The 26th edition of the Rock Herk festival didn’t step away from its core rule: Rock Herk is and remains a free festival. Spread out over two days now, the first day focuses on dance (headliners were Blackstrobe and Alex Gopher) while the second day is the sort of Saturday one can expect from Rock Herk: as eclectic as it can get.
The headliners were Battles and Roni Size & Reprazent (live) on the main stage and Bane and AmenRa on the second stage. As always, part of the line-up was great for the game “shout if you heard of any of this names”, but it remains a festival with a great atmosphere. We also made new enemies: the band The Enemy.
The second day of Rock Herk opened at 1pm with the Belgian band The Porn Bloopers. Apparently they’re good, but you won’t hear that from me as I only arrived later in the day. Books don’t write themselves, you know, so I missed out on The Porn Bloopers, Lagwagon (which we’ve seen enough of at other festivals), Creature With The Atom Brain (the band of one of the band Millionaire, with weirdness and schlock reigning high – see earlier reviews from more on the band or check their MySpace and part of Future of the Left. Future of the Left are what’s left (sorry for the pun) of the excellent and underrated mclusky. (Jon Chapple, the third of mclusky that isn’t in Future of the Left, also has a new band: Shooting At Unarmed Men.) In short, “Wrigley Scott” and “Manchasm” are great songs, but “Alan is a Cowboy Killer” or “To Hell With Good Intentions” they ain’t. We still often lament mclusky is no longer among us, but we’ll content ourselves with Future of the Left. Albeit semi-reluctantly. (Here’s their MySpace.)
Future of the Left – Manchasm
Future of the Left – adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood
mclusky – To Hell With Good Intentions
You may from remember from earlier editions that Rock Herk’s second stage is not much more than a gazebo. On Saturday that’s where the rougher bands play: one such example is Cutting Pink With Knives.Their MySpace announced it already: the band is splitting up and Rock Herk may’ve been their last concert ever. Generally I’m not a big fan of this sort of music, but Cutting Pink With Knives weren’t afraid to change a song’s tune at a rate only they and The Fiery Furnaces are able to. My verdict: nice for a couple of songs, but not for a full concert. (Maybe if I had known it was their last performance, I would’ve stayed a bit longer.) Anyway, check their MySpace for a sample of what the boys sound like. Oh, and how elitist their humour is (This band exists of a.o. Alex “dipping between the cock and the arse” Fitzpatrick.)
Cutting Pink With Knives – Laser Cannon
Back to the main stage then for Phosphorescent. Ever doubtful between being painfully out of tune and chilling to the bone. Yes, more than once Matthew Houck started a song still looking for the right key, but the lyrics coming out of his mouth sounded so sincere you’d instantly forgive him. And when Phosphorescent tried to hit you, they hit you right. Houck is truly a rock’n’roll version of a troubadour: he even walked all over the stage, his microphone attached to very long cables, continuing his minstrel songs about peoples and places.
And yes, Phosphorescent proved at Rock Herk we were more than right when we made his song “Wolves” n°22 in the Kurtodrome’s Best 99 songs of 2007. Moving, endearing, chilling, fragile and powerful at the same time… in one word: gorgeous.
One of the nicest moments of the festival: a four-year-old girl sitting on daddy’s shoulders with headphones as big as her head and bopping along to the music, spreading her arms as if she were an aeroplane and Matthew Houck spotting her and unable to resist a smile.
Just before Phosphorescent it became clear The Enemy weren’t planning on showing up. Apparently the singer was ill. (Thanks for the comment, Wouter.) Sadly, this also wreaked havoc on the festival’s line-up. Phosporescent started twenty minutes later and every band on the main stage after Phosporescent had the chance to play ten minutes longer. While this sounds good, it also meant that you couldn’t go from one stage to another anymore. No disrespect to the Rock Herk crew, because it’s difficult to organize a festival. As for sick singers… Well, we saw Enon (also at Rock Herk) with one member missing (Toko had to stay at the airport because of problems with her visum) and singer John hooked on medication to struggle through the concert despite severe diarrhoea… That’s when we redefined dedication. One thing is for sure: The Enemy still need to get a lot more professional. Despite cancelling their Belgian shows, the band didn’t update their MySpace (or had it updated), so no reasons or apologies. By the way, they didn’t even bother to check the spelling of the name of the festival (their MySpace mentioned the festival “Roc Herc” – yes, The Enemy can’t even spell the word “rock”). So grow up, get professional, or else we’ll have to conclude what Future of the Left used as a name for a track: a dead Enemy always smells good.
More bad news about The Enemy’s cancellation: I won’t be able to say anything about the bands Black Friday’ 29 and Fighting With Wire. Sorry guys, send your complaints to Coventry. The good news: this enabled Battles to bring an encore track. An encore that lasted ten minutes (yes, for one track). A powerhouse of energy and, let’s face it, the same can be said about the rest of the concert. Occasionally so a-rythmical the hipster teens who wanted to be as close to the stage as possible ran out as fast as they could (one has to love Battles just for that), but always sounding as a combo and knowing what they were doing. One inhabitant of Retardville had to explain to another inhabitant what the singer had meant with his announcement: “Hi, we’re The Battles and this is a track of our new album, Sergeant Pepper’s.” We understood Battles had also deserved their spot in that same Best of 2007 list (with the track “Ddiamondd”). And it were Battles who managed to come up with the best song of the festival: at no point did we see more people move to the music than during Battles’ song “Atlas”. Congratulations, people, it may not have won you an award, but the pleasure on your faces after the concert said more than enough.
Bane are Boston hardcore and proud of it.I don’t mind going to the second stage, but I do mind that a lot of the bands there think expletives are some form of art. Let’s hope Bane would fare better… erm, the band greeted their audience with two sentences containing the words “fuck” and “motherfucker” plus kicked off with a song that started with the word “fucking”. Okay, fuck it, I’m off! After a fucking visit to the food stalls, a fucking drink and a motherfucking visit to the toilet area I gave those motherfuckers of Bane (MySpace) a second chance and frankly, they’re not so bad. Their sheer enthusiasm had won it from the kick-ass attitude that had made the start of their concert a bit annoying. Which doesn’t mean the band had grown soft: during the penultimate number one of the band members broke his guitar. A bit irritating though… near the end they pretended like possibly maybe they could perhaps play one more song. One look at my watch told me the band still had more than five minutes. So a bit of pose, but underneath that quite some talent. What a shame though that, like so many other bands, their loudness turned their lyrics into “Aaaarghhh growllll rooowwwll grrrrr aaaaargghhh fucking gggrrrr” (Yes, for some reason the naughty words always stayed audible.)
As some readers may know, I’m not very impressed by Roni Size & Reprazent. Ever since I’d seen them live and it bored my socks off. This combination features a lot of talking about how brilliant they are instead of just playing the songs that could prove that to us without them having to rub it into our nose all the time. Having said that, Roni Size’s d’n’b sessions are apparently quite good. Well, a fan told us that. Someone who wasn’t too excited about this concert. To be honest, this time the band were not even half as annoying as the first time I was exposed to them. Yes, Roni still brought it to our attention every five minutes how good his band and the songs were, but then they actually started playing the songs (rather than still ramble on for so long you could have read Homer’s Odyssey in the meantime). “Brown Paper Bag”, the visual proof you’ll find below, was introduced once again by Roni Size as if it were the most important song ever written. Well, judge for yourself. I for once still hope that one day, instead of “Roni Size & Reprazent (live)”, I’ll go to a concert announced as “Reprazent (and Roni Size will shut up between the songs)”. Might be able to judge the tunes then…
Roni Size / Reprazent – Brown Paper Bag
Right after Roni Size the Belgian d’n’b DJ Murdock would provide the after party, but for this weary reviewer the night ended with the headliner on the second stage. In Herk, when a Belgian band is allowed to be headliner, it’s not because of a sudden rush of nationalism, so let’s go over to AmenRa. Well, if we can find them… the band preferred to play with the lights out, which made their music only darker. “Slow, sturdy, repetitive sludge” is how the festival’s flyer announced them. I could agree if I knew what I’d just written. The fact is that despite the singer’s screaming (still the flyer) and loud riffs the songs still sounded like songs, something a lot of their predecessors couldn’t achieve. You won’t see me enter the Church of Ra (mainly because I don’t like these hardcore bands’ obsessions with religion), but it was good to listen to and not an unpleasant soundtrack on my way from the festival grounds to the car.Don’t forget to check out the visual proof of AmenRa, if only for the imagery by Dwid Hellion (Ritual) and Tine Guns (Visuals).
AmenRa provided my last sounds of Rock Herk 2008. See you next year!