Raw Power snuck up on us this year – we were dispatched to the festival as a quartet but, upon arrival, we found ourselves a duo. So, Angelique and I wandered out into Tufnell Park, and we saw some crazy shit. I arrived from work and smashed two beers in before Tomaga had finished their first song; as such I did not have my camera. The drums were the driving force behind the group and the synchronicity of the pairing was fucking captivating. It was simultaneously loose yet tight, taut yet malleable and the mega fruit certainly found a way into the paradigm. Tomaga set the bar high and kicked things off to a good start. I rendezvoused with Jose and Angelique near the front of the stage, we were doing the whole photographer thing, though I was now tasked with reviewing enough for three people. Around a month later and I’m only just getting started; life keeps getting in the way. Although, I guess that’s a good thing.
Faust took to the stage fronted by two school girls who sat on stage doing homework and doodling throughout the set. We were told they are the future. I’m all for a bit of empowerment through auto-didacticism. It was a surreal experience, I would’ve never have imagined I’d get to see this band and discover I was watching a man using a power drill as a musical instrument. They were fucking astonishing to say the least. The precision of the band is something to behold in person; the refinement of their sound evident with the years.
I split more-or-less as soon as the band was over; I had to get my camera shit ready for Saturday. I charged my batteries all night and then left one at home. Off to a good start, I missed a band I wanted to see – I forget who – and then arrived at Za! I was originally intending to arrive for Bilge Pump with Evil Blizzard my first absolute do-not-miss, no-matter-what, not-assed-who-fucked-you-are, must-see band for the day. Za were sick though, I was kind of preoccupied with the camera, it was my first time doing pics for a gig, and though I knew it would make me miss huge chunks of the show, I managed to get used to the environment and finding the gig-watcher/photographer balance. I believe Stephen (Wrongpop) gave the encouragement to catch Bilge Pump, the change of venue through this courtyard to kind-of-next-door was pretty sick but, again, a new venue meant a new environment to learn for the camera. I enjoyed Bilge Pump but, I think my shots show that better.
I got to Evil Blizzard as fast as humanly possible. This was my third time seeing them; the first time was at a Baba Yaga gig with The Fierce and The Dead as support, and I was absolutely blown away. The theatrics and pantomime interaction instantly revealed itself as perfect gig material. The previous show was at Wrong Festival where despite the band playing well, they were a member down and the crowd didn’t really seem to get them. This time was almost as good as the first time, though that show had guest members and baby-doll’s-head laser theremins. I think that’ll go down as one of the best gig I’ve seen for quite a while. However, this was a fucking excellent performance as well, the crowd were once again in the hands of the band. I was really happy with the pictures I got of them – made it less daunting turning in the duds.
My old friend and new housemate, Axel, had shown me Blood Sport a long time ago at a friend’s house and I forgot to follow it up, so finally seeing them live and getting a bit more of the bigger picture, I was quite impressed. It was a weird feeling, I was at a festival where all of the bands were actually good. But not just good – pretty much everything about it was fucking on point. I closed off Saturday with the thunderous trio of The Cosmic Dead, Sly and The Family Drone (and The Dead Neanderthals) and Loop. It was neigh on impossible to photograph these bands for me, everything got pretty dark. The Cosmic Dead were probably one of the best bands I saw all weekend though. I started listening to The Cosmic Dead when I was about 17 looking for guitar music for my iPod, since then I’d regularly putting them on as a sprawling chasm of all-encompassing, instrumental delirium. The atmosphere of the band is a tangible weight. A slow-burning pyroclastic flow of psychedelia and malaise seared into the audience, I felt myself slowly meld into the ground as a dense fog seemed to pour over the room. I stepped out of the haze into the brass belligerence of Sly and The Family Drone (and The Dead Neanderthals). Sly and Loop were both seriously impressive but, I think like many bands on here, I’ll have to really watch them again to get a full impression. Sly and The Family Drone were actually one of the best first-viewings for me overall.
Sunday started earlier, I think but, I headed in with the intention of rustling up some Cattle. I didn’t start with Cattle, I got there early, it was a long weekend and things have been pretty crazy for the past few months. Lot of parties, lot of work and you know occupying various administration buildings. It was my second time seeing Cattle; they had played Liverpool Psyche Fest and blown the roof off there, but this set was even more unhinged. Apparently, the product of some hefty binge the band thrashed around feverishly, dripping with sweat. Blurred movements. Palpable aggression. I think I’m gonna be seeing a lot more of Cattle.
It seemed for a while that everywhere I went Casual Nun were there, only before I got there. They were always on the bill when I wasn’t around. I had their album and I wondered why fate had kept us apart but, it all made sense at Raw Power. It was a grand entrance for the band, in my eyes. I hadn’t anticipated how energetic the band would be live, it was not relentless but vitalized – like watching an athlete run a marathon, no amount of strain would break them before they’re done, despite being at the limit the entire time. Thought Forms followed up with another strong showing; everyone seemed to want me to watch them. I took a lot of photos and the images probably better represent my experience. The final two bands I saw were, if I remember correctly, K-X-P and White Hills. Both groups are highly renowned, deeply engrossing and fucking way-out there. K-X-P might look like a couple of dudes in Obi-Wan Kenobi costumes, dicking around with bits and bobs; but the result of this dicking is something quite spectacular. The tracks nicely submerge the listener in noise when witnessed in person – I felt my ears slowly turn into soup and my eyes pulsating and almost salivating in mesmerized awe. I started to drag myself forward somehow through the spectres in the crowd and reached the front. I was surprised to capture such clear photographic evidence of the shrouded figures on stage and yet, like the god of the old testament, I looked at my work and I was pleased. Very good!
White Hills were my final headliners – a delightfully seedy experience. The band are like the lysergic manifestation of a breeding programme involving Alice Cooper and Hawkwind. The sound is uncanny; it feels like listening to something simultaneously familiar and alien at the same time. The band felt like an apt headliner; they had the legitimacy and assured deliverance that anyone could hope for in this slot, but I was probably the only person who had to split at that point. Back to the fifty-hour work week and the constant schedule, and months later getting down barely any words on shit. It all ended well though: I start my new job next week working ten less hours a week for five thousand pounds more each year. I wish I could postpone this review further so, I could work on it properly but, realistically, it’s not gonna get better with time.
Raw Power 2017 was incredible. I’ve never been to a festival before where every band was good, where everything ran to a good schedule, and where everything seemed to go smoothly. The line-up was flawless and the delivery was sublime. Had I had the time to write it closer to the date I likely would’ve ended up doing about 4000 words on the event; but, despite it being absolutely, fucking great, I doubt anyone would have read that diatribe anyway. Thank you to Baba Yaga’s Hut for the excellent show, and to the bands for the constant stream of good music.