Dwelling in a dark basement while the sun beats down might not seem like the best way to spend your Sunday afternoon. But it’s fair to say that it was the vitamin D-leeching, surface-folk that missed out on something rather special. With the common theme all things ‘doom’, seven bands each gave us a slice of their own noise in this cracking all-day event.
Proceedings begin at 3:10pm with the unique noise of the brilliantly-named experimental art project Transylvanian Sex Pest. Adorned in freaky-looking faceless masks, the three-piece are made up of a laptop technician, a fella twisting the knobs of various audio generators and a crazy percussionist who makes use of experimental percussion techniques – using a washboard with a microphone on it and bashing a metal chain off a skinless snare drum to make eerie effect. The set is mesmerising for some and too much for others, but early-leavers miss out on their incense-hazed performance that surmounts to a mass wall of noise. The Newcastle act’s DIY aesthetic and galleon of electronic fuzz has a charm that sucks you into a fictional alien experience – like somehow these sounds are the testament of a long-lost satellite, spinning out of control in no direction with all its crew members dead. Captivating till the last, TSP give us a weird but wonderful start to the day.
It’s time for those who can’t hack the exploits of the opener to submerge themselves in the altogether different sound of Newcastle’s Druganaut. Ritualistically surrounding drummer James Ware before they build to their explosive stoner peaks, the five-piece deliver a smashing, energetic performance. New track ‘Death Black Mistress’ is a set highlight that reveals Druganaut at their most cohesive with its unpredictable rhythm chuggery and clever lead guitar lines. It brings reassurance that this is a band ready to build on their already impressive songwriting abilities. Chunky, supersized doom riffs, tight musicianship, raspy, whisky-soaked vocals and a menacing stage presence – Druganaut change the musical dynamic for the day.
Next up are the bastardised sextet Khunnt. The only question in the minds of those unaccustomed to the bizarre noise merchants is ‘how did they find two vocalists with an immense high-pitched shrieking capacity?’ The drone-loving doom maestros pummel us with blunt, brute force, smashing ears with isolated, powerful strums and inhuman vocal wails. Listening to this slab of noise and watching the disturbed yet ferocious energy of both screeching vocalists, it’s clear that Khunnt could very easily do the soundtrack for a complete mental breakdown. With plenty of pig squealing and punishing down-tuned swipes of minimalist guitar, Khunnt suck you into a void of despair, and it’s pretty hard to emerge from it without being effected in some way.
Parole might sound like the sort of band name you’d call a Pantera tribute act, but listening to the Coventry four-piece, it’s evident they have other inspirations. Donning a Bathory shirt and shouting most of his lines from off-stage, vocalist Damien Fowler acquaints us with some powerful guttural vocals for the first time in the day. It’s backed by a blackened sludge-feast with destructive riffery that again continues the quality standard of acts seen today.
By 6:30pm, the beers are in full flow and it’s down to the ‘semi-improvisational’ Waheela to make an impact. They do – bringing their clever percussive quirks and frantic wails to a now-packed Trillians. Their set is strangely different from their peers. Charged with a vicious energy and with ever-changing structures, the noise metallers have potential to interest those who want the weirdness of Primus and the tortured vocals of Blut Aus Nord with added noise-mongering.
After an hour break sees the outpouring of characters from the bar to the burger places, Conan arrive onstage at 8pm. The doom behemoths slug out their barbarian wrath and show us why they’ve gained interest overseas by translating astonishing debut album ‘Monnos’ into a vivacious live force. The three-piece outdo themselves with unstoppable riffs, confident drumming and primal shouts delivered with equal passion and intensity. ‘Battle In The Swamp’ brings utter sonic devastation on the live stand – its rumbling droney verses shake the foundations and get everyone at least nodding along. But just because Conan pride themselves on megalithic riffs and primitive loudness, it doesn’t mean they’re at all unintelligent. Paul O’Neill’s drumming is entrancing throughout the duration of the performance and particularly in ‘Headless Hunter’ – it’s the seemingly small tweaks of hi-hat that keep things fresh and seriously impress. What’s so reassuring about the Liverpool act as a collective is their ability to put together a truly beastly track, whether it’s in the confines of a studio or on the platform of a stage. Up there among the best performances of the year and with a record recently released that will be at the top of the polls by the year’s end, 2012 is the year of Conan.
As evening stretches into night, Newcastle act Bong step up to the incredible task of equalling Conan’s blinding show. The experimentalists bring a different sort of buzz to the audience, inducing a hallucinogen climax with their stretched-out psychedelic instrumentation. Wizardry from Ben Freeth on the shaahi baaja (an Indian sitar-sounding instrument) compliments the fuzz of drone and sends those in attendance on a hazy astral journey. On record, Bong swallow the listener, and it’s clear that on stage, they do the same. You’re dragged into an inescapable vortex of sound and once you’re fully under their anaesthetic of deep yet mellow bass lines and monotonous yet hypnotic rhythm, you’re out for the count and into another dimension where time ticks ten times slower. This essential listening for escapists closes what has been a truly immense day of eclectic acts.
Photography by Lucy Adlington