Now in its 14th year I think it’s safe to say that, after the Vale Earth Fair, Chaos (aka Chaos Weekend or Chaos Festival) is one of the most established events in the Channel Islands music calendar regularly attracting visitors from Jersey, the U.K. and mainland Europe.
Over that time it’s developed hugely from a simple biker party, arguably reaching its biggest for its 10th anniversary when Irish rockers Therapy? headlined.
Now though it seems to have settled into a happy medium between its modest beginnings and its most ambitious highs, with two stages running all weekend spanning everything from technical death metal to acoustic folk to psytrance, and this year attracted one of the biggest crowds to the scenic fields of Pleinmont.
For his performance this year he had forsaken his usual acoustic guitar for some well constructed backing tracks over which he delivered a kind of rap and spoken word series of songs.
While the content was generally the same as in the past, spanning satire to undeniably divisive humour, it’s hard to deny his lyrics are, at their best, genuinely clever and well delivered and he makes it hard to know quite where the performance begins and ends.
The main stage got underway with a sound very traditional to Chaos as newcomers (in this form) From Darkness brought a set of modern style heavy metal.
Clearly taking influence from bands of the 90s like Machine Head and Pantera and 2000s like Slipknot, they may not be breaking new ground but sound still decent doing it, though the explanation of the songs between them wasn’t really needed.
That said they set the stage well for what was to come and young drummer Luke Corbin was a particular standout.
The heavy metal continued next with another new band made up of some familiar faces, Ironfoot.
They had a good run at a series of metal classics from the likes of Dio, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Pantera with varying levels of success but were generally all enjoyable and, with Guernsey guitar legend Gordie Liu on lead, the solos were impeccable.
Over in The Peace Tent things were a little more relaxed with Kiya Ashton continuing her run of recent fine performances, despite the maybe slightly too ‘relaxed’ audience, most of whom, at this point, I think were still getting over the night before.
A little later The Cor Damme Lars fared slightly better in engaging the now growing evening audience and admirably dealing with some power issues on stage (while the technical crew admirably dealt with it off stage). This got the energy up before the night’s more electric session that began with The Phantom Cosmonaut.
Byzanthian Neckbeard are a band who only appear sporadically so it’s always good to have the chance to see them and this was no exception.
Across their set the doom three-piece perfectly balanced extremity with great songs and a monstrous groove that powered the whole performance.
Making something a little more of it for the occasion they were joined by Daz Carre, one of the lead men behind the scenes at Chaos and an established performer and musician himself, for one song before closing the set on the epic Hive Mind Overlord with Jersey metallers Masticated’s frontman Joey Sequeira guesting on vocals, making for a highlight set of the weekend.
Continuing to rack up the list of Channel Islands festivals they’ve played following Sark Roots and Vale Earth Fair last year, Weymouth’s The Surfin’ Birds were the first U.K. act of the weekend to take to the stage.
With quite a following in the islands already the band brought a surfy psychedelic sound to Chaos in contrast to the metal earlier in the evening and went down well doing it.
The addition of an organ to their sound continued to add to their retro vibe, but I unfortunately only caught the first part of their set due to what was happening over in The Peace Tent.
Every now and the a band come along who, for whatever reason, really capture the imagination and enter the island’s musical canon in what could be called ‘legendary’ status.
From Vengeance and The Risk in the 80s to Nemesis in the 90s, the early to mid 2000s brought us (amongst others) Mechanical Lobster.
Having played what looked set to be their last gig at the Chaos weekend 11 years ago, rumours began circulating earlier this year that they would be making a one-off return and, as their set time neared in The Peace Tent, it was clear this had captured the imagination of many as the tent was packed long before they took to the stage.
Once their own technical peculiarities were sorted they wasted no time in delivering a rousing and powerful performance of their brand of industrial metal that made them, in their way, Guernsey’s answer to Rammstein (albeit with less actual pyrotechnics).
Despite not having listened to them in sometime I was amazed at how much their songs had stuck in my head and the wash of nostalgia for these tracks gripped the crowd throughout leading to probably the most intense reaction to a band The Peace Tent has seen with the pit going for the duration of the set complete with crowd surfing and more.
Ironically this was probably the tightest and slickest performance I’ve seen from Mechanical Lobster and seemed to feel like a good final send off for this band who fizzled out somewhat a decade ago and served to prove their reputation.
Back on the main stage the first night was brought to a close by electronic rock titans Blakalaska.
Perfectly designed for big stages and sound systems, the five-piece sounded huge and, even with The Peace Tent seeming to capture the bigger crowd thanks to Lobster, still held a big audience bringing the first day of Chaos to a rousing close.
The second day of Chaos often starts with a couple of Guernsey’s younger bands getting a chance to show their stuff and this year was no different.
First of them was Isle Stone who really embraced the 90s alt rock sound with covers from the likes of Rage Against The Machine, Red Hit Chilli Peppers and Alice In Chains.
While they’re still growing in their stage confidence they gave a spirited performance and brought some of the energy and depth needed for the likes of Rage and Pearl Jam.
Track Not Found were second of the young bands and started with a song featuring Kiya Ashton, apparently about her cat, before getting into their main set.
This felt like another step forward for the young band and they drew a big crowd for the early slot and newer song, the subtly titled Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, showed not just their developing songwriting but also that they don’t seem to care about preconceived ideas of what a young band like them should be (which is very nice to see).
It might only have been their third gig in this form but Coastal Fire Dept are certainly more longstanding musicians and, with their no-nonsense classic grunge sound, were a nice follow-up to Track Not Found.
While subject matter like Ted Bundy and domestic violence might seem a little dark for a Saturday afternoon, their unconventional stage presence and powerful sound that spanned everything from a Dinosaur Jr to Weezer sounded great while Ladykiller is a catchy sing along tune that could really catch on, even if it is about a serial killer.
Whenever and where ever you might catch Brunt their slow and powerful instrumental doom rock simply is what it is so, while seeing them mid afternoon might be a bit incongruous, their tight delivery couldn’t help but build a dreamlike atmosphere to get lost in and nod along to.
With the bike show awards going on the main arena I headed back over to The Peace Tent to catch Elliot Falla.
Having been away from the island and gigging with a full band (The Blue Valentines) his confidence has grown further and, while he was somewhat background music at this time in this location, it’s clear his vocal delivery, which has felt forced in the past, is developing into his own more natural style.
The afternoon loud and heavy session in The Peace Tent has become something of an expected thing and this year it went to Dolmens.
The four-piece continued their impressive run of shows and fit this slot perfectly creating a great atmosphere for both those still chilling out on the exceptionally warm afternoon and those beginning to gear up for the evening to come.
Watercolour Matchbox began the evening session on the main stage to an audience that, if they weren’t dressed in black and leather, could have been mistaken for the Sark Folk Festival crowd as they were all sat in neat lines on folding chairs.
This didn’t deter the prog metallers though as they delivered a set far more direct than I’ve seen from them in the past that was about as tight and slick a musical performance as was seen all weekend.
Sitting down was not an option once Jersey gypsy ska sextet The Pirates were on stage as they once again reminded me that they are one of those bands from the other island I forget how much I enjoy until I see them again.
Their drunken party sound couldn’t have been much more suitable for a night like this and they got a good number up and moving in preparation for what was to come.
Back over in The Peace Tent and The Recks hit the stage with a purpose following their recent mini-tour of the U.K. and ahead of their appearance on the BBC Introducing stage at Latitude Festival, and delivered a set that was tighter than their usual but still contained that essential energy that has made their name.
As the set went in they may have got a little looser but it was a rousing performance none the less and closed with a pair of encores of longtime favourites Spanish Relations and Lights making for an arguable weekend stealing performance.
Another band looking to steal the weekend were The Honest Crooks.
The ska band have been gradually building their reputation over the last couple of years and their performance on the main stage here had the feel of something of a watershed moment for them.
They had the big Saturday night crowd moving to their songs and, while they may have been a band to watch before, they are now an essential one on the Guernsey scene.
The name of the weekend might be Chaos but it seems that the subject of Saturday night’s closing band was where the real disarray of the weekend lay this year.
First came the news on Friday afternoon that half of ska punks Spunge had been involved in a multi car crash in the U.K. en route to the festival – thankfully both were largely unscathed and ended up getting to the island early on Saturday.
Then came the news that travel issues had beset headliners Neck who ended up being stuck on the wrong piece of rock so, as the final sets of Saturday evening neared, it became clear Spunge would once again be taking the headline slot (a familiar location to them from past visits to Chaos).
Given this their set time was somewhat extended and the band proceeded to fill it with as much chat as extra songs and took it all in their stride, along with a serious amount of Breda and Jägermeister.
While the set was good fun and Spunge certainly have more than their share of brilliant skank along material, as midnight neared the drink had started to take its toll on the band (and some of the audience) leaving it in, I guess somewhat suitably, chaotic fashion but confirming The Honest Crooks as the night’s main stage highlight.
For the second year the afternoon session of Chaos’ third day was given over to the Sound Guernsey battle of the bands that gave young bands from across the Channel Islands a chance to win not just pride but a recording session and music video as well.
Making her third appearance of the weekend the battle was started by Kiya Ashton and while she had a little tuning trouble likely due to the increasingly muggy weather, she started the day off well and certainly sounded like a potential contender.
Zak Trimmer continued things with his mix of acoustic guitar and laptop beats.
While he seemed a little more nervous on the big Chaos stage than at the Sound nights at The Fermain Tavern his set of original songs still sounded good, highlighted by Snowflakes.
Playing only their third show Peregrine were entirely new to me, but their mix of rock covers bolstered by the unique sound of an electric violin impressed once they settled into it
The original song they chose to close on was equally impressive with a lighter, middle era Beatles feel to it showing promise of great things to come.
Probably the most long-standing band in the contest were Cosmic Fish who were the tightest I’ve seen them and did a great job of bringing the pop punk style of the likes of Green Day or Blink 182 to life. While still a little rhythmically undisciplined they remain undeniable fun.
In keeping the rest of the weekend’s pan island flavour the battle of the band’s for the first time welcomed an act for Jersey in the form of Mezra.
Delivering their own take on powerful bluesy rock combining the modern style with some classic touches thanks to an organ, they were undeniably the most confident band so far and got the crowd clapping along and involved nicely.
Isle Stone continued where they’d left off on Saturday lunchtime, building in confidence once again with drummer Zach Ellis particularly standing out and including on a surprisingly powerful and uncensored rendition of Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name.
Despite a bit of a slip at the start of recent single Science, Track Not Found put in another strong performance and once again showed why they are the complete package of songs, look and delivery.
Defending champions Vice rounded off the battle of the bands with more original songs and a charismatic and fun performance.
Newest song Banshee was a particular standout and, while they weren’t as tight as some, when it did all click their performance worked very well.
With the judging being done by the bands on a peer-to-peer kind of basis the results were quickly tallied and saw Mezra named as this year’s winner with Track Not Found and Kiya Ashton on second and third respectively.
While I’m never sure on the competitive side of a battle of the bands what is great about an afternoon like this is that it gives all these new performers a real chance to get heard by a wider audience and shows us a hint at some of the talent just bubbling under on the islands’ music scene.
With a break in proceedings on the main stage it was time for another jaunt to The Peace Tent where Sunday afternoon is traditionally a very relaxed affair and this seemed to indeed be the case.
Originally formed in Guernsey but now based in London, Wondergeist brought some chilled out, showgaze influenced indie to proceedings.
More focussed in their new three-piece form than when I’ve seen them in the past the band were perfectly suited to the atmosphere and went down very well with those relaxing in the sun after the earlier rain showers.
Later in the evening, while the main stage was back up and rocking, the final set of the weekend in The Peace Tent is more than worthy of note as it saw the return to action of The Crowman, aka Mark Le Gallez, and his Crowband after a seven month break.
The Crowman’s performance may have been slightly more subdued than sometimes but sounded great with the extra instrumentation provided by the band really lifting the sounds and new songs showing that, even when not on stage, this most prolific of songwriters is never resting.
It was Burning At Both Ends who had the unenviable task of starting the final session on the main stage and, while the audience was largely content to sit at a distance, the band put in a spirited and fun performance with frontman Peter Mitchell possibly the most relaxed and chatty I remember seeing him on stage.
On top of that the clear PA meant that some of the band’s lyrics were easier to hear than usual and, as is something of a trademark of the better end of pop punk, Burning At Both Ends have some gems in their songs too.
The weekend’s final burst of heaviness then began in earnest with the annual outing for The Crazy Babies, Guernsey’s premier (and, admittedly, only) Ozzy Osbourne tribute band.
While three days, and as many performances, into the festival meant frontman Stace Blondel’s voice seemed to somewhat worse for wear, the band were their usual fun selves with lead guitarist Steve Baker astounding with his take on the work of Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wilde, Tony Iommi, et al and bass player Wookie being the only performer of the weekend to take a mid set toilet break without even stopping playing (I’m not asking how he managed this exactly).
While I only caught a few songs from Granite Wolf as they clashed with The Crowman what I saw was worthy of note as it was, if anything, even more direct and refreshingly uncompromising than usual and drew a crowd to the front even late in the day on Sunday.
Things were then rounded off by Jersey regulars Demise of Sanity.
Despite frontman Sam Delanoe also struggling with his voice at the end of an intense weekend they delivered some very nicely done power thrash, Viking metal and let’s be honest it’s hard to argue with songs about Valhalla at a rock festival.
The fourteenth edition of Chaos then was as varied as its ever been, but, with stand out sets from many bands and then overall highlights from Mechanical Lobster, Byzanthian Neckbeard, The Recks and The Honest Crooks, as well as one of the biggest attendances of recent years, it’s set the bar high for the islands’ 2018 summer festival season.