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Raw Power 2015

Circle live at Raw PowerThe Dome and Boston Music Room
London
24 May 2015

I have to admit that I’ve never been to Raw Power before. Every year, more than any other festival, there are always an amazing bunch of bands that I have wanted to see, or at least witness again. So even though I was unable to do both Friday and Saturdays events, I managed to race to the venues for the start of things on Sunday afternoon.

As I arrived a few stragglers from the night before began to appear, some still looking blitzed or partly shell-shocked; some with tales of drunken debauchery or just suffering from partial deafness from the Earthless set the day before. Someone informed me that it was more packed at the start of things yesterday, but I suppose two days of hedonism made it difficult to crawl out of bed that early on a Sunday and travel all the way in to Tufnell Park. But still I was excited about seeing some of the acts and watching my beer belly grow over the next 10 hours.

The stages were split between two floors, The Dome being the larger upstairs venue. The Boston Music Room was reached via a courtyard area where food was being served. Bands seemed to be timed so that 15 minutes after one finished playing in The Dome another set would start down in the Boston. Throughout the day, and obviously down to wonderful organisation, things ran smoothly with certainly no hiccups that I saw. The sound people on both floors were doing a brilliant job, and they seemed to cope effortlessly with the various idiosyncrasies of each band.

Metamono at Raw Power 2015

Being the first band on a Sunday afternoon after what sounded like quite a hedonistic Saturday was never going to be an enviable position. However Metamono gave an outstanding performance and managed to win some new fans from the assembled crowd. The three members set up on stage in a triangle behind banks of ancient analogue synths and various modular gear. The sound they produced was a wonderful hybrid of Berlin School Krautrock, late ’70s Human League and Trans Europe era Kraftwerk. Rhythms piled up and sequencers pulsated as the band twiddled with their various instruments. The bass certainly boomed from the speakers and lush melodies spilled out over the top. Jono Podmore seemed to be more of the front man, facing the crowd to play the Theremin and getting the audience going in between tracks. A wonderful start to the day’s entertainment.

Hey Colossus at Raw Power 2015

Next it was down stairs to catch Ye Nuns, a six piece that melded Monks covers with Slits-style punk rock. The songs were catchy and foot tapping with an obvious flair for the odd bit of humour thrown in, with Ray Manzarek-style organ flourishes sounded carnivalesque over punchier punk-sounding riffs. Blown Out were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing for the first time, as Mike Vest from Bong joined by John-Michael Hedley and Matt Baty from Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs.

Today they proved what a great psych rock band they are. Massive, monumental riffs as big as Jupiter and evident on their Drifting Way Out Between Suns album smashed the crowd into submission as the guitar hurtled into outer space mode and the bass and drums kept the whole sound tight and heavy. It was an intoxicating combination of tranced-out chords and startling lead guitar that had the band heading out toward the stratosphere.

Hey Colossus took to the stage looking like men who mean business and they certainly delivered. Still promoting their recent In Black And Gold album and pummelling through tracks like “Sisters and Brothers”, they certainly seemed on fire. Some of the tracks made me think that if the Birthday Party had mated with sludge rock, this is what its offspring would have sounded like. Wonderful psych lead guitar filled the air whilst singer Paul Sykes threw himself and his mic stand around stage in a frenzy. It was exhausting to watch as the relentless battering ram of songs hit you. Definitely a live band not to be missed and a must-see at their gig with Gnod (who played at Raw Power on the Friday) in July.

Makoto Kawabata live at Raw Power

After the mighty Hey Colossus it was time for me to take a break just to think about what I had witnessed so far before heading back inside the venue for Makoto Kawabata and KK Null. As a massive fan of Acid Mothers Temple, I had a reasonable idea of what might be expecting from these two Japanese rock gods. However, as they started to play I threw all those preconceptions out of the window. KK Null stood behind a table with an array of gadgets that he tortured sounds out of — sometimes these were distorted rhythms and others cosmic Tangerine Dream-style sequencing.

Kawabata meanwhile used as many different implements possible to create mind-blowing psychedelic sounds from his guitar. At one moment he was Jimmy Page with a violin bow, the next (former collaborator) Daevid Allen playing gliss. They played one massive track that dragged you in and had you entranced from start to finish. It was a massive wall of psych sound that just kept going until finally and abruptly it halted with a massive roar of appreciation from a shell-shocked looking audience.

By now the venues were hitting capacity level as latecomers recovering from the previous night began to appear to top up their hangovers. Black Bombaim, a three-piece band, played an excellent set of space rock and stoner blues instrumentals that were high on powerful leads and corking rhythm breaks. There seemed to be a bit of a buzz about them amongst the audience; the next big thing maybe?

The Cosmic Dead at Raw Power 2015

But I have to say my band of the day was The Cosmic Dead. I’ve seen them live a few times and they have always delivered amazing performances, but tonight they outdid themselves. They seemed unruly and out there as they were just hitting the stage; in fact they seemed just plain out of it. James T McKay swigged from a bottle of red wine whilst wrestling with his guitar and Lewis Cook seemed hepped up on something as he attacked his synth and guitar and screamed his vocals. The Cosmic Dead at Raw Power 2015My god, it was a wonderful unholy racket that was part space rock and part crash and burn psych. Monstrous rhythms played by bassist Omar Aborida and drummer Julian Dicken added to the cosmic onslaught as they shifted gears to keep the rocket ship from falling to Earth. They gave probably the most dangerous and far-out performance of the day which ended with McKay and Aborida on the floor of the stage still making a racket as they tried to regain their footing. By the end of their set the band looked spent but exhilarated and so did the audience — and I think there was a bit of a rush to their merch stall afterwards.

I felt in such a daze after The Cosmic Dead that I almost stumbled downstairs to witness Acid Baby Jesus, whose blend of LSD-soaked psychedelia was going down great guns with the audience. They looked to be having great time and enjoying themselves as their set progressed whilst I stood there slowly recovering and letting their sound wash over me. I would certainly like to catch them live again at some point.

Circle live at Raw Power

The last band of the day for me was Circle (even though another band, Rat Salad were playing afterwards, wonderful Sunday British Rail obviously doesn’t think I should be out that late). The Finnish band are always great entertainers and tonight they were promoting their new album Pharaoh Overlord which just happens to be the name of their other band (confusing? It gets more so when you know Pharaoh Overlord played the night before, promoting their album Circle).

Tonight Circle (playing to a capacity crowd) were heading towards a more Krautrock vein as they pushed ahead the motorik in their sound and added a wall of psychedelia to the almost metal-sounding guitars and swooshing synth nonsense. I had heard great things about the new album, so feel now that I must get a copy as Circle’s performance tonight was sublime. From heavy metal posturing to progressive rock wig-out lead lines played to Neu!-style infectious grooves, Circle added all these things in to their eclectic mix and some how made it all fit together seamlessly. I now wished I had witnessed Pharaoh Overlord the night before so I could compare performances (it’s been a few years since I saw them live).

Circle live at Raw Power

Unfortunately though, my time at the festival had to come to an end before the finish of Circle’s set, as my last train would be creeping its way out of the station without me. My overall impressions of Raw Power was that it was amazingly well-run and the people running it seemed friendly; when I arrived the person on the door was really helpful. There was a great mix of bands that kept some fantastic music going all day, with something tailored towards everyone there.

My only regret is that I didn’t do the Saturday as well, but I hope there’s always next year to make amends for that.

-Words and pictures: Gary Parsons-
-Pictures (Makoto Kawabata/Circle): Pete Woodhead-

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