Rock Herk review (part 2)

The Spirit That Guides Us (17.15-18.15) said they were proud to play at ‘Dour Festival, Herkpop and Pukkelpop’ because normally Pukkelpop doesn’t ask bands which performed at another festival that year. ‘Normally’… but that was before Guns’n’Roses could become the headliners of the biggest alternative festival or before Millionaire played at virtually every festival in Belgium. The honour, my dear Spirited friends, is not what it used to be.
The Spirit That Guides Us… an emocore combo from all over Europe, a Jim Rose freakshow without nasty tricks or instruments. The band featured a guy in a brown shirt who apparently was the second vocals, though his texts usually didn’t extend beyond ‘Aaaaarggggghhhhh’ or ‘Wooooooohhhh’. It looked like he was exorcising himself on stage, like someone was moving the guy around with a cattle prod. He exorcised and expectorated his way through the set, screaming like a toddler who’s told he’s not allowed to go to the fun park. Like any teenager, I too had moments of self-destruction when I turned the volume up and threw myself on the ground (or bed) in a useless attempt to convulse the teen angst away, but I stopped doing that at a certain age because it’s rather silly. Someone should tell the guy. In those sixty minutes, we saw him falling on the ground, howling at the stage lights, contorting his face like someone had connected him to the electric system and crying over the amplifiers. It didn’t help much that his hand was often on his arse while he looked like if he was suffering unmeasurable pain. Maybe he was trying to show us that a colonoscopy without any narcose can be painful.
In other words, sixty percent of the crowd was watching (and silently laughing at) this freak. Even an Italian exorcism film is likely to be less over the top. Now while I’ll applaud this guy for daring to lose all of his reservations and play emocore straight from the belly, it has to be said that on stage he attracts the crowd’s attention like a turd attracts flies. Which is a shame as in their other moments (Brown Shirt was reloading his batteries off-stage), the band proved to be quite talented. The screaming didn’t help much either: while it’s true that the louder you shout the more people can hear you, it’s also through that the more you shout the less people will understand your message. A mixed bag and a band that’ll do better on records or on the radio. These overvisualized times aren’t a blessing for everyone.

Another thing that can kill a band’s performance a malperforming instrument: be it a computer or a bass guitar, you’re standing there like a fool. To find the band tricked by their computer, you’ll have to read on. Cast Down (17.45-18.40) suddenly found themselves with a broken string. While the bass player was fixing his instrument, the other two band members played with their thumbs, said their cd was available in the merchandising zone (where especially Victims Family was present), listed the concerts they’d be playing the next months and since the bass still wasn’t fixed, asked if anyone wanted to read a poem on stage. All the poets must’ve been somewhere else.
After five minutes the problem was fixed and we could finally hear what Cast Down sounded like. Their singer looked like Buffy’s Spike with a Kurt Cobain look and when they weren’t copying very old U2 riffs, they sounded like The Pixies vomiting in a bathroom. Call me weird, but I liked them better when they were trying to be creative with stolen riffs.

Call me weird again, but I can usually stand emocore for about fifteen minutes, which to most bands is approximately one song. Given their Canadian origins, Do Make Say Think (18.50-19.50) were bound to get compared to Godspeed You Black Emperor, though the festival’s website noted Mogwai was a better reference. To me it seemed like the ideal opportunity for a stroll around the ponds after listening to one song and concluding I wasn’t going to miss much. That was where I was wrong. No band got more applause than Do Make Say Think (with the possible exception of Girls Against Boys) and that applause was every clap deserved. Seven band members were on stage with a myriad of instruments (well, more than fifteen anyway) and a huge amount of talent. There is no other word than ‘soundscape’ to describe this titallating performance, a perfect soundscape (though maybe the saxophone could’ve been used at better moments) where it didn’t matter that the constant change of instruments never got in the way of every moment sounding like a Do Say Make Think moment. If there’s one emocore band you’re going to see live, Do Say Make Think seems an excellent option. I even saw a security person closing his eyes and travelling to another dimension. (He was even offered a joint by one band member, but politely refused since he was on duty.) During that concert security wasn’t needed anyway: the entire tent was in trance.
Not that tent was still an apt description: the rain was slowly but surely turning Rock Herk into Mudville. The festivalgoers were enjoying the steady ground around the ponds while ducks and geese gazed at the strange intruders. One underage girl spoke highly of my ass and a forty-year old woman had come to the grounds with hairspray to turn would-be punkers into smurfhaired teenagers. Some days only the normal things seem out of place.

Teen angst and weltschmertz don’t look good on adult people, but Six. By Seven (20.25-21.25) is a notable exception. It’s true, this Nottingham quartet is prone to lash out at all things mediocre, but perfect they’ll never become. Though you might wonder if perfection is something you’d want from Six. By Seven. After all, their imperfection is what makes the band human, their lashes are what makes them just a bit too highbrow for the masses. Six. By Seven is even fiercer on stage than on records and they’ll thrust their contempt and pain straight from their belly, but they won’t look like a fool. ‘If they won’t tell us it’s over, we’ll go on till they pull out the plugs,’ Chris Olley promised. Two songs later they obviously were asked to call it a performance. They thanked the crowd and went off the stage. They didn’t come back for an encore. They’re not like that. That’s what makes them Six. By Seven. Bless them.
No need to bless Circle (20.45-21.40). As small as the bandstand’s stage was, they managed to hang an enormous flag. Their fans who could read, saw Circle called themselves ‘rock for the 21st century’. Not much change than with last century’s rock then, maybe a bit less convincing and enjoyable. I’d rather talk about my trip to the chemical toilets and the girl who went just before me. If you’re that type of reader and you want me to, I can give a vivid desciption of her face. Mind you, if you’re another type of reader and you’d rather want me to describe her faeces, I can even describe that quite vividly. Anything but a review of the last band on the second stage. If Circle is the future of rock, you can find me in the dance zone from now on.

In the context of no content, everything cool nothing new. Scott McCloud wasn’t in a good mood when he wrote the latest Girls Against Boys lyrics. Geffen held back new GVSB material till the Boys either came up with a hit or decided to split. Eventually the band just moved to another label (Jade Tree) and is still what they used to be: good. Girls Against Boys (22.00-23.00) were the headliners of Rock Herk, a deserved spot for these talented artists. Combining new songs with old hits, McCloud thanked us very much after each number like we thanked him for playing each number. The band asked for a round of applause for the people who’d organized Rock Herk for the twentieth time and still kept it free. He must’ve liked the team: last year McCloud was there with New Wet Kojak.
Every inch more punk than Sense Field, they proved they deserved the huge crowd that came down to see them (GVSB had the biggest attendance, except for a large empty spot in the back of the tent – where it was so muddy that standing there for five minutes meant you could have to stay there forever.) McCloud is now involved in an electronic project, it seems. We’ll be looking forward to seeing that on Herk next year. Or why not GVSB or New Wet Kojak again? There’s always room for the talented. In the context of all that content, not really new but definitely cool.

Ed & Kim (22.00-23.00) are two DJs from Limburg with their own show on Studio Brussel and they’re the Belgian representatives of nu-breakbeat. I didn’t hear much nu for as long as I heard them – which is not that long: if you go to a festival to see GVSB, you don’t hang around two DJs you can hear on the radio every week. Especially not if they’re on at the same time.
Still, a good DJ is much more than the sum of the records they play. Ed & Kim are just a bit more. They didn’t quite convince me here at Rock Herk, but I liked them much better a few years back at Pukkelpop.

DJ Lowdown (23.00-00.00) doesn’t even get to the sum of his records. I heard some boom boom sounds that I’m occasionally subjected to on the radio. Radios can be turned off, mind you. I looked, but sadly I couldn’t find the plug.
Nor could Capitol K (23.35-00.35) who took a mighty long time to soundcheck (for a guitar and a computer), but still managed to start and find out the computer wasn’t working. He held up two fingers and said ‘One minute’. If the way he soundchecks is not unsimilar to the way he can’t count, I guess I found the problem. He was aided by a woman who was wearing a white cape that made her look like a high-priestess. Or tried to anyway. With such an entrance, not much is left if you’re a high-priestess behind a malfunctioning computer. Frankly, you’re looking quite silly (a nice runner-up to Brown Shirt). Once their computer problems were over, we got to hear what Capitol K should’ve sounded like. As much as they did their best (well, she did anyway, he was just playing his guitar in a semi-cool way), noone was quite convinced. In a way they reminded me of Galacticamendum, only I like the latter better. Maybe the sound problems killed their act, I wouldn’t know. I guess (or rather hope) this was not their best performance. Then again, on a scale of 1 to 10 this concert worked its way up to the better half of mediocre, which is not unlike to how I’d rate the latest Capitol K record. Anyway, they got their B for effort.
B as in Buscemi whose latin-tinted electronica would come later that night (00.35-01.35). Unfortunately, I had other plans for the next day, plans that forced me to be wide awake, so I decided I’d see Buscemi another time. I know I would’ve liked to hear him play, but also that I wouldn’t blame myself for missing it. I just hope his funky sounds managed to make some people free themselves out of the mud.