Bursting from its breathtaking cultural host of Poble Espanyol in Barcelona was Be Prog! My Friend’s third year of office. For an event so characterized by a scorching hot sun it was quite greedy for the line up to be so star studded, with a pretty stellar spectrum of progressive goliaths above several plucky Davids. It is sometimes strange to think that this oasis of prog amongst the shiniest of palm trees was surrounded by such an expansive metropolis, but often it was hard not to feel like you’d been spirited away into a small world with a big smile. You could even buy an ice-cream. Fancy that. What a world we live in. Headlining the first day was Pineapple Thief as a form of warm up day for the Beverly Hills Saturday – but spurred on by the sun there were plenty of times where the fire was more then just a warm up.
Exxasens – [3/5]
As a fitting opening to the festival, Barcelona’s own Exxasens opened to a home crowd with their largely instrumental soundscapes. Working with strong ambient passages that lay the foundations for rippling guitar work, there were some interesting clashes between space rock and more conventional progressive staples in Exxasens’ looping songs. Without much animation, Exxasens placed their faith in their expansive sound – hoping for it to encompass a slowly growing crowd without escaping into the open-plan ether. For the most part, they managed to pull it off with a very meditative set that played hard into their darkened tour along the solar system. There were definitely moments were Exxasens lost focus, especially when the riffs lost anchor and fluttered into the air, but for the most part they played off their strengths and delivered an enjoyably wistful set.
Exxasens’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ELEVENMILES/
Obsidian Kingdom – [3.5/5]
If Exxasens represented the lighter side of Barcelonan Prog’s moon, then Obsidian Kingdom was distinctly its dark side. Tearing through heavy and purposeful songs, mostly off their newest A Year With No Summer, it was hard not to be impressed by their sombre violence. A real highlight in their sound, and brilliantly brash performance, was a very 90s-influenced style; with some fantastic distorted guitars from new guitarist (and I’m not making this up) Eaton Roll I – which I pray was her birth name. It was aggressive energy playing counterpoint to some deceptively intelligent song writing that really made Obsidian Kingdom shine black, with Omega’s demanding vocal style making sure that the hooks sunk deep enough for the mangled guitars to tear through. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more of Obsidian Kingdom in the UK with their multidisciplinary sound, and they would be a great asset to any bill that they appeared on.
Right. We’ve got the serious bit out of the way. Now this is why Obsidian Kingdom is secretly 5 stars and the best band of any festival ever. Throughout the performance Omega’s strong man persona didn’t betray the comic genius that lies within this man. In the crowd there were very few people who laughed at this criminally underrated joke. Halfway through a pretty bleakly nihilistic set Omega asked the crowd “Do you sometimes feel like you are a window?” There was no reply, perhaps as people reflected on their existence, but even with the preparation no one in that venue was prepared for the weapons grade joke that came next: “Is your life…PANE!” They then launched into the next song with complete abandon. I have never lost it so badly in a crowd before in a crowd that simply didn’t get it. It’s all right Omega…I got it…and it was fucking amazing.
Obsidian Kingdom’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/obsidiankingdom/
IAmTheMorning – [5/5]
IAmTheMorning are a Russian neo-classical, or chamber, progressive band that were making a rare excursion out of their home country to play Europe. IAmTheMorning were also the best band of the festival and I’m writing for a website called OneMetal – I could be fired at any moment. IAmTheMorning’s performance was nothing less than breathtaking, with minimalistic strings and piano setting the table for Semkina’s centrepiece vocal delivery. She jokes how she seems so cheery between songs when all of her vocals pertain to death and devastation – but it is directly this dichotomy where IAmTheMorning thrives. There was charming and upbeat audience chatter, before cascading into black orchid melodies or joyously upbeat dreamlike tales of burning houses. It was a combination that is instantly engaging at its worst and hauntingly profound at its best – like a damaged piano in the nature filled remnants of a cottage past lived.
The instrumentation was at times jazz-influenced, such as with the riotously received ‘Matches’ and ‘5/4’, but is mainly masterfully understated. Their sounds playfully creep and tip toe into your conscious until they capture your whole attention. Semkina though is by far the dark star of the entire outfit, courting a stage prescience that at times reminded me of Kate Bush or, in a strange pull, Lauren Mayberry. They received a standing ovation, being the only band to receive a bouquet, and I can only hope that someone heard. It would be an absolute tragedy if IAmTheMorning didn’t gain far more exposure and fanfare after this performance, but something tells me that is a tragedy that they won’t get to tell. Sometimes the best things are surprises, and IAmTheMorning are the best kind of surprise. Spellbinding.
IAmTheMorning’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iamthemorningpage/
Agent Fresco – [4.5/5]
It would normally be a terrifying prospect to go on after a set like IAmTheMorning’s, but Iceland’s Agent Fresco were not going to go down without a fight. After explaining how he’d recently contracted pneumonia, vocalist Amarson proceeded to give a performance that really did seem like his life depended on it. With a cataclysmic physical battle against his own health, Agent Fresco’s established incendiary live performances, and the strength of newest effort Destrier; the set fast became one of the most frenetic and feel good performances of the festival. Combining soaring pop elements with ludicrously anthemic guitar lines gives Agent Fresco a disgusting amount of sing-a-long potential that effortlessly flows with the more complex elements of their compositions.
It was very evident that this show meant a lot to them, and even under intense strain they made it look like a straight victory lap. Amarson’s vocals are unique in their airy fragility; nicely counterpointed at times with gut wrenching screams. Destrier served them fantastically, with its penchant for finding artful melodies amongst technical showmanship and more straight forward rock – with very little times where the crowd weren’t electrified by tune after tune after tune. If this is an indication of what they can do when wounded, then I struggle to imagine them not being brutally beaten down by police batons for tearing Poble Espanyol apart in good health. They received a riotous reception and they deserved every second of it – they will go on to do big things.
Agent Fresco’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/agentfresco/
The Pineapple Thief – [3.5/5]
Closing out the Friday was England’s own The Pineapple Thief, almost acting as a beacon for how a modern prog band can still rise to the top. Playing primarily from their last album Magnolia, it was a very clinical and outwardly professional set to bow out the first day with some class. Benefitting greatly from impeccable sound quality, The Pineapple Thief really let their songs do the talking – deciding for a stoic minimalism rather than all out bombast. Highlights came from the dynamic modernism of ‘Alone at Sea’ which evolves like an android setting up an IKEA sofa and ‘All the Wars’ which evolves like a paranoid android setting up an IKEA sofa bed.
It was a solid set, but one that did suffer considerably from what had come before it. At times the set did feel slightly routine in its clinical nature, and lacked the raw untamed power of Agent Fresco. That may seem like a facetious statement, but it was quite glaring at points the difference in mood and reception to Agent Fresco that really did seem to damage the mood of the set. Still though, it was a professional performance that certainly showcased the band’s illustrious career and song writing craft; however Agent Fresco had changed the race from a marathon to a sprint where The Pineapple Thief didn’t quite manage to steal the show away.
Pineapple Thief’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thepineapplethief/
All photography courtesy of Yatin Srivastava.