Rock Herk (14 July 2007)

The NationalThere’s the music, there’s the nonsensical announcements (my favourite still being “The next band is angry with our cook as they’re vegetarians and he was serving them flesh tomatoes. Here’s Enon.”), there’s the second stage – which is actually a gazebo – where all the hardcore bands play, there’s the large pond next to the main stage, there’s the fact that it’s free. Still free. Rock Herk had a good reason to celebrate this weekend: this was the 25th edition of the free festival. Twenty-five years ago there were only two bands and the music was pop-oriented. That changed at the end of the 80s and the focus came to lie on alternative music (from Buffalo Tom to Dead Moon). A bit of dance was added in the naughties and in 2007 it was time for a splash-out bumper-sized festival: dance music on Friday, rock on Saturday. And – I don’t know if I already mentioned this – all still free.

The Datsuns and 108 were the headliners for this special edition. One old compagnon stayed away this year: no rainon Saturday (but the grounds were muddy as hell from earlier showers), but one thing didn’t change…the announcements. “You probably thought long and hard about what you were going to wear to Rock Herk today. We didn’t. We were easily content with our Archie Bronson Outfit.”
You gotta love Rock Herk.

The Five O’Clock Heroes cancelled after a car accident, Archie Bronson Outfit moved from 2pm to 9pm, leaving the vacant space to a band called The Mighty Roars. I’d have loved to see them, but Daddy’s getting old, kids… due to sleeping problems earlier this week, my biorhythm told the alarm clock to shut up. I had a good night’s sleep (read: morning + early afternoon), but I missed them as well as NoMeansNo (they still around??) and The Thermals. Oh well, too much noise on one day isn’t too good for your ears, my doctor had told me and I always do what they tell me, here at the old people’s home.
But here are The Mighty Roars with a track called Sellotape. Look at the video and you’ll know why some people compare Lara to Karen O. (That’s right, it’s because both are women.)

Dour is the second biggest alternative festival in Belgium and it takes place on the same weekend as Rock Herk, which is why some bands just pass by Herk on their way to or from Dour. After all, Rock Herk doesn’t have a big budget and can’t afford the usual names. Amazingly, there is the occasional band that only comes to Rock Herk (mostly because they love the fact that it’s a free festival). We don’t know Windmill‘s motivation to come to an outskirt of Belgium for just one gig, but there they were.
Matthew Thomas Dillon of Windmill has a most peculiar voice and it’s eager to make some people run off screaming, while others’ll love it. I find myself somewhere in the middle, really liking some of the songs but not finding other to my particular taste. One track I really like was “Boarding Lounges” (you can stream it on the band’s MySpace), but there’s no video of the song. Which is why we’ll give you the video of the single “Fit” and the demo version of “The Planning Stopped“.

“Die! Die! Die!” was how I was greated at the gazebo. Not by one of my hords of enemies this time, but by Belgian hardcore band Homer. Singer Johan Quinten is allegedly “blessed with a good voice which is also great for screaming songs”. Undoubtedly one of the better acts on the skatestage.
And of course the band has a MySpace profile. Here’s the link.

One highlight leads to another. Working my way through the mud, I arrived back at the main stage to see 65 Days of Static. The band had taken a projection screen, which was a nice diversion – even if the daylight caused most of their projections to look like rorschach blots on a white background.
The band have often said they love playing live and it showed. The concert may’ve started a bit unsteady, but soon picked up a good pace. Well played and diverse, my personal favourite of the day. Someone near where I was standing called it “a soundtrack to a movie”. It should be a hell of movie to keep up with that music. Yes, some parts had a roadtrip feel, but one where you stop watching the road after a while and follow the path of your inner thoughts. The band have a new album out, The Destruction of Small Ideas. “Don’t Go Down in Sorrow“, the first video, is a track of that album. The second video is “Radio Protector” and it was also screened last night. Yes, just when you’re enjoying yourself there’s a band which has to present math facts about global warming. Spoilsports!

I tried. I really tried. I didn’t like the beginning of the Archie Bronson Outfit concert, so I went for some food. I returned, still unsatisfied and left to get me a drink. I returned to hear the last three songs. The first one of that sounded excellent and, if the previous songs were of an equal standard, I’m sorry to have missed those. The penultimate song has flashes of genius and moments of utter boredom. The last song sounded muddled and chaotic, and not in a good way either. How do you call a concert that’s occasionally excellent but overall half-arsed? Next!

Not much better over at the skatestage. I stayed approximately one minute at Justice‘s gig, was very annoyed at the way the singer sighed (out of breath, dear? Do some exercise!) the security hadn’t been challenged enough and off I was again. There’s something about mediocre singers trying to stage ill-conceived riots in a very bad way. Appalling and so was the concert. I heard part of it in the background, didn’t even sound good from a distance.

No Turning Back also asked people to go ahead and stagedive if they wanted to, but at least the singer didn’t make it sound as if the security was part of the system that keeps you down. The singer of this Dutch hardcore band also remembered loving Rock Herk before, but now that he was singing there, in front of an audience, he really had a wonderful time. And it showed.
For more info and soundbits, check out their MySpace.

The next band in the gazebo was Final Fight. I’d love to share my highly esteemed comment about the band, but I completely missed out on their concert. The culprit? The National, who were playing on the main stage. Well, playing… the soundcheck took ages because one band member had to play electric violin, electric piano and synthesizer as well as provide backing vocals. And for some reason there were technical problems which caused either one or two of his instruments to remain mute during the soundcheck. A guitarist started jamming out of boredom and the singer asked if he could have one of those balloons floating through the audience up on the stage and fiddled with it. Somewhere a fuse blew, which made one band member remark: “It’s all good.” At one point the singer remarked: “This is the best part of the show.”
Yes, there’s always one band that fucks up the schedule, but after technical difficulties which lasted over half an hour, The National redeemed themselves by playing a very good concert. Boxer is the band’s fourth album and the band is still awaiting a breakthrough. Based on their concert at Rock Herk, that breakthrough would be well deserved. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Oh, you want some audiovisual proof as well? Here’s “Mistaken for Strangers“, the first single from The National’s new album Boxer. Enjoy!

I’m sure this quote won’t make it to their website, but The Datsuns were not as bad as I’d imagined. It’s true, it’s the sort of band I can like for one song, tolerate for three and then I’ll be out of there. But if I return to the main stage, it can start from scratch again: oh, good song, nice song, okay song, outta here. I can understand why this band was the headliner of the festival, even if I can’t call it my sort of music.
They’ve been compared to The Ramones (a more tedious version perhaps) and they’ve been called revivers of 70s rock music (a comparison I can understand, but you can make me happier with the original bands). However, by having a burning man running over the stage, the band brought some spectacle to the festival. Let us pray that was planned.
Here’s the video for “Stuck here for days“.

The headliners of the skatestage were 108. A New Beat From A Dead Heart is the latest release of this American hardcore band, which has been around since 1992 (with a tiny break from 1996 to 2005). True to message, the band dedicated one song to the real people, not those who liked hardcore now they were young but that would betray the scene in five years by becoming just the opposite of all they stood for nowadays. And the crowd cheered. Yeah, now they do. Let’s remind them of that cheer in 2012.

108 showed the audience they were headlining on the skatestage because they deserved that spot and not because they’d travelled the most miles to get to Herk-de-Stad. A worthy conclusion to this year’s activities in the gazebo. And yes, they too have a MySpace page.

And what do you want to do after all that loud music? Go home? Party on? Rock Herk likes to treat its visitors to an afterparty of completely different music. Enough rock, here’s some dance. This year drum’n’bass wizard Andy C. (MySpace) got the honour of closing down the festival. Not only did almost everyone at the main stage dance, even much further than that on the festival grounds people were shaking their butts to the drum’n’bass tones, even if they’d just come from The Datsuns or 108.

Diversity, ain’t it beautiful?

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