After seemingly settling back into a winning formula last year, Chaos returned for a 15th time to the Pleinmont headland in Guernsey over the weekend of 28th to 30th June 2019.
With two stages running for the three days it was possibly the most varied Chaos event yet with musical styles ranging from early UK punk and crushing doom metal to North African folk and the ‘Ad Hoc’ recorder band.
Not only that but it felt the most diverse in other ways with probably the widest age range of performers ever along with an appearance by Kain’s Torment who plays a homemade guitar from his wheelchair, but more about him later.
There was something of an extra sense of celebration to the event as well, given that two of the organisers got married the day before making the whole thing something of an extended wedding party (and I challenge anyone to stage a better wedding party than this!).
With Europe in the grip of a heatwave Guernsey was certainly feeling the effects of it too as I headed up to the festival site on the Friday afternoon to find The Peace Tent crew putting the finishing touches to their psychedelic home for the weekend.
The music started in slightly more relaxed form than usual as Jojan, the duo of folk club regulars Jan Trott and ‘Scotts’ John Coffey, delivered a selection of classic songs in their own acoustic style.
Largely drawing from the 60s and 70s they included songs from the likes of The Carpenters, Simon & Garfunkel and Lindisfarne but it was a version of Gershwin’s jazz standard Summertime that most fit the mood.
After playing the national anthem… well ok, the theme from BBC sports show Grandstand… Silas The Assyrian Assassin was back on The Peace Tent stage for what he suggested might be the last time — despite that sad news he treated us to a set of his own take on hip hop covering his usual range of potentially controversial subjects.
What struck once again was that, despite a reputation (rightly or wrongly) as something of a comedy act, in this form he does have some great tracks and some clever lyrics and he was on top form once again here… just maybe check your sensitivities at the door…
Opening the main stage at Chaos can be both an honour and something of a curse as it generally kicks off before the bigger crowds arrive and can leave a band playing to a mostly empty tent.
While the audience was larger than sometimes the heat in the main tent did render many somewhat lethargic and Drunken Promises‘ pop rock covers didn’t do much to rouse them.
The band too seemed to be somewhat low energy but did pick up as the set went on with a highlight being their take at Hole’s Celebrity Skin.
While the name certainly suggested something fairly obvious, Steve Against The Machine were something of an unknown quantity before they took to the stage but, as they did and it became clear this was half of past Chaos favourites Static Alice and half of fun punk rockers Jawbone.
Tearing through a set of Rage Against The Machine songs they had a tremendous energy and, while frontman Steve Scratton did a great job with the thankless task of channeling Zack De La Rocha, it was guitarist Luis Morais who was star of the show playing Tom Morello’s unique guitar parts brilliantly — at one point I think he was even playing with an allen key and the pick up selector!
This certainly helped up the energy heading into the evening and I hope we get to see more of Steve Against The Machine soon.
While The Crowman and his Crowband were having skiffle style fun in The Peace Tent with the line up on this occasion featuring three guitars and a banjolele, there was some new punk rock from Jersey on the main stage.
The latest iteration of the seemingly ever swirling maelstrom that exists in the punk scene on our neighbouring island, Batwing, featuring former members of Short Was Found amongst other bands, delivered some furious and insistent punk rock.
As ever the style would be better suited to a more engaged crowd but the four-piece gave it their all and seemed to win over some new fans while going down well with those already familiar with them.
With the air starting to the cool The Peace Tent became home to a full blown reggae party as an apparently rejuvenated Rentoclean took to the stage and got people moving with their new lineup sounding maybe the best I’ve heard them, bringing back the feeling they had when they first started making waves a few summers ago.
The party was going off on the main stage too thanks to Jersey rockers Flashmob.
Long known for their party metal stylings the band have had a bit of a line up change since I last saw them with Sam Delanoe taking on frontman duties. While known for more serious metal fare he brings something of that to play here but without getting in the way of the fun and with lead guitarist Sam Mezec they make a formidable team.
The highlight of their set came with a medley of Queen tracks bookended by the opening and closing of Bohemian Rhapsody that saw Mezec on piano and Delanoe on guitar and was possibly one of the most impressive single moments I’ve witnessed at Chaos.
Upping the heaviness next to possibly the furthest they reached all weekend came Byzanthian Neckbeard.
With a new album on the horizon they took this opportunity its to give us a preview by playing the whole thing, embedding us for nearly an hour in a mire of doom laden power and groove.
With more use of dual vocals from Phil Skyrme and Dan Robilliard along with a huge sound they delivered one of the best extreme sets I can recall hearing at Chaos to date and I can’t wait for the record to drop!
Sharing some of the same DNA as Byzanthian Neckbeard but taking it in a rather different direction, veteran Guernsey hardcore band Insurrection had the job of preceding the night’s headliners.
Despite a frustratingly static audience (it was clear lead vocalist Mark Le Page was doing his best to get them going) the five-piece played with enormous passion and power.
While Mark is a bellowing embodiment of fury at the state of the world, he’s brilliantly counterpointed by the vocals of Ian Allsopp while the waves of distortion coming from Jon Langlois’ guitar and the insistent, driving rhythms of Pip Blondin (drums) and Pete Riddle (bass) provide an excellently unsettling backdrop that lacks the easy digestibility of much modern punk and is all the better for it.
As an extra bonus the band were joined on stage by Chloe Ferguson for How Do They Feel, adding her vocal parts as on their latest album Age Of Fear before they closed with another track from that record, Dealers, which made for a strong climax to a great set.
Ever since Subhumans were announced as visiting headliners for Chaos there had been excitement in certain circles of the islands’ music scene and, while I wasn’t particularly familiar with their music, the old school punk quartet’s reputation certainly had my interest piqued.
Displaying huge energy from the off it was instantly clear what all the fuss was about as frontman Dick Lucas, leader of the band since 1980, delivered an astonishing performance that seemed to marry the ‘wired’ energy of youth with his evident knowledge and experience.
The rest of the band weren’t far behind either as they tore through a set of no frills punk that had the crowd moshing and shouting the lyrics back to the band throughout.
A lot of younger bands could learn from the energy on show here and, as is often the case, the initially apparently simple punk rock revealed itself to have far more behind the raging guitars, bass and drums as the set went on.
Between songs Lucas took to the time to tell us the points he was making but never in a hectoring or lecturing fashion, perfectly judging the audience he was in front of and never leaving too much space to breathe.
Highlights for me came with Subvert City, Apathy and new song 99% but there really wasn’t a low point in the set.
After having some fun with the crowd about the rather odd ‘one more song’ chant that has become a bit of a thing at gigs in Guernsey recently and the ‘spontaneous’ nature of the encore, which was of course written in the band’s setlist, Lucas and co gave us four more songs to close the first night of Chaos 15 with a set that was one for the best the festival has ever seen.
After the high energy and high volume of Friday night the second day of Chaos 15 started in a more low key form on both stages.
Folk club and Chaos veteran Phil Capper kicked off the day on the main stage with his brand of acoustic folk rock while it was the Ad Hoc Recorders who started the day in The Peace Tent with a selection of tunes, ranging from Bohemian Rhapsody to the theme from Tetris via Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and the theme tune to Fawlty Towers on a bewildering array of versions of the wood wind instrument.
They were closely followed by the weekend’s youngest performer, seven year old Soren, who surprised everyone with a strong run at Cranberries’ exploration of the Northern Irish Troubles, Zombie!
Things started to get a bit more lively on the main stage with last year’s battle of the bands winners Mezra.
Despite their young age the five-piece from Jersey came out with huge presence both musically and in terms of stage craft as they grooved through a set of tight indie rock with flashes of funk and 1960s blues rock thrown into the mix.
Their own song Tell Me was a real highlight and could be a hit single by anyone’s standards while a good run at Foo Fighters’ Everlong (a song that seems far harder to cover than one might expect) and set closer Frank Turner’s Four Simple Words all showed why they won the battle last year and could have seen them go down a storm anywhere on the line up here.
A strong shift in mood (something that became a running theme for the day) came next as we were given a view into Kain’s Torment.
Mixing backing tracks with guitar played live the music was a swirling atmospheric maelstrom that certainly lived up to the artist’s moniker.
Most impressively was that the whole thing was delivered using a custom made guitar and pedal rig from his wheel chair.
Along with a series of effects pedals, including a wah pedal activated by moving his head, the centrepiece of the rig was an 18 string, almost lap steel like, guitar and all was delivered with more performance and presence than I have seen from some musicians not so restricted in movement, though it certainly didn’t make for easy listening!
Unfortunately typically wonky time slips in The Peace Tent meant that for the early part of their set the folk duo were battling the noise of the burnouts in the main field but they and the audience mostly took it with good humour.
Again starting with the unique sound of the harmonium they went on to do what they do so well playing murder ballads and folk songs, both traditional and original, and keeping the audience engrossed.
They were joined again by fiddle player Andrew Degnen for a few songs too and provided a great musical alternative to the bike show.
The evening session on the main stage got underway with some ‘Grunge From The Vale’ thanks to Coastal Fire Dept.
Clearly fired up from the start they delivered one of the most energetic performances I’ve seen from them, bolstered now by the lead guitar of Henry Fears that adds a new element, and in the case of today, some literal new blood, to their show.
For the last part of the set they were joined by a third guitarist, To The Woods main man and in fact founder member of CFD, Bobby Battle for a few songs including a strong take on Silverchair’s Freak, To The Woods’ Taxi and their now obligatory set closer, The Vaselines’, Molly’s Lips.
For a one off the three guitar assault worked brilliantly and there’s no denying the presence Bobby adds whenever he takes to the stage and with Henry adding his own rock ‘n’ roll ending to proceedings it certainly showed the band taking another step forward as they prepare for the release of their first recordings, just a shame the crowd in the big tent were mostly sat down for the duration of the set…
There was prog-tinged metal up next from WaterColour Matchbox who were heavier than I’ve ever heard them and it worked very well.
Added to this their usual tight playing had a more organic feel that I can only assume has come out of the band writing together rather than playing the songs originally written as a studio project by lead duo of Peter Mitchell and Mikey Ferbrache (who incidentally looked like he was channeling Sisters Of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch circa Floodland, whether intentionally or not), added to which they all seemed to be having more fun on stage than ever which was certainly infectious.
It was another change of pace next as Silverados delivered a set of rockabilly favourites and pop tracks with an added rockabilly flavour.
While some of this was a little at odds with the setting it went done very well and their raft of Stray Cats covers helped make up a little for my missing the real thing this week.
With a great fun and energetic performance, highlighted by their take on Rumble In Brighton they got the atmosphere in the main tent up nicely heading into the evening.
The good atmosphere certainly continued to build as Maiden Guernsey made a rare appearance, running through hit after hit from Iron Maiden’s back catalogue, complete with track intros and even their own Eddie!
Often playing in the difficult Sunday evening slot the band let lose here on Saturday clearly having a great time along with the crowd and delivering their performance in fast but controlled fashion making for a feel-good highlight of the weekend.
Joe Corbin has spent the last few years based in London gigging regularly on the city’s blues scene and particularly at the Spiritual Bar in Camden that seems to have become a regular haunt for several Channel Islands artists.
Back here in Guernsey now though and with a new band behind him featuring former Of Empires bass player Liam Bewey and the ubiquitous Ozzy Austin on drums, Joe began with a relaxed couple of tracks including Testify from his recent Brixton Sky EP that with the full band had a great groove to it.
From there he was headlong back into more familiar territory for this audience with a set of classic blues spanning Robert Johnson to The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan with Joe’s former bandmate in Spoonful, Andy Mason, joining them on harmonica.
With the band keeping the rhythm and groove in place like a rock Joe was given free rein to do his best hyper expressive work on his Stratocaster that feels like and extension of him as he plays and he does bring something of the SRV persona to the stage.
Amongst the other material original track Butcher’s Blues was a stand out and The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues left many calling for more.
While the main stage got the blues, the party was kicking off in The Peace Tent as The Honest Crooks and a few special guests got the place jumping and skanking to their punk-y ska sounds.
I only caught three songs of the set but if they were anything to go by it was another Chaos moment for the band who’ve become annual favourites.
In probably the biggest stylistic shift of the day on the main stage Demise Of Sanity followed up Corbin’s blues with a dose of thrash metal.
With a big crowd, many of whom stuck around from Joe’s set, they delivered possibly the best performance I’ve seen from them mixing their own material with a few well chosen covers.
A particular highlight came with their version of Metallica’s Creeping Death that showed off not just the band’s skill but frontman Sam Delanoe’s (yes, the same one from Flashmob) very effective stage presence, before they closed their set on an immense sounding slice of Gojira.
While this looked like it might be a bit similar the band has recently expanded, adding Eddy Smith on keyboard allowing them to more faithfully recreate live, the sound they’ve been producing on record for a few years.
In the past much comparison has been drawn between Rob and Joe Corbin but seeing them both in such close proximity it’s clear how both have taken the blues and developed in their own styles with Hunter and his band making something now that marries their ‘dirty blues’ with something more easily digestible, including a tremendous on stage energy and presence.
As tight as they come the band were on tremendous form despite playing Camden the previous night and heading for the boat to Guernsey at 4am, showing just how professional a unit they now are.
While a lot of the set dealt in upbeat power blues with Rolling Thunder they did show some dynamics and tonal changes while, with all four members now adding vocals, they included some great harmonies throughout and particularly on new song Torn Down written during their recent tour of Spain.
Closing the set on long time favourite Flaws, which has developed into something huge, they were soon called back for an encore of recent single, but familiar live favourite, Hurricane that ended the night with a suitable bang.
After Cramps O’Clock got the day going in The Peace Tent (you can find a playlist of everything I played in this year’s hour of proto-psychobilly madness by clicking here) the first part of the day was given over to the Sound Guernsey Battle Of The Bands for the third year in a row.
To find out who would claim the trophy this year, following in the footsteps of Vice and Mezra, eight young bands would play three songs each with the winner decided based on scores from the members of the other bands.
4th In The Trilogy were first up and were one of the bands I’d heard good things about and it was clear why as they delivered a Blink-182 track and two from Nirvana with real tightness and energy with their singer adding real meaning to his delivery.
Just Smile were totally new to me and warmed up across their short set of covers culminating with a brave take on Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall. Their singer certainly had some strong energy while the lead guitarist with the white Stratocaster was a standout player.
Former winners Vice were back looking to become two-time champions and, with a set of all their own material, it was a strong outing.
The band continue to grow with every performance and were clearly more experienced on stage than the preceding acts, it just feels like the rest of the band need to find the spark and power to match that of singer Jessie’s voice to take things to the next level.
Another band I’d not had a chance to see yet but that came strongly recommended were Case On The Base and with their pair of original songs and take on Nirvana’s In Bloom I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
With a good confidence and attitude, as well as a tight delivery the highlight of the set was closing original Hypocrisy that had a nice heavy groove.
Last year’s winners Mezra were next, following their appearance on Saturday, and once again showed a talent beyond their years.
Again showcasing some of their own material they delivered a great atmospheric jam type track but the highlight was the same one as yesterday and it closed their short set on a real high point.
Another unknown quantity were Stationary who started out with Back Sabbath’s Iron Man and Alice In Chain’s Man In The Box, continuing the trend for young bands heading into heavier and grungier territory than has been the standard for a few years.
While their delivery of those two tracks was fine they really came to life on final track Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way.
While looking and sounding like possibly the youngest band of the day Sonic Bomb wasted no time in making an impression as their lead guitarist announced ‘We are Sonic Fucking Bomb’ before the launched in their set.
With the guitarist showing a lot of stage presence throughout the whole band were nice and tight too with a highlight being their take on Ozzie Osbourne’s Hellraiser.
Last up was Dead Steady who last year won the Thirst Music School Battle Of The Bands and have been busy making a name for themselves since.
While they were strong out of the gate with their version of Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town it wasn’t the smoothest set I’ve seen them deliver but it still showed a growth in confidence for the band and their set was highlighted by their take on Back Sabbath’s NIB.
Once the scores had been tallied up it was Mezra who once again came out on top but, in a move of extreme decency, they forfeited their entry meaning it was Case On The Base who won not just the trophy but a recording grant from Sound Guernsey and a place on the line up at Chaos next year.
They were closely followed by runners up Stationary and, in third place, 4th In The Trilogy all very deserving and every band came across well and I look forward to seeing more from all of them going forward.
While the Battle of the Bands was going The Peace Tent lived up to its name in many ways with a series of acoustic and folk acts.
As I headed back over Folk On 2 were just coming to the end of their set to be followed by Bordeaux Blue.
Recently formed, the quartet is led by Ernie Roscuet, a veteran of the Channel Islands’ music scene known for his jazz guitar work, here, along with Glenn Holmes, Paul Harrison and the increasingly ubiquitous Andrew Degnen.
They delivered a nice and relaxed set of jazzy and ragtime style songs and, after hearing Ernie playing acoustic, it was great to hear him add something different with a clean vintage arch top guitar tone.
The relaxed music continued with JD & Folk, though in a slightly different form to usual, as John Le Sauvage was joined Glenn Holmes and Andrew Degnen.
Despite having literally no practice the trio sounded great with their selection of country classics and even some original songs that really showed off the skill of the musicians to be able to improvise around a set they previously didn’t know.
Things got a bit more upbeat next, after some increasingly random games with Jonny-O, as Ukuladeez took to the stage.
While they were one of their usual line up short they didn’t let that stop them and had the busy tent laughing at their brilliantly innuendo filled lyrics.
Once again Ellie Mitchell took the lead but all got involved and I imagine they provided quite an education for the younger members of the audience, particularly on highlight track Baker’s Boy.
Track Not Found got the evening session on the main stage underway with a set that was something of a landmark for them as it was their last with Emma Thomas behind the drums.
Along with this singer Grace Tayler was suffering from a sore throat (a common complaint by this point at any festival) but they didn’t let that slow them down as they blasted through their set with possibly more energy than ever.
Starting with the first track they ever played live they worked through most of their well known favourites and really showed how they’ve grown as a band with a relaxed nature between songs (including a story about fried chicken in Basingstoke) and using the stage to its utmost while playing.
Ending on Ecstasy, from their debut EP The Only Way Is Lost, this really did feel like a moment for the band and has already had many people asking what happens next, as, while it seems a new drummer may already be lined up, this line up has left a very strong impression that could be hard to shake.
Ironfoot brought things back into classic metal territory next with a set of tracks by the likes of Dio era Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Metallica and Pantera.
While still a little rough around the edges they delivered the tightest set I have seen from them and there’s no denying the stage presence of frontman Vinny Le Gallez when he’s on form, while even with another festival induced sore throat bass player and second vocalist Tom Relf managed to carry some Iron Maiden quite nicely and Gordie Liu was a guitar master as always.
Combining past members of FalenizzaHorsepower, Bulletproof and Jawbone, three band’s I’ve enjoyed hugely over the years, Swajen were one I’d been looking forward to all weekend.
Combining punk with a kind of heavy grunge and other psychedelic heaviness that hinted at the likes of Melvins, the band were less precise than frontman Dave Spars other projects but no less powerful for it and they had huge energy, particularly for second to last band on the Sunday.
As the set went on things seemed to get faster and even more punk influenced with the final track combining everything we’d heard so far and adding in at atmospheric middle section before ending on a powerful, fast blast and I can’t wait to see Swajen again.
After opening the weekend last year, From Darkness were festival closers this year and did exactly what they’ve come to be known for as well as they ever have, tearing through a set of original, modern heavy metal like few others in the Islands can.
There were moments as the set went on where they still seemed a little self conscious on stage, particularly between songs and I’m not sure how strong the name Cup Of Tea is for a metal track (even though the sentiment actually is).
New track Lost Control was a highlight and they feel like they are on the verge of really establishing their own personality as a band.
Regardless of anything else they kept a big audience for a Sunday night and finished off the fifteenth Chaos strong.
After three days and some of the best weather I remember for the festival, Chaos 15 once again felt like it had regained its own distinct personality and great atmosphere making it one of the better and most varied occurrences of the festival to date, showcasing music from all around the Channel Islands brilliantly while giving us a chance to see punk legends Subhumans about as close as you could ever hope to.