Emeralds, Knalpot, Next Life, Killl @ Folken Stavanger 23rd September 2011
It is three years since Stavanger – Norway’s oil-rich 4th city – was named European Capital of Culture, and despite the looming hulk of the impressive soon-to-open concert hall that dominates a section of the seafront there still seems to have been some cultural belt-tightening in evidence since then. Stavanger’s sprawling celebration of, well, new music, Numusic may be making a welcome return for the twelfth time, but the constricted line-up does seem to lack some of the bigger foreign names of previous years. At a festival that prides itself on tracking the intersections between various shades of progressive music and art, both Norwegian and international, though, there is still of course plenty to take in.
My first taste of 2011’s offering draws me to Folken, where a night that seems to have been specifically paced to track the meeting point between electronica and metal is set to culminate in what promise to be visually compelling shows from two of Norway’s most celebrated experimental metal acts. For all that the student union venue is skeletally empty at the start, and the abundance of lanyards suggest that of the ten or so people who have made the trip to catch the first act of the night, US ambient trio Emeralds, very few have actually paid. Emeralds’ introverted swirling blend of everything from krautrock to drone has the odd scintillating progression, but in a room this sparsely populated it is hard to get sucked in. Knalpot do a better job of engaging the (now slightly swollen) crowd. Purveyors of a kind of multitasking bipolar glitch blues, the Amsterdam pair, sporting extraneous visor caps, alternate between powerful riffs and restless electro, although if it is a fair accusation against such a spasmodic act, they ultimately come across a little samey.
If Knalpot took Emeralds’ electro aesthetic and injected it with sporadic bursts of noise, this progression is taken even further by the next act: Next Life. The Tønsberg trio have had twelve years to perfect their singular brand of sample-heavy metal, and indeed every track finds them punching for ever greater heights. Their set opens placidly enough, with founder Hai Nguyen Dinh toying meticulously with the projections that are to play out on a vast back-screen, but when they do launch into their musical barrage the senses inevitably sit up and take notice. Scrolling Tron-like visuals pixelate their way across the taut trio as they deliver incredibly tight and blistering chunks of epic noise. What Next Life write aren’t exactly songs, but rather variations on an explosive theme. Instead of aiming for traditionally structured musical perfection what the band seem to strive for is instead scale. Every time they slam back into motion, every muscle tensed, every body-crushing note synchronised to perfection, they seem to be gathering up the building blocks of the previous emission and trying to reassemble them into something more massive. Projected skyscrapers and mountains loom over them, bubbling Nintendo gurgles try and get a word in edgeways, and at one point the three of them snap into sudden silence after a particularly colossal crescendo and drummer Anders Hangård simply points his stick in the air to cue what sounds appropriately like a sampled avalanche. Next Life won’t stop until their sound moves mountains.
If that was a spectacle, live-only sideproject Killl make it clear from the off that they are gonna go out of their way to trump it. A lurid curtain is draped all across the back and sides of the stage, its multi-coloured optical illusion diamonds already swirling before the eyes – and that is before Killl turn on their dizzying array of lights. Where to start with these guys? The name Killl, with that assured extra ‘l’, suggests a drawn-out death, and that is exactly what Killl subject you to: extended audio-visual murder. It is also (for twenty-five minutes or so at least) pretty damn awesome. Including such genre-hopping luminaries as Erlend Mokkelbost of Montée and JR Ewing and Martin Horntveth (who always sits at the drums at the back with Jaga Jazzist looking like he wants to fuck something up), Killl live plays out like some piece of modernist theatre about four stocky bearded men trapped in a nightmarish neon cube, hoping that if they make enough blistering noise they might somehow make it out alive. At some juncture in the band’s existence (indeed judging by this show it might have been its founding moment) one of the members of Killl obviously walked into a strobe shop and said ‘I’ll take the fucking lot’. As bursts of tense tearing uproar thunder from all around a flickering, corroding, blinding light show turns the claustrophobic backdrop into a hallucinatory reality spasm, as fluorescent bursts organically co-ordinate with every detonation of noise. This is largely an instrumental affair, although the band-members do take it in turns to roar into the microphone for good measure, and it is also clearly a live experience – if you were callous you could say Killl are a novelty act. Truth is, this isn’t even a concert, more of a thing that happens to you. A sensory violation. In fact Killl are almost not a band, just a kind of blinding mindfuck. Like a Red Bull-fuelled explosion directed by Gaspard Noé, by the end I wasn’t sure what hurt more; my ears or my eyes. Killl are definitely something to see before you die, although they might also be what killls you.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2011