Call it punk, garage, noise, hardcore, it is all rock, and for three nights, we paid homage to living life loud at Fuzz Fest 8 in Ann Arbor.
Fuzz Fest 8: Living Life Loud
We gathered in Ann Arbor’s church of rock and roll, the Blind Pig, for another rock and roll revival. Fellow worshipers of the almighty riff know these three days of glory as Fuzz Fest 8. The nightly service from Thursday, Aug 3rd, to Saturday, August 5th, showcased a vast spectrum of sounds.
A sonic blast from a Marshall amp, the tubes glowing hot like stars smashing into the event horizon of a black hole. Expressive and angular tones seep from guitars and keyboards, and synths. Modulations on Eastern themes glide like the sun into the Western horizon as drums dance and bass notes thrum. A kaleidoscope of music shifting between psychedelic, belligerent, atmospheric, excited, poignant, and manic while always being sublime. Yes, my fellow devotees, to the big muff power swell, this is Fuzz Fest 8!
The man, the myth, the legend, Chris Taylor, has once again curated a masterpiece with Fuzz Fest 8. His crew kept the bands moving, the merch flowing, and the fun cranked up to 11. The Jedi knight of sound, Adam Wilkinson, kept the bands sounding tight every night. Tony Fero used his mind-bending artistic talents to create a bold and beautiful poster for Fuzz Fest 8 which translates nicely into sweet tees. Special thanks to the sponsors VGKids, Faygo, and Music Go-Round, as well as the outstanding staff at the Blind Pig.
The formula for Fuzz Fest 8 remains the same, with 11 bands alternating between the floor and the main stage each night. The cosmic light show featured some junior apprentices who bathed the performers in swirling colors and snippets of Mad Max, Thundarr The Barbarian, and Heavy Metal film footage.
Let’s peek at the show and relive some fond memories from Fuzz Fest 8 without further ruminations and ramblings from your humble author.
First Night of Fuzz
The first night of Fuzz Fest, known to everyone else as Thursday, featured a mix of genres as well as a blend of established bands and new, or at least new to me. That is part of the beauty of Fuzz Fest; you are bound to discover something you haven’t heard before.
Kicking off Fuzz Fest 8 is Trouble Clinic. This low-fi punk band features punchy vocals that remind me of Kurt Cobain, along with jangly guitar, steady bass, and rockin’ drums. Their music is sincere with a story-telling quality. There is no denying they love what they do and are happy to share with us.
In a world that needs a big dose of raw, vital energy, Dear Darkness is the fix. This punk rock duo is electric and combustible. Get your head on straight. Otherwise, Dear Darkness will rip you apart.
I love the way Chris Taylor sets up a bill for a night of Fuzz Fest. You never get the same music twice and are bound to get thrown a few curves between the fastballs. Ill Collens is a hurricane fastball that you won’t see coming. This is Bruce Lee hardcore insanity at its finest. Tonight was Ill Collens first show, and I’m hoping to see them again. The roaring thunder of their sound reminded me a tad of Beast In The Field, bordering on the grind of Shitlife. I love it.
Dark, introspective, and pulverizing is Bloody Butterflies stock in trade. Their music swelled around us like a coming wave. The intoxication of the mammoth riffs became a mantra for meditation. Ominous and beautiful, the Bloody Butterflies soar.
Pepper and the Heavy Boys
In your head, cue the vocals of Rod Serling’s intro to Twilight Zone – “…a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind…” Now, imagine Jim Morrison and Dean Martin’s DNA has been fused to create a superhuman lounge singer. As that image settles into view, pair said singer with a garage rock band, and you’ve got yourself Pepper and the Heavy Boys. A booty shaking, rump quaking, foot-stomping party for your mind and soul. Sweet baby Jesus that spells fun.
Before the music started this evening, Chris Taylor asked, “Any bands you haven’t heard before?” referring to the list of bands for tonight. There were plenty of bands I’d not heard, which is what makes Fuzz Fest great. I answered, “I have no clue who Sex Change is. Are they a new band?” Chris smiles, “Yeah, they are. Jeff (Porkins – bassist for the amazing Scissors Now) is in that band.” I didn’t need to hear more besides “Jeff” to know this would be something special. The reality is that I had no fucking clue what I was in for. Sex Change physically tore a hole in time and space with a performance seething with vicious agony. On one level, I thought of the death metal band Cloud Rat and the hardcore band Converge. Regardless of your frame of reference, this was intense.
Angel of Mars
As if Chris Taylor could read our minds and knew we were ready to have them blown, he gave us Angel of Mars on the main stage. I first heard this amazing band at the Corktown Music Festival and immediately fell in love. Angel of Mars is ultra-heavy psychedelic, with flashes of doom delivering endlessly powerful riffs and driving rhythms. I could have jammed with that band for hours.
Along with Ghosts
The concept of sitar and electronica combining forces sounds amazing. Sadly Along with Ghosts had to struggle at first with temperamental electronics, which cut this illuminative set short. Think of them as a magic carpet of cosmic drones tripping through space or an electric rock raga engaged in cerebral massage.
Temple Of The Fuzz Witch
Oh, how I have missed the epic riffs of doom from Temple Of The Fuzz Witch. Few can approach the singular dark perfection of Black Sabbath. However, Temple of The Fuzz Witch is definitely high priests of craft. They regaled us with tales of the Dark Lord from their masterful Red Tide album, including the punishing “Baphomet.” The band also included a new one called “A Call to Prey,” which features blackened vocals unleashing maximal evil.
Remember that time you hit a bong packed with sinsemilla and took a hit so deep you thought your lungs would explode? If you do, you were probably listening to the Velvet Snakes at the time. These guys are full of a ’70s psych vibe on a super fuzz train. Think of a raw and edgy Iron Butterfly or 13th Floor Elevator, and you’ll get the picture.
While their website says “probably less punk than you think,” Human Skull came out hard to close out night one of Fuzz Fest 8. Their accelerated punk pacing with hints of early Radiohead and REM was intact, yet there was less time to stare at your shoes and more time to get physical. Their quick, sharp shot to the solar plexus felt good and well-earned.
Second Night of Fuzz
On the second night of Fuzz Fest 8, my true love gave to meeeeee! Eleven bands a wailing, ten amps a burning, nine cymbals crash, eight mics a squealing, seven toms a tapping, six strings blazing, five fingers not even close to shit ass death punching, three eyes a winking, two ears a ringing, and one big ass grin from ear to ear. Honestly, I was dragging ass on night one, yet I felt like I’d drank a gallon of Super Duper Mega Bien blend in between crunching on No Doze. Let’s say I was amped, and so was Ann Arbor. The Blind Pig was packed for a set jammed with hometown legends and one group of new kids itching to tear it up.
Starting day two with a melodic dream set to music is The Soma Sisters. They take the roots of middle eastern music to sow a symphony of meditation. I found myself wondering how this music could be simple yet complex. They built a fortress of melody that was as strong as the light of the sun and just as delicate.
While I remember enjoying Child Sleep when I first caught them at Fuzz Fest 7, I was once again knocked out by how wonderful they sounded. It really shouldn’t be a shock, yet it was. The uplifting melodies riding spacious waves of rhythm with a touch of drone were divine. There is magic in Child Sleep.
It is a testament to the timelessness of music when a legendary band from the early 80s comes out and sounds as fresh as anything made today. NonFiction featuring a family affair with brothers Ben and Laurence Miller on guitar/bass and Barret Miller on drums, revived their unique brand of avant-garde hard-rocking pop. Their smoldering set had every eye and heart glued to the stage.
Carbon Decoy is a monstrous band that keeps getting better and better every time I see them. Within a few short years, this band honed their exotic tidal wave of hot electric fuzz into a storming typhoon of raging riffs and soul-soaking rhythms. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again, and again, this band is guaranteed to blow your mind. They pegged the meters and kept that needle slammed into the red for a set of furious bliss.
Nope, that isn’t Negative Approach; that is Easy Action. This hard-driving rock band with a snarling punk attitude features the familiar faces of John Brannon (vocals), Ron Sakowski (bass), Harold Richardson (guitar), and John Lehl (drums). John Brannon mentioned that this was his first time back at the Blind Pig since he was kicked out years ago when in the Laughing Hyenas. Easy Action made the most of this Blind Pig experience by delivering fist-to-the-face rock to the packed house. There is a certain level of cathartic release in the smashing drums, pummeling bass, and roaring vocals and guitar. Easy Action is the definition of living life loud.
Dr. Peter Larson
For something completely different, Dr. Peter Larson manned the controls for a palate cleanser of dark techno. Throbbing with supercharged particles, where we are but vapor in the void, this music was insistent and yet patient. I thought of the fabulous electronic soundscapes from EnD. What a show those two acts could put together. A highly intriguing snack on a full menu of fuzz.
Deniz Tek’s punk rock roots were sown in Ann Arbor, and his hometown was thrilled to see him return. For 45 minutes, Deniz, with Al King on drums, Anne Tek on guitar, and Fuzz Fest’s own Chris Taylor on bass, enthralled the room with a wall of sound. Deniz is a master craftsman of rock stories that make you feel alive. The guitars hammered home anthems of moody danger while simultaneously being bright and enlightening. The drums and bass pounded into clarity, the uncluttered straight-to-the-heart music as the sweat poured on stage. Deniz’s impassioned vocals sealed the deal and captivated the audience.
King Under the Mountain
You could imagine the working songs for the dwarves of Khazad-dûm sounding like the music of King Under the Mountain. This instrumental three-piece are Fuzz Fest veterans, and it is a treat to experience their monumental music shaking the room all the way to the core of the earth. The massive sludgy guitars and bass forged heavy metals as they merged with the relentless drums in controlled chaos. The King Under the Mountain has spoken.
Barbed Wire Playpen
Years ago, I was in a metal band in Ann Arbor. One of the bands that flew in our circle was the maniacs in Barbed Wire Playpen. Seeing these crossover thrashers back at it after all these years was quite a surprise. They played a frenetic set of their signature seizure-inducing break-neck no-holds-barred thrash as if their lives depended on it. You only live once, and it was great to see these guys on stage squeezing the hell out of every moment with their patented kung-fu grip.
Every time I see Slumlord Radio, I thank the criminal mob that ran them out of their Swedish homeland and into our lives. Typically, the wee hours at Fuzz Fest find a surprisingly dwindled crowd. I’m not sure what the hell is up with that. However, a hearty crew of stalwart fans was ready to rock out with Slumlord Radio. The band wound up on Red Bull and perhaps other stimulants, slammed out of the gate, and didn’t let up. As the liquid light show painted pictures on their faces, the band put the meat on the table full of burly riffs. Fueling this performance was a megalithic slab of driving drums and bass. Boom!
Picture a pitch-black 1960s Lincoln with the throttle punched and the guy riding shotgun hanging out of the suicide doors with a fist in the air. He keeps that fist punched to the sky as the car skids around corners before shooting down straightaways. It is as if this guy has nothing to lose and everything to gain by living in the moment, to the hilt, where every minute of dripping sweat is poured into the adventure. This is the sound of Mazinga. Their performance was a full-throttle punk rock funny car digging down the track without a chute. It’s a wild ride and scary fun.
Third Night of Fuzz
Saturday, August 5th, was the final night of Fuzz Fest 8. In a way, Fuzz Fest is a marathon. You’ve trained to stand for hours on end. You’ve hardened your nervous system to feed from a fire hose of sound. You’ve galvanized your mind for the constant stream of inner dialogue as you try to comprehend the talent, dedication, sacrifice, and love of the musicians as they give everything they have on the stage. This is the last night, and you know that it is so worth it, so you push on for the finish line.
You gotta love when you see a band for the first time, and they knock you down with a jaw-dropping set of hard-hitting grooves edging into a freakout. That is what happened when I witnessed Glass Chimera. I knew a couple of the dudes (Aaryn – drums and Scott – guitar), so I had a feeling this would be good. I had no clue. Glass Chimera unleashed a gigantic meteor of rock music. At times, I thought of the guitar-fueled jams of Earthless with an indescribable edge. Glass Chimera put on a powerful performance that left me wanting more and more and more.
With a guitar, vocals, and an abundance of effects, Witchpucker created a uroboric hallucination of sound. This music was a sonic mirage with notes sparking on the horizon. You weren’t sure where one song ended, and the other began. The vocals and guitar become one before escaping into another plane of existence. Witchpucker’s ambient explorations left us fascinated.
Volt Amps is a new hard rock band formed by veteran rockers to create something all their own. Their music is abrasive, groovy, unpretentious, and just left of center. Volt Amps is difficult, at best, to put in any category, as you’ll hear metal, you’ll hear rap, you’ll hear rock, and you’ll hear avant-garde. Did I mention you’ll experience all that in one song? Guitars were put to the test as the bass and drums kept an eye on the target. Full of muscular riffs, a bit of Hendrix flash, and humorous lyrics, Volt Amps left you wondering what had just happened.
Kat Steih and the Ferals
Kat Steih and the Ferals’ performance was more than music; it was a show. Kat danced and invited the crowd to share her delight as they played lyrical, upbeat, and slightly jazzy music with pop intentions. Illustrations were drawn on a whiteboard at various points in the show, and masks were given to the audience. It was fun, heartfelt, and memorable.
Another legendary band to play Fuzz Fest 8 was State. Building their own hardcore sound based on the MC5, Minor Threat, and Black Flag, this band still has punk coursing through their vans. They cranked out one blasting song after another with unbelievable energy. You had a sense that this is more than music; it is life. That every shouted word, charging chord, and blistering beat is essential. Their messages of resistance, of fighting for what is right, make their music as crucial as ever.
I’m not sure I can even pretend to give you an unbiased portrait of the performance by Warhorses at Fuzz Fest 8. In one word: irresistible. In another word: commanding. Warhorses demonstrated why they are one of the best rock bands in the nation. Every note, every beat, every breath radiated with power and passion. Passion for music is a recurring theme at Fuzz Fest 8. You could feel it from the fans, and you certainly could feel it from the bands. This passion for and from the music of Warhorses wrapped us tight in an aural embrace. Each song is a canticle within this church of Rock. Long live Rock and Roll.
Witchfist, the duo of witches from Midland, arrived at Fuzz Fest 8 to cast their spell. Sludgy guitars and snapping drums formed fuzzy incantations guaranteed to summon the King of Toads. Fueled by PBR and reeking of the swamp, Witchfist enchanted the audience with songs of maleficium issued with a cunning smile.
In a hyper-kinetic blast of grinding hardcore punk with the vehemence of 1000 suns, Minus9 discharged hell on Earth. The unabated barrage of drum and bass was both radiant and arresting. Minus9 pack in more notes and beats in a thirty-minute set than some bands produce in a lifetime.
The Jackpine Snag
I WAS OVERJOYED when I saw that The Jackpine Snag was playing Fuzz Fest 8. I became an instant fan when I first saw them at Fuzz Fest 3. Tonight, they were post-hardcore pit vipers striking hard and inflicting devastation with every crushing blow. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Helmet, but with better vocals. The smashing drums, battering bass, and savage guitar culminated in an exquisite performance. It was so good that I had to stop taking photos and just be one with the remarkable onslaught.
Rocking with heavy-duty riffs that punch at the sky and melodic vocals that scintillate and captivate, Electric Huldra gave one hell of a performance. Writhing with the rhythm, the crowd couldn’t help but be transfixed. The drum and bass demanded your attention while the guitar and vocals soared in rapturous bliss. As their name implies, this band is hot, seductive, and amazing.
The glorious climax of Fuzz Fest 8 was Thrall’s raucous sermon from the mount. Mike Hard, dressed in a suit, raved like a televangelist preacher. My mind thought, “The power of Rock compels you! The power of Rock compels you. The power of Rock COMPELS YOU!” Scott Kodrik’s guitar blazed to the hypnotic and enticing groove laid bare by Karen Neal (bass) and Cliff Carinci (drums). Together they bound us with their beckoning music. You couldn’t look away as the beguiling performance saturated every pore. Thrall’s gripping music that was charged with insanity held us in a vice until just after 2 am when it was time to call it a night.
For three nights, Fuzz Fest 8 mesmerized, tantalized and captivated devotees with an unmatched array of music. We hope you enjoyed this recap of the festival. Be sure to drop us a line and let us know what you think. In our galleries, you can find more photos from Fuzz Fest 8, day one, day two, and day three.
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