Riff Fest 2015
For one beer sozzled and sun kissed day, Bolton became the Riff Filled Land. It’s crazy that the event is free, this year living out its second hangover-inducing haze after last year’s inauguration. The line-up is outstanding and the atmosphere even better; chatter and laughter fills the air, tangling with smoke from the barbeque and cigarettes. The heady mix of things becomes almost transcendent; like the festival was taking place within its own dimension. My memory, like everyone else’s I can strongly assume, is sketchy at best, but the positive feelings that reverberated in my slightly weaker and sleep-deprived self the next day speak a thousand words in themselves.
Punters were advised to get down early to guarantee themselves entry to the day’s frivolities and as a result the place is electric from the off; just shy of 600 people had said they were going on the official Facebook event, with the venue maxing out at around 300. So that gives you an idea of weight of importance the date has to the scene– it’s one which has been circled on so many calendars for what feels like an eternity now. Excitement buzzed and rattled around the place from late morning until the very messy end, like ear drums were throughout the day. Everyone here is your friend and swathes of folk have come from all over the UK just to be here and worship at the altar of The Riff.
To further put things into perspective, it took me an hour to go from my table outside to the bar and back at one point, bumping into and drunkenly slurring with friends I hadn’t seen in a while every few steps. I had to go back and get another pint in the end – in a two pint cup nonetheless, a wise move from the organisers.
And if one thing could match the atmosphere and the earth shuddering music in which this festival was founded proudly upon, it was the way this whole event was run: flawlessly. No bands overran, everything was on time and nothing went to pot (if you’ll excuse the pun). When the venue was at full capacity by mid-afternoon, The Alma adopted a ‘one in, one out’ policy and people queued happily outside with not even a murmur of complaint.
‘What about the music?’ I hear you call. Well, we’re fucked if I know. For once I became ‘that guy’ who goes to a festival and hardly sees any bands, but I wasn’t alone, and that’s the glory of this festival. Everyone here is here for the music, the decibels and to support the stunning heavy music our nation is currently creating. But it becomes more than just that, it becomes a social gathering of almost religious proportions and my god, it’s beautiful (another pun for you to excuse there, I suppose).
I do remember the sledgehammer waves of Nomad’s sludge punch in a packed out room, Drian Nash climbing all over the walls, ceiling and crowd during a crushing and in-yer-face performance. It was slow and venomously pissed off – that static energy ever-present. Eysaw ripped through their set outside; Benson Strapple’s tub-thumping causing avalanche’s on distant mountains. The band’s glittering centrepiece – no scratch that, that sounds too pansy. The most lethal weapon in their deadly arsenal however, is frontman Nicholas O'Brien. The passion and power that he delivers his sandpaper grit vocals with are unmatched and it draws you into his aura in this almost indescribable way. The first time I saw these guys I was rapt and their performance here stands testament to that.
Pist were as brilliant as they always are, the modern embodiment of the true spirit of rock n’ roll, they manage to be drunker than anyone else in attendance while spewing out some the best riff work and thundering grooves in the process. The Hicks spice the bill with variety; more hip-shaking than headbanging at times, the injections of reggae into their sound embrace the fitting scent that manages to overpower the barbeque as their set unfurls. I think I saw frontman Alex Hurt’s other band, Boss Keloid too. I have a vague recollection of standing there in awe – like they always have me – but who knows?
Ten Foot Wizard’s set was draped in an almost cult like status, especially impressive considering this whole event is a celebration of a surging and burgeoning underground movement. They sculpt Clutch fashioned stomps with tongue-in-cheek humour to create songs that everyone wants to lose their shit to. I Miss The Sex goes down a storm with those who’ve crammed themselves in front of the stage, or as close as they can get to it anyway and the infamous Covered In Tits turns things up way past 11.
Other blurred memories include my friend Ollie snorting a ladybird, devouring a sexy, sexy burger and a man slumped in the alley outside, sat in broken glass and completely out for the count. He’d sure as hell had his fix, I thought as I stepped over him – my mate tumbled over him afterwards – and made my way to some form of taxi rank.
From the car I watched the Alma lantern fade in the rear-view mirror. The festival itself though, is far from fading.
Long live the riff, roll on next year.
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Ash Gollings