I am starting to realise Astral is more than just a festival. It has become a mainstay in the counter-culture calendar. Flying the flag for freakdom. People coming together in a shared love of music and creativity. People having a good time and looking out for each other. It is a really supportive atmosphere in which bands can showcase their talents and there is no sense of one-upmanship that you sometimes get when lots of bands are playing.
If you can remember Astral 6, then you weren’t really there! This is a problematic premise when attempting to construct a review. It is also difficult to write about things you don’t know half enough about when all you can do is stand back in amazement and admire just how anyone can be that good.
There is always at least one band on at Astral low down on the bill that steals your heart and this year was no exception. Earth Tongue sounded as good live as they do on record, or perhaps even better. For a band relying on one drum kit and one guitar with heavy effects, they have a lot of clarity in their sound.
The fact that the singer (Gussie Larkin) has such a clear strong style obviously helps, aided by drummer (Ezra Simons) who can scream with the best of them. The crowd got bigger throughout their set and nobody left. The Astral crowd know when they have seen a good band and they would have played on if it hadn’t been for a collapsed snare. They are two musicians who are very in tune with each other and their music seems to flow really naturally.
The multiple venues will always mean you miss bands. Worse still, you might start listening to a set, think it’s not your thing, and wander off to see someone else. If I had left the Lanes at this point it would have been the worst mistake of my life.
Having decided to chill out with a pint EP/64 started their set. We were all wondering what was going on and the consensus was “these are boring”. How wrong could we be? Very wrong. EP/64 did something to me. They made me feel happy. If they didn’t rearrange my cells, they certainly disassembled them in preparation for restructuring. EP/64 are interesting. The name stands for “Ephemeral Project” and it is their stated aim to play only 64 improvised gigs.
This sounds quite high-brow and cold even, but nothing could be further from the truth. Watching them is to be transported. Their sound is tribal and ecstatic in a religious sense. It comes from a jazz angle with a dazzling drums and double bass rhythm section (Dan Johnson and Joseph Kelly) and on top of this singer (Dali de Saint Paul) layers vocal loop on vocal loop and sings and dances over the top. It is a beautiful sight to behold. It was carnival day in Bristol and EP/64 held their own Carnival of the Dead. No acid required. This was gig number 49.
We popped to SWX to see Gnod who were brutally heavy but we were hankering for something a bit softer maybe, so went and checked Electric Retro Spectrum at Rough Trade. The sound seemed better in here this year than last but it is a small venue. ERS are a three piece from Paris (Tara Clamart guitar and vocals, Marko Simic guitar and Pierre Dessauny drums) and actually they sounded a bit different live than they do on their recent release "Sub-urban" which is quite a doomy distorted affair.
This is one tight bitching mother F of a band and they are captivating to watch. They have an amazing frontwoman with a beautiful soulful, bluesy voice and the blues really came to the fore in this set. Tara plays a mean guitar but the bounce between her and Marko on lead really sets it off. And when Marko lets rip, boy he lets rip. Others might say this is derivative rock music, but they have something special going on and the songs are strong. Only in France it would seem are bands this cool and THIS GOOD! They don't release music that often but they are a huge part of the psych community in Paris through the Underground Transmissions night they run (Tara and Marko) and Pierre is engineering and producing music all the time for Black Totem Records, home for bands like Dr Chan, Thee Maximators, Cheapster and many more. Hard workers. Step up to get your rep up!
By this stage, things were getting pretty gonzo, so we headed back to SWX for King Khan and the Shrines who were the perfect band at the perfect time, or any time for that matter. They are like a soul revue fronted by a barfly, albeit a glamorous one who can sing. I think I counted 8 people on stage, including a horn section. This is glorious good time music for lovers and fighters with a sense of humour. Infectious and beautiful (ugly) music for misfits. Well done Astral! For the finale, King Khan left the stage and I thought he would just let the band play out, but how wrong was I?!?! King Khan returned having changed into a black leotard with a necklace of teeth and a black feather hat. SENSATIONAL.
After that, the intention was to set up shop in the Lanes for the duration to ensure we didn’t miss Slift after we saw them tear the place up last year. By this point the wheels were well and truly falling off in terms of our personal performance!
Fortunately L.A. WITCH weren’t having problems delivering their set of, I guess you would call it, reverb drenched, bubble-gum, druggy music or maybe Californian psychedelic blues? Either way they are a fine band you need to check out. They have a lazy kind of presence on stage, but don’t be fooled. These songs hit hard and a few good listens to the lyrics will convince you of that. They would give Johnny Cash a run for his money.
Bo Ningen are impossibly good, that’s all you need to know. I hope Slift blew the roof off, I’m sure they did but we had left by this point due to someone eating something that didn’t agree with them.