This spring bank holiday, strange things are afoot across Britain. In the village of Brockworth, amid the lush folds of Gloucestershire, a horde of nutters crash head over heels down a steep hillside in bone-crunching pursuit of a slab of Double Gloucester cheese. In the genteel Staffordshire village of Endon, locals celebrate by ‘dressing up’ the local well. Meanwhile, amid the upper-crust bustle of Tufnell Park in north London, a half-naked ginger bloke, streaked in beer and screaming, stuffs a microphone down this boxers and threads through a throng of nonplussed stoners, manically walloping an assortment of drums. Welcome to Raw Power festival, the latest addition to Britain’s eccentric pageant of bank holiday shenanigans.
The anarchic antics come courtesy of egalitarian noise troupe Sly and the Family Drone, who are every bit as daft as the name suggests. Pitched in a wonky ring amid the working-men’s-club-like gloom of The Dome, these puckish ‘performance artists’ bastardise the hippie drum circle at a stroke, sounding like cavemen tutored (or perhaps tortured?) by power-electronics nihilists Whitehouse. Depending on your point of view, allowing anybody to have a bash in a drum circle is an act of bonhomie or just plain foolishness. But the band embrace the former, and the resultant din, raised by warped cymbals and punished toms, produces shit-eating grins all round. Amid the mobocracy, a Bez-like prankster, who switches the gibbon-y dancing and maracas with beer-can spraying and pink cellotape headband, incites all manner of japes. Seemingly, he’s purchased the entirety of Asda’s party-supply aisle, frisbeeing paper plates every which way while wrapping half the audience in cling film.
Raw Power’s freak flag remains firmly at full mast for the rest of the weekend, as heads of all stripes are treated to a smorgasbord of avant-garde artisanry. With their ominous band name and collection of circular mirror masks, the Bonnacons of Doom loom like Doctor Who baddies from the ‘70s. And in this dark corner of space and time, despite the laws of the physical universe, we can definitely hear the lead singer scream. Like the outro wailing on Pink Floyd’s ‘The Great Gig In the Sky’, she howls orgasmically, piercingly, non-lexically, while her band open up a portal to a dimension where Hawkwind are benevolent rulers.
Like a sledgehammer to the face, sludge dredgers Slabdragger bring us brutally back down to earth with a skull-cracking crunch. Watching their 45-minute set of molasses-slow, fuzz-encrusted doom, one assumes, is something akin to what those poor bastards must’ve experienced when lugging four-tonne hunks of rock to Stonehenge: hard work. Even so, the hirsute trio look like they’re having the time of their lives, and, the ponderous nature of their noise notwithstanding, their testosterone-fuelled enthusiasm is infectious. Later on, Japanese noodlers Picacyu-Makoto scoop us up and relaunch us back into space, conflating stargazing post-rock and free-jazz to bewildering effect.
Unfortunately, Sunday sees a slump in the overall potency of output. There’s a knockabout monotony about Chilean trio Follakzoid’s kraut-preserving blur of reverb-drenched riffola. Instead of careening down the Autobahn’s fast lane, they appear to idly retread the hard-shoulder of psyche-rock history. Meanwhile, Mugstar’s lightweight stoner jams seem to hang in the air like a nondescript gas. At the Dome, however, drone-powered noise supergroup Sex Swing concoct some much needed atmospheric electricity. Vibrating with sinister slurs of sax and jarring, lo-fi rockisms, they sound like Portishead circa-Third tweaking on the brown acid. And Camberwell noise merchants Part Chimp may be greying round the edges, but their gargantuan post-grunge bangers burn with youthful ire and abandon.
Perhaps it wasn’t thought possible, but British bank holidays just got barmier.
Words: Jamie Skey