For years, people have been telling me that KNRD Fest is special. I finally bit the bullet this year and made it out to Nuremberg for the two day party in the famed Bavarian woods and… it turns out they’re right. KNRD is something truly special.
KNRD (pronounced ‘conrad’) is a magical, musical fantasy for anyone in the European skate-punk scene; so great that I wonder whether I dreamt elements of it. With bands like After The Fall and A Wilhelm Scream gracing a sterling skate-punk oriented bill, you know it’s going to be a great weekend, but what makes KNRD exceptional is the unique private-party feeling it has.
I arrived quite late on the Friday, just as the bands were beginning, and just in time for to see Darko’s Karl Sursham wielding the mic and welcoming everyone to this wood-chipped glade with a charming boom. A keg is ceremonially cracked open and, thenceforth, it’s feels almost rude not to imbibe as much crystal-clear, chemical-free Bavarian beer as possible.
It’s this, in combination with the generously free-poured gin and tonics, moscow mules and pfeffe (peppermint) shots, that bring me to the theme of today’s article. As people regrouped on Saturday morning, after Friday night’s excesses, the question on everyone’s lips was: “How much do you remember of last night?”
I have a series of warm, hazy recollections of the event, but it’s almost the gaps in my memory that are the most entertaining. Standing at the bar on Saturday, watching someone pour a worryingly pink shot of Mexicana, I suddenly had a flashback to drinking the same shots the night before, despite thinking I’d never had one in my life. Whilst writing this article, I had a sudden memory of sofa-surfing. Seeing a photo of my friend’s plum bum-bruise, gained after a tumble near the portaloos, reminded me that I’d scraped half the skin off my knee in the same location.
While I’d never encourage anyone to drink to the point of oblivion, and I don’t want to romanticise or glorify something that’s simply the most socially-acceptable form of self-destruction, I will say this: KNRD is the safest I have ever felt. If you’re going to get yourself into a state, it’s a beautiful, healthy, safe and supportive environment in which to do it, and that in itself is something quite special.
Whether remembered fondly or pieced together from flashbacks and reminders from friends, these are my favourite memories of the weekend in semi-chronological order.
Advance apologies: this is very much a personal account and not a festival review.
N.B.: There were some stunning bands on the line-up that aren’t featured here – I was running round recording podcasts so didn’t see everyone’s set in full. If you’re a band not mentioned here, it’s nothing personal!
Running To Watch The Human Project
After arriving a little late, I immediately got set up to record a podcast, so the first chunk or so of my KNRD experience was a tad hectic! As The Human Project hit the stage I did casually amble over to watch them, supping a stein of crisp lager, having a chat and decompressing after the hectic journey.
As fun as it can be to admire a band from afar, two or three songs in the music really hit me and I couldn’t contain my excitement – I had to run down the front. As one of England’s foremost tech-punk bands, I’ve seen The Human Project play a heap of times, but the reaction a band like them get on the European mainland is overwhelming in comparsion to the reception back home. Two weeks before, I attended their album launch for Clarion Call, where they were met with restrainted musical appreciation. This is the absolute opposite – there’s a huge, enthusiastic crowd assembled to see them, and it feels like a special moment. Vocalist/guitarist Jonny Smith makes best use of the catwalk/podium that’s set up at the front of the stage; bassist Joe Dimuantes takes a leap at the end of the set, crowd-surfing while playing, casually enjoying a rockstar moment. It’s heartening to see a crowd this size every single word back at the band.
Launching the Lockjaw Records Logo
This is a personal one for me, but it was an important part of my weekend nonetheless. A few months ago, I got a phonecall from Rob (who runs Lockjaw Records) asking me if I wanted to pitch in. My favourite label in the world wants me to join their crew? Of course I do; I was over-the-moon.
Lockjaw‘s an independent record label that’s intrinsically linked with the world of skate-punk, with close ties to KNRD Festival, so we were adamant that the Friday night would be the best time to launch our brand new logo, new look website and to announce our expanded team. Based across different parts of the UK and Belgium, we’ve all been working remotely on projects for weeks, chatting over messenger and video calls.
Having an announcement and a brand new logo out there in the world was seriously exciting. But, as we drunkenly tried to herd everyone in for a group photo after The Human Project finished playing, I also clocked that it was the first time ever that we’d had all five of us in the same location. I’m proud to be part of this little team, but I’m even more chuffed to have four brilliant mates to share this musical adventure with.
Worshipping at the altar that is A Wilhelm Scream
I’ve seen Wilhelm a lot lately, so I feel qualified to say that they’re stunning every single time they play. After following them around for handful of sweaty club shows in the UK, it was such a brilliant contrast to watch them play an outdoor stage in this picturesque German location.
For their entire set, it’s completely chaotic at the front. I remember huddling together with Luke from The Human Project and Karl from Darko, all screaming the words in each other’s faces with total abandon (regardless of whether we knew the lyrics or not). I remember feeling united with everyone in awe of this seminal melodic hardcore band.
Everyone crowded tight around three sides of the podium at the front of the stage, fists in the air, shouting along to garbled verses and soaring choruses. Vocalist, Nuno Pereira, is in his element, getting in people’s faces and bringing so much energy, anger and excitement to the fore.
The band slam through hit after hit, but the crowd here know every riff from the back catalogue – as ready to hear the intro to Me vs Morrissey as they are for The Last Laugh or Mute Print or Famous Friends and Fashion Drunks. They’re an act who’ve influenced the majority of the other bands playing this weekend, so there’s a sense of having gone full-circle as everyone unites in admiration that’s borderline worship.
Mike Moak’s Acoustic Set
Following Wilhelm’s incendiary set, Mike Moak (singer and guitarist in After The Fall), plays an acoustic set over by the house. By this point everyone’s sozzled and soppily, sloppily chatting to one another; the kind of “I love you, mate,” conversations you only share when you’re super drunk. I’m introduced to a bunch of people I feel like I already know, through our online community of international music lovers, or through the bands they play in. I feel weak in the knees, and yet strangely alive for the first time.
Mike provides the ideal, heartwarming soundtrack to this special time: the reunions, the introductions, the post-gig ‘weren’t they great’ discussion. “We should do this!” “It’s so good to see you.” “You’re my favourite person, I love screaming at you in the front row, why don’t we hang out more?”
Depsite the near hero-worship they received onstage, Wilhelm are casually out and about chatting to the audience. That’s not unusual or particularly noteworthy, but the total lack of divide between bands-and-fans remains one of the greatest facets of the punk scene. I spent quite a while trying to convince Brian Robinson to bring his other band, The Fullblast, over and somehow, miraculously he didn’t act like I was being a drunken arsehole. I say miraculously because chatting to him on a picnic bench is one of the last things I recall doing, suggesting that I was probably embarassingly drunk…
Second Introductions On Saturday
On Saturday morning, my friend introduces me to Mike Moak, so that I could ask him to join us on the podcast. “Oh hey, Sarah, it was great chatting to you last night!” says Mike, when Tree introduces us. Oh good. I met Mike Moak, singer from After The Fall, a band that I love and I have zero memory of it. Fantastic. Just great.
Mike was the first of many. I got names wrong, I forgot people, I forgot bands, I’d probably have forgotten my own name if people didn’t keep yelling it at me.
First thing on Saturday morning, I complained to Rob (from Darko) that I’d not been able to brush my teeth because I had no water… rather than providing water for this, he reacted by buying me a pfeffi (peppermint) shot, as it’s the KNRD equivalent of Colgate. This brings back sudden recollections of Mexicanas, moscow mules, absurdly alcoholic gin and tonics (the instant result of having drunk friends volunteering behind the bar – thanks Rob)… and of the waterfall of abundantly available beer. I decide to grab a stein before I attempt breakfast.
Waking Up To The Affect Heuristic
Rousing myself to a condition that could be described as ‘awake’ was quite a challenge on Saturday. I woke up feeling absolutely fine (read: still drunk), which was a relief, but leaving the tent, facing sunshine and speaking to actual human beings was not something I felt capable of. The factor that finally coaxed me from my sleeping bag knowing The Affect Heuristic were about to hit the stage.
TAH are easily my favourite of the bands that to have sprung into existence this year; their Vs split with Money Left To Burn has been on such regular repeat at Shout Louder HQ that I daresay my neighbours know all the words. Being split between Scotland and Beligum, they’ve played very few gigs and this is only my second time catching them. Getting to scream along with Against The Grain and do some early-morning fake-slam-dancing for the breakdown on Vessel is easily the best way to start your day. They tear through a brilliant set of both recognisable and new tunes, bringing a huge swell of energy to a captivated audience.
Fair Fackin’ Do’s
Manchester’s melodic hardcore shredders Fair Do’s fall into a fairly unique category of band for me: I’ve enjoyed their music for years, but more recently we’ve become friends and started working together. As a result, I’m overwhelmingly biased, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were the band I was most excited to see at KNRD.
Fair Do’s released their debut album Leopards via Lockjaw Records shortly after their performance at KNRD however, as I’d put some work into the release, I had literally been hammering Leopards on repeat for weeks in the run up to the festival. I know all the riffs, I know all the words (or at least I pretend to) and I honestly cannot wait until everyone else knows them too. I’ve also been lucky enough to catch them live a lot in the past, and I can honestly tell you that KNRD was one of the best sets I’ve ever seen them perform. I think a lot of that is a result of the energy and enthusiasm that the record release has injected into the band, as well as the impressive crowd they drew for this set.
They’ve been playing newer material for a long time, but getting to hear songs like Royal Flush and Closing In now what I’m familiar with the nuances that only come across on the record, has taken their live show to the next level. It’s always a pleasure watching them shred, too, and sweet to see a little congregation of fellow guitarists stood directly in front of Dave ‘Sasquatch’ Speechley, watching him churn out solos and complicated licks like it’s child’s play. Despite showcasing some envy-inspiring technical ability, Fair Do’s keep it from getting too serious, mainly with Josh’s (genuinely serious) recommendations to ‘bathe in the blood of cops’.
Forever Unclean’s On-Stage Pyramid
A human pyramid isn’t a rarity in the select Manchester circles I usually roll in, but apparently it’s pretty unusual in Hormersdorf. For a while, my friend Kim and I had been eyeing the catwalk in front of the KNRD stage, weighing up:
- Which band would be most receptive to on-stage shenanigans
- Whether we’d be able to get the 4+ people we needed
- How slippery / muddy the terrain would be in the rain
- How drunk we (+4) would need to be
Fortunately, the stars aligned exactly six songs into Forever Unclean’s set, as all of these factors reached their peak. We clambered on top of each other and had a right laugh. I didn’t think this was a particularly big deal at the time, but at least 15 people came up to me afterwards and asked me what the hell we’d been doing.
It’s probably worth also mentioning how much I love, love, love Forever Unclean and their infinitely catchy, almost whimsical, poppy take on skatepunk. It’s fresh and exciting and so easy to singalong to. Their latest EP Woof and their previous one Float are each 4-5 songs of sheer punk perfection: all the joy that you get from listening to poppy guitar-driven punk condensed into bitesize, two-and-a-half minute morsels. Their set at KNRD was a brilliant excuse to jump around and act like a bit of an idiot, by far one of my favourite moments of the weekend.
Rocking Out For Money Left To Burn
I mentioned that I was floored by the Affect Heuristic / Money Left To Burn split earlier this year – the sheer volume of play I’ve had on that record has taken a band I liked to a new level for me, and I’m stupidly excited to get to see them live again now. It’s even better for the fact that I can sing all the words straight back at them down the front and, more importantly, I’m not alone in that. They’re from Nuremberg and well connected with the festival, so seeing them here in the beautiful Bavarian woods is surely the best possible setting for them.
They play an absolutely storming set with vocalist, Alex, making full use of the podium, getting straight up into the faces of those down the front. You’d be hard-pressed to find five people who looked like they were having more fun on stage, and they play a seriously slick, riffy set full of skatepunk bangers. I can’t understate how much I enjoyed it, even if I was having a chat with Swedish/Scottish pals when they gave Shout Louder a shout-out!
Petrol Girls Sharing The Mic
There are few bands out there who can rival Petrol Girls for the sheer, ripping force of their sets. Every beat of their performance is filled with raw energy, with a crushing weight of femininity behind it. Throughout the set the band introduce powerful messages, both in their lyrical themes and in their discussions between songs. They utlise the platform given to them as a successful act, without making it feel forced or preachy. The difference in their approach is that they’re speaking to everyone; there’s no segregation or alienation, they’re simply starting conversations on the things that need to be spoken about.
Their emotional connection with the audience is second to none, and it’s been there at every Petrol Girls’ show I’ve attended. That said, the end of the KNRD rendition of Touch Me Again and the sheer intensity at the end of their set was something truly special. Seeing vocalist, Ren Aldridge, screaming along and sharing a moment of raw fury with the huddle of fans at the front was incredibly powerful and quite moving. There were people in the audience literally shaking afterwards.
Going absolutely mental for After The Fall
Getting to see After The Fall is one thing. Getting to see After The Fall while surrounded by people who love them even more than I do, is another. Their brand of fast, gritty melodic hardcore is lent extra weight by Mike Moak’s anger-and-angst fulled vocals, which just serve to whip the dedicated crowd into a complete frenzy. Much as there was for Wilhelm the night previously, there was a tight-knit crew of us just going utterly nuts down the front. Although they weren’t top of the bill, they felt a lot like a headliner for me.
I imagine it’s similarly exciting for a band who’ve come all the way over from Albany, NY, to see such a massive, personal reaction from the crowd. Screaming along to the lyrics to Dedication, sharing that moment with everyone around me was a highlight, but what stood out about After The Fall was their personal connection with the nearby rows of the audience, exchanging smiles and jokes with people – clearly having as much fun as we were.
Apparently this is a thing that happened. Apparently I was there for it. There is video evidence that suggests I was there for it. My memory of it… not so great?
Fat Religion is the skatepunk covers incarnation of Money Left To Burn. I know it was one of the best moments of the weekend, but that’s about all I know. Fairly sure I have a strong memory of howling along to True Believers at full volume (that may have been afterwards). Fairly sure I remember hugging everyone I could find. Fairly sure I remember crowd surfing. Fairly sure I remember a friend going to get me a beer and not appearing again for 3 hours. Fairly sure that afterwards there was a long, drawn-out mission to get Say My Name played. I’m fairly sure I had a great time.
In the midst of my memory fog, there are a handful of sparkling moments of clarity, flashbacks to carnage and conversations. A group of friends careen over to the Lockjaw merch stand with cat whiskers drawn all over their faces in semi-permanent marker; they start off by meowing at us but, 10 minutes later, need to be reminded that they’re still made up like cats. A friend passes out in a hammock. I have multiple, “I love you, mate!” conversations. We bond. It’s a good time.
The Sunday Morning Aftermath
Waking up on Sunday morning, confused by my own whereabouts, and by my lack of both sleeping bag, memory and skin on my kneecaps, I start to recollect my thoughts. It’s never the most glamourous time of the weekend, as people begrudgingly pack away tents, say their goodbyes and begin to traipse home.
In the morning, sharing a coffee and asking, “So how much do you remember of last night?” felt like a pleasure at KNRD. There was no judgement, no boasting, just a gentle acceptance of the magical effect this woodland paradise had on all of us. We sit calmly at the trestle tables in the woods with friends old and new, exchanging stories of lost glasses, lost phones and lost bass-players. Losing a weekend together has never been better. Getting bundled into the back of a tour van for a 20 hour drive back to Manchester didn’t even feel like a chore.
Thank you to all of the KNRD Festival organisers and to the team of volunteers that make it work. It was a unique, beautiful and truly magical experience. See you next year.
P.S.: There were two final highlights for me. On Friday I recorded a podcast with A Wilhelm Scream, and on Saturday I recorded a KNRD Fest special podcast with After The Fall, The Human Project, The Affect Heuristic and Forever Unclean. Subscribe up on Soundcloud, iTunes or your favourite podcatcher to be the first to hear them.
P.P.S.: Josh took a lot of incredible photos. Head over to this Cold Front Photography page for more.