Blogpost: Sunn O))) + Caspar Brötzmann, Kaserne - Basel CH

Posted by Cheryl • October 13, 2019

Posted by Cheryl • October 13, 2019

Sunn O))) with Caspar Brötzmann, 09/10/2019 Kaserne, Basel CH

On this cold, somewhat rainy evening in Basel, the expectations for what will come are high. Sunn O))) are riding the waves of Life Metal, released earlier this year to great acclaim and a partner to the still to come Pyroclasts, and this evening feels like a celebration of life, of being in the moment and losing yourself to sound and the wonders that can lie beyond the horizon. The biggest worry on many minds is "Just how loud will this be?" and considering the decibel limit in Switzerland is a fairly low 100dB, those fears lean more towards "will it actually be loud enough?" Before we can find out, Caspar Brötzmann takes us on a bass-led journey of sound. The solo artist conjures curious rhythms and off-kilter tones during his time on the stage and the weird twists and turns he takes the audience on confusing and slightly bizarre. Grooves are laid out and stop suddenly so the ability to grasp on to any one part of the music becomes harder and harder as the set moves on towards its end. That's not to say that Caspar Brötzmann is in any way "bad," rather that his style is so unique that it takes a moment of grounding yourself, of doing some work to seek out the key moments and then attaching yourself to the notes and it's within this that beauty is found. 

Soon after Caspar Brötzmann leaves the stage then the setting up of the Sunn O))) stage begins. While many of the amps are already in place, pedal boards and guitars need to be checked and cables fixed before the next performance can start. Once the band are happy then the the slow and deliberate build-up can begin. As the room fills with fog and your sight is obscured, flashes of light from the ceiling lamps pulse in time with a beat that is as fleeting as it is booming. The lights dim every so often and the anticipation that soon we will hear that first distorted note is felt throughout the hazy room, but not before the claustrophobic atmosphere has truly enclosed the audience and it seems as though relief will never come. The payoff is a long-time coming but that only adds to the fact that this performance already feels like an experience that will be talked about long after the final sustained guitar riffs fade out. Any concerns as to the decibel limit are allayed soon after the smoke begins to clear and the cloaked forms of Sunn O))) begin to make their presence known on stage. The previous ten minutes of waiting is soon forgotten and the following hour and forty-five minutes feels like a fever dream.

Lights are bright and rich with blues and magentas mixing in the middle of the stage while the hooded figures of core members Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley and their guitars appear through the curling fog, alongside long-term collaborators Tos Nieuwenhuizen (electronics) and Steve Moore (electronics and trombone), and later Tim Midyett on bass (he may have been on stage the entire time but smoke and amps muddied the view). Drones are structured and allowed to breathe in the space while the fog machines pump out smoke that loops its tendrils around the front row of the audience. Waves of guitar notes push ever harder against the air and move towards the back of the room and for many here the need to allow these notes to wash over them with eyes closed and arms raised is a sight to behold. 

The absolute dedication to sound is apparent throughout their performance and as the drones rumble on and bodies vibrate, a ladder, that is for some reason leaning against the wall at the side of the stage, makes a metallic racket in time with the discordant strikes on guitar strings. Soon its noise is incorporated into the magic that is happening on the stage itself. It is no longer a separate entity but a part of the instrumentation and while the floor seems to quake and structural integrity is rendered naught but dust, Sunn O))) bring the evening to a stunned standstill. Steve Moore’s incredible trombone solo is lit by eerie yellow/green light which feeds into the supernatural aspect of the evening quite sublimely. 

The transcendental aspect of Sunn O))) is brought to the fore towards the end of their performance when, after getting completely lost in the resonance of what is happening on stage, there comes a moment when Greg Anderson’s guitar seems to be floating in mid-air. He is no longer holding on to it and instead is worshipping his instrument from below. The guitar is hooked over the metal grid that forms the lighting rig by a machine head (or at least that’s how it seems from this viewpoint) and it’s honestly a second of wondering what in the world is going on but coming to the quick realisation that this is Sunn O))) at their most pure, most respectful of the equipment that got them to this place, on this day, and it is glorious to witness. When the final notes finally descend from the heavens and the band removes their hoods, the elation, relief and exhaustion on their faces is clear, but so is their reverence for the audience who profess their love with palms raised, supplicating themselves to the god of pure sound - the amplifier.

This last ninety minutes is not enough for the Basel crowd and so Sunn O))) come back for a fifteen minute encore that is wondrous in its radiance. Lights are rich and warm and envelope the stage and the band in tones of majestic blue and yellow. This is Life Metal in all its glory; a celebration of music and of giving yourself over to a higher power to guide your journey to the otherworld.

You can listen to this particular performance here.

More recent blogposts

Reckless Brewing and Moo Brew’s Gin Boilermaker

Posted by T • July 29, 2021

Thus Let Us Drink Beer – Reckless Brewing and Moo Brew’s Gin Boilermaker   Having honed and refined channelling her alchemy in the creation of craft beers, the quality of which has left an indelible mark on the firmament of Australian craft brews, Reckless Brewing’s co-founder Grace has and continue to contribute to shaping the DNA of one of the … Read more

Beethoven and Wagner vs Nietzsche

Posted by T • July 26, 2021

Beethoven: A life University of California Press   There is no shortage of books dedicated to the life of a composer whose legacy has never ceased to reverberate and impact music at large. Released to commemorate the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of his birth, what sets this biography apart in terms of authority is partly due to the unprecedented access … Read more

Water of Life – Limeburners and Earp Distillery

Posted by T • July 25, 2021

Water of Life – Limeburners and Earp Distillery   Over the last ten years, Australia has firmly established itself on the map of nations that produce quality malt whiskies. Slowly but steadily, rye whiskies created on terra australis have been making a splash on the scene with quite a few distilleries crafting their own incarnations of American style rye whiskey. … Read more

The Formative Years – Rugby and Canterbury

Posted by T • July 24, 2021

The Formative Years – Rugby and Canterbury I’ve covered the mecca that Washington DC proved to be as a hotbed for hardcore and punk as part of this series before, however, missed to shed light onto one of my favourite releases from the 1980s era, i.e. the vitally important split LP of the short-lived bands The Faith and Void.  While … Read more

The Formative Years – Hardcore Classics, pt. 1

Posted by T • July 23, 2021

The Formative Years – Hardcore classics pt. 1   With ZAP magazine playing a pivotal role in promoting and covering everything New York Hardcore related in a pro-active and prominent manner, Europe and specifically Germany have always been prime markets for hardcore emanating from the Big Apple.  The result was that “NYHC” became a veritable label and trademark and almost … Read more

The Formative Years - Ebullition Records

Posted by T • July 22, 2021

The Formative Years - Ebullition Records  The first time I heard about Ebullition Records was when there was talk around the campfire of that a gentleman that was known to me as a Maximum Rock’n’roll / No Answer zine contributor, i.e. Kent McClard, was planning to release a full length of one of my favourite bands from Orange County, California, … Read more

Thus Let Us Drink Beer - Holgate and Six String

Posted by T • July 18, 2021

Thus Let Us Drink Beer - Holgate Brewhouse and Six String Brewing   As we have outlined with our previous coverage of Holgate Brewhouse, over the last twenty years the Victorian brewery has established itself firmly on the forefront of innovative quality producers of ales that honour both the classic styles from the old world and the ever expanding and … Read more

Water of Life – Hellfire / Kilderkin Distilleries

Posted by T • July 15, 2021

Water of Life – Hellfire Distillery / Kilderkin Distillery   If you have followed this series with a modicum of interest and harbour a weak spot for fantastic, artisanal spirits, Tasmania would be doubtlessly be have made it on your to-visit list quite a while ago. Visiting the southernmost state of Australia twice a year, I never cease to discover … Read more

Water of Life – The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Posted by T • July 12, 2021

Water of Life – The Scotch Malt Whisky Society   There is certainly no shortage of whisky clubs and subscription services these days and for anyone remotely into discovering new flavour nuances and variations of their favourite bottlings, joining one can prove to be a viable option. The experience those services offer ranges from basic monthly tasting kits that might … Read more

Water of Life – Milton Rum & Mad Monkey Distillery

Posted by T • July 11, 2021

Water of Life – Milton Rum and Mad Monkey Distillery   Rum has a long and at times chequered history reaching back more than six hundred years to the times dominated by Colonialism, where it did not only serve to make pirates drunk but as a means for trade. Fast forward to the present day and the renaissance that the … Read more