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State-X New Forms Festival: Day 1

img  Tobias

“Could you please turn the monitor for the Cello a little bit louder?” We’re ten minutes into the first set of the evening and already, the State-X New Forms Festival is proving itself the ultimate Crossover experience it had promised to be. This, after all, is not a classical concert but the gig of a band equipped with electrified guitars, drums and an array of electronic effects – hardly the place one usually identifies with a string section. I’m sitting on a stool in a concrete basement, the name of the band is Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat and things are off to a flying start.

Just an hour earlier, the place was still all but empty, anticipation growing with every minute of “Dronevolk”, a sixty minute documentary on the Belgian folk and drone scene, shown as an appetizer to the performance. Director Jef Mertens has followed four of the genre’s main protagonists, catching their motivations and music in short sentences and extensive video sequences, shot mainly at the famous Kraak Festival.

For me, at least, “Dronevolk” is a first introduction to the work of projects such as “Bear Bones, Lay Low”, “Ignatz” and “Silvester Anfang” and it opens up a whole new cosmos of fascinating sounds, full of pulsating guitar walls and meditative rhythms created by Shaman-like banging on bells, shakers and tambourine. “Dronevolk” has turned out a timelessly unspectacular but all the more intimate portrait, focussing on nothing but the essence and leaving hype and medial mysticism far behind. While it is not all too well spent for the largest part of the audience, who are hungry to get on with it, a small section of the crowd has sat down to follow the images attentively.

Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat
But then, of course, we’re on a live festival. As Stef Heeren enters the small stage in the corner of the basement together with the other stage members of Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat, there is suddenly a cluster of hungry fans standing round him, ready to absorb every word and every heartfelt, churned-out chord.

Heeren has played in Punk bands before, but it is obvious that his new brainchild has little to do with that any more. Anarchism and a sense of somberness are still points of the compass in his search for truth, but they are now embedded in a mesmerising and darkly beautiful ambiance of meditative mediaeval storytelling, molten into a frozen-lava monolith of razorsharp harmonies, a visionary vocal delivery and dense musical textures. Kiss The Anus Of a Black Cat are the present-day version of jugglers and players, singing of strange places and bizarre events at the border of apperception.

Heeren, who is all soft and friendly in his announcements in between songs, leanes into the microphone with everything he has, eyes wide open and his throat exploding as he builds up the pressure with each syllable. After what probably constitutes the most intoxicating moment of their set, he tears a string and needs to take a short break. Just five minutes later, he is back in full flight again. While his guitar provides the melodies, his backing band builds multilayered drones, supported by a magnetic bass, a sweet cello and a trance-indusing drumset. In the 70s, this would have been called psychedelic rock, but Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat make a point of strictly ending their pieces before boredom gets the chance to strike. A raw and yet finely nuanced performance of surreal majesty.

Food For Animals
I then wander over to the big stage, where a complete change of scenery awaits me. The podium is empty, except for a small table with an iBook over which a slender figure is standing, bent in complete concentration. On his left and right, two men are positioned with microphones in their hands, one of the sporting a wildgrowing beard and a pullover with different dogs breeds on them. This is Food For Animals, but their “perfect grandson” appearance only holds for a second or so. As the beats set in, the men start jumping, running, rocking and rapping and we’re in for the biggest party of the evening.

Food For Animals have a background in Noise, but the shredded chains of hihats and the utter distorted sine wave massacre they unleash on their audience always have an upbeat twist to them, surfing on a tidal wave of energy with a smile. Next to the eclectic and lightningspeed rhymes of the front duo, Food For Animals boasts Ricky Rabbit, a highly dynamic beatbuilder. As it turns out, this is the man behind the iBook and his minimal, but suggestive arrangements have a strong digi-funk aspect to them. Most of all, however, they have a gargantuan bass flowing underneath, sending low streams of radiation into the hall.

For a moment, I have to hold on to my hat, afraid it could be blown away by these rippling waves. But as the concert progresses, the vibrations turn into a kind of aural massage and the mood brightens more and more. While Food For Animals may not be reinventing HipHop as such, their enthusiasm is contagious and they have plenty of catchy tunes and irresistible lines in their luggage. They finish, discuss with the organisors of the State-X New Forms Festival to be granted three more tracks, finish again and carve out yet another deal for one last title. Food For Animals don’t want to stop tonight and the public, at first reserved, then empathetic, doesn’t want them to either.

I make use of the small intermission to check out the location a bit more. The “Paard” has always been The Hague’s number one club, but it had to be closed down for repair work for a number of years. Its return has been triumphant and it is easy to see, why. This is an up-to-date concert location, with a big and a small stage and plenty of space in between the two. This space is taken up by stands with Vinyl, CDs and t-shirts of the bands performing over these two days.

Already now I can tell that the State-X New Forms has done a good job. The Friday had been completely sold out for months, but still the place is not crammed. You can move from one hall to the next easily and without the usual traffic jams. The place looks bright and inviting and there are happy faces everywhere. Instead of the typical pizza and fries, the kitchen offers goat cheese and pesto sandwiches and drinks are priced at a sympathetic 2 Euros. Security guards are always present, but never obtrusively so. If there is something to complain about, it must be the fact that it is seemingly impossible to find a place of silence at the State-X New Forms Festival: Even the Foyer has been turned into a club with DJs and VJs mixing visuals with sounds in a sportive multimedia battle. On the other hand, the quality is high everywhere I go.

Jackson and his Computerband
The big hall has become more packed by now, as Jackson and his Computerband take the stage. Hailed as one of the more important French Dance acts of the past years, Jackson Fourgeaud has turned into a favourite both in his homecountry and all around the world thanks to a deal with seminal record company Warp. The Press information stresses the importance of his family ties, as Fourgeaud likes to invite his mother, his grandma, sister as well as his four-year old niece to his sessions. But tonight, Jackson has left all of them at home to engage in a dialogue with his computerband.

Essentially, this is a regular one-man-and-his-laptop performance, but Fourgeaud somehow manages to take it into risky waters. For almost three quarters of an hour, he changes beats and styles at half-minute intervals, turning his appearance into a vortexian megamix. It is an almost confrontational concert. You can hardly dance to it, for the sheer speed of the changes and there is no real flow to it either, as each new sequence takes time to build up from scratch again. On the other hand, Jackson and his Computerband is clearly a techno-oriented project, which feeds from its physical qualities instead of intellectual concepts. The first reaction is a bit of confusion, therefore. In the final quarter of the gig, however, the individual passages get longer, more hypnotic and steamy and at the sounding out of the last note, Fourgeaud has won over the crowd completely.

In the meantime, KILLL (pictured) have already started playing on the small stage. When I enter the room at just before two o’clock in the morning, I am witness to the most bewildering site of the State-X New Forms Festival in 2007 thus far. In front of a multicoloured screen, four men are bending into the most unhealthy postures, their anguishes twisted as if in a fit. While the drummer has his eyes in a glaucomic gaze, the two figures in front move and look so much alike that they appear to be mirrored by an invisible device somewhere.

The walls are plastered with warnings, that the KILLL lightshow can “cause epilepsy” and the results are right in your face: Bathing in a continous strobe thunderstorm, the mind is hard pressed to find peace, as the musicians on stage are hammering out the same powerchord for minutes in a row. Everything is pressed to the max: The volume, the stage act, the dynamics. I go to order a glass of water at the bar and am almost served three beer. All around, people are checking their ear plugs, afraid they could be pressed from the shells and expose the fragile inside to this sheer noise terror.

It is more than obvious that KILLL have made a name for themselves by acting against all the rules of the game: Their performance is close to insanity, their intensity aggressive and oppositional and they have vowed never to release an album. Next to the monochordal guitar and bass riffing, the threepiece is supported by an industrial keyboard act, which sends shockwaves of sound and carricaturesque organ solos at intermittent intervals. Occasionaly, barked vocals will end a piece, but other than the gig is an instrumental neverending aural attack.

Even though the avant-garde nature of the project is obvious, there is also room for humour. At one stage, percussionist Martin Horntveth even provides for a Donald Duck impersonation – at a felt level of 1.000 Decibel, of course. With this complete madness, the band systematically empties the room, even though a small crowd of true fanatics groups itself even tighter together in front of the stage. Which is a bit unfortunate, because there are moments of incomprehensible beauty, when the fourpiece allows their feedback to meander slowly through the room, breaking through the surface with tender noise splinters and spacey effects. All in all, a memorable event of the first night of the State-X New Forms Festival, albeit hardly the most listenable one.

Aphex Twin
And so the evening goes into the final round. It is time for the absolute headliner of this year’s edition of the State-X New Forms festival: Aphex Twin. Few people have managed to fit the image of the computer nerd more, few have managed to transcendend it like he has. Back in the 90s, people were already comparing him to Mozart. By now he has attained an almost untouchable status. After a long absence, Aphex Twin returned under a different alias (AFX) and churned out a string of limited singles of strictly oldschool music for a year, which, out of the blue, turned into a remarkable success story.

Noone seems to be bothered about the fact that his act tonight is a mere DJ set either. And why should they? Behind an oversized, gloomy red-glowing light bulb, Richard D. James spins record after record as if in David Lynch movie, transporting the crowd into a world of melodic bass lines, loveable alien sequencer snippets and 80s hiphop drumkits. The borders between electro, rave, house and artificially intelligent techno are becoming irrelevant, as Aphex Twin glues them together in one long tension arch. Much more than about genre, his set is about sound, the colourful palette shimmering like a corona over the ecstatic mob.

Clearly, everybody has waited for this. Even though James is anything but a technically brilliant DJ, his gig has something so many others painfully lack: Ambiance and personality. The timbres are mysterious and sensual, the mood is always optimistic and full of longing. Where he gets these records from will remain his little secret and it doesn’t really matter anyway. Each of these tunes could be an Aphex Twin original and with the amount of unreleased material still supposedly lying in his archives, they just as well could be.

This party could go on forever and there is still the DJ set by Mogwai in the pipeline. But after roughly five hours of music, I decide to catch my bus home to stay fit for the second night of the State-X New Forms Festival and concerts by equally gifted people: Fear Falls Burning, SUNN O))) and Jesu.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: State-X New Forms Festival

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