All photos by Davy de Pauw
Fed: Immersed in the woods of the Flanders lies Zottegem, a placid town known more for its artistic contribution to painting than music. Here however, in the stillness of the Belgian countryside so dear to Rubens, Van Bradeal and other Flemish painters, we celebrate Dunk! Festival 2016, three days of music featuring only the best that the European and international scenes have to offer. This year’s edition promised to be a memorable meeting as for their 12th edition the organisers promised big things. The setlist this year was indeed massive, featuring titans such as Pelican and Russian Circles, and veterans of the genre like This Will Destroy You, Collapse Under The Empire and Tides From Nebula. This year’s roaster also included the highly-anticipated returns of Yndi Halda and 65daysofstatic, as well apparitions from I Am Waiting For You Last Summer, My Sleeping Karma and Arms and Sleepers (with a special 10th anniversary show). A sleepy town about to be awaken by the roar of 37 bands, Dunk! is bringing to Belgium only the best of post-rock, experimental metal, and ambient music, inviting some of the most renowned and revered bands and many of the most promising artists and solo-projects.
Come to its 12th episode, the Dunk! saga now represents one of the most successful and exciting realities in the world of live experimental music in Belgium, if not Europe. And it is here, that our intrepid bunch comprised of Robert, Milana, Jacek, Tarek and myself (Federico) was sent to document first hand the unleashing of this post-rock storm. Blessed by beautiful weather, our team set forth, Zottegem-bound, to capture for you, our loyal readers, all the glory of three days of camping, drinking, tanning, chilling, and especially fantastic bands and music. Arctic Drones is proud to offer you the coverage of Dunk! Festival 2016.
MEETING UP AT THE FESTIVAL
Jacek: This has been my first visit to Dunk! and oh my, I was definitely excited! It’s the holy site to which once a year a sea of like-minded post-rock-heads ventures for a musical feast.
Milana: Meeting everybody was a blast. This was the biggest Arctic Drones get together and everybody was hyped about it.
Tarek: When I packed my backpack and took my bus to Brussels – my first time ever in Belgium! – I already knew that I was about to make a trip I would never forget. I mean, how many times do you get to witness your first Dunk! festival ever!? But this journey had so many highlights for me, not only music wise. The moment I stepped out of the train in Zottegem, me and my fellow Arctic Droners were met by the friendly small Dunk! shuttle car, that makes you feel that you are being picked up by old friends, and luckily for us, we made it early enough to find a nice spot to our gigantic tent.
Robert: We pitched our “Arctic Drones Mansion” in the back corner of the camping site, overlooking all other tents and dwellings. After getting our bracelets, we ran into the guys from SPOIWO who were nervously preparing instructions for the lighting on the main stage, to which they were transferred after Mutiny on the Bounty cancelled their show. I had seen the band play on Tuesday before the festival in Antwerp, but the venue was way too small for their sound, so hearing they moved to the big stage was a big relief, because I really believed their music had the power to fill the venue. In a desperate attempt to market our clandestine merchandise, we gave Paweł a black Arctic Drones t-shirt to wear on stage in return for a SPOIWO t-shirt (which is now lying around somewhere in my room, but which we might do a giveaway at some point).
A DAY TO REMEMBER
Robert: After parting ways with the guys from SPOIWO we went to see festival opener Fall of Messiah, who did a mighty good job. As always on Dunk!, the light show was excellent and promised a great deal for the gigs to come.
Tarek: Fall of Messiah were a really energetic band and they kicked things off the right way.
Robert: Next came SPOIWO who were moved forward in the time schedule, and never in my life have I been so proud of a band. The Tuesday before the festival I told them, “I’m sure you guys will shine at Dunk!” and hell did they shine. They did a wonderful job, which was shown by the amount of SPOIWO-shirts popping up on the festival grounds after the gig.
Jacek: I might be spoiled, but SPOIWO definitely takes the first day for me. While Mutiny on the Bounty sadly had to cancel, this was great news for my favourite Polish band, as they were moved to the main stage. Trust me, they really appreciated it – a little over a year ago their very first album came out, and they received the opportunity to play for a few hundred people who absolutely loved the performance. Fans were tireless when it came to applauding after this truly magical show.
Tarek: For me, the whole first day was blurred by Obscure Sphinx’s memorable performance on the main stage. I have to confess these guys have been on my “to see live” wish-list for years, and although it was some time till I finally got this chance at Dunk!, it was totally worth the wait. The genuine ritualistic aura that this band radiates, with their down tuned guitars, dismal sound and their vocalist’s agonising performance, is something that will stick in my mind for a long time, and it was probably my highlight moment of the festival.
Fed: Still jetlagged from my 7-hour flight on Wednesday, I thought I’d take it easy on Thursday lying in the grass sipping coffee or a beer, and occasionally glimpse at one or two of the bands playing. No. No way. By the time Fall of Messiah had played their set, I was already rushing to the other stage to be on the frontline not to miss SPOIWO unleashing the storm. Sleep is for the weak. Rightly so, I ended up sleeping away the rest of the evening and missed the last 3. A lot has been said on how fantastic Obscure Sphinx were already, so I’ll just reiterate it. They killed it.
Robert: Tides From Nebula were the band for which I initially came to the festival. At first, I thought one of the guitarists had left the band, and I immediately withdrew from them the title of “best live band in the world”, but after I heard the absence was due to illness, I was very relieved, and Tides were still the best live act in the world, in my mind.
Jacek: I had only heard a single song from Safehaven before Tides From Nebula decided to play three of them during their gig, and I must say I really enjoyed what I heard. Which is a great feeling since Eternal Movements and myself didn’t connect very well. Having listened to the album after I brought a CD home, I must say that it’s great to see Tides From Nebula continue to write great music and dazzle fans with spectacular shows.
Note: During the festival, Robert and Jacek had many fights about the aesthetic worth of Eternal Movements. Never mention the album when you have the privilege of spending time with the two of them together. The day will not end nicely.
Milana: To me, Tides From Nebula weren’t a big surprise, because they delivered exactly what I imagined them to do. The thing about their performance that made me appreciate the band even more however is the fact they played without one band member.
65daysofstatic is where the lights had a huge role because of all the electronic elements and tempo switches. For me, they were a nice end to the day, but they were overshadowed by performances of the other bands I witnessed earlier.
ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
Tarek: The second day was absolutely my favourite at Dunk!, but it only went crazy from this point as I was racing between stages trying to catch all the bands I wanted to check – at which I miserably failed of course – but I got more than I asked for.
The day started pretty early for me with another fine Polish band, Sounds Like the End of the World – one should wonder what is up with all these bands coming from Poland lately – and as you can guess from their name those guys don’t paint rainbows on the stage. Their music wiped off all of the last night’s tiredness and pumped tons of energy into my ear, and will even get your head and body moving.
Milana: Sounds Like The End Of The World and Kokomo were enjoyable and they totally put me back into a post-rock vibe.
Fed: Refreshed by a long sleep and blessed by the shining sun, I started the day right and caught the fantastic shows by Baikonur, SLTEOTW, and Kokomo. Day 2 offered such a great selection of post-rock that by 5:45 when Kokomo left the main stage I thought there wasn’t anything else I wanted to see. Boy was I wrong.
Tarek: I could cross another band from my wish-list and finally see the fine German post-metal act Kokomo with their new album Monochrome Noise. They always strike me as the kind of band you would enjoy hearing at home, but they proved me mistaken, especially with their secret live performance in the woods the next day, which was a breath-taking performance, in spite of playing in such a narrow space and with small amps.
Milana: I simply have to mention YODOK III. Even with technical difficulties plaguing them, they not only succeeded to go along with it in a professional manner but to achieve a fantastic comeback as well. Great musicians and improvisers!
Robert: YODOK III (pronounced “yodok drie”), playing on the Stargazer stage, were my personal highlight of the day. Everybody was seated on the floor like it was a thing, and listened attentively to the noisy, jazz-inspired improvisations. Even though half of their set was wasted because the PA dropped out, they put on a great show. Once the inconvenience was fixed, guitarist Dirk Serries fired on his band with a violent passion and they finished their set with mind-blowing grandeur.
Tarek: I had to run yet again for the main stage to catch My Sleeping Karma from the very beginning, and it was without doubt my favourite performance of the day. The stars were aligning in the right positions, as everything went perfectly from the sound to the lighting. Despite the difficulties those guys had with their sound engineer getting sick and skipping the concert, as well as their van breaking down the day before, the band gave their full energy on stage, which was easily transmitted to everyone present. You could hardly see anyone staying still in his place – and I think I even moved a bit, despite my strict rule against dancing in public☺.
Jacek: I haven’t had my mind blown by a musical discovery to such an extent for a long time. My Sleeping Karma played amazing instrumental stoner/psychedelic rock and they are definitely a must-see if they are touring anywhere on your continent!
Milana: We had a blast at My Sleeping Karma. A bit of stoner and a bit more of psychedelic, they were a perfect band for Friday night, just what I needed. And damn Pelican raised the bar for live performances. Precision, energy and heaviness.
Robert: Pelican were the surprise of the day. I had never listened to them, but MAN were they heavy. Amazing showmanship during the whole gig, and guitars sounded great.
Tarek: After such an energetic day CHVE – known as the vocalist of Amenra – was the perfect balance, with his hurdy catching tones and melancholic vocal lines and whispers, with the fire beside him and the visuals on the background, that will take you away from reality to the woods, where the echo of his sound chanting “I will only rise, until I fall”, as a simple drum loop will start to hypnotise you through the rest of the performance.
Fed: YODOK III with their intricate jazzy intermezzos, CHVE with their enigmatic folklore-ridden crescendos, and My Sleeping Karma with their psychedelic rhythms, showed how post-rock can be the meeting place for various styles, genres and sounds. And Pelican, well… Pelican simply destroyed any sort of expectation, with a crushing display of technical, melodic, and ridiculously heavy instrumental metal. The heaviest bird flies the highest.
Milana: This Will Destroy You had a lot of mixed reactions. This was mainly because of the way they performed. Everything was dark, no lights on the stage, all you can see were the guitarists wearing head lights. I personally liked that set up a lot and the purpose was clear. You can’t get distracted by anything and all your attention goes to the music itself.
Jacek: I will always have a special place in my heart for This Will Destroy You, whose performances are my favourite. Three out of three times I have been completely unable to formulate any kind of sentence after a show of theirs. But, apparently that’s just my opinion, as some people claimed that this was the worst show of the day, as nothing could be seen on the stage (they played in pitch darkness, with only a few headlights visible) and as such the performance was horrible. The only thing I can say, is that I loved the idea as it allows to connect even deeper with their hypnotising music, devoid of any distractions.
Robert: Yeah that person you’re talking about there is me. I appreciated the idea of them playing in the dark, in theory, but in real life it didn’t work out for me. I soon got lost in thought and didn’t pay attention to the set. The encore however, was really good and prevented the band from leaving me unimpressed.
Milana: Thankfully, they left Threads for the very end and it was a beautiful closure for that day.
Tarek: Sadly everything has to end, but Dunk! wouldn’t let me go back to my boring daily routine without the proper goodbye, with their famous homemade paella and tasty Hoegaarden beer, and a day filled with exceptional musical performances and a lot of new discoveries, starting with the British progressive post-rock band Flies Are Spies From Hell.
Robert: I remember me and Fed walking towards the main stage to check out The Hirsch Effekt, and Fed saying, “It is way too early for this kind of music.” Boy was he wrong. The band did a terrific job at waking us up and carrying us away in their wild energy to a place where ADD rules the waves. The band played tirelessly and relentlessly, changing tempo and time signature at least three times per minute, but also having those catchy choruses that keep you hooked like a fish. Very enjoyable show.
Herbstlaub started out very promising, but twenty minutes into the set, the good man overheats his laptop, which took another twenty minutes to cool down. Luckily for us, he was allowed to play an extended set and even though he did not deliver on the “zen” aspect of his music, he did totally succeed on bringing a great atmosphere.
Fed: Herbstlaub’s set climaxed into one of the most intimate moments of the entire festival.
Milana: One of my favourite performances on Saturday was Nordic Giants. I was glad they played on the main stage because the visuals for that band are maybe as important as the music.
Jacek: Visual art can be extremely powerful when combined with music and Nordic Giants and their collaborations are a living proof. I wholeheartedly recommend the movie which played during the show, called “The Last Breath”, which you can see (among many) here.
Robert: Thank You For Smoking was good, but they encountered technical difficulties, like so many bands playing on the Stargazer stage. It was a real shame having to watch these musicians try to overcome the problems or to bring a set through the monitors. A little point of improvement for the Dunk! crew.
Milana: The biggest surprise of the third day was Syndrome. For me, it was the most beautiful and emotional moment of the entire festival.
Fed: Yes, the third and final day offered some of the most unexpected but welcomed surprised. Syndrome, another product of the Stargazer, proving once more how behind Amenra hide some of the most brilliantly talented musicians.
Robert: Collapse under the Empire played their first show and they did really well. To me the music sounded disjointed and a bit awkward at first, but the set ended great.
Tarek: It turned out that those guys had a trick or two saved all these years, as they seemed pretty confident on the stage, playing a wide variety of their discography, that makes you wish that their live appearance will rather be a regular habit in the future.
Fed: To me, Collapse Under The Empire, with a flawless and energetic display of the craft re-animated in us the love for cinematic soundscapes.
Fed: The 10th anniversary performance by Arms and Sleepers featured a full live band and with a set spanning their entire career (and some unreleased material), the US trio entertained the smaller crowd for over an hour and offered a truly unforgettable experience.
Robert: Arms and Sleepers were the definite highlight of the festival for me. After so many hours of plain post-rock, the danceable beats of their set were a refreshment. The band switched back and forth between electronica-inspired tracks and post-rock tracks, ending with an awesome unreleased post-rock anthem.
Tarek: Arms and Sleepers were my last surprise act, and another great discovery for me.
Milana: Out of all the bands, I was most excited to hear Russian Circles. They are one of my favourite bands of all time and they were a perfect ending to a festival. The interesting thing about Russian Circles for me was the feeling I got. For all the other bands I felt like the time passed on quickly, and before I know it, they were done. But for Russian Circles I felt like they’ve been playing for hours. Was I impressed? I definitely was. The crowd went crazy and the band was brilliant.
Jacek: Russian Circles put on one of the greatest post-metal shows I’ve ever seen. You’d probably even enjoy them if you are not that much into post-metal, that’s how good they are. Picking them as my favourite of the third day isn’t really that hard – I mean, there’s a reason why they were chosen to close the day.
Tarek: After these three full days of great music and more than 36 live performances, this experience couldn’t have ended with a lesser band than Russian Circles, who lived up to my expectations to be the best performance of the day, and showed that those three nerdy guys from Chicago turn into radiating masses of musicianship on the stage, and despite that they don’t move that much, they kept everyone on their feet with their heavy bass tunes and catchy guitar harmonies that ended the night as loud as it could have been.
The Mother of Drones assesses the Dunk! facilities
Milana: From the very first second we got to Zottegem, all until Dunk! was over, I was completely satisfied with all the festival had to offer. From a super nice guy picking us up at the train station and all the staff members being very polite and helpful, to an overall impression of a great organisation. I will make a few examples of that, because I believe that by paying attention to details Dunk! nailed it.
- Efficient payment method – convenient plastic coins for booze and food (that is by the way, delicious).
- Eco-friendly cups – the awesome reusable Dunk!-cup a lot of people decided to take back home after the festival was over.
- Clean toilets, showers and the festival/camp area – when compared to all the festivals I’ve been to, Dunk! was definitely the cleanest. This may not seem like the most important thing, but as a girl I really appreciated hot water and clean, good smelling toilets.
- Sticking to the schedule – with 37 bands playing for 3 days, this was a big win for the organisation
- The lights! – I don’t want to be that person in the team that exaggerates everything but whoever was responsible for the lights did a fantastic job. I loved how the light setup changed with different bands playing, how the lights went along with the songs and made it a much better experience.
- Charles Degeyter – amazing product designer turned poster-artist, we shared some Serbian rum-cokes while hanging around in the AD mansion. He made a Russian Circles poster to commemorate their appearance at the festival. Handprinted and limited to 70 pieces!
- Timo Helmers – he claims his job is to make pretty women wear his t-shirts, but actually he is the organiser of the wonderful VIVID festival, which will take place September 23 & 24, in Kristiansand, Norway!
- Luc Lievens – the organiser of the festival, casually selling beer tokens to minors at the camping ground. Thanks Luc for making Dunk! an unbelievable experience of family and friendship!
- The Cooky Fairy – a beautiful Italian girl who hands out cookies, only to guys (sorry Milana), and who would only speak to Fed, because he was Italian.
- Dai – also known as Rôka Skulld from Nordic Giants, an amazing guy who was prepared to take it outside when Jacek wanted to pick a fight with him. You should’ve seen that takedown! He gave us beers afterwards. A total smasher.
Arms and Sleepers
This Will Destroy You
I Am Matress
45 My Sleeping Bag
QUOTES (ask individual members for explanation, the article gets too long)
“So who’s Fed?” – Charles
“Where’s my black metal?” – Jacek
“Fed, somebody is being in the tent.” – Tarek
“Milana, you’re like a camel.” – Jacek
“Good is the new average.” – Robert