It’s been just over a week since Festival Nrmal wrapped up, but that’s how long it took us to recover from the weekend-long bender of chelas, music & afters. Below, peep our round-up of the highlights and lowlights of the festival.
Day 1: The Good
NRMAL pretty much had the best idea for stages: stick two adjacent to one another, set up one while people are vibing at the other, and have a third one a little off the path. Of course, this set up was the same one they used last year, but I think we should give them a round of applause for this great idea. My feet are very thankful.
Food curation was top notch as ever, and they even featured a cook off on the grounds (more on that later), as well as the now familiar sight of food trucks. My favorite of these was Knot and Loop who specialize in pretzel everything, from plain old ones (and varieties like parmesan and cinnamon) to dogs and pizzas. You could top your grub with delicious sesame ketchup and dijon mustard, not to mention their homemade flavored lemonades. It was portable too.
Music acts that killed it
Early on, Boogarins blew everyone’s ears off with their psych improvisations that flowed from musical notes to noise and back again. Metz got an early mosh pit going thanks to their superb noise rock and unlimited energy. Kirin J. Callinan —wearing pachuco zoot suit pants— played a dark, disturbing and humorous set that didn’t have to make sense to be fun; Chain & The Gang were a fun garage soul revue with a contrarian message (what else would you expect from Ian Svenonius?), and Las Brisas, armed with distorted vocals and noisy synths, got people pumped into dancing.
Fatima & Eglo Band
Last time we checked with the Stockholm singer, it was a year ago and “La Neta” was her calling card. Playing a hour long set, Fatima came across like Lauryn Hill from the barrio, grooving at different tempos with warm arrangements masterfully executed by her band (one of the members’ name is Hercules, I’m not making it up). Her set was one of the most enjoyable and had me dancing the whole time. It was quite a surprise, to be honest.
Day 1. The Bad
It’s inevitable that this was going to happen. You want to watch x but y is playing at the same time and you have to make some tough choices. This year, I had to miss Missing Human and Bocafloja in order to catch other stuff or even to go to the bathroom. (I heard great things about both, though; which makes it worse). I guess you win some and you lose some.
Food truck closing times
There we were, watching the Black Angels psyching it out in the evening when some friends decided to get some food, and when we arrived there, everything was closed. 10 pm and you couldn’t get anything to eat at the fest, and Mouse On Mars were scheduled to start their set at 1:00 am. When you are drinking beer all day, sometimes you need something else in your stomach to counterbalance. Watching other disappointed faces coming and going, I can tell you I’m not the only one who was let down.
It was at every stage and almost every band mockingly tried to take it down. It flew close to the crowds constantly and even blocked the view several times. I imagine it was filming or taking pictures or something but I wasn’t too fond of the drone. Thankfully I didn’t see it on Sunday.
Day 2. The Good
Early attendees were awarded with some of the best sets of the day, thanks to acts such as Mariel Mariel, Juan Wauters, and Monte. Mexico’s hardcore/jazz quartet Jacques Cousteau were one of the few bands representing loud guitars and difficult sonic territories, and their 2:40 pm set paid off for those wanting a good pummeling of their eardrums. Not only did they level the stage and leave the crowd wanting more, they impressed Swans’ Thor Harris and asked them for a copy of their 7-inch EP.
Besides Ghost Magnet Roach Motel –who played constantly on the Cocina Central area— there was little music that dared not have a square beat or some sort of melody going on. Commissioned by the Goethe Institut in Mexico, a group of musicians and improvisers from Germany and Latin America got together for 10 days and created pieces for a short film, and the ensemble gathered to play live at NRMAL for the first time ever, giving us something atypical to help us put everything else in perspective.
There’s little that can be compared to witnessing what the legendary band can do onstage. They dabble in pure sound, composition, improvisation, a lot of trance-like pockets of repetition and sonic excess to give the audience an otherworldly experience. The results were spellbinding, beautiful, and terrifying at the same time. Two hours went by in the span of mere minutes before Michael Gira said “mi amor” to the crowd to bid them goodbye, then got offstage to greet fans, sign stuff and take pictures.
How can you top Swans? You really can’t, so instead you attend the coolest Syrian wedding to dance your troubles away. Despite having some sound trouble that pushed his set to start late, when the singer hit the stage, everything else dissolved into the background. If you paid close attention, you could hear traces from everything in his four-song/hour long set, from an almost Swans-like love for repetition to beats that resembled reggaeton.
Day 2: The Bad
As mentioned, there were a ton of sound problems throughout the day. Grindi Manberg complained openly, Omar Souleyman’s set got pushed back and even the full force of Swans’ attack wasn’t all there until roughly 20 minutes into their show. At times, the engineers seemed to be guessing at what to do. Thankfully it wasn’t something that didn’t get fixed.
Cocina Central’s duel.
Nothing wrong with having a cook off at the fest, and I’m sure people who got in to the sold out event enjoyed it. But for all of us around the tent, listening to commentary of the challenge was like witnessing the filming of a very pretentious episode of Iron Chef. Describing art is hard enough, trying to describe taste at the same time you’re eating something is not be the best way to communicate how good or bad the dish was. Eyes were rolled with a passion.
Bros dancing in nearly every stage.
Even with stuff like the slow HTRK or the aforementioned Mondmaschine, it seemed like for some it was mandatory to get down and boogie. I guess some people couldn’t get tickets to Electric Daisy Carnival and didn’t want to stay home.
Lack of transportation.
Yes, NRMAL arranged free rides with Uber (although I don’t remember seeing info about it during the festival), but if you didn’t take advantage of the promo or bring your own car, you were out of luck finding any means of decent transportation. Deportivo Lomas Altas EMP is pretty much in the middle of a highway, you couldn’t just walk safely back to civilization. Illegal cabs were overcharging even for short distances and any other car service you tried calling would tell you they weren’t sending units. We could use easier means of transportation next year.