The Best, Worst, and Weirdest Stuff We Saw at Berserktown Day Three
Day three of Berserktown II melded punk, metal, and noise heavyweights.
All photos by Timothy Norris, except where noted
The festival started last year as a grimy throwdown at club Los Globos in Los Angeles, where bands like Hoax and Dawn of Humans did crazy shit like spill blood and tape foreign objects around their private parts. For this year’s edition—happening Friday, August 14 through Sunday, August 16—the fest relocated to a new venue at the Observatory just south of L.A. in Orange County; there’s a bit more room to stretch out with three stages, a vendor area and food trucks. The expanded lineup—which includes a dance tent—is more “eclectic” as well, if that’s really the right word to use. But the whole thing is still gnar enough to have attracted a lot of hype up and down the coast in recent months. Eager to get a taste of what seems like an unprecedented underground event, a crack team of Noisey journalists have joined the hordes trekking south from L.A. to investigate the scene.
Below you will see some of our findings for day three of Berserktown II.
Dead Moon Show Us How It’s Done
Young people should aspire to be as cool as Fred and Toody Cole. Sure, the husband-and-wife duo behind Portland punk legends Dead Moon don’t seem as spry as they were back in the band’s late-80s early days. But they still cut a killer figure on the main stage Sunday, dishing out jams built from rough hewn guitar riffs, howling vocal refrains and drummer Kelly Halliburton’s muscular beats. “God damn I hate the blues!” Fred cried at one point, looking like he’d just stepped out of a cross-country ghost train with his unkempt long hair and bolo tie. Dead Moon, who reunited last year after an eight-year hiatus, hark back to a time before high definition, when rockers had to use pure grit and not studio enhancement to get their point across. To that end it was inspiring watching Toody plug away on her Vox teardrop bass, evoking attitude and experience with each verse she sang. - Peter Holslin
Vexx's Unrivaled Berserkness
There's something potent flowing through Maryjane Dunphe's veins. Vexx's lead singer looks like she's about to unleash her dark side – like an angry Bruce Banner pumping Hulk-blood. During Vexx's brutal set on the final night of Berserktown, Dunphe was dripping with potent sweat, spit, and the starved instincts of a predator. Vexx's lead singer is a seething animal possessed by the bloodline of Olympia's punk DNA, nihilism that rivals the Germs, and Courtney Love's chutzpah. Dunphe displayed her power, humping the stage, using a microphone cable to gesture masturbation, miming like Kate Bush, and just going insane for 30 of the punkest minutes in main-stage festival history. - Art Tavana
The Catchiest Song Ever About Class Struggle
You know that scene in Purple Rain when everybody at the club is dancing in unison to Dez Dickerson’s performance of “(I Want 2 BA) Modernaire”? That’s pretty much what happened when Sheer Mag played on the main stage around 8:15 PM. The Philadelphia punks specialize in politically charged, supremely catchy tunes that would go over well on a feel good 80s sitcom rebooted for a sharp 2015 audience. One of their best songs is “Fan the Flames,” a hooky anthem for revolution against negligent landlords and corrupt realtors, and as lead singer Christina Halladay brought it to life with her amazingly soulful, bad girl attitude, hundreds of festivalgoers bopped along to the beat. Telling it like it is never sounded so good. - PH
Berserkest Guitar Hero: Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females
Berserktown saw its fair share of punked-out guitar heroes, but it was Screaming Females' Marissa Paternoster who shredded her G&L six-string into a new stratosphere of berserk. Maneuvering across her fretboard while howling into the microphone, Paternoster garnered the sort of mouth-ajar reaction reserved for self-indulgent metal gods rather than New Jersey punks. Her ace fretwork, coupled with the groovy bass of "King Mike" Abbate, completely destroyed the notion that there's no room for showmanship in punk. Paternoster wrapped the set with an unpredictable blast of patterns and riffs that veered into Van Halen territory and required an instant-replay button to capture. The result was math rock complexity with grunge swagger. In other words, it was the berserkest solo of the weekend. - AT
Camera Phones = Death to Tr00 Kvlt Metal?
Hellvetron is a special black/death metal band. Rather than playing the usual combination of buzzsaw riffs and blast-beats, they stretch out into slow, anguished doom processionals. And when they performed in the side stage room, the El Paso group (comprising members of Black Witchery and Nyogthaeblisz, which, more on them later) put in lots of effort to create the ideal conditions for their dark rituals. Corpse paint was donned. Incense was burnt. A table was set up with candles, a painted skull, and a devil statuette. Unfortunately, as soon as they started playing, people in the audience killed the mood by whipping out their stupid cellphone cameras. These folks must’ve never been to a concert before—let alone a black metal concert—because for them, it wasn’t enough just to snap one or two quick pics and then spend the rest of the show actually paying attention to the music. Nooooo. These knuckleheads had to use their flashes. They had to take multiple videos. They had to try super hard to get The. Perfect. Shot., and in the process ruin the show for everybody else. - PH
Noise Trumped Riffs
It was like an alien spaceship landing. Lights flickered. Smoke belched from the front of the dance tent. Unsettling noise overtook the entire premises: invasive hisses, gut-rumbling drones, atonal tendrils of feedback and distortion. On a nearby stage, a European metal band was playing heavy riffs. But this performance—from Chicago experimental musician Kevin Drumm—was way more powerful. The noise, stripped of all of melodic structure, mutated slowly through high-pitched ripples and low-frequency lurches. When it finally went silent, everybody cheered… not because they were relieved it was over, but because they were stoked by this brutal and captivating noise-scape. - PH
A Royally Fucked-Up Headliner
The phrase "rock star shit" is used endearingly when describing Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux. From all the artists at Berserktown, Herrema was the only one who can say she signed to major label, blew up, gave no fucks and proceeded to become both a fashion icon and sage for the younger musicians she's mentored. Considering Sunday marked the first Royal Trux show since the band's 2001 breakup, and the fact that Royal Trux were the fest's big closer, it's no surprise that Herrema's "rock star shit" was in full effect. Dressed like a street-smart mid-90s tourist at Disneyland, Herrema busted out a flute three different times but managed to produce nothing but empty air. "I heard it," said one supportive Trux fan, while Herrema simply shrugged it off and continued to bust out her hip-hop Mick Jagger dance moves. When Herrema wasn't speaking some of the coolest gibberish you've ever heard, she sounded royally fucked up — a trance-like state where she channels the rock gods and drifts between the present with her band and far adrift into the strangest parts of songs like "Ice Cream," a track where she repeats the words "ice cream" as if performing a dizzying nursery rhyme on heroin. Set closer "The Inside Game" sounded like a disjointed jam session between Herrema and guitarist Neil Hagerty, with a fan tossing out a flower between them to end Berserktown with romance. - AT
The Royal Trux setlist, photo courtesy of Art Tavana
A Nazi Black Metal Band!?
Nyogthaeblisz has been the center of debate in the metal community for some time now. The El Paso group is reportedly Latino, but their band photos and live shows incorporate white supremacist iconography. Their lyrics are filled with hatred of a “subhuman race,” and some say they’re outright anti-Semitic, while others argue that they’re actually “anti-Abrahamic” (i.e. hating on all Abrahamic religions with equal fervor). At Berserktown the guitarist/singer and bassist/singer appeared onstage in spiked sleeves and menacing black masks covering their entire faces; the drummer, meanwhile, sported a black executioner's hood. As the trio muscled through a set of noise-encrusted riffs and demonic, effects-enhanced screams, their blast-beats sounded extra violent thanks to added amplification. The whole performance was terrifying—the equivalent of a medieval village raid, only with musical instruments not torches and swords. - PH
The 10 Berserkest Facts from Fuckers Books' History of Rock 'n' Roll
The Fuckers Books merch table at Berserktown didn't sell any books, mainly just trucker hats and black acrylic paint dipped dollar bills. On night three, two cute girls with a remote control monster truck managed to sell us a pamphlet of mostly fake facts about rock 'n' roll. Here are 10 of the most berserk "facts" we discovered from the 10-page bathroom reader that includes the shocking revelation that yes, "Lauryn Hill and Faith Hill are sisters."
1. "Pink Floyd was really influenced by the Kinks sucking their dicks."
2. "ICP fans all bank at Wells Fargo."
3. "KISS doesn't wear makeup that's their real faces."
4. "Elvis was superstitious about a woman named Paris Hilton."
5. "All hot guys are influenced by White Zombie."
6. "Green Day was great."
7. "Trent Reznor is the second cousin of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez."
8. "Rod Stewart was cool, he had a good haircut."
9. "Jesus and Mary Chain are Mormons."
10. "Dead Moon wanted every people in the audience to show them their tits."