I’ve lived in North London for all of my 31 years on this green Earth. I’ve done a lot of drinking, a lot of dancing and a lot of gig watching, but never had I once been to the Dome in Tufnell Park. Not for any reason in particular, I’d just never been. So it was pretty weird to find myself spending an entire weekend there for Baba Yaga’s Hut’s seriously tasty-looking Raw Power Weekender. Who needs to go and stand in a field to appreciate a good festival?
To call your festival ‘Raw Power’ takes some chutzpah; when using such a legendary rock name you have to make sure you have the musical muscle to back it up, or else Iggy will come down on you like a ton of bricks. Probably more a plastic bag full of sinewy Eels to be fair.
Having watched all 31 bands on the line-up (yes, all 31!) I can say that the power was not only raw but well and truly fucking feral and cranked up to 11. I still have no idea how Baba Yaga’s managed to cram 31 bands into a weekend, or indeed how I’ve managed to cram them all into my poor damaged brain. Spread over two stages, upstairs in The Dome and downstairs in The Boston Arms, Raw Power was an absolute beast of a festival.
I’m now a broken man. My head has been scrambled, my mind unwound and my poor fucking knees left somewhere in the backstreets of Tufnell Park. What a weekend!
I wont keep you too long by listing every band, but I shall highlight a few nuggets of sound gold (if you want a full run-down of each of the 31 bands please see me after the lecture and I’ll happily de-brief you – I appreciate your appetite for extra curricular learning).
Opening the festival on Friday was the fuzzy rock excellence of THOUGHT FORMS followed swiftly by the truly pummelling THE OSCILLATION. The Oscillation’s rhythm section is so tight and forceful my shoes were dancing of their own accord. Well, vibrating… whatever, I take it as a good sign and follow their lead. Seriously well worth watching.
Headlining on Friday were the legendary CLINIC. Dressed in full surgical wardrobe they cut the evening up into tiny little pieces with their art-rock scalpels and stitched it back up into a beautiful multicoloured sweat-fest. I’d somehow never seen them before, despite the huge praise they’ve been regularly receiving since their excellent debut album, 2000’s Internal Wrangler. Well they were immense; I was dancing like a wriggling twat entering a best dance competition in twatsfield town. A competition which I probably would’ve lost. But it’s the taking part aye?
Bones suitably shaken to an evening of excellent music (and lots of beer) I dragged myself off to bed – love this being in North London – ready for Saturday and a full day of quality.
Having had an early morning lasagna (the weird breakfast of kings), Saturday started in an edgy but interesting fashion with SHABASH, filling the now opened downstairs stage of The Boston Arms with feedback-drenched eerie violin experimentalism.
EARLY MAMMAL were an early highlight and, like their prehistoric name, played powerful primordial rawk with the sharp-toothed bitey edge of giant Cretaceous rats. If I had any hangover left it was well and truly nodded out of me.
Following on from the straight rocking, we get a wee run of more electronic-based music starting with TOMAGA, featuring a chap on electronics and bass and The Oscillation’s drummer. It further proved just how ridiculous at that drumming lark she is. Then there were the excellent XAVIERS, an electronic spin-off from tomorrow night’s headliners Bo Ningen (more on them later).
Instrumental math-rockers THAT FUCKING TANK were offensively good. Featuring just drums and guitar they create a sound that’s simply fucking righteous. The guitarist’s technique seriously takes the piss – he takes it then throws it back in your face. I’d like to give That Fucking Tank a bunch of flowers, obviously placed down the barrel. The guitarist also plays a silver guitar. Now, you have to earn that right and boy did he do that. He also earns a Blue Peter badge and a place in Tony Hart’s art corner.
Back in The Boston, noise bastards BAD GUYS, one of many excellent Riot Season bands on the bill, play big filthy scum-rock. They look like they mean dirty denim business and have a singer who looks disturbingly like video nasty villain Luigi Montefiori (bit of an obscure reference that, kids). Bellowing out obscene and threatening diatribes in a satanic throat growl, they paint weird portraits of toy truck theft from Toys ‘R’ Us. It’s fucking cracking.
Next up are krautrock noise behemoths HEY COLOSSUS. I’ve seen them quite a few times before and loved them but this time was huge, quite simply the best they’ve ever been. Heavy without being thrashy, loud whilst still retaining clarity.
They’re a monster. Guitarist Tim Farthing screams like a Tasmanian devil throughout recent album Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo highlight ‘Hot Grave’. Lead vocalist Paul Sykes throws himself into each song and at points it sounded as though he was about to eat the mic. It was so good I wanted to eat the mic too, and the drums, and the guitars, fuck it and the stage, take it all home with me.
For me it was the performance of the weekend. With Part Chimp legend Tim Cedar filling in on drums they sound like a dead planet disintegrating and re-joining the cosmos. Well I was pretty drunk at that point. Bliss.
I hadn’t mentioned this in Friday’s bit but for years I’d always seen a chap at the same gigs as me. We’ve never spoken or in any way acknowledged this fact and it’s very probable it’s all one-sided (I am quite forgettable, like a brown smudge). Well the same chap was here on Friday. He was here on Saturday and would go on to be here on Sunday too.
He was also on stage late into Saturday’s line-up. Turns out to be the guitarist with atmospheric post-rock weirdos TEETH OF THE SEA, whom I’d also never gotten around to seeing. Which is a shame because they were great. Playing to a backing video of Shinya Tsukamoto’s grim, robo-fetishist headache Tetsuo, they melt my brain and make me appreciate seeing a robot drill penis in a whole new light.
Legendary Japanese psychedelic rock survivors ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE headline the evening, and suck me back into the world of the disturbing backdrop video.
Full on guitar wig-outs crash out of the sound-system as Yasuzo Masumura’s sexually surreal Blind Beast plays big and bold in the background. I must say, it freaked me out. In a good way. Towards the end of the set the guitarist smashed the shit out of his guitar, breaking it up into little parts and generously handing it to the audience. That’s how my brain felt after the set. I had to go around and pick the bits up from the floor.
The night ended with a cheeky bit of karaoke: Krautrock karaoke. This wasn’t your standard Saturday night down The Dog & Gonad singing ‘Pretty Woman’ with a Guinness in your hand, this was members from the various bands jamming and having a bit of a laugh. No Krautrock versions of Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ sadly, just shambolic ragtag fun.
Now home, for a sleep and a shit. Love it being in North London. Couldn’t do that at Glastonbury.
Ah, Sunday. The day of God. Well, the day of fairly bad hangovers. ELA ORLEANS is a wonderfully calm way to start the day. It’s like an underwater transistor radio playing Nico songs. Beautiful, electronic lo-fi gently rocking you out of the foggy slumber and welcoming you open-armed back into the world of live music. Lovely stuff.
Bouncy electro-indie duo GENTLE FRIENDLY are refreshingly chipper, singer/keyboardist David Maurice kneeling awkwardly on the floor while flashing a winning smile and fingering out lovable colourful tunes on his mini keyboard. I do worry about his knees though.
After quite a calming start to the day, gently easing us in, now it was about to get heavy. Fucking heavy. Featuring members of Acid Mothers Temples and the ever-present Bo Ningen, MAINLINER are proper fucking loud.
If I wasn’t deaf from the previous two days, I was now. Seriously loud! One song started with a drum hit that was so violently loud I thought I’d been punched in the stomach, possibly by Evil Blizzard. Mainliner were belting. I enjoyed every punch.
Fittingly on a Sunday afternoon, THE COMET IS COMING were a revelatory experience. A stunning mix of saxophone, drums and electronics, it’s thrilling to watch. Shabaka Hutchings’ playing of the saxophone is just incredible, genuinely moving in places and cause for moving in general – it’s groovier than a giant record made of George Clinton’s hair. A sax sermon. I was hugely looking forward to seeing them and left looking forward to seeing them again.
After all the sax dancing it’s back downstairs (must’ve been up and down those stairs more times than someone who’s worked in a stairwell-testing factory all their life) for HENRY BLACKER. Made up of two members of Hey Colossus and one of their brothers on drums (why not), they have sludge riffs that will make your eyes bleed beautiful tears of crimson love.
Their album Hungry Dogs Will Eat Dirty Puddings is one of my albums of the year; it’s a phlegmy gob in the face of shit rock. They’re awesome. Just do yourself a favor and listen to ‘Crab House’. Do it. It’s about being eaten by crabs.
Staying downstairs it’s the cryptically named AK/DK, which I learn from an educated man [he means me, presumably sarcastically – Ed.] stands for “Analogue Kit / Digital Kit” – which does what it says on the tin. I thought they’d be some sort of electro-punk band. Turns out not. Two drummers, all drumming madness. It’s great to watch as the two drum away the night in harmony.
29 bands down, only two to go; I’ve made it and it’s time to celebrate.
What better way to celebrate than watching noisy punk sods GIRL BAND? They’ve been releasing belting post-punk singles to acclaim for the last year or so, most recently the clattering ‘De Bom Bom’, and have built a steady stream of feverish support. Is it worth it? Yeah it bloody is. Fabulously raucous, it’s like Mark E. Smith being wrapped in barbed wire and rolled down a hill by a gang of youthful upstarts, only for them to race beside him in a stolen Tesco shopping trolley. If that doesn’t scream good times then I don’t know what does.
How can you top off an incredible weekend of music? So much variety… so many good times…
So many stairs.
BO NINGEN take the honour of closing the festival and were shit-your-pants, rock-your-head, full-blown-hairstyle incredible. You might think you’d be sick of the sight of them, having seen the fellas throughout the weekend in various different guises, but not Bo Ningen; especially not with their hair, their beautiful long hair.
Dressed in very fetching long dresses, they look like glamorous witches and are talented bastards. They cast their delicious spell over the audience, and special props must also go to the guitarist’s smashing red blouse, which he pulled of with aplomb. Where can I get me one of those?
They are a rollicking, full on psych-rock fiend. Basses are played overhead, amps are sat on like imps, and vocals are shrieked. It’s the perfect end to a festival littered with many highlights. They put on a hell of a show and bassist/vocalist Taigen Kawabe closes the set by wrestling with his bass like a gargantuan snake. ‘Tis phenomenal.
And then it’s over. It’s all been a beautiful hairy dream. A dream of guitars being savaged, a dream of lustrous full beards and mind-squashing psychedelic music. I’ve seen bands I’d never seen before and listened to music that I might never have heard, most of which I’ll be checking out again – the sign of a great festival.
After 31 bands and a line-up better than most other festivals, Raw Power more than lived up to its illustrious name.
Iggy would be proud.
See you again next year, yeah?
Title photo: Mainliner by Jo Wells (check out more of her excellent photography here)