Earworms from Finland to Plzen: A Festival Playlist

Returning from a tour, you often find your head spinning with music, hardly any of it your own. Far from it; nothing puts you off a song you’ve helped create like playing it 102 times, and those are just the soundchecks. A festival tour, where you’re encountering different bands from all over the place day after day, is even more likely to fill your brain with the most insistent variant of demented earworms. And so, upon my return from Fink’s June/July festival run, I present to you, with the assistance of Spotify, my latest Festival Trip Tunes:

1. Teksti-TV 666, “Sä Et Tuu Enää Takaisin Koskaan”

So we arrive in Finland and get whisked ten thousand miles north by two nice drivers until we arrive at a rainy forest clearing where someone has stuck up a couple of stages and a few adverts for Foster’s lager. I’m being disingenuous of course; Provinssirock is a vibey and well-established festival but I guess we’re feeling a little jaded and weirded-out today. The famous Nordic “nightless night” has sodded about a bit with our sleep patterns and, in fact, it’s a little bit cold and rainy. But we go through the usual motions – coffee drinking, Haribo eating, site exploring, wifi hunting – until around 5pm when the most unholy racket comes blasting out of the tent in which we’re playing later. I poke my head inside to see six Finnish dudes of varying size, hairdo and clothing style, ripping through a pacy number that, thrillingly, only seems to involve one chord. This monolithic chunk of stoner indie is enunciated by no less than four guitarists, all of whom seem to be playing, and for that matter, singing, the same thing. The next song starts and it sounds practically identical. After three songs I’m thinking about wandering off in search of an ice cream, but after five songs, Teksti-TV 666 have managed the admirable feat of injecting subtle changes into this most inpenetrable of noises, to the point where I’m practically hypnotised. And to be fair, their energetic performance is helping: leaping around, sharing mics, swilling beer and roaring out the (Finnish) lyrics. I’m hooked. The song I’ve picked – “Sä Et Tuu Enää Takaisin Koskaan” – has been chosen primarily because it includes something approaching a tune and a chord change, but to be honest nothing will emphasise quite how kick-ass they are live. Fin corners one of the band afterwards and jokily suggests they add a fifth guitarist. “We already have four,” frowns the chap. “That is enough.”


2. Beatsteaks, “Jane Became Insane”

For reasons none of us can quite fathom, we spend four hours at Helsinki airport the next morning before getting on an 8am flight to Berlin. By the time we arrive at Kosmonaut Festival in rural Chemnitz, we are totally wiped out. “What we really need now,” I remark to Mike our tour manager, “is a beautiful sunny day and some lovely dressing rooms with deckchairs outside right next to a lake. Oh, and maybe an old-fashioned telephone for me to fuck about with while Guy our bass player takes a daft picture.” And holy pants, Mike delivered. What he didn’t manage to stop was it raining halfway through us playing “Looking Too Closely”, but you can’t have it all. When we come offstage we’re feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, but then German punk-rockers Beatsteaks come on and show everyone how it’s done. Beatsteaks are a living embodiment of the theory that it’s possible for a band to have a long, credible and lucrative career in Germany without the rest of the world having the foggiest idea who they are. That said, they’re playing London soon, so go along to see for yourselves. They played “Jane Became Insane” second in their set, and it almost made me drop my bratwurst.

3. Kwabs, “Perfect Ruin”

The well-organised fun continues the following day, with a visit to Open Air St. Gallen in Switzerland. Far from being a jolly medium-sized event in a town square with some beer and sausage stalls and perhaps even an oompah band between acts, Open Air SG is a high-octane enormo-fest with constant televisual coverage, a great lineup (Placebo! The Districts! Kate Tempest! Tove Lo!… erm… Fink!) and its own charge card for artist catering (I managed to glean a large breakfast, two portions of chips and some very high-quality chicken nuggets off of mine before we departed). Apart from anything else, we’re excited about today because two of our regular crew, monitor tech Karima and tour manager Simon, are here with their “other band”, Kwabs. Simon and Karima are two people who could definitely benefit from human cloning; ours and Kwabs’ lives would be appreciably richer if there were simply two of each of them. Anyway, we also get to hang out with Kwabs and team, all of whom gratifyingly come along to see us play. Halfway through our set, like one of those phoenix thingies, Karima rises out of the audience, parked upon Simon’s shoulders. From the stage, we all beam at her. Then she gets tonked on the head with someone’s festival flag. Happy days.

4. Blaudzun, “Promises Of No Man’s Land”

Spare a brief thought for the people of the Belgian village of Werchter.

Done that? Okay – let’s move on. Rock Werchter is huge. The main stage area is so massive, there are actually three levels of closeness the audience can attain, all monitored by an electronic counting system that resembles the automatic passport gates at Heathrow. The third stage, where we’re playing – that’s the third stage, as in, the third largest – is roughly the size of Wembley Arena. You could probably use it to build aircraft carriers in, let alone aircraft. All this, combined with an artist compound I’d actually consider taking my family on holiday to, and we’re feeling pretty special by the time we pitch up backstage with our gear. Blaudzun, from Utrecht, is currently onstage, pounding out some passionate stuff to an enthusiastic afternoon crowd. Fin and I crane our necks to look at the extent of the audience, and kinda wish we hadn’t. There are millionsof them. You can barely see the other end of the room. I wander out into the crowd, clocking the giant video screens on either side of the stage, projecting Blaudzun and team’s every movement and minutiae to the back of the vast hangar. We’d better rise to this particular occasion. I regroup with Fin and the boys and we re-jig our list of songs, extracting some of the more subtle moments so it’s 50 minutes of pure Fink drive. Happily, come our showtime, it seems to work…


(pic: Ruben Hein)

5. Red Fang, “Wires”

“Please don’t let me talk lots of shit to Red Fang,” Guy instructs. “If you think I’m hassling them too much – extract me.” Having seen their powerhouse, riff-tastic performance on the Werchter main stage shortly after breakfast, Guy has noticed Red Fang’s dressing room is right next to ours and is anticipating being somewhat loose of tongue later this evening. Well, what can I do? I think Guy sat and drank with them for about two hours. I dropped by just to check he wasn’t making a complete arse of himself, but everyone seemed as happy as a bunch of beardy dudes at a Labor Day barbecue in Portland. Funny that. When in Belgium, eh?

6. Everything Everything, “Hapsburg Lippp”

Day off the next day, so I can finally get my teeth into the new Everything Everything album. I stick on my headphones and wander round the town of Zwolle where we’re playing the next night. Goodness me, EE are a nutty bunch of weirdos. Their music veers between breathtaking beauty and madcap noise-smithery of the strangest order. For every relatively orthodox “Distant Past” or “Regret”, there’s a “Fortune 500” or “Reptiles” (“Baby, it’s all right to feel like a fat child in a pushchair“). It’s confusing in the finest possible way. The extra tracks on the deluxe album are even odder, none more so than “Hapsburg Lippp” which buries itself in my brain for the next few days. What is he on about? When the album finally crashes to a halt, I’ve reached my destination: a drum shop, where I need to buy some spares. Bloody place is closed on a Monday. I hit “repeat” on the album and head off in search of a beer…

7. Serafyn, “Go Down North”

Should someone take Serafyn aside quietly and tell them that north is traditionally up, not down? Ah, who cares, when the music’s this great? After a very nice gig in Zwolle (supported by Sem Sprang – very good but unfortunately not on Spotify), we enter the German hot zone where temperatures reach 38 degrees and packets of Ritter chocolate melt in seconds. We’ve been to Sputnikhalle in Münster once before, but it wasn’t like this. The upstairs dressing room is so baking that we only set foot inside to grab something from the fridge, then run straight out again. I’m ashamed to say that we actually sit on our air-conditioned bus most of the time. Then Serafyn, an acoustic quintet from Basel, show up and cool the whole place down with their relaxed vibes and sweet string-laden pop. We’ve been trying to schedule a guest appearance from them for a while, so it’s lovely to finally make it happen. They’ve tightly rehearsed their set with segues between songs and choreographed talky bits, managing to fit about eight tracks into their 30-minute slot. “That was like Queen at Live Aid!” I remark afterwards to one of the two chaps in the band. He looks puzzled. Live Aid probably happened about ten years before he was born.


(pic: Robin Alysha Clemens)

8. Fink, “Too Late”

I can explain. Firstly, we’re the only band at Ulm Ulmerzelt the next day so no-one else’s music is really going around my head. Secondly, “Too Late” might be our next single, so our manager instructed us to sharpen up the live version, and of course we always do what we’re told. Problem is, Ruben Hein our pianist features quite heavily in the song, and he keeps buggering off to, I dunno, be a pop star or something. So in Ulm, Chris has to play his regular guitar part as well as pretending to be Ruben, who is about a foot taller and also Dutch. Chris just about manages it. The Ulm gig is one of those lovely communal summer festivals they do particularly well in Germany, and although we’re still talking temperatures of around 30 even at night time, tradition has it that all the volunteers and musicians sit around a massive campfire after the show. They’re hurling wooden pallets onto this bad boy and it’s roastingly, unnecessarily hot, but something is compelling us to stay close. Must be the cavemen in us. Idly, and in what according to Chris is a particularly loud English voice, I muse that it would be the perfect time to roast some sausages on sticks. One of the festival chaps rushes off to get a large packet of bockwurst and another (no joke) runs into the forest to get four sticks which he then presents to one of the womenfolk to dutifully sharpen into spears. We are then handed these creations and everyone looks at us, as if to say, “You wanted them? You got them.” We prong a sausage each with the spears and attempt to start cooking them. Harder than it looks. I still have no idea why, but apparently the approved method is to spear the sausage at the end, so the wurst becomes a continuation of the spear’s straight line, if you get me. But I went straight for the middle of the sausage (like you would) and of course the damn thing fell off into the fire after about 2 minutes. I rescued it; it was covered in ash but I rinsed it under the tap and carried on, because it was too late to start again.

9. Brns, “Mexico”

Funny old world, innit. Just when you think it’s all over; just when you’ve had one of the boringest, hottest days in recent memory – in a city famous for its beer, but being unable to drink it (we’re not scheduled onstage until 11pm); just when you think all the other bands are going to be like the one you saw at 11am (a bewildering ska-metal collective, one of whom is dressed in shiny turquoise flares) – and after all this, you end up seeing the best band of the week. Brns (pronounced brains) amble onstage at about 8pm and basically blow everyone else away. We are in Plzen, at the Rock For People Europe festival (the smaller, younger brother of the more-established Rock For People festival; they may as well have called it Rock For People Metro or even Rock For People Express) and after a distinctly underwhelming afternoon of which the undisputed highlight is being locked out of our dressing room for an hour, Brns, all the way from Brussels, whose stage setup Fin and I have already noticed with mild interest (two drum kits, glockenspiel, strange multicoloured chime thingies, about seven keyboards), begin their set to a half-filled room. What can I tell you? The drummer is the lead vocalist. But this ain’t no chilled-out Don Henley situation. He plays drums like his life depends on it, and sings like he’s screaming in pain – in tune – from the sheer effort of playing the drums. The guitarist looks like he’s just been dragged out of a university library but displays a vivid showmanship and nonchalant way with his loop pedal. The keyboardist/percussionist, smiling throughout, looks like a mild-mannered character until the majority of the songs’ conclusion when he pounces on the other drum set-up and punishes it for its mere existence. And the bass player looks quite suave, tall and Gallic. If one could still smoke onstage, he’d be puffing on a Gauloise, kinda thing. And the songs are nuts: endearingly meaningless lyrics are roared with the passion of a cup final football chant, and math-rock guitar licks flood out of the amps and drench your ears. And those beats. I can hardly imagine playing them at all, let alone singing lead vocals at the same time. Brns have me hooked for the whole forty-five minutes they play, to the point where I begin littering the Twittersphere with not very good phone pictures of the show. “We are so happy to be here!” yells the singer for the fifth time, in a manner rather too reminiscent of that church fundraising scene in Coming To America – and then they are gone, leaving me to pick up the pieces of my mind and prepare for our own show. Shit. How does the beginning of “Pilgrim” go again?

JULY 2015

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