Perhaps conscious of becoming a closed shop, Kozfest 2018 sees the small Devonshire psychedelic festival expanding its horizons in terms of new names and faces on stage. Kozfest’s strong point has always been diversity of sound amongst the bands booked, so whilst it is pleasant to welcome in new blood, the overall vibe and ethos of the event remain unchanged. This variety is all the more impressive when considering the rotating cast of superb musicians who make multiple appearances over the course of this weekend.
Each of the three days at this year’s event appears to have its own character, although of these, Friday seems the most schizophrenic. Tom Ashurst U.B.O.A (unique band of all-stars) perform early on the Judge Trev Stage, and act as an introduction to several of the performers who are staples of the weekend – with Mark Robson guesting on keys and Tom’s dad on drums. It’s a funky set of improvised music that shows off Ashurst as a talent on guitar as well as the bass he’s more oft-associated with, and the first of many great jam bands gracing the festival.
One feature of this year’s edition is the transformation of Wally’s, the third music tent at the event, which blossoms thanks to a mixture of pop-up gigs and unannounced performances. Lunarsonic, a solo project from Zetan Spore’s Mark Hasdell, is one of these unexpected offerings. On record, Lunarsonic offer a mix of psy-dub and chill out, but on this occasion, Hasdell ups the tempo somewhat with a danceable set of progressive house. Kozfest is already an intimate affair, but Wally’s capacity of fewer than 20 ensures that this set is the first of many to spill out into the main strip.
Over on the Daevid Allen Kozmik Stage, Dubbal are slower still, also powered by pumping beats. Although not their most captivating performance (who wants to hear a love song at a psychedelic gathering?!) their dub-psych mix is well received and gathers a head of steam for a great finale. Captain Starfighter and the Lockheeds set is, as their name might suggest, a tribute of sorts to Robert Calvert, featuring alumni including Dead Fred and Steve Smith. With a set list that includes ‘Spirit of the Age’, ‘Quark, Strangeness and Charm’, ‘The Aerospaceage Inferno’ and ‘Acid Rain’, this part-time super group is perhaps the first galvanising highlight of the day.
Lacertilia’s sludgy, primal groove is powered by low slung bass lines and raw vocals. It’s none stop at Kozfest in spite of there only being two main musical arenas: one band sets up whilst another performs at the other end of the strip. It’s still not possible to catch everything, given the requirement to eat, drink and sleep, and a cursory glance at the chalk board outside Wally’s becomes an essential part of each journey between tents. Jelly lose out to a solo spot from Graham Clark, a master class in both violin and guitar, if a little quiet given the intrusive background noise emanating from the larger sound systems.
Trevor’s Head play hard and fast at times, and are slow burners elsewhere in their repertoire. One consistency in their sound is that it’s devastatingly heavy – a mix of stoner, punk and grunge. The three-piece all sing, and whilst some of their vocals sound constipated, there are also some roars and even an unexpected acapella moment! Ultimately, the stoner vibe prevails.
The final four bands to play the main stages on Friday night all deliver fantastic performances. On the Judge Trev stage, Nukli turn in a tight set with a Middle Eastern vibe, the highlight of which is ‘Visions of Amber’. Kev Hegan (guitars and vocals), Mark Huxley (bass) and Peter Out (drums) produce a full sound that’s encompassing, even if sometimes lacking that extra ingredient that makes a great show so memorable. Later that evening, they return as Nuklite: it’s fascinating to hear ‘Visions of Amber’ again, this time reimagined under the stars in a semi-acoustic rendition.
Zetan Spore close out the second stage, with a full on psy-trance set complete with didgeridoo and guitar. Highlights include their cover of ‘Master of the Universe’, always bound to go down well here, alongside the aptly-named new album track ‘Scatterbrain’ and their brilliant encore, a remix of Gary Numan’s ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ that takes the original’s industrial riffs and eerie-yet-catchy melody lines and speeds them up by at least 50% to create an effective, stomping closing number.
The two bands that round out the line-up on the Daevid Allen Stage exemplify the day’s eclectic approach: Lapis Lazuli and Mugstar couldn’t be more different if they tried. Lapis Lazuli, shorn of their saxophonist, are ostensibly another instrumental quartet with guitars, bass and drums. That such a line-up makes such inventive music is a delight. The band play with verve and, as one might expect from a Canterbury band, peddle a jazz rock fusion full of whimsy and stop-start complex structures. Bass player Luke Mennis is the onstage star, although many elect to enjoy the young group from outside the tent, Lapis Lazuli providing a soundtrack to scenery and sky that etches itself into the memory. Kozmik Ken is quick to name them his festival highlight to date.
Mugstar don’t do stop-start. In fact, they barely stop. This is how you do it, though: there’s nothing spectacular about their kraut psych-groove except how damned good it is. Magic happens through bloody minded repetition – Mugstar’s compositions see them play one riff to perfection. It certainly doesn’t hurt that in Steve Ashton they’re blessed with a drummer one could listen to for hours without accompaniment. “My favourite band of the weekend just changed”, professes Kozmik Ken as the Liverpudlians leave the stage to rapturous applause.
These aren’t the only treats on Friday night. Like Nukli, Music of the Andys possess the ability to transport the listener to somewhere else entirely. The synth and guitar based duo specialise in visionary, consciousness-dripping soundscapes, and are joined by Mark Robson on didgeridoo for a blissful ‘Death by Yoga’. Finally, DJ Dubanought’s dub disco turns into a dancehall set, then ultimately a Dreadzone party towards the end, egged on by the Zetan Spore twins enthusiastic dancing, before Sean Paul’s version of ‘I’m Still in Love with You’ sends everyone back to their tents with stars in their eyes. Who says no one wants to hear a love song at a psychedelic gathering?!
Those who are out of their tents before midday on Saturday are treated to Devora, a collaboration between Aurora and Deviant Amps. Effectively, this means a tight-ass rhythm section for Loz Aurora, Tex Rockerfella and Paul Woodwright to flight over. Aurora’s synths shimmer, whilst Woodwright unleashes chaos with wild abandon and Rockerfella chimes over the top of this abrasion. The quintet play four jams, each of which has a positive, euphoric, uplifting feel.
The most distinctive set of the day belongs to Sumerian Kyngs: an inspired mix of eight personalities that fizz on stage, each bringing something to their heady mix. They shouldn’t work together as a band, but they do. A rock solid rhythm section (Andy Baynton-Power and Graham Durrant), exuberant keyboard showmanship (Monty Oxymoron), synth parts beamed down from a starship (Cliff Dowding), guitars from the school of rock (Trevor Nobes), lovely sax interjections (Steve Cartwright), harmonica as it should be played (Stuart McKay) and wacky lyrics (Tony Green) are all delivered simultaneously to great effect. “There’s Treasure in the Chicken Shed, Boy”, is just a taste of the quirky lyrical fare, whilst closer ‘Octopus Stenchyn’ encompasses all that’s great about Sumerian Kyngs.
There’s great music throughout the day on the Judge Trev Stage, culminating in Deviant Amps and free festival favourites Back To The Planet. Another highlight is Yamma, a collaboration between Cary Grace (synths, effects and vocals) and Basil Brooks (synthesised wind and other noises). This evening they’re joined by none other than Graham Clarke (guitar) and Mike Howlett (bass), arguably the most star-studded of all the line-ups over the weekend. The music they make together is unique, though: much of the set has no rhythmic grounding, and as such is creepy, with Grace’s vocal yelps an irregular surprise. The set is structured towards a funky, if more conventional finish. Catch this band live if you can.
The Daevid Allen Kozmik Stage favours heavier sounds on Saturday. Unorfadox, a reformed, punky, new wave, alt rock band, veer a little too close to pub rock at times. Deltanaut and BB Blackdog fare a little better before Skeleton Gong considerably up the ante with an unrelentingly heavy set of cinematic doom: a top band. The Dials later add a country tang to the substantial stew.
Dead Otter, featuring Omar Aborida on guitar, are a chaotic proposition distinct from The Cosmic Dead, Aborida’s other band, who headline the evening. The latter lay down a full-on blast, with indistinguishable songs (they do have songs!) piling up one after another as the group bludgeon their way to ecstasy, Aborida leading the charge on bass guitar. This new tendency towards more direct, distorted psych is a welcome addition to the Kozfest cannon.
There are more treats to be had in Wally’s tent on Saturday. Billed as Ogsonic but retitling themselves Shogs given an impromptu line-up change, a bunch of the usual suspects pull together one of the most intense space-rock grooves of the weekend. Later, Andy Bole is joined by Brain Abbot, but not, alas, by the necessary technology to project Murnau’s Nosferatu. They use guitars to softly build sequences to create an appealing soundtrack, all the same. The late night DJ set sees Paul Giblin mix Krautrock and kosmische sounds, a blend of motorik and meditative to round out the evening.
After Sunday’s excess, The Glissando Guitar Orchestra provide a soothing balm. Daevid Allen’s ‘7 Drones’ is performed as a continuous piece by six guitarists, all of whom are prevalent throughout the festival bill. Working through a musical scale over the course of half an hour of blissful gliss, the chakra workout is a perfect example of music for inner spaces. Comparatively rowdy, the marvellous violin and sax of Spiral Navigators wake up the crowd, with appropriately circular melodies and riffs, many of whom are driven away from the Judge Trev tent, and into the Daevid Allen space the Navigators inhabit, by Judge Trev stage hosts Ministry of Loud, whose punk is inappropriate choice for a day of programming based around Gong associates, unless the idea was to stop punters getting too relaxed.
Sacred Geometry Banned centre around the charismatic Microcosmic, on this occasion joined by Kev Hegan, amongst others. Their set of floating grooves is far from the ambience of the Sacred Geometry LPs, at times muddy, at others ascending. Spacedogs fall a little flat, although it’s hard to say why. The crowd lap up their high-grade psychedelia, a sound that epitomises Kozfest, with jams around single chords taken into orbit. At times it becomes a little one dimensional, although this can be partially attributed to scheduling: by this point on Sunday, more of the same isn’t as welcome as it would have been earlier in the weekend.
Sendelica can play one-chord compositions and do in fact open with one. Their set has a dynamic lacking elsewhere, and when chord changes do come, they allow for some gorgeous saxophone from Lee Relfe. Their range and musicality mark them out as a highlight, moving effortlessly from triple-time lilts to weightier riffs. Their refusal to encore and a reticent onstage demeanour suggest this set won’t shift a large number of copies of their latest opus Cromlech Chronicles III off the back of this performance. More’s the pity.
Fuck About Club wow the crowd with an awesome, high-octane wall of sound with sonic booms and pounding drums. Flutatious combine folky dance forms with firing rock and roll. They are catchy and melodic, led by Michelle Devonshire’s flute and wind synths, alongside Stella Ferguson’s violin, and one of the biggest dance parties of the festival kicks off in no time. These guys ooze professionalism, although it’s exactly this precision that is their limitation. It’s fun, but the tone is a little lightweight at times; and some of Devonshire’s electronic timbres are over the top. Still, if you’ve never previously caught this band live, they come recommended.
Skraelings sonic attack is based around shouty punk and feels somewhat out of place at Kozfest. Far more at home are Magick Brothers, now reduced to a duo of Mark Robson and Graham Clark since Daevid Allen’s death. They pay homage to their former band mate with delicate renditions of works from his back catalogue, including ‘Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do’ and ‘Magick Brother’. The duo are joined by guests Mike Howlett and Brian Abbott during a set that also contains the protest number ‘Tasmanian Road Song’ (with Clark switching to guitar) and the beautiful and humorous ‘Herbaceous Border’. Clark’s jazzy violin is the perfect bedfellow for Robson’s folky song style. Magick Brothers may have lost a founder member, but the band are far from dead.
Australia’s Alpha Omega owe a heavy debt to Hawkwind, which makes them a perfect fit for Kozfest. Vocalist and guitarist Paul Power is supplemented by festival regulars for a set that serves as an introduction to the band’s sound. It’s safe to say Alpha Omega garner some new fans during this showing. Stone From The Sky are another international booking, hailing from France. Their sound is more widescreen than many on display, touching on post-rock yet still fierce and rhythmic. It’s a shame their set isn’t better attended, although one suspects many enjoy this blast from the comfort of their tents.
Invisible Opera Company of Tibet are Brian Abbott’s main band. With Jackie Juno fronting the ensemble and guests including Tim Hawthorn, Andy Bole, Graham Clark and Mike Howlett, their set is a riot of colour, drama and memorable music: Gong cover versions ‘Can’t Kill Me’ and ‘Master Builder’ jostle for prominence with back-catalogue gems such as ‘Circle Around’ and ‘Bad Self’. Over the last few Kozfests, these songs have become anthems and are received as such by a partisan crowd.
Kangaroo Moon, Mark Robson’s primary vehicle, are also on great form. Joining the core quartet of Robson, Elliet Mackrell (violin), David Williams (mandolin and guitar) and Gem Cormac-Quinn (drums) is occasional guitarist Nick Marshall, whose playing is crucial to giving this evening’s set its psychedelic edge. Seemingly conscious of the fact that the group’s special guests are unfamiliar with the material, this is an incarnation of Kangaroo Moon that don’t whizz through their back catalogue; but instead linger on funkier tracks, allowing the soloists space to breathe, with Cary Grace sprinkling sonic fairy dust on top and Mike Howlett holding down the bottom end. For those unfamiliar, the group throw Celtic, Aboriginal, funk, ambient, psychedelia, folk and more into the pot. . . and the results are always tasty!
It’s left to Nodens Ictus to round out the day. The duo utilise dubby bass lines and breakbeats in a set that sometimes fails to coalesce; but when their improvisations gel, alchemy occurs and some of Ed Wynne’s and guest Greg’s (Grace Rooms) sonic journeying is truly transcendental. It’s a fitting end to this year’s Kozfest, and one that sends the masses home tired and happy. If three days of brain-melting music, great real ale and cider, a friendly crowd, and a family feel are your idea of a great festival, give Kozfest 2019 a chance. Whilst not for everyone, this small Devonshire farm fest is one of the most precious in the UK, and should be cherished.