FREAK VALLEY FESTIVAL 2016
Netphen-Deuz, Germany / May 26-28
Words: TK Smith, Photos: Marta Estellés

This was my third year in a row traveling to Germany’s premier Freak Valley (Music) Festival. I continue to return because it proves to be the best of the European festivals embracing the genres of Stoner, Psychedelic, 70s Heavy, Doom and Bluesrock. The bands are always top notch and though some are lesser known, they are given full stage production for their showcase. The family atmosphere amongst the festival is tangible hosting a spirit of unity and musical camaraderie. Parents bring their kids, entire families make it a three-day picnic and campers bask under the intermittent sun. The festival arrived a little early this year so there was the occasional afternoon rain shower. Yet the overall temperature was mild, only getting cool in the late evening. Beer and food vendors did brisk business as the sold-out festival entertained fans from Europe to the Americas.

2016 marked the festival’s fifth year of existence. A landmark that was not lost in the promotion and advertising for the event. Special t-shirts and beer cups were printed in addition to a new cashless monetary system put into place. An RFID (Radio-frequency identification) wristband provided a way to access food and drink while giving the concert attendees a collectable badge to wear all summer. The vendors and municipality buildings have expanded to accommodate a capacity crowd and because the festival is limited in size, getting around is comfortable and easy. Attention to care and detail add up to a positive experience, however it’s the quality and diversity of the music that keeps the punters coming back. This year the range of bands was broad and uniquely tribal keeping the event a close-knit clan of friends and family.

Thursday lineup (May 26): The Sonic Dawn, Villagers of Ioannina City, White Hills, Baby Woodrose, Toundra, Dead Meadow.

The Sonic Dawn, a psychedelic garage-rock trio from Copenhagen, Denmark had the honor of opening the festival. Their twangy guitars, liquid vocals, mystical sitar and groovy rhythms set the mood perfectly. Greek band Villagers of Ioannina City wasted no time converting the masses with a blend of psych rock and traditional Greek-folk. Using a Tsampouna (double-chantered, droneless bagpipe) and kavel amid heavy guitars and pounding drums distinguished them from the other bands of the day. New York’s White Hills featured an avant-garde mixture of kraut, punk, psych and Goth. With over a dozen albums under their belt they brought a certain polish and shine to the roster while legendary Danish stalwarts Baby Woodrose claimed victory with a 60-minute set of full-on heavy rock. Spain’s Toundra heaped on more thunder before icons Dead Meadow, the Old Growth of the festival, delivered killer versions of “Sleepy Silver Door” and “What Needs Must Be”.

Friday lineup (May 27): Gomer Pyle, Mother Engine, The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus, Spiders, Krissy Matthews Band, GiÖbia, Mantar, The Shrine, Spidergawd, Graveyard.

Friday morning started off with a bang as Gomer Pyle (Netherlands) took the stage. Their illustrious career has seen members of The Alabama Kids, 35007, and Sunn O))) move through their ranks and though it’s been eight years since the release of the epic Idiots Savants when the band ripped into “Bring On The Diesel” the place exploded. Instrumental Saxony band Mother Engine brought plenty of grooves while Norwegians, The Devil and the Almighty Blues boasted their own brand of Mississippi delta conjuring up the ghost of Robert Johnson through amplified guitars and quaking Marshalls. I’ve been a fan of Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus since Bloom (2011) but seeing them live was a different thing altogether. The Swedish four-piece were absolutely fierce, plowing through a mind-bending set and getting completely wasted afterwards.

Spiders always put on a good show. Like a modern day Joan Jett, they play gutsy rock with a biker edge. Singer Ann-Sofie Hoyles is pure dynamite in spandex (and a great guitar player). Highlight was the band’s take on the Abba’s deep cut “Why Don’t You” completely rocking it out. UK band Krissy Matthews was unknown to me but they put together a decent blues set a la Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Psych Italians GiÖbia and sludge metal duo Mantar expanded into alternate dimensions opening the door for West coast rock and rollers The Shrine, who took us in the van, shared their weed, sweat like madmen and destroyed our ears at full volume. Spidergawd ruled the day. Forged from Motorpsycho they went from clubs to headlining festivals in two short years. Their addictive sax and monster riffs were on perfect display leaving Graveyard to sweep up as the greatest 70s retro band on the planet.

Saturday lineup (May 28): Powder For Pigeons, Snowy Dunes, Black Lung, Black Rainbows, The Golden Grass, Farflung, Monolord, Rotor, Lonely Kamel, Elder, Orange Goblin.

Unfortunately the late night had me a little worse-for-wear come Saturday morning so Powder for Pigeons was a bit of a blur. In the recesses of my collective consciousness the duos fuzzed-out funk did leave an imprint with “Down in Flames” and “Spiral Down”. By the time Sweden’s Snowy Dunes appeared on stage, the caffeine had kicked in and I was ready for the intoxicating “Tranquil Mountain Lake”, “Desert Cold” and new song “Atlantis”. The festival’s main foot traffic gathered around the merch building where bands rotate through - selling their wares. It’s here folks can meet the band and buy limited vinyl and collectable t-shirts. Labels and several local venders are on hand buying, selling and trading. I met my good friend Johannes selling his prized vinyl collection and absorbed his limitless knowledge of all things rock. The man’s a genius!

US heavies Black Lung danced the line between sonic pain and melodic bliss then turned the stage over to Italian trio Black Rainbows who immediately became my favorite of the day. A Fuzzy, sonic, thrill machine BR demolished all that came before and made it near impossible to follow. New Yorker’s The Golden Grass made the effort bringing classic psychedelia and ‘70s riffage to the fold but it was Farflung making a spacerock comeback that won the crowd. Just before Monolord event organizers announced an approaching rainstorm moving into the area. I had a previous arrangement to see legendary icon Inga Rumpf a couple hours away so I ducked out before Rotor. Evidently the rain got to be too much during Lonely Kamel, but the faithful endured. The skies cleared just enough for Elder who soak up the heat from the stage lights before UK metal merchants Orange Goblin bludgeon those that were left.

I caught up with Lonely Kamel the following night in Tilberg (Netherlands) for a run through their entire 70-plus minute set. The Norwegian four-piece cranked out a serious dose of heavy blues / ‘70s hard rock despite singer (and rhythm guitarist) Thomas Brenna being a little under the weather. The power-surging “Shit City” kicked off the night with lead guitarist Lukas Paulsen flashing his six-string dexterity. Bass-driven “Is It Over” and thundering “Seal the Perimeter”, also from their latest release (2014) gave bassist Stian Helle and drummer Espen Nesset a chance to strut while everybody’s favorite “Damn You’re Hot” got the chicks grooving. Personal favorite “White Lines” was a barnburner with its hook chorus, twin-guitar barrage and bombastic rhythm. Rumor had it vinyl copies of Blues for the Dead would arrive in time for the show. Unfortunately there were delays in shipping however, the band still played the title track with full conviction. Closing with “Evil Man”, “Spaceriffer” and “Grim Reefer” brought back memories of Dust Devil and the band’s love of swamp blues.

All photos by: Marta Estellés, www.flickr.com/mestelles, Instagram: @mestelle

Website: Freak Valley Festival, Lonely Kamel