Where riffs and friends come together
Words & pics by Mr. Witchfinder (The Buried Herald)
Let us go back in time to last month’s Red Smoke Festival, a wicked stoner celebration tucked away in the tiny city of Pleszew, Poland. Since 6 years now, this festival has been gradually building its identity with a clear aim in mind. To share the passion for underground music and worship it with the loveliest of people. All done from scratch and ignited by a sheer need to spread the stoner word in Poland. Sounds fun? Better put it on your agenda now because Red Smoke Festival might possibly be the best summer experience to ever happen to you. I mean it.
Spanning 3 days, hosting approximately 1000 people and located just on the border of the town, this outdoor festival feels as sort of a big family reunion. The atmosphere is kept intimate, yet wholeheartedly open for anyone to feel welcome. While the lineup always holds a few big names (does Weeadeater ring a bell?), it’s not so much about them in the end. The essence lies in a mix between freshly baked bands, the underground “classics”, and the aforementioned big hits. There is always a surprise waiting to blow your mind, you just can’t predict when and how.
Cutting to the point though. Below, you can see the festival’s timetable which can give you a full impression of who and when was playing. The written part of the report focuses on my personal highlights, however the pictures cover the whole festival so be sure to check them out as well. Let’s go!
Friday started off with the first gig at around 5pm. Though that day’s lineup lacked what you might typically call a major headliner, it still managed to daze and confuse. And with bands coming from Belgium, Denmark, Italy and Poland, the evening felt like a small European get-together where one could witness quite a rich musical cross-section. Doom, stoner, psych, and even noise rock, whatever you fancy!
MuN (PL) opened the day with some hazed out tunes evoking what one might call “the realm of sleep”. Swimming in the ocean of slow riffs, I was trying to comprehend that RSF had officially begun and that there was surely no return. With friends around and beer in hand, one could wish for nothing more.
Continuing with the madness came Narcosatanicos (DK), a noise-rock band consisting of 7(!) members. All young and looking as if they had collectively dropped out of class, the guys surprisingly kicked off with a relentless myriad of sax blows, dual drumbeats and other unsettling sounds. Though I recall their set mainly as a sonic chaos, it was fun to see so many musicians cooperating to arrive at what I deemed as one of the most unique performances of RSF. Peculiar, promising and pretty damn wild.
La Morte Viene Dallo Spazio
Along with the setting sun, landed a quintet sworn to space rituals and some native cultural influences. La Morte Viene Dallo Spazio (IT), slowly unveiled their intentions and enchanted the crowd with a collection of unusual instruments. There was flute, Theremin, synths, Indian harmonium and of course the classy trio – drums, bass and guitar. Though I missed some kind of dynamism in that gig, I realised that it was perhaps the very intention. Spaced out and stretched to borders of consciousness, the band’s performance very well managed to craft a universe of its own, however astral and otherworldly it felt.
Following up, came our native Weedpecker (PL) who premiered their new lineup consisting of members of other musical projects within the genre. With Piotr (vox/guit) staying as the only original member, the-thing-that-pecks-your-weed took off to spill some serious stoner rock. As for the first time playing with a new squad, Weedpecker did a decent job. But surely more live practice is needed to arrive at their full potential, for now the gig felt more like a showcase of their various tracks instead of a captivating stoner rockout. But man, Sativa Landscapes live will never cease to give me goosebump. What a sound!
Wyatt E. (BE) rounded the evening off with some love for doom. Dressed in black robes, 3 mysterious figures climbed the stage and started showing the crowd around their heavy oriental dimensions. At first, it was hard for me to adhere to the monotonous vibe but slowly, minute after minute, I began grasping Wyatt’s essence. Yet, being quite worn off after a whole day of redsmoking, I couldn’t get myself into the trance which the band was gradually building. But without doubt, this dose of heavy riffin’ was more than enough to put everyone in a state of no return.
Saturday oh Saturday… What did those evil forces do to you?
The second day of Red Smoke Festival was in quite a stark contrast with the one preceding it. The lineup just wouldn’t let you rest for a while, constantly throwing up killer acts up your doorstep. Since there was no way of missing a single gig, I decided to only cover my personal highlights as it would just end up being too long of a read. Without further ado, I invite you to yet another dose of deadly memories.
Breaking the 5 year long tradition of opening the festival on the main stage, Red Scalp (PL) kicked Saturday off with a gig just at the entrance to the campsite. Needless to say, the face-to-face contact with the crowd appeared to the gig’s biggest quality. Some people were just waking up (1pm sounds just about right, no?), some were already downing their 3rd beer. Still, no matter who I looked at, he or she was either smiling, nodding with appreciation or just fading away in their own imagination. Playing both some bangers as well as a few tracks off their upcoming LP, Red Scalp took us all by the hand and invited for a wicked ritual. Filled with joy, love for rock and roll and a sense of belonging.
While the afternoon was also dominated by some other great Polish names, out of all those hitting the main stage it was precisely Diuna (PL) who truly stole my heart. Seeing them for the second time in just over a month, I could fairly say that it’s currently one of these bands that have made a huge leap forward without losing any bits of their original spirit. Hell, they’ve even amplified their dedication to the desolated desert and improved on their captivating stoner riffages with some new material. And perhaps the best thing about the concert was the visible bond with the crowd which the band has been gradually building since its very conception. This gig was the quintessence of both Diuna’s passion for music and for people who, as the band, help building the community, stone by stone. Oh, and thanks Maciek for that “SOLO BASU”
After sadly missing their gig at Freak Valley, I finally managed to see our native Spaceslug (PL) live. Crawling from under the shadows to play in the setting sun, the space doom trio warmly welcomed the crowd and went off to doing their thing. Their show was heavy and barbarous from start to finish but still decently infused with sounds from some astral dimensions. Hearing tracks like “Proton Lander” or “Words Like Stones” live for the first time, I was at first vividly excited and later unfortunately slightly underwhelmed. Some guitar chords felt out of place and the spacy atmosphere prevailing throughout Spaceslug’s records was hardly noticeable. However, Jan’s bass rips resonated hard and strong which at moments made me feel as if reality belonged to dark corners of outer space. In the end, the act left a rather good impression on me due to the brutal power expressed by the guys, their good interaction with the crowd and of course the massive riffing…
Black Cobra (U.S.) winded up the stage accompanied with unsettling hisses and spits of venom. The lethal duo consisting of Jason Landrian (former Cavity) and Rafa Martinez (also playing in Acid King), didn’t linger around and headed directly for some sonic annihilation. Hearing tracks spanning their whole discography, at moments I felt both surprised and content as my soul was continuously falling victim to a myriad of blows. Some tracks I recognized, some appeared to be quite a pleasant surprise. Add to that Jason’s no-fucks-given vibe, some great lighting and brutal power from start to finish and you got a gig too fun to omit. In moments like these, it often makes me wonder where do these guys take these immense supplies of raw energy from. Better not to investigate that…
Ladies and gentleman, please now welcome Weedeater (U.S.) who, as you may reason, are known for stoner metal tunes stripped of any unnecessary thrills. Being around for a couple of decades already, this band has built themselves a solid image, be it with their music as well as their ferocious live performances. Their gig at Red Smoke Festival wasn’t any different, Dixie as always jumped around and reassured everyone of his dedication to Jim Beam, Shep was riffing hard just opposite of his namesake and in between them was Ramzi, blasting the sh*t out of that poor drumset. Fortunately or not, there was no vomit or other special effects to deter the weak of heart. On the contrary, the guys were pretty keen on delivering their music with a high dose of precision and confidence, however sloppy and effortless it had seemed. Playing killers like “Jason…The Dragon”, “God Luck And Good Speed” and the cruel “Wizard Fight” (!!!), there was no other way than to lose yourself and fall victim to some serious stoner madness. Judging by the people’s screams of joy and omnipresent clouds of burning devil’s lettuce, I guess one could call it the personification of stoner metal in its purest form. Thank you.
Time flies, especially in places like Pleszew where annually a group of around 1000 people gathers to cherish and practice their love for rock and roll. While Sundays are usually associated with the unavoidable post-RSF blues, they still manage to surprise and blow people’s minds. Sunday 14th of July was no exception. In fact it was in a way, but let’s leave that for later.
The Howling Eye
Playing as the second act on the campsite stage, The Howling Eye (PL) greeted everyone with timid smiles and went off to their world of psychedelia. It didn’t take long for the band to attract attention and gather the sleepy people lingering around the campsite. With a blend of stoner and psych, the Howling Eye gradually explained their take on the genre and at one point, did that with the help of Tyrell from Electric Octopus. And man, what a perfect match was that! Jamming for over 15min, the guys had so much fun together that I had honestly hoped it would last for at least twice the time. Anyway, some great vibes and it was fun to see such a young band rocking out as if they’d been doing it for quite a long time.
“Stoner guitar lesson”
Just before the first concert of the main stage, Mitzig from Diuna had set up a “stoner guitar lesson” where the previous gig took place on the campsite. Surprisingly, many people joined the tutorial to hear their guru out and to simply have a good laugh. And believe me, it was great to see how strong the stoner rock community was at RSF. It made one feel part of the community, no matter who the person was or what he/she did outside of the festival. On its grounds, everyone fell under the common denominator of booze, riffs, spliffs and of course – “Jeb*ć Stoner”. Don’t bother comprehending, it may poison your mind.
The Great Machine
And if that wasn’t fun enough, let me briefly tell you about The Great Machine (IL) and what they brought about on the main stage. Couple of minutes into the gig and I already knew that these guys came here with one aim. To party as wildly as possible while delivering a highly energetic kick to the head. Hopping around the stage, climbing the amps, harassing their rigs… them Israelis knew no limits! Suddenly, the electric atmosphere imploded when the band stepped down the stage, took their gear and dived into the crowd. Wow! Tightly surrounded by the bystanders, The Great Machine brought the gig to another level by getting rid of any borders. There was no talk of comfort zones or private space. Rock and roll took the reins and kidnapped everyone in the vicinity. Of course, music-wise there could be plenty to argue about but speaking of the show it was perhaps the best performance of the whole festival. In moments like that, one forgets about the world and adheres to the raw energy blasting through the speakers and pouring down the musicians’ hands…
Kikagaku Moyo (JP), were the Sunday’s headliners and appeared on the stage right after the sun had set. Seeming at first slightly dazed, the Japanese quickly began knitting their own universe with utmost care. With their hair unkempt and sleepy smiles creeping up their faces, Kikagaku Moyo swiftly reassured everyone of their power to both rock hard and hypnotize. Hardly any band balances live so well between what’s heavy and what’s soft. Thanks to the setlist of their choice, the crowd could enjoy the whole spectrum of the Kikagaku Moyo’s abilities. And from what I noticed, it put many people into states of astral ecstasy. Happiness was literally soaking the air!
Closing the evening was Spidergawd (NO) who with their ferocious tempo cranked the energy meter to the max. The attendance rate wasn’t the highest but it certainly didn’t stop the band from putting out 100% . And while Rolf and his mad sax skills were nowhere to be seen, the band still did a fantastic job with constructing a show interlaced with sick guitar solos (!), Kenneths’s punishing drum beats (although somewhat surpressed most of the time) and moments of suspension where at times just one musician at a time was playing. Spidergawd’s performance was one of the most professional ones of the whole fest when speaking of both the technicality and the overall gig composition. And with all that, they still had tons of fun playing and interacting with the crowd which returned the energy with double the power. I couldn’t think of a better way to close the festival. Wait a second…
“RSF Dance Experience”
Some time after the dust on the main stage had settled, the crew set up what they called the “RSF Dance Experience”. To put it simply, it was a cozy afterparty full of laughs, booze and dancing until 7 in the morning. And to me personally, it was a perfect summary of what this essence of the festival is about. For it’s in the end always hanging out and sharing all the crazy moments with friends. The old, the new and those hiding in your head.
To sum up, Red Smoke Festival 2019 turned out to be the best edition to date. Not so much speaking of the lineup, as it could have been jacked with some more ‘bangers’, but regarding the overall vibe. No technical problems, no security issues and for sure no major disappointments. Gig delays were unfortunately there, but that’s hard to avoid and apparently no one really cared in the end. What mattered most though, were the attendees and their attitude. An audience so friendly, genuine and chilled out is rare to be seen. Thanks people of Red Smoke, you’re the best!
Having watched the festival develop since 5 years now, I must honestly say that I’m proud and amazed how this time everything ran smoothly and how many familiar faces reappear each year. I can only hope that Red Smoke will maintain it’s intimate status and that the organizers will keep on experimenting with the lineup because these qualities are exteremely precious.
Cheers everyone and thanks for the read. Hope you got a glimpse of what this festival is about. See you next year!