To celebrate its 20th birthday Britain’s finest underground record label Rocket Recordings recently held their Rocket Twenty weekender at The Garage in Highbury and Islington, exactly two decades since they issued their first release, a split 7″ single by The Heads and Lillydamwhite.
With a sizeable chunk of their superb European wide roster of artists appearing across two performance spaces, along with visuals provided by Liverpool Psych Fest’s Sam Wiehl and Rocket Recordings’ very own John O’Carroll, it was three days of truly mind blowing music featuring a diverse range of psychedelia-inspired styles that included everything from krautrock to prog, as well as metal, folk and a variety of electronic styles.Friday
Although the shorter of the three, the opening night offered up some of the weekends genuine highlights. The Malmö-based Flowers Must Die kicked off day one with some eastern-inspired psychedelic space rock which also featured Laura Agnusdei of Julie’s Haircut on sax.
The crowds then quickly rushed off and crammed themselves into the much smaller upstairs room for the first of four Gnod-related solo projects. AHRKH (aka A.P Macarte) encouraged the audience to sit crossed legged like himself, before performing a rather different kind of eastern-inspired sound featuring a meditative mix of ambient drone and vocal loops.
Northern Italians Julie’s Haircut were next up on the main stage. Active since the early 1990’s with around twenty releases to their name, their consciousness-expanding psychedelia, which also incorporates genres such as krautrock, space rock, prog and jazz, is always quite popular among festival goers wherever they play. And they put in a solid performance despite a momentary loss of power midway through one of their jams.
The second of four Gnod-related solo projects came in the form of Dwellings (aka Chris Haslam) who brought a noisier style of experimental electronica than his Gnod bandmate just over an hour before him. Inspired heavily by drone, there were also elements of techno which could be heard in amongst his sound.
Main stage headliners for the opening evening were Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation. Dealing in a lighter and more accessible form of psychedelic rock than much of the Rocket roster, there was little doubt that they were an excellent choice to close the main stage on the opening night performing tracks from both of their full-length albums including the likes of ‘Dunes’ from 2015’s Horse Dance and ‘Rushing Through My Mind’ from 2016’s Mirage.
Despite a great performance by the day one headliners, it would be Coldnose and her closing set upstairs which would steal the show for many. Producing an experimental acid techno sound featuring manipulated vocals, it caused many to do a 180 on the idea of going home early and stick around a little longer to dance the night away with the Teeth of the Sea DJs.Saturday
Kicking off a sold out Saturday was Temple ov BBV, a collaboration between Gnod and Dutch instrumental rockers Radar Men from the Moon, both of whom released an album together last year which was recorded at Eindhoven Psych Lab. On stage there was quite literally, as Paddy Shine of Gnod said, “fucking loads of them” with ten-plus scattered around and bathed in green light. It was a relentlessly heavy set and easily one of the performances of the weekend. The perfect way to begin day two.
Another Italian band that would find their way on to the main stage were the much anticipated Mamuthones. Promoting their new album Fear on the Corner which was released less than one month ago, they produced a very lively set featuring an experimental dance rock style and with their James Murphy sound-a-like vocalist Alessio Gastaldello sporting a Gnod “Just Say No…” t-shirt.
Gnoomes from Perm near Russia’s Ural Mountains rose to the occasion and took their live sound up a few extra levels. Featuring a new synth player on their current tour, they blended the styles found on both their full-length releases, 2015’s Ngan! and 2017’s Tschak!, to create an electronic shoegaze sound that was easily one of the most impressive performances of the weekend.
The highly rated Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs were forced to pull out due to a serious medical emergency involving a family member of one of the band, and as a result of their absence Housewives took their place on the main stage. All dressed in identical outfits of white tops and cream trousers, their post-punk meets experimental electronica style featuring plenty of odd time signatures went down very well indeed.
Hey Colossus were among the most recommended bands when asking those attendance who they were there to see, and from the off was easy to see why. Led by vocalist Paul Sykes, who circled the mic stand throughout their performance, the six-piece blend rumbling riffs with plenty of swagger and groove. If you’re lucky enough to catch them in the future they will certainly leave an impression.
The main reason Saturday tickets sold out as quickly as it did, Goat are the band which have allowed Rocket Recordings to grow since the release of their debut album World Music in 2012. It was named in several end of year lists and led to a performance in front of 10,000 people at Glastonbury, with their follow up album Commune even finding its way into the UK charts. Having only heard great things about their sometimes rare live performances, it’s very easy to see why they’re such a hit with audiences across Europe. Sporting specially made outfits based on the design of their debut, their 90-minute set was as vibrant and brilliant as anticipated.Sunday
The latest addition to the Rocket family, Bonnacons of Doom began day three with a typically superb set on the main stage. Performing tracks from their newly announced self-titled debut, the black robed, convex mirror mask wearing experimental drone rock six-piece, led by the amazing Kate Smith on vocals, have an incredible reputation for their live shows around the Merseyside area so it was great to see them expanding their fanbase in the capital.
Opening the final day upstairs would be the third of four Gnod-related solo projects. Accompanied by another black robed individual sporting a mirrored mask, as well as the sax player from Temple ov BBV, AYN SØF (aka Paddy Shine) offered up some dark ambient sounds before setting off around the room to offer hugs to those in attendance.
The fourth of four Gnod-related solo projects also performed upstairs, with Negra Branca (aka Marlene Ribeiro) further highlighting the diversity of the artists found within the Salford-based collective. Although very much inspired by ambient music, it was a much lighter sound that her bandmates, while there was also a strong element of psychedelic pop mixed in there.
A first UK show for the non-Rocket band, Zimpel Ziolek travelled over from Poland to perform at Rocket Twenty. Blending ambient loops, acoustic guitar and even some clarinet, the duo further added even more to the diverse sounds found at the festival. In addition to this their set was also accompanied by some of the most stunning visuals of the weekend.
Three-piece Anthroprophh performed tracks from their forthcoming album Omegaville which features a heavy fuzz rock sound and a large dose of wah courtesy of guitarist Paul Allen (who just happened to feature on the first 7″ Rocket put out back in 1998). Spoken of very highly by many of those in attendance on day three, they certainly lived up to the hype and were among one of the heaviest acts of the weekend.
One of the most hotly anticipated acts of the final day, Teeth of the Sea took their adventurous blend of post-rock with progressive electronica and blew everyone away who witnessed their main stage performance. Led by Mike Bourne (who also put in an excellent showing upstairs on day two with his solo experimental electronica material), the highlight of the London-based four-piece’s set was perhaps the closer ‘Responder’ from their 2013 album Master.
Still buzzing from their performance at Liverpool Psych Fest last year, the Gnod fan-voted upon ‘classics’ set may take an entire lifetime to get over. It was so brutally loud that it felt like you had taken a beating once it was over. The fact that it was pretty much unrehearsed made it all the more impressive as they played older tracks such as ‘Man on a Wire’ and ‘Tony’s First Communion’, as well as more recent material such as ‘Bodies For Money’. They also previewed ‘Donovan’s Daughter’s’ the opening track from their newly announced album Chapel Perilous.
After Paddy Shine of Gnod gets a ‘Happy birthday, dear Rocket‘ sing-a-long going, all of a sudden the realisation hits that the party is over. What a weekend. That’s how you celebrate. Here’s to another 20 years!