As a festival that has, in its 20 years of existence, taken sonic expectations to an absolute zenith, Roadburn – the annual pilgrimage for worshippers of the heavy music, which takes place in venues across Tilburg each Spring – has once again pushed its own limitations in commissioning artists to compose new pieces of music to be presented at the festival. No stranger to aural experiments, Roadburn hosted a collaboration between Enslaved and Shining (Norway) in 2010 and a jam between members of Earthless and Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis in 2012, but for the 2018 edition, thanks to funding from Brabant C and the city of Tilburg, Roadburn invited Finnish bands Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising to form The Waste of Space Orchestra, a mind-bending, psychedelic exploration to open the festival, as well as gathering together the blackest of Icelandic metal musicians from Misþyrming, Naðra, Svartidauði and Wormlust to form the group Vánagandr, exclusively for the final day of the festival.
Roadburn has already announced that Tom G. Warrior will create “the ‘missing’ part of the Celtic Frost/Triptykon requiem trilogy, which will be performed by Triptykon and the Dutch Metropole Orkest at the 2019 edition, and now they are ready to reveal their next feverdance by bringing together musicians from two bands deeply entwined with the Roadburn story: Astrosoniq and The Devil’s Blood.
Roadburn’s mastermind and artistic director, Walter Hoeijmakers says of the pairing: “Roadburn has always sought to push the boundaries of creativity and expression, and over the years I found kindred spirits in both Astrosoniq and The Devil’s Blood. In fact, I forged a strong friendship with individual members, who have either helped out with the festival, or been a huge inspiration. This led to hosting the first ever show from The Devil’s Blood in 2008 and Astrosoniq challenging the very notion of psychedelica at several editions of the festival. I also found solace through this lasting friendship when both Selim (Lemouchi, The Devil’s Blood) and Astrosoniq’s Bidi (van Drongelen) passed away–I strongly feel that we are bound together by the desire to maintain an open mind about life and creativity, while pushing the envelope as well – musically, artistically and spiritually.”
Sci-fi obsessed psych-stoner rebels Astrosoniq, who formed in 1999 and played an early edition of Roadburn Festival that same year, were the natural mentors of The Devil’s Blood, lead by guitarist Selim Lemouchi, who made their Roadburn debut in 2008 becoming the sensational breakout band of the festival that year. Fronted by an absolute powerhouse of a vocalist, Farida Lemouchi, The Devil’s Blood became one of the most revered and imitated doom bands of the decade. But in just five years, and three albums, the band split up with members going on to play with or form Death Alley, Dool, Gold and Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies. Selim chose to end his life in 2014. In 2017, Bidi, The Devil’s Blood long-devoted manager and key figure at Roadburn Festival since day one, also, tragically, passed away. Now at Roadburn 2019 Oeds (Beydals, The Devil’s Blood/Death Alley), Ron (Van Herpen, The Devil’s Blood/Astrosoniq), Job (Van de Zande, The Devil’s Blood, Dool, Malkovich), Marcel van de Vondervoort. (Astrosoniq), Bob Hogenelst (Birth Of Joy), Matthijs Stronks (Donnerwetter) and Farida Lemouchi will reunite once more to create the specially commissioned group, Molasses, named after one of Selim’s compositions from the Enemies album Earth Air Spirit Water Fire.
“When we started to commissioning music for Roadburn, it was a given that I wanted to reconnect Farida, Ron, Oeds and Job, along with Marcel from Astrosoniq, as they are such a gifted musicians, who simply belong on stage together,” continues Walter Hoeijmakers. “Plus, I wanted to give them the opportunity to grow into a new space as artists, and really hope that Molasses will help them personally as well, giving them strength to embrace the future – whatever that holds.”
Of all the musicians that grew from The Devil’s Blood and its associated coterie of misfits, explorers and debauchees, it’s been its formidable singer who has remained in the shadows. Following the death of her brother, Farida has collaborated with Griftegard, Heretic, Urfaust, Dool and Gg:ull, but criminally not fronted her own new band. Molasses will see her back where she belongs, on the Roadburn stage. Where that takes her next, she does not know but as we discovered when we sought her out to find out more about this exciting new chapter in her musical journey, she’s ready to find out.
We finally get to do an interview together, Selim did all the Devil’s Blood interviews, so, tell us about Molasses…
“[Laughs] Well, he’s not here now. I don’t know when it was exactly but Walter suddenly said, ‘I want you to play at Roadburn’, not only that, he said ‘I want you to do it with these guys’. It was like a fucking present, because it was exactly the right moment. Everyone was so ready, and then this opportunity came along. We started making music and it’s fucking great to do. And we’re really thankful, it’s the best thing to happen in five years. We’re together again now and we’re something new.”
I know that Selim and Bidi were a huge part of the Roadburn family, and the last time you performed there was in 2014 as part of an incredibly poignant posthumous performance of The Enemies. Will you incorporate elements of their bands into this set?
“No. No, we’ve been there, done that. We’re moving on. This is really important for us. The audience needs to understand that this is new and that it’s not old and that we’re not going to be a sequel. I would really hate for people to expect us to do a Devil’s Blood song. They shouldn’t. Molasses is all about letting go, using the shit that’s been before, but still letting go, and then going on somewhere new with all this baggage that we have. That’s the whole concept actually. It’s all about that and it feels great. And it’s time. It’s time.”
Why did you choose Molasses as the title of the project?
“I was thinking of a name and then of course I thought of The Devil’s Blood and how we got that name [from Watain, who were a huge inspiration to Selim]. And then I was looking at Selim’s songs from the Enemies and I saw ‘Molasses’. It was my favourite actually. And the meaning of this stuff is, it’s very sticky, you know? The whole idea of molasses is that it’s letting go, but real slow and it always keeps sticking a little bit. You never can really let go. You have to embrace it, and you have to stop and think with it. But you can still move on. For me, it’s like that. There is a time when you stand still and then you have to go into it a bit deeper, and then it gets really deep and dark. And then when when you do that, you wake up one day and you’re stronger and better and then you take next steps.”
You performed on that song, it’s beautiful. What was it about?
“It’s a psychedelic trip. For me, it means the trip I took with my brother and everyone involved in and around The Devil’s Blood.”
Have you started working on the commissioned piece, when did this all begin to take shape?
“I think maybe at Roadburn last year, around that time. Everyone was already writing, we were always talking together about how we should definitely do something, like ‘I’ve got this song for you, and that song’. But nothing ever came of it. And then suddenly there was this boost, we had so many things to do. So, we started, I think, recording demos in June, May maybe, and then from there on.”
Recording? That sounds promising…
“Well, our first focus is the show. And it has to be perfect. It has to be better than perfect. It has to be something where I can die afterwards. It has to be that good. I have this good feeling, okay. This is okay. We’ll take it from there.”
Don’t die afterwards! Let’s talk about Walter. Roadburn is at the point now where he can ask whoever he wants to perform and do something special, yet he always comes back to his family. So can you tell me a little bit about that relationship and what it means to play at Roadburn?
“We all experienced special times at Roadburn, so this became a special festival for us. Walter has always been interested in what everyone was doing and stayed in touch. And his timing to put this together was spot-on. It’s like we have a soul connection and we’ve been through a lot together. Lots of stuff happened and we all were there together, all the time. So, you get this bond and it’s like a brotherhood. I don’t know, it’s forever…”
Can you reveal anything about the music?
“Just come and listen and see for yourself. I don’t know. This Molasses thing, this is just some ingredients, old ingredients? Maybe. But we have some new ingredients and you mix them up and then you get a new meal. Just come see us without expectations.
That’s the great thing about Roadburn, you shouldn’t attend if you have expectations about what you’re going to see, or what some thing sounds like. I took a risk when I first saw The Devil’s Blood, I didn’t know what you’d sound like. I walked into the room and recognized the smell of the incense and then these blood-drenched musicians walked on stage and then you, like Medea or a vengeful Goddess and I thought, this is where I’m staying.
“That’s how you have to live your life. You have to take many risks, if you don’t take risks then life is over.”
Do you feel fear and trepidation about performing again?
“Of course. Very much so. But the fact that there is this creative energy and the urgency to let it flow, gives a feeling of confidence. And that is bigger than the fear.”
Is there any added pressure or expectation that this could be perceived as a tribute?
“It’s not a tribute. Of course not. But you can see in it what you want. We are a group of people who feel the need to put our feelings, desires, anxieties, anger and grief into this form of art. And everyone is entitled to call it whatever the fuck they want, I don’t care. All I can tell you is that having expectations is all one needs to be disappointed.”
I’m going to wait and be surprised. Did you ever want to perform again, every one from The Devil’s Blood has gone on to be active musically and we’ve been waiting to see you on stage again.
“Selim and I had this way of working together which was one of a kind, I think. At least for me it is. I needed him and he needed me. We had this way to get the best out of each other. We were always challenging one another to get to the filthy, deep, dark places so it took me some time to step into this world again with other people. I felt alone. Sometimes it felt as if singing again would be a betrayal to my brother, and other times I thought it could never be as good, and all kinds of other thoughts. The fact is that I had to be alone to work through my shit… I did, so now there is room again for something new.”
And do you think your journey will continue after this?
“Maybe. But who knows you know? That’s one of the things I learned. No one knows.”