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Event Review

FORMAT Festival: Diversity and Bold Expression in Comfort [Film Forward]

FORMAT Festival thrilled music and art fans in 2023. V13 will return and continue to cover events with unique analog photos.

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Leon Bridges at FORMAT Fest 2023, photo by Justin Birnstihl
Leon Bridges at FORMAT Fest 2023, photo by Justin Birnstihl

In the spirit of “C’est la V13,” 35mm film captured these images. Film Forward is a call to action encouraging you to anticipate where film photography can lead your mind in uncertain times. The “why” for my choice of using film will be more apparent as the number of images here grows from 13 to 31. It’s an exercise in mindfulness on the most self-serving level and a reminder of impermanence.

Live music photographers are typically permitted to be in the pit where nothing stands between us and the artists onstage for only the first three songs. After that, the fleeting moment will be gone and irreplaceable. Shooting film for kinetic action in low light commands a level of concentration that holds my consciousness to the present during those three songs.

Surrender to the Experience Completely

“We Rise by Lifting Others. Dance First, Think Later.” This mission statement or mantra glowed brightly along a popular pathway on the grounds of FORMAT Festival. My wife and I definitely danced relentlessly in the company of many deliciously different strangers. The connection among us all was palpable through set after set of electrifying performances.

FORMAT Festival Grounds and its Unexpected Amenities

Music and art lovers representing a multitude of tribes gathered in the surprisingly comfortable public spaces of the Momentary. It’s a premiere attraction for the lovingly maintained downtown of Bentonville, AR. The Momentary’s primary feature is a permanent main stage facing a gently sloping hill, and at the top is a cluster of small buildings that provide uncommon respite from outdoor conditions. Artists commanded a smaller stage here set in an air-conditioned black box theater adjacent to indoor restrooms and a gourmet coffee and pastry bar.

Another large festival stage with its spectator lawn featured a welcoming expanse of shade from the direct sun during afternoon performances. Broad cemented pathways facilitated easy exploration of the custom-crafted fourth and fifth stages. Italy’s Toiletpaper art magazine whimsically incorporated port-a-potties as access doors to a domed structure over a small stage. The parallel entrance hallways were papered over in collages that bled across every wall and ceiling. Finally, our last stop on most nights was for DJ sets at Drag Me to the Disco. This barn rave was affectionately named for the female impersonators who served as MCs there.

Art, Food and Music that Surprised and Delighted

FORMAT Festival truly integrated thought-provoking art with a curated creator roster throughout the experience. It wasn’t limited to destination art installations. The work of carefully selected artists surrounded us as decorated park amenities, concessions, and sound engineers’ booths for the main stages. The food options were unlike any I had ever experienced in a festival setting. In their own permanent buildings, a strip of independent local restaurants added more variety in addition to the food trucks and offered service in air-conditioned dining rooms.

Live shows from musicians that rarely, if ever, tour North Texas compelled our travel to Bentonville for an unforgettable first visit. A fever dream of awe-inspiring performances kept us dancing until we levitated. There were larger-than-life performances from headliners LCD Soundsystem, Alanis Morrissette, and Leon Bridges. However, my purest passion was for the disrupters.

FORMAT Festival 2023 event poster

FORMAT Festival 2023 event poster

The Performances I Couldn’t Miss

UK rapper Little Simz prowled the main stage like a stalking lioness whose prey was ignorance. Her lyrics of struggle and triumph amplified the voices of working-class Londoners and children of immigrants everywhere alike. Her accompanying bass rhythms physically pounded on my chest like a drum with an intensity that I’d rarely experienced before.

Australia’s non-binary multi-instrumentalist Tash Sultana was a virtuoso in their element, surrounded by nearly a dozen instruments and a multi-track looper. Tash’s face appeared ecstatic as they layered their complex compositions of hypnotizing groves before the main stage audience’s adoring eyes.

The enchanting Sudan Archives spun a trance of hypersexualized playfulness. She studied ethnomusicology and since committed to “show the blackness of the violin.” Recently, though, the evolution of her songcraft has produced more Beyonce-esque R&B and hip-hop. Her new songs sound as much like the future as ancient culture that inspired her distinctly African violin technique.

FORMAT Festival acknowledged hip hop culture’s 50th anniversary in 2023 and featured stellar performances by 30-year veterans of both East and West Coast styles.  South Central LA’s kinetically explosive The Pharcyde bounced their way through beloved classics. NYC’s sublimely smooth Digable Planets glided about the stage in front of their live jazz-funk ensemble.

Community and Connection Resonated Strongly

The performers were sublimely colourful, but the revelers dancing to their music would not be outdone. Some were adorned with fur and LEDs. Others wore so little that it’s barely worth mentioning. They were all shapes, spanned a broad spectrum of sexuality, and they all came to dance through the night. They danced among strangers that didn’t feel as strange by the time the sun set on the festival’s final day.

Another mission statement or mantra glowed in neon from one of The Momentary’s buildings behind the main stage lawn. It read, “You Belong Here.” My wife and I easily agreed with that welcoming phrase after only our first visit to Bentonville. We knew we would return for year three of FORMAT Festival in 2024. I’ll bring many rolls of film again. I’ll also count on losing myself in moments that last forever when I surrender to the surreal.

Get stoked for FORMAT Festival 2024 and follow the event via their official website.

Event Review

The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival Celebrates 20 Years! [Photos & Review]

The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary with an absolutely wonderful display of modern jazz in Playa Del Carmen put together by the Quintana Roo Tourism Board.

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Chris Botti at Riveria Maya Jazz Festival 20th Anniversary, photo by Kenzie Magnan
Chris Botti at Riveria Maya Jazz Festival 20th Anniversary, photo by Kenzie Magnan

I had the absolute privilege of attending the 20th Riviera Maya Jazz Festival in Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. More than 14,000 attendees came out to see major players in the Jazz genre including Iraida Noriega, Pedrito Martínez and his band, Arturo Sandoval, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Aguamala, Antonio Sánchez, Snarky Puppy and Chris Botti. The event took place from November 24th to 25th, directly on the beach under a full moon. It was a beautiful setting for some incredible music.

The 24th began with a performance by Mexican native singer/songwriter Iraida Noriega under the setting sun. As the full moon began to show, Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his band entered the stage. The set was extremely lively. Martinez brought several fans onstage to dance to the Afro-Cuban beats. He was followed by Cuban-American composer Arturo Sandoval. Sandoval showcased what he is most famous for, his piano and trumpet playing. It was clear he has a huge following in Mexico, with the crowd going insane for his set.

The night rounded out with the famous Spanish Harlem Orchestra. The Latin dance orchestra had the total number of attendees up on their feet, dancing to the Salsa-inspired beats. I was blown away by the festival’s environment. Never had I been to a festival in such a beautiful area. I was elated for night two.

After my experience on night one, I could not wait to see what was in store for us on Sunday, November 25th. The night started off with the local band Aguamala. A consistent appearance at the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, Aguamala’s improvised fusion of jazz and rock makes them a unique opener for some larger acts to come.

Next up was Mexican drummer and composer Antonio Sánchez, joined by his spouse and singer Thana Alexis. Her ethereal vocals over his compositions made for a euphoric experience. Sánchez, who goes by Bad Hombre, includes a lot of political messages regarding peace and unity in his music. The messages resounded with the crowd, who awed at the performance.

Following Sánchez was American jazz-fusion band Snarky Puppy, led by multi-instrumentalist Michael League. The band has 25 rotating members, with a dozen or so performing at any given time. Despite being from Texas, the band has an immense following in Mexico and it was apparent with the ecstatic crowd.

The finale of the night and weekend was Chris Botti and his amazing group of special guests. The famous trumpeter brought along violinist Caroline Campbell, singer and actress Sy Smith, and jazz singer Veronica Swift. During the press conference, Botti mentioned he likes to keep his shows exciting. He says his music is made to be listened to in your living room, so he likes to switch up his live performance to keep things interesting. He did just that. From going out into the crowd with Campbell to showcasing solos of his band and guest singers, the fun did not stop. This is a show I would see again and again.

This was one of the most cherished musical encounters I’ve ever had. The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival is entirely free for attendees and compiles some of the greatest Grammy-winning Jazz groups in the world. The festival is put together by the Quintana Roo Tourism Board to provide both locals and visitors a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope to see the festival reach its 21st year next year with even more attendees and talented artists.

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Event Review

Corey Taylor Kicks Off His Solo Tour with Full Throttle Show at Leeds O2 Academy [Photos]

Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor kicks off his solo UK headline tour with a rowdy gig at Leeds O2 Academy. Check out the review and pics here.

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Corey Taylor, photo © Graham Finney Photography

Kicking off his UK tour in support of his CMF2 album (read our review), Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor arrives in Leeds as the rest of the world buzzes with the news his “other band” has parted ways with drummer Jay Weinberg. Not that you could tell anything was going on behind the scenes judging by the sheer enjoyment plastered across Taylor’s face throughout the set.

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for openers Oxymorrons, who hit the stage for their debut UK show only for a complete power failure, rendering their entire sound inaudible. Battling through multiple attempts to fix the gremlins, it would be unfair to criticize the band for the problems they endured because, on the face of it, if everything had been running as planned, their visceral cocktail of punk, rap and metal would have wiped the floor with anyone in the vicinity. That being said, the band returns next year to appear at Download XXI, and we fully expect them to right this wrong and smash out the kind of performance they were primed to do here in Leeds.

Anyone who has seen the “Corey Taylor Experience” will know what a full-throttle experience it is, and here in Leeds, it’s no different. We all know Corey is a top-class frontman, but to see him up close and on his own terms, you really see why the Slipknot vocalist has become a top-level solo artist in his own right. Mixing up a set of his own material with a few Slipknot classics and the odd Stone Sour hit, there really is something for everyone.

With a massive grin across his face, Taylor races about the stage, whipping this sold-out room up into a frenzy. Through the likes of “Black Eyes Blue,” “We Are The Rest,” and “Song 3,” Taylor’s energy levels don’t drop while his vocals are on point throughout. It’s seven songs in before we get the double whammy of “Before I Forget” and “Snuff,” the former a snarling version of the smash hit, the latter a heart-wrenching experience.

Matching their frontman, Taylor has assembled a band who are fully in tune with the energy of what is essentially a punk rock show. It’s sweaty, there are no gimmicks (unless you count that feckin’ Spongebob cover), and his band throws themselves into it as much as Taylor does. Performing at this standard night after night, it’s going to be interesting to see how the stamina matches up at the end of this run.

Storming through a pounding “30/30-150” from his Stone Sour back catalogue, the band wraps up with a double punch of Slipknot hit “Duality” and a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots”. While all hell was breaking loose on the internet elsewhere tonight, for a thousand or so fans shoe-horned into the O2 Academy, Corey Taylor had brushed that aside to ensure nothing but a night to remember for his fans.

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Event Review

Damnation Festival 2023: Diverse Extreme Metal Line-up Lays Waste to Manchester’s BEC Arena [Photos]

Damnation returned to Manchester with a diverse bill offering everything from metalcore to grindcore to black metal. Review and pics here.

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Deadguy @ Damnation Festival by Graham Finney Photography

After the resounding success of its 2022 weekend following their move to Manchester’s BEC Arena, extreme metal festival Damnation, returned to the venue for its two-day 2023 event.

Unfortunately, work commitments meant we couldn’t make the first day of the event. Dubbed ‘A Night of Salvation,’ Damnation’s hardcore following were treated to unique sets from the likes of Katatonia, performing their Dead End Kings album, Deadguy performing Fixation on a Coworker and Sigh performing Scorn Defeat, amongst others including Enslaved, Akercocke and BossK all treating fans to full album run-throughs from their back catalogue.

Day two arrived with a bill featuring many of the acts from the previous day performing second, and completely different sets. Headlined by stoner/psychedelic bruisers Electric Wizard, we were intrigued to see how this eclectic and very niche bill would hold up in this size of venue which many of these bands were unlikely to have ever played in before.

The first thing noticeable was how much the minor changes to the layout made the whole festival easier to navigate, reducing many of the bottlenecks which were the bugbear of 2022’s event for many fans with plenty of seated areas situated around the venue; another nice addition, especially given the onslaught of music that was to be unleashed.

Our day started with the wonderfully named Coffin Mulch, who lurched through tracks from their recently-released Spectral Intercession album. A pummelling start to the day, their Euro-inspired old-school death metal was quickly followed up by the nasty deathgrind of the reasonably local filth merchants Crepitation. A suitably ugly start to the day from both bands, anyone of a weaker disposition should have been well aware by this point that the next eleven hours were going to be punishing on every level.

Now, the beauty and the downfall of Damnation this year was the truly niche line-up. For the extreme metal fan, this line-up had something for everyone. Black metal, grindcore, experimental metal and death metal; if you liked your music brutal, this was the place to be. Now, whereas last year’s event had the likes of Converge and At The Gates heading up the bill, the truly niche headliners this time around, saw a slightly smaller Damnation crowd but one that was very much committed to the cause.

A word in our ear saw us heading to check out Khemmis who had ventured over from Denver, Colorado to whip Damnation into shape with their brand of epic doom/heavy metal. An unknown to us before this weekend, we left having found one of our favourite new bands. By now, news was filtering through that nautical doom machine AHAB had pulled out of the festival with all sorts of rumours swirling around as to their replacement.

For those who like things a little more route-one, two more US bands joined the bill starting out with Massachussets crossover thrash merchants High Command who whipped up a frenzy in the pit right from the off with their thunderous anthems. Further down the bill, one of the highlights New York death metallers Undeath who were definitely not in the mood to take any prisoners. Playing in their own words “crushing death metal”, the band pummelled through a brutal set to an audience who were clearly craving some route one filth.

For those whose extreme music palette is a little darker, the harsh sounds of the Gregor Mackinstosh-led Strigoi perfectly ticked that box. Blitzing through their set under a wash of blue lights and smoke, Strigoi’s bleak blend of grind, crust and death metal was definitely one for the hardcore extreme metal fan. The same could be said for Belgian experimental post-metal crew Amenra who lurched through their set from the dimly-lit stage. It shouldn’t have worked in a venue this size but, judging by the size of the crowd, their set was one of the big draws of the weekend.

Elsewhere, the smaller Eeysore Merch third stage seemed to be one suitably packed out for most of the day as German extreme metal band Downfall of Gaia loosened up neck muscles with their ferocious sound while, one of the more interesting bands of the day, Sigh from Japan, delivered a performance that was as theatrical as you could have wanted from the experimental quartet ending with a vicious run through of Venom classic “Black Metal” which saw bodies spitting over the headbangers on the front row. Having shoe-horned our way in for Sigh, it was almost impossible to get near the stage when AHAB’s replacement, the BossK/Cult of Luna mash-up arrived to perform.

One of the unique selling points of Damnation has been their ability to bring back bands who have not been seen in the UK for a long time. With grindcore legends Pig Destroyer laying down the challenge last year, 2023 saw US metalcore veterans Unearth and Deadguy both making long-awaited returns to the UK. Both bands drawing in more than respectable crowds as they battered through their mosh-friendly sets. The former performing their classic The Oncoming Storm album to a sea of old-school metalcore bodies flying around the pit to classics like “Black Hearts Now Reign” with the latter delivering their second, and equally chaotic set of the weekend to a suitably rowdy mosh-pit.

Back in 2016, Julie Christmas performed with Swedish post-metal favourites Cult Of Luna after the pair collaborated on the critically-acclaimed Mariner album. Unsurprisingly then, the singer’s appearance was another highly-anticipated set and she didn’t disappont. Quirky, brutal, haunting, the singer’s persona is often compared to Icelandic boundary-bender Björk and, by the time she left the stage, she did so having etched her name in the Damnation history books.

Heading towards the home straight, Finnish grindcore terrors Rotten Sound delivered a full throttle grind assault. Unrelenting blasts of filth spit from the stage as security look on at a pit that swirls furiously around in front of the stage. As pointed out already today, bands like Rotten Sound shouldn’t sound so at home in a venue this vast but as the Finns tore through their set, you could almost feel the walls of the room shaking.

Playing their second set of the weekend, Norwegian viking black metal legends Enslaved delivered one of the most unforgettable sets of the weekend. Welcomed like heroes by the Damnation faithful, the Norwegians repaid their fans by performing their Vikingligr Veldi album in full. As with Julie Christmas earlier in the day, this is another of those sets which will go down in the history book as one of the most epic performances in the history of the festival.

And so to our final band of the day, those uncompromising grinders Anaal Nathrakh. Taking to the stage almost in awe at the sight of a few thousand grindcore fans in front of them, the band made this rare live appearance that will certain have left an ugly scar on the BEC Arena. Punishing blasts of grindcore smash the crowd towards the final hours of the weekend in truly violent fashion. For almost an hour, there is no let-up as the Birmingham extreme metal crew tear the BEC Arena apart in gloriously fashion.

With that our Damnation Festival is over. Battered and bruised, we head to the door while the true hardcore Damnation faithful prepare for headliners Electric Wizard. By the time we reach our ride home, Electric Wizard have taken to the stage and we can feel the ground rumble underneath us. Their appearance headlining a six thousand capacity arena is one that sums up the absolutely humungous balls the team at Damnation festival have and, by signing out a day that has seen everything from experimental metal to black metal to grindcore, why this festival is eagerly anticipated year after year by the extreme music community.

Damnation Festival 2024 takes place on November 2nd, 2024 and you can buy your tickets here.

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