It's probably some sort of success that, after 42 years of existence, Sjock is still unknown to people living just a few kilometres away. Clearly it knows its audience and sticks to what it does best, rather than becoming some festival-to-end-all-festivals and needing to take a year off to let the landscape & wildlife recover from the havoc it wreaks.
Like many events on the continent its ticket prices don't break the bank yet you get big names on the bill although things start off low-key on the Friday with only two of the three stages in action and a total of eight acts performing.
Unfortunately, due to the atrocious traffic around Antwerp & Brussels, Friday night became impossible to attend (after eight hours in the car coming South from Amsterdam cold beer and pizza was preferred over more driving). Making use of the nearby hotels will in the future be the order of the day, rather than commuting from Brussels but the drives there and back on Saturday and Sunday were at least jam and hassle-free.
The event's well signposted with its own signage once you get to the outskirts of Gierle, parking was plentiful and the event site ample for the number of fans attracted (oddly fewer on the Sunday than the Saturday) with high numbers of Turbojugend spotted over the two days.
Kicking things off for our time at the festival we initially took in Belgian duo The Glücks who dish it out fast loud &, most importantly, tuneful. A great burst of energy to fire the crowd up for the entertainment to come. Next a move to the Titty Twister tent to catch sight of one of a number of veteran bands on the weekend's bill, The Vice Barons. Back in the '90s their Steel Blue Moods and Friends In Low Places albums were excellent, fast slabs of instrumental surf/garage. New album Glamour & Barreled Guns is slated for release later this year (demos here) and with luck that'll be as good as their work of 20 years ago but onstage they looked to have let themselves go a bit & there wasn't a great deal of engagement with the crowd.
Next on the main stage were Melbourne's Clowns, a prime example of festivals introducing you to new bands that have actually been around for a while. They've been on the go for eight years and manage to combine party band energy with the pace of hardcore. A sextet who clearly subscribe to the idea of being here for a good time and not a long one. From that fairly youthful eight years we then took in the sight of the Guana Batz, 35 years and counting. With a new EP out their energy is certainly undimmed although there were rather more covers in their set than expected. Still, you can't fault upright bass playing of the quality they offer.
Sjock has a "newcomers" stage but over the course of the festival we only really gave it a look a couple of times. Firstly on Saturday we had a gander at Sunpower who, having been around for 15 years stretch the stage's title quite a lot. They dished out plenty of well paced punk/hardcore numbers, both originals & covers but somehow visually were unconvincing. Later on the Sunday we caught Italian quartet The Manges, who've been around a few years themselves it seems, delivering up their Ramones-inspired punk. Good, energetic stuff played at speed.
For the remainder of the Saturday session we were impressed with the emotional power of trio Brutus, Minneapolis's The Cactus Blossoms (does Minnesota have cacti?) slowed the pace to something approaching loveable over in the tent, with their harmonies only slightly marred by loss of voice. Cover songs were plentiful throughout the event but their version of The Kinks 'Who'll Be The Next In Line' was probably the most unexpected. Apparently you can see them in one of the new Twin Peaks episodes too. Back on the main stage Zeke, who I've been unaware of for 20-odd years, tore it up suitably. Ten years since they last had an album out so maybe time for something new. Seeing out the night were punk legends Bad Religion, as vital now as ever given the Trump presidency amongst other things. Their anthems were passionately embraced & sung back by the seething, bouncing crowd showing the international impact of their simple, common sense message over the past three decades.
Sunday had originally been forecast as having thunderstorms but dawned as sunny as the day before with the rain pushed to Monday so another day of perfect festival weather was had. We started in the tent with Barny & The Rhythm All Stars rumbling through a nicely paced set of rockabilly wildness and yet more excellent upright bass work. Further Belgian musicians were heralded onto the main stage by The Animals version of 'House Of The Rising Sun' (and thankfully not Alt-J's pointless attempt at it). These were The Sha-La-Lees, made up of members of Evil Superstars, Sore Losers & El Guapo Stuntteam. Having found Evil Superstars a massive letdown a couple of years ago this could have been a low point at Sjock but thankfully the quintet were clearly having a lot of fun in this project and their crunchy, fast rock sound was the perfect flag raiser for tonight's headliners.
Two older acts one after the other graced the main stage now. First up came Nashville Pussy, amped up to the max and throwing Jack Daniels around like it was going out of fashion they raced through a nitro-fuelled set, finishing off with the storming 'Go Motherfucker Go' from the very start of their career. Following this, with as much energy as when last encountered in some Edinburgh venue or other 20 years ago, New Bomb Turks blasted the crowd with their wit and rapid fire punk in equal measure. Hopefully the mic was washed or swapped after Eric Davidson had it down his jeans etc.
Calm of a sort was needed now so we sought that in the tent with some r'n'b and blues from yet another young group, albeit with an experienced bass player, in the shape of Joakim Tinderholt And His Band. This is a man with a serious set of pipes on him yet he can also tone it down, as on the Johnny Rivers number he and the band covered. Now though there was nothing between us and the highlight of the weekend - 20 years after debuting with Supershitty To The Max! The Hellacopters were back together to pay their dues once again and dish out some of that grande rock they do so well.
'The Devil Stole The Beat From the Lord', 'Toys And Flavors', 'Down On Freestreet' and all the great tracks were lapped up by the hugely appreciative crowd. Whilst you could possibly say there was an attempt to cash in with the dearest t-shirts of the weekend the actual stage performance was faultless and clearly a blast for a bunch of guys who maybe haven't quite hit the same high notes with subsequent groups. Whilst bucket list are anathema to me this show was a sweet tick in a non-existent box, having not seen them in their hey day in the UK (on the plus side of that it means I've never seen the Foo Fighters who they were (unjustly) supporting). Few bands have that resonance (and still manage to perform like the years haven't taken their toll) but The Hellacopters were the crowning glory of a festival where a number of veteran acts proved there's a great deal of life in some old dogs yet.
Cheers to Penny for digs, driving and good chat.
Further event photographs of dubious quality can be viewed here.