Sunn O)))

Let’s start from the news.
Some weeks ago, Stephen O’Malley, guitarist and co-founder of Sunn O))) wrote on his blog that a French Catholic group was trying to stop Hellfest, a Metal festival happened in France last weekend.

O’Malley wrote:

“This is a first… according to these well-informed and open minded “anti-Hellfest” people we are performing a “black mass” are propogating The Church of Satan, Hitler and Crowley with our music. Usual first-stage extreme music smear tactics. Not sure of the authors but seems to be the far-right and anti-cultural French political party (mention of dipping into the taxpayers pockets, etc) who themselves propogate racism, anti-immigration, destruction of cultural bodies, etc.”

So far funny but nothing as exciting as getting into the post they wrote, bear with me.

Hellfest official site introduce Sunn O))) as:

“SUNN O))) was created in 1998 by Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson. Their collaboration and direction continues to exist through expanded constellations and various forms. SUNN O))) produce explorations in drone, psychedelic and experimental minimalism/maximalism as well as fusions with such underground metal cultures as black, death and doom metal. SUNN O)))’s emphasis on collaborative practice sees them working with of artists from different traditions, performing with experimental composers and sound artists, as well as musicians deeply rooted in underground music, sound and art cultures.”

the post on that French site, titled Sunn O ))): occultisme encore adds:

“The group became famous by revolting stage performances shaped in the form of unhealthy black masses.”

I have never been to a black mass and I can’t care less of satanism as much as I can’t care less of catholicism.
When I entered the Koko pit in London, standing in front of Sunn O)))-ready stage, the reference that came to my mind dated much before those Satan/Jesus Christ times. It was a contemporary installation of the stone age. The stage was a semicircle, a contemporary Stonehenge made of monoliths of amplifiers.

If there is an album that has a perfect title is Sunn O))) 2009 Monoliths and Dimensions. Their masterpiece and the moment the band gathered the attention of a larger public matherialized on the stage. Intimidating.

Just a day before the gig Sunn O))) shared the setting online.
As a photographer I was interested to see the technical requests to the light technician. As a music lover, and lover of any experimentalism which is the main reason why I was at Koko, I was looking forward to see live the Audio Philosophy: Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results.
Seducing even without caring of Satan. Bizarre.
I had my professional earplugs.

I was waiting for the band. The French ultra catholic Group was active organizing their crusade against Hellfest, with a prayer straight to the Virgin Mary that my very poor french and google translate made into this:

“Holy Mary,
Forgive our sins,
In this world where your son is constantly sacrificed on the altar of economic efficiency, demagogy and relativism,
While the prince of this world is getting more and more powerful to the point, if it were possible, to blind the son of light,
We come to implore your maternal protection to us and to all who believe in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and life.
We also pray for those who, blinded by greed or lured by the evil power of hell, are no longer able to discern truth from lies, beauty from ugliness, good from evil.
We implore you to bring to your Son our prayers and supplications to the cause of all evil that will be done during the 3 day festival of hell. With us, repeat the words He pronounced on the cross: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they do
Almighty Virgin, pray for us.”

Probably afraid that the Virgin listened and was soon going to take action, Koko was packed in any possible space. You never know! What if Sunn O))) were going to be struck by lightning at Hellfest leaving all of us with a missed opportunity to see them live?

Thank Satan, Hellfest was brilliant the weekend after this show without any problem whatsoever so there will be more Sunn O))) in the future.

Maybe the Virgin Mary got confused thinking that Archangel Michael was taking control of the situation.
Because a Sunn O))) live show is struck by lightning throughout. With beams of lights slicing the dense smoke that hides them, already hidden inside their peculiar robes.

For a group who wants even to prevent them playing those catholics sounds quite expert, the blog continues into a kind psychological analysis for dummies

“[…] the definition of dark or depressive appear as nonsense: Sunn O))) does not seem to express human emotions, as black as they are, they involve the body and disturb the senses reinforced by saturation and insidious bass frequencies.”

What in reality 2000 people of Koko attended is a sonic event that goes beyond the listening. It uses the ears as a channel to enter the body, the low frequencies they use give the crowd a physical experience that is perceived by every human organ.
Something happened to me only another time with the Japanese band Boris.

Unfortunately (for the photos) Attila Csihar comes on stage after we have already been kicked off, so I can’t use my photos to deny their claim he is wearing a strange mask. That was the previous tour.

Attila Csihar collaborated with Sunn O))) in multiple occasion and his growl is part of the sound. On the monitors, before the gig, I manage to photograph two sheet of paper with the lyrics. Good spot because they are inaudible when sang. Surprised to read there is no mention of Satan. WTF!

Curiously, the experts of the Virgin Mary can see that “The voice of Attila Csihar, whose depth is reminiscent of the Buddhist incantations as much as guttural growl back from a horror film, recites with infinite slowness and a Hungarian accent that certainly resembles Bela “Dracula” Lugosi, of long and rather strange apocalyptic texts.”

Now, beyond the crap google translation, what the hell (erm, yes!) have the French listened to recognise in SUnn O))) concert a Hungarian accent resembling Dracula?? For Satan’s sake. …And no mention of Dracula either.

The concert last 90 minutes and is an overtly unmissable experience going even beyond the borders of extreme music. Whatever kind of music you like Sunn O))) are one of those bands who push the listeners’ limit another bit further.

There’s a before and after Sunn O))) in any concertgoer career. A point of no return as it happens with few other artists in the world.

Meanwhile someone of that funny group was indeed writing another letter, in case the Virgin Mary didn’t listen, they plea the help of the Archangel Michael (wasn’t called Gabriel?).
This time the letter has been translated for the Quietus by a French real person and it goes:

“Holy Archangel Michael,
defend us in this struggle; be our relief against the demon’s malice and traps.
We implore you: may God show him his empire.
And you, Prince of the celestial militia, drive back to hell, by divine force, Satan and the other evil spirits that prowl the world searching for souls to corrupt.

Attila could take inspiration for the next album, they have a very similar style!

The concert finished, neither the Virgin Mary, not the Archangel whatever bothered to stop Sunn O))) .

I wonder if a day comes when these catholic groups will begin to ask themselves why their idols constantly ignore their prayers.

I won’t implore you to go and see Sunn O))) live but it is definitely an event that you will not forget. What I implore you to do is to bring a pair of good earplugs because no concert is worth enough to avoid you to hear any other concert in the future.

Sunn O))) are on the web their way [O’Malley blog][southern lord page]

Photo tip

From the Technical Info sheet

“Light should be minimal, slow and glacial, with a minimal amoun of moving and flashing lights.
Please use low spotlights on vocalist. Place white floorcans/backlights behind amplifiersto create heavy silhouetting of the stacks and members.
Fog Machines should be two, directly behind stacks plus two in front, facing members. Fog should be dense and heavy.
Please use fans behind stacks to cool amplifiers and create a burning/smoking effect between lightinh and fog.”

What the Technical info sheet doesn’t say, and probably the band doesn’t even know, is the small writing that must be handled only to the security guy in the pit that goes:

“Please kick all the photographers out of the pit after ten minutes.”

which means before the singer arrives and with only 2 or 3 of those 10 minutes available to photograph something that is not just green fog.

The sad point is that during the rest of the gig there were some incredible photo opportunities that will stay in my mind and never materialise on a image.

Pondering, surely the camera click aren’t a nuisance, surely in that darkness the photographers in the pit aren’t too. So why, Sunn O))) don’t you let us building a gallery of your show as you thoroughly deserve?

The answer my friend, is blowing in the fog, the answer is blowing in a very thick fog.

Good luck.

~ by Valerio on June 21, 2012.

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