In just under a couple of weeks, a strange assortment of varied sonic ritualists, ceremonial riff magicians and shamans of noise will congregate in the dark forest surroundings of Fell Foot Wood, for a truly strange and wondrous Woodland Gathering. This will be the fourth such Gathering, run by Andy of Radio Black Forest, building on previous successes in bringing to the Lake District weird noises from the likes of Gazelle Twin and Skullflower. This time the line-up looks to me to be perfectly balanced between odd-sounding stuff I don’t know, and some impossibly, mystically heavy hitters on both nights of the fest.
Bong and Phurpa are a spectacular combination for the first night’s main draws, completely different, but definitely complementary approaches to drone beyond metal. Bong’s epic dirges contain all possible riffs into one forty-minute note, starting in utter slow simplicity, but wandering to the farthest shores imaginable in psychedelic droning freak-mong absorption. Someone once told me listening to Bong made them wish they could become a tree… this forestry performance may be the most likely occasion for that transformation to take place. Phurpa make their approach to the shrine of the ancient drone from a more austere angle. Their studies in Tibetan Bon ritual chanting are meticulous and severe, yet with patience the low monotone incantations flower into a powerfully altered consciousness of time and the universe. Whether or not they’ll be supplementing the drone chant with their human-bone instruments is presumably a matter for customs and border officials. Unless some appropriate materials can be found onsite?
And as if that wasn’t enough, the first night also promises sets which will contain all kinds of occult scrapings, esoteric shrieks and mysterious clattering. Guttersnipe hurl out staticky noise disruptions like Svartvit or Knurl, while Some Some Unicorn is a jazzy, experimental sort of experimental jazz. Producer and bassist James Welburn makes ominously slow-developing creeping industrial hums. The Gnod-related Ahrkh is the sound of assorted industrial and household appliances meeting in secret in an abandoned warehouse to summon the spirit of electricity.
I’ve been up to the venue before, though for a different, more black metal themed event, and can say with confidence that it’s pretty unique. The ritual incantations (the ones on the bill at least) will take place in a small stage in a hut nestled on a forested hillside, with a natural slope leading up past the fire pit to camping spots in the shadowy wood beyond. Ales, ciders and food (both vegan and meaty) are promised on site, though bring your own water. In addition, sonic treasures will be available from Endtyme records, the massive noise and industrial label Cold Spring, and environmental charity record label Oaken Palace with their releases by Blown Out (playing on Saturday), Merzbow and others, all of which raise money for the conservation and protection of specific endangered species. The festival will also see the pre-release of the new Oaken Palace twin Phurpa recordings, a double LP and an extra-long cassette of two different rituals dedicated to the Amur Leopard and Amur Tiger. This will be the first opportunity anywhere in the world to get your hands on these releases.
The wild sounds and demented noises on Saturday include Big Lad (formerly Shitwife), whose high octane party bangers are a lunatic exploding cauldron of mayhem. Aja is an cyborg scream through crumpled blankets of concrete, Gagarin is an electronical escapee from Some Some Unicorn, and Guncleaner will bring murky relentless scribbling beats. Isn’tses appears to be a harsh noise audiovisual something-or-other, and Elephant House will bring soft twinkling drones to the woods (unless it’s the terrible pop-punk-rap group of the same name from Boston? Probably not).
Late on Saturday are Terminal Cheesecake, a group who have followed their own dedicated path for decades (aeons?), eternally chasing a weird neon apocalypse in their galloping, pulsing, dense tripalongs. Mike Vest of Bong, meanwhile, switches to one of his other bands of intergalactic sound explorers, bringing the equally aptly named Blown Out psych jams earlier on. The big deal for me tonight for me though has to be Trepaneringsritualen. The name signifies the practice of drilling a hole in the head for shamanic purposes, and with their terrifyingly intense, lurking post-industrial sound, they really mean it.
So, an invitation: get your head noise-pierced and let your brain out, plant your feet and become a drone tree, surf the psych riffs to outer galaxies, and submit to the ancient eternal ritual incantation. See you there!