Above: Circle – All photography by the author.
You would be forgiven for thinking that a festival with a name like Raw Power would promote a very specific style of music. One pictures a hoard of hard rock bands whose members never really grew out of their Black Sabbath phase, their music a slow variation on the dark, psychedelic template established many moons before. This is, however, Baba Yaga’s Hut we’re talking about: a South London collective based at Corsica Studios who have placed acts as diverse as Acid Mothers Temple, Flamingods and Gazelle Twin on various stages across the capital recently. Raw Power has just undergone its third incarnation, having relocated to the Tufnell Park Dome and Boston Music Rooms last year after a two-year hiatus. Spreading itself over three days for the Pentecost bank holiday, the festival’s line-up boasted a generous dosage of bands, but there were evident flourishes of more experimental stuff too.
Opening the festivities on Friday night were Luminous Bodies. The “pssychedelic stupor-group” swagger along with two drummers in their ranks and consist of members from Terminal Cheesecake, Part Chimp, Gum Takes Tooth and Psychic Pussies. Their set was a loose and ramshackle affair due to the fact that the band has played more gigs than rehearsals, but wholly entertaining, ending with a trashed drum kit and waves of feedback. Gnod followed suit with a wall of motorik-driven auburn noise. Known best for changing-up, musically speaking, whenever they get bored, Raw Power was to be the Salford collective’s twenty-sixth show in twenty-five days. Listening to Gnod live is akin to drowning at a cult baptism – a genuinely frightful and immersive experience – with none of the shameless showboating displayed by Gallon Drunk, who closed the first evening.
Looking around on day two, it was clear that most of the audience, along with a good chunk of the bands, were male. Let’s not generalise. Both sexes can admit to channelling aggression into positive creative energies and most of the time it isn’t really about anger anyway. The problem of gender inequality is seen by some as a weary set-back; the fact that we’re talking about it only aids to perpetuate the divide, but in order to transcend everyday problems such as sexism we must have these conversations. As the Reading Festival meme goes to show, women are disproportionately represented in alternative music. In this instance, the Raw Power line-up was far more balanced with respect to gender and this is probably down to the fact that the promoters of this particular festival aren’t answerable to big name sponsors or giants of the record industry who may have a few vested interests to propagate. Good Throb vividly address the issue of sexism with vigour and vitriol. The Wharves are seemingly tired of it and would rather we turn to their music instead. Ye Nuns, an all-female Monks cover band, candidly approach the problem by making art out of cabaret, while Anji Cheung‘s otherworldly atmospherics overshadow the issue entirely.
Speaking of aggression, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are possibly the most flamboyantly violent band to have ever come from Newcastle. Theirs is a music that does not wallow in self-pity or psychological evaluations. It is a direct assault on the senses and a euphoric one at that. By contrast, Earthless pandered only to the mirror. Relentlessly strangling long phallic objects for what seemed like three hours, the San Diego three-piece noodled their way into a boring wormhole, reminding us that getting psychedelic music right requires more than just a touch of reverb on a guitar solo.
Fatigue naturally sets in come day three. Even wearing earplugs for the whole weekend doesn’t change the fact that prolonged exposure to punishing music takes the toll on one’s energy levels, and this is before you factor in the rivers of alcohol flowing from silver taps behind the bar. Hardcore veterans Hey Colossus blew away encrusted sleep from many an eye socket, but the highlight of the weekend’s tail end was the improvisational collaboration between KK Null and Kawabata Makoto (Acid Mothers Temple). Bragging an austere set up of a laptop and a guitar, this Japanese noise duo enveloped the whole auditorium in merciless womb-like terror.
Never taking themselves too seriously, The Cosmic Dead followed on with an energetic set. Hair, guitars and guts flailed in all directions, but it was the Finnish band, Circle, who took it to the next level. Consciously parodying rock’s inherent masculinity, each member donned an absurdly large studded gauntlet. Two members even forewent trousers in favour of suspended stockings, while the group’s bearded singer, Mika Rättö, attempted half-hearted acrobatic positions behind his keyboard stand. It was hard to tell whether Circle’s set was intentionally sexist or simple buffoonery. Either way it was thought-provoking entertainment, which is what you want, really. Isn’t it?