The Dome & The Boston Music Room, Tufnell Park, London
Saturday, 29th February 2020
Ten Years of Chaos, from Chaos Theory. Wow! Just, wow! What an incredibly well-organised and co-ordinated gig. Full credit to Kunal Singhal and team, as (while there were a few minor hitches along the way) the day flowed very smoothly, with it being possible to almost see every band play their set in its entirety, if one chose to do so. It was also my first time at the famed Dome and Boston Music Room at Tufnell Park, which so many artists I love have played over the years, and it’s such a wonderful pair of venues which work incredibly well together for staging this sort of event.
Unfortunately, thanks to Kings Cross station being closed over the weekend, I had to travel to Liverpool Street, which pretty much doubled my travel time. This meant I was later arriving than I would have liked – but even worse that I would have to leave before the final set of the night, and Zu were one of the acts I particularly wanted to see! And although I arrived too late to catch the start of David Terry’s set, I was surprised to find a queue to get in so early in the day. Not a large queue, admittedly, but a queue nevertheless. David Terry is a member of drone/doom band Bong, but was performing solo in the opening set of the Chaos Theory gig. With only voice, accordion and reverb, Terry created glorious heavy drones, full of darkness and melancholy, and sounding quite ancient. It was incredibly impressive to watch and hear, so I’m glad I managed to catch as much of the set as I did. After this, it was up the set of steps for the first time of many, to see the second act. [Dave Terry Bandcamp]
Lush Worker is Mike Vest, and I was quite excited to hear what he sounded like live as I had only just acquainted myself with his music a couple of weeks ago, via the band OZO and their incredible EP Saturn (released 7th February 2020). I couldn’t help but compare and contrast Vest’s performance to Terry’s, as it too provided the harmonics of drones, but unlike Terry, in no way could you describe the sounds of Vest as ancient. Primitive, perhaps, but most definitely modern. It’s a good thing I wasn’t hoping to see Vest perform, so much as hear him, as he spent the entire set standing stock-still, and facing away from the audience. Luckily there is so much going on in his sound that it really doesn’t matter. I would highly recommend checking out Mike Vest’s work with OZO and as Lushworker, on his Bandcamp page.
Because there had been a delay in Lush Worker beginning his set, there was an overrun between his and that of Ante-Inferno downstairs. But after making my way down, I can’t say I really enjoyed the sound of the band. Plenty of others were though, and by my estimates, more people were watching Ante-Inferno than had been Lush Worker. [Ante-Inferno Bandcamp]
I decided to head back upstairs, and have a quiet beer, while I watched the Chaos Theory teamwork to set up the next act, Mai Mai Mai [see Bandcamp]. The benefit of this is I got to see what Italian artist Toni Cutrone looks like – as he played his set with his face covered by a hood. Although I did like Mai Mai Mai enough to make a mental note to check out his Nel Sud album, from which he was performing pieces, I didn’t stay for the whole set. Reading up now, his performance makes a lot more sense, and perhaps I might have enjoyed it more if I had checked Mai Mai Mai out before attending Ten Years of Chaos. (I deliberately chose not to because I wanted to hear everything I didn’t know with fresh ears, and overall I’m glad I took this approach.)
From Bandcamp: “Nel Sud continues to explore Mediterranean history yet does so with a different sense of ambition. A journey into the past of the Italian south, realized through original footage taken from Italian ethno-documentaries made during the 1960s and ’70s, Nel Sud is intended as an original soundtrack and is mixed with sounds from the original films.” I presume it was footage from those films which were being projected on the backdrop behind Mai Mai Mai. It was a quite intense sound (the blurb on Bandcamp calls it “punishing”, which isn’t far from the truth). I like a bit of punishment now and then, but I guess I wasn’t ready for it so early in the day. So, as VASA were the first band I was actually familiar with, and was looking forward to seeing, I wandered back downstairs to watch their soundcheck instead of staying for the remainder of Mai Mai Mai’s set.
Just watching VASA soundcheck was enjoyable, and it was noticeable that it appeared to not just be me, for whom VASA were the first band of the Ten Years of Chaos line-up to be of real interest. More and more people drifted in, and VASA were the first band to fill the Boston Music Room – albeit not in so crowded a fashion as it would be later on in the day. The growing crowd were certainly rewarded for coming to Ten Years of Chaos so early in the day. VASA live are even better than they sound on their studio recordings. They actually reminded me a little of Sunny Day Real Estate, in aesthetic if not necessarily sound. Maybe that’s why I like VASA so much, because I’ve always loved SDRE. Prior to the day, I’d interviewed Niall MacRae, drummer for VASA, and asked him who he thought would be most looking forward to seeing them play. Niall answered that he thought it would be Kunal Singhal, and as Kunal was only about a metre from me and obviously thoroughly enjoying the set, I don’t think he was wrong. One of the most amusing quotes of the day has to go to bassist John Niblock for coming up with “pubes” as a reason to celebrate ten years. This is apparently why he does not get a microphone… [VASA bandcamp]
I spoke to Kunal after the set, and because he knew I had only recently discovered VASA, he asked what I thought of their set. I told him, quite truthfully, that they had blown me away; and then, more jokingly, that I could actually go home quite happy without seeing another act. Kunal replied that he was sure I would continue to be blown away throughout the day, and, of course, he was right. I left Kunal to grab himself something to eat, while I headed up to see Norwegian band Arabrot [see Bandcamp]. I had missed the beginning of their set, because I had been talking to Kunal, but I wasn’t terribly worried, as they were playing again later in the day according to the list of set-times. As it happened, I decided that I was feeling hungrier for food, than I was for music, and although I enjoyed what I heard, it wasn’t enough to stop me sneaking away to grab some lunch. I figured that I could always catch their second set later in the day. This would be the closest I come to regret, as this ended up being as much as I saw of Arabrot. That said, the vegan curry and noodles with sweet potato chips being served by the onsite caterers was pretty damn good, so…
I ate my lunch at a table in the Boston Music Room while I watched Memory of Elephants soundcheck. This was a band I wanted to check out, not because I knew about them, but because Niall from VASA had recommended them to me as a band he thought I’d enjoy. It would appear there is a bit of a mutual appreciation society between the two bands, as all three members of Memory of Elephants were wearing VASA t-shirts, and John and Blaine from VASA were visible watching from the side, clearly enjoying the set. And with good reason. These guys are (excuse the awful pun) mammoth! Their Bandcamp page says it best: “a riotous blast of pure joy, comprising the energy and carefree attitude of punk, the virtuosic musicianship of jazz and math rock, the sprawling sonic journeys of prog, and the sheer feel-good factor of pop rock and disco.“ The band were having a blast playing, and their joy was infectious. I will definitely be buying their back catalogue!
It was back upstairs now to what felt like a natural conclusion to the first half of the gig. Vodun [see Bandcamp], for me, are a headline act. There were a few times throughout the day where I wondered why a band would be upstairs or downstairs, or why they would be appearing at the time of day they appeared. I think I reconciled Vodun coming so early in the day by considering them the headline act for the first half of Ten Years of Chaos. I would have thought they were a more well-known band, and therefore a bigger drawcard than some of the later acts. Regardless, they put on an awesome performance of heavy guitar and sax, powerful vocals, and West African rhythms. Vodun’s debut album was amazing. Their follow-up even better. Live they are better again.
Chantal Brown’s voice was perhaps a little too low in the mix for my liking, but apart from that, the sound was perfect. I loved the sax, and it seems that Vodun are increasing the presence of Oli Sellwood’s baritone sax in their music – which is fine by me, as I love the sax. I loved the drums, and new drummer Lorena Cochito is a wonderful replacement for Zel Kaute. I loved the percussion of Anselmo Netto, which added so much to the sound of the band, and was entrancing to watch. I loved that my fellow Kiwi, Linz Hamilton, noticed my Otago rugby jersey, and of course his slabs of heavy guitar. The backing vocalist, who I found out is Chantal’s mum, Deborah, was also so good. It was all good. Very good. So good.
A perfect way to end the day. Except it wasn’t, which took my head awhile to get around. I felt the need to take some time out, before heading back into the action. There was more to come. So much more!
Ten Years of Chaos was a gig of two halves for me. The first half ended with Vodun’s magnificent performance. I should have been trooping downstairs with the rest of the audience after their set finished, but it somehow didn’t feel right. Maybe if I knew who Gold were I might have felt differently, but I’m not entirely sure. Vodun was one of the bands I had been particularly looking forward to seeing, and they hadn’t disappointed. I decided instead to grab a beer, and only once I was feeling ready to get back into it did I head downstairs. I possibly should have gone down earlier. Dutch band Gold were really quite good. But even though I liked what I was hearing, I wasn’t really in the mood. I guess I wasn’t as ready to get back into the music as I had thought. [Gold Bandcamp]
Effectively, then, the second half of the day started for me with Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard. They had a bit of an extended soundcheck, while the Chaos Theory crew made running repairs on the projector. By the time the band started playing, there was quite a crowd to see them. For many people who work weekends, MWWB were realistically the first band they would be able to catch, so in a way, they had a prime slot. Whether or not this was the reason, the volume level of the bands seemed to have been upped from this point. MWWB were definitely the loudest band to have played at this point. It was a wonderful wall of sound, and the only thing that was disappointing was that the beautiful vocals of Jessica Ball were somewhat lost in the mix. I was glad I was able to hear her at soundcheck, but I do wish her vocals had been more audible during the set. The two things that really set MWWB apart from the many doom bands out there are Ball’s vocals, and the electronic blips and bleeps that enhance the cosmic psychedelic vibe of the doom. It’s a sludgy shoegaze that looks to the stars, rather than the floor. The band were amazing, and the audience loved it – as did I – but just as with Vodun, I wish the vocals had been a little higher in the mix. [MWWB Bandcamp]
Heading downstairs after MMWB, I had no idea what was awaiting me. Furia was the greatest discovery of the day for me. I had never heard of them, but they are apparently a long-established and well-loved band from Poland, with quite an international following – and a very devoted local one too. One of the people crammed in by me explained that he has come because his Polish housemate had bigged up the band so much and that a lot of the audience had come over from Poland just to see the band play. That much was evident by their being able to sing along to songs in a way no English fan has any hope of doing.
When the band first took the stage, I admit to being worried. In appearance, with their white makeup with blackened eyes, they looked like a stereotypical black metal band – and there’s really not a lot of black metal that I like. When the first growls came out, I thought my fears had been verified. And yet? And yet, the music was so good. And the harsh vocals really weren’t so harsh. If they didn’t look black metal I’d never have even thought to describe them as such. It turns out, on looking them up once I got home, that the band have largely left their black metal roots behind them. In a way, I’m reminded of fellow Polish band Tenebris, who started out as a death metal band but would not really be mistaken for one these days. Furia played one of my favourite sets out of the entire line-up. Because I was up the front (being assaulted by the flailing long hair of the headbangers), I was able to take a photo of the set list, so that I could look up the songs I particularly enjoyed. Some bands are better in the studio, and some are better live. Having listened to the songs again, Furia’s live performances were so much better. I like the studio versions, and I will be buying the albums, but I loved the band live! [Furia Bandcamp]
After being blown away by Furia, there was great potential to be brought back down to Earth by Undersmile – another band I’d not heard of. I ended up standing beside someone I’d stood beside earlier in the day (during Memory of Elephants’ set), and he remarked how surprising it was that Furia played downstairs. It was definitely the most crowded I noticed the Boston Music Room, and I couldn’t help but agree. I relayed my worry that Undersmile might be a disappointment in comparison, and he went on to tell me how good they would be. He was right, and I probably should acquiesce to his one-word synopsis of the band’s set: “Magnificent!” I had an inkling I was going to enjoy Undersmile’s set, as I managed to catch some of their soundcheck, but I had no idea of just how much impact the band has. Harking back to the drones which started the day, the two female vocalists and guitar players, then switching to shouts which approached the harsh vocals of extreme metal, used the dynamics of their music to dramatic effect. The rhythm section of their partners (as, if I understood my neighbour in the audience correctly, the band is composed of two couples) was immense. I still prefer Furia, but Undersmile were amazing, and definitely not at all disappointing. [Undersmile Bandcamp]
It was then back downstairs to see Nøught. In a couple of months, the Dome and Boston Music Room will be the venue for Raw Power, and the BIG drawcard for that festival is the return of Chrome Hoof. Many people have lent their talents to that band, and I heard a lot of talk and conjecture over who might be in this (re)incarnation for Raw Power. (A recent interview with Chantal Brown from Vodun, mentions that she is busy with Chrome Hoof, and that Vodun will be playing Raw Power.) Two people with Chrome Hoof history were playing Ten Years of Chaos. I’d already seen, the aforementioned Chantal Brown play with Vodun, and I was about to see James Sedwards play with Nøught. Their set was easily another of my favourites from the day. I was expecting to enjoy their performance, but nowhere near as much as I did. Holy heck, these guys can play! Possibly the most virtuoso musicians of the day? Nøught play a brilliant and breathtaking avant jazz fusion with hints of Krautrock. They sound nothing like either King Crimson or Can, yet in terms of comparing their music to others, that’s as close as I can get. Heavy, jazzy, and delicious. I wish they would release more of their music. As far as I’m aware, they have released only one album (over a decade ago, and almost impossible to come by).
During Nøught’s set, James Sedwards made a little speech thanking Kunal. It drew some of the biggest applause of the evening, and it was thoroughly deserved (even if Kunal joked that he had paid Sedwards to say it). Kunal Singhal was the most enthusiastic and convivial host ever. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had managed to talk to everyone who turned up. He was everywhere, and if he wasn’t completely enthralled with the music, dancing like a fully charged Duracell bunny, he was giving someone a hug. The world needs more Kunal Singhals. (And he didn’t pay me to say that either!)
The next band on the bill was Teeth of the Sea – a band I really wanted to see, and I admit that I had been intending on leaving just before Nøught finished their set, to ensure I got a good spot for TotS. But damnit, Nøught were so good that even though I knew they were going to overrun, and that I’d miss the beginning of TotS’s set if they started on time, I couldn’t tear myself away. As soon as Nøught finished, I made a beeline for the stairs. I had, unfortunately, missed the beginning of the set, but I don’t think I missed too much. I managed to make my way across to a position in front of Sam Barton, because his trumpet playing is my favourite aspect of Teeth of the Sea.
Teeth of the Sea were incredible (and, as I had been forewarned, incredibly loud), and after their set, I decided that I wouldn’t go and see Arabrot’s second set after all. I knew I wouldn’t really appreciate it, after TotS, and it looked like I wasn’t the only one. Though when people moved from one venue to the other, some stayed behind, I never noticed as many stay behind as after TotS. A lot of us took the opportunity to just sit down on the floor against the wall and chill. I suspect that for many people who attended Ten Years of Chaos, TotS would have been the best act. Visually they stole the show, and no one else came close. I definitely needed time to process it all, and unfortunately Arabrot took the hit. [Teeth of the Sea Bandcamp]
I got back up when Zu started to soundcheck. Knowing I was going to have to leave before they finished their set if I wanted to ensure I could catch the last train home, I wanted to see and hear as much as I could. It was hard to fully immerse myself in the heavy grooviness of the band, when I had to keep one eye on the time, and that did distract and detract from the performance. But that was certainly through no fault of the band, who ploughed through jazzy pieces blacker than anything Shining ever released, yet brimming with beauty. Luckily, I was able to see the set-list, so if they stuck to that (and I assume they did), I missed out only on one piece. There’s not much I can say about Zu. They were as amazing as I expected them to be, and were a joy to listen to and watch.
I only wish I could have stuck around to see them play their full set. I’d also have liked to thank Kunal before I left. As I didn’t, I’ll do so here. Thank you Kunal, for ten years of Chaos Theory, and Ten Years of Chaos. [Zu Bandcamp]