Kilbi 2015 – the best festival you’ve never heard of
First, let me set the scene. Several hundred miles from Barcelona, bang in the middle of Primavera, there’s a little festival taking place that has nothing to envy its larger cousin. It all started 24 years ago when the founder, Daniel Fontana, stumbled across a blues band in the Swiss city of Fribourg. He’d had a few to drink (or was “as fucked as a pig” as he described with a charming Swiss-German twang).
He invited them to come and play in this little country pub that he’d just bought a few miles down the road in the village of Düdingen. This bar is the now-legendary Bad Bonn.
Fontana’s plan was to create his own version of a traditional local fête (La Fête de La Bénichon), which essentially revolves around folk music and sausages.
And so began the story of Kilbi. The festival grew year on year until a few years ago when it reached its optimum cruising altitude: 2,500 people per day, entertained for three days across three stages – two open air stages and the Bad Bonn club itself.
Despite massive demand, Fontana refuses to up the numbers. And walking the 15 minutes from the station to the site, through the idyllic Swiss countryside, you trust the guy’s judgement.
Thursday 28 May
I arrive bang on time for the first act – no queue to get my pass, the sun’s shining, things are looking good. Kilbi 2015 kicks off on the second stage (known as ‘Kantine’) with Duck Duck Grey Duck – a trio from Geneva. They’re essentially the same as Mama Roisin (the brains behind the ‘Moi J’Connais’ label) but more garage rocky than Cajun-Punk. The lead guitarist’s Sideshow Bob hairstyle is fairly staggering. Moreso than the music, which is pretty good but doesn’t get me hooked. In fairness, I’m itching to do a tour of the site and see what awaits me over the next three days. This takes me all of three minutes. Considering the size of the place, there’s a decent choice of chow: pan-Asian, Indian, pulled pork, the obligatory vegan stand and one offering a selection of crêpes.
I head to the mythical Bad Bonn club itself. It’s basically an old restaurant with a tiny stage. The capacity’s got to be 150 at most. Excellently named Swiss-German rockers Schnellertollermeier get things rolling. And what a smack in the face: noisy, instrumental math-rock jazz (no wait, please come back!). These three guys have skills: they slow down, stop, speed up – all in perfect synch. It’s high voltage, rippling with nervous energy. Will have to keep tabs these lads from Lucerne…
Everyone leaves with ringing ears and dry throats, so we decide to watch Wand on the main stage from afar with a drink in hand. Meh, clearly fans of Mötley Crüe, judging by their getup and posturing. Generic garage rock, a little bit of psychedelia and metal chucked in… it leaves me cold despite the sun beating down on us.
Schnellertollermeier – X (part 1)
Back on the second stage, it’s Klaus Johann Grobe and his Farfisa synthesizer. Cheery farmery krautrock, lots of singing in German (fittingly). It’s not awful by any stretch, but nothing to write home about either.
I head indoors for Mr. Airplane Man. Two girls in a White Stripes format, except with a Meg who can actually play drums. It’s dirty, it’s bluesy, it’s catchy, but after four tracks it feels like you’ve heard it all before.
Next a return to the main stage for the first wtf band of the festival (and there were a few this year): Tanya Tagaq is an inuit singer who chants guttural, throaty warblings accompanied by a violinist and a drummer. She appears entranced and gives off a ‘Björk on ayahuasca’ sort of vibe. Which is all great, but her cries and other assorted noises are just unbearable.
We get back to the Kantine stage just in time to see the start of l’Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, another bunch of Genevans about whom I’d heard a lot of good things. Some Afro-beat bits here, jazzy pop sounds there, but it’s all pretty crappy. They’re all dressed like geography teachers and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear one or more of them developed a gluten intolerance for a few months last year. And their music is just so insipid. They’re just trying way too hard to be ‘quirky’. Next.
We stop to refuel and get a good spot in front of the main stage for Berlin-based Nils Frahm who I’m excited about. He has three piles of wooden organ pipes on the stage behind him, one of his famous souped-up piano things, a proper grand piano and a bunch of electronic gear. Can’t wait to see what he does with it all. It starts off gently enough, with his customised piano. What a talented bastard. He slowly builds the tension and sprinkles layer after layer of trippy sounds before annihilating the whole thing with a thumping beat. Powerful stuff, though each track appears to follow the exact same pattern: he starts out with slightly syrupy, Clayderman-esque tunes, and it all feels a bit lame until another mammoth beat kicks in. But when it does, it’s hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck stuff. In any case, the crowd are absolutely eating out of his hand, even when he starts playing the piano strings with an actual toilet brush (no, really). In the end, despite a few kitsch and cheesy moments, I leave with a smile on my face.
Thee Oh Sees are back after their 2013 visit, but this time with a new set up that includes two drummers. And boy do they use them. It’s slamming, sweaty mayhem with plenty of laughs. Sat under the giant wooden spider in the middle of the festival with a beer in hand, I’m happy to enjoy this from a distance, safe from the thrashing masses.
The Bad Bonn bar, now heaving (or “as full as an egg” as the locals would say), greets Verveine, a small blonde lady from the Swiss town of Vevey. Wearing a big white cape, she hides behind massive synthesisers and tweaks buttons and twiddles knobs. With loops and dreamy vocals, it really hits the spot.
The main stage welcomes the Black Angels. Their projections are pretty cool, reminding me of My Bloody Valentine a couple of years earlier on this very stage. It’s all good, but doesn’t draw me any closer.
I grab a bite while waiting for Mac De Marco on the second stage. The Canadian rolls up with his unusal-looking cohorts (one wearing a white deerhunter, the other an impressive Hulk Hogan tache). It’s the first date of their European tour, they tell us they’re feeling jetlagged and then talk rubbish for a bit – even more than the first time I saw them (“Who here has a Gmail account? What about Yahoo!? So the rest of you are probably on Hotmail, then…” and “Thanks to our sponsors Kawasaki, we’re giving each and every one of you a motorbike at the end of this concert!” are a couple of examples). Must admit, this guy has a real knack of making the audience smitten in 30 seconds flat and his music more than holds its own. In short, still very impressive.
And with that, the first evening at Kilbi draws to a close, which means a train into Fribourg for me. Need to keep some powder dry for the rest of the weekend.
Friday 29 May
We arrive mid-afternoon and head straight for the pub to find Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler, a harpist and a master knob twiddler / melodica player. It’s a perfectly chilled set. The bloke in front of us lies down and grabs some shut-eye. At times it starts to feel like Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works and it’s an ideal start to day two.
After that appetiser, the Kantine stage welcomes None Of Them, hailing from Zurich. The heavily made-up singer in her reptilian jumpsuit is joined by a dude obscured by massive sunglasses and an arsenal of samplers. It’s pretty basic. They rap in english/gobbledegook (Jesus, just do it in German if you don’t speak the language) but the overly simplistic bass lines thankfully drown most of it out Not great.
POW! on the main stage. It’s good fun for 20 minutes, but all rather samey-albeit-punchy American sunshine rock.
Monoski are in the house and we manage to squeeze in. Just like yesterday, a White Stripes-a-like with a drummer and a strummer. As a result, it’s nothing groundbreaking. A bit stoner-rocky, loads of distortion and all in all, pretty bloody good.
Next on Kantine is Hailu Mergia with Tony Buck & Mike Majkowski and his Ethiopian jazz. Fans of Mulatu Astatke are feeling right at home from the off. It’s fun, the old geezer is beaming as he taps on his synthesizer, and just as smiley when he starts mashing his accordion. It’s an ideal end-of-afternoon jaunt before tucking into some of Kilbi’s famous sausages.
We stay staring at the second stage while we digest and wait for the pride of my hometown: Puts Marie. Apparently they tore up the indoor stage last year, hence their promotion this year. They take a little while getting going.The lead singer unfortunately reminds me so much of that twat from The Servant it almost ruins it for me. Thankfully, in terms of actual music, they’re more like dEUS. Not bad at all, but not quite the madcap antics I’d hoped for. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see a solid band from my neck of the woods and their big single, Pornstar, really hits the spot.
Main stage, and it’s the turn of Japanese noise merchants Bo Ningen, who we bumped into earlier, wandering about in big rubber clogs, looking rather lost. They’ve gotten changed since, and the androgynous guitarist and singer glide out in very low-cut robe things. They start playing and well, holy shit. Super-technical Acid Punk pumped out at breakneck speed, and the singer might be possessed, pulling off some superhuman grimaces. Everybody on stage’s doing weird little dance moves. This is very good indeed.
Bo Ningen – Henkan
After that Japanese hand grenade, we need something to calm our nerves, so it’s off into the bar for a sharpener. Salut C’est Cool are on and doing… I guess they’d call it a set. It’s like those YouTube kids who yawp over Crazy Frog, but with mullets. It’s really very, but very, very stupid. Idiotic gabber techno crap plays as they prance around a large watermelon, headbanging like a brain donor support group. These guys have a screw loose.
We scarper to Kantine and straight into the arms of Nottingham’s finest: Sleaford Mods. So yeah, I admit it – I’m a fan of theirs. Williamson’s powerful lyrics drip with a caustic humour that’s quintessentially British. So British in fact, that I worry they’ll be completely lost on Swiss ears. Jason’s partner in crime does exactly two things during this set: presses play when he gets the nod, and drinks beers. That’s it. Williamson on the other hand, is pretty damn impressive – and not just by comparison. He thrashes away at 100mph, totally punk, obviously pretty wired and rubs his nose every 30 seconds or so. He has the kind of pissed of footie hooligan face you’d rather not meet at pub closing time, but the menace he exudes is just magnetic and he absolutely owns the stage. He looks a bit demented, but I get the impression that his vocals are more melodic than on the album recording. (you might tell me there’s zero melody to speak of on there, and you wouldn’t be wrong… but hey, I understand me.)
What. A. Performance. It absolutely knocks me for six and it fills me with the unfamiliar urge to go and beat up rival supporters like a rabid Nottingham Forest fan high on White Lightning.
Sleaford Mods – Tied Up in Nottz
Next wtf band is up on the main stage now. An Israeli surf rock combo, Boom Pam are comprised of a female synth player, a guitarist, a drummer and a tubist. A tuba-ist? Anyway, they play a few nice-but-forgettable pieces of surf rock with a middle-eastern tint. They tease us by saying they’re expecting a “very special guest”. And right on queue, the famous Selda appears and it’s pandemonium. Easily the biggest cheer the festival will hear all weekend. This red-headed, perm coiffedTurkish granny is pushing 70 but she rolls back the years as she belts out her (apparently) massive 70s hit, Yaz Gazeteci Yaz. Everyone goes mental. Selda cracks a huge smile and raises her arms to the sky. After each of her songs, the crowd cheer themselves stupid.
After all that mad energy, I ditch my mates for a little bit to head back indoors and check out Lee Gamble. The lights are off. Only the dim glow of the bar is reflected in the room’s solitary disco ball and the music is just as sombre. Like a no-frills Andy Stott, these hypnotic ‘metarave’ (his word, not mine) beats suck me in and keep me entranced for a good few minutes.
Last stop of the day (after a final round of drinks) and Baths appear on Kantine. I love their stuff on disc, but here it feels a little laboured. Constant battles against various powercuts does nothing to help matters. Bit of a shame. Time to stagger back to the hotel.
Saturday 30 May
After a whole day arsing about in a cloudy Fribourg, we arrive on site a little later than usual and are greeted by the sounds of Belgian band Robbing Millions on the Kantine stage. Synthy pop-rock. Nothing special.
We head to our HQ, the viewing platform where killer cocktails are served. Great view of the crowd and the main stage. And what drama unfolds. The Slow Show start their set but as soon as the pretty-boy singer opens his trap, it becomes obvious that they are, in fact, a second-rate The National cover band. I must admit the Canadian whingers rub me up completely the wrong way. At least the Slow Show’s frontman looks a little more sincere. And a little less like a banker with a drinking problem.
We quickly flee the awful Mancunians and reach the front of the Kantine crowd just as Shabazz Palaces get started. They brought an extra subwoofer by the looks of things. And the first notes hit us like a bass tsunami that leave my throat and ribcage rattling violently. They’re in their own little world and barely seem to notice the crowd. Their dark and dirty beats are bang on and it’s just really pleasant, like I’m getting a massage while floating in mid-air.
A bit of a detour to the main stage allows us to catch some of Noura Mint Seymali, yet another Tuareg act to add to those who’ve graced Kilbis gone by, such as Tinariwen in 2013 and Bombino last year. Not really my bag, but it’s easy on the ears and the two Shabazz dudes stand next to us and spark a giant spliff as people walk up to congratulate them on an excellent set.
Shabazz Palaces – Are You… Can You.. Were you
Back to Kantine, we get in place for Arthur Russell’s instrumentals, directed by Peter Gordon. Thurston Moore is a few feet in front of us in the crowd. He’s getting on a bit, but he’s still just as tall. A bunch of old geezers shuffle onto the stage and start their show. And it’s not half bad. A little ‘village fete’ and the slow tempo never really gets going. Hunger strikes so we head out.
We take a look at the day’s wtf band on the main stage, a bunch of Ukrainians calling themselves DakhaBrakha. They wear funny hats, but that’s just about all there is to them. Just too shouty and folky for my taste.
We find ourselves back in the bar to warm up and watch Australian rapper REMI. He’s got a drummer there with him who throws the loops for him. Right from the get-go, they spit chirpy old-school rhymes and the crowd just love it. The atmosphere is just brilliant – lots of laughing, lots of throw-your-hands-like-you-just-don’t-care and rest. It’s not original but nobody cares. The pair look tickled pink by the rowdy reception and it’s great to see.
We exit the furnace for Viet Cong. A quick glance over to the food stand manned by a Vietnamese family, and they don’t appear too bothered. (http://www.stereogum.com/1784663/viet-cong-show-cancelled-because-of-offensive-band-name/news/). I expected a lot from this band but I quickly get bored, just like the singer appears to be. I screams like a lunatic, his voice all screechy and mixed too far forward so it drowns out the rest of the band, who it must be said are more than holding their own. I’m able to put aside my grievances for the duration of Continental Shelf. What a fucking track. The kind of sound Interpol wish they could produce but haven’t for a decade. And Death is also enjoyable, but as soon as Flegel’s vocal chords start straining again, it’s just no good. A real shame.
Last act of the festival for us, Thurston Moore. He’s the godfather of Bad Bonn club and good friends with Fontana, so he plays every time he’s in the area. We stand next to the flaming skull head as it’s getting chilly, we wait a few minutes for the appetiser/soundcheck takes place. As soon as that’s done, it’s pure class. He looks like he’s enjoying himself, and so’s the audience. He plays in his instantly recognisable style – as does Shelley on the drums. Sadly, the train waits for no man so we have to miss the end of the set.
As we hurtle home, we take time to reflect on another epic edition of Kilbi Festival, with a slightly ethno/World Music feel to it. The return to real life will be just as tough as it is every year, but as soon as I’m back at my desk, I’ll set my reminder to book next year’s tickets.
Those pulled pork sandwiches
Tanya the eskimo