29th February 2020
Review by: Beandog
Photography: Miguel de Melo
Anyone with a liking for experimental sounds and contemporary music will no doubt have heard of Chaos Theory.
The London collective, made up of artists, musicians and like-minded fans of the above, have spent a decade curating musical events for the aurally curious. To date, their mission has centred on knitting together an integrated scene that sources the venues, brings together international performers and attracts an appreciative audience. It’s heartening to acknowledge the unwavering enthusiasm they’ve applied to this cause as they pop the champagne and chalk up their ten year milestone.
Today’s celebration, sub-titled 10 Years Of Chaos, is a generously-laden tribute to a decade of hard work and sustained integrity. True to their past successes, Chaos Theory have brought together a disparate collection of performers, running the gamut of alternative sounds. Black metal, post-rock, ambient improvisation, heavy, progressive, electronic, noise and voodoo-laced riff and roll all make up today’s program of events.
I meet a few old friends and familiar faces on the way in, and as we chat and catch up it is clear we were all hooked into today’s event by a different band… What seems significant is how we all report to have been listening online to the bands we know less well; filling the gaps and building our enthusiasm further. Each of us is carrying a mental, cross-genre checklist of other acts to check out. It appears today is less about being “something for everyone” and more about EVERYONE being interested in EVERYTHING.
The first performance of the day for me is Lush Worker. An ambient set of solo guitar from Mike Vest (primarily known for his work with psychedelic doomsters Bong). Special mention here must go to Vest’s band-mate David Terry, who opened the festival with a haunting accordion soundscape. Unfortunately, due to not-quite-getting-my-shit-together-on-time, I missed his performance. A regrettable mishap, because in the days running up to the weekend I’d been listening to Terry’s gorgeously rendered The White Horse Of The Sun album. A foreboding soundtrack with an ominous but compelling drift. Recommended.
I make my way into the Dome’s main live room where Mike Vest is immersed in a performance that seems jarringly at odds with the bright day I have just left behind. I discover a good sized crowd has already gathered, people are acclimating to the darkness and giving their attention. The bar is open and doing trade, everything seems to be getting underway.
With just a single spotlight to pick him out on an otherwise an unlit stage, Vest stands with his back to the audience and draws out an atmospheric meditation on his guitar, deep into a gently brooding piece that fills the room like a vapour. Those not facing the stage are either gathering in smaller groups near the bar or sitting on the periphery, absorbing the hazy vibrations. It’s a ruminative start – however, anyone caught too deeply in this early contemplation is soon to be shaken from their transcendence, because as Lush Worker’s set comes to an end, the subterranean rumble of the Yorkshire-based, black metallers Ante-Inferno comes thundering from the Boston Music Room downstairs.
Moving from one performance area to another is easy. Credit should go to the production team here, for ensuring the practicalities of running two stages and moving large numbers of people between them goes without a hitch. The two venues are linked by a shared courtyard which provides quick and easy access to The Dome upstairs and the smaller Boston Music Room below it. Those with an appetite for something other than music can satisfy this via the catering tent, which sits in the central courtyard. Vegetarian and vegan diets are catered for, should you not want to go for the spicy meat options. It’s a completely effective set-up that offers seamless simplicity.
In amongst all this, Ante-Inferno are not fucking about. Their formidable, blackened performance heaves and lurches with aggression. They are absolutely pummelling the downstairs bar with a hurricane of double bass drums, tremolo riffing and tortured snarls. It’s a jolt of pure malevolence that feels bracing at this lunchtime hour. I am delighted by the account of an arriving friend who tells me it has started to snow outside and I contemplate how appropriate it is that this icy metal band have brought with them the glacial weather of the Arctic tundra.
The jarring contrast of styles already indicates things could go just about anywhere with no surprises. Indeed, the next performance takes another musical turn, albeit one that maintains a disconcerting centre.
Mai Mai Mai have arranged an audio/visual exclusive for the festival – pairing a simmering, analogue drone with a series of unsettling images projected onto a large screen at the rear of the stage. The music begins with a whispering electrical wind and builds it to a skull-shaking pulse, and Toni Cutrone sways in anonymity under a dark shroud. Behind him, stock footage of rural catholic life is edited and distorted to eerie effect. On the screen, villagers appear to be engaged in trance like rituals, their faces pulled into digitally manipulated contortions. Cutrone soundtracks this with a portentous drift. He punctuates the flow with tolling bells and and a sub bass that vibrates from the stage, across the wooden floor and up into my bones. The effect is enjoyably entrancing and gently hypnotic, but also carries an uneasy and foreboding undertone.
To counter this, Glasgow’s VASA are downstairs and ready to provide some comparatively light relief. The four piece tear into an instrumental post-rock set that is arguably the first of the day to feel unashamedly upbeat and fun. That’s not to say they can’t get serious and throw down a slamming riff when they want to – and they frequently do – but also their performance makes use of uplifting melodies and tight, snappy transitions that turn on a sixpence and elevate the crowd. The musicians in VASA are clearly skilled enough to make their progressive arrangements seem effortless. As my head snaps along to the rhythm, I find their songs to wash down extremely well with my first beer of the day.
The sense of celebration is growing and the venue is filling up rapidly. Norwegian duo Årabrot take the stage and proceed deliver the festival’s first truly jaw dropping moment. Immaculately turned out in a slim fitting white suit and a remarkably over-sized hat, guitarist and primary songwriter Kjetil Nernes delivers his spoken verses over Karin Park’s slow, industrial throb. Their brooding set unfolds and ascends until it peaks with a colossal soundscape that is difficult to comprehend as being created by just two musicians. Park takes over the vocal and soars into a siren’s song that is both beautiful and so powerful, it draws you seductively into Årabrot’s awe-inspiring crescendo. The effect is no less than breathtaking and it’s exciting to note the band have arranged to play a second set later this evening.
If it’s intentional or not, the order of events is such that these more transcendental moments are often followed by something to cleanse the palette. Taking a similar approach to VASA, Bristol’s Memory Of Elephants perform a deft and atomically tight throw-down of exuberant prog-fuzz. The spirit of Chaos Theory runs strong with this three piece. Equally adept at jazz, punk, and progressive rock, they throw it all into the blender, adding an occasional, cheeky disco beat. Watching them take a riff and contort it through several time signatures in the space of a few moments is a thrilling experience, evoking spontaneous smiles among the audience. The mood shifts to a party atmosphere, which is entirely appropriate considering the upcoming set from London’s Vodun.
Given that today is special event, Vodun have expanded their line up beyond its core members to include a percussionist, a baritone saxophone player and, in a moment that melts the heart of all in attendance, singer Chantal Brown’s mum on backing vocals. The undeniable sense of having pulled out all the stops adds an additional boost, and the band unleash their voodoo-themed heavy rock onto a crowd who are by now, fully into the swing of the day. Vodun‘s exuberance takes as much influence from Black Sabbath’s primal energy as it does from the West African pulse that gave the band its name. Heavy, overdriven riffs, augmented with percussive chops and plenty of cowbell. There’s only one way to react, and that’s to move around and make some noise. Vodun are on fire, and the crowd responds accordingly. It’s another clear highlight in a day where, as described by a friend, “there have been NO shit bands!”
In contrast to the energetic performance we’ve just seen upstairs, Gothic rockers Gold are measured and coolly aloof, but no less enjoyable. Clad entirely in black, each of the band’s four guitarists work to weave a rich and powerful texture while vocalist Milena Eva captivates the audience with her affecting croon. Gold are clearly a band with deep layers of influence. Their latest album, Why Aren’t You Laughing shimmers with melancholy pop melodies, all pushed along on a post-punk trajectory that flirts with blackened washes of guitar. The musicians do well to recreate the breadth of this sound on the small, Boston Music Room stage. It’s an affirming set of melancholic rock and Gold’s dark tone is a perfect way to set the audience up for the heavier music scheduled for the next hour and a half.
Taking a trip up the stairwell, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard are actually playing on a similar theme to Gold’s set before them. They are another band to set the weight of their music against clear and melodic vocals of their singer. In their case, they add a lower tuning and a generous serving of psychedelic expanse via Jessica Bell’s box of interstellar sound effects. Considering I’ve been here a few hours by now, and given the amount of beer I’m currently holding in my belly, MWWB’s huge, uncomplicated tromp is a welcome opportunity to stand and sway for a while, letting the behemoth riffs and kaleidoscopic sounds crash and swirl around me like a storm tearing up the landscape. High on a risen stage, the band’s drummer “Carrat” Carrington thunders out deliberately powerful beats to maximise the strength of each lurching song. The crowd’s reaction is one of hearty enthusiasm. Some roar, some head-bang, some stand with respectful appreciation, nodding to the hypnotic pulse of the electric guitars. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s set has been a highly anticipated one today, and its good to see their Sleep-meets-Hawkwind brand of heavy blitz delivered to an appreciative audience.
Downstairs, Furia are just as intense and barely visible among the flurry of strobe lighting that accompanies their barrage of charred metal. Having been thoroughly impressed by them at a North London show a year or so ago, I’ll raise my hand and say they have been the band I’ve been anticipating the most today. The Polish four piece are gifted with the ability to create a churning, grand cacophony that belies their small number and engulfs the room like a house-fire. The effect is enhanced by a liberal use of stage-smoke and shadows, both of which combine to a fog that conceals the musicians for much of their performance, offering only an occasional glimpse of their formidable human forms, smeared with warpaint. Using black metal as a blue print, Furia are much freer in their approach than you might expect from the genre. Gothic touches remind me of early Cure and drilling blast beats will give way to sections of swinging, lurching, almost jazz orientated passages. Despite their creative approach, Furia’s music is delivered with enough weight to squarely appeal to fans of heavy music and they succeed in getting the crowd into a bit of appreciative rough and tumble. Excellent stuff.
Seeing Undersmile on today’s line up will come as a big surprise to some. To see them so far up the bill is a testament to the esteem in which they are held, and Chaos Theory can be proud that the doomster’s performance is their first official engagement following a three year hiatus. I can acknowledge their appearance as another exciting exclusive that marks today as something really rather special. I raise a glass to the organisers as the music comes crashing in around me. Anyone not yet sufficiently smashed under the weight of the previous two bands is about to have their mettle tested. The four-piece band’s style of heaving sludge is built from a potent mix of Melvins, Swans and Babes In Toyland. Unsurprisingly, it sounds entirely and life-affirmingly massive. Fronted by Taz Corona-Brown and Hel Sterne, the dual vocalists style themselves as a Kubrickian nightmare. Each a doppleganger of the other, right down the matching Gibson SGs they use to produce their gargantuan sound. Taking the haunting melodies in unison, there is an unsettling lilt to their delivery, ensuring a disconcertingly dark appeal that fixes this performance as another memorable one in the day. It seems the band are coming out of retirement for the foreseeable future, if that is indeed the case, I would urge you catch them live before they retreat into hibernation again – Much like Godzilla would, after a particularly destructive rampage
Taking a brief moment to wolf down a tray of spiced chicken from the street food stand, I don’t want to slow down too much. By now, I’m carrying an eagerness that boarders on urgency as I make the short trip to and from each stage with the complete confidence of being in for a treat. Nøught do not let the consistency slip and serve up a series of jazz-heavy riffs baked on the the warmth of a Rhodes piano. Its the perfect soundtrack to re-acclimate my senses from the brunt riffery of metal to something more driving and psychedelic. Across their set, Nøught prove to be a melting pot of punk, jazz and prog. References as diverse as Fugazi and The Mahavishnu Orchestra flash through my mind while my jaw drops at the band’s deft navigation of each twisting composition. Every song is as tight as a drum and cleverly arranged, but most of all… they are tons of fun. It’s a revelation to me, having never seen or heard of them before. I make a mental note to keep an eye on any upcoming listings and I resolve to bring along some friends if I ever get the chance to see them again. High praise!
Upstairs, unified in white outfits, Teeth Of The Sea continue the psychedelia but with the addition of a solid electronic pulse that oscillates through the room to give their set a wild and trippy bounce. Teetering somewhere between industrial rock and electronic dance, the music effortlessly compels the assembled crowd to start nodding and bobbing with the rhythms. It’s not long before the musicians ramp the madness up a notch. Sam Barton brings out a trumpet and proceeds to dial his 70’s era Miles Davis up to 11. Brassy notes are bouncing around the auditorium, enhanced with thick layers of delay while the pulsating, programmed drums continue to drive the crowd. I am so taken by the wash of sonic lunacy that in the middle of the set, I find myself texting a friend who lives in Australia – it’s a moment that resembles that scene in Back To The Future where Marvin Berry calls his cousin (Chuck) and says; “You know that new sound you were looking for? Well, listen… to THIS!” It’s a truly triumphant set.
Not long afterwards, I return to the Boston Music Room to catch Årabrot’s second set of the day. Keyboard player and vocalist Karin Park is locked in a death stare with the sound engineer. It appears all is not well and monitor problems have delayed the start of their set. Karin commands a set of instructions to the unseen crew-member, emphasising the need to abandon any further messing around and get on with the show. Her formidable expression and the fact that the reprimand is conducted over the house PA sets a confrontational tone that even has founding member (and Karin’s husband) Kjetil Nernes looking bashful. All is forgotten when the performance begins and the musicians quickly lock into a sublime delivery. For this set, the band have expanded to a three piece. The addition of a live drummer and their song choices – rooted closer to their noise/post rock material – gives this second performance a punkish feel that eschews the cinematic expanse of their earlier set for something more abrasive but no less thrilling. The raw ingredients are the same – Nernes’ guitar and foreboding narration is offset by Park’s synth lines and her full voice – but they have been re-ordered into something that rattles and shakes long with a purposeful stride. The contrast and breadth of material presented across their double set today has ultimately cemented them in my mind as probably the most compelling band of the festival. That’s big praise, given the quality of music on offer throughout the event.
There is just one more band to tick off on the line up for me. Even before I’d arrived, I’d taken the decision not to attend the festival after-party, so as I refill my beer glass, I acknowledge those wanting to continue the celebrations will be well catered for by the addition of the Toward Chaos Takeover at end of the event. DJ performers Force Majeure, Metalogue, Aphexia, Ecstasphere, Shelley Parker and Enduser are all lined up to provide the soundtrack for whatever debauchery follows the main event. But, where others will carry on the dancing, I will be bowing out – but not before taking in the climactic live set of the day though. The festival has one more musical cherry to be devoured from the top of its cake. This comes in the form of the inimitable Italian electro-jazz-punk lunatics ZU.
ZU completely embody the spirit of Chaos Theory Festival. They deliver a climactic set of progressive, cross-genre madness, all performed with tons of energy and a clear appreciation for having been invited to take part. Somewhat appropriately, ZU sound a little bit like all the music that has gone before them today. Like a glorious, technicolour greatest hits of Chaos Theory 2020 – as if my memories of the day had finally exploded from my head due to lack of space and landed on the stage, re-ordered into a punky, electro, saxophone, stomp.
I have reached the end. I guzzle down my last beer, feeling woozy from the booze, I bid a final goodbye and head off while the venue still thumps behind me.
It’s been an excellent event for which Chaos Theory should be justifiably proud. It’s a bit of cliché to say, “here’s to the next ten years”… but damn it! If the team can sustain this sort of quality, we are absolutely in for one hell of a good time.
Well done. Full marks!