Now in its second year, the celebration of guitar noise that is Rifffest shook the floorboards of the Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen this weekend. And noisy it was.
Punters sensible enough to bring earplugs were fortunate enough to survive until the end of the night, while those unenterprising enough to leave their lugs unprotected were found outside in the street, hugging their knees, rocking softly back and forth, completely unresponsive to aural stimuli.
Hors D’oeuvres: 99% Cobra
Belgrave toilet status: Comfortably eating stuffed vine leaves off the bathroom floor
The day was off to a proper bang with 99% Cobra. Two guitars, one drums, zero bass, all noise. Grr! The heaviest band of the night by some distance. Think of an angry Deftones reading The Big Bumper Book of Time Signature Changes. If you weren’t sure you were at the right Rifffest, the sight and sound of singer Robert Kirk doing his level best to wolf down an SM58 would allay all fears. Toto, we’re not listening to Kansas anymore.
Belgrave toilet status: Artfully stained
Now, turn your lens to the pensive gents from the immense Dense. Even the malcontents on the fence dispensed with any pretence of dissent as the musical contents commenced to condense. It’s hard to tell when one song ends and another begins. The noisy psych-rockers’ bassist Dylan Metcalf is clearly having the time of his life, cycling through a series of off-kilter dance moves while singer Charlie Fossick finds little need for his guitar, discarding it entirely to writhe on the floor and scream into a wall of effects.
Soup course: Dead Naked Hippies
Belgrave toilet status: In need of a decent wipe down
What a great find DNH were. Again, no bassist in sight. Bands with bassists in are pussies. Singer Lucy Jowett is simply magnetic; all dramatic poses and slinky stage moves as she yelps and screams her way through the set. The band play great, with groovy chords and angular octaved riffs, rising effortlessly to the occasion with their performance. Jowett finishes the gig somewhere in the audience, marching up and down between the ranks of pogo-ing onlookers, her shocking red Ziggy Stardust hairdo disappearing and reappearing between the bouncers.
Palate cleanser: Calva Louise
Belgrave toilet status: Suggestions of a vague hideousness looming
“Hold up! Just imagine we’re on a second date” advises singer and guitarist Jess Allanic in a break between songs, “Imagine we know everything about each other and we’re both super confident” she winks. Calva Louise go down well with the audience, whipping out a set of songs that essentially boil down to three minute pop tunes with a hefty boot up the arse. Similarly to the Hippies on before them, Calva Louise are blessed to have frontwoman Jess, who cracks jokes, performs with great passion and shreds on a guitar with more buttons and knobs on it than a nuclear power station. I asked her later what all the switches did; she said she wasn’t exactly sure (the guitar that is, not the power station). Great fun!
Main course: Brooders
Belgrave toilet status: Murky puddles; noisome pools
Brooders have done a great job of curating tonight’s line up and easily hold their own against the other bands. After the fun of Calva Louise it’s back to something altogether more muscular as opener I Don’t Really Care peels the eyeballs back, with singer Adam Bairstow yelling with youthful abandon. “Please come and talk to us after the show.” he grins, “We’re a lot more approachable than we seem on stage.” before launching into set closer Melancholy. Over the song’s brooding (hur-hur) intensity he sings “There’s many people I’d rather be”. Not tonight, though, eh?
Dessert: Strange Bones
Belgrave toilet status: Grot of the highest order
Blackpool’s Strange Bones hit the stage like a whirlwind and don’t let up. Their infectious punk energy and confidence revs up the crowd and the pit gets going with singer Bobby Bentham throwing himself into the crowd again and again. Someone must have lit a firecracker up his jacksie because the man does not stand still, leaping up and down, doing the splits, throwing the mic around, disappearing into the pit and screeching directly into the grimacing faces. An incredible energy was passed back and forth between band and audience, winning over everyone in the room.
Cheese and biscuits: Crows
Belgrave toilet status: Cut your losses, burn them down and rebuild
London’s own Crows bring their dark, visceral racket to close out the day. Well-disciplined and confident from touring extensively throughout 2019, it feels like a significant proportion of the crowd are here specifically to hear Crows play, with a sizeable contingent from Daaan Saaaff in attendance. It takes a while for the crowd to adjust from the hyperactivity of Strange Bones to the more straightforward motion of the London lads, but we all get there together. A great atmosphere in the room throughout the finale and a wonderful end to the day’s festivities.
All photographs by Mark Wheelwright.