Nasoni Records International Rock Music Festival - Linse, Berlin - 24 November 2007
From Aural Innovations #38 (Jan 2008)
I missed the chance to see Nasoni's 10th year anniversary festival in 2006, when they managed to bring together a number of their label's best from all over the world, including La Ira de Dios from Peru and veteran Swedish spacerockers DarXtar. This year, they decided to try it again in slightly less ambitious form, featuring several of the same acts. In fact, I've heard that it was really the Vibravoid guys who did the bulk of the legwork to set up this event, but naturally Hans-Georg Bier and the braintrust of Nasoni Records was willing to sanction the event under its banner. I decided that since I was hanging out in central Germany anyway, I should not miss the chance to see five new (to me) bands in one lone night. As it turned out, it was a lucky move, as I lost my passport on the train just three days ahead of my arrival in Berlin, the one city in Germany where getting an emergency replacement would be fairly easy. (The new passport came in handy when I got to the airport the next day for my flight to Copenhagen.)
Unfortunately, the lost passport was only the beginning of my personal troubles this particular week. Something I ate on Friday seriously disagreed with my digestive tract and I felt queasy and weak all day Saturday. I took a nap in my hostel bed for 90 minutes in the late afternoon, and just managed to get myself roused and out the door on my way east towards the Linse club, hidden behind a large theatre on the margins of a small city park. Arriving just at the 8 PM scheduled door opening, the club was rather empty and I could at least rest my body further on one of the comfy sofas aligning the back wall. I also had a chance to chat further with DJ Walter, the man behind the Roadburn psych/stoner fest in his native Holland, who would also be spinning cool discs throughout the night between (and following) the live stage performances this night. The fans drifted in slowly during the next hour or so, and there was a bit of delay in getting the show started as the first band went on only at 9:25, nearly a half hour behind schedule to start. With five bands to get through in one evening, it wasn't going to leave much room for any one of them to stretch things out. All of them were scheduled to have 45 minutes each to play, and even with these short sets it was obvious I wasn't going to be getting home particularly early this night (good thing I had that nap).
Otis Optic and the Option People from Dortmund came forth with a host of 2-3 minute long 60s style psych-pop numbers of Zombies/Electric Prunes variety, so even in their limited window they were able to fit in well over a dozen songs. Guitarist/vocalist Tobias Sawitzki has a pretty good singing voice for such material, all the vocals coming in English, and the band was in high spirits with enough energy to liven up the atmosphere. The four-piece band lacked a bass player, but it was apparent that organist D. Treese was playing also the bass lines with his left hand on the lower keyboard of his Vox Continental, fairly deftly I might add. All the songs were upbeat affairs, kinda fun and certainly non-offensive, but with the emphasis on vocals and melodies, there was only a bit of room for the lead instruments to have their chance. The very last song finally went a couple extra minutes and we got a little taste of a psychedelic jam from the patient lead guitarist, but there could have been more of this earlier on. The drummer was also a little too 'bashy' (ie, too much on the cymbals) for my tastes, but overall the sound/mix was good and so the set was a nice way to kick things off, even if the style was a little askew of my personal tastes.
Otis Optic and the Option People
The first set change went very quickly, despite the tight quarters on the funny square-shaped stage and the presence of keyboards in both bands. Polytoxicomane Philharmonie hail from Frankfurt, a five-piece troupe of musicians with a whole lot to offer. I had become familiar with one of their songs via the Nasoni CD compilation (that was put out in advance of last year's anniversary show), "Opinion." Over time, I grew to enjoy this long work full of interesting musical ideas and was happy when this was the second song they played on this night, a faithful rendition with some moments of humor in the mid-section. PP are a five-piece with all members having odd pseudonyms, one of many things about this band that is reminiscent of trilogy-era Gong. Everything they played on this night shows a great effort in songwriting, with lots of diverse styles from the quirky jazzy moments to the groovy space-outs to the hard-driving psychedelic rock. I've since checked out their latest CD (Nasoni) entitled 'Drosophila Road,' and it is a worthwhile item for sure, but they impressed me even more on stage.
The third song was an amazing piece (I think it might have been an extended version of "Mini-Rock"), starting with a heavily syncopated jazzy rhythm before then launching into a long spacey jam, the bassist and drummer linking together seamlessly to put for the proper groove. Here, sax-player Matelot au Vin switched over to keyboards to put forth the spaciness. Lead vocalist H.M. Fishli was similarly multi-faceted as the rest of the band, as she could sing beautiful melodic bits, switch over to wordless space-whispers, and then also cut through the louder passages with more aggressive vocals. The drummer, who goes by The Emir of Quaver, was a machine and never stopped driving the others on with spirited play and impressive rolls and fills. Polytoxicomane Philharmonie really delivered the goods, and even though they did just five songs, their set went well over time to reach a full hour. I didn't complain, as they were my favorite band of the night.
Given the highlights of Set #2, the next band was going to have a hard time keeping up to the same standard. UK's Earthling Society were scheduled to be back this year for Nasoni No. 2, but had to cancel shortly beforehand, so their slot was filled instead by Dead Peach from Italy. I hadn't known anything about this stoner trio going in, but was game to give a listen. However, my body was giving out, as I had already been forced to sit down at the back of the club again for the last part of PP's performance. After the first couple of Dead Peach tunes, I decided to stay there (hence, no photo) as it came across as fairly pedestrian stoner rock (fuzz guitar/bass/drums). Both the guitarist and bassist sang, the latter having a rather tuneless voice and in the end, thankfully, he sang far fewer songs. Some of the faster numbers were half-decent, though a bit rough around the edges (whereas PP were very tight even with much more complexity), but the slow songs were reminiscent of The Sword, a band who have failed to appeal to me much at all. That said, the second-to-last song ("Benares" I think) showed some promise, opening with a cool three-minute psychedelic wah-guitar intro. Overall, though, it would have made more sense to have Dead Peach come on earlier in the evening.
It was very nearly 1 AM when Vibravoid took the stage, the band that I was most interested to hear, going in. Again, I was only familiar with a couple of their songs, from CD compilations such as the ones that came with the short-lived Moonhead magazine as well as the Nasoni CD previously mentioned. The song "Black and White" was one song familiar to me that really impressed me, and most of all I wanted to hear that one done live. At the outset, I was surprised to find only a three-piece on stage, standard guitar/bass/drums, as some of what I had heard previously was really spacey with lots of synth sounds/fX. On the studio albums from a few years back, there was certainly a synth player on board as the fourth member, so he's either left the band or else just wasn't available for the trip from Düsseldorf. (Can't confirm this one way or the other via their webpage.) Anyway, even without a dedicated synth player, Vibravoid still have a high psychedelic factor via the massive array of foot pedals (some guitar-effects, but several programmable echo-playback units) for guitarist/vocalist Christian Koch to use.
Vibravoid have just released the four-track 'Triptamine, Vol. 2' vinyl-EP, following up on last year's 'Triptamine, Vol. 1' LP. The lone studio track from 'Vol. 2' "Wizard of Oz" (which I've just now listened to over on their MySpace page), is a real spacey affair, slower and more laid-back than just about anything I remember them playing in Berlin. Instead, the opening several tracks were super-heavy psych-rock songs - loud and fast, but they failed to captivate me, mainly because the choruses were rather clunky. The 50-minute set gradually got better as it went along, Koch's feet (on the pedals) working as hard as his fingers to make up for the lack of keyboardist. Rob Braune was an animal on the drums, flailing around arms akimbo, though he was always under some sense of control and stayed on beat. The last three tracks I knew...first was a nice rendition of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine," whereas for the finale they chose a more unusual choice, "Oscillations" by the Silver Apples. That was fun. However, in between, Vibravoid fulfilled my biggest wish, a blistering run through the blanga-psych wonder of "Black and White." All in all, a very solid performance, but I would like to see them as a four-piece with some of their more spacey numbers.
It was nearly quarter after 2 AM when the final act Atomic Workers got going. Most of the crowd were still around (Berlin is a late-night city, I could see) so they were going to get a decent reception, but I was completely knackered (though 100% sober...my stomach couldn't have taken alcohol on this night) and only stayed for the first two tracks. Those were "Embryonic Suicide" and "No Reaction" (both from the 'Embryonic Suicide' CD), hard-driving guitar rock with English vocals. The band members are nearly all Italians, but I guess are based in England and have a British vocalist. My main interest in seeing them was because I knew Sundial's Gary Ramon had been a part of the band for the last year or two. But I had already learned a week in advance that he was no longer playing with them, kind of a bummer. It seemed kind of odd anyway, since Atomic Workers had three guitarists (the singer playing as well) and with Ramon they could have had four. There was plenty of guitar with just the three, in fact the sound was too guitar-heavy and just plain loud. Throughout the night, though, the soundman had done a good job, and the guys doing the lights also had some nice projections going on, despite the unusually deep (but narrow) stage.
But with a half-hour walk back to the hostel, it was going to be 3 AM before I could crawl into bed anyway, so I snuck out after just 10 minutes. I felt shaky, tired, and somewhat miserable due to my stomach ailment (no fault of the musicians!), but nevertheless felt glad that I had the stamina to keep myself going through most of this cool festival. Normally, I would have been a little disappointed with most of the bands not playing even a full hour, but I won't complain about it this time. Polytoxicomane Philharmonie and Vibravoid were the main reasons I was there, and the results confirmed my initial perceptions, though the order of the two may have gotten switched around in the end. Nasoni Records put out fine product of CD/vinyl, and with the help of the Vibravoid guys in setting this gig up, put on a fine festival as well. The attendance was not quite so hot, with maybe 120 there at any given time, but Berlin is a huge city and even though it provides a giant pot of people to draw from, it also means that there is tons of competition every night and hard to get a lot of notice. Hopefully, everyone involved was able to at least break even such that it could continue on an annual basis. Nasoni has a great stable of fine psychedelic acts to choose from, including a couple in Germany itself that would never have too far to travel to play. It should/could work...I know I'd like to go again. Hopefully without the illness!
Reviewed by Keith Henderson