Glastonbury 2015 blog: Saturday, Sunday and Summary

Intro – Revolution and Religion at Glastonbury

I’ve now returned from the cultural fantasy land and endurance test that is Glastonbury. Back in the real world, and two days after the majority of festival goers have left worthy farm, I’m now tasked with summarising the last days of experience at this most iconic of music festivals.

dalai lama glastonbury

The first few days I had managed to cover from the scene but due to the packed timetables of Saturday and Sunday I decided to take a break writing and completely immerse myself in the proceedings. Over the course of those days I witnessed some of the most unique performances I’d ever seen. I saw both Kanye West and Dalai Lama with a 12 hour timespan and as you can imagine, both were hugely memorable and yet had widely juxtaposed messages. The ego-fuelled spectacle of Kanye, which I and many other fans absolutely loved, was contrasted by the humility and compassion of Dalai Lama. The Buddhist leader, celebrating his 80th birthday, spoke to a crowd of twenty thousand or so about the need for better education, the importance of compassion and even of the inability of music to provide true contentment. The Dalai Lama instead told us he felt music was no different a sensorial experience to touch or taste, no different than the fleeting pleasure we get from eating a cake or having sex. He also encouraged people to believe that the next generation could create change. I thought delivering this kind of grounded message to a field full of pleasure seeking festival goers was sobering and appropriate.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama appeared again during Patti Smith’s awe inspiring set on Sunday, possibly the best set of the weekend, and bestowed upon Smith a white scarf that must have had some significance. We all sang Happy Birthday to His Holiness and a cake was brought out to him which he cut. He looked as if he was disappointed to have not eaten a piece as the cake was wheeled away from him. The rest of Smith’s set was a full blown punk riot, with Patti ripping through an extended version of Horses and Gloria, tripping over on stage in her fury, and recovering by telling the crowd “I am a fucking animal!” Smith’s dialogue between songs was in line with sentiment shared by Pussy Riot and the Dalai Lama – one of freedom, from government and corporations and that change IS possible. In spite of what others tell us. This rebellious sentiment didn’t feel contrived, it felt inspiring. Maybe we were only at a hedonistic music festival, but I can only dream that some of this revolutionary talk will help open the perspectives of some on the audience and watching at home.

From Pussy Riot holding a militant hostage on top of a war vehicle in front of The Park stage, to Pharrell leading a packed Pyramid audience in a chant championing Freedom, there was a definite liberal and confrontational edge to the festival. Greenpeace and other charities were everywhere. Up in Green Fields, where the original hippy inhabitants of the festival set up camp – you could talk to charities, meet alternative folk, get vegan cooking lessons, do power-ballad yoga and get behind many causes aligned with the festivals green mentality. Everywhere there were signs about not peeing on the land to avoid pollution, taking your tents and rubbish with you and leaving the farm without a trace. It’s sometimes hard to believe that a regular Somerset farmer would let all this happen on this backyard, but it’s probably justified by all the good work the festival has achieved, both raising money and awareness for causes. It’s great that this extends to the artists’ performances, that traditionally rebellious acts like Pussy Riot or Patti Smith champion their own causes, but also mainstream, seemingly corporate acts like Pharrell. Of course, some of this is done for the TV, and when Pharrell looked humbled by the mass singalong of his song Freedom, that was probably just as much due to the intoxication of the audience, and the British lad culture that encourages sing-along chanting, as it was to the crowds reception to the idea of freedom for our brothers of all colours and creeds.

Saturday and Kanye West

At odds with the liberal politics elsewhere, my Saturday was largely taken up with anticipation for Kanye’s set that night. I first took in some of the opportunities Glastonbury holds for the slightly-skilled like myself and headed to Stonebridge Bar in the The Park for Hip Hop Karaoke. Having learnt the whole of Through The Wire by Kanye West, I felt this was the opportunity to give it a go, and to appear in front of an audience at Glastobury. I managed to tick this one off the bucket list, and although I may have gone a bit too hard on the swearing and shouting, the experience seemed a success. Video proof to come.

It was then off to the main stage to camp up for Kanye’s headlining set. Before Kanye, in my attempts to get front row and centre, I enjoyed a set from Burt Bacharach, who turns out has written a lot more classic songs than I realised. Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head seemed perfect for the weekends weather (although it had cleared up at that stage). Paloma Faith followed and was sexy, had a lot of sass and some well-rehearsed dance moves. Then it was time for West. You may ask what all the fuss is about and why someone would be excited to see the man live. I’ve been a fan of his music for a few years now, notably since the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He’s now a Marmite kind of brand, you either love him or hate him, and event though his ego does overshadow the music, he’s got a heck of a lot of good songs and I felt it was going to be a memorable show.

kanye west glastonbury

In the eyes of this fan, he delivered. In the eyes of many other, he probably didn’t. I had expected the pancake lighting rig, having seen it hanging at the top of the pyramid stage earlier. I had also expected him not to bring a typical Glastonbury people-pleasing set, as this is not in his tool-set. I was correct, but he did bring his hits, and from where I was right at the front – surrounded by fellow Kanye super-fans – we had no complaints. Things did get a little unfocused in the middle, mistakes were made during Hold My Liquor by Kanye and guest Justin Vernon, and the guest appearances from Macca and Rihanna for Four Five Seconds never emerged. Kanye attempted that one by himself, which no-doubt was slightly disappointing. But for this fan – no complaints. He dropped rarities like I Wonder, attempted a hilarious karaoke version of Bohemian Rhapsody, and emerged from a crane for Touch The Sky – mimicking his triumphant Coachella set of 2011. It may have been self-indulgent, it probably wasn’t in the spirit of Glastonbury, and it wasn’t the highlight of the weekend. But it was good enough for this fan.

Sunday

Beginning with the relatively secret Dalai Lama’s appearance in the early hours up by the Stone Circle, Sunday had a decidedly more sober vibe compared to Saturday. In terms of substances as well as sounds. The Dalai Lama’s appearance and speech was most probably the highlight of the weekend for me, and well worth getting out of the tent early for. Sunday lunch-time I walked past the dance area on the way back to my tent and caught Minneapolis rap crew and record label Doomtree, who through down a huge hip hop party, leaving the stage altogether and performing in a circle in between their fans. I attempted to learn some lyrics to not look like the most clueless guy in the audience.

Patti Smith then owned the afternoon, and following that, exhaustion set in. My feet now dying from wearing gumboots and trudging miles across Worthy Farm for days on end, I was forced to leave Alt J’s mainstage set (which I wasn’t a huge fan of regardless) to head back to the campsite to return my so much more comfortable Chuck Taylor’s to my feet. On the way, I got distracted by Belle and Sebastian playing a much better set than the one they delivered at Auckland’s Laneway earlier in the year. I came right in time for I’m A Cuckoo and Another Sunny Day, but left early to complete the shoe mission. Comfortable footwear now acquired, I headed back to the Other Stage to watch a joyous performance of The Boy With The Arab Strap, complete with a pile of stage invading kids.

Sunday was the biggest test of endurance of the weekend. I had managed to sleep throughout the festival, but at this stage fatigue really had set in. I wandered up to The Park and watched a few songs of The Fall, Mark E. Smith delivering the punk grooves to a devoted audience. Unwilling to drink any more cider or consume the last of my Jagermeister, I carried a bottle around and wandered some more, finding a place to nap at the back of FKA Twigs. She sounded good, but I felt it was time to take my place for the headliners. I needed no more entertainment by the time The Who got on stage, so my excitement levels were not high. To my suprise, it was a very entertaining set, peaking with a Tommy medley towards the end. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend appear more youthful than expected and still had some anger left in them, destroying the glass wall that encased drummer Zakk Starsky, due to it causing sound problems. Albums tracks such as Bargain were well received, as were the massive hits of course. Patti Smith’s version of My Generation from earlier possibly topped The Who’s latter version however.

My enthusiasm and energy now returned, I sprinted to The Chemical Brothers, to make it in time for their last song, Block Rocking Beats with some of Do It Again thrown in. The light show seemed incredible and I immediately felt at home. I couldn’t help but think that was headlining set I should have been at. Never-the-less, this is the challenge you are faced with at a festival the scale of Glastonbury, and if your problems are whether or not to see The Who or The Chemical Brothers – they don’t really seem like problems at all.

Summary

Glastonbury is a festival of opposites, partly a great fundraiser for charities and causes and partly a hedonistic, waste producing machine, where millions of pounds are exchanged throughout and millions of pints and bacon buns are consumed. A place for families to watch their favourite bands and have a break in the British country side and a place for teens and lads to drop pills and party in the rave areas until the early hours and beyond. My experience encompassed several of these opposites, with my time divided between relaxing, taking in the ideas and messages being transmitted and at the same time partying hard in my wellies until trench foot set in and I was forced to head back to camp.

I will probably go again, but to be honest once was probably enough. It’s quite an adventure and there is almost too much culture to consume. Within all the hedonism, excess and massive crowds, there’s a good message, one in opposition to the corporate conformity of everyday life to be consumed as well.

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Glastonbury 2015 live blog: Thursday and Friday

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Thursday

12:51
Day two has started with a trek to the only hot showers, over in the greenpeace area, which saw a forty minute wait to get freshened up. The queues will only get bigger for these enviromentally concious showers where one must use the provided organic soap, so baby wipes and rinses by the nearest tap might be the options for hygene for the rest of the festival. The rest of the day has so far been quiet, with a big breakfast consumed from our favourite Summer Cafe and a bit of reading of the Glastonbury Free Press, the festival newspaper printed at a printing press on site.

I missed a few details from yesterdays adventuring in the previous blog. Earlier, I had in fact ran in to Michael Eavis, who joined the Mayor of Pilton to give a speech officially opening the festivities. It was a little unscheduled moment I stumbled upon. Later, our trek up the hill made it only half the way to the stonecircle, as crowds have already gotten rediculous, with baths between stages being excrutiatingly congested. This congestion will apparently be sorted out once the music starts tomorrow, as the crowds will disperse to in front of the stages instead of in the paths between. Up on the hill, we were treated to a display of pyrotechnics and lights, as the Arcadia spider stage kicked into action in a demonstration of its spectacle. Worth googling if you haven’t seen it. Club and bar stages were already kicking off – so even though just Wednesday and the lineup not starting officially until friday, things are already massive. This festival would be great without the bands.

glastonbury other stage 2015

Friday

07:49
The blogging ceased to happen for the rest of yesterday but I thought I’d get one in today before the real hectic rush to catch bands begins. Thursday night saw a mission to catch Drenge play a secret set in Williams Green. Rumour had gone around throughout the day that they were appearing and a substantial crowd had already filled up the tent an hour before the band was due to appear. This would be some of the first major sets of the weekend, with Seafret and Wolf Alice appearing as well. Seafret played a pretty good set first of emotional acoustic indie which warmed things up. When Drenge took the stage, the real crush began, with moshing and circle pits not just from the guys but the gals too. Drenge’s mix of indie melodies with sludgey, downtuned grunge grooves seems to have a bit of cross over appeal. No doubt these guys will be on a larger stage as an official billing next year.

Later on, after drifting through tides of people on my way back to camp I stumbled on a rock band called Waa Wei playing a killer set in a tent called the La Pussy Parlure. The female singer, perhaps Japanese had an intense presence with glammed out costume design. I stood, hypnotically watching this band I knew nothing about for some time, and also appreciating how cool this little venue was. Just another one of those interesting things you stumble upon in a festival as eclectic as this.

The festival is about to kick off for real today, so I’ve consumed a full english breakfast and a coffee and am plotting my potential schedule for the day. Must sees include Motorhead and Enter Shikari, so it could be a day of the heavy. Pussy Riot is giving a talk at The Park, which could be something not to be missed. The crowds are about to reach their zenith, so my ability to see these acts will depend upon the time it takes to get between stages. We’ll see how I go.

pussy riot glastonbury 2015

11.56
The Charlatans are kicking off the Other Stage with a set of britpop classics I’ve never heard, but there’s good grooves and great stage presence. The massive crowd seems happy in spite of an ominous dark cloud over head that signals the traditional Glastonbury mud will be hear soon. Luckily I’m prepared, carrying with me a plastic poncho obtained from a frozen yoghurt stall at last weeks Blur concert at Hyde Park. My welly’s are back at the camp site, so it’ll mean a trek back later to get prepared, probably before the Motorhead mosh. It’s so far pretty easy to get between stages, I’ve already walked  from the Greenpeace area, where I engaged in some surreal power ballad yoga (videos to come) and had my camera battery charged by some nice hippies in green fields. As I write this I’m sitting in the grass outside The Park stage, waiting for Pussy Riot to give a talk.

14:59
Pussy Riot gave a hilarious talk in support of rebellion on top of a military vehicle in front of The Park stage. A considerable crowd was perplexed and captivated by the presentation. King Gizzard then followed with double drummer assault of riffs and harmonica, a crazy indie rock version of ACDC, straight out of Australia.

alabama shakes glastonbury 2015

23:48
Attempts to write during the day were cut short by an intense day of wandering, getting stuck in the rain, gearing up with weather proof clothing and heading back and forth between stages seeing bands both expected and surprising. It’s been quite a full to be honest, i know that its a cliche to talk about the size of this festival, but it really is huge. After a day of amazing sets and three days of exploring, I’m still discovering new areas. The Arcadia stage has kicked off, a giant spider with moving parts and pyro exploding generously. It’s glowing red eyes peer ominously over the audience, the DJ sits within the spider – and although the music isn’t to my taste, the attention to detail of such areas is impressive.

As for the rest of my first Friday of Glastonbury, most notably the rain came down and with it the mud. With the right perspective you can soldier on, and once the wellys were donned all was fine. Motorhead in the pouring rain was a particular highlight, with Lemmy and co. bringing the speed metal, even though most of the crowd basically only knew Ace of Spades. Moshing in front of the Pyramid Stage was hilarious, the old school double kick and heavy rock riffs a welcome change from the indie jangling which is most prominent elsewhere.

Due to mainstage bands running late I only managed to catch the last song of Run The Jewels, but I did most unexpectadly catch The Libertines on the mainstage. The Libertines filled the gap before Florence And The Machine and proved a great choice – Foo Fighters were probably missed by some watching the live stream online, but at the festival, who was playing barely even mattered. Florence seemed to kick ass on the mainstage but I soon left with new friends met in the Pyramid crowd to see Enter Shikari.

I now walk off, following streams of people trudging through mud, to find a potential last great set before bed, although the day has already been so huge, any more entertainment is superfluous.

Although the bands are great, the highlights of the day have been random interesting conversations with strangers, rather than the bands. The music is the icing on the cake. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though, I feel like there are downsides to a festival of this size. It certainly is challenge and if you’re not prepared with the right clothes and equipment, or if you don’t pace yourself, you risk not making the most of what this unique place offers.

Kanye West tomorrow, and hiphop kareoke at Stonebridge Bar in The Park, 4pm. See you there.

Glastonbury 2015 live blog: Day One

As long as I can get some wifi, and have a little bit of battery life, i will attempt to blog live throughout Glastonbury. Which means the writing might be a little sloppier, but will benefit from being in the moment, rathered than a laboured review two weeks after the event.

09:34

I’ve made it through the gates. The queue wasn’t too bad for me although i had to trek for some time around the festival perimetre to find the international ticket pickup office. The various security and festival staff all seemed to have a different idea of where the ticket office was – at one stage i went back and forward over the same field between different gates three or four times, until eventually finding the correct gate. The line was thankfully short from then on, although my friends perhaps weren’t quite so lucky. As we speak I sit eating a bacon, sausage and egg wrap from the first food stall that greeted me upon entry, quite delicious and a much needed energy boost. My friends on the other hand did not have to trek between gates to pick up their tickets, they are however still in a much larger queue to enter.

Last night we stayed at the town of Glastonbury, which is a town full of history, old buildings and a pagan vibe. Felt like I was sleeping in the Inn from the film The Wicker Man. We took the Megabus yesterday from London to Glastonbury, which on the other hand, is not an experience I would recommend or repeat. It will probably go down as my least favourite bus ride ever, with drunken young lads from London drinking, fighting and streaking throughout the bus. Added to this, the bus had a toilet onboard, which soon lost its ability to flush. ‘Nuff said.

But onwards and upwards, its a beautiful day, and i may blog again soon.

glastonbury day 1

14:48

Tents have now been set up and the crew has been reunited minus a few who are still stuck waiting for coach back in London. We’ve found a good spot to camp near John Peel stage, which, upon scouting the area seems to be not too far of a walk between the Pyramid and Other Stages, as well as much needed necessities such as toilets, taps and food areas. Competition is high already in the quest for the perfect spot, we’ve had to protect our area already from a flood of fellow opportunist campers.

Most of the afternoon has been spent exploring the grounds, mapping out routes between stages and checking out the markets and food stalls. Bacon buttys’ seem so far to be the food choice of the day, another having been consumed at the Summer Cafe on the way back from checking out the Other Stage. The grounds are as magnificent and spectacular as I had expected, the iconic Pyramid stage being surrounded by other notable icons such as the blue and orange John Peel circus tent, the giant maypole in The Park and the..

I’m now on a mission to try and find showers, which are apparently near Michael Eavis’ house. Fingers crossed I’ll run into the man. More from me soon.

18:22

No luck finding Michael Eavis but i did run into his grandson working at the Merchandise tent, upon buying an official festival Tshirt. I’m still exploring the Glastonbury site and haven’t returned back to the camp, so I’ve no idea what the rest of my group are doing. It turns out that the Glastonbury site is indeed huge, and around every corner is another section of interesting food or market stalls – or crazy, wild, diverse music stages.

21:33

Finally made it back to the campsite and to my friends after already having a pretty great time, just one day into this festival. Most of the enjoyment came from having cool conversations with random festival goers and staff, including a long chat with Glastonbury veteran, photographer and friend of the Eavis’s, Matt Cardy. I also found a jam spot in The Park complete with a drumkit – and proceeded to join in a jam of American Pie. A pretty sloppy jam at that, but I can kind of say I’ve ticked something else off the bucketlist – gigging at Glastonbury.

As I write this we’re heading off to the Stonecircle to watch the sunset, so I should probably get off social media for today and get in the moment. I will try to keep up these blogs or at least write a couple more from here, but no promises.Making the most of the festival should probably be my priority so for now, peace out from Worthy Farm.

glastonbury day 1

A Season of Firsts part 2: Final Bout of Hesitancy

Hamish Gavin:

Leaving home ain’t easy, Queen knew it all too well (Brian May to be precise).

Great song, and the message is true. By now some of you all ready know I’m departing my usual New Zealand soils and heading over seas in a trip much shorter than that taken by our colonialist ancestors. Six months in a leaky boat it is not, instead it will be our much taken for granted, 20 hours in an air-conditioned airplane.

While I’m very excited about my upcoming adventures, just this week I have been experiencing pangs of indecision and possible regret. This is probably to be expected with any large personal undertaking. When I pulled the trigger to head overseas on this working adventure, I most definitely my heart was only about 80% into the idea. But it had been sitting in my head for so long; festering, stewing – that eventually something had to be done. Once the trigger was pulled there was no turning back .Through the inevitable regrets and doubts I must trek, to blunder forward as confidently as I possibly can; meanwhile being shit scared about turning my back on a good job, the safety net of family and of familiarity.

As I move forward, not yet having left, I have to say that already positive things seem to be happening. I’ve gained a lot more momentum, something I’d been searching for for some time. Momentum is crucial to getting creative projects done and I guess the relief of not having to spend nights worrying about what I’ll do has freed me to up to be thinking more creatively. Working on this blog is one such example.

But then I think of how I no longer have an income. Of how I have to go back to working tough jobs for long hours, or maybe not working at all. I have no idea where I’m going to live, and I have no idea of the city I’m about to enter.

This all might be quite melodramatic overseas experiences to the UK have been done time and time again by New Zealanders. I guess that doesn’t make it any easier for this Kiwi however.

Here’s the final self portrait photograph (or selfie) taken by myself, before I departed Southern Hemisphere land (taking in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, exhausted and un-showered. More on Malaysia to come)

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Originally posted on Indecisive Travels:

I’ve been writing blogs now for a few weeks, but have been storing them up, due (cough) indecision over what to do with. Out of necessity, I have to pull the trigger, so I’m going through with having not one, but an excessive TWO blogs. My main blog – http://www.shutuphamish.com – will remain and will be the hub for both my culture writing and travel writing (I will reblog from here to there, the culture writing won’t appear here). The reasons for this are that I somewhere deep down inside feel that I need a specific place for my travel writing, even more specific then a category page on shut up hamish. So here we are, Indecisive Travels is born, and it shall be for the next few months as well. I’ve got some good stuff building up on life in London, because man it’s full of some ups and…

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A Season Of Firsts: Losing My Overseas Virginity

I’m now in the middle of travelling to London, and am currently editing this blog from a train in Kuala Lumpur. I should be making the most of being in a foreign place but I wanted to post this while it’s still relevant to my current travels. There will be more travel posts to come, either here or on a new site that I will link up.

At 25, I’ve experienced a fair amount of life. I’ve done the preschool years, the wild innocence of my childhood. I’ve done the confusing and expectantly traumatic period of puberty and early teens. I’ve graduated high school, graduated University, had a few proper adult jobs and lived independently for some time.

I’ve achieved many things I’d dreamed of achieving but had not been so arrogant to have assumed them a certainty. Things such as learning an instrument, learning multiple instruments, playing concerts, touring, releasing CDs, having reunions, finishing dissertations, filming music videos and releasing mildly successful local music videos – successful enough in their political critique to gain the attention of the electoral commission. I’ve made friends, lost friends, gained friends again. Had girlfriends, lost girlfriends, become friends with them in time. I’ve had many great times with family and am lucky enough to still have most of my family alive and well. So I can already look back on my quarter century and feel gratitude, and satisfaction at how things have turned out.

But still, there are many firsts I am yet to experience. Over the next few weeks I will be ticking a great many of these firsts off my bucket list. It will be first time outside of Australasia, my first time on a long haul flight, my first time traveling internationally solo, and my first time crossing hemispheres. I’ve never been to Asia before, but I will achieve this with a day long stop over in Kuala Lumpur – hopefully enough to see the Batu Caves and perhaps some monkeys roaming free around them. I’ve never been the Middle East before, but a five hour stop over in Dubai will provide a brief experience of this. I’ve never had to sleep overnight on a plane, and never really crossed time barriers, so therefor I’ve never experienced jet leg. All of this is to come.

Travel is a relatively common thing for some families so this may not seem a big deal. But my family are not great travelers, my Mum, Grandma and Grandfather only got as far as Australia. My Dad’s made it to Asia and many Pacific Islands. Only an Uncle of mine had previously ventured off to do the living in England thing. So for me, it seems a massive deal, and I’m kind of surprised I’ve even gotten to this stage where I’m about to pull it off. The fact I’ve done so little like this in the past, except for moving from Dunedin to Auckland, makes it all the more thrilling and nerve wracking (although to be honest I’m relatively calm at the moment).

The experience of moving across to the United Kingdom and working there is in many ways part of the New Zealand cultural identity. We our a colony of the British Empire after all, with a great deal of us descended from British, Scottish and Irish immigrants, and the influence of England has of course spread into the many other cultures that now make up our multicultural Islands. We used to view the UK as home, as my Grandma was telling me just yesterday, as she reminisced about her childhood. In this way, I like to think that I am venturing back to our recent ancestral home, so good or bad, it will be incredibly valuable cultural education.

This is of course the biggest first, losing my living overseas virginity. I’m sure it’ll come with it’s own crazy highs and depressing lows, homesickness, work struggles and such – but it will surely give me an experience at following my own heart and taking some risks. Plus I’m also breaking my camping festival virginity – and this happens to be for Glastonbury 2015. So the hedonistic partying highlights are there already.

I will attempt with this blog to give you a rundown on how everything goes. You’ll soon here about how I go attempting to fly Jetstar, Royal Brunei and Emirates with stop-overs in Melbourne, Brunei, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai. Will I make the flights? Will my luggage come with me? You’ll soon here about Glastonbury and whether it lived up to the hype. Who were the best artists? Is it really the best festival on earth? Did my tent survive the rain and mud? I’ll also write on life in London, the steps I take to get set up and how a Kiwi with little world experience finds life in the big English metropolis.

I’m not entirely sure if I am following that most metaphorical of organs in my upper chest, or if I’m running to the other side of the world out of fear, of something like commitment for example. My heart most definitely lies with my family and friends in New Zealand and I will make as much effort to stay in contact with them as possible. Right now, having resign from my job and taking steps towards this most anticipated adventure, it feels good. Surely if something feels good, that’s a good indicator that you’re on the right track.

Peace out, more from me soon.

Oh and here’s a drawing of me by my good friend, the great Shanghai artist, Ultraman Zhong Wen Chen.

ultraman-drawing-2015 hamish

A World of “Mayhem” – The truth behind Norway’s darkest band

Earlier this year I attended the 2nd ever Westfest, a metal and hard rock festival staged in Auckland, New Zealand. There was a massive lineup of bands on the bill, including Lamb Of God, Judas Priest, Faith No More and Soundgarden. It was pretty much a New Zealand Soundwave. According to rumour, the festival failed to break even which surprises me given the impressive line-up, but this was perhaps due to the festival being held on a Tuesday more than anything else.

Also playing on the bill was the infamous Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. I was immediately curious about checking out these guys live when I heard of their addition, even though I hadn’t really listened to them since my high school days. Listening to their first EP Deathcrush and reading about the bands dark history was a strong memory from my mid-teen metal head days. I caught up on the bands discography, and found they had plenty more fantastic albums and songs, Freezing Moon off first album De Mysteriis Dom SathanasMy Death off Chimera, Psywar off newest album Esoteric Warfare to name a few. Their music was complex and aggressive but much more textured and well written than I’d previously assumed.

 

Past controversies

Mayhem‘s past is well documented. Their third lead singer Dead, real name Per Yngve Ohlin joined in 1988 just after the release of the Deathcrush EP. Per lived with fellow Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, aka  Øystein Aarseth, in a house the band also used to practice in. Per was a quiet, reclusive personality and possibly depressed. He killed himself, his body later being found by Øystein/Euronymous, who took photos of the corpse. These photos later turned up on the bootleg live album cover, Dawn Of The Black Hearts, which infuriated Mayhem founding member and bass played Necrobutcher (Jørn). Jørn left the band after that incident, but Euronymous would continue, recruiting Hungarian singer Attila Csihar to fill Dead’s shoes on the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album (using the lyrics largely written by Dead). Varg Vikernes was recruited to fill in as bass player, who also recorded as the artist Burzum. Drummer Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg) filled out the line-up, who had also joined the band after Deathcrush. Tempers would soon flare between Øystein and Varg, with Varg stabbing and killing Øystein (he would plead in self-defense during the court case). Varg would head to jail, leaving Mayhem’s future up in the air.

pelle ohlin 1988

Pelle Ohlin or ‘Dead’ in 1988

Lords Of Chaos

A chance meeting between drummer Hellhammer and Necrobutcher would result in reviving Mayhem and since then they have gone on to release 3 albums, an EP and toured the world, gathering a loyal fanbase. This is a very brief history of the band and you find more definitive histories through out the web, or in documentaries such as Pure Fucking Mayhem. Their complicated and somewhat tragic past has often overshadowed their since productive and relatively normal career’s though, and this continues to be the case, with Hollywood now announcing a film based on the history of the band and particularly murdered guitarist Euronymous, to be directed by Swedish music video director Jonas Akerlund. Akerlund is not a complete stranger to the metal community, having been a drummer in early black metal bands and also the filmmaker for the infamous Candlemass music video, Bewitched. Mayhem singer Dead appears in the Candlemass video, so it’s possible Akerlund and Dead were friends or acquaintances at one stage. Never-the-less, the movie is based on the book Lords Of Chaos, which is not looked at favorably by some parts of the black metal community, for glorifying or being factually wrong regarding the lives of Euronymous and the events that occurred in the history of the band.

Necrobutcher, interviewed recently, is not too happy about this upcoming adaptation. He’s quoted as saying;

This book Lords of Chaos is fucking crap and that some stupid Swedes are gonna make a movie out of it is not OK. I will do everything I can to stop this film… Tell the Swedes and the Hollywood people to go fuck themselves.”

necrobutcher meeting westfest

Jorn or Necrobutcher and I outside the Westfest after party

Meeting Necrobutcher & discussing the real Per Ohlin (Dead)

I met and chatted to Jørn for sometime after the Mayhem concert in Auckland. Although some alcohol may have been involved I got some interesting insight into the workings of the band and Jorn’s own feelings about his bands history and how they’re regarded. Jørn talked about the loss of Per (Dead). Per had been known to talk about killing himself for some time. Jørn said that members of the band had limited patience his comments about suicide. He seemed to imply that Øystein and Hellhammer would say things to the extent of – “if you’re going to keep talking about killing yourself, why don’t you go and do it”. This uncaring attitude seems cruel but in my mind, the band were all very young at that time. They were perhaps short tempered and serious people, but I doubt they would have actually wanted their singer to commit suicide. Jørn stated that he was closest with Per, that Per was a cool guy – shy and with a weird sense of humour. Per apparently avoided eye contact with people – Jørn talked about Per coming over for dinner at his house, and when thanking Jorn’s mum for the food, would have his eyes fixed at the ground. Had Jørn himself had been aware of Per’s final threat to kill himself, Jørn would have tried to stop him. Per had told the other members of the band, but not Jørn, about his plans. Jørn suspects that Per knew Jørn would be the one that would stop him committing this act, hence why he kept it secret.

An early Mayhem band photo, Per Ohlin in the corpse paint

An early Mayhem band photo, Per Ohlin in the corpse paint

I was told about the funeral for Per, that Jørn attending and conversed with many family members morning the loss of the barely beyond teenage years Per. It seems like it would have been a lot for a young musician to cope with. When we read about Mayhem‘s history, it is nearly always exaggerated and played up for shock, treating the drama around the band like tabloid fodder. It’s easy to forget that these were real people, with real struggles and that the bassist commonly known as Necrobutcher was a real guy, playing in a metal band with ambitions to be the next Slayer, who suddenly has to cope with a suicide in the project he had avidly pursued since high school. Jørn leaves the band after the death of Per, angry at Øystein who’d promised to destroy the photos he took of Per’s corpse. He did not, and the image turned up on the cover of a bootleg live release that has now been widely seen. Per had a personality, and circulating the image of his corpse only served to dehumanize him.

Øystein would continue Mayhem without Jørn. The next incarnation of Mayhem would once again come to end with a death, this time Øystein’s, at the hand of the bassist of his own band. Jørn stated he had since forgiven Varg for killing Øystein, he understood why he could have been driven to, although of course didn’t support the crime that took another friend from Jørn’s life. Now he had to deal with the death of another one of his friends and bandmates. Jørn told me that due to these losses, touring with the band is now especially hard, as he has children that he finds it difficult to leave. When he’s on the road, he constantly worries about their safety. So many people look at a band like Mayhem and judge them on past events and their brutal image, without taking into consideration the real personalities within the band.

The current Mayhem line up (from left) Hellhammer, Ghul, Attila, Teloch, Necrobutcher

The current Mayhem line up (from left) Hellhammer, Ghul, Attila, Teloch, Necrobutcher

I talked to Jørn about a whole lot more general stuff, not just the heavy topics, just generally discussing the current Mayhem live set-up. We talked about their songs and I rambled to him about how awesome it was to be partying with a whole bunch of music fans to a classic like Chainsaw Gutsfuck. Apparently the bands gear had been stuck in America and couldn’t get to Australasia for this tour so they were forced to borrow Fear Factory’s gear, hence a rawer set (no triggers on the drums I believe and mostly old favourites played, not many from the new album). We also discussed the controversial/racist comments that drummer Hellhammer had made in an interview (Jørn brought this up, I didn’t prompt him) with Jørn expressing his disapproval at what he said (black metal is only for white people – or something pretty disgusting). This has apparently caused Mayhem to have problems playing with other bands. Napalm Death, long-time friends of Jørn, had banned Mayhem from the guest list at their gigs. This harsh feeling has somewhat cooled down, and although Hellhammer hasn’t retracted his statements it seemed some consolation that Jørn didn’t agree with them and felt them just another set back, another controversy in Mayhem’s history to distract from the music they were making. I have to admit, getting into Mayhem I had reservations due to the connection with racism through the drummers comments. I had to do some research to decide whether I would follow this band. Talking to Jørn made me realize the the complicated nature behind band dynamics and that even if one band member says something, the rest of the band doesn’t necessarily agree with it. It is still a complicated and off putting issue and I believe if the band want to be recognized on a wider scale, one step would be to publicly denounce these prior ignorant and inflammatory comments.

 

Conclusion

Jørn and Mayhem have had a whole career, nearly 25 years since those dark events transpired in the bands history in the early 90s. They’ve recorded four albums since the death of guitarist and founding member Øystein, and have largely avoided controversy since. In an artistic sense, Mayhem have always been motivated by pushing extreme music to the next level. Their divisive image reflects this, and even though their history has been forever tainted with several tragic events – they are a band like any other, one that was started by music fans back in high school and that has achieved what all teenage musicians dream of – having a legacy and influence that would ripple out through-out a worldwide music community.
The upcoming Lords Of Chaos film will be interesting – will it tell the story of Mayhem with sensitivity, respecting the fact that the deceased singer Per/Dead was a real person, a shy and sensitive guy who was overwhelmed with his own internal darkness, or will it sensationalize the events that transpired? Regardless, it’s good to keep in mind the complexities behind any horrible story, that there are real people and lives affected even in a band that are as misanthropic on a surface level as Mayhem.

It’s quite possible that I’m a kiwi fan who got a thrill from talking to a crazy Scandinavian bass player from the other side of the world that goes by Necrobutcher and who was keen to down some vodka sodas and indulge me in asking way too personal questions about his life and career. That’s probably closer to the truth.

On a side note, I also chatted to Attila for a while after Necrobutcher departed back to his hotel. Also a cool guy, we discussed some pretty crazy stuff, but at the risk of sounding like to much of a fan, I’ll save that for another time.

Attila Csihar

Attila Csihar

 

 

[Concert Review] Eagles, Mt. Smart (or how to watch stadium concerts for free)

It might be unwise to advertise this, as it might ruin my chances of being able to pull it off in the future – but watching large, expensive stadium concert for free is a lot easier than you’d imagine.

Eminem I watched from the top of a walking track (Bullock, for those in the know), placed perfectly so as to see the Western Springs stage and screen. The audio may not have been perfect, with vocals only somewhat comprehensible, but 30 – 40 of us had a good ol’ time watching the Detroit MC tear it up, free of charge – and BYO as well. For that concert I followed the lead of others and eventually made it into Western Springs amphitheater in time for the encore, Lose Yourself – which seemed an appropriate moment to celebrate joining the age old club of the concert fence jumper.

I repeated the experience a few Saturday’s ago for Eagles – who rolled into Auckland on the back of their History of the Eagles world tour. I’d not planned to see them live – I’d recently been spoiled with great concerts (that I paid for), of Laneway Festival 2015, Drake and Westfest, the latter of which included great sets from Mayhem, Lamb Of God and Judas Priest (I hope to review these soon – will perhaps review them in a reverse chronological order). But Saturday came round and the Eagles called. All through-out that day I had Desperado and Take It Easy in my head, alternating on repeat. So at 7.40pm, knowing the Eagles were due on roughly about that time, I took a train to Mt. Smart without a ticket in hand. Not knowing if I would find a scalper selling a cheaper ticket as so often happens I rocked up to the stadium, only to find the only option for ticket purchasing was a $150 seat right at the back. Eagles were already up to Peaceful Easy Feeling. I decided to flag laying down a large sum to sit in the back of the stadium and instead opted for circling the stadium, soaking up the aural vibes (the sound was oddly good outside the stadium), and scoping out potential fences to jump.

The fences all proved too high and too risky, but I eventually found a spot with a perfect viewing angle towards the stage. I was behind a fence, but the sound was still top notch, and I was pretty much parallel to the stands at the back of the stadium. At this point the band had finished their first set, one that largely highlighted their ballads and after a brief interlude they would return with a decidedly more upbeat second half.

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The Eagles are pretty uncool in a way, their songs have been bashed to death by oldies radio stations, and though it may be kind of like commenting of the vastness of the grand canyon – they sounded amazing live. It might be something about the style of music they play but it seemed perfectly suited to stadium acoustics – not something you can claim of all genres. Of course the huge team of sound engineers and millions of dollars they’re making for the playing the show probably helped as well. The vocal harmonies, dry drum sound, tight bass and jangly guitar of which is characteristic of the Eagles sound sounded crystal clear even as far back as I was, it was almost as if current core-Eagles Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt weren’t really there, and that we were all just watching holograms broadcast from a futuristic blu-ray player on to the stage.

You can criticize a band for sounding too much like their studio albums, but there’s also something to be said for giving the people want they want. Dad rockers and mainstream music fans were in ecstasy as the band belted out hit after hit. Early songs such as Doolan-Dalton sounded fantastic, with founding member Bernie Leadon re-joining the band for this tour, adding further to the authenticity. There was perhaps a bit too much self-congratulating, with the story of the band being told between performances (this being a tour inspired by a documentary), but moments such as the underrated These Shoes, Joe Walsh’ Life’s Been Good absolutely rocked.

At least from where I was behind a fence at the back of the stadium they seemed to rock.

To sum up this brief post,  I recommend trying your hardest to find the cheapest way in to the next big stadium concert you’re weighing up. You might not be right at the front, but you’ll still get all the atmosphere and almost the same show at not nearly the price. If fence jumping isn’t your thing, you could always try asking for a ticket from someone leaving the show early. Worked for me at both the 2nd Queen + Adam Lambert show and the Black Caps vs. South Africa cricket world cup semi-final at Eden Park. A great match might I add, thanks very much to the family who gave me their space ticket to watch the last few overs for free.

eden park cricket semi-final black caps south africa