Dunk! is the warmest festival in every sense of the word. Not only the temperature is hitting +30℃. It is the organisers, artists and dressed-in-black mélomanes from around the globe that bring the warmest chill-out atmosphere to the Belgian countryside. While no words could do justice to the captivating kind-hearted ambience of the fest, it’s worth noting that Dunk! is a place where folks are leaving their phones and power banks charging in the canteen (accessible to everyone) without supervision. It’s a festival that provides free breakfast and coffee/tea for all (!!!). Dunk! has wifi, clean toilets, showers and uses recyclable beer glasses, saving the beautiful woods from being trashed in plastic. Offering three days of camping, head-banging, dancing, tanning, drinking and chilling, Dunk! sells itself for quality, genuineness and cordial people. And I haven’t even started talking about the sound, lights and the line-up!
The 7th edition of Dunk! is scattered around three stages, one of them being a cosy yet no less quality Forest Stage. The meticulously crafted line-up speaks both to intelligence and adventure: Swans, Earth, The Moth Gatherer, Barst, Syndrome, CHVE, And So I Watch You From Afar, We Lost The Sea, Briqueville, Xenon Field, God Is An Astronaut, Mooncake and many more.
Unfortunately, I arrive quite late on Thursday night, right in time for the headliners – Swans. The legendary New York experimental rock outfit, with messianic Michail Gira in front, grants us an ear-shattering, hypnotizing experience. The band is playing the main stage for around 2 and a half hours. Considering the heat and the duration of the performance, it is unsurprising that New Yorkers seem a bit tired and do not manifest their usual energy. My inner critic of critical critique is not entirely happy with the sound either. Nonetheless, Swans bring their trademark madness on. Anyone who has seen Swans live must be familiar with their peculiar vibes that make people go mental. Tick!
In my humble opinion, post-rock is one of those genres where it becomes increasingly difficult to sound original and innovative. Yet, We Lost The Sea are firmly standing on the shoulders of giants. One can feel a strong almost telepathic connection between the band members who develop their unique storylines step by step. I love that the Australians take their time and build up devout highs and crushing lows slowly. Their cinematic soundscapes do not have that uplifting straightforward vibe as And So I watched You From Afar or God is An Astronaut have, but they are not stepping into the abyss either. Numerous plot lines interspersed with interludes of the speech by Reagan intertwine into one complex majestic journey. We get swept by sound, lost in the deep blue sea of frequencies. The titans of post-rock teach us that the best things comes to those who wait.
And So I Watch You From Afar tell us a different story. The instrumental post-rockers from Ireland transmit furious energy and forge an exciting connection with the audience. Dynamic joyous melodies orchestrate the crowd into frantic dancing. The absolutely astonishing lighting (a round of applause to Dunk! lighting technicians) make their performance not only musically but visually electrifying. Eccentric and intense, ASIWYFA manage keep up the pace and the punch from start to finish. Entertaining!
Earth kick off as an unfortunate disappointment. A statement so bold necessitates explanation. Primarily, it is the flat and not loud enough sound that prevent the crowd from enjoying the ominous repetitive drones by Dylan Carlson. More so, folks want to feel the vibrations, chest pounding bass, but the current set up does not include one and the lower pitch of the baritone guitar does not do the trick. Half of the audience leave. The loyal ones are presented with a rare opportunity to sit or lay down on the wooden floor of the mainstage tent and comfortably follow the crawling pace of Dylan’s drones. 'All things are difficult before they become easy', - the sound improves towards the end of the set. Imprisoned in a slow-moving wall of meditative sounds we feel blessed and grateful.
Saturday for me starts with the Swedish post-metallers The Moth Gatherer. I am straightaway sold by the sincerity of the band. Smiling and nodding with humbleness, The Moth Gatherer would stop after each song to transmit pure gratitude to the audience. Sweating through their black shirts (let’s admit the looks come at a high cost since it is more than +30℃ in the tent), the Gatherers certainly gather our attention with their bombastic riffing and forward thinking electronic soundscapes. Dipping between light and dark, uplifting and vitriolic, the Swedes give themselves fully! Both Alex and Victor are doing vocal parts that range from screaming to almost clean singing. Reproducing the vocals of Denis Lyxzén from Refused (guest vocals on ‘This Providence of Bones’) is not an easy task though. Having said that, the energy and heavy riffing artfully substitute for the lack of ferocious vocals. The crowd appreciates each and every bit of the set. Heads are nodding, feet are moving, backs are sweating!
The mysterious members of Briqueville must have extraordinary stamina and bravery to wear plague doctors costumes on stage. In this heat the tent feels like a sauna and our bodies are dripping with sweat. I don’t even want to know what it feels like for musicians wearing cloaks and masks… The sacrifice is worth it though, - the Belgians do look colossal on stage. The costumes, combined with glitchy visuals and light effects are imposing! The power of Briqueville’s visual and aural spectacle and the sheer tectonic heaviness remind me of their fellow countrymen Amenra. Yet Briqueville is so much more than Amenra-esque. Big sludgy riffs commingle with danceable tribal beats. Maracas, synth and percussion add a shamanic psychedelic element to the show. Spectacular and triumphant Briqueville is my number one discovery!
Xenon Field serves a pleasant surprise genre-wise. The Irish duo put a fuse of electronic noises and live instrumentation on our plate. I’ll be repeating myself here (for those who read me), but it cannot be emphasized enough how fruitful recent ‘marriages’ of ‘electronica’ and ‘rock’ (in the broadest sense of these terms) have been. A synesthetic vortex opens up as the Irish producers manipulate their machines, synths and guitars on the Stargazer stage. Xenon Field’s forward-thinking shoegazey electronica make metalheads rave euphorically. Let’s dance!
The Forest Stage hosts BARST, a one man project from Belgium. What’s exciting is that no two BARST shows wILL ever be the same as Bart Desmet continuously improvises and alters the pre-written chords. Today a handful of friends are joining Bart on stage. To be accurate, they are not on stage. The artists choose to be close to the audience and position themselves on the soft forest floor straight in front of us. Thibaud Zarathustra on guitar and vocals, Mathlovsky – floor tom, Tokyo Ono – saxophone, Herr Man – bass and the maestro Desmet - voice, guitar, electronics. The dream team reinterpret the latest Barst album ‘Western Lands’ and take us on a complex, layered journey embracing the best of drone, post-rock, and ambient. The live set turns itself heavily to electronica, arriving in a vast range of different tempos and rhythmic modes. The proximity of the band and commanding energy gets huge support from local and foreign fans. One of the best performances of the fest!
Next on the Forest Stage is Syndrome, an intimate solo project by Mathieu Vandekerckhove (Amenra). Mathieu delivers an intense obscure set that glues us to the forest floor for a good half an hour. While the soundscapes of Syndrome are produced by simply looping an acoustic guitar, there is something extraordinary, something hypnotising about it. Meandering loops and Mathieu’s haunting, almost blood-curdling voice give us goosebumps and serve an entrance to a meditative trance. “Are you afraid of your own darkness?” – asks Mathieu and leaves us hanging. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Mooncake, a leading instrumental post-rock band from my motherland Russia, stands out with their professionalism and orchestral sound. The Russians flirt with ‘Mogwain’ aesthetics whilst remaining not your bog standard post-rock troupe. Traditional drums-guitar-bass arrangements are supported by electric cello, oboe, keys, trombone and vibraphone. The dream-like quality of Mooncake songs allow us to let go all the tiredness accumulated throughout this colossal weekend. The ethereal ambience the Russians create is almost comparable to one floating into space.
I must reiterate that no words can translate the feel of Dunk! onto paper. There is a tanker truck load of more bands on the bill that I haven’t included due to time and space limits. It is glaringly obvious that everything Dunk! undertakes is done so with great integrity and zeal. From food court to lighting, campsites to free shuttle to and from the festival, - each and every detail is well thought of to make this celebration unforgettable. Warm nights are spent with selectors DJ Fries dancing until you die, days with the finest adventurous alternative music. I feel extremely grateful to the promoters for making this all happen. If you want to regain your faith in humanity and immerse yourself fully into sound as well as community, then you must visit Dunk! Let's see what 2018 brings about!