Festival Review – Stone Free Festival (Part I) – Saturday 18th June 2016

I and a few others on the guest list and media associations only had access to the main line-up located in the O2 arena; so we all really stuck around for the early afternoon slots of the Stone Free Festival for leisure’s sake, and had a look at what was available (which excluded Indigo, Speak Easy Lounge and Cineworld). The only accessible shows were on the Fireball Stage, located just on the right of the O2 entrance, so in between snooping within the VIP Vinyl Fair (which were selling the likes of prog, heavy metal, psychedelic, blues and goth rock vinyl’s, audio and live CDs and DVDs), the merchandise section and the occasional merchandise shop at the far end of the venue, near arena entrances G & H; I was popping across to this stage to see the performers listed to attend.

Out of the listed bands such as Jack Francis, The RPMs, Vodun, Dorje and The Lounge Kittens (the latter started at the time the main area opened its doors), I only got the privilege to see three of these bands – The RPMs, Vodun and Dorje. Incidentally, the former and latter of the two bands are both from Brighton, UK; however, they couldn’t be any more different. The RPMs, the second in the Fireball Stage line-up, recognized as an indie rock band have credited influence from the likes of the ‘60s rock era, with a touch of Britpop, I could hear The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Oasis in their sound. Dorje on the other hand contrasted greatly, as Rob Chapman, the lead vocalist personally described the band as ‘hard rock’, and interestingly, mild metal inflections, particularly doom and nu-metal, along with grunge and post-grunge inspiration.

Vodun were very intriguing, as visually and musically they are inspired by African culture, specifically that of the Ewe people, along with the spiritual practice of Hoodoo (Voodoo, Vodun); combining the occult psychedelic, blues rock, with soul; another incredible factor of the line-up was the presence of a black vocalist, called Oya. Though black singers and musicians have been present within the rock and metal scene for decades (prominently rock’n’roll, blues, and the genres that would come to inspire proto-punk and helped inspire/influence the genres as they are known today), with metal being more current involvement, and have had significantly historical success, they are very much an underrated presence. What is also wonderful is that Oya is one of the many modern black contributors of the genre that is openly expressing her ancestral culture within the band’s performance and music.

Once it was time to get inside the main area for the four head acts performing that night; Blackberry Smoke, Apocalypica, The Darkness and Alice Cooper, this is where things started to take an enthralling turn in more ways than one.  Not only did I, before the show started, get talking to a fellow Alice Cooper fan, and found out she was also a hardcore Johnny Depp fan like myself, and is a regular contributor to one of the largest Depp fan-sites to date (Johnny Depp Zone), but, later down the line, the mood of the show turned quite boisterous (I’ll elaborate on that later). The evening started out very smoothly, when Blackberry Smoke came onto the stage, though the acquaintance and I weren’t instantly familiar with them at first, I began to recognize some of the songs and sang along; with there evidentially being a familiarity within the audience, fans were present and it settled us all into a growing enthusiasm and unison. Though being a current country rock group, being around for 16 years, they had a vintage sound, combining traditional country rock, folk and psychedelic.

Apocalyptica were the second group of the line-up to materialize, and with them was their current vocalist Franky Perez; formerly of Scars of Broadway (2003 – 2013) who he had co-founded with Doran Malakian of System of a Down. Their primary set of tracks performed were instrumental (and vocalized) covers of the likes of legendary heavy metal bands Metallica (Master of Puppets and Seek and Destroy) and Inquisition Symphony by Sepultura. Apocalyptica were one of the bands performing that day that I was absolutely looking forward to see live, not just for the fact that I am a fan of their music, but for their execution of their craft, using an unexpected instrument to replace the standard, if not established electric guitar and bass within metal. For those who have not heard of them before, they use cellos; thus the genres they participate in (cello metal, neoclassical metal and classic alternative metal). It certainly changed up the atmosphere from Blackcherry Smoke, and drew out the ‘metalhead’ out of the audience, and coincidentally brought out a new fan in the acquaintance; she was excitedly taking photographs because she was amazed at what she was seeing, even once calling it ‘sexy’. At the end of their set, before they played the last song and saying their goodbyes, Eicca Toppinen announced to the audience that Apocalyptica were celebrating the 20th year anniversary of their debut album Plays Metallica by Four Cellos (1996) and that they were re-releasing said album, and taking it on tour. When he asked those of us who had heard and listened to the album, and didn’t get the response he was expecting he jokingly questioned ‘what the fuck is wrong with you?’ Make sure you don’t make our mistake and check out the album if you haven’t already!

It was as The Darkness came on stage that things started to take the boisterous turn. When they came on stage, there was excitement, and great amounts of passion from the audience. In between their track listing, this included works from their current album Last of Our Kind (2015), and predominantly from their debut album Permission to Land (2003), such as established tracks Love is only a Feeling and I Believe in a Thing called Love, the vocalist Justin Hawkins was very chatty with the audience, showing off his memory skills of recognizing particular individuals who attended previous shows. I’ll confess, though I like some of their work, I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I enjoyed the charisma they gave off. They emulated Queen, and Hawkins was very Freddie Mercury in his theatrics, and I will say it here…Justin may not be my type, but he has a certain sex appeal on stage, he oozed flamboyant confidence. However, it was half way through the show that the unruly behavior of the audience began; they were predominantly young people, ranging from late teens to my age, and they began to push forward through the crowd, shoving each other and attempted to create a mosh-pit. Luckily, there were security people around to calm things down temporarily, but the behavior unfortunately would later resurface during the last and the most anticipated act, Alice Cooper.

Alice Cooper’s arrival to the stage was an event in itself, and the buildup got not only myself but the acquaintance, there was a considerable amount of build-up with a sheet coming to hide the stage as they prepared it, with the famous signer of his spider inspired eye-make up peering menacingly over audience, infused with a black widow spider maneuvering across her web, then the lights dimmed and after a voice over introducing the song Black Widow, the sheet fell away to have him appear in all his glory. It felt like I had stepped back in time right back into the era of the stage antics and theatrics of psychedelic rock, when shock rock was coming into its formation; as the stage was cluttered with gore and horror props, had renowned appearance of the python (Public Animal 9#), actors and puppetry participating with a number of songs’ narratives (Feed my Frankenstein, Cold Ethyl, Only Women Bleed and Guilty), and got the pleasure of watching a female guitarist – in this particular performance, Nina Strauss (a descendent of the composer Johann Strauss II)  – on stage, something I always saw from a distance either online on video clips, on television (such as Lita Ford, Orianthi, and Joan Jett), or just listened to, but never saw in person, and similar to watching female drummers perform, it was an empowering and memorizing moment. She also produced a killer solo before Poison was performed; and did a duet with Ryan Roxie and a trio with Chuck Garric. To complete the awesomeness of the show was Glenn Sobel’s brilliant drum solo (Halo of Flies).

The disruptive behavior came back into play just as Alice Cooper came to perform the cover of Jimi Hendrix’s song Fire, introducing some of his Hollywood Vampires’ material from their completed European tour, which covered David Bowie, The Who, and Motorhead as well. People were once again pushing forward, shoving people around to try and goad them into joining in, and it at times lost control as people were falling over and getting potentially trampled on, and resumed right through until School’s Out (combined with Another Brick in the Wall, by Pink Floyd), when things started to settle down, as the crowd were distracted by floating balls of confetti.

The show ended with Elected, which had Cooper dressed as his own version of Uncle Sam (from the ‘I WANT YOU’ for the US Army advertisement, 1917), and humorously singing on how the world wanted him as president of the United States (and we secretly do), and mocked the presidential elections of 2016, with actors as Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton fighting it out and making out, before drawing his slot to a close with fireworks and more paper confetti falling down over us, and everyone, acquaintance and I left on a high, if you exclude our sore feet.

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*The explicit reason I draw attention to the disorderly behavior of some audience members from Saturday night is because of how dangerous it was and is. It was during The Darkness that I overheard a woman who had come to stand next me to at some point during the show, telling off one of the people involved for causing such trouble; and he was cockily telling her it was a ‘mosh-pit’, that we should’ve been joining in, and was responsible for the second round during Alice Cooper. His, and others’ behavior (which included women as well as other men) were responsible for belongings getting kicked around (mine included, to the point of almost getting damaged and lost), losing personal belongings and potentially getting people crushed and trampled. As mentioned before, there were security present; however, I just want to say creating mosh-pits on impulse should be avoided at all cost. If mosh-pits are instigated, it is by the band performing, not the audience themselves; forcing it onto unwilling participants gets people hurt. It’s this kind of behavior that should get them removed. In no way is this anything against the O2 staff, and their security who acted professionally and accordingly, and neither were The Darkness and Alice Cooper and their entourage at fault, it is the responsibility of the audience attending to be respectful, not only to each other, but to the bands performing.

Photo by Sandra Sorenson

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