Kozfest 2017 @ Bobbie Watts Farm, Uffculme Devon UK
I guess I’m not fun to be with at festivals: I don’t hang around, I don’t drink beer, my social and small talk skills are limited to listening and laughing at jokes, and my main concern when looking at a festival map is how to find the fastest route from one stage to another. I customize the schedule with the bands featuring in running order and make little notes on them, and I’m always worried that I’m gonna miss or be late for a band, which of course sometimes happens, but I really need to know I covered as much as is humanly possible. Obsessive compulsory behavior in rubber boots.
Kozfest – formerly known as Kozmik Ken’s Psychedelic Dream Festival – is something I wanted for a long time to attend but I guess some planets needed to align in order for me to be there. Set on a farm premises with a beautiful landscape, selling only 500 tickets for those who want to find themselves camping just next to their favorite artists, as the performers share the same grounds and attend concerts in the audience. It’s like any music fan’s dream, right? We were lucky to be welcomed upon arrival by Kozmic Ken himself who happened to be walking around greeting people, lucky to receive the newcomers’ training at first hand from the people at the gates (‘the only rule here is that there are no rules here, except to have fun’), lucky to find a camping spot surrounded by ‘vert:x’ people and also to meet Mr Bromley who is designing hand-made guitars (such a cool and mind-blowing thing!) I would twistedly add that I was ‘lucky’ enough to also have rainy weather along with muddy trips to and from the stages, just enough for being able to compare the experience of the Belgian festivals, where the weather is also something to be ignored when it comes to enjoying festivals conditions. And I have never thought I would say such thing in my life, but it rains more in Western England than in Belgium.
Kozfest is almost entirely about UK bands. Psychedelic, prog, post-rock, space rock bands currently active on a wonderful music scene, already described a bit in my album review for vert:x – ‘from now to now’. A scene with its own festivals, labels, radio shows, photographers, bands that know and respect each other and projects emerging out of like-minded souls coming together driven by and for the sake of music. It’s a fairy tale with so many favorite characters that I don’t even know with whom I should start. Or maybe I do …
On the line-up, vert:x was the band I knew best and the main reason to come to Kozfest, an opportunity not to be missed as it’s pretty difficult for me to catch them live. And live, they’re a blast! Beside their astonishing sound, the remarkable energy and their proficiency, they could also easily win any popularity award for the most beloved band. Their music is not only great but also fun. The energy coming off the stage is amazing. Space rock with a punk attitude. And a lot of dedication, as some of them arrived only half an hour before the show started, after several hours of driving and went directly on stage. The magic dancers in orange outfits who appeared in the audience created a super ambiance. They were also advertising the next vert:x gig, at Space Chase One on September 2. There was such a great atmosphere all over the place that the question addressed to the stage managers ‘how much time do we have?’ almost hurt. And I guess the reply hurt also: ‘one song’. One hour for a vert:x gig will never be enough; these guys can get you out to space, from where it’s a pity to come back so quickly. The synthesizers and sonic sound production of Barry Mart and The Other One melt the air for the playing of Vince Cory and Neil Whitehead on Bromley guitars. Seeing Neil Whitehead on one of those wonderful twin guitars, made me apprehend that in fact, he’s not only the creative force behind the band, but also an exceptional multi-instrumentalist, as he’s playing bass and synthesizers just as great.
Vince Cory was part of other Kozfest acts as well. One of them was a jam session in the Wally’s Stage, unfortunately the smallest tent of all, so that the rest of the audience willing to attend it just stood outside listening to the miraculous sounds coming from inside. It’s been a long time since I have seen something similar. But more about Vince’s creative projects later, in a future article, as this year, beside the vert:x record and his brilliant contribution to the Sonic Shamen tribute to Lemmy, he released new albums with, at least, Red Elektra 69, Vostok and Ash Magna.
The same mighty Vince Cory is also part of the wonderful project called Captain Starfighter and The Lockheeds, who performed for the first time at Kozfest, giving the audience a tribute to Robert Calvert, Hawkwind and the psychedelic music scene. After Kozmic Ken’s reading of the introduction of ‘Sonic Attack’, there was ‘Spirit of the Age’, ‘Ned Ludd’, ‘The Right Stuff’, ‘Quark Strangeness and Charm’, ‘Ejection’ but also a cover of Krankschaft, the big dearly missed absent of Kozfest this year. Also in the band line-up was the young talented bass player Tom Ashurst, from Hawklords, playing a Bromley bass, the fantastic Darren Butler on drums (the drummer of Red Elektra 69), Stephen Smith on vocals, and Dead Fred on synthesizers. An interesting fact is that the Starfighters project came to life in 2014 when seven musicians came together for a one-off show, with no rehearsals, just turning up and playing. Many of them were still in the line-up at Kozfest, but at that time the bassist was Mr Dale Rowles, who performed at Kozfest this year as well with his band, BB BlackDog.
Besides vert:x, I was also dying to see live ZOFFF, an experimental psychedelic band from Brighton. Judging by the rare information on them around the internet, combined with how good they are in what they’re doing, I could only think they were no way near being beginners; ZOFFF could only be a supergroup or some sort. And indeed, Bic Hayes previously played guitar in Cardiacs and Levitation, Chris Anderson on bass played in various Brighton bands like Celebricide and the amount of styles of the bands they played in before includes everything from garage rock, experimental, post-punk krautrock, drone, electro. And what is absolutely astonishing is how originally ZOFFF incorporated everything into their own style. A sonic experience, playing a niche captivating style.
Next on the highlights list, a series of bands with a classic guitar-bass-drums line-up, in particular Deltanaut, Anthroprophh (I hope I spelled that correctly) and Dead Otter.
Deltanaut was the first heavier band at Kozfest, the introduction given by Mr Kozmik Ken being so appropriate: ‘Are you ready for some rock?’ We were also told that they made a good impression last year. Well, they kept that impression this year as well. Psychedelic stoner rock from Sheffield, they took us on a journey which didn’t lack of sound explosions, technical guitar solos, and a solid rhythmic session with strong drum hits punctuating the basslines. Lots of jamming and finesses on a proper solid stoner rock sound. Their drummer for this tour was Chris Daniels from the progressive post-metal band Normaliser, absolutely great and giving a fantastic groove to the whole.
One more band featuring a great drummer was Anthroprophh, from Bristol. More heavy and experimental, alternating ambient elements with syncopated rhythms, either very fast and technical, either following on krautrock footsteps, Anthroprophh was building walls of sounds just to have them ripped down with shamanic drumming, chanting and reciting while shredding chaos all over the place, with authenticity and originality. An excellent performance.
All we knew about Dead Otter before Kozfest was that they came from Glasgow and that their EP sounded absolutely great. It totally slipped us the connection with The Cosmic Dead, a band we saw this May at the RawPower festival, until we saw Omar Aborida about to walk on stage. And that was not even out first thought, blinded by the t-shirt he was wearing: ‘omg, look, somebody’s wearing a Coroner t-shirt!’ (Coroner, as in ‘Nobody’s playing better thrash metal than Coroner’). Among other things we noticed were the Dead Otter’s logo similarity with a great English band (‘Oh, look, same fonts as on our Black Sabbath coffee mug!’), that Omar is not playing bass as in The Cosmic Dead, but guitar, and that the concert was brilliant. Heavily psyched blues, stoner riffs, classic prog, everything seasoned with expert drumming. Black Sabbath’s influence was obviously present here and there, but there was also a great dialogue between the two guitars, consisting in captivating swifts between the solo performances and rhythmic parts, in a dynamic and very interesting manner. Also, it should be noted that Dead Otter are 100% Otter friendly and that no Otters were harmed during the show. Only the power supply suffered and it went down. Thankfully, everything was put back in place quickly by the skillful stage people and the Dead Otter concert didn’t end, continuing from where they had left it.
Also in the series of great drums and super-uber bass players, we saw Nukli, Kev Hegan on guitar, Mark Huxley on bass, Peter Out on drums, and their synthesizer layers. Nukli is a master of the rhythm, of funkadelic space, of atmospheric sounds and prog rock techniques. A high quality live trip and it couldn’t have been otherwise, considering the heritage they bring with them since the golden age of free festivals.
I got hooked on The Archetypes even before they started their gig, firstly attracted by their flamboyant outfits which made them seemed to have landed on stage from a tale with pirates and princesses, and secondly fascinated by the tremendous care they put into getting the sound right during the soundcheck. Not that the sound at Judge Trevor’s Stage wouldn’t have been good, it was really great for all bands. But it seemed to me that Tim Hawthorn and The Archetypes were one of those bands concerned with offering a high-quality performance. And I was not mistaken. A mix of progressive folk rock with alternative rhythms and great guitar riffs, centered on the bass of Tim Hawthorn whose intense stage presence, vocals and story telling cast magic on the entire production.
While listening to some the Cardiacs’ CDs in the car on your way to Kozfest, we wondered how 7shades, a band formed to pay tribute to Tim Smith, would be like? Still, their performance was beyond any expectations. Even if they pass as a tribute band, their music is original, mixing kraut, avant-pop, progressive punk, electronic and math rock with a psychedelic kick, in one theater-like performance, with humor and great stage presence. The brilliant acting and singing coming from Neil and Libbertine Spragg, full of jokes and pranks in contrast with the straight faces of the rest of the band, made everyone enjoy each and every moment of the show. They had various CDs for sale, one of them entirely a fundraiser for the benefit of Tim Smith and the other for themselves ‘because we need money too’. They also had the loveliest caravan on the whole festival field; we wondered for a while to whom it might belong until we saw them standing there once.
Beastfish was a band on the mandatory list. The few recordings available and explored in advanced revealed a very interesting band and the few likes they had on their facebook band page were intriguing. Beastfish is a gem hidden in the underground. At Kozfest, their performance transcended poetry and music within the tradition of jazz poetry and the Beat generation’s prose rhythmical patterns. Experimental, avant-garde, intense and with trance-tainted instrumentation, it’s how Jack Kerouac would have sounded like if he hadn’t left this planet at the dawn of psychedelic music. You may want to give them a listen on their bandcamp, they are exceptional and one of a kind and remain on the mandatory band list.
Deviant Amps, the band of Mr Paul Woodwright, one of the Kozfest organizers, confirmed their resourcefulness and versatility with a setlist that went back and forth through their catalogue. With outstanding percussion and bass, and a guitar casting magical vibes in the air, the trio proved once more that they are one of the most solid bands on the space rock scene. Sendelica performed in the formula Sendelica Drone Band, with additional percussion and cello. They started slowly, creating soft ambient and jazzy rhythms out of thin air. The instruments came together nicely, joining one by one a psychedelia jam flow, weaving sounds improvisations that flew around in a sonic fairy tale. For a different saxophone experience, The Sumerian Kyngs delighted us with a lively show, rich in sound, with great instrumentation and an impressive front man performance. Radical Dance Faction rewardingly conveyed their mix of dub reggae, ska and dance, on lyrics of socially engaged content and sonic samples. Among the original bands, The Spirits of the Earth incorporated their multiple influences into original structures. Silver Trees offered a psychedelic regale with great pieces of songwriting, droning bassline and with no fear of either letting the music flow or designing moments of intensity. More dreamy and surreal, The Luck of Eden Hall teamed up with Cary Grace and some of her band members for an enhanced sonic experience and a high journey on excellent guitar work and trippy synthesizers landscapes.
ZOFFF were headliners at Judge Trevor’s Tent Stage for Saturday. On Friday, the day ended there with Magic Bus, a proper psychedelic group recalling the spirit of the 60s and 70s. Retro but fresh, familiar but highly enjoyable, outstanding on stage, full of charisma and joy, Magic Bus really made everyone feel happy as they had the magic power of erasing any traces of weather sorrow or fatigue. On the same stage, Red Sun was the last performance on Sunday; they were well-remembered and long-awaited since the previous edition of Kozfest. Red Sun is a 3-piece instrumental post rock band from Italy with stoner and psychedelic influences, intense and full of passion, with proficient battling drums, steady bass line and dreamy guitar-plotted landscapes, very much in the tradition of My Sleeping Karma or Monkey 3.
With the headliners at the Daevid Allen Kozmik Main Stage, Kozfest brought tremendous tribute to the old school psychedelic scene. The main acts this year were System 7, Here & Now and Soft Machine and a very special guest of the festival was Ed Wynne, the man behind Ozric Tentacles. Many of Kozfest bands (zubzub, The Oroonies, The Ullulators) revolved around this special event and guest. There is already a knowledgeable Kozfest review describing very well this festival component, which leaves me no choice but to invite you to follow the link and read about this exceptional artistic association: Kozfest 2017 review – FacelifT Canterbury scene.
Prior to Kozfest, Kev Ellis’ shows on mixcloud constituted part of our homework for the festival, for which we’re very grateful. His Kozfest specials introduced us to some of the awesome bands we later saw live, among which many featured Kev Ellis himself. In fact, Kozfest kicked off with Kev Ellis’ ‘Welcome to Kozfest’ introduction at the Judge Trevor Stage, where he performed with p.f.r.p. (The Peoples Free Republic of Pandemonia). A great first performance at Kozfest by the Cambridge-based band, with electronic beats ranging from psychedelic to reggae, doubled with master guitar playing. He also joined on stage Paradise 9 playing harmonica, a bit ‘under cover’ under a black hoodie. Paradise 9 sounded full of energy, fully rock’n’roll with mixes of blues or post-rock here and there, warm and uplifting in complete contrast with the unwelcoming weather of outside. Other notable Kev Ellis appearances were with Shom and Spirits Burning, because, indeed, he plays in many bands, to quote the man himself. But Kev Ellis played also the Daevid Allen Kozmik Stage on the first day of festival, this time with his band Dubbal, a recital of dynamic rock, reggae rhythms mixed with harmonica and synthesizers, on eclectic guitar riffs and solos.
We saw also a considerable amount of bands consisting only of two members – one skillfully handling one or more synthesizer, and the other being brilliant on guitar – producing a considerable amount of awesome music. Nowadays, ambient music describes all kind of music, from rhythms you can dance on to various experimental noise sounds and at Kozfest, the ambient style had variety and was very well represented, by Music of the Andys (MOTA) with their vibrant musical worlds, continuous exploratory soundscapes and their witty explanations, Aurora and their dancing beats and Phaselock shifting moods between guitar shredding.
A very special mention should go to Kumbites, one of the delicious food providers, who kept us healthy and safe, for as long as he could, from the fish and chips culinary danger luring from across the road. That African food and sauces were absolutely fantastic and he kept the kitchen open until the Sunday night late.
Kozfest is more than just a music festival, it’s a wonderful experience. No wonder I’ve been having Kozfest related dreams almost every night since I came back.
More photos: Kozfest 2017 @ Bobbie Watts Farm, Uffculme Devon UK
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