West Coast Riot 2011

author PP date 20/06/11

Having missed last year's amazing West Coast Riot lineup due to an injury sustained at Copenhell the weekend before, I had long ago decided to make it a point to attend the festival this year regardless the lineup, if for nothing else but to support the organizers with coverage in our media so we can continue to get awesome punk and hardcore bands booked at other festivals in Europe than just Groezrock. Rumours were also afloat that this year's festival was to feature a headliner larger than ever before in its history, a band so widely known and expensive that when the deal fell through, the festival had to reduce ticket price by 300 SEK, a nearly 50% reduction from the original price of 795 SEK. Given that the festival probably expected around eight thousand or so guests, a rough calculation would suggest that the band was worth over 2 million Swedish kroner. Now I don't know about you guys but the only two bands big enough in punk rock or hardcore to get that kind of payments for playing a festival are The Offspring and Blink 182. Shit happens, and instead we were treated to a bunch of old school names in a nostalgia-themed lineup.

Lineup

The Gaslight Anthem, Gogol Bordello, Bad Brains, Millencolin (playing Pennybridge Pioneers), The Exploited, Shelter, Sum 41, Kvelertak, All Time Low, The Dwarves, U.S. Bombs, Atlas Losing Grip, Voice Of A Generation, The Bones, Hårda Tider, Twopointeight, Beast, The Baboon Show, Ond Bråd Död, Burning Libra, Dorm Patrol

Festival Site

Up until now both West Coast Riot and its sister (or should I say brother?) festival have taken place at the heart of Gothenburg, the asphalt heaven of the old Frihamnen docks, surrounded by a large freeway bridge on one side and the sea on the other one, separated from the audience only by a large fence. But given how Metal Town has grown exponentially in size and popularity thanks to a highly talented booking team, the festival could no longer fit the tens of thousands of people into the city center and thus decided to move out to a horse-racing track about twenty minutes north of the city by car.

Camping site

The new location has lots of advantages over the old one, with the most important one being the extended amount of space. Everything in Frihamnen felt a little crammed and metropolitan, which had its own charm and identity, for sure, but compared to the open fields of Hissingen, there's really no contest on which one is the more appropriate venue to hold a large festival. We arrived by car to the front of the festival, only to be met by a couple of extremely puzzled and confused crew members who told us that there is no parking for the festival except for VIP. Fair enough, but what was really odd that they didn't even know a place nearby where you could leave the car for the day. None of this was mentioned anywhere on the festival ticket, on the website, on their Facebook page, or in their information emails. In fact the festival specifically links to a car pooling service where you could team up with others driving to share the ride. Fortunately there was an old military base/area nearby where you could leave the car for free, but it's shocking that the festival didn't think of this beforehand. After all, a stream of cars was arriving at a constant rate after us wondering the same thing.

Another new feature this year was the introduction of a camping area, which seemed to consist of little more than toilet facilities and a bunch of trash cans spread out on a massive grass field, so those who attend both festivals or just the two-day event of Metal Town have a place to shack up their tents. Nice idea.

Mmmm. Kangaroo meat.

Entering the festival site early on was smooth, thanks in part to the possibility of exchanging your ticket to a wristband in advance in various Shock stores around Gothenburg. Another nice idea. Once you were in, you were exposed to a flurry of food shops, merch stands and a cool covered eating area before reaching the 'real' part of the festival. There were lots of interesting things here like the "extreme food" stand where you could buy a dish which included kangaroo, ostrich, spring bock, and some sort of chicken I think. You could add spice for free and choose from things like "ultra death sauce", "baconnaise", "bacon'n'salt" and a dozen other strange things. Other food stalls included mexican food (burritos, nachos etc), wild boar kebab stall, Spanish delicatessen (Churros), plus the traditional pizza/hamburger/fries/hot dog stands, of course.

The stages have also undergone significant changes. Where the previous years' festivals used to feature two identical main stages alternating bands between each other and a small tent stage for the up-and-coming acts, this year the festival had one large main stage (much bigger than in the past) called Red Stage, a second, middle-sized stage known as the Close-Up Stage, and a tiny tent representing the Green Stage, which couldn't have housed more than 200 people at the very maximum. Whenever changes were required, such as when The Exploited missed their flight and were six hours delayed, the festival public was kept well-informed through screens, printouts at the toilets, re-prints of the schedule posters and things like that. Thumbs up from this scribe.

Reviews

Ond Bråd Död

Ond Bråd Död @14:00-14:30 on Green Stage

After the whole parking debacle, we managed to make our way to the festival just in time to catch a couple of songs of local Örebro band Ond Bråd Död, reportedly hand-picked by Close-Up Magazine to perform at this year's festival. They are a brutal hardcore band with a couple of terrible vocalists screaming and growling their lungs off on top of punk riffs and breakdowns galore. They're exactly the type of band you'll tend to see at the Ungdomshuset scenes in Denmark: raw, unmelodic, bass-heavy, with a boring stage show, and most characteristically, they are absolutely awful musically unless you're a die-hard fan. I'm feeling generous with the rating by awarding them a [3]

The Bones

The Bones @ 14:30-15:00 on Red Stage

The Bones, on the other hand, sound like they're from a different galaxy in comparison, and both feel and appear like a natural choice to open the main stage festivities on their early afternoon slot. They're originally from Karlskrona, Sweden, and have been assembling an old school wagon of straight-forward rock out of punk and rock'n'roll influences for a good fifteen years now. Their feel-good three chord set takes its cues from Motörhead as much as it does from Social D, resulting in driving, fun, easy-going rock'n'roll with audible punk rock undertones included for good measure. Recall local Danish band The Stradlins for a good reference point. But despite a couple of good melodies and an energetic show, the main stage feels like it's a few sizes too big for them, especially when the crowd amounts to a few dozen individuals only in a space that can easily house close to 8,000 people. [6½]

Atlas Losing Grip

Atlas Losing Grip @ 15:15-16:00 on Close-Up Stage

There is no reason to believe Atlas Losing Grip couldn't have handled a much later timeslot based on how many people filled up the Close-Up tent curious to check out how flawless melodic hardcore meets skate punk sounds and looks like live. They weren't disappointed, as the up-and-coming Swedes perform with an impressive level of professionalism and tightness for such a young band. The show is driven by brilliant clean vocal harmonies giving the songs a catchy, anthemic punk rock feel, and technical prowess that gives the set its intensity and urgency. The crowd very much shares the feeling that they are watching a band that's happening right now, a band that's going to catapult themselves into the knowledge of the wider audience, thanks to excellent songs, plenty of scissor jumps and convincing energy on all fronts. Atlas Losing Grip will be leaving with a ton of new fans tonight, as all around me I'm hearing chatter, cheers, and applauds for how good this band sounds like that they've never heard of prior to today. Now all they need to do is to get their vocalist Rodrigo let go of his tight two-hand grip on the microphone while standing still stance during the songs, cause if we have him walking, jumping or even running around while performing, we'll be heading towards the exceptional ratings on this site's scale. [7½]

Ray Cappo of Shelter

Shelter @ 16:15-17:00 on Red Stage

Fronted by Ray Cappo, the former vocalist of influential hardcore group Youth Of Today, Shelter is a band many at West Coast Riot were looking forward to checking out for a rare live performance. It has been five years since the previous Shelter album and live shows are few and far in between, and in fact today's performance on the main stage is one of only two reunion shows the band has scheduled for 2011, the other one being on the other side of the Atlantic later this month. They start off with a hardcore-meets-hip-hop track that has me thinking "What? Does Shelter really sound like Run DMC", but soon after they shift into hardcore punk, and finally settling into clean vocal hardcore that has undoubtedly influenced the likes of Champion. Staying true to the standard of the scene, the message is a big part of Shelter's music, and as such Ray Cappo spends lots of time in between songs talking about things like how he can't stand that we are taking so much from the earth in terms of resources and giving so little back to it, among other topics political and social. None of this ever feels preachy, though, nor out of proportion in any way, leaving a nice balance between the message and the music. Cappo is also a very active front man, taking good use of the huge amount of space offered by the main stage, and the crowd loves every bit of it. Every now and then you recognize a song, riff, or sound that you'll have heard somewhere without attributing it to the name Shelter necessarily, for such is the spread of influence this band has had in their 20+ years of running. A solid set overall that has heads nodding, and fists pumping all across the crowd, not to mention it being a good example how hardcore does not always need to sound heavy to be, err, hardcore. [8]

The Dwarves

The Dwarves @ 17:00-17:45 on Green Stage

The Dwarves are the sort of band that appeals to old school punkers with patched denim jackets, studded bracelets, and colourful spiked haircuts, which goes a long way in explaining why there are so many of them here. The earlier Dwarves output namely positions itself somewhere between straight forward clean vocal hardcore punk and street punk, where elaborate song structures and catchy choruses are thrown out the window to make room for an old school oriented, no bullshit punk rock sound. This afternoon, their vocalist is the main spectacle as he spends a considerable amount of time in interacting with the crowd, whether it's through offering the mic to the front or crowd surfing his way out of the stage to the horror of the security, who hopelessly try to battle to keep him at bay. You can tell that both him and the rest of the band are having great fun on stage from the wide-open smiles everyone carries, but so is the crowd who are happily taking in every bit of the interaction, even bursting into a couple of moderate sing-alongs during the show. The melodic punk stage of The Dwarves does seem to be their strongest side, however, because like I jotted down my own notes during the show, the rating kept upgrading as the set went along and the song quality improved. Nothing spectacular, but just a nice feel-good punk show without any bullshit. [7½]

Sum 41 @ 18:15-19:00 on Red Stage

As the familiar "T.N.T" (AC/DC) intro music supplies the pretext for Sum 41 to enter the main stage at a surprisingly early timeslot, I remember standing somewhere near the middle with my fingers crossed and secretly hoping that the band have learned from previous disasters and have considerably cut down on the Green Day bullshit that removes any and all energy and flow from their live show. Turns out my prayers were answered, because even though the band started out with a little crowd control during "The Hell Song", they fly straight into "Skumfuck" and "We're All To Blame" with no pauses either pre-, mid-, or post-song to the delight of the public. Sure, "We're All To Blame" sees the band select four people from the front of the stage again as in the past, but it all happens much faster and thus feels less disruptive. Because lets remember here that when Sum 41 are actually playing their songs, they look and sound awesome, they jump around, and they display lots and lots of energy. And because they spend more time playing songs like "Walking Disaster", "Over My Head (Better Off Dead"), "Screaming Bloody Murder", "Motivation", "Fat Lip" and many others, even the shortened version of the metal medley, where the band asks the crowd to choose pre-selected songs that their guitarist can play, feels less intrusive and annoying than it has in the past. Because of this, they can squeeze 10 songs (and the medley) into 45 minutes where they spent more than an hour on the same amount of songs in Copenhagen last time around. And you know what else? I'm not alone in my judgement, as even though the audience at West Coast Riot 2011 consists of mainly old school punkers, a brief look around during "Fat Lip", "In Too Deep" and the huge sing along finale in "Still Waiting" shows nearly all of the grumpy old studded dudes reluctantly singing along to a band they know they should hate on principle. That, for me, is the true tell-tale sign of an impressive show. [8]

Millencolin

Millencolin (plays Pennybridge Pioneers) @ 19:15-20:15 on Close-Up Stage

Next up are Millencolin, who are currently performing around Europe reminiscing their brilliant 1998 album "Pennybridge Pioneers" by playing it from start to finish every night. Hearing the biggest Swedish punk band in history performing their most successful album on a Swedish punk rock festival is going to be fuckin' amazing, I thought, even though their Groezrock set (again) left a lot to be desired for in my opinion. Turns out I was wrong, because even though the Close-Up tent is packed to its limits (why isn't Millencolin on the main stage?), I'm left asking a rather awkward question from the Swedish population attending the festival: where the fuck are the sing-alongs? It both looks and sounds like these kids have never even heard of "Pennybridge Pioneers" judging from the near complete absence of big chant-alongs during some of the biggest classics from that record. But then it strikes me that this album was released 13 years ago, which would've made the average kid at this show to be around ten years old. No wonder they don't know the record. They should clearly make it mandatory listening for Swedish middle school students in the form of an assignment from the teacher: "here, go listen to this, and for next week's exam you'll have to sing all the choruses from the record. Extra credit for the best verse parts". Aside from my crowd criticism, however, Millencolin play one of their most active and energetic sets I've seen them play, well, ever. They're in a hurry to go through the album in their one hour slot if they are to have time for other songs, too, so many of the songs are sped up considerably, and launched into without any breaks in between. That's kinda cool, but one can't help but think it would be so much better if the band had more time to talk a little bit about the songs right before playing them. A cover of some Swedish song "E20 Norr" starts the final four songs of their set, where "The Story Of My Life", "Mr Clean" and "Black Eye" get aired before the band leaves the stage. [7]

The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem @ 20:30-21:30 on Red Stage

The Gaslight Anthem are notorious for sucky festival performances where they purposefully choose to play their most accessible and slowest songs to appease a larger, more mainstream audience. Tonight, however, is a whole another story as Brian Fallon is in an excellent chatty mood, sharing with us some of his infamous wit and laid-back chatter in between the songs, in effect surrounding the entire set and everyone participating into a cozy, charming atmosphere, which is only broken by the flurry of the bands punk-oriented Americana songs from all across their discography. The focus is on the faster tracks, so even though a couple of slow ones sneak into the mix, the appearance of "Old White Lincoln", "Wooderson", "We Came To Dance", "Boomboxes And Dictionaries", "Great Expectations", "The Backseat", "The '59 Sound" and many others has people dancing and moving everywhere you look. A few songs into the set Fallon finds a Sum 41 pick on stage and goes on to explain the following: "you know what I'm gonna do with this pick? I'm gonna go home and write our next record. And it's not going to be just any record. It's going to be the greatest record ever recorded, and then you know what's gonna happen? Journalists worldwide are gonna ask how did you write that record...and I'm gonna say, this one time in Sweden, I was playing this festival, and I found a Sum 41 pick...that's how things happen in rock'n'roll". He makes such a ridiculous story sound so genuine, so full of warmth and charm, that you can't but love him. The same happens later when he says that Los Angeles sucks, everyone should go visit Canada instead. Coupled with a fantastic setlist, this is by far the best festival show I've seen The Gaslight Anthem do. [8]

Bad Brains singer

Bad Brains @ 21:45-22:30 on Close-Up Stage

Okay so my punk/hardcore credibility is going to take a massive hit for this one. Bad Brains are one of the most legendary bands in hardcore, often credited as one of the creators and definitely the pioneers of the genre in the Washington, D.C scene, where they mixed up heavy riffs, reggae and punk rock for the first time over thirty years ago. But after watching thirty minutes of the Bad Brains set, I can't say I understand what all the fuzz is all about. Aside from the strangely rhythmic hand clapping against himself, their vocalist spends all his time standing still wailing in an annoying voice over hardcore punk riffs and the occasional reggae rhythms. Just how is that supposed to be/sound/look good? It's seriously dull and boring despite the obvious influence and presumably legendary riffs associated with the Bad Brains moniker. Maybe I just don't get it, or maybe Bad Brains played a weird setlist tonight, but by God did I wish they were done sooner than they were. [5]

U.S. Bombs

U.S. Bombs @ 22:45-23:30 on Green Stage

Soon after the crowd had a difficult choice to make: should we check out the legendary U.S. Bombs or the equally legendary The Exploited, who missed their first flight and were therefore about six hours late? Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem-fame had given a heartfelt story earlier about how his divorce made him listen to a certain U.S. Bombs record for six months straight, so the scale leaned slightly more towards the Americans and their old school Oi! / wooah-wooah style street punk. They receive a good response from intimate surroundings at the smallest stage, which ensures that the small chant-a-longs to their gang vocals resonate much better than they would at a larger stage. And it doesn't take too many songs until people start pouring in from all directions when they can hear their familiar simplistic punk rock from outside of the tent. The brighter melody wakes up the undersigned after a long day, and even though US Bombs is normally punk rock for studded people, inspired by the 70s and all, their performance is enough to shake the weird Bad Brains set off my mind for the rest of the festival. [7]

Gogol Bordello @ 22:50-00:00 on Red Stage

The original idea had been to check out half of US Bombs, then half of Gogol Bordello, but because of The Exploited's late arrival we ended up checking out the last songs to their set instead, which was now simultaneous to US Bombs. So that left a good thirty minutes for the Gogol Bordello show which had drawn a large crowd of people to the main stage. It's difficult to deny the ease at which the band gets people dancing, punk rock or otherwise, through a selection of gypsy instruments, funky tunes and catchy lunatic vocals. Any direction you looked, as soon as people approached close enough to the stage to see the band properly, they'd break out into dancing in weird gypsy manner, and wouldn't stop until sometime well after finding themselves in the middle of the crowd. You gotta give it for the band, no matter what the audience, they always kill live and have everyone on their sound. It's just that difficult to hate happy caravan/campfire dance music driven by traditional folk instruments, especially when ridiculous things like massive one-woman drumsets, thrashing violinists, crazy accordionist appear on stage left and right. [8]

Kvelertak @ 00:00-00:45 on Green Stage

For most people the choice between Kvelertak and All Time Low wouldn't have been a tough one, but most people didn't watch All Time Low play a fantastic set the night before in Copenhagen. I opted to check out Kvelertak for just one song's worth, which turned out to be a good idea because the smallest tent was so full that they had to close it, which resulted into people getting crushed against the crowd control fences outside the tent due to an aggressive crowd who were violently headbanging nearby as they couldn't fit in. I won't grade it based on one song, but it looked excellent from where I was standing.

All Time Low @ 00:00-00:45 on Close-Up Stage

"Lets see a show of hands who likes us?", shouts All Time Low vocalist Alex Gaskarth, "we are the last band tonight for some god forsaken reason, so if you are here, you're either really excited, or you really hate our band", he continues. It's a good observation as the audience is polarised into exactly two groups: young teenagers, and red-faced old punkers who look ready to kill this band and their overblown showmanship on stage. Showing a masterful sense of self-irony, Alex then goes on to ask for a show of hands of the people who hate them, and proceeds to dedicate their poppiest song tonight, "I Feel Like Dancin'" (the song which is accompanied by the sell-out music video story), to all those people. Even the most jaded and grumpy music fans should have had a hint of a smile on their faces after this one. And if the impossibly catchy and fun pop punk songs that follow it don't at least give you one a few songs later, then I don't know what show you are watching. The band is having so much fun on stage, and their interaction with the crowd feels unreal at times. For instance, Alex spots a girl at the front row holding a sign which says "give me my first kiss", proceeds to verify that she really has never been kissed before, tells security to get her up to the stage, only to cheat her and tell her "I bet you thought you were gonna kiss one of us", and has her pick out a guy from the crowd to kiss. The guy is then brought on stage, and a massive drumroll and one kiss later, the audience bursts into a sickeningly loud applause. The whole thing is of course described by Alex as if he was a hockey play-by-play commentator, which takes almost ten minutes of the show, pushing the band way beyond their curfew if they are to finish their songs. To which Alex shouts: "I'm so drunk! Sorry festival, I respect this festival, but we have four songs left!" just about when they are supposed to be finished, and the band proceeds to play "Lost In Stereo", "Time Bomb", "Weightless" and of course "Dear Maria, Count Me In" to finish an excellent pop punk show. Big sing-a-longs, at times hilarious showmanship, ridiculously overblown jokes, great energy on stage...this is how pop punk is supposed to look like. [8½]

Suggestions & Final Words

Overall the festival's maiden journey to a new location could be considered a success, but there are a couple of things that could be done better. First of all, the festival was very lucky that the crowd number was as low as it was, my rough estimate placing the amount of people at approximately 3,500 people. The reason I'm saying that is because I only saw two water posts in the entire festival area, and only two places to take out cash. On a hot sunny day like the one two years ago and with just double the amount of festival guests, the lines to the ATMs would have been ridiculous, and the water posts wouldn't have been enough to satisfy demand. You can ask Roskilde Festival 2009 about what happens when you sell out a festival and average 26 degrees plus on each day and don't have enough water posts.

Secondly, the beer situation. I know that the Swedish alcohol law is extremely restrictive, but the location of the beer stall for the main stage could have been more optimal. You could only see the stage from just a handful of tables. Perhaps moving the table to an area that stretches a little bit down the middle of the main stage could be a good idea in the future?

Thirdly, the green stage. It was far too small and unsuitable for any band that was even remotely popular. Putting Kvelertak there and then realizing about double the amount of people showed up than the capacity shouldn't happen on any festival.

Fourthly, the parking debacle. If there is no parking available, the public should be informed on the website. At the very least the security staff should be able to advise where the festival guests can leave their car. The only reason we found a parking place was because we took a 50/50 guess on which direction to drive in hopes of one.

And finally, the festival needs to re-invent its identity now that the harbour scenery has been exchanged to a field. After all, aren't the majority of the world's festivals held on grass fields? Booking good bands is one thing, but distinguishing from the other festivals is something entirely different. That being said, these are only minor suggestions in what has otherwise been a wonderful and well-functioning festival.

Check out many more photos over at Lykke Nielsen's Flickr account.

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