I met Maurice Beckett last year after his band Jakob played their incredible album Solace live at The Tuning Fork in Auckland. I sheepishly admitted that I was the one who had once referred to him as a “hairy behemoth” in a review. Beckett just laughed. He was great to chat to, super laid back and didn’t take things too seriously.
Regular Will Not Fade readers should need no introduction to Jakob, the mighty post-rock trio from Hawkes Bay. Desbot is another post-rock trio with Beckett on bass, but despite sharing these similarities, they are very much a different beast.
Desbot released their debut album Pass of Change back in October, and I’ve been thrashing it the entire time.
Something I love about Desbot’s music is the feeling of momentum that each song exudes. The drums [play by Tom Pierard] are often driving, especially with open hi-hats, bright crashes and harsh china cymbals – big explosive, washy sounds. And the bass – often the star – is usually pulsing, throbbing, compelling us to nod our heads and tap our feet – to feel the music and the hypnotic energy it radiates. One of the best examples of this is the breakdown in “Eclipsed” – crushingly heavy as the band pummels us with dense slabs of sound that they conjure up.
Rounding out the trio is Nick Blow on keys. Most rock music is centred around guitar riffing, so the omission of guitar is enough to make this mix unique. The keys here are more ephemeral, often just colouring the feel and creating the mood with sci-fi swells and interesting effects. It’s a great move, being able to draw on countless crazy synthetic sounds that keyboard soundbanks can offer.
It’s an interesting dynamic: the rhythm section locking in tight to push the music, with keys plucking flavouring from the stratosphere to make it all interesting. And while the structure can feel linear and a bit simple, it is never boring. The music is often incredibly heavy and distorted, yet somehow feels hopeful and not oppressive.
The band explores texture and tonality, playing with space and sounds to bring a fresh, otherworldly feel to a lot of the songs on the album. They use so many interesting effects and inorganic timbres that it borders on industrial at times, with odd mechanical screeches and whirrs that make me envision a robotic production line, or even a futuristic spacecraft. Listen to the fantastic reverberating drumming in “No Response or Benefit”, or the warning siren sound that phases out slowly during the outro of “Pass of Change”.
It’s possible that this experimental feel arises from their writing process. Drummer Pierard shares that the trio all wrote and demoed ideas at home individually during lockdown periods – which pushed them to be more creative – and delays caused by the pandemic forced them to slow down and really take the time to craft and hone these songs and add more depth to the music..
In short, Pass of Change is great. A solid album that I happily keep returning to. I’m really hoping that they come to Wellington at some point this coming year because I bet their music sounds absolutely monstrous played live through a decent speaker system.
Tuesday 8 May
Hard Rock Cafe, Lyon, France
w/ Cloud Shelter, Lodz
Everyone was in a great mood. Both nights of tour so far had been great, with good attendance, friendly people, great food and new experiences in foriegn cities. It was a welcome change from America, where people make less effort to support the music scene.
Tiffany and her grandmother provided a breakfast of toast, fruit and homemade honey and jam. The sun was shining with intense heat and we drank in the peaceful noises of birds chirping as we sat in the garden eating.
It felt like a long drive to Lyon. I didn’t to get to see as much of Lyon as I’d seen of Paris, but Zeidler and I went off to find something to eat while the band soundchecked. We found a neat plaza behind the town hall which featured a stunning water fountain with steam that arose from the noses of the horse statues. We had some difficulty ordering, but eventually managed to order some crepes and had a nice meal before heading back to the venue.
The Hard Rock Cafe in Lyon stands among one of my favourite venues I’ve ever been to. Anyone familiar with the chain will know what to expect – a restaurant/bar, merchandise shop, and plenty of music memorabilia to look at on the walls. This one was relatively new (two years old, I believe), sat next to the Rhone river.
Most dedicated venues feel dingy. I’m sure you know what I mean – gross toilets, graffiti and stickers, sticky floors, dark spaces. Hard Rock was none of these things. It was bright, clean, had good access, they provided a nice meal and a good green room. And as an actual venue it was awesome. It sounded good, and the lighting was fantastic.
First up was Cloud Shelter, featuring promoter Jean Sebastian on drums. They kicked the night off with a solid set of post-rock, crescendo rich and dynamic. The place was fairly packed already at that stage, showing that either Jean Sebastian is a great promoter, Lyon has a supportive music scene, or both.
Lodz’s set began with an impact, launching straight into their hard-fitting energetic music. It was gloomy, atmospheric and heavy, touching on Deftones territory. Daylight had faded by this point, and the orange streetlamps shining in from outside added to the visuals onstage.
The lights were simply great, adding a whole new dimension to the experience. Cloud Shelter had Edison bulbs on light stands, reminding me of Ranges’ set up on their American tour. Usually Ranges play with their own lighting rig, synced up to the backing track. But it wasn’t feasible bringing so much gear overseas, with airline fees being as expensive as they are. I’m beginning to have second thoughts about that lighting rig. I certainly helped Ranges to stand out last year, but these European shows have been even better without them. Plus they’re easier to photograph without their own rig.
I’m wondering if the lights are always this good at Hard Rock Lyon, because there were so many photographers in attendance. I sparked up a conversation with one couple who lived about an hour from Lyon. They were simply delightful to chat to. Come to think of it, everyone was friendly and happy to be there. Lyon gives off great vibes.
I’ve seen Ranges play close to 20 times by this point. I’m not even sure if I’ve seen Declaration AD play that many times – and I used to live with them! And I’m convinced that this is the best Ranges show I’ve seen. All the elements were there – receptive audience, good numbers, good audio mix, nice venue, great lighting, and the band played well. The crowd were lapping it up. At the end of the hour-long set the band went backstage and the audience began cheering and chanting for an encore. This placed the band in an awkward situation. Usually they just pay their piece and that’s it. This was a first – having the crowd demanding an encore. They didn’t even have any other songs ready to play. But there’s no way they could get away without a few more songs, so they returned to the stage played another two songs.
Jerome from Cloud Shelter hosted us in his apartment. Mark, Wilson and I grabbed some pizzas from a fantastic little shop nearby, and we spent most of the night talking rubbish at Jerome’s. They had French alcohol called Pontelier Anis (made in a neighbouring township) that we drank. It tasted similar to sambuca, and changed colour from transparent to cloudy white when you add water.
CJ and Wilson slept in the van, fearful that some local goon may try to break in a steal the musical gear inside. Zeidler was segregated to the lounge as penance for his bear imitations the night before. Mark, Joey and I cuddled up in a cozy space in the next room, where we slept for about for about three hours.
Wednesday 9 May
Slow Club, Frieberg, Germany
Touring takes its toll on one’s body. Long days spent sediantry in a van, unhealthy diets that consist mostly of gas station food, and lack of sleep all begin to wear you down. We had a blast in Lyon, but only a few hours sleep before the drive to Frieberg.
Slow Club was a cool venue. Almost polar opposite from the modern Hard Rock Cafe, it was a more traditional style club. They cool thing about it is that it is a community resource, run and operated by volunteers. There was something reassuringly familiar about it. And the best thing about it is that there was a studio apartment upstairs, with bunk beds that remind me of school camps and a small kitchen. Staying on site is amazing – taking away the process of packing up and driving to a place to sleep at the end of the night.
In other ways it was vastly different from other places I’d been. People smoked inside the venue. This was outlawed in New Zealand well before I was old enough to go to bars, so the only times I’ve ever experienced people smoking inside is at casinos in Las Vegas. There was even an ashtray fixed to the wall between the urinals in the bathroom. The staircase and hallway featured artistic photos that reminded me of the band Pussy Riot – controversial images of topless women with ski masks.
After sound check Joey and I went to check out a local attraction with a friend of Jared’s. Frieburg Munster cathedral, like most cathedrals, is a gorgeous building with large spires, stained glass windows, ornate sculptures and an overall awe-inspiring feel. My favourite feature was the many gargoyles – all different from each other. They had a mass on when we went inside so we chose not to stay long, but it’s always worthwhile seeing even the smallest sample of a new city.
Ukraine-based Nonsun recently signed to dunk!records. They play music so heavy and slow it’s oppressive. Zeidler described them as making Glacier look cheerful. I don’t like that style of music so I stayed upstairs and rested while they played.
Apparently that rest was inadequate. I helped Mark set up his drums for the Ranges set, and then sat down on a couch next to the bar to watch the set. I managed so catch maybe half, but true to form, I dozed off half way through.
There were only six bunks upstairs so I pulled out a spare mattress and slept on the floor. The next morning I was told that everyone was kept up by loud German singing all night. I was so exhausted that I never noticed a thing.
Sunday 6 May
Kinky Star, Ghent, Belgium
At 17 hours and 40 minutes, the flight from Auckland to Doha is the longest in the world. Not that I knew this when I booked my flights. I had asked my friend who is a travel agent to help me sort travel to Brussels, and this flight was what she came up with.
I can tell you first hand that spending close to 18 hours on a plane does not do wonders for one’s health. I’ll even go so far as to say it wouldn’t be ideal even in first class. And when you consider that the flight to Doha only constitutes half of my trip to Brussels, you may soon come to the conclusion that I felt slightly worse for wear once I’d arrived at my destination.
Not that I needed to dwell on this. Because once I’d landed and cleared customs I was reunited with my close friends in the band Ranges. Tiredness be gone! Excitement replaced feelings of fatigue. It was like we had seen each other just yesterday.
Regular Will Not Fade readers will know that I joined Ranges on tour last year in America, travelling from their hometown of Bozeman, Montana all the way to the East Coast, up to Vermont for the inaugural dunk!USA festival, and then back to Montana. It was one of the best times of my life, and I grew extremely attached to the guys I was travelling with.
When it came time for me to return to New Zealand they invited me on their next tour – this time in Europe – which would include dunk!festival in Belgium. How could I turn down an opportunity like that?
To sweeten the deal, our friends in Tides of Man will also be playing dunk!, as well as a few other people I’ve met along the way, such as Phil from Caspian, Au Revoir and Rosetta. And I’ll also have to opportunity to finally meet many Facebook friends who are part of the global post-rock community.
Reuniting the lads from Montana was emotional, to say the least. We had spent two weeks stuck in a van together in October, meaning that we all knew each other’s idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. David Zeidler from Arctic Drones and Young Epoch will join us in a few days, and I wonder if he will pick up on the absurd in-jokes that dominate life in the van.
Mark standing outside Kinky Star
First stop was the gear rental place that is providing the van and backline. We got good gear from them. I don’t know much about amps and speakers, but the drums are a sweet C & C kit. And the van is amazing. Roomy enough for all the gear, plenty of seats, and a loft up top. Having this much space is such a luxury.
Next we drove to the venue, The Kinky Star in Ghent. A neat little club with little regards to safe building codes. The walls around the stage were covered with black and white photos of gigs at the venue, making for a cool wallpaper effect. There were the stairs from hell heading up to the green room: super steep, small steps with no handrail. I’m honestly surprised that no-one fell and died.
I helped myself to a handful of beers from the drinks fridge in the green room and then went off on a wee walk to explore Ghent. I’ve never been to Europe, so this was very new to me. A quaint, idyllic town, Ghent boasts beautiful cobblestone roads lined with pretty cafes and bars. Impressive churches tower above canals, and an imposing castle perches rises up, half encased by a moat. I was thoroughly enjoying my wandering, although the beers inhibited my sense of direction, and I got lost in no time. Not to despair, I’d had the foresight to download an offline map of the region to my phone before I left NZ, so managed to find my way back to the venue without too much strife.
Astodan opened the show, with a blend of metal and post-rock that trod the balance of heavy and melodic nicely. I still don’t understand how they managed to fit the whole band on such a tiny stage, but it was a great set.
The small club filled up quickly, unexpected for a Sunday night. Everyone appeared enthusiastic, and one punter shouted out “PERFECTOOOO!” after each song Ranges played. Wout from dunk!records attended as well.
Alas, I was losing my fight against jet lag. As excited as I was to catch a Ranges set, I couldn’t stay awake. I caught myself nodding off a few times while standing up, giving me that horrific scare you get from the sense of falling as you sleep. I decided to head upstairs for a lie down, lest I collapse from exhaustion. The guys gave me a good ribbing afterwards for that. I’d been fairly drunk earlier on when I got lost in Ghent, so I guess it looked like I was just sleeping that off.
Ranges played for an hour, which is a longer set than I’d seen them play for most of the last tour. I could hear them as I rested from above, and I noticed that they’d added some more lively songs like “Babylon” to their set.
I felt more alive After a 40 minute snooze. Joey and I headed across the road for some terrible fried substances that they tried to pass off as food. I had ordered curry sauce with my fries, and it came with a sickly sweet sauce, almost a syrup. The chicken burger featured unidentifiable “meat”. One of the issues with not speaking the language is that you just have to hope for the best when you order food. As unappetizing as it was, I hadn’t eaten anything other than airline meals and snacks for a few days, so I wolfed it down.
That night a local promoter named Lut hosted us. She had a lovely place with plenty of beds. She treated us to walnut salami and cheeses before bed. Her shower had two shower heads. I don’t know why, but I thought it was very exciting. Wilson had brought some Man Mountain beard oil for me from America, so I gladly tried it out after my shower.
Outside Lut’s house in Ghent. L-R: Wilson, Joey, CJ, Mark, Jared, Joseph (me)
Monday 7 May
L’International, Paris, France
w/ Nord, Nordkapp
I saw a different side to CJ today. He’s always in control: driving, running things, planning the itinerary, keeping order. But the crazy Parisian traffic caught him off guard. It doesn’t help that none of us knew what the road signs meant, or that the SatNav started to malfunction, or that the other drivers on the road cut us off without warning or a care in the world, or that a zillion cyclists clearly have a death wish and decide to ride as close to the van as possible.
But the final straw was news from David Zeidler.
Some of you may know of Zeidler as a writer from Arctic Drones. Apparently he’d figured that organising a few small shows in New England had earned him the right to write the Ranges tour blog – the same one that I’d been promised exclusive coverage of. Typical American, deciding to muscle his way in and take over my established position. Anyway, the guy didn’t even attend the first show in Belgium, and decided to join us in Paris. He hadn’t even been on the city for ten minutes before managing to get pick pocketed.
So picture this: you’re driving through a foreign city. The road rules seem unclear – or at least nobody else seems to stick to them. Suicidal Parisians on bikes keep pulling in front of you as you navigate. You’re entering a busy roundabout without lanes and you get a message from Zeidler: “Help, I’ve been pickpocket and need to get picked up”. As you can imagine, it was all a bit much for CJ.
Joey jumped to the rescue, ordering an Uber to pick up Zeidler and get him to the venue. We found the street that the venue was on, parked the van, and had some time out. Thankfully for Zeidler, he was able to ask his parents to send him money via wire transfer, so wasn’t completely without funds.
Mark watching Nord at L’International Paris
Our promoter was Tiffany, a lovely girl in red overalls who runs post-rock events in Paris. She, and Guillame the sound guy made the night a total breeze.
L’International had a bar at ground level, with an underground room for the music. There was a perspex window between the stairs and the stage, giving you a good “side of stage” view from the stairwell.
After load in I set off for wander around Paris. I didn’t have any set destination, but simply wanted to experience some of the city. Narrow alleyways opened into grand courtyards. Countless apartments lined the city blocks, with balconies that feature ornate cast iron railing. Impressive churches, cathedrals and other such buildings stood out every block or so. The most impressive sight I found was Notre Dame.
Earlier that day Mark had mentioned wanting to see some art from notable Parisian street artist Space Invader, so I took a few photos of some I saw on my walk.
When I got back to the venue I showed Mark. “Where did you see this?” he asked, gripping me tightly, “Is it far?”
So we set off on another venture onto the streets of Paris. We were surprised to find a few Invader pieces within a few blocks of the venue, as well as a handful of imitations, and an Andre The Giant paste-up by Shepard Fairey, who featured along with Space Invader in the beginning of the Banksy documentary Exit Through The Giftshop
Mark was grinning madly, happy that’d he’d achieved his goal of finding some Invader art.
We arrived back at L’International in time for the second act Nord. Mathy riffs gave an upbeat feel to the music, and I loved the singing – not something you come across much in post-rock circles.
The turn out for this show was great. We thought that Ghent was good, and Paris was even better. Ranges had a great set, and everyone was on a big high following on from it. Tiffany told us that many attendees hadn’t even heard of Ranges, but still showed up anyway.
We were stoked. It was a good audience, good sound mix, and fun time. The guys in Ranges were pleasantly surprised to see some beers from their breweries available. and everyone was in a good mood.
Tiffany took us back to her grandparent’s house to stay, squished into two rooms on the upper floor like sardines. Zeidler sounds like a bear when he snores.
It’s often difficult to write a review about an album created out of negative space. L’appel du Vide, Ashen Swan’s latest record, is a lesson in embracing oblivion. It’s a lesson in recognizing that there’s much more to music than packing it full of notes and flourishes to convey an idea when just playing the right note can accomplish the same. There is an old adage that exists that less is more. Ashen Swan takes this aphorism and runs with it. This album is meditative magic.
So how does one write a review on nothingness? I could give you my thoughts on instrumentation and composition. The way in which Ashen Swan’s music sounds like the throaty whisper of a new dawn. I could tell you that Ashen Swan evinces qualities employed by the likes of Hammock and Lowercase Noises. EBow heavy phrases of lush sound framed by billowy and Spartan piano.. I could do all those things, but the music inspired me on a more esoteric level. L’appel du Vide begs you to reflect inward. It asks you to dust the cobwebs from the lesser traveled inroads of your soul, to stop, to consider.
L’appel du Vide translates roughly to “void’s call” or “the call of the void”. Most humans, in all their daily struggles, will often wonder what it would be like swerve into oncoming traffic. Or perhaps your hiking here in Colorado at Royal Arch Trail. You’re near the top and standing at the edge of the trail and get the sudden urge to just jump. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re suicidal. It’s simply a phenomenon of the human psyche. A phenomenon the French called “l’appel du vide”. It is nothing more than morbid curiosity. I found myself experiencing this urge years ago so I did a quick Google search. It was comforting to know I was not alone. There were others out there that have felt the pull. Ashen Swan’s new album explores this concept in a musical sense. And pulls it off.
L’appel du Vide is a barren landscape. The short, quiet piano utterances are the green lichen hugging the rocks as they wait for a summer thunderstorm. Soft reverb the slow rolling thunder of an alpine tundra. A dreamy susurration whispers throughout each track like a lulling breeze that dances lightly through the purple forget-me-nots.
Ashen Swan’s newest venture is a contemplative and horrifically beautiful ride of ambient bliss. You get the overwhelming feeling of just wanting to let go. The music plunges straight for your heart and urges you to answer the void’s call. To feel the rain in your face and the wind as it thrashes through your hair. L’appel du Vide wants you to be free and as the album goes on it becomes increasingly difficult not give answer.
L’appel du Vide comes to us by way of Nathan Kwon who also composes for Chicago post-metal project Crawl Across the Sky. Ashen Swan came to us in the year 2017 with the desire to cross section the more ambient elements of the aforementioned Crawl Across the Sky and turn it all up to 11. And thank the void he did.