"So, did anyone figure out the meaning of life yet?"
"Of course. That's easy."
"Yeah? So what is it?"
They were silent for a few minutes. They had lived it. They had enjoyed it and they were still doing so. Here on that terrace in front of the retirement home, we were all being thankful for the memories.
"Do you remember Dunk 2017?"
Of course I remembered it. I remembered every edition of Dunk festival. It had always been more than just another rock festival. It was a happening, three days in a place that came closer to magic than the mega festival Tomorrowland could ever have. At least for us, lovers of atmospheric music, nothing came close to the small but legendary gathering in the Flemish Ardennes. For three days, the forest of Zottegem was occupied by fans of post rock and related styles.
La Ciencia Simple came all the way from Chile to open the festival. I felt sorry for them. I was not the only one who was already sweat soaked from building up the tent. Most of us were just thirsty or getting acquainted with the different set up of the festival area. For the Chileans, this was not an easy task, especially not since the main tent was already a sauna. Still, the Dunk audience welcomed their warm and gentle post rock with open arms. I was having my doubts about the main stage. The tent also contained the merchandise and the whole thing looked cropped and packed almost continuously. But, like everybody, I got used to it and decided to enjoy the last few songs of the concert.
Back in the big sauna, Lost In Kiev were a surprisingly early highlight. From the moment they stepped on stage, the we-are-at-Dunk feeling appeared. I had not expected that. I loved their music but in this heat sitting in the forest was a very appealing alternative for watching gigs. But, there was Lost In Kiev, a band that did an amazing job and really kicked off the whole thing. Their gig would eventually turn out to be one of my favorites.
Flash The Readies and Mutiny On The Bounty also did a convincing job, just like Terraformer and Spurv. I spent my time between watching a few songs and cooling down in the forest, where you could still hear the music clearly. Some sort of vacation had begun and I was in the best holiday place imaginable, Dunk!.
I added a little hint in my reviews for earlier editions of Dunk! Festival. I asked for something a bit more varied, perhaps some drone ambient concerts and some other atmospheric sounds. In 2017, that small point of critique was shattered by some beautiful concerts in the woods and by a mesmerizing appearance of The Black Heart Rebellion. I had not been a fan of this band before, even though I had seen an excellent concert a few years earlier.
The forest stage was the place to be when you wanted a little bit of variation and that is exactly what Worriedaboutsatan brought. With their techno driven sound, they had some people dancing. For a few moments, even I engaged in a few careful dance moves but halfway through the set I decided to see how good Steak Number Eight was in replacing Emma Ruth Rundle. Steak Number Eight was probably a worthy headliner, judging from the big amount of people who showed up. But there seemed to be something wrong with the sound. Nonetheless, this was an explosive finisher, loved by many.
My day ended there. When Swans kicked off their set, I walked to my tent and started writing down some ideas for the review. I knew a lot of people will disagree with me but I found the whole Swans set unnecessary, ridiculous and stale. I could hear it clearly from my tent, even with earplugs. The only thing I could think was "Why? Why 115db? What are they compensating for?" It reminded me of Manowar, another band that musically just isn't that great so they blast it out of the speakers with a massive amount of volume. The next days, I compared their extremely loud trunk of drones and shamanistic vocals with the musical ingenuity of bands like Meniscus or Mooncake. I quickly realized that being legendary is not the same as being any good. The best thing about the Swans concert, was the reaction of the other people on the camping. Whenever Michael Gira started uttering his chants, the entire camping followed. At some points, there was a strange, occult atmosphere, as if the haunted spirits of the Zottegem forest had been awakened.
Apparently, these youngsters were not willing to be just an opening band. They turned that ungrateful task in the earliest Dunk! highlight ever. Ok, it was post rock/metal but they blasted with so much energy that the entire festival was awake. This was a brilliant set, certainly one that proved that All We Expected are on their way up. Immediately after their gig, I imagined them being back the following year, only higher on the bill. After them, Time To Burn pretty much destroyed the tent with a blasting concert, which I mostly heard from inside the forest.
In the big tent, Dumbsaint was doing something interesting with post rock and cinema. Used to these temperatures, these Australians brought a convincing set but in a way, the movie distracted me from the music. So after a while, I left the tent to enjoy the music on its own, which worked pretty well.
By now, the festival area was already incredibly hot, which made me seek refuge in the forest. There, I heard Aidan Baker and Karen Willems do something interesting with drones and drums. Their cooperative release 'Nonland' had been a refreshing album and in a way, this concert too was a nice thing to listen to, even from a distance.
Of course, such brilliance comes with a cost. In the next few hours, I was in Meniscus heaven. In the shelter of the forest, plenty of audience members tried to hide from the crushing heat, including me. By now, fatigue and heat caused me to listen to most of the bands from between the trees. We Lost The Sea seemed to follow Meniscus' example and blasted some brilliant atmospheric post rock through the speakers. Ilydaen did something earth shattering with noise rock, math core and whatnot, apparently much to the delight of the audience who had filled up the area in front of the forest stage.
And so I listened to And So I Watch You From Afar from afar. I was tired and not feeling too well so it was time for a little laydown. After all, I have seen this band a few times in the past. What I heard was good, and I think the audience in the tent loved the concert, but halfway through, I dozed off and disappeared into dreamland for half an hour.
And then it was time for Earth, another legendary band. The tent was not packed and in a way that was no surprise. With their slow and lingering doom metal, Earth played a decent set, pretty much the same one as I had seen at Desertfest earlier. It wasn't bad, on the very contrary, but the Dunk audience seemed either too tired, too hot or too used to post rock to fully enjoy the concert. Halfway through the gig, I walked towards the Stargazer area where the legendary Dunk! fries guys had started a party. I met up with David again. We talked and laughed with stories about the polonaise, Manowar, post rock and my upcoming book. The dj's played 'Too Many Puppies', 'Master Of Puppets' and 'The Number Of The Best' but when they skipped to 'The Macarena', we left.
We left to for a good night sleep but that proved to be a huge fail. On the camping, people had started partying themselves, singing along with songs by System Of A Down and others. It sounded horrible, none of them could sing and none of them could talk about anything interesting. They were drunk, annoying and loud, so loud I wished for Swans to return. I wished for a silent camping, one where radios and noise weren't allowed, one where the people who wanted to sleep, could fucking sleep.
During the first three bands, it was time to pick up my wife from the station and guide her around the area. We returned when Halma was almost finishing their set and quickly rushed to see what this Briqueville was all about. Some say Briqueville is a gimmick band. They arrive with their robes and masks on and they leave with their robes and masks on. Very few people really seem to know who these guys are. Nonetheless, this was an amazing concert, gimmick or not. Everything fitted extremely well together, shattering my doubts about this mysterious band.
In the forest, Barst was being incredibly successful. It was the biggest crowd I had seen in the forest. We were able to see the final part of their concert. It was everything Barst is known for and it obviously reminded me of their gig in Trix earlier this year. In my opinion, it was too bad that both these brilliant acts had been booked to play almost the same time spot.
But the biggest example of irony happened in the big blue tent. Pray For Sound is a project created to cope with hearing loss and tinnitus, something that made me think about the Swans concert again. Nevertheless, Pray For Sound delivered a remarkable gig, perhaps a bit generic in the post rock scene but still highly enjoyable. I knew that this would be good and apparently I was right again.
My discovery of the year was Mooncake. Mea culpa, perhaps, but I didn't know about this band before I stepped into the big tent and became mesmerized by their electronic cello, trombone and bassoon enhanced post rock. For me, this truly was a revelation and I had to buy their two CDs, even though some technical issues were a minor setback. They are still the only pieces of music I have been listening to since the festival.
"I still wished I had more sleep."
"I think we all did."
I like to thank the good people at Dunk! Festival for another amazing weekend, possibly one of the best festivals I have ever been to. It's events like this one that keep me going, maintain my interest in the impressively varied world of music. There will always be minor issues, but in all Dunk! is an example of how to set up a fantastic experience for a lot of people, even in difficult times. This edition was great, well varied and full of pleasant surprises. I will see you next year, or at least hear you...