Cosmic Ordnance and Arthropodic Degeneracy: The Last Raw Power Festival, 2022
A raw and powerful review of Raw Power Festival.
(This live review was written by Rory Hughes. Photography: Melissa Dylan and PJ)
As Camden High Street goes the way of the West End, and other tourist hotspots, with Xeroxed American Candy shops popping up everywhere like polychromic pimples; and with ticket and pint prices at the iconic venues—The Underworld, The Electric Ballroom, KOKO, The Black Heart—ever increasing, punters have been given hope two stops Northbound in the shape of The Dome, and its conjoined twin venue, The Boston Music Room. Both were established in 1981 and have since become increasingly on the radar as fantastic alternative spaces for all that is heavy, experimental and leftfield. Promoters Baba Yaga’s Hut have hosted countless events at the venues, including Raw Power Festival, which had its first run at Corsica Studios in 2014 and has since sported several eclectic line-ups, crashing together the cosmic soundscapes of rock, psych, metal, noise, electronic and experimental. It was revealed during the plugging of the 2022 fest that it would be their last.
Power duo Kulk kicked off the proceedings with a kinetic set of blistering doom and primordial hardcore vocals; driving percussion, sparse and punishing; down-tuned HM-2 Boss pedal-powered riffs hardly given space to sustain before culminating in monstrous throes of feedback; a unique spectacle to their set was vocalist/guitarist Thom Longdin’s unabashed and cohesive mid-song tunings that were expanded into astral raga drones. The sheer energy of this first act of the festival was a good omen.
I was lucky enough to speak with the Norwich-based couple post-set, who both expressed that nerves were high as the festival’s opening act. Taking influences from the Melvins and the UK metal scenes, when questioned on how their cohabiting partnership impacts the creative process, they proudly confirmed that it only made it easier to tell the other “whether it sucks or not.”
South Londoners X’ed Out delivered an angsty onslaught of eclecticism, brazenly throwing stylistic consistency to the wind with noise rock guitars, emoviolent screams, chaotic trumpet wails, mathy interventions; psyched-out sludge-jazz in Doc Martens and shredded denim.
Luminous Bodies were a weekend highlight, bringing Day 1 to a sweaty end with hedonistic gusto: pummelling psych-noise riffs, destructive grooves, blistering leads and raw, unpredictable vocals; a hellwards saturnalia of acidic hypersludge and untethered cacophony. Returning from a mid-set smoke break, it was not without some degree of surprise when I witnessed members of the crowd being ejaculated on by lobster people.
Post-set, a brief and suitably confusing interview with singer/guitarist Gordon Watson gave me little insight into the reasoning behind the invasion. Jousting? Psychoactives? Mating rituals? I sought out one of the lobster people in the interest of furthering my investigation. When interrogated about the liquid materials used to formulate the ejaculate he looked at me with dead aquatic eyes and told me things that I felt I made a sensible journalistic decision to not record, and never repeat.
That would be the last and perhaps only responsible decision I would make that evening, for when presented with the options of a) go home to rest and recuperate for Day 2, or b) jump in a cab with a motley crusade of libertines and crustaceans, destination oh so unknown, what choice did I have, really.
I woke up smelling of bourbon, shame and seafood. Two hours of sleep might have been plenty ten years ago, but I needed a few eye-openers and a full English to set me straight. Feeling suitably ill, I was back inside, wobbling at the bar, eyeballing my jack and coke, apprehensive.
In my periphery, I saw the men’s bathroom door slowly open, and from behind it peeked a black eye like a marble on a red stalk, and then a dirty claw, beckoning. I turned to the barman, who having seen the exchange, nodded gravely towards the bathroom. What kind of establishment was this?
Benefits were a stand-out act of the day, delivering a lyrical diatribe of British anarchist
rhetoric over distorted electro-punk with the kind of transgressive urgency of early power
electronics; poetry in one of its most naked and distressing forms.
Nottingham no-fucks outfit Bloody Head brought rapturous apocalyptic riffdom with seamless energy throughout; not quite post-hardcore, not noise rock, not quite psychedelia, not transcendent of scenes or sounds or politics or punk, just after the fact: nothing left to protest, just barricades to be broken, beers to be shotgunned, amps to be burst and throats to be bled.
Tokyo trio Minami Deutsch filled every inch of the venue with their kosmische walls of sound and the unrelenting echoes of the krautrock pioneers of the early 1970s; ever-building grooves, desert jams, proggy whims and driven tangents of malfunctioning robot rock; a chillout for some, a freakout for others, and with visualizers to fit.
A short-lived breather, for when Sheffield-based Kurokama hit the stage, they brought with them all dominion and agony that could be summoned from their respective instruments; towering riffs and hateful, rasping vocals, subdoom guitar tones that would make Conan blush; and a step beyond their peers in the UK low-and-slow scenes with their unique, percussive tribal passages.
Gnod headlined the second night with an onslaught of terminal riffs and psychedelic machinations; their two-drummer setup and avant-garde meanderings kept the crowd curious but it was the devastating low-tuned riffs, splintering feedback and slide guitar hysterics that brought Day 2 to its zenith. One of those bands whose true propensity for volume and dynamics cannot be contained in the studio and is best seen in the flesh.
The night was not quite over, however. Earlier in the day, I had been lucky enough to chat backstage with Wayne Adams of Petbrick and Big Lad. Formerly a breakcore producer, under the pseudonym Ladyscraper, we discussed the relevance of the genre, what it should and shouldn’t have been and the amen break as an addictive sonic constituent that will inevitably raise its head every once in a while and find itself merged with newer, even more incongruent musical forms. Pontifications aside, Adams put the night to bed writhing and convulsing with an irreverent laptop playlist of breakneck junglism and gabba kicks. Not everyone needed it, but for the sweat-drenched harem of hyperjunglist beat addicts, it was a necessary poison.
So set the tone for the second evening, and another night with the lobster people, this time, lured to their nest. On the way down, my photographer and I decided it would be best we keep our wits about us, in case of trouble. Upon arrival, our wits were discarded almost instantly as they provided us with refreshments and even shared with us some of their potions.
They communicated to us their ways and beliefs, their desires and plans for integration. The lobster people and us, we were not dissimilar.
The morning of the final day, the smell of seafood had worsened. My photographer sat me down, took the beer from my hand, implored that I please cease my ramblings about lobster people and take a shower. I agreed to the shower and nothing more.
Punters were arriving even later today, half-washed and half-sentient but fully willing, queueing patiently for hairs of dogs that had bit and ravaged them, torn at their jugulars.
Former Bong frontman David Terry turned his mastery of the monotone to more ambitious and curious realms, giving us an interminable wall of drone using just an accordion and the monastic tones of his voice; hypnotizing, time-collapsing, one of the more unique and even celestial moments of the weekend… and yet somehow had the gall to conclude this all with a cover of Sabrina’s 1987 italo disco hit ‘Boys (Summertime Love)’. Boys, boys, boys…
Newcastle female power duo Penance Stare, brought a much needed blackened edge to the day, blending jagged atonal riffs and unusually explorative percussion; the vocals were particularly refreshing, eschewing black metal archetypes in favour of sharp screamoviolence yelps; a violent and sepulchral performance.
The Irish entourage M(h)aol were another group immune to categorisation, the vocalist taking the stage with post-gender spoken-word oratory and backed by derisive guitar-play and no-frills drums; minimal lo-fi party punk with a deadly lyrical bite.
Mighty Lord Deathman was one of the few electronic performances of the weekend: a leftfield modular techno set, mixing the minimal, the acidic, the tribalistic and the retrofuturistic with outsider arrangements and bipolar synthwork.
The festival had been blessed with a handful of bizarre and expressive performances but none as peculiar as the one given by Irish three-piece Pretty Happy. Surrealist lyrical interplay with a driving post-punk rhythm section and occasional explosive passages of tantrumous guitar and untethered vocals.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs needed regular abbreviating but little introduction. Having gained such a reputation over the decade, and having played Raw Power before, they seemed a natural weekend headliner, and what a performance: psych-garage riffs, sludgy blasts, slow jams; segues of cosmic synth; primitive no fucks slacker sludge; the front man as always in his primal state, spasmodic or crawling on all fours; moments of pure discord that disintegrated as quickly as they’d erupted; so many calms, so many storms; no circle pits, just spent bodies, grinning and wide-eyed, bouncing and swaying.
So, this festival is dead, yet long live the musicians; and the musical misfits, the untamed spirits of the underground, the nameless punters, the chin strokers and teeth grinders, the cretins and crustaceans; searching now for the next sonic haven of abused amps, twisted lyricism, never-ending afters, wasted lungs, severed strings, fresh noise and raw power.
As my photographer and I stood out front, finishing our last beer and smoke, we heard the now unmistakable sounds of subaquatic stridulation and clacking claws from behind us. But of course.