Grauzone Festival 1/2/13

In fact you could say (if you half closed your eyes, or swanned around the cinema area) that you were back at Club Zoo - albeit a far more professional one, without the bitching and the acid.


Before we start, I will issue a brief word of warning. Whatever flashes of intuitive genius you have when one over the eight, never put your shirt on back to front before you go to sleep. The results of such an action can be extremely upsetting the following morning. 

But we shouldn’t let reports of minor discomforts brought on by our own idiocy override the positive impression of the first Grauzone festival. This night was a bash similar in spirit to last year’s ULTRA2012 finale at the same venue: lots of rooms with lots of people doing different stuff (records, cinema, talks, readings etc.) and a mix of old and new bands with, (probably the main reason for being there for a lot of the audience), the accent on old legends of the post-punk era. In fact you could say (if you half closed your eyes, or swanned around the cinema area) that you were back at Club Zoo - albeit a far more professional one, without the bitching and the acid.

Incendiary were here to see their long term faves Echo & the Bunnymen, but what with the Chameleons (Vox), Zounds and Ice Age on the bill (as well as all the Lebowski Publishing action), there was plenty to enjoy in a nice, old fashioned, uncomplicated way. Once in, having negotiated a bloody massive press/guest list queue*, we caught 10 minutes of ACR in a full Max stage. What we saw of ACR proved to me yet again that their music is far more enjoyable to listen to on record. I’m sure thousands would disagree.

Off then to the small hall to catch Zounds rattle through their agit-punk racket. Despite being class of ‘77, Zounds have a vibe that is sympathetic in spirit to of the 87-92 acid-house and crust scenes, which, given their background is not really any surprise. What this, (as well as the renewed interest in bands like them and Crass), does give is an immediacy and relevance to their music: out of all the older British punk bands still active, they and the Membranes seem to be the ones who have most successfully mutated into acts that can still knock out a relevant tune. The gig, packed with Curse of The Zounds tracks (as well as ones off their new LP, which on this evidence must be pretty good) was sharp, sparky and tuneful; not to say tinged with a sort of metallic psychedelia that strayed into Soft Boys territory. We got Subvert, which made older types happy and we got the usual chat from Steve Lake; and the audience seemed pretty receptive to that, too. Good stuff.  

After this we ended up wandering about, looking at the vinyl and then flopping down to watch a documentary about the late great Roland S Howard: (I expect a lot of the audience did this, just traipse up and down the stairs in a sort of trance), and then we slid off to the main hall to watch Chameleons Vox. Now this was a treat: Chameleons followed by Bunnymen in the main hall, with only chore in sight being a visit to the bar. The place was packed, absolutely packed, and this was something I had NOT expected: given the fact that it’s been 11 years or so (2002 I think, but best check the Oracle here) since they hit NL’s smaller venues. But here we can see that, (okay I will rephrase that, start again); here, I think I may have a certain argument to expound that good things come out of bad. You see, lots of pretty indifferent bands have taken their template in the meantime and rapaciously mined those rich melancholic, windswept unfocussed feelings that the Dutch pretend not to possess, and re-branded their photocopied muse as a highly successful style of music here in Holland. Editors, Within Temptation, I’m looking at you now. And of course those inquisitive of further kicks inevitably (and quickly, given there Chameleons tracks enough on You Tube) end up hearing the real thing. The real thing…. Matters of band history aside there was enough of the real thing to suspend disbelief it’s been so long. Burgess’s voice and affable, brisk stage presence is still strong enough to hold a big crowd and the band seemed happy on laying down the law with a set that straddled brilliant takes on Second Skin, Swamp Thing, A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days, (God what else? Oh yeah), a brilliant version of Soul In Isolation and it was great to hear Monkeyland…  My only complaint, borne of the fact that now we had them in the hall, blasting out all these tracks was that I really missed Tears, Don’t Fall and Up The Down Escalator but I appreciate I should take what I can get, even if adding these three would have been a ridiculously rich icing on the cake, but we will let it pass, we let it pass. The main thing (and I am more than appreciative of what trouble this may get me in) was hearing these tracks again live, belted out, and given the sort of reception they deserve.

Off to the bar, then a push forward to take position in front of the Bunnymen. Again, like the Chameleons’ set we got a standard festival gig packed full of what made this band one of the most extraordinary and influential acts of the past 30 years. We did get a lot of Crocodiles tracks – no worries there – including a brilliant Pride and All That Jazz. The early stuff was leavened out by some of the more communal songs in their oeuvre;  Bedbugs and Ballyhoo sounded steaming and a great sing-along take of Seven Seas had most swaying along, whilst Rust and Dancing Horses – not my fave tracks I must say – were perfect for this kind of gig.

But it’s funny they seem to favour playing lots of tracks from their most punky, youthful and simple record:  maybe Crocodiles - like the animal itself – has some hidden evergreen, long living power; and tracks like Do It Clean and Rescue do seem to suit Mac’s voice far better nowadays than the gymnastics required for the darker, more complex stuff on Heaven up Here and Porcupine; (oh for a tour of Porcupine, probably will never happen but a girl can dream). So, a professional, tight and occasionally brilliant gig: Mac sounded in good form; his voice seemed a lot stronger and richer: and a sensitive, respectful take on The Killing Moon was in evidence too, no pissing about, which was very welcome… The songs still had that opalescent charm they always did: their worldview is still unique, and can still be glimpsed even after all this time. Their aggressive, psychedelic side also showed itself when Will Sergeant was allowed to rev up the guitar heat on Over The Wall and a blistering take on The Cutter - which at one point threatened to reassemble most people’s brains. Off they went.

And the crowd just wouldn’t let them go, they are a loved band in Holland: we duly got an encore, and the communal sing-along once again struck up with Nothing Lasts Forever and a great groovy take on of lost classic Lips Like Sugar (you really, really wish the recorded version had more bite and drive). Sadly I think the beauty of Nothing Lasts Forever (another genuine classic and one of their truly great songs) will never get away from the tyrannical clutches of Walk on the Wild Side: when that doobiedoo shit starts up I go for my piss break; but the crowd loved it, went wild, if you’ll excuse the pun and if they go wild what can I do?  Nada.

Then we caught Ice Age who were fab, their brittle, metallic existential punk ripping up the crowd. I know they were fab, they were just fab. The really sad thing is I can't remember enough to write about the fact that they were more than fab, or what made them fab. Sorry.

But gripes and the effects of the fruits of the vintner's trade aside, a jolly good time was had by all and into the night we went, happy as Larry, down the pub, off to tell stories with friends old, new, famous and obscure. We’re all in the gutter, but some are looking at the kerb, la.  Wonder who Grauzone will unearth next year, Amon Düül II?

*The main concern for this festy – should they do it again - must be to get the huge amount of guest list places (and that GL queue was like the Tribe of Israel at one point), out of the hands of people affluent and old enough to have coughed up the 35 euros ticket price: a price that was no doubt out of reach of people young and hungry enough to have wanted to come. Or at least get a donation from the older bunch.  As it was we assuaged our AAA guilt and ended up paying two people in, not really through any sudden flash of charitable feeling, more that we didn’t want to lose our amusing drinking pals - and we can’t be seen to be a pair of bloody hippies now can we?