After doing the vastly interesting pre-festival interview with Daniel Abecassis we went off to some very heavy days in the entirely doomed town of Copenhagen. Our expectations had been risen to gargantuan heights, and we were NOT disappointed.
Thursday – Day One in Doom Town
Doom Town – aptly named: The festival takes its attendees over big parts of Copenhagen, giving visitors the chance to see more of the town than a usual festival does, where people spent most of their time on some muddy pasture in the middle of nowhere. Stengade, the venue of the warm up-day is situated in Nørrebro, the progressive-alternative part of Copenhagen, where freedom and friendliness are written with capital letters.
As we arrive, the place is already crowded with all kinds of people. Black, sinister watch houses adorned with lively burning torches guard the entry. A sign at the entrance catches my eye – it says „sold out“ – a big success for a first time-festival. Friendly smiling Daniel, who is part of the organizational team behind HDDT, hands me my press pass and lets us go off into the world of doom that has been created at Stengade.
We bump into Cauchemar’s Annick Giroux, all bubbly and exicted because of the gig that is ahead of her. She is completely amazed by the vegan food provided here for those who arrive early – a big compliment by someone who rightly calls herself „The Morbid Chef“.
First Band of the night are Suma from Sweden. They are already heavy as it gets – how could such a festival start any better? What can be said about Suma applies for each and every band that is to follow: They give all they have got to give, they play passionately and they create an atmosphere of being at the right place at the right time.
My personal faves Cauchemar (Can) , who are on their first European tour, play an extremely powerful show tonight. Front demon Annick seems to be possessed by the powers of doom as she kneels, crawls, twists and turns in fits of ecstasy, and the new songs they include in the set really kindle my anticipation for the new album they are about to record.
Almost everyone’s highlight of the first evening are Moonless from Copenhagen, who just released their debut album „Calling all Demons“. Their impressive stoner/doom rock sounds „just perfect“, to cite Annick here once again.
Most special about the first night is the art exhibition on the second floor of the venue. Prints and engravings by Glyn Scraweld (N.Irl), David D’Andrea (US) and The 13th Sign Collective (De) adorn the walls of the exhibition room which is only dimly lit by chandeliers.The atmosphere created up here breathes of secrets and mystery and forms a perfect setting for the artworks on display. What is to be found in them are themes of folklore, magic and (sometimes dreadful) myths – central themes and topics in much of the music played here in Doom Town. Thus the effect the art exhibited here has on me is a that of completing of my very own feelings about the whole festival.
Friday – the police has totally lost control over this part of the city…
First day at the main venue, Ungdomshuset, the House of the Youth. The place lies in the northwest of Copenhagen. It is an alternative cultural centre, its organization based on the principles of basic democracy. With grafitti and political statements sprayed all over the facades, the place truly breathes the spirit of DIY.
The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, and not to be forgot, the beer prices are very reasonable compared to anywhere else in Scandinavia. The buildings which form the Ungdomshus group around a central yard, where the (strictly vegan) food stall is set up. Today the bands will be playing on two stages, the Main Stage and the smaller, so-called Dødsmaskinen („death machine“), which is lovingly decorated with twigs, branches and skulls to make it look like the inside of the Baba Yaga’s hut. Thus it is impossible for us to see every band, although the time overlaps between the running orders have been kept at a minimum.
Annika and Farina from Germany made even their journey to Copenhagen a DIY-project – they hitchhiked all the way through Denmark until they finally arrived at Doom Town. Asked about their impression about the festival they state how much they simply love everything about itThey tell me how well the combination of music and art works for them and that they enjoy this festival all the more, because there is no overt pressure to consume put up (the merch stalls are so small and unobstrusive that I almost overlook them at first).Both of them see a fundamental connection between the doom and punk scene as they overlap in outlooks, attitudes and backgrounds. Other people we meet have come all the way from France, all parts of Scandinavia, Finnland, the Netherlands, Austria, and even from Canada and the USA. As the festival is a complete DIY-Project everything relies on the help of volunteers. Those people, who keep the basic mechanisms running, come mainly from Denmark and other Scandinavian countries.
First band of this day are Herder (Nl) whose ramming, straightforward stoner doom is just what we need to get started. Singer Nico seems to be genuinely moved by the experiences he has already made at the festival. Right in the middle of the set he breaks out into a passionate speech: We are all the same, and no one should be hateful to anyone, because we all come from the same place and have the same goals – very much in line with everything HDDT is about – and he heaps praises upon the head of the organizational crew and especially Daniel. Next follow Pilgrim (US), whose crushing riffs and hypnotic tales of heroes, demons and sorcerers turn me into a fan immediately. With Devil playing next, the main venue becomes really packed for the first time.
Daniel smiles contentedly as I ask him how everything is going. He tells me that apart from the last-minute cancellation of Purson, everything runs really smoothly. Of course, the people behind HDDT are not completely new to the business, as they can draw on their experiences with the Killtown–Deathfest, but it is still hard to believe that a festival like this – perfectly planned, perfectly organized, perfectly realized – relies solely on the work of volunteers – remember, not even the bands got payed.
Daniel also talks about the next day, where he expects the place to be a lot more crowded, when everyone who prefered to see Sleep tonight will be attending, too. (Sleep happen to be playing in Copenhagen on this night, but due to a couple of difficulties they could not be convinced to be part of Heavy Days…)
For the rest of the night, the main stage is ruled by the powers of Venus… Jex Thoth (US), The Wounded Kings (U.K) and Jess and the Ancient Ones (Fin) are all fronted by striking female singers with amazing voices. Any fears that seeing thoses three bands back-to-back may become tedious are blown away by the uniqueness and brilliance of the single performances. Jex Thoth are as spellbinding as ever, with Jex herself acting like a high priestess in trance while she brillianty perfoms the band’s well-known material and a couple of new songs from the forthcoming album.
I am completely surprised by my own reaction to The Wounded Kings, whose very slow, very solemn music takes on a very different tone while played live – vital and vibrant and full of empowering energies, generously distributed by singer Sharie Neyland. She later tells me that in her eyes this was the best Wounded Kings show so far – with the best performance, the best equipment and the best sound the band ever had.
We’re already drunk and exhausted as Jess and the Ancient Ones enter the stage, but as I had not been familiar with them before HDDT, I just cannot miss their show. So here they come – and they do a great job. Although Jess doesn’t seem to be feeling entirely comfortable on stage, her impressive voice and the band’s, well, occult pop-rock, which has a strong 80s-feel about it, keep me on my tired legs until the last note has faded away.
Saturday – broke and eroded
Before we return to the Ungdomshus we go record hunting. Copenhagen seems to be brimming with well-assorted record shops, so we have a lot of walking to do. To help people find the best places to spend the rest of their time around town, a short „things to do“ guide has been included into the programme which turns out to be very helpful: at Repo Man Records we even happen to meet the owner, Thomas, who is also the drummer in Moonless.
The second of the two main days starts with a surprise for those who haven’t been aware of Purson’s cancellation. The running order has been changed, so that Skogen Brinner (Swe) do not play at the end, but at the very beginning of the day. The band sounds very old, very Sabbath-like, and their lyrcs are entirely in Swedish, which goes very well with the music – it is said that they signed their record deal with their own blood, so let’s see if this will have any effect on their first full-lenght which will be released in autumn 2012.
The art exhibition has followed the music to Ungdomshuset. The prints now hang in the gallery up on the balcony that runs around the main hall, which gives an opportunity to wander around during or in between the single shows and to enjoy the art here more directly in connection with the music. A big screen on the opposite wall shows projections of gloomy forests, but all in all this part of the art exhibition is a bit „hanged aside“ and doesn’t seem to be noticed by many people.
One aim behind exhibiting art of all kinds here was to enhance everyone’s aural and visual experiences, to add another dimension to the sheer musical impressions. Did it work? Did the art exhibited here influence people’s perception of the music? It surely did for me, but there where also people who saw the art merely as decoration that might as well not have been there.
I have the chance to talk to Corina of Cuero de Cuerno, a Spanish-American art collective working with prints, metalworks and plastic arts. Their altar installation is my favourite piece here, and at the merch stalls they also sell their beautiful patches with sinister images taken from medieval and early modern engravings and prints. Corina, friendly and brisk, tells me about her work and her relation to the HDDT. Her husband works with metal and installations, a big metal tree that is going to stay in the yard of Ungdomshuset (the metal tree stands next to the entrace to Dødsmaskinen and acutally fits so well into the place that it is hard to make out what is art and what had been there before already). Corina, too, is completely amazed by how well everything is organised, and she sums up her essential insights about HDDT: DIY doesn’t mean that something is done amateurishly.
I ask her about the intention behind the altar she has installed on the balcony – first Corina seems to struggle a bit with the answer, then she says that she wanted to create something to „convey dark beauty for people like us, people with a weird taste who would happily attend a black mass or a witches’s sabbath“, and that she felt the urge to create something „more profound“ for a scene where people are growing up. Even though her answers are a bit vague, one thing becomes very clear to me: Even if she put up an altar without having any intentions of this being more than something cool to look at, there is still a lot more to it: This altar seems to be what music itself is, when it is at its best – an artistic expression of something that cannot be said with words.
Due to the changes in the running order, Black Oath (It) switch from the Dødsmaskinen to the main stage which does justice to the great amount of people who fill the hall. They, too, sound a lot more gripping live than on their releases, and their bloodied half-corpse paints complete the theatralic atmosphere they create with their dramatic heavy doom rock.
Next come Griftegård (Swe), who turn the main hall into a place of mourning and existential despair. Thomas Eriksson preaches from behind his lectern like an ancient prophet, and the band’s epic doom hymns teach the audience that forgiveness is far from reach.
Solstice (U.K.), too, make many a new fan on this night with their epic sound and the powerful performance of their Irish singer Paul Kearns (Paul by the way is the only one to complain about the vegan food – he later tells me that it almost made him throw up while he was singing, but to me this didn’t have any obvious effects on his performance…). The much anticipated Lord Vicar (Fin), who stepped in for Pagan Altar, play a show full of energy and dedication, and singer Christus seems to be very impressed by the festival and its organization and wishes for many more Heavy Days to come.
Clash of Cultures?
Annika from Kiel approaches me to tell me how very upset she is. What makes her tremble with anger is a guy sporting a big Burzum back patch. „How could they let him in? I thought this place was strictly anti-fascist. I told the guy how much this sucked but he didn’t even seem to understand what I was talking about!“ Annika and her friends are deeply rooted in the German antifa-culture and thus ultra-aware of any signs of fascism, and in her eyes the five guidelines of Ungdomshuset were severely violated (the wall right next to the entrance screams NO RACISM! NO SEXISM! NO HOMOPHOBIA / HETEROSEXISM! NO VIOLENCE! NO HARD DRUGS!).
For many people a dream comes true tonight:
Noothgrush (US) play their very first European gig, and in spite of some initial difficulties they seem to be enjoying themselves.
What fascinates me most about them is the striking difference between their laid-back, relaxed attitude and the way they crush the place to pieces with their monstrous, hateful sludge beasts.
I skip the last band of this day, Worship (De), but still, no rest for the wicked: The singer of Sinister Creation spins 60s and 70s rock at the Dødsmaskinen, where everyone who is still able to keep upright is joining in a late night dancing party.
Sunday – Full Moon in Scorpio
Sunday takes us to the beautiful Freetown Chrsitiania, a half-independent neighbourhood within Copenhagen, created in the squatted remnants of an abandoned military area. We stroll through the mains streets and the hidden, half overgrown paths of the town, admiring the colourful, slightly ramshackle buildings and the countless pieces of street art that grace walls, trees, fences and whatever one can think of. During daytime, Christiania breathes of happy, peaceful anarchy, but after nightfall the atmosphere gets a bit more tense, as people are becoming more and more stoned and hammered.
Nevertheless, we spend a pleasant day in the bright but cool sun of Christiania, listening to the relaxed „doom jam“ of the Øresund Doom Collective right in front of the Café Månefiskeren and bathing not only in sunlight but also in huge clouds of weed smoke.
Here and only here is the place for a bit of criticism concerning the organization: The cool-down day on Sunday should have been a bit more compact – with the day’s first performance of the Irish blues punkers Lynched starting at 14.00, and the „real“ show at Loppen not beginning before 22.00, there was a bit of an hiatus that left us with a lot of time to kill (although this was not too bad, given that we thus had a lot of time to explore Christiania and the surrounding parts of Copenhagen.)
Today I see not as many bands as I should, but for a very good reason: Sharie Neyland, the singer in The Wounded Kings, and I have a long chat about the festival as a whole, about the spiritual side of music in general, about doom and women in music. She, too, is entirely enthusiastic about the festival and how well everything has worked out so far. As she herself is quite new to the world of doom, her views and opinions are just the more interesting and refreshing. Sharie tells me that in her eyes, here in Doom Town a very unique thing is happening, a bonding of energies brought here by the different bands – each and every band is here to make its own mark, to alter the minds of the attendees and to give their different energies to create a whole. Sharie is convinced that this festival is one of those occasions where energies gather that could eventually turn the world into a better place.
This night is a very special night because the moon is a supermoon – sounds strange, but it means that the full moon is as close to the earth as it gets, and Sharie wonders if the date for HDDT had been chosen especially because of the special star constellations or if this is just a coincidence. Either way, she feels that „it is the night for this to happen“.
Her own history is one of things falling into place, because when she joined The Wounded Kings, it was an experience of being at the right place at the right time without ever having thought about becoming a doom singer. What she now finds in the music – and at HDDT – is a special respect for the feminine, which makes singing in The Wounded Kings worthwile in the first place („I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.“).
I also get the chance to talk to two thirds of Pilgrim (or to be more precise, to Jon, „The Wizard“ and „Count Elric the Soothsayer“) who are paticularly amazed by the mass of people coming out to see bands. („Do you see the people here in the hallway?“ Jon asks, pointing at the six to seven guys passing by as we talk. „This is the average crowd at a U.S. show.“)
The very last band to play at Heavy Days in Doom Town are Coffins (Jap). Their brutal doom death walks all over the audience like a blindfolded, callous giant, and for a last time the audience lets go…
Coffins play Eye Hate God’s Sisterfucker for the encore – then suddenly the lights go on and everything is over – and we are left with a feeling of being brutally woken up from a doomed dream.
Sunday night, sometime between midnight and dawn – co-organizer Nikolaj is completely exhausted, his voice is all fucked up and hoarse but he still manages to squeeze out a couple of words as he sees us: „We’ll keep in touch!“ – Surely we will.
all pictures by Diana Stefan