We left shortly after the final notes of Alcest, took an unplanned detour through the village of Velzeke and headed towards Antwerp, with its noise, its polluted air and my comfortable warm bed. A thought appeared in my head about comparisons with ancient ritual festivals, where people would celebrate unity and strengthen their sense of community. My mind wandered off to hundreds of years in the future. Archaeologists had found remnants of an ancient festival in the Flemish Ardennes. Drinking vessels, cloths and foundations of a building. They described it as a ritual gathering. Come to think of it, that's pretty much what Dunk! festival has become over the past few years.
After the usual formalities, we headed towards the main stage where Sistemas Inestables was about to kick of this festive edition of Dunk! They did that with complex instrumental post-everything, so it seemed. Electronics, potent percussion and lingering guitars delivered something that reminded me of some jazz concerts I have seen in the past. Neat opener, and one that already managed to fill up the massive tent quite nicely. Dunk! is one of those festivals where the opener gets plenty of attention. I saw a lot of Sistemas Inestables t-shirts afterwards so they must have made a decent impact.
Speaking of treating opening acts right, Black Narcissus immediately took over the forest stage with their bass & drums compositions. This unique Belgian duo seemed to feel right at home on this festival and the audience embraced them quickly, even though some audience members thought the whole thing would sound better with guitars. Nonetheless, this was an interesting gig and a more than decent kick-off for the forest stage.
Unfortunately, that wonderful concert also exposed the one handicap at Dunk! The overal quality of the gigs is so good that often the listener needs a little rest. The bellowing sludge-doom of Welcome To Holyland was bit too much for me after the massive impact of Osorezan. Nonetheless, I saw a satisfied audience, adoring all these muddy riffs and pounding drums. No doubt this was a grinding gig but for me, it was time for a beer and a few jokes with my festival buddies.
With Hæster, more Belgian violence occupied the eardrums of a rather packed main stage. For the fans of heavy hitters, this definitely was a highlight of this year's edition. Within seconds Hæster pummeled over the crowd with a rarely seen brutality. It also looked like the band felt right at home on this big stage, delivering their vicious post-hardcore sounds with sheer intensity. And once again, shortly after the gig, more and more Hæster shirts appeared.
The performance by Staghorn was something magical. Here in the forest, the band felt right at home, as if they were mystical creatures, jamming over elaborate narrations. This was the gig that brought up these thoughts about ancient sacred gatherings. With everything falling into place, this was definitely one of the most magical gigs at Dunk! 2019. I only hope that, when Staghorn returns in the near future, they don't move to the main stage. The forest was perfect for this musical entity.
On the other side, the main stage was the perfect place for Coastlands. This trio delivered another typical Dunk-gig, one with big sound, big lights and big crowds. Oddly, that sounds rather negative, but "typical Dunk-gig" simply means "amazing", or "mesmerizing" or "awe-inspiring", and that's exactly what this performance was.
Back to the forest, where the ethereal doom of Fvnerals suddenly felt like something completely different, yet very welcome. In a way, this gig felt like a dark post-punk concert, only slower and dreamier. I have to say, I really liked this performance, its atmosphere and its brooding sound, even though the vocalist sounded somewhat nervous. Then again, who wouldn't be nervous on this beautiful stage?
With This Patch Of Sky, the main stage once again transformed into a post-rock frenzy, one of the most baffling ones on this first day. You could see that everywhere. The tent was packed, the crowd was in a deep state of trance and the band was ecstatic. This one, too, felt like a headliner. I mean, some people have complained about the lack of real headliners at Dunk! 2019, but this day alone we had four or five of them.
Now let's see if they can repeat that at Rock Herk in July.
With Ufomammut, this first day saw a somewhat surprising headliner. Surprising but certainly not undeserved. Those who were not too exhausted by all the previous gigs would be totally pulverized by the Italian trio and their relentless doom metal. In the past twenty years, these guys have made a reputation for themselves and at this edition of Dunk! Ufomammut came through to that. This was a blistering closer for a promising first day of Dunk! festival.
After this gig, we headed to our festi-hut for a night of little sleep. For hours I had to listen to an American woman with an annoying voice and two Germans who attempted to seduce her. Funny, sure, but rather unwelcome. Luckily the men's attempts failed and they left at five in the morning, a few seconds before the local roosters started crowing. Hurray.
Day two started with a walk to the local supermarket. We were definitely not the only ones who were in need of some vitamins. Several Dunk! attendees were walking back to the festival with strawberries, bananas and apples. It was a funny sight. Of course, some of them also carried crates of beer and hard liquor. The supermarket staff clearly had a busy day but I don't think they minded. They were just as nice and friendly as everyone here in Zottegem, it seemed.
If the forest wasn't awake yet, Wanheda certainly did the trick. A young band, which I had previously described as somewhat nervous and hesitant, Wanheda have turned into a post rock force to be reckoned with. The band delivered a highly convincing performance here in the forest, and once again the rush to their merch stand proved exactly that. These Pietermannen(*) have evolved, that's for damn sure. I wouldn't be surprised to see them again in the next few editions of Dunk!, and a lot higher up on the bill as well.
(*) nickname for people from Leuven.
At the main stage, Baulta would give us all a lesson in high quality old-school post rock. These Fins easily conquered the stage for their forty minutes of Dunk! excellence.
At that time, somewhere during the excellent set of Pillars, I decided it was time for a little break. Several of my intestines wanted attention and the pressure on my wallet started increasing. So we took a little stroll around the non-musical parts of Dunk! festival. As always, the food was delicious. I think this is the perfect time to offer my sincere compliments to the staff of volunteers for that. This is a hard working crew, which has earned a lot of respect over the years. So, thank you for stuffing us with all these amazing flavors. You can actually taste the love in there...
I heard large parts of Statue's performance while stuffing chili con carne through my throat. For me, that was a moment of delight, showcasing the sheer enjoyment of this festival. Besides, I wanted to be ready to witness Wang Wen, one of my favorites from a previous edition. Just like then, this Chinese post rock act came up with a breathtaking performance with some of the nicest tracks from their current and previous albums. I know, we're piling up the highlights here. Yet, it has to be said, this was turning out to become one of the best Dunk!-days ever.
And sure thing, when Malämmar climbed on the forest stage, I felt such a déjà-vu. This Spanish trio returned to the forest stage like a stampede and just like two years ago, their crushing doom metal convinced every single person in attendance.
What Kokomo did was both typical and untypical for Dunk! festival. The typical part was: this was sheer fun, a post rock party with an amazing set of songs and an overjoyed audience. The untypical part? Balloons and brutal vocals by an unexpected guest. Tom from Her Name Is Calla turned a brilliant show into a legendary one. I don't think he should do that again, but hey, it was fucking funny.
In the darkness of the forest, Wrekmeister Harmonies showcased some mystifying doom metal, be it without drums or anything. This duo needs little else than a guitar, a violin and their vocals to create stunning pieces of music. The audience welcomed the occult driven sounds and with good reason too. This was an excellent closer for a near-perfect forest-stage day. I was glad to see this stage grow into perfection. Heck, I love this one more than I love the main stage.
But hey, what a fantastic day this had been!!! We closed it by drinking some hard liquor and eating spicy barbecue balls. We talked and laughed and had a hell of a time. This, too, is Dunk! festival. Mates, buddies, dirty jokes. The hard liquor proved its worth too. I slept like a baby: three hours at best and having to pee four times in between. Hurray!!!
By now, it was time for the yearly walk through the beautiful environment of the Flemish Ardennes. It somewhat surprised me that we were not the only ones enjoying the sights. Yet, mostly, I was delighted to see a kingfisher and baby moorhens. I also saw this utterly useless revolving gate. It was the cutest thing.
Anyway, back to the festival grounds where Le Temps Du Loup was about to kick off day three. They did that with... (drumrolls)... post rock. I'm sorry, that's becoming a running gag: describing bands at Dunk! as "post rock" as if that is a surprise. Nonetheless, another high quality gig which kept the audience in its grasp, no doubt about that. Le Temps Du Loup put down a solid set and the audience adored it, of course.
With Singaporean act Paint The Sky Red, another traditional post rock band occupied the main stage and, like many of their predecessors, they did a fantastic job. In a way, this concert reminded me of those by Spoiwo and The End Of The Ocean at previous editions of this festival: emotional highlights, created by the sheer chemistry between band, audience and technical staff. So absolutely, another highlight on this already highlight-loaded happening.
With Jardin De La Croix another Spanish band with a French name conquered the main stage. Quite honestly, I don't really remember this gig, which can only mean one thing. It was an excellent one, with great post rock and a nice atmosphere. You get a lot of those at Dunk!, apparently by now too many to be remembered properly. I'm sorry, Jardin De La Croix. I'll see you a next time, hopefully. Something similar goes for Shy, Low. I remember them being great, just not the details. I did run to their merch stand, so I guess I'll enjoy their music somewhat more intensely soon.
Back in the forest, Zhaoze received another opportunity to convince me of their talents. On a previous edition, they were not able to so I wondered what would happen now. Their performance felt somewhat experimental, with often screeching sounds, but then it hit me. This truly is stuff for Godspeed fans, and from that moment on I really enjoyed this band. Strange, isn't it, how your mind can suddenly make such a switch? So, mission accomplished, I would say.
And maybe another mea culpa here. I was completely wrong about Bossk. In fact, I was excited to see them, only to realize that this was another band than I thought it was. Apparently, I had always confused them with Boss Hog, an American punk-blues band. Stupid. Stupid.
However, mere moments after that sudden epiphany, I found myself drenched in Bossk's overwhelming wall of sound. Three minutes in and their performance catapulted itself to my personal list of Dunk 2019 highlights. From now on, I'll never confuse them with another band again. I'm now a certified Bossk fan. Too bad the CDs were sold out, but I'll get my hands on one of those pretty soon, no doubt about that.
For many people in attendance, the final performance of Her Name Was Calla was something extremely emotional. I cannot say that as I have never been a fan of their work but out of respect for their influence on the post rock scene, I refuse to speak badly about them. Ain't I the nicest fucking bloke around, right? So, judging by the reaction of the crowd, this must have been a grand highlight for many people here at Dunk! and that I can only applaud.
Perhaps this might come as a surprise but I had no idea what to expect when I shuffled towards the main stage to see Alcest perform. I knew the name and several people have described their style to me but I had never listened to their music. Why? I don't know. Busy busy busy, I guess.
But what happened there in that big tent completely blew me away. Now I know why so many people wanted them to headline this happening.
So, I say thank you for the music, the food and laughter. Thanks for all the post rock splendor. I can't live without it, so I will see you next year. We will be here. For more delight, a laugh and a tear, so I say thank you for the music, for being Dunk festival...