From Aural Innovations #31 (June 2005)
I had the great good fortune to be able to attend this year's 10th anniversary edition of the Roadburn Festival, held each year in Holland. It has become one of the most well known international space,stoner, and doom rock festivals. Previous years line-ups have featured Monster Magnet, Orange Goblin, Fu Manchu, Atomic Bitchwax, Terra Firma, Grand Magus, Witchcraft, Astrosoniq, Firebird, and even Masters of Reality featuring Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri. This year's festival was held in the city of Tilburg, at the large venue 013 (pronounced by the Dutch as "null tirteen"). For the 10th annual gig, festival promoter Walter Hoeijmakers had pulled out all the stops, taking advantage of the three stages available at the venue, and booking several top bands to peform on each stage. Here's the rundown on this years's schedule and bands:
The Spacerock Stage
9:10-!0 Brant Bjork and the Brothers
10:30 -12:30 Space Ritual
and in between DJ Kozmic Ken
Extra Heavy Stage
8:45-9:30 Alabama Thunderpussy
9:50-10:40 High On Fire
11-12 Electric Wizard
12:30-1:15 Orange Sunshine
Heavy 70's Stage
6:50-7:20 Vic Du Monte's Idiot Prayer
7:40-8:25 Hypnos 69
8:45-9:30 Black Moses
As you can quickly see the main problem posed by this schedule is that too many great bands play simultaneously, and its just not possible to see it all. I guess you can approach it like a buffet, and sample a bit of each band's performance, and move on to the next band for a while, but that's not my style. But before I had to worry about this, I had another challenge to face - the insanely long line ('queue' to my European brethren) of groovy freaks, happy hippies, stoner heads, and heavy metal people getting drenched in the everpresent Dutch rain in front of the warehouse size facade of the front of the venue. Even though I arrived at the venue about 45 minutes before the show was scheduled to begin I had to endure a wait of over an hour in the drizzle, and still didn't get into the hall until ten after seven. My hopes as I waited in line that Litmus would start late, proved false, and I arrived into the main hall of 013, which was to serve as the Space Rock stage, to find Litmus blazing away, already in progress. Unfortunately due to the large crowd still outside, and Vic Du Monte's Idiot Prayer already on in one of the other rooms, the Litmus peformance only pulled a small crowd relative to the fairly cavernous room size which could probably accommodate a thousand fans. I also learned later that a couple of band members didn't arrive at the venue in time to play the set, but got to jam later on with Brant Bjork and his band.
Anyway, most of the wonderful music performed by Litmus was familiar to me from their equally wonderful CD, You Are Here. They play a brand of melodic, chugging, riff laden space rock that certainly recalls Warrior era Hawkwind, but have their own very distinctive style with an emphasis on strong, well polished, memorable tunes. Since I didn't do setlists for any of the performances I saw, I would encourage anybody interested to zip over to www.roadburn.com where most of the sets are available for high quality audio and video downloading. Definitely check it out. Litmus was certainly a high point of the day.
The next band on was the Dutch group Astrosoniq. I thought they drew the largest audience of the day, basically filling the large hall almost to capacity. Although I had never heard them or heard of them, clearly they have a large Dutch fan base. The songs were very melodic, but certainly fell squarely into the space rock genre, with lots of pounding rhythms. Their mostly uptempo set had the fans rocking on their feet for almost an hour. Next up on the main stage were the American band, Brant Bjork and the Brothers. I had heard of Brant, of course, but have to admit I had never heard him before. The crowd thinned out a bit after Astrosoniq, but Brant and the Brothers also had a large turn out for their set. While the music was full of heavy riffing, and had a somewhat plodding, doomy pacing to it, Brant himself delivered the vocals with a laid back style that reminded me of a somewhat heavier,stoner J.J. Cale. This band also seemed to go over real well with the crowd, and I noticed that flyers were being handed out for other festival appearance by Brant and the band in Europe this summer.
At some point during their set, Ed Mundell, guitar star of Monster Magnet, came out and added his trademark killer riffs into the audio mix. I found myself completely enjoying Brant's set, and will look to check him out in the future. After this set ended I walked over to the room that held the Extra Heavy Stage to try and check out High In Fire. Instead I learned where all the people who had been filling the main hall had disappeared to. The smaller room was packed to the gills with fans, and I could barely squeeze myself in for a few moments. Unfortuantely, between the already gathered crowd, and my 5 ft, 4 inch size, I found it pretty hard to get a good view of the stage. So I went back to the main hall to get ready for, and to find a good spot to hang out for what was for me the main event... Space Ritual.
As an old Hawkwind fan from the seventies through to the present, seeing Space Ritual live for the first time was a big incentive to go to this festival, making the trip from the U.S. to Holland mostly to see this band. I have had the pleasure of seeing Nik Turner playing in the States quite a few times since the early nineties and I have never been disappointed. In the states I'd seen Nik play with the Pressurehed crew, with Helios Creed, and with other former Hawkwind members like Del Dettmar, Simon House, and Alan Powell. More recently Nik has toured each fall with new American space rock heroes Spaceseed and all the tours have been wonderful, with Nik generally covering a bunch of old Hawkwind tunes that he wrote, co-wrote, or is associated with. The line-up of Space Ritual has been touring together for four years now, and in addition to Mr. Turner the members include former Hawkwind bassist from the "X In Search Of Space" album, Dave Anderson. Terry Ollis, the drummer on the first 2 Hawkwind albums plays drums and his son Sam sits behind the second drum kit. Mick Slattery, who played guitar in the original Hawkwind line-up but only stayed with the group long enough to record some early demos, plays lead guitar. Thomas Crimble, who spent half a year playing in Hawkwind in the early seventies, plays keyboards, a bit of rhythm guitar and sings. And John Greaves is the new face in the band, on synths. They were also joined for the festival gig by their female dancer, Angel. Angel dances up a storm and is a record breaking quick change artist, as she literally appeared in a different costume for each song.
I must confess to having much too good a time to take notes. So I won't be able to do a proper set-list. This set is also available on the www.roadburn.com website. I thought that Space Ritual were very tight, well rehearsed, and polished. The set was drawn mainly from early Hawkwind material, with some Robert Calvert solo material added in. Among the numbers performed were Sonic Attack, Ejection, Orgone Accumulator, Born to Go, D-Rider, a number of recitations that were new to me, as well as Sonic Savages, which I believe Nik had recorded demos of in the eighties, and which has become one of the "new" songs in the repertoire. The former Hawks have still got it. I thought all the players were in top form, with Terry on drums and Dave Anderson on bass being really stand-out musicians. Mick Slattery's guitar playing was really impressive, and his solos were extremely cool, particularly one guitar solo where he musically quoted the riff from Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun." In comparing the sound to recordings of vintage Hawkwind it seemed that in general the music was more polished and refined in the present, but missing some of the energy and chaos that typify the original "Space Ritual Alive" album. I can't imagine that any fan of vintage Hawkwind could witness this and be less than thrilled. Like icing on a cake, Ed Mundell of Monster Magnet came on to close out the set, joining in for the final twenty minutes on the three big Hawkwind classics "Brainstorm", "Master of the Universe", and for the final encore, Hawkwind's lone radio hit "Silver Machine." The addition of Mr. Mundell really gave the proceedings an extra dimension. Ed is a huge Hawkwind fan, having grown up listening to them as a teen, so he knew all the material he was playing on very well and was able to lay down some sizzling lead guitar to complement the talents of Mick Slattery.
One thing I was quite surprised about was that the crowd that had packed the place during Astrosoniq's set, had dwindled to about a third for Space Ritual's set. I thought that since they were the final act on the main stage they would have the biggest draw, but I think that a lot of the audience was drawn away by the conflicting performance scheduling of both High on Fire and Electric Wizard in the same time slot as Space Ritual's appearance. I would have liked to check out both of those bands too, but Nik and company were my first priority. As is his usual habit, Nik stayed onstage after the end of the set and played a couple of sax numbers, including The Pink Panther theme, on his own. All in all I was really impressed by the strong set played by Space Ritual. At gig's end I purchased the new live in the studio Space Ritual CD, "Live from the Venusian Ballroom in the Cygnus Galaxy." It is an excellent audio quality recording of the current line up playing the bulk of their Hawkwind covers set and I recommend it highly. It can be bought at the www.spaceritual.uk.com website or from CD Services. Believe me... I'm happy that Dave Brock is always pushing Hawkwind on into the future with new material and shows, but I do think its wonderful that these early Hawkwind members are keeping the older numbers alive for a modern audience.
The festival as a whole was a fantastic event. Kudos to the promoters for the great job. I will definitely be trying to make it an annual tradition. Now how about Amon Duul II for next year, Walter?
After the festival was over the promoters put up a summary on their website, and I thought that this excerpt from their report really caught the flavor and spirit of this fantastic event:
From the Roadburn website:
013, Tilburg, Holland.
Three different stages.
180 meals for bands & crew.
A large cue in front of 013's Boxoffice while it rained like hell.
1001 tickets sold [more than 250 people outside of the Netherlands came to visit the 10th Roadburn Festival].
A huge guestlist, including journalists from all over the world.
Approx. 1400 people attending the festival [including bands, staff, guestlist etc].
Lots of vans & trucks.
Three mobile recording trucks for audio & video coverage.
The VPRO 3voor12 coverage.
A crew of 17 journalists, producers, recording engineers and camera men working on the live [& on demand] webcast.
An awesome vibe [both backstage and in the venue].
Musicians jamming backstage.
The Extra Heavy Stage packed throughout the entire evening.
People desperately trying to get a glimpse of Sunn 0))) while standing at the bar and the foyer.
Electric Wizards first ever show with the "We Live" line-up.
Part of Litmus just arriving in time to preform [whilst other part of the band were jamming with Astrosoniq].
Monster Magnet's Ed Mundell playing with both Brant Bjork & The Bros and Space Ritual. Brant Bjork playing with Hulk.
Amazing videoshows for Litmus, Astrosoniq, Brant Bjork & The Bros, Space Ritual, Electric Wizard & Orange Sunshine.
Space Ritual's Nik Turner playing sax on stage while stagehands started to roll off gear.
Orange Sunshine's real heavy 70's after party.
The Heavy 70's Stage [i.e. Bat Cave] was also packed from the moment Vic Du Monte's Idiot Prayer kicked off the anniversary edition of the 10th Roadburn Festival!