Last weekend, I had the pleasure to be able to attend the Sonisphere Festival. And I thought, since I am always looking for new blog topics, that I should write about the experience for you all. I should say, to start with, that I am in no way a music critic, and most of this is going to consist of “these guys rocked” or “those guys sucked”… but I hope it might prove an entertaining read.
First off, I would like to start with my “Festival in a Nutshell” ratings…
- TURISAS **
- CHICKENHAWK ****
- EUROPE **
- AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR ****
- ALICE COOPER **
- SABATON *****
- SOULFLY **
- FEAR FACTORY ***
- JAPANESE VOYEURS **
- SKUNK ANANSIE ****
- PLACEBO *
- RAMMSTEIN *****
- THERAPY? ****
- HENRY ROLLINS ***
- SLAYER ****
- BRING ME THE HORIZON **
- IRON MAIDEN ****
- SONISPHERE AS A WHOLE? ****
So… now for the full report!
I will happily admit that until July 2009 I was a festival virgin. Thus I was absolutely thrilled at the prospect of making the trip to see two of my favourite bands (Rammstein and Iron Maiden), as well as a whole host of others – considering that my repertoire of live gigs is incredibly limited (Metallica, Nightwish, Sepultura, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day and Motorhead being the highlights to date) – and enjoy a thoroughly messy weekend with my friends Geoff, Chris and Heather (the latter two make up the up-and-coming duo “Dead on the Live Wire”).
On Friday morning, after a lazy start, we boarded the train at Edinburgh Waverley with copious amounts of booze… mostly rum and bourbon… and varying amounts of food. Note to self… bring food! The other three had done a fantastic job on the culinary front, but food totally slipped my mind. However, the food stalls at the festival were remarkably good, and there was even a 24 hour “supermarket” in the campsite… and it was an absolute godsend to discover a vegetarian and vegan food stall! However, whilst I applaud the bringing of food, I would not recommend bringing a wedge of brie and leaving it in your sweaty tent for a few days… that was not pleasant!
Geoff and I had the pleasure of travelling first class on the train, and whilst this is not very metal, it most certainly rocked! Free tea, coffee and biscuits FTW! (and indeed, having loads of space and a guaranteed seat! – I hear from the others that the standard class coaches were less than pleasant, and this was corroborated by the regular announcements throughout the train to take bags off seats and let the other metalheads sit down). We decided to start the festival off whilst on the train – i.e. we started drinking with our lunch and paid ludicrious amounts of money for fairly mediocre food… but this meant that by the time we arrived at Stevenage station (changing at Peterborough) we were already in the mood to party. Whilst the organisers of the festival had kindly organised free shuttle buses from Stevenage Station to Knebworth, the queue was so massive that we decided £2.50 each for a taxi was a small price to pay. On arriving at the campsite our initial thoughts were “we have arrived FAAAAAAR to late” – we walked past hundreds upon hundreds of tents and could find no spaces… we were literally about to give up and head back to the entrance when Geoff spotted a perfect two-tent-sized hole just off the path, and we were able to get our tents sent up with the doors facing in to each other. Turns out we were literally 100 metres from the entrance to the main arena, the portaloos, the 24-hour… couldn’t have been better! And so the festival began….
Friday, Saturn Stage: Time Warp World Record Attempt 18.00 – 18.05
I cannot describe how excited we were to see this on the bill for Sonisphere. We rushed putting up our tent, skipped dinner and arrived at the Saturn stage at 17.55 wondering where all the bizarre transvestites were. Luckily Geoff and Chris hadn’t put on the gold, metallic hotpants that they had brought with them, as 18.00 came and went without a sign of a Time Warp World Record Attempt.
This made me cry a little inside… although a few of us did the Time Warp anyway… which made everything okay… and it did mean that we got to see a few minutes of Turisas…
Just a few minutes though!
Friday, Saturn Stage: Turisas 18.10 – 18.50 **
Look at these guys… I mean this was our first impression of Sonisphere. They look like Kane from Wrestling on the television circa late 1990s, split into numerous and frankly less rockin’ parts! We didn’t stay in front of them for that long… but long enough to work out that we didn’t want to be spending the next half hour of our lives being subjected to bizarre folk metal. Don’t get me wrong… I am a major Nightwish fan, and this band certainly had a little Nightwish about them… but when you see a band take to the stage with an accordion and tonnes of red makeup, and you haven’t even had your first drink of the festival. it’s going to take something very major to redeem them.
They had put a lot of effort into making themselves look fabulous… and for this they earned a ** rating… I’m sorry that I can’t be more articulate in my criticism, but they simply weren’t worth my time. Turns out this was one of the best things that could have happened, as Chickenhawk, who were playing in the nearby Bowtime Bar, were bloody awesome!!!
Friday, Strongbow Bowtime Bar: Chickenhawk 18.30 – 19.00 ****
Again, we find ourselves in a situation where my rating of a band is based purely on an arbitrary feeling of satisfaction. Maybe it was because of the prior disappointment induced by Turisas; maybe it was the pint of Strongbow (£3.90, wtf?) gently coursing its way through my insides; or maybe Chickenhawk just gave me the pleasure of discovering a new band at a live gig for the first time. This is something I never do… I always like to hear a band before I listen to them live… simply because I like singing along and getting into the gig. But whatever the reason, I would thoroughly recommend giving them a listen.
During the gig, they also announced that it was the drummer (Matt)’s birthday, and I had the pleasure of starting the chorus of “Happy Birthday”… so Matt, if you are reading… you have me to thank for that. Maybe it was fate, but at the end of the gig I felt a random pain in my shoulder and discovered a drum stick lying on the ground… Heather has it, if you’re looking for it!
Friday, Saturn Stage: Europe 19.10 – 19.55 **
We were a little dubious about going to listen to Europe… I mean, has anyone ever heard any of their tracks except the Final Countdown? But everyone knows that this track is one of the finest power ballads of all time, and there was no way we were going to miss out on this. In the end we ended up having a seat on the hill looking on the the Saturn stage… a tactic which most of the crowd seemed to have adopted, and enjoyed a few ciders/beers whilst waiting for the big moment. The majority of their set was, as expected, utterly self-indulgent wank. They even played a bizarre Europe-ised version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”! The whole set left us feeling “why on earth were these guys invited to play at this festival?” And how come they got a longer set than Fear Factory? However, as expected, The Final Countdown was the final track unleashed upon the crowd (who all suddenly rose to their feet in an epic Mexican wave of vague interest) and we all had a good sing along. This song was the only thing that saved Europe from the single-star of doom!
The rest of my friends were all fairly intent on waiting to see Gary Numan, and the feedback I heard was remarkably good, so kudos to him. Chris has also been told on a fairly regular basis that he looks remarkably like Gary Numan, and in fact we were stopped on the way back from the bar by some “friends” of Gary who wanted to take a picture of Chris and show it to him after the gig. Whether this was true or not, I leave the judgement on similarity up to you…
Friday, Stongbow Bowtime Bar: And So I Watch You From Afar 20.30 – 21.00 ****
Meanwhile, on the recommendation of Joel (of TotalRock fame) and Aaron (a friend from back in Northern Ireland, and the bass player in Escape Fails) I was off back to the Bowtime Bar to listen to And So I Watch You From Afar. I know there was a lot of group solidarity involved in finding out that these guys were Northern Irish, but they simply blew me away. I loved that a band in this day and age had the balls to go out and perform a short set of phat, heavy riffs and not have any vocals. I was able to stand and listen to them for their full set, not having heard them before, and not get bored – which is a major thing for me, and I noted them down as a) a band I needed to check out more properly when I got home and b) a band that we are going to be hearing a lot more of in the future. Again, my journalistic skills are somewhat lacking here, but I would urge you all to give them a listen.
A major personal highlight of the festival for me was getting to meet Joel after the gig. If you have never checked out his show, or any show on Total Rock before, I heartily recommend that you do so. each programme is self contained and has its own specific genre… some of them are a little too death metal for me, but you quickly work out your favourites. And all of the DJ’s are uniformly good sports and a great laugh to listen to. And I now owe Joel a pint… so there you go mate, next time I see you, you have it in writing!
Friday, Saturn Stage: Alice Cooper 21.30 – 23.00 **
Maybe it was all of the rum that we had consumed in the intervening period… but upon turning up 30 mins into Alice Cooper’s set it was clear that we didn’t want to stay for any longer than five minutes. I never thought I would choose going on a waltzer in preference to hearing one of the apparent legends of Classic Rock, but that is in fact what we did. He was throwing some woman around the stage and clearly trying to put on some sort of theatrical performance… to our eyes it just looked inappropriate and sounded crap. We heard that we had missed “Poison” already, and that that sealed the deal. The waltzer was ridden, semi-naked cartwheels and forward rolls ensued… and I believe Heather has a lot of photographs of both of these events… I shall attempt to get some of them up here when they materialise. The rest of the evening was spent partying it down at the tent, where booze was freely flowing and much less expensive. So endeth Friday at Sonisphere!
Saturday, Saturn Stage: Sabaton, 11.50 – 12.20 *****
Saturday morning was not pleasant. I think we all uniformly were wide awake at 6a.m. after only hitting the hay around 2a.m. Thank goodness for the 24-hour shop! Mr Kipling’s Fruit Buns, Twix’s and Hotdog Rolls nursed us back to a more human state, and after having tracked down the immensely overpriced and crap phone charging lockers (with incredibly unhelpful, rude and dim staff), and eaten some delicious food from the vegetarian and vegan food stall (Veggie Burgers, Chilli, Burritos and Falafel), we settled down on the grass in front of the Saturn Stage once more, with fresh pints of Strongbow (I still hadn’t moved on to beer by this point), to take in Sabaton, who were one of our hottest picks from our myspace trawling the previous week. They did not disappoint, and are the only band apart from Rammstein to inherit the prestigious ***** rating!
Maybe it was just the time of morning, but hearing this chunky, in your face, super super cheesy metal being pumped out to a crowd of hungover metallers really did the trick. They were just so OTT. An amazing amount of soundbite gold spewed forth from the singers lips during this gig… our favourites would have to be: “Who wants to help us build our metal machine” and “Jump with us Sonisphere, Jump with us through the gates of Hell”. We are also pretty sure we heard the phrase “We are all homosexual!” being screamed in a dark, rumbling metal voice… we may be wrong, but this simply added to their appeal even more. Again, I cannot comment on specific songs, but simply implore you to have a listen. They are also coming to Glasgow in October, and all of us are of a mind to make the short journey across to check them out… we think you should too!!!
Saturday, Saturn Stage: Soulfly, 13.00 – 13.30 **; Fear Factory, 14.20 – 15.00 ***; Red Bull Stage: Japanese Voyeurs, 17.00 – 17.30 **
I’m merging these guys into one because… there’s not a lot to say really. I was quite looking forward to Soulfly, having heard a few of their albums a few years ago, and being a major fan of early Sepultura stuff… but after 5-10 mins, going and getting a cup of Chai in the hippie tent seemed a much more appealing option than listening to incoherent angry noise.
As far as Fear Factory go… they were alright. But again, I didn’t know that much of their stuff, and my only impression was that they were a lot more redneck than I expected. At least we sat through the entire set though… we also met this “fascinating” guy called Toby… who insisted on licking all of our faces and telling us that he had seen Iron Maiden an incremental amount of times in the past, over and over and over again. We thought we were going to have a groupie for the rest of the festival, but thankfully he cleared off fairly promptish after Fear Factory finished.
The Japanese Voyeurs served as an interesting time filler whilst we drank our Jaegermeister and Red Bull, and lamented the fact that Tim Minchin was playing in far too small a tent for the masses of people who wished to see him. They were alright, and it was a welcome bonus to see a female singer/guitarist :-) However, we got the feeling that once we had heard one song, we had kinda heard them all. We also decided that the keyboard player must be sleeping with the singer, as he literally stood for two songs and did nothing except cling on to the keyboard and rock out… or maybe he was just a random member of the audience who had managed to clamber on stage… we will never know!
Saturday, Saturn Stage: Skunk Anansie, 17.30 – 18.15 **** ; Apollo Stage: Placebo 18.25 – 19.25 *
Then came the two major surprises of the festival. We had no intention of watching Skunk Anansie, but since there was nothing better on, we went and got some more pints and veggie chilli and once again took up our spot on the hill in front of the Saturn Stage to see what offerings they had for us. We were all pretty much uniformly blown away… the set was a lot heavier than I had imagined, and I have never seen a singer with so much energy. She bounded about the stage, gave it her all, and literally dived into the crowd on numerous occasions whilst singing. I am definitely going to be checking out more of them in the near future.
I had asked myself why Placebo were playing at this festival before it even started. I have always had a fairly indifferent attitude towards placebo, and would generally rate them around *** and say that I was happy to listen to them if there was nothing else available. However, this was just a woeful performance… and there is no excuse for it as they are such a major band. The only effort they had put in was to all dress in white… great… try playing some interesting music for a change… or engaging the audience… or moving around the stage. And to make matters worse they had the audacity to cover Nirvana’s “All Apologies”. I have nothing against bands covering songs by other bands, although I guess Nirvana have a somewhat coveted status on the untouchable pedestal. But to turn what is a fairly attitude filled tune (with admittedly crap lyrics) into an insipid, lifeless, whiny Placebo-fest was just, in my eyes, unacceptable. Placebo… get out of my life!
Saturday, Apollo Stage: Rammstein, 20.45 – 22.45 *****
I had been waiting for this gig for a long time… long before I had ever even heard that it was going to happen. I think I must have been into Rammstein for something like 8-10 years, ever since a friend handed me a copy of Mutter at the bus stop on the way to school, and ever since I have always held them to be one of my favourite bands. I don’t think I have been so excited about the new release of an album as I was for the release of “Liebe ist fur alle da” in late 2009. I knew their stage shows were supposed be epic… and I was not disappointed.
They played an incredible set… my personal highlights being “Du Hast”, “Sonne” and “Links 2, 3, 4”, and the songs were only let down by the annoying overly English girl standing nearby who kept insisting on taking the piss out of the lyrics and attempting to translate stuff she didn’t understand… really loudly. The sound quality was amazing for an outdoor festival gig. But the most amazing thing was, of course, the sheer performance!
The band were all dressed up in various bizarre costumes… mostly looking very industrial… but I believe at one point there was an Amish gimp on stage… and at one point the keyboard player (a truly bizarre fellow) changed into what looked like a sparkly fish costume, which he wore for the rest of the gig, whilst periodically walking on a rotating treadmill and playing the keyboard at the same time. The singer managed to look uniformly creepy for the entire show, and even in moments where there was no singing would stand and stare at the audience with the most incredibly sadistic look on his face. There were pyros galore… flamethrowers on stage… a guy who set himself on fire and ran around the place… a huge raised platform from which fireworks and pyros flowed like metal ore… a giant penis which covered the front rows of the audience is foam whilst the singer rode it… and to top it all, the keyboard player went out crowd-surfing in a dingy! A dingy of all things! Add to this that someone managed to get into the dingy with him for quite a period of time whilst waving a Union Flag, and the fact that the keyboard player picked an army hat off a screaming fan and wore it whilst being carried around in his dingy, the whole thing started to have crazy un-PC connotations.
A superb performance guys… I cannot wait to see a gig with you on your own and your own stage to do with as you please for as long as you wish.
My one gripe… we were promised 2 hours, and they stopped after 90 mins…
Saturday, Bohemia Tent: Therapy? Playing Troublegum, 23.00 – 00.00 ****
All of my friends were very psyched about this gig… in fact, Chris said it was the thing that made him decide to come to the festival. Even the Germans, Stefan and Andreas, who were sharing the tent next to us (and induced much inappropriate faux German from all of us… I do it all the time anyway, but when you are hearing it throughout the thin walls of your tent at all hours of the day, then it’s very difficult not to keep launching into it!) had brought Therapy? t-shirts with them! I think the album was a little early for me… it was apparently the soundtrack to the others’ school days. However I had been introduced to Therapy? when I was about 16, but unfortunately Bad Religion were introduced to me at the same time and they rapidly became one of my favourite bands! I did, however, make sure that I borrowed Troublegum off Chris a week before the gig so that I could at least be vaguely familiar with it, and join in with some of the choruses.
Thanks to Rammstein finishing ludicrously early, we were able to get really good places in the tent, which quickly filled up to capacity as it was the only decent gig happening that late on in the day. I have not seen any band have so many soundchecks… one of the roadies literally came out and tuned the guitars 4 times before the gig started… and thus everything was 5-1o minutes late in starting. The band appeared and launched straight into “Knives” and the crowd went absolutely wild. I hadn’t been in the middle of a crowd of pushing, headbanging fans for a long time… and to be honest I wasn’t really up for it this time, especially with an album that I did not really know. However, less than 30 seconds into the track – just after the first mention of “fucking you up” – the music cut out and all the lights went out. Despair! Anger! Frustration! What had happened? Nobody knew… but within a few minutes the lights flickered back on… the roadies came out and soundchecked again… and things kicked off. Take 2! They got in a few more bars this time before, inevitably, the same thing happened again!
The crowd were getting really angry by this point, and actually started booing Therapy? as if it was their fault! The now-infamous roadie came on stage and shouted into the mic “Could one of the Sonisphere organisers come to the stage right now!” and after a good few minutes a poor guy in a yellow t-shirt was hauled onto stage and gave the fantastic explanation: “Sorry about this! It’s sorted now… give it up for Therapy?” All fingers were crossed, and this time things worked and they proceeded through the album without incident. All credit to them, they kept going all the way to the end, even though it was nearly half-past midnight when they finished, and they also seemed so keen to keep thanking the fans, without whom, they said, they wouldn’t have last 20 years. Apart from feeling pretty dead by this point, I had a great time! I loved working out that Therapy? are actually another band from my home soil… something that has eluded me this past decade!
Geoff was somewhat disappointed… simply because the album had been such a major part of his teenage years and it just sounded different having it performed by middle-aged men, and live, than it had done on the original. But for my part I thought they did a fantastic job, and I shall now be listening to Troublegum on a regular basis.
I love that they kept referring to the bassist as “The Evil Priest” too… and it was so good to see three guys at a metal festival making so much noise, when the average size of most bands seemed to 5 or 6 people.
We then partied at the tent until 2a.m. again… Chris wanted to go out and wander around the campsite looking for more fun at this point, but the rest of us were so tired that sleep (or what can be called sleep at a festival of this nature) was the only option. So endeth Saturday at Sonisphere!
Sunday, Bohemia Tent: Rollins – Spoken Word, 11.00 – 12.00 ***
Sunday morning started off much better than the previous day… i.e. we didn’t all feel like we were going to die. Opting for not starting drinking until lunchtime, we had the bizarre pleasure of effectively being preached to (it was a Sunday morning after all) by Henry Rollins for an hour. He told some funny stories, he told an awful lot of political stories and stories about his worldwide hiking adventure, and when I say preached… he definitely did that. We are the generation who need to take the world by the horns and tell the world that enough is enough… that war, poverty, racism, homophobia, fundamentalism, George W. Bush and the generally unthinking, reactionary and selfish approach to the world that is prevalent around the globe is not the way forward. It was slightly surreal…especially as the entire crowd were hungover and not feeling particularly “activist”… after 10 minutes I did think of leaving as I really wasn’t in the mood for a sermon, but in the end it was very worthwhile, and Mr Rollins seems to be a very interesting, committed and passionate individual. He claims that his mission for the rest of his life is to travel around the world fucking shit up and causing trouble… in the protester/activist sense. Fair play to him… I think he has a point.
And he also described Iron Maiden’s “Eddie” as the Iron Maiden gerbil… this wins him extra points in my book any time!
Sunday, Apollo Stage: Slayer, 15.05 – 15.50 ****; Saturn Stage: Bring Me the Horizon, 15.55 – 16.35 **; Apollo Stage: Iron Maiden, 20.45 – 22.45 ****
You will notice that by Sunday we were seeing fewer bands, and I have much less to say. This was down to a combination of feeling far more tired, there not being so many good bands on, and us wanting to plough through the lashings of rum that we had brought and largely left untouched in our tents.
There really is not much to say about these bands. Slayer and Maiden did exactly what you would expect them too. They rocked unbelievably, but didn’t really do anything else particularly spectacular. Slayer seemed a bit annoyed, and rightly so, that they were so far down the bill (behind Pendulum FFS), and Maiden played rather too many songs which were unfamiliar to the non-die-hard fan… but these are minor complaints and I really did enjoy getting to see them. Bring Me the Horizon seemed bizarrely young, and were utterly intent on getting everyone in the crowd to mosh, create walls of death, and generally break themselves. We, however, did not heed these calls, and preferred to sit on our spot on the hill drinking beer and comparing their lacklustre performance to the epicness of Sabaton the previous day.
After Maiden, Chris was shattered and decided to go back to the tent… in fact Heather was so tired that she didn’t even make it to see Maiden… but Geoff and I decided that we had to go on some of the epic fairground rides that were dotted around the place… and so we got swung upside down, and this way and that and proceeded back to the tent where we promptly collapsed. So tired! But sleep was, once again not forthcoming… the noise in the campsite was tremendous and try as we might… shots of rum… games of poker… reading 1984… nothing would work. But we must have gotten some sleep, because various weird dreams about snakes and the Bedlam Theatre happened. Stefan and Andreas were packing up their tent when we got back… and managing surprisingly well considering the amount of rum we managed to force down Stefan’s throat before Maiden… and Chris and Heather were nowhere to be seen until half-seven the following morning when the tents were needing packed up. So endeth Sunday at Sonisphere…
What to say really? We got up… we packed up the tents… we made our way out of the festival site. The queue for the shuttle buses to the train station was epic… like 1000s of people queuing up on one bus… and so we decided to get a taxi again. Literally, there was no-one else waiting for a taxi… had everyone spent so much money that they couldn’t afford the £2.50? Once again, Geoff and I were amazingly glad that we had paid the extra £7 for First Class and, having stocked up on a tonne of “proper” food in a local Tesco,, we were on our way back to Edinburgh!
This has all been a bit rambly… but I thought it was worth sharing my experiences of this awesome festival. To sum it all up, in the words of Chris K:
“I can confirm that A, Rammstein are better than Maiden. B, i do look very much like Gary Numan. C, Sabaton fuckin’ rule! and D, festival toilets are not actually that bad.”
Recommendations for next year? Better lockers… cheaper booze… less Alice Cooper and Placebo… but on the whole a damn fine experience, and I would certainly do it again next year – dependent upon the lineup.
Make sure to look up Sabaton, Chickenhawk and And So I Watch You From Afar!
I realise that this post fits thoroughly into the “and more…” section of my blog… but that’s what it is there for. Most of what I post will be about religion, but I am interested in other things too! This is also likely to be an issue during the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival, during which I am performing in The Threepenny Opera, and will be seeing and reviewing a lot of other local productions… at least this is my intention!
Please let me know what you think!
All the best,
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