Festival Report: South Park Festival 2016
When the almost 10 year old Sauna Open Air went bankrupt in 2013, the old punk capital of Finland, Tampere was to go without a hard rock/metal festival. A different organizer came in and scooped up the slot, and thus the South Park Festival was born — named after Eteläpuisto, the park it’s held in, and not the television show (though that would be an entertaining event as well!) So, third year in, how did the festival go this time around?
I didn’t mind when the last Sauna Open Air was held at the nearby sport stadium, but a lot of people seemed to hate that venue. With the return of the festival under the new South Park banner, things have been moved back to the old field (where Sauna was most successful) opposite the stadium.
The layout was mostly the same as my last visit to the area in 2011, though the second stage was moved to an indoor tent that proved to be a major hassle throughout the festival. It got packed quickly, and due to the limited entrances and narrow width, things got real tight, leaving a ton of potential listeners unable to get a good glimpse of the show at hand — depending on the artist of course. Otherwise, the festival seemed to run with a well-oiled engine, despite some odd policies here and there (on the first day, caps from bottles were removed due to some band’s security concerns).
As for the bands themselves, the line-up followed along with the foundation set by Sauna Open Air: relatively safe bets that get enough airtime on the rock radios and attract a wide audience. I get it — familiarity helps, and with plenty of more specialized festivals and shows across Europe and even in Finland (such as Tampere Metal Meeting held a week later), this fest clearly serves a need and a purpose. The fact that Sweden Rock Festival happens at the same time and bleeds bands over to this side of the border is also a beneficial factor from an organizer’s point of view.
Still, if there’s one thing to summarize the festival with, it would be ‘opposite extremes’. The weather was psychotic, swinging from very hot to very cold and rainy in an instant. That extremity showed up in the line-up too.
In one corner, you had the latest push from Spinefarm Records, Ember Falls, who feel like one of the biggest spreadsheet bands in a while. Armed with black and red warpaint (on loan from Turisas?), they were backed by huge advertisement banners/roll-ups on stage that seemed only to advertise the band’s existence, rather than add anything meaningful to the group’s visual identity on stage. And besides, the whole dystopian, anarchistic revolution shtick felt like what Arch Enemy had done with Rise of the Tyrant and even before. The music followed suit; competent and polished with a commercial upside and crafted for social media, but in the end, still edgeless melodic metal with forcefed catchiness. In from one ear, out the other. So, I did what all the people on Tinder do when they come across my profile and mugshot, swiped left to find another act.
That was Triptykon, all the way at the other end of the South Park spectrum. Born from the bitter molten ashes of Celtic Frost’s demise and helmed by legendary originator Tom G. Fischer, the group was the antithesis to everything else on the bill. Minimalistic in its approach, no unnecessary antics, self-conscious yet erotic, and at times, even playful. The sunshine might not have suited their sound, but their plowing wall of distortion was still all-consuming and exhilarating.
Half of the set consisted of Celtic Frost songs, but the most shivering moment came when they played “Aurorae,” from Triptykon’s second (and latest) album Melana Chasmata. I don’t think I’ve ever quavered during a show before, let alone used that word before, yet the moment pierced me straight to my core and shattered me from within. And at that moment, whatever came before or after, was quite meaningless.
Unfortunately, if there’s one idiom to use to describe the show, it would be ‘cast pearls before swine’ as most of the audience just seemed dumbfounded, looking for something easier to digest. Not the most optimal setting, yet major props to the organizers for booking the band. It was a culturally significant manoeuvre.
This is not to say that other artists at the show were necessarily bad or worse, they just filled a different need and were easier to eat up and enjoy. Amorphis offered a solid gig as expected, despite some technical difficulties during the first four or five songs — to the clear frustration of Tomi Joutsenniemi. Progressive/thrash/theirownthing powerhouse Stam1na also offered an entertaining and adrenaline-pumping show like they always do, constantly joking about how much of a hurry they were in (before Slayer and after Triptykon ate some minutes from their set). The new material from Stam1na’s awesome latest album Elokuutio worked very well live, and slotted nicely into the rest of the playlist.
Battle Beast were also on stage when I arrived, but I only caught the last few songs. A year and a half ago, the band fired the band’s originator (and songwriter and lead guitarist) Anton Kabanen, but that didn’t seem to have any negative effect on the band’s confident stage presence or popularity at all. Since Anton’s new band, Beast in Black, will perform at Tuska later this year, I suppose the fans won in the divorce by getting two productive parents.
Lost Society, the Finnish poster childs for thrash metal and heirs to aging popular acts, didn’t disappoint with their energy either. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how much more interesting their material will be in 10 years once they’ve evolved past ‘80s thrash tributes. If they ever churn out their own Low, Demonic (or The Gathering), I’ll be there to check it out. In the meantime, they’re still an awesome-as-hell live act.
Slayer, the first day’s headliner, took the stage 15-20 minutes late, played songs off their new album, and then ended the show with their greatest and most expected hits. Or so I assume, as I left after a handful of songs since my hunger was fed for the day by the Triptykon gig. From what I saw, it was Slayer through and through, but they sounded surprisingly solid and it was nice seeing how well Gary Holt has fit into the huge hole left by Jeff Hanneman. The most memorable quip of the night came while waiting for the band to take stage, as someone profoundly exclaimed “What the fuck?! You’re not fucking Guns n’ Roses!” The next day, I talked with one of the security guards and he revealed that during Slayer’s set, the assholery multiplied in the audience as people had soaked in enough alcohol by then. This normally doesn’t affect (Finnish) metal festivals that much, since they’re most often hailed for their lack of disorderly conduct, but I guess SLAYUUUUURGH are special that way.
The next day held little of interest to me as it was mostly an ‘80s rehash, with a bunch of glam/sleaze bands leading the attack. This stuff just doesn’t offer me a thing unless you sugarcoat it with simpleton humor like Steel Panther does and even, there’s a hard coded time limit. My personal cynicism aside, the style is making (or has been, for the past ten years or so) a comeback in Finland, attracting a ton of new, young fans while giving the old and experienced fans a new outlet to relive their youth’s passions. Not surprisingly, the fan base, young or old, is exclusively female. So I’m not exactly the target demo, no matter how many times I dress up in bridal dresses and apply for The Bachelorette.
Reckless Love are partly to blame for the glam metal renaissance here. They clearly have the years under their belt and Michael Monroe posters on their walls. The showmanship was there, the songs were often well crafted and catchy, the stage beamed with photogenic presence, and the guitarist knew his shit… but what was up with the Monster Energy logos everywhere? They also felt older — especially compared to newcomers like Shiraz Lane, who, while proficient, felt slightly more like a high school band playing make-believe than a truly well-polished, sex-driven pack of heartbreaking Tyrannosauruses. The hubris and confidence that stems from experience simply wasn’t quite there yet. However, the show did seem to start rolling better and better the further it got and nearing the end of their set, there was one song that had some light progressive tones to it which made me open up my ears for a bit. On Friday, there was also quite possibly the hottest band in the field at the moment (and Sebastian Bach‘s favorite), Santa Cruz, who switched places and played early in the day as they were in a hurry to get to Donington’s Download Fest.
L.A Guns was also scheduled to perform, but had to cancel, and so Mokoma was slotted in instead. The group seemed more than satisfied on stage, much more so than at some other shows I’ve seen from them. The first half of the set was surprisingly heavy, so it was unfortunate that they slowed things down with a few slower cuts (like “Kuu Saa Valtansa Auringolta”), even if they played them a bit differently and were more pummeling than before. Good band live, but I really wouldn’t mind seeing a show where they just blaze through their most hardest material and make the audience submit in exhaustion.
Like Thunderstone earlier in the day, Germany’s Powerwolf offered a bit more to the power metal crowd. I’ve only skimmed through the band’s material, but what appeared on stage seemed to be the teutonic version of Sabaton — plenty of cheese with a peculiar “blaspheming werewolves” theme or something. I haven’t seen much hype for the band here, yet many in the crowd did seem to know at least parts of the lyrics and the Germans had garnered quite an audience. There were plenty of sing-along chants and ooh-aah moments for the crowd, who returned the favor with some horrible vocalwork, forcing singer Attila Dorn to question “Too much beer, yes?” I appreciated the showmanship and craft, but the music simply didn’t reach out to manhandle me like the warmongering Swedes do. Still, Powerwolf likely picked up quite a few new fans with their solid and entertaining show.
I only caught a few of Soilwork’s songs, but it seemed like another solid set from the Swedish melodeath veterans (or “Swedupellet” as Björn Strid likes to call themselves). Unfortunately, due to previous commitments, I had to leave early and skip town (goddamned weddings), and also missed out on Diablo’s set. Shame, because they just released a bunch of new good songs on their Silver Horizon album at the end of last year after a 7 year hiatus. Would have been interesting to see how’d they’d fare on stage.
As Bullet for My Valentine headlined the festival and took the stage after Diablo, I missed them too, but seriously speaking, whatever. Apparently the band isn’t as big of a deal as they once were (although they also had many young female fans sporting their shirts throughout the weekend), since Saturday’s turnout was less than expected by the official accounts.
Yet, enough people showed up to justify the ‘new’ festival’s existence, so that it will return in 2017. Hopefully there’ll be some interesting acts again to shake up the mix, but otherwise the circus ran without a hitch (aside from the tent and some sound issues) and I wouldn’t mind doing it again.