Nox Orae 2015 – Concert Report & Photography

Small festivals are where true gems of music are discovered, friendships forged, minds settled. Usually far more civilized and peaceful than the usual European open-air mega event, those small gatherings are for the true lover of music, who is eager to (re)-discover acts that might otherwise stay under the radar.

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The Nox Orae is one of these particular small festivals. It is uniquely located a stone throw away from Lake Geneva in the south of Switzerland and surrounded by the postcard-like panorama of the alps. This is as beautiful as festival locations can get. Food was international and independent, in DIY-style, carefully decorated wagons. The crowd, maybe because of the small size of the event, was very pleasant.

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The sunset that opened the night of music glazes in expressionist deep red and orange tones. “Too kitschy!“, commented a friend. Sometimes kitsch is good. It is the contrast and diversity of moods, tastes, and people, that makes these kind of events special and unique.

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Two nights, each featuring the digestible line up of four bands, on a single stage. After the successful results (and number of reads) my last report about the Bad Bonn Kilbi received, I decided to stick with the challenging task of documenting the event using my Leica and analog film.

Friday

The two days of music were opened by the local act Three Dots. The lebanese-born singer mid-Eastern influenced vocals were accompanied by garage-y melodies. A decent welcome.

After the comparatively easily digestible melodies created by the Three Dots, it was Fuzz ‘ turn.

Described as a “1970s hard-rock band” reminiscing the pace and power of early long hair acts such as Black Sabbath, the words were not far aplace. Their music was sincere, and convincing. Ty Segall’s thundering drums formed the foundation for a wall of bass, and bad ass guitar licks and solos. No bullshit, really.

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If this band had been around 30 or 40 years ago, they would have been huge, I tell a friend. He agrees. However, this doesn’t mean that Fuzz are out of place, or behind in time. They teleport the listener to an era long gone, from which we’re reluctantly forced to return at the end of the set.

Things took a darker, more obscure turn with the arrival of Soft Moon. Big synths, drum pads, and brutal electronic beats, somewhere between Synthwave and Industrial Rock. While the loud, dense layers of sound engulfed the listener, the rather minimalistic vocal approach mainly consisted of moans, hisses, screams, and a few words here and there. The rhythm machine marched on relentlessly, almost hypnotic in certain parts. As a whole, the roughly hour long set felt long, and even though the sound machinery was impressively powerful, the whole performance felt very clinical. In one sense, certainly true to its minimal wave influnces, in another, too inaccessible.

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The two night’s most hyped musician was certainly Syrian-born Omar Souleyman. Discovered and brought to the West by the obscure Sublime Frequencies label, Omar played weddings, celebrations and festivals at home, and today enjoy a legendary status, not only in his home country.
Therefore, the anticipation could not have been higher to finally witness a live performance by the legend himself. Halfway into the first song, however, a very disappointing realisation had to be made.
Omar Souleyman delivered one of the most lackluster, unconvincing, and, on first sight, most unappealing perforances of the year. He walked back and forth on the stage, alternating between vocals and clapping his hands in a way you teach your one year old child. Meanwhile, they keyboard delivered line after line of distorted oriental melodies and fake synth percussion sounds.

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We can only speculate about the reasons for such an unmotivated gig.
In an interview with the Guardian in 2013, the singer described how the conflict in Syria changed everything: ‘There is no music in Syria any more, everything has stopped… After all this killing and destruction, it’s really hard to make music’. He goes on, admitting ‘It’s affected everyone, especially me.’
This was in 2013, now it’s 2015, and things in Syria look even more hopeless than before. So, in a way, it is hard to criticise the performance of a man, and we can only wish that the future holds something that will bring back hope, and the joy of playing music again. Or maybe, Omar Souleyman just had a bad night, like all of us might.

Saturday

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Another evening of corny sunsets, another night of music. The second day was opened by the Swiss act Fuck Love.

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It is not easy to be a band with the F-word in its name – they must deliver. But did they? Their short half hour set consisted of songs as simple and poignant as their name, but without aftershocks or overly memorable moments. Somehow, I expected a few more broken hearts along the road.

The expectations for broken hearts were fulfilled by Vaadat Charigim, according to the guide a “Shoegaze / Dream pop act with words in Hebrew”. Emotions know no language, as was the case here. While arrangements were not as engrossing and intoxicating as some might have hoped, the songs were nevertheless heartfelt. Irritating were the ADHD-like lights that drew away the attention from the actual band, and made it utterly difficult to catch a decent photograph. Less can often be more.

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The bars were set astronomically high for Deerhoof and their avant-pop miniatures. I could not help but worry I’d be left disappointed, after the jaw dropping gig I witness a few years ago, there was hardly any way to beat that performance. However, once the first notes hit the eardrums as they opened their gig, all signs of worry were far gone, as the supersonic pop onslaught set new bars for “best live band in the world”.

John Dietrich of Deerhoof Live

Greg Saunier of Deerhoof Live

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Satomi Matsuzaki of Deerhoof live

What sets Deerhoof apart from other bands is how they bring across the passion for music and love for detail while also displaying a stratospheric amount of skill to perform their structurally complicated, ass-kicking songs. Those, who managed to take their eyes off Saunier’s otherwordly insane drumming witnessed a band truly in their element. Satomi Matsuzaki switched between two states: singing her cutesy-kiddy lines and jumping, twisting, turning in circles. Adorably adorable. Ed Rodriguez made Metallica’s Kirk Hammett look like an amateur, and John Dietrich couldn’t have cared less about the fact that his left wrist was in a splint. Their songs are a perfect mix of simplicity and complicated structures – a patient attempt to teach the audience a song turned into a complete, yet very amusing failure, and when they left, the audience was still all in awe about this brilliant quartet.

Whoever was set to follow Deerhoof, did not have the easiest task. Goat, the obscure Swedish band, had no choice. Costumed up, they took the stage and unleashed a hurricane of tribal rhythms, psychedelic guitars, and hazy vocals.

Swedish band Goat performing live

Following Deerhoof, their insane blend of half a dozen ethnic music genres bordered on sensory overload. West African funk-rock, North African percussion, Scandinavian vocals, Caribbean groove. All amazing in its own way. With Goat, they were stuck somewhere between cultural appropriation and dutiful homage to those ancient roots of music.
Certainly impressive arrangements and love for the detail, but more often than not, vertigo-inducing.

The two nights of music that was Nox Orae certainly had, live every festival, its up’s and downs, but to a music aficionado (mainly due to Deerhoof’s otherwordly performance), live music at a small scale brings sheer joy. New, previously unknown acts offer surprises, and, like Kinder eggs, you never know what to expect. But everyone loves Kinder eggs. A festival is, however, not only about music. The location, food, and audience usually make or break the experience. In this case, nothing bad can be said about those, and the location was truly perfect.

Camera: Leica M6. Lenses: Summicron 35mm F2.0, Elmarit-M 90mm. Film: Colour – Kodak Ektar 100, B&W – Ilford Delta 3200 Pro. Colour dev & scan by Foto Wolf, Basel CH. B&W dev & scan in my basement.

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