Obsidian Monolith of the Mátra
Spring is finally here to tease our senses into overdrive. Warm sun, cool breezes, drizzle, fresh strawberries, blooming flowers and of course festival headliner announcements. As seeds sprout we look forward to the festival season, formerly known as summer. Throughout Europe the number of independent music festivals has been growing at a steady rate over the past few years. This couldn’t make us any happier. However, there are some pioneers who have been at it for decades. The one dearest to our hearts is Fekete Zaj, which will be hosted for the tenth time this year. We actually consider it the best festival in Hungary, it’s a tall order, but hear me out.
A festival by definition is a day or period of celebration. For centuries festivals were mostly religious gatherings, but now the term festival has been a tad watered down. Yet, in the times of tractor, sausage, EDM and Tupperware festivals, there is a layer which still upholds the old definition. We can argue that subcultures have no better way of sustaining themselves than holding gatherings. Often a parallel with tribal culture is drawn with good reason.
Most of the time subcultural gatherings are held in dingy clubs, abandoned buildings and any other place where they can hide or are tolerated. Sometimes, when the stars align just right and the participants have the will, they can escape the labyrinth of invisibility and celebrate their culture loud and proud. Fekete Zaj and the people behind it have a similar story, and I’m sure you’ve heard many like it.
Fekete Zaj has been around since 2009, but there was an official hiatus between 2014 and 2018. During that time the organisers and audience still gathered at a youth camp in the area, they called these Field Trips. Most festivals that go out of business never return, but Fekete Zaj did the unthinkable. After four years, thanks to the demand generated by the Field Trips the festival was resurrected and it’s strong as ever.
The festival being the legend it is in the local heavy music underground, the initiative gained a huge amount of support from the community from volunteers to donations. The momentum resulted in a truly astonishing line up featuring several international artists such as Alcest, Igorr, Anna von Hausswolff and Crippled Black Phoenix, along with local legends.
Unlike many music festivals Fekete Zaj is less based on a particular genre, but more on a common theme. The name of the festival means something different for everyone. One interpretation that I find particularly fitting for Fekete (black)Zaj (noise) is that black is the colour everyone wears and the noise implies the volume, but perhaps it’s about more than just wearing black and listening to loud music. Common folk usually erroneously assume that this is some kind of Satanic ritual, but what they don’t understand is that without the burden of having to pretend enjoyment and not fearing the negative aspects of life brings out honest joy in people. The key here is honesty, which is the recurring symbol that binds everything together. Nor the organisers or the audience want to hear the next big thing or instant hits, they want to see honest performances by honest artists, even if it is hard to digest, or in occasionally utterly incomprehensible for some. Along the aforementioned international headliners, a number of local legends also gave serious weight to the line up, such as Black Bartók, Middlemist Red, Trillion and Shapat Terror. There is also another band, which comes up frequently during my travels. Whenever someone learns I’m from Hungary, the first thing they ask if I know “VHK.”
VHK (Vágtázó Halottkémek) has been playing shaman punk since 1975, with a dedicated tribe of followers. VHK is among the few bands which perform every day, including the winter edition of Fekete Zaj.
During the winter, the festival goes on for one night only and moves indoors to the grand sanctuary of the Budapest underground, Dürer Kert. The concept is the same as it is for the summer edition, but due to the cold weather and limited time, it feels like that the crowd is making just a bit more of an effort to seize the moment.
For days before Téli Zaj we were trying to set up an agenda to see the optimal number of acts during the festival, but as usual, these kinds of plans rarely work out in practice. Even though, we didn’t have the opportunity to see some of the bands we found exciting, such as She Past Away, Rabia Sorda or Deer Deer, we did receive some amazing experiences by three local underground metal bands, Entrópia Architektra, Arkas and Pozvakovszky. We also have to mention Jazzékiel’s performance which was just awesome.
In conclusion, Fekete Zaj and the crew behind it is perhaps the most valuable asset of the Hungarian alternative music scene and we hope that twenty years from now, all of us will remember fondly of the tenth anniversary of the phenomenon we know as Fekete Zaj.
flowers of the seven hills
It’s has been a while since last year’s Freak Valley festival, but in the dead of winter, our summer memories are as sweet as ever and hopefully we can also ease your cabin fever by inviting you to read this brief writeup by Kutya. See you in the Valley, Freak.
The venue is beautiful. Rolling hills dressed in green and soaked in blue. The friendly locals frequently drive around giving a lift to those in need. They don’t mind a few hundred blissful rascals having a ball in their neck of the woods, even if it means that they can hear everything in their homes. Like Russian Circles at midnight, clearly. Westphalia.
Freak Valley is LOUD. Staggering, the amount of care and work that goes in to the sound system, so that we can enjoy Summac tearing our heads off in perfect clarity, cranked to eleven. Nearly everyone working at the festival is a volunteer and it’s one of the best organized and run festivals of this size I’ve been to. I don’t have any official data, but by my estimate the festival hosts about 600 people, from which 100 are crew and maybe 50 artists in the evenings. There’s a record store, merch tent, handcraft bodegas, swings and they also offer sustenance to anyone with any kind of diet. Although, I couldn’t get pork knuckle stew and I think that it is an outrage that I can’t get a gin without tonic water, but that’s probably just me.
There is an MC, very likable guy, who always comes on stage to introduce the next band and yell “Viel spass!” As far as I know, Om was the only band that didn’t receive -or didn’t need- this type of introduction during the history of the festival. Another first was that they didn’t bring any merch, although it would’ve made me very happy, not that I can complain. OM was the last band on the bill with a sound so pristine, that it might as well been made in a laboratory at the Alpha Century Vaporization Research Facility. Perfectionist madness. After the show people began asking each other, “which was your favorite show, beside OM?” I think this is the time for me to mention how My Sleeping Karma, a metal band managed to lift the elements of psytrance in a way that it’s not bothersome is beyond me. Why is it that Mother Engine writes half hour long instrumentals and it doesn’t bore me? How can something be so simple like Humulus and be so complex at the same time or how can something be so smooth, that’s hard as Yuri Gagarin? Why don’t I need to know German to love DYSE? Instead, I’ll just flood you with links. If I could I’d write about how amazing each band was this year. Next year’s line up is also very promising, already boasting names like Electric Moon, Brant Björk, Yob and Wolfmother, but the Freaks running the show have been known to cause surprises. Also, be warned that like previous years, Freak Valley sold out in about an hour for 2019, as the legend says, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go on an adventure to at least see the beautiful nature of the area and who knows, you might even score a ticket somehow!
The artwork is simply breathtaking a cross between the sixties post-secessionist poster culture and modern graphics, the letters are nearly readable without squinting. The main artwork changes each year and each band gets it’s own concert poster.
Freak Valley festival is held near the town of Siegen, known as the city built on seven hills and as one would expect, the region possesses a very temperamental micro climate. One moment the sun is shining on the cloudless sky, the next heavy rain falls on the confused traveler as the temperature soars and plummets. Fortunately, the Freaks don’t mind. The camping and the venue are just a twenty minute stroll away through nature. On one of these trips I have stumbled upon the most curious of roadblocks, made up of local women who locked arms and stood in our way in the middle of nowhere. We were puzzled and maybe very mildly offended before we saw some twenty horses galloping on their usual route home, thus the precaution.
There are two stages, the small one operates until half past one and after that, the main stage takes over. There is no distinction in genre between the two stages as one would expect at a major festival, rather the stages are sized towards the popularity of the bands. Judging by the line-up, the organizers take their motto “no fillers, just killers” very seriously. The festival’s line-up is mostly invitational and no one band can play two consecutive years. Buying a ticket is an adventure in and of itself, since every year tickets get sold out very fast.
The festival, given it’s size, is cozy by nature, it really doesn’t take much so start making friends. My friend, whom I dragged with me, stated that people are even nicer than at psytrance festivals, not that the two could be compared in any meaningful way. True to the name of the festival, all kinds of wicked folks walk around, with whom it’s safe to assume, they didn’t just dress up for the event. Also, tattoo density is pretty high as well, I almost felt conservative in this crowd.