With the Arctic Drones one year anniversary behind us, we found it to be the perfect time to make our first visit to dunk!festival. After a few days of quiet reflection, our writers Jonathan and Robert got together and discussed their findings with one another. Here’s what they had to say.
All photos by Davy de Pauw
Robert: Arriving at dunk! was a blast. It already started raining before I even arrived, and despite all hopes and prayers, I found I had to man up and pitch my tent in the soaking rain. Finding Jonathan wasn’t too hard, so within fifteen minutes we were ready to explore the festival grounds.
Jonathan: Like last year’s edition of dunk! the festival consisted of two stages, with the dining hall in between them. The main stage was under a tent, making the two rainy days a minor disturbance at most. This also helped the acoustics a lot, as almost every performance was mixed almost to perfection, a real rarity as far as festivals go. The light show was also absolutely stunning, pre-coordinated between the in-house light technician and each band.
Robert: Throughout the whole festival the lights were very thoughtful and well-executed. Generally, the first band would have a very tasteful, low-key program, and with the advancement of the day, the light shows would grow more intricate, so with each new band, I was always excited about what the light crew would bring us.
Jonathan: Each day had one real highlight for me: Jakob on Thursday, Tangled Thoughts of Leaving on Friday, and Year of No Light on Saturday. Wang Wen also performed on Thursday, and they won over nearly everyone with a stellar performance, but I had been dying to see Jakob for some time and they failed to disappoint, despite the show apparently being the last of a long tour for them.
Robert: Indeed, the line up of this year’s edition of dunk! festival is one to remember. For me, Wang Wen stole the show on Thursday. The band was thrilling. I sort of knew what to expect, but I was taken by surprise anyhow. The performance was loaded with pure joy and, judging by the commotion at the merch stand afterwards, Wang Wen have definitely launched themselves into post-rock stardom with this show.
Jonathan: I was unfamiliar with Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, and their show just floored me with its intricacy. The explorative jazzy drumming and the wall of glitchy sound provided by the keyboardist seemed to constantly try to outdo one another. The two sat across from each other, battling it out while the bass and guitar played as a much more subdued rhythm section. I’ve never seen anything like it and instantly became a fan.
Robert: For me too, it was Tangled Thoughts of Leaving that pushed the envelope on Friday. I didn’t know anything about them, but afterwards I went out and bought two of their albums. For the last day, it was Year of No Light that were definitely the most impressive.
Jonathan: Year of No Light was the heaviest concert I’ve ever been to – absolutely relentless in their downtuned, two-drum/three-guitar attack – so I definitely agree with you there. I left physically exhausted just from exposure to it – it was fantastic. They followed up the concert with a ridiculous interview later on in the dining hall, showing themselves to be very laid-back guys despite the onslaught they deliver on stage.
Overall, the lineup was so impressive that I felt like I hardly had any time to check out the bands on the smaller Stargazer Stage, even though most of the sets never overlapped by a significant amount of time. The shows I did go to there were well-visited, however. Everyone was talking about how great Monophona’s performance was, and I really enjoyed Sixth Minor, who also had a lot of people show up despite being one of the last acts to perform (in addition to being right before Maybeshewill).
Robert: Huracán were also on the Stargazer Stage and they rocked really hard. I had the strange impression of being at a sausage fest, so much testosterone was flying around, with the only change being that there was a very high amount of girls around seemingly enjoying it.
Jonathan: I think that partially applies to the festival as a whole, really. Huracán, Hemelbestormer and Ornaments all three had somewhat of a stoner vibe going, and people went for it.
Robert: Ornaments were very enjoyable, they had an excellent drummer and were the first to real heavy band to kick off Saturday as a pre-eminent metal day. Labirinto carried that vibe further after a more energetic and uplifting The End of the Ocean.
Jonathan: Yeah, The End of the Ocean had probably the prettiest, most lush sound of all the bands I saw. Very nice. A lot of people walked out during Labirinto’s set for reasons I have yet to understand, but otherwise the crowd was always extremely supportive and showed all of the artists a lot of love.
Robert: I think Labirinto were generally misunderstood. About half the crowd walked out on the show while the other half stayed and cheered passionately. They were supposed to present the world with a new, and heavier sound, which might have something to do with it. I mean, there were a lot of metalheads around but aesthetically the Dunk! crowd was still a very peculiar mixture of people. The majority of the visitors were pretty conventional-looking, walking around in their everyday clothes, sometimes wearing band shirts or sweaters of their favourite post-rock and metal groups. Then there were the black-clad metalheads, a few hipsters and gays, as well as a set of parents who had brought along their kids. The little guys were hilarious, wobbling around with giant earmuffs on their heads, and swinging softly to the music while sitting on their father’s shoulders.
Jonathan: Dunk! was packed with genuinely nice people who were ostensibly really there for the music and not to get hammered. I didn’t see one person who got belligerently drunk and I felt comfortable leaving my phone at the charging station unattended. Neither of those things would break any festival for me, because that’s just the way it usually is, but it’s really nice and worth mentioning when the opposite is the case. It felt like everyone was on the same wavelength.
Robert: The atmosphere at dunk! was very pleasant indeed. The public was rather small, with not more than a 1,000 visitors a day there came a point where you could recognise most people you saw by their face.
Jonathan: That’s true, and definitely owes something to the layout of the festival. People spent most of their time shuffling between the concerts and the dining hall, where everyone went in between performances to kick back and have a bite to eat. Coffee was free, it was never too packed in there, and there was always someone from one or more of the bands at the merch table. A lot of the bands stuck around after their sets and talked to the other festivalgoers, and we found ourselves in a conversation with the vocalist from The Ocean at one point without even recognizing him (they kept the lights extremely dim for their set and I wasn’t that familiar with the band).
Robert: That scene was a rather embarrassing experience to me, as I was loudly proclaiming the Ocean to be the biggest disappointment of the festival. Not because they played badly, but because I just didn’t connect with them emotionally. That was rather sad because they are a great band. I know Chris (Breuer, bass) from my dealings with Pelagic Records, and really, they all seemed to be great to hang around with. Luckily for me they didn’t hear all of that grumbling about their set and we ended up having a really nice conversation with their sound guy (or was he the light guy?).
Jonathan: Just hope they don’t read this, I guess. I enjoyed their set, but was preoccupied with anticipation of Caspian, who closed out the second day, giving two new songs their debut in a strong showing. The third day seemed less interesting to me than the other two initially, but I changed my mind after two nice performances by Ilydaen and Astralia, whose minimalist approach to traditional post-rock I really appreciate. As mentioned, the highlight of the third day for me was Year of No Light, who were followed by the festival’s two final heavyweights: Maybeshewill and Amenra.
Robert: Amenra closed the festival in fashionable manner. They were the biggest surprise for me. I heard some of their material before, but back then they didn’t really impress me. Their show however was amazing, the crowd went wild.
Jonathan: Amenra seemed to be a gripping experience for all the fans present, but it went over my head for the most part. The last few performances of each day predictably resonated with the audience, whether from MONO, Caspian, Maybeshewill or Amenra. The tent and light show also made it feel very inclusive, which made Caspian’s performance in particular even more enjoyable for me personally.
Robert: Amenra are a band with a very singular aesthetic, which made them understandably hard to grasp. The whole thing carried a very strange Eminem vibe, which was mainly due to frontman Colin van Eeckhout’s signature hoodie, copied by many hardcore fans in the public who all headbanged in sync to the ominous sounds produced by the band. Strange, but for the first time in a long while I felt the true unifying power of metal.
Jonathan: All genre labels aside, I think this is a good way to sum up the idea behind dunk!. From thisquietarmy’s set in the forest to Ilydaen discarding the stage to instead perform an intimate show surrounded by the audience, the whole thing was about bringing the artists as close as possible to the fans. The festival is a celebration of the interaction between those who make the music and those who support it, and brings this unique relationship across in a way that accentuates the music as much as it deserves.
Dunk! also seems to be growing larger each year from what I heard, and while this is definitely a good thing for the people who put in hard work to make it such a fantastic experience, I’m also glad I got to see it at this point in its development, since the intimacy is a big part of what makes it so special. To the guys at dunk!: thank you for an unforgettable weekend and until next year!
Here’s the full schedule: