All photos by Davy de Pauw
Federico: Here we are again, in the heart of Flanders for what has become our most anticipated post-rock convention of the year. Of course we’re talking about Dunk!festival, now come to its 13th edition! For those unfamiliar with the name, Dunk!festival has been celebrating the beauty of post-rock for over a decade now, with three days of camping, delicious food, and of course the best of what the world has to offer in the post-something realm. A full-blown international music festival, dedicated to music and bringing together music snobs from all over the world. Three days, 44 bands, and—for the first time—three stages, for an all-in post-rock experience. So dig in for Arctic Drones coverage of this 2017 edition of DUNK festival.
Jacek: Everyone is always saying that Dunk is legendary, the festival, and other similar things. So I bought my ticket without even checking the lineup, did not check the lineup until I arrived, and still had a great time. It was only my second time, but after Dunk!2016 I absolutely knew what to expect, and that greatness of this festival is not just the sum of the bands in the line-up of any given year.
David: For my first Dunk! experience (and also my first time in Europe) I landed in Brussels a couple of days prior to the festival. After navigating the wild, many-roomed Delirium bar in Brussels and narrowly escaping being sexually assaulted by a wasted American girl at a bar in Antwerp, I finally arrived in Zottegem at around 10 AM on Thursday morning.
Mircea: Going to Dunk! had been a long-time dream for me, more so since joining the Arctic Drones (band name pending). Still, I somehow managed to keep from overhyping throughout the years, and I feel like I went there with moderate expectations. I can say those expectations have been met, and even exceeded at certain points.
Robert: My expectations were high for this year’s edition of Dunk!festival, not only because of the many stellar bands which were to play, but also because the Arctic Drones crew was bigger than ever, and the amount of friends to meet was again higher than last year. Dunk! has always felt like a family, and with every edition more people get added to Facebook accounts and more hugs and smiles are exchanged during the first day of the festival.
Federico: There was much talk and countless debate in the AD mansion (aka the blue tent, if you were there you must have seen it) over what or who should have been awarded coveted prize of biggest, most-exciting band on this year’s roster. Needless to say, we couldn’t agree as we’ve got to say, this edition featured some pretty impressive names, from post-rock frontrunners God is an Astronaut, the almighty Swans and drone legends Earth to Australian breakthrough act We Lost the Sea and Dunk!records gem, Pray for Sound.
Robert: Exiting the camping grounds and entering the festival area was equal parts homecoming and alienation as many of the old facilities such as the old camp house and the Dunk!fries outpost were still in place, but the Stargazer stage was placed in a new open tent and there was a cute little auto rickshaw selling coffees and mocktails. Looking for the merch tent proved to be futile as it was actually situated in the big tent opposite the main stage!
David: I had heard many wonderful things about the hospitality and community atmosphere at Dunk! and it did not take long to realize the authenticity of these stories. I have been working with the Dunk!folks on the inaugural Dunk!USA for the past year, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how welcomed and appreciated I would feel once I arrived. It was like being invited into a family, something I can’t say I’ve always felt even when I’m at home. This festival truly is something different and special.
Robert: My experience of festival openers La Ciencia Simple was cut short by the arrival of more members—to my regret because the Chileans played a nice set of eclectic and energetic post-rock that got me right into the Dunk! mood.
Mircea: For this edition of Dunk! I was joined by Raluca, collectively known as “The Stepmother of Drones” due to the sore absence of Milana. Ralu and me got to the festival grounds just in time to see Lost in Kiev, which was one of our must-see bands on this year’s line-up, and they did not disappoint. The performance was fierce and lively, and the visuals were well-chosen and able to draw you into the musical narrative with ease.
Jacek: Lost in Kiev delivered my favorite performance of day one, and at the main stage–well deserved congratulations, I’ll definitely be keeping track of how this band takes over the music scene!
Mircea: A very enjoyable set by Flash the Readies had left me excited for more, but the Stepmother and I wanted to explore the festival grounds too, as it was our first time there. I can’t overstate this—the area in which Dunk! takes place is one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen a festival occupy. We felt like we would have time enough to roam the forest in days to come, so we hurried along to see Terraformer from Belgium. Well… see is saying a bit much, because the band chose to flood the entire Stargazer area with stage smoke, creating a somewhat unsettling effect. It went great with their new album’s theme and mood, and I quite enjoyed the shadowy presence they created. It was wonderful to finally see one of my favorite post-rock bands live, and Mineral sounded more ferocious to me in this context, which was very welcome.
Robert: On Dunk! one amazing local band was followed up by another and The Black Heart Rebellion proved to be no exception to the rule. The band from Ghent mounted an impressive performance with a unique aesthetic that fell somewhere between the dark side of synth pop and the raw violence of tribal music.
David: For me, the day revolved around Spurv, Pg.Lost and worriedaboutsatan, each of whom represented one of the three stages. Although Pg.lost broke my heart by not playing Spirits Stampede they produced a pro set that seems to have been one of the crowd-pleasing highlights of the weekend. One important necessity that I got checked off the list was to find out how to say Pg.Lost’s name. I had always said it as “page lost,” since “Pg.” is short for “page,” but almost everyone at the festival was calling them “P. G. Lost.” CJ (Blessum, of A Thousand Arms fame, red.) had a discussion with one of the band members, who revealed that it was originally supposed to be “Page Lost,” but at this point either dictation is gladly accepted.
Robert: More crude violence was to come with Swans, who headlined the first day, but not before an equally violent show from another local band that showed that Belgian bands can hold their own amidst all these international big names. Steak Number Eight were never really on my radar (I have a curious aversion towards bands with weird names, more than often to my own impediment), and I really didn’t have the energy to immerse myself in another violent experience right before Swans, but even from outside the Stargazer tent it seemed as if nothing was left unbroken after 50 minutes. I will definitely try to catch these guys live on future tours!
Federico: If you had to pick the loudest sound you ever heard what would you answer? I’m thinking, plane engine, jackhammer, lovely-neighbours-moving-furniture-on-a-Sunday-morning-while-you-have-a-major-hangover kinda disturbance. So something along these lines until… I witnessed Swans in all their rumbling glory. Now, when I say this show was loud I really do mean it. Swans proved to be the loudest thing I ever witnessed, and as such, my most challengingly rewarding musical experience. The way Michael Gira conducted his orchestra of noise through two and half hours of hypnotic guitar drooling is just so brilliantly unique that Swans cannot be described with words.
Mircea: The day started bright and early, in no small part due to the heat. Little did the Arctic Drones know it was only going to get worse on the next day. I wasn’t going to let Milana’s absence be felt in full force, so I brought my own Romanian variant of powerful Eastern-European moonshine, which made an ominous promise for the end of the day. After our relaxing morning walk, we were ready for some concerts, and I feel the day was kicked off by one of the best performances at Dunk! this year – All We Expected. I can sum up their set by simply saying, “Refreshing”. Their music challenges many post-rock tropes, and does so elegantly and with gusto.
Robert: All We Expected opened the second day with a blistering set. The combination of post-rock and heavy riffing had everything I could possibly desire. The drummer actually dropped his laptop from the stage but that couldn’t stop this local band from totally ripping it up. Another act that totally demolished the main stage and the surrounding area were Time to Burn who I actually discovered through the Dunk!podcast (shout out!) and who recently reunited to bring the world some more of their energetic post-hardcore. This edition of Dunk! was actually pretty light on the metal side of things so these Frenchmen were a real treat I would not soon forget.
David: This, for me, was the day I had been waiting for. The main stage grouping of Dumbsaint, Meniscus, We Lost the Sea and And So I Watch You From Afar was one for the ages in my book. Meniscus were the first true revelation of the festival, not only replicating the sound of their Refractions material, but even improving on it. Their astounding performance was also a testament to the importance of having a great drummer, as Alex O’Toole’s work on the kit absolutely elevated everything about their set. By the end of the weekend, Meniscus was near the top of the list of attendee’s favorite performances.
Jacek: It was at Dunk that I learnt that the latest album from We Lost The Sea is just as beautiful an album, as saddening it is to know why it’s an instrumental one. However, I strongly believe that Chris Torpy’s friends honored him and his memory in the most beautiful way musicians can offer. Hundreds of people joined together to listen, to feel, and to remember: “They were here and now they’re gone…”. It was a performance I will long remember.
David: We Lost the Sea have obviously built a cult legacy on the strength of Departure Songs, an album as thematically heavy as any in recent memory, written in the wake of singer Chris Torpy’s untimely death. The finale of Challenger, Part 2: Swan Song was the first of a couple of tear-inducing moments for me during the festival.
Robert: Dunk! expanded their use of the forest stage they introduced last year, and it was a big success with the public. Personally I’m not really a fan of outdoor gigs, but when Ilydaen played the forest stage I had to check it out.
Mircea: Ilydaen were a personal favorite and a welcome new discovery, in spite of the fact that they were the only band I saw which suffered a pretty serious technical glitch throughout the festival, as the bassist lost his connection to the amp at one point. It says a lot about the band’s musical flow that this temporary issue didn’t stop them from continuing their performance, and they managed to make it feel like an almost integral part of the buildup of that song.
Federico: There was much talking this year over the decision to feature regular forest shows. Last year, a few secret shows were played in the forest surrounding the camping areas, and were so successful that DUNK decided to feature them again this year. In this naturally intimate setting, 9 bands provided just as many shows, each different and unique in its own way. The forest shows allowed for the priceless advantage of a closer and more personal interaction between artist and audience.
David: Barcelona’s Malammar tore apart that forest stage with one of the most unexpectedly awesome sets of the weekend. It was a perfect venue for them, channeling their insane energy in perfect fashion. They are best described as a trio of swarthy post-metal pirates who take the time out to rock when they aren’t pillaging seaside villages. That’s a high compliment by the way. It was definitely a major high note leading into the final day of the festival. And then came And So I Watch You From Afar. One word: awesome.
Mircea: And So I Watch You From Afar were unbelievably loud, bright (in both senses of the word) and energetic. The perfect injection of adrenaline to last through the tectonic performance by Earth, which Robert and I enjoyed just outside the main tent, while finishing off the famous moonshine and talking into the night.
Robert: The third day were kicked off by yet another band I was thrilled to see—The Chasing Monster from Italy gave a show that I really enjoyed. Despite some technical difficulties they sounded as powerful as they do on their debut album Tales which might well be the post-rock record I listened most to these past six months.
David: For such a young group, The Chasing Monster put on a show well-worth their main stage appointment (as it turned out this was only their fourth gig ever, red.).
Mircea: My absolute must-see band of Dunk!2017 performed early this day, and my body was ready. The Moth Gatherer were pretty much the only post-metal act at this edition, and they flew their dark, angular flag high. But as far as I’m concerned, the festival peaked with Briqueville— they were true heroes. During the hottest day of the festival, at the hottest hour, they performed in full costume, with their distinctive masks, and without any compromise.
Federico: The band silently appeared hidden by smoke, and just as silently disappeared into darkness, but not before smashing our eardrums with a sludgy mix of post-rock/metal. All I know is that it was fucking great! And at the end of the day that is what matters. Amongst all the smoke and the suffocating heat, Briqueville offered one of the most exciting shows of Dunk!2017.
Jacek: Yeah, Briqueville were my hands down favorite discovery of this year’s Dunk! Amazing heavy music, very atmospheric, not overwhelming, just about perfect metal.
Robert: And then Set and Setting kept the heavy vibes flowing with a blistering set of songs from their latest record Reflectionless. They were a powerhouse with their two drummers were in perfect sync and as a whole the show reminded me of Year of No Light in it’s heaviness. Pray For Sound were another band, or let me say the band that I looked forward to for this year’s Dunk!. After three years of waiting these guys finally made the crossing to the Old World, playing a set consisting of songs from each of their three albums and normally I do not allow myself to say this, but the execution was perfect. The band showed creative prowess in weaving together songs that normally do not exist next to each other, while also rocking mega hard.
David: Pray For Sound were one of the true revelations of the weekend, though. I have to admit, I was pulling extra for them because we share a home in New England, so they were like the hometown boys for me. But what they did went beyond my personals affections for them. They had such an everyman quality to them—they just looked like a group of friends playing music together. Their chemistry went a long way in selling their brand of upbeat post-rock to the audience. Their love, passion, and appreciation for the festival and the crowd truly shone through. No doubt they won everyone over with their exuberantly energetic set.
Mircea: Mooncake had a significant delay to their concert, which made me miss Arms and Sleepers, but when it eventually started, they put on a good show.
David: Mooncake put on a stunning set that absolutely won me over, and then some. I mentioned Pray For Sound as a major standout, and another was Arms and Sleepers. Their intoxicating live performance had the entire audience at the Stargazer stage shaking their asses—something that is probably laughably difficult to imagine from a roomful of post-rock fans, but take my word for it.
Robert: Arms and Sleepers were performing a full band set, headlining the Stargazer stage for a second year in a row. After a quirky Q&A in the afternoon trashing each other’s favorite sports teams and hip hop tastes, it was great to see the trio take the stage and treat everyone to a mind-blowing concert. The material from Life is Everywhere gained a whole new dimension during a 45-minute set that also involved material from previous albums, as well as a blistering encore that made many a fan arrive late at the festival’s closing act. Arms and Sleepers did somehow feel like the symbolic end of the festival.
David: God Is An Astronaut proved to be a very worthy festival-closer. I have to be honest, I’ve always kind of viewed them as an average post-rock band, but as is sometimes the case, the albums only tell some of the tale. Their live set was pretty amazing, the lights were spectacular as always, and they closed the main stage with infectious energy, while managing to still work in Suicide By Star as a tribute to the late, legendary Chris Cornell.
Jacek: God Is An Astronaut is a machine, not a band. Over years they’ve perfected their craft to an amazing degree and seeing them is always a pleasure. Also, Robert can confirm I got way over-excited when I heard first notes of Age of the Fifth Sun – one of my favorites, first time hearing it live, what a blast!
Robert: Agreed, the band were extremely tight in their performance and this is something I always see back at previous editions of Dunk!—the headliners are all great performers and God is an Astronaut were no exception to the rule.
David: Needless to say, I was not ready to leave, and wanted to soak in one of the Dunk! after-parties in full glory, but unfortunately my housemates and I all had to leave excruciatingly early to travel back to our homes, so we packed up and headed off. However, this first Dunk! experience surely will not be the last now that I know just how fantastic an event it truly is. This is no crescendo-core festival—all build-up with a brief payoff. For nearly 72 hours, this is the center of the post-rock world, and is something that demands to be experienced on a yearly basis. It’s only four months now until the very first Dunk!USA, so hopefully that is a rousing success and fans will have two events to look forward to every year from here on out.
Mircea: The overall experience of Dunk! is something I’d gladly repeat year after year. It truly feels like a holiday, and the perfect place for immersion into long-form post-rock.
Jacek: Aside from the music, it is great to see that year after year the infrastructure of Dunk keeps incrementally improving. It’s the small tweaks that keep making it an even better experience—like private showers or pathways in the camping area. This all is possible thanks to enormous effort, dedication, and personal touch of so many people who organized this festival, or volunteered in an effort to let all of us have this magnificent weekend. Thank you!
You know who you are, thanks for making our time at Dunk!2017 even greater!
BEST BANDS OF DUNK!2017
As voted by the AD crew:
1. We Lost the Sea
2. Arms and Sleepers
3. Swans & Lost in Kiev