of Claus?). Walking back to my digs for the evening, I stumbled upon a super-hero themed pub crawl. Lots of ninja turtles, a wolverine, a disturbingly s3xy pair of female Mario Brothers and, well, a half dozen Santa Claus… Yep, Leeds is a student town.
We don’t have student towns in Australia. The majority of universities are in the capital cities, and most students attend uni in the same city that they grew up in. Consequently Leeds’ vibe was an interesting one for me.
I trained up on Saturday morning after the Dillinger gig in Camden, on the Friday night. As the University of Leeds hosted the Damnation Festival, I spent a large proportion of my unfortunately brief stay in the university district. So my view of Leeds may be distorted – but the town appeared to possess a real buzz.
I woke, tired and a little disorientated, in a dorm room in Camden. I quickly threw together my gear and tubed to King’s Cross Station. Unfortunately I had forgotten to print out my train ticket. That’s a problem when the sun is still to rise and no internet cafes are open.
London isn’t for everyone. It’s a metropolis with a large tourist surface, and it is, at times, impersonal. I love the place – it’s full of energy and there is always something happening. Always…. Additionally the world is at your fingertips from London. Its the gateway to Europe.
One of the few things that does bother me about London is its infamous lack of customer service. It’s almost amusing how grumpy, slow and unhelpful people are behind counters. Visit a London post office for one of the most inefficient uses of your time. This morning found me attempting to get my ticket printed at the East Coast Trains “service” counter.
For half an hour, there was a chance of pulling the pin on the whole Leeds/Damnation mission. But a few minutes before noon, I stepped out of Leeds central station.
Leeds appears to have been spared the worst of the German Blitz of WWII. Grand old buildings surround the large central shopping area. The shopping centre and lively nightlife give the impression of a London in the north.
Pedestrians malls cover the centre of the city. Who is buying all this guff?… Well me, actually. When thrusting clothes into my backpack before work the previous morn, I neglected to pack a pair of trousers. A couple of hours walking in Leeds told me that shorts were not going to cut it. Single digit temperatures ain’t shorts weather… If you want to know where the cheapest jeans in Leeds are, hit me up.
My new jeans and I strolled up to the University of Leeds campus. It is an old university with plenty of charm. Modern buildings have sprung up amongst the old to bring all the facilities. One of those facilities is an excellent venue.
And it is an excellent facility. It’s not dissimilar to the 013 in Tilburg (see words and pics here). There are multiple subterranean venues and bars within the complex, and plenty of space for the merch stands. There is even a supermarket in the building. A tight student could buy cheap noodles and beer, and then head back underground to catch the next band.
There was a lot to like about the Damantion Festival vibe. These smaller festivals have more character and charm than the bigger outdoor festivals. The young, uni crowd were enthusiastic, energetic and most of all they were positive and unjaded.
Terrorizer Stage (Fukpig and Anaal Nathrakh)
The bigger of the two side stages, tonight labelled the Terrorizer stage, is probably a decent place to watch a band if you get there early enough. The sound was good. Unfortunately the makeshift sound desk blocked access to half of the steps to the floor. And the other side of the steps was blocked by punters wishing a slightly raised view. If you tried to move round the side, you found yourself peering through a slot cut into a structure hanging from the roof. Odd. But not without its charm. It forced even the crowd side of stage to huddle together for a view.
I heard Fukpig and one track of Anaal Nathrakh here. I’ll say heard, because I only caught glimpses of the stage. I believe that Fukpig wore masks – executioner, gas masks etc.
I was not expecting much from a band named Fukpig. I don’t even know why I chose to rock up to their set. However the room was a mass of energy. It was freezing outside, but the walls inside were sweating from the heat of a mass of black shirts and old school grind. In the low lights the floor moved to early Napalm Death style blasts.
A few hours later in the same room I caught the end of the Anaal Nathrakh. What I heard impressed. They delivered a crisp attack from the stage that forced you back against the damp walls.
Rock Sound Stage (The Ocean and Alcest)
This should have been my third full Ocean set in under two weeks. It was not.
I had tickets for the Dillinger/Ocean tour gigs in Southampton and London. I also had a ticket for their appearance at the Damnation Festival.
Unfortunately the Ocean were handed the very opening set on tour, with a short timeslot. When they started their set in Southampton, I was still in the queue outside. A week later, the ridiculous start time found me still on a train up to London when they opened.
However no early starts, long lines or short sets could keep a man from the Ocean in Leeds. I shuffled to the front of the Rock Sound stage as The Ocean loaded in.
The Rock Sound stage is tiny. No barriers separated the floor from the stage. The stage is only raised from the floor by about a foot
I caught the Ocean in May at Berlin’s Friction Fest (see words and pics here). That performance was almost orchestral, with a string section and piano, amongst the additional instrumentation. Apart from guitarist, Jonathan Nido, ripping up his designated corner, and drummer, Luc Hess’, jazzy spirit behind the kit, the performance was concert like. The focus was to sync the many musicians playing complicated pieces.
The Ocean of November 2010 were in no way orchestral in demeanour. Guitarist, Nido still ripped it up. He constantly diced with a ventilation pipe above him.
The Louis Jucker who quietly played bass at the back of the Berlin stage has been replaced by a ferocious monster. His hair has grown out into a massive fro and his stage presence has grown even more wild than his hair. He dove into the crowd regularly, bass still attached. When on stage, those of us in the front rows were often ducking that bass as he swung it at the crowd.
But the biggest change has been in frontman, Loic Rossetti. In Berlin, Loic had the vocal chops more than covered. But now he has presence. There was no more awkward dancing during the long instrumental passages. He dragged the crowd into the performance. He seized the front rows by the head. He sang in our faces and shared the mic with those who had the words.
Between avoiding guitar heads, microphones and the bodies of the band members, you couldn’t help but be engaged.
The Ocean immediately put their versatility on display with the opener, Firmament. Loic croons and roars in equal measure. The band softly noodle, before exploding in off-kilter Meshuggah-y riffs.
After some emergency kick drum maintenance, the previous vocalist, Mike Pilat shared vocal duties with Loic. The band ripped into the crowd favourite from the Pilat era, Orosirian. Two vocalists on stage and a hundred in the crowd bellowed “For the Great!… Blue Cold!… Now Reigns!”
The epic closers, Origin of the Species and the Origin of God had the crowd moving and dodging the band members launching into the audience. The two tracks share the same riff and theme. Themes are big within an Ocean set. Like post metal cousins, Isis and Cult of Luna, the Ocean use riffs that reappear and build.
Where the Ocean on record differs from the aforementioned post metallers, is in the depth of instrumentation and main man, Robin Staps’, confident use of orchestral sections. In Berlin, we heard that intricacy performed live. In Leeds, we saw a dirty rock and roll band work the room into a frenzy.
The Alcest performance tapped into a completely different vibe. There was no stage diving, or need to protect yourself from stray guitars. Alcest engaged the same room in no way lesser way.
I am not familiar with Frenchmen, Alcest, beyond the last album, Ecailles de Lune. The set drew almost exclusively from this album. I believe they have a black metal history, and you can hear traces of it – but the music is far closer to post metal or even shoe gaze.
There is an absence of aggression in Alcest’s approach. When the music builds to blast beats, they encompass you in a warm blanket, rather than forcing you away from the stage. Check out the album opener to hear the slow build dynamic…
Vocals are delivered in a lullaby like manner. You drift out of the drunken room in Leeds to Alcest’s dreamscape. Even when the vocalists yell and scream, its not the tortured screams of Cult of Luna, or the lion roaring of Isis. It’s a beckoning call. Inviting and urgent.
Water is a theme in many a post metal band. An hour previous we heard a band called the Ocean. Water is also a reoccurring theme in Isis’ work… but no band has sounded more like a body of water than Alcest. I could picture walking alone along the coast at night.
The hour seemed to end so quickly. A sure sign of an absorbing set.
The Dillinger Escape Plan @ the Jagermeister Stage
The small side stages definitely had their charms, but they were somewhat makeshift. The main stage, however, is an excellent venue. The three tiered space provided excellent sound and sight from nearly every spot.
Arriving a song or two late from the Alcest set, for the first time in my Dillinger viewing career I refrained from joining the pit. I personally believe that you are not getting the full Dillinger experience unless you are caught up in the manic energy that Dillinger feed… but I had seen Dillinger in Southampton and London in the previous 2 weeks, and I thought I might try the experience from a fresh angle. See what its like when you can watch the stage without fear of a boot to the head or falling down.
Each night must seem like a fresh adventure park to Dillinger. Tonight, they climbed the PA, the drum sets and side of stage. Another venue, another obstacle course.
Like members of the Ocean and other bands, side of stage, I was having a ball. Ocean fontman Loic even joined Puciato on stage to punch out the infamous “Destroyer!…” section of Sunshine the Werewolf.
Dillinger finished characteristically manic with Sunshine the Werewolf, Panasonic Youth and 43% Burnt.
The undisputed kings of the live game closed a night of great performances, at a festival and town of unique energy and character.