Beyond The Redshift Festival Review – 03/05/14

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Post metal has long been used to denote bands with a particular propensity to push boundaries without, perhaps, forging headlong into the dizzying world of progressive rock. The multifarious nature of post rock means that numerous bands exist under its widespread umbrella, although a common thread could be argued to be the emphasis on musicality over conventional performance and an emphasis on light and sound to convey mood rather than theatrical props and audience interaction. Beyond the Redshift is the first UK-based festival to tap into the audio-visual nature of Post rock and, cleverly spread over three venues, it sees a vast array of bands descending upon Kentish town for a day long blast of metallic riffs, windswept ambience, progressive flourishes and even howling departures into the hellish world of black metal.

The first aspect to note is that the organisers of Beyond the Redshift went to an immense amount of effort to ensure that the bands were presented in the best possible light, that the bars were readily accessible and that the sound was top-notch. That they succeeded when spreading their efforts across three venues that were situated some ten minutes apart is a testament to the passion and creativity of the team and the result was a series of shows that will undoubtedly linger long in the memory of the passionate fans who attended, with the only possible gripe being that, with so many good bands, choosing which stage to attend was often a painful decision. Even that, however, is somewhat ameliorated by the genius decision to stagger performances so that festivalgoers were able to at  least catch part of pretty much every band they wanted to see. Moreover, the location of Kentish Town is ideal with plenty of reasonably priced food and drink outlets close to the various stages and the inhabitants seemingly entirely unfazed by the black-clad hordes taking possession of their sleepy suburb. A final shout regarding organisation must surely go the security who got people in and out of the venues with minimal fuss and in a friendly fashion that was most definitely appreciated. It may seem like an odd tribute to pay, but poor venue security (especially when you have to pass between venues) can make or break an event and the team responsible for BTR were invariably excellent.

A festival, no matter how well organised, is only as good as its music however, and Beyond the Redshift, curated by the mighty Cult of Luna excelled in this department. Bearing a line up so wide-reaching and influential that it boasted several bona fide legends within its ranks, Beyond the Redshift set a new standard for festival line ups.

Starting at twelve, the festival became packed remarkably quickly and SonicAbuse’s first experience is the wind-swept conclusion to Swedish band, PG Lost’s set. Playing to a packed-out Dome, the band channel Red Sparrowes, Mogwai and more into a celebratory post rock scree of hypnotic, rather beautiful songs that entrance the assembled throng (already baking despite the relatively early hour) and the only negative is that the band don’t have nearly enough to ply their trade. Clearly ecstatic to be playing such a large crowd in the heart of London, PG Lost deliver a powerful and potent show that sets the bar ludicrously high for the rest of the day.

http://pglost.bandcamp.com/

Next up, and also at the Dome, are Somerset sonic adventurers Blueneck who, despite dubious claims that Somerset is a country, provoke an intense, emotional reaction from the audience. Although possessed of a healthy back catalogue, the band rarely play live and so any show is a spectacular event in its own right, and, despite their early billing, the band damn near steal the day with an intense set comprised of epic, tumultuous music that bears comparisons to early Pink Floyd and Steven Wilson side project No Man. The band only play four, lengthy compositions, but their on stage demeanour which sees them relatively relaxed between songs and yet utterly absorbed in the music whilst playing, is mesmerising and the music, which reaches vivid, cinematic peaks is a glorious reflection of what four people can do when engaged in producing music as an artistic statement rather than a commercial product. The result is spell-binding and you are strongly advised to stop whatever you’re doing and head on over to the band’s Bandcamp page before you go any further.

http://blueneckuk.bandcamp.com/

It may be daylight outside, but all inside the Forum is pitch black in preparation for the coming of a true monster. Shrouded in black and wreathed in smoke, Amenra come second only to those masters of nihilism, Neurosis, in terms of delivering slabs of crushing, neo-psychedelic intensity. A photographer’s nightmare (indeed, the band’s set had yours truly pulling at his rapidly receding hair in despair), the band perform exclusively to a flickering, black and white projected backdrop and their ritualistic performance, the band exiling inner-demons with raging, metallic tsunamis of noise, draws an appreciative and vocal crowd. From the off, Amenra play as if they’re headlining, the dense smoke and apocalyptic images, offset by the occasional blinding flash of light, only adding to the immensely claustrophobic feel of the band’s towering performance. Opening to the stuttering, static-laden dread of ‘The pain it is shapeless We are your shapeless pain’, the band are never less than enthralling, with tracks like the Isis-esque ‘Razoreater’ devastating the venue and the drawn-out close of ‘silver needle. Golden nail’ cementing the band’s reputation as masters of sonic exploration.

In contrast to Amenra’s dark fire, Jesu deal in light and shade, even in their more punishing live incarnation. Treading a unique path that wanders between sub-sonic doom and pastoral beauty, Justin’s rich vocals and tar-corrupted guitars cut straight through the murky, beery haze of the Forum bringing a uniquely positive vibe to otherwise coruscating sounds. Much heavier live than on record, the processed drums seep up from the bowels of the earth and scrape against the pulverising bass to form a monstrous neo-industrial backdrop upon which Justin daubs glistening, guitar-led soundscapes. Despite technical hitches at the outset, Jesu prove once again that the works of Justin Broadrick may well be oft-imitated, but they’re never bettered.

Much anticipated, God is an astronaut’s set is a highlight of Beyond the Redshift. One of the most accessible bands in post rock with huge metallic riffs, a line-up that seems to live for being on stage, occasional snatches of vocals and a searing dynamic that sees them moving between Mogwai-esque indie and huge swathes of metallic muscle with ease, God is an astronaut simply excel, and the hour that they spend on stage passes in the merest blink of an eye. Tracks like ‘Echoes’ stun the crowd, whilst ‘forever lost’ calms the mood only for the tribal might of ‘Worlds in collision’ to send adrenalin levels soaring once more – it’s a varied and intelligently dynamic set list that never lets up for a minute, always drawing the audience deep into the heart of God is an astronaut’s dramatic soundscapes. Electronic augmented drums, ecstatic guitar work and a sense of gloriously sun-dappled wonder pervade the air and, with the band’s fiery performance, the band easily deliver one of the sets of the day despite the relentless competition from all that has gone before.

Standing coldly apart from everything else on the bill, God Seed play atmospheric black metal and features two legends of the metal scene – Gaahl and King Ov Hell. Having formed from the ashes of one version of Gorgoroth (a name dispute with Infernus, the founding member of that band, saw Gaahl and King stripped of the name) God Seed has already had a brief and tumultuous history with the band originally shelved and early material released under the Ov Hell banner with Dimmu Borgir’s Shagrath on vocals. However, with the band reunited and the excellent ‘I begin’ album now on the racks, God Seed are once again a working proposition and they mark their territory by being the most aggressively individual band on the Beyond the Redshift bill. Welding the otherworldly black metal of latter-day Gorgoroth to post rock structures to create a truly horrific communion with the devil that tears through the venue like a Satanic tsunami, brutal yet ritualistic, the band are unfathomably tight and sound simply awesome in the blackened venue, proving themselves to be true explorers of metal’s putrid underbelly. Highlights of the set include a number of well-chosen Gorgoroth covers (‘sign of an open eye’, ‘carving a giant’ ‘wound upon wound’) as well as an array of tracks from ‘I begin’ including ‘Alt Liv’ and ‘Lit’, whilst a guest appearance from Johannes Persson is also welcome. Ultimately though, it is Gaahl who commands the attention. Appearing in a leather jacket and corpse paint, he prowls the stage, engaging the audience with the sheer magnetic force of his personality whilst King Ov Hell attacks his bass like a man possessed. Drawing a smaller crowd than other bands, the band’s extremity may have proved off-putting for some, but for those who stuck around it was one hell of a performance.

Heading back over to the dome, it is a pleasure to catch up with UK rockers Amplifier. More overtly progressive than any other band on the bill, although with a wide-ranging approach that sees the band exist outside of simple genre comparisons, Amplifier play music that fits on the bill precisely because of the band’s steadfast refusal to be pigeonholed – a sense of self-assurance that is highlighted by the fact that the band play a vast array of material from an album not even released as part of their headline slot. With a heavier edge than I’ve noted before, tracks like ‘Rocky’ sound like the Melvins fronted by David Bowie, whilst other moments (‘magic carpet’ & ‘Ominous black rainbow’) recall the magical might of Jane’s Addiction at their most aggressively psychedelic. Quite simply Amplifier rule and they prove to be a fitting conclusion to the events of the Dome stage.

Back to the Forum and it is, sadly, time to conclude the day’s events. Happily, the conclusion is in the form of a very special set from post-rock stalwarts Cult of Luna who unleash a remarkable, atmospheric set to an utterly packed house (the other stages having wisely packed up for the day rather than face competing with these behemoths of the scene).  The night is also somewhat poignant as it stands as the final Cult of Luna gig before they go on indefinite hiatus to regroup following the exertions required in keeping an underground band afloat in these fickle times. Wherever the band go from here is, of course, anybody’s guess as Cult of Luna are masters of the contrary, but their headlining set at Beyond the Redshift is surely the best send off any band could hope for.

How do you even quantify a live performance of such magnitude? With two drummers, three guitarists, a keyboardist and bassist all prowling the sizable stage, an air of the mysterious thanks to the stage being entirely backlit for the majority of the show (causing yet more hair loss for photographers) and a set list that runs the gamut of Cult of Luna’s immense back catalogue, the band’s two hour slot is more than justified by the rabid response of the crowd and the sheer amount of effort that must surely have gone into a production of such scope. Opening with ‘the sweep’, one of the most outré moments from ‘Vertikal’ with its huge, pulsing, synth sounds echoing a nightmare sequence from Apocalypse Now, the band segue neatly into the elegant  ‘Light chaser’ from ‘Vertikal II’. It’s back to ‘Vertikal’ for ‘I, the weapon’ and by this point the band could simply have played arcing feedback for three hours and the audience would have lapped it up. Their show is mesmerising, artistic heavy metal reformed as a towering piece of performance art that pulses with life, light and vitality. It’s never less than awe-inspiring and the show passes all too swiftly, the band deftly building their performance to not one, but two monumental crescendos with both ‘in awe of’ and ‘leave me here’ fitting set closers in their own right. It’s a finale that leaves people dazed and confused by the power of what they have just witnessed and it puts a fitting line under both Cult of Luna (to this point) and the first ever Beyond the Redshift festival.

It’s rare to leave a festival with not a single complaint, but from the organisation to the music and from the availability of food and drink through to the sound mix, everything was arranged perfectly. There were so many bands that SonicAbuse missed out on seeing, but not a single band that we regretted actually watching and it was clear that every band on the bill rose to the challenge of the occasion and played sets befitting the event. What happens next with Cult of Luna is, unfortunately, a question mark, but their headline show at Beyond the Redshift was surely a career highlight of this mercurial and mystical band, whilst the supporting cast of eclectic, engaging artists was never less than enthralling. A near perfect day in the heart of London, Beyond the Redshift was an unqualified success.

Review and photography : Phil Stiles

Feel free to use our pictures, but please take the trouble to credit them!

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