Fans gathered in their masses
Choosing which festival to go to this summer was not a difficult task. While the prospect of catching three of the Big Four and some of my favourite bands – Mastodon, Gojira, and Carcass among others – at Sonisphere is extremely enticing, I had to give them up to witness the band that started it all: Black Sabbath. I have been listening to them since my earliest exposure to rock music, much thanks to the game Guitar Hero for featuring ‘Iron Man’ – still one of my all-time favourite songs. This year’s British Summer Time Festival featured the genre pioneer as the headliner (the 4th of July entry of the festival was even promoted as ‘Black Sabbath Time’ due to the matching initials).
Motorhead is also playing, which is another decisive factor that made me go. I bought the ticket for their February show, which was unfortunately cancelled due to Lemmy’s health issues. Since there was no sign of the show being cancelled this time around – Motorhead pulled a set in Coachella earlier this year – it was wise to have faith that the 68-year old rock & roll lord will grace Hyde Park with his repertoire of songs that have consistently capture the original Motorhead sound throughout the band’s 40-year career. Indeed, the newest album ‘Aftershock’ retains the aggressive, in-your-face, no-frills rock & roll that the band has been known for since their debut album.
BST is my first festival experience outside of Indonesia. I’ve attended several Indonesian music festivals like Hammersonic and the ‘Java Trinity’ of Java Jazz, Java Rockinland and Java Soulnation. But none serves the authentic festival feel that I witnessed on concert DVDs: wide-open field, thousands of tents set up for camping, and humongous headliner stages. To be fair, BST did not fully deliver those expectations either, the camping part being non-existent. And maybe that’s not what they aim to do anyway. The fact that the festival is open for free on a lot of days, installs rides like the ferris wheel and the waveswinger, and holds a freaking Zumba class made BST more like a town carnival rather than a music festival. Perhaps the closest Indonesian equivalent to BST would be PRJ (Pekan Raya Jakarta or Jakarta Fair), Jakarta’s people party adorned with booths offering traditional food, handy crafts, and clothing.
Having the festival in the middle of the city is such a convenience. I saved up on travel and accommodation (camping) expenses. If I had decided to go to Sonisphere, I would have to buy train and coach tickets and book a camping spot (plus having to bring my own tent, food, drinks, etc). To attend BST, I only had to take a short tube ride to Marble Arch station, walk into the park and enjoy the shows, and then hop on a tube ride home. A really nice perk for a festival that boasts such an impressive line-up.
Another great thing about the experience is that I went there with Seringai’s very own Arian13. It is interesting to note that Seringai has been accused of sounding too similar to Sabbath and Motorhead a number of times, perhaps throughout their whole career. So in a weird way I’ll be watching two legendary bands who’s music is the reason that the guy-beside-me’s music exist.
We arrived at Hyde Park at 1pm, while the door opens at 1.30pm. Upon exiting Marble Arch station, we saw hordes of black t-shirt-donning folks flocking towards the main gate. There were some people wearing cool stuff, like a really old Motorhead t-shirt. Turns out t-shirt-watching would be our favourite past time during the festival.
Proper British summer time
Security wasn’t as tight as I had expected. According to the BST guidebook, we are not allowed to bring any food and drinks (even the containers) into the festival. So I gave up the idea of bringing a huge plastic bottle that I can fill with water from the many water fountains within the park. When the dude was checking my bag, which was over-packed with a pair of jeans, a jacket, a t-shirt, a small towel, some tissues and loads of medications (Tolak Angin), he only glanced inside it for two seconds then he let me in. Quite worrying, to be honest, as someone might bring a dangerous object. This proved to be true as when The Libertines played the next day (5th of July), some fans lighted flares in the midst of a packed and chaotic crowd.
Thank God none of that happened on the 4th of July. Upon entering we were able to walk around the spacious park, browsing the food stalls and merchandise booths and familiarizing ourselves with the stage locations. There were six stages in total, though the acts that we wanted to catch all play at the Main Stage. Bo Ningen was playing at a smaller stage just before Soundgarden’s set, but because the whole area was packed at that time (not as spacious as when we entered) we could not catch them. We shouldn’t be surprised, but because we were glued to the stage and weren’t observing how the number of crowds escalated quickly, we haven’t had an escape route planned (more about this later).
Anyway, let’s talk about the main acts of the day. Soulfly was the first band to hit the main stage. Arian told me that he watched them live back in Jakarta, which he thought wasn’t that fun. According to him, the lead singer and guitarist Max Cavalera doesn’t always play correctly. He told a funny story that when Soulfly played Jakarta, the sound engineers were so excited that Max Cavalera is playing that they cranked up their guitar sound so high that it overpowered the others. Turns out Max’s playing was not that fantastic – messy, in fact – so highlighting his guitar wasn’t such a smart move. Soulfly played ‘Arise’ at Hyde Park, which is one of my favourite Sepultura songs. Igor Cavalera, the ex-Sepultura drummer and the brother of Max, was drumming for Soulfly that day and was wearing a blue Hawaiian (Brazilian?) t-shirt. Two Cavaleras on stage was quite a sight.
Crowd, bloody crowd
Arian and I watched Soulfly from behind the fourth barrier. We thought that beyond that barrier was the VIP section. But then we saw a bunch of people trying to walk around the barrier and found that it wasn’t actually a VIP section. Since Motorhead is playing next, we prepared to seek a nice spot that is in the centre and not too far from the stage, just behind the second barrier.
Anticipation for Motorhead was quite tense. I didn’t know what to expect. I haven’t seen many recent live videos of them. And I was quite surprised that they played Coachella earlier this year, considering how Motorhead’s music might be foreign to the Coachella type of crowd. Then again, we’ve seen better surprises this year in the form of Metallica whiplashing sceptics and critics through their fantastic performance at Glastonbury. I was hoping that Motorhead would do the same too, unleashing a powerful hard rocking feast that only they could serve.
And serving the feast, they did.
Seeing Lemmy onstage was such a great privilege. His voice was raspy as ever, his signature Rickenbacker (Rickenbastard, to be exact) 4004LK sleek and beautiful, and his fellow Motorhead Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee played fantastic as well. When the huge stage screen showed Lemmy’s face, I could see so many wrinkles on his neck, which made me respect him even more for still wanting to give fans a great show even at the age of 68.
Motorhead played a combination of their old and new tunes. Highlights include ‘Stay Clean’, ‘Lost Woman Blues’ (a great song from their latest album), ‘Overkill’, and obviously, ‘Ace of Spades’, which actually sounded interesting. It was still the fast, relentless song that all metalheads love. But on that day, the song seemed rather casual, as if it wasn’t played as aggressive as how it should be. Lemmy and the rest also seemed to be enjoying their performance casually, as the bright summer weather uplifted everyone’s mood on Hyde Park that day.
Arian is a big Motorhead fan. The band is also one of the reasons why he came to London. While to him the show wasn’t Motorhead’s best performance, he was pleased that he got one thing off his bucket list.
The next band to play was Faith No More. I don’t really listen to them (I didn’t explore beyond ‘The Real Thing’). But it was an interesting experience nonetheless.
After Lemmy and co. had finished their set, Arian and I were just sitting on our reserved spot (in the center, behind the second barrier). Still in the Motorhead mood, we were just busy talking about the show we had watched (it was Motorhead after all). Suddenly, a lot of dudes in Fantomas, Tomahawk, Mr.Bungle and all the other acts that Mike Patton is (or was) involved in started to appear. A bunch of pretty girls also showed up, which is a rather odd sight at a metal show. Then the few empty spots around us, which gave us some leg-rooms to chill out, were filled with people trying to secure a good view. As we were starting to get in the way of other people, we stood up. The stage was completely different now. The stacks of black Marshalls were replaced by amps covered in white sheets. And pots of flowers adorned the entire stage. Seems like I’m in for a treat.
When those guys came in, clad in black clerical shirts, they really own the stage, especially Mike Patton. With an imposing pose, he opened the show, uttering lines from ‘Zombie Eaters’ accompanied by the clean guitar intro. Then the song exploded, and everyone is singing. The crowd was more alive than Motorhead’s, which is a good and a bad thing. For instance, I imagined how much more fun could Motorhead’s show been had the crowd been this participative. (I should stop comparing Motorhead’s show to FNM, I guess).
The White Concert
A few weeks ago I read an article that says that Mike Patton is ‘the greatest singer of all time’, boasting an impressive six-octave range and ousting the likes of Axl Rose and Mariah Carey. Some of his solo performance videos on YouTube show him performing a capella with the help of a voice processor and includes diverse vocal styles like rapping, screaming, and falsetto. This is also why FNM was able to attract such a diverse crowd: their music has a bit of pop, a bit of metal, a bit of rock, a bit of hip-hop. A bit of everything for everyone, basically.
One of the highlights of the FNM show was when Patton said ‘aren’t you all enjoying this great holiday?’ to which there was almost no response from the puzzled audience. ‘Oh yeah, this is the day when we kicked your ass!’ It was the 4th of July after all. Other highlights of the FNM show include the debut of two new songs.
Now comes the interesting part. Remember when I said that we didn’t prepare an escape route? It was here that we didn’t realise how packed the whole park was. After watching two shows in a row, we were thirsty and hungry. So we wanted to get to where food booths were. We thought it would still be okay to watch Soundgarden from afar and I was actually thinking that maybe we could catch Bo Ningen.
Hungry and thirsty
Pushing through the crowd was no easy task. Add to that the fact that food booths were so far away from our sight (and they’re small) that it’s hard for us to determine which way we should actually go. After about 20 minutes of ‘moshing’, we were finally near the food booths. The next problem was choosing what to eat. Most booths have a long cue, except for a hot salad booth. They’re one of the cheaper options as well. Without hesitation, I queued for the food while Arian was sitting on the grass in between the occupied tables, guarding our bags and drinks.
The hot salad was an interesting meal. You can choose 3 hot vegetarian dishes to be packed away. Since I was hungry and wouldn’t bother inspecting every option in detail, I followed the recommendations of the cashier girl. I left the booth with two boxes filled with a mixture of coleslaw and two different types of African vegetarian curry. Arian joked how the queue was not long because it will probably give us diarrhoea (thank God it didn’t).
It actually filled me up
As we finished our meal, we prepared ourselves for the main course of the day: Black Sabbath.
Just like the previous shows, we were able to get a good spot in the centre, as the transition between Soundgarden and Sabbath was quite long and a lot of people left the stage area. The sky was darkening and cloud was getting thicker. During the day the sky was bright and blue, absent of any clouds. I even said that it is rather unlikely for weather as nice as this to end in rain. No problem, though, as this kind of weather would suit the music better.
‘War Pigs’ opened the show. Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Tomy Clufetos (Rob Zombie drummer), and Ozzy Osbourne entered the stage. Huge screens are show images of notable world politicians, akin to the theme of the song.
‘Generals gathered in their masses.. Just like witches at black masses..’
My initial reaction was ‘wow, it’s so loud.’ It was here that I realised why the sound of the previous bands felt like they were held back from the reaching all of the audience. They were saving up powers for the main act.
The sound is just amazing. During ‘Black Sabbath’, for example, Iommi’s stroke of the infamous diminished fifth is really subtle, but still packs that eerie punch. Geezer Butler’s solo that led to ‘N.I.B.’ showed the legendary bassist at his technical best as well as the crunchy bass tone that many modern stoner rock bands adhere too. Even Clufetos’ drum solo saw the drum gains upped a few decibels, which made his solo so powerful.
Ozzy is as interesting as ever. He did all those weird jumps and addresses the audience in awkward ways. Criticise him as you will, but the man still delivers a stunning vocal performance.
I was hoping they’d play ‘Electric Funeral’, my favourite Sabbath song after ‘Iron Man’. I think that they could have substituted ‘Rat Salad’ with it. Nevertheless, the set was great as they played their best songs plus two new songs off the new album. Speaking of the new album, it was also on that day at Hyde Park that they received an award for having sold a million copies of ‘13’, an impressive feat in an age of declining record sales.
Black Sabbath ended their show with ‘Paranoid’. After ‘Children Of The Grave’, during which a moshpit occurred, all four members thank the crowd and left the stage. Fans were getting paranoid because they should not leave without playing ‘Paranoid’. The period in which the stage was empty was rather long and looking back it should be understandable considering how old those guys are.
Nevermind that, they eventually hit the stage to play ‘Paranoid’. The crowd went wild. The legendary band unleashed their trump card. It was such an epic closing.
What they showed on screen after the show
To me, the whole day was great, but it’s just Sabbath playing ‘Paranoid’ at the end that really sums up the experience. Sheer epic.
Arian and I then jumped on the tube alongside other pleased, black t-shirt-donning fans.