By: Magda Wrzeszcz
Dunk! is hands down my favourite festival. For a long time it had been my goal to one day go to the mythical place called Zottegem in Belgium for the ultimate post rock fangirl’s wet dream of a festival and in 2014 the magic finally happened. It was everything and nothing that I expected in equal measures. I went to dunk! after the first (and extremely successful) year of ArcTanGent and that was the mental template I had in mind. After all, dunk! line-ups have been tempting me for years. In 2014 arrived late at night, in torrential rain, just in time to catch Euryale – a project formed of members of Terraformer and Kokomo, playing to a tiny group of kickstarter supporters in a hostel’s communal room covered in smoke and occasionally lit up by strobes. History was made that night.
There are so many reasons to experience dunk! at least once in your life, I’ll start with the less obvious ones before I’ll get to the line up. First of all – it is so wonderfully small, words can’t express it. That was my biggest surprise, having experienced ArcTanGent and knowing the quality of dunk!’s previous line ups, I expected something on a much bigger scale. Instead, it’s just beautifully intimate. It’s been ran by the Lievens family for over a decade and the family is very much at the heart of it. You bump into Luc, the head of the family, constantly – and every time you do, you feel how happy he is to see you enjoy yourself. The festival takes place on the outskirts of Zottegem, around the aforementioned hostel, which you can stay at if you don’t feel like camping (however this year there are also Flexotel rooms and Flexotent tents available – and to those of you who, just like me a while ago, have no clue what the hell that is: a Flexotel is a comfortable event hotel on the site, they offer heated cabins for 2-4 people). Every day there’s a free, let me reiterate: FREE breakfast in the communal room, for absolutely everyone, prepared by the members of the local community, with free coffee and tea available throughout the whole event. That’s right: the local community supports the festival and is happy to cater for all the post rock and metal heads. The community room also serves food throughout the day and they’ve made a huge effort to cater for everyone, with more veggie and vegan options available with each year. There are also The Legendary Dunk Fries and don’t let me get started on those – they are legendary for a reason. Last year a whopping 450kg of those were consumed and there’s a photo of me next to that proud sign and I sure look like I contributed to at least half of that amount (do yourself a favour and book a couple of extra gym sessions upon your return, however have no regrets – they’re totally worth it). To make it even better, on the last day the Lievens family prepares two gigantic paellas (one traditional, one veggie) and the whole festival tucks in. Oh, and let’s not forget – we’re in Belgium. Belgium = some of the best beers you can treat your palate to. Dunk! operates on a token system, which means that at the beginning (and throughout) you give them your money in exchange for dunk! coins you can purchase food and beverages with and trust me on this: for a couple of Euros you’ll get a simple Belgian blonde or dark beer that is 10 times better than any poor excuse for a lager offered at British festivals. Oh, and the festival is environmentally friendly: the drinks are served in reusable plastic cups, you get the first one for a dunk! coin and you get the coin back at the end (however should you wish to keep one cup as a souvenir, as pretty much everyone does, you just let them keep the coin).
There are now two tented, heated and beautifully lit stages – the main one, on the field behind the hostel, and The Stargazer stage, which tends to house the more experimental acts, in front of it. This means the hostel communal room really becomes the communal room of the event because you’re in and out constantly. This year there will be a third heated tent, housing the merch area – the only place at the festival you spend actual cash in. Dunk! also runs a label and their offerings can be found at the festival, as well as in The Stargazer Store online. Another interesting feature is The Stargazer TV which hosts and records live interviews with the bands in between acts, and this is now also moving to the third tent, with the merch stalls. This means you mingle with the bands all the time. Last year Caspian stayed for the whole duration of the festival, I kept bumping into Eric Quach aka thisquietarmy in various states of intoxication and when Tangled Thoughts Of Leaving ended their crushing set with the words ‘and if anyone would like to smoke a spliff with us…’, Dylan and I mobilised the Swiss hippies, the band set off on a mission to find rizlas and so we sat in the woods, talking about all of the things. Oh – and you get to make friends! Dylan, my festival partner in crime, was found at the 2014 dunk! simply because he was wearing an ArcTanGent t-shirt. This year he’ll be the festival reviewer. Dunk! is fucking awesome. This year they missed out on some government funding and had to set up a donation page. If you’d like them to keep going, as we all should, please give them some of your money, little goes a long way.
Now onto the music. Dunk! crew go above and beyond to bring the best fucking line ups they can and they do search the whole world for them. Thanks to them I saw bands from Australia that didn’t make it to London yet, like the aforementioned TTOL and Solkyri. They always manage to bring a whole lot of European bands waiting to be discovered and top it up with some absolute legends. Let’s go through the expected highlights chronologically.
Strong festival opening from the French post hardcore band making waves everywhere they go. They’re currently promoting their album Empty Colors and their riffs will certainly energise the crowd.
After two successful appearances at ArcTanGent, this math rock outfit keeps getting better and better with each time I see them. I’m looking forward to those guys because they put on an awesome show.
Those guys open what seems to be a Polish evening at the festival and I’m curious as hell because I most certainly fell out with the music scene of my motherland. Obscure Sphinx offer post metal / sludge sound and are fronted by a girl. Since I keep getting into conversations about the lack of women in bands, I’ll be very excited to hear what they’ve got.
Brave enough to keep a Polish name (spoiwo means binder in Polish, and we’re talking the industrial kind, it’s pronounced spo-ee-vo), Spoiwo promise an epic, otherworldly post rock synth sound, the one that builds up slowly and climaxes leaving you feeling elevated.
Returning dunk! legends, and another offering from Poland, Tides From Nebula created a faithful European following over the years and dunk! will launch their upcoming European tour promoting their new album Safeheaven. Infectious energy and some crowd surfing guaranteed.
Enigmatic noise performer, formerly of Under Byen, will take to the Stargazer Stage and is likely to become the dark horse of the night. Violin, his voice and loop pedals sound very promising indeed.
We don’t have to introduce those guys to anyone. Following their headlining slot in 2012, 65dos will sure close the first day with a bang. I’ve loved them for a silly amount of time, but it’s been a while since I saw them at a more intimate setting. This one will be the one to remember.
Opening the second day is this brainchild of Kevin Imbrechts, who recorded his compositions in Sigur Rós’ Icelandic recording studio with their sound engineer Birgir Jón Birgisson. His contemporary classical, ambient pieces are already taking the scene by the storm and evoke of the landscapes that inspired them. Sounds like a lovely way to wake up.
Final Polish band to take to dunk! stage seem to follow the ‘does what it says on the tin’ naming strategy and bring some heavy, apocalyptic post rock sound. I’m pretty sure this festival will restore my faith in my homeland, completely lost thanks to the current government.
Opening The Consouling Stage (Counsouling Sounds’ takeover of The Stargazer Stage for the day, which comes highly recommended as a whole) is this ambient/drone project with a shamanic vibe to it. That’s all I need to know to be sold.
Another returning dunk! legend – Kokomo’s post metal sound has graced the stages of the festival many times before and their fourth studio album Monochrome Noise Love was released on dunk! records earlier this year. The Euryale project with Terraformer blew my mind two years ago, therefore I have high hopes.
Dunk! always treats us to the cream of the crop of the UK scene and Calla will make a very welcome return to the festival. We’ve been praising them endlessly and their live performances have been getting better and more captivating with each time I saw them – and I saw them live a lot. I can’t imagine myself ever getting tired of them, quite the opposite. Give me more Calla anytime.
I’ve never heard of those guys before, but they are an instrumental stoner, proggish psych band that originally started as a side project to a stoner band The Great Escape. The description is enough to colour me interested. I’ll be there with bells on.
Another Consouling Sounds offering – an electronic project of Josh Graham, one of the founding members of Red Sparrowes, as well as a composer and a visual artist. IIVII (pronounced /īvē/) serves us dark ambient with a sci-fi edge.
What promises to be one of the highlights, the post metal icon from Chicago return to dunk! stage. Historically their performances tend to be ridiculously good so I’m looking forward to it. Xavi aka Error! Design, a long running partner of the festival, prepared some limited edition screen prints to mark the occasion.
Again, total post rock legends, this will be their third time at the festival and their delayed ambient melodies will undoubtedly destroy us at the end of the second day. I love them a hell lot and I can’t wait to see them again. Fun fact: if you google them, the second page that comes up is their… MySpace! Who’d have thought.
Kick starting the last day of dunk! are those good friends of ours, bringing their piano-led, epic post rock to Belgium. I cannot remember a performance they wouldn’t have smashed so this will most certainly be the perfect wake up call.
Known also under monikers federleicht and die Nachstunde, this Belgian ambient artist describes his sounds as ‘music to continue what is lost’ and produces melancholy layers of soundscapes. Sounds bloody lovely.
Continuing the British-dominated day at the festival are those old favourites. They played the first dunk! I ever went to and they never fail to entertain with their high-energy brand of post rock/metal with stoner influences.
Have you ever listened to droneish, doom post rock (if it’s even a thing, if it isn’t – I just invented it) from Jerusalem? Me neither! Sounds like the perfect opportunity.
Nordic Giants are definitely the band to see because their show is visually spectacular. They took the performance in post rock to a stratospheric level and are simply stunning to watch. Once in a lifetime experience.
Experimental post rock with electronic elements, from Russia with love. Includes Alex Sokolov who composed music for several of the Marvel movie trailers.
Solo project of Mathieu Vandekerckhove, one of the founding members of Amenra who closed last year’s festival. I saw Syndrome at Beyond The Redshift a couple of years ago and loved the ambient drone soundscapes. I’ll happily come back for more. Syndrome is also a part of the Consouling Sounds family.
Despite making the name for themselves since 2009, this German post rock outfit will make dunk! history because this will be their first EVER live performance. Must see for that reason alone!
Elusive post rock icons, after releasing one of the most loved albums of the genre in the form of Enjoy Eternal Bliss in 2007, they went into hiding until this year, when they returned with Under Summer. As much as I love the music, I was underwhelmed (to say the least) by their ArcTanGent performance two years ago. This is their chance to redeem themselves.
Having played dunk! many times before, Arms and Sleepers, a solid favourite among the Echoes and Dust family, return to Zottegem with a full live band to mark their tenth anniversary. Another unmissable performance.
A cherry on top of the post rock / post metal cake, Russian Circles will make me fangirl like crazy. They’re just so, SO GOOD. And wonderfully heavy. This will be a spectacular end to the already unbelievably promising last day of the festival.