Sonisphere 2014 marked the 40th year of festivals held at Knebworth and what better way to celebrate than to bring 60,000 music fans together for a hot, sunny and lightly showered weekend of metal dominance!
A late starting Friday meant that fans were able to arrive in good time to pitch the tent, glug a beer and still be in good time to catch the first band at noon. For the Thursday arrivals, like my fellow team members and I, that meant a nice lay in … or at least it would have if it wasn’t blisteringly hot, turning every tent into a personal sauna! The first band of the weekend was Shrine. The Jager Tent was pretty full of people looking for their first music fix of the weekend. The technical four piece were up to the unenviable task of kicking off proceedings. Their solid mix of hardcore along with their engaging front man Liam Kearley was well received by the early punters gathered.
Over on the Bohemia Stage, Hounds (garbed in white) brought their combination of electronica and punk to a fair crowd in the sizeable tent. The energy of this band and their unique mix gave them an edge that may have them on bigger stages in the future.
The excellent Black Dogs played to a jam packed Jager Tent. Gollo on vocals was like a man possessed, pacing the stage like a hurricane leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. Black dogs brought, power, precision and downright fucking aggression to a day that really needed a kick in the arse!!!
The first main stage band of the weekend was The Defiled. Having played each British edition of Sonisphere, 2014 saw the band hit the main stage for the first time. With the musical festivities having only been going for just under 3 hours, The Defiled dragged a significant portion of the festival over to the main stage. Why this band had never been main stage material prior to this moment, one does not know. Whether they’re musically to your taste or not, there’s no denying that The Defiled know how to put on a good show. With ‘my side is better than your side’ banter between band members, the weekend’s first mosh pit antics and ‘angry motherfucking’ bassists smashing guitars, it is safe to say that fans weren’t short of entertainment and unique festival memorabilia.
A little difference in genre but equally as energetic, American punk rockers, Anti Flag, followed The Defiled on the Apollo stage. If fans weren’t already warmed up for action from the main stage openers, Anti Flag definitely will have caused a pulled muscle or two. The second song into the set had the crowd clearing their throats and straining their voices to sing along to ‘Fuck Police Brutality’ while bassist and vocalist Chris Barker leapt about the stage like a Mexican jumping bean. Just as you think things couldn’t get any more wild, the band finish up their set with ‘Power to the Peaceful’, asking the crowd to make space for drummer Pat and bassist Chris who finished the show off playing amongst the crowd.
Comeback Kid in the Bohemia had a wave of crowd surfing to their hardcore holocaust. Andrew Neufeld, climbed off the stage to sing with the crowd. A crunching set for a Friday afternoon.
Back over at the main stage we were greeted with yet another contrasting genre with synthpopper Gary Numan. Having easily pulled the biggest crowd of the day thus far, Numan mixed his set up with a balance of old and new including classics ‘Metal’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric’ among newer material. A mesmerising performance even with a lack of communication between band and crowd. The highlight of this performance for me personally was seeing a fan of over 35 years see her teenage hero live for the first time (aka, my amazing mum).
Former Killswitch Engage front man, Howard Jones brought his new band Devil You Know. He seemed very humbled by the crowd’s chants of “Howard, Howard, Howard”. They are a very focused group of musicians. Although, Howard spent a lot of time pacing the stage just in front of the drum kit but his smile and his fantastic delivery easily won the fans.
Back on the Apollo stage, Finnish doom love mongers HIM delivered a set of emotions wrenched from the chest of frontman Ville Valo. They drew material from every corner of their discography. Ville looked almost like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins as he belted out ‘Buried Alive By Love’ and ‘Wings of a Butterfly’. If I would have one criticism of their performance, they had no real connection with the crowd. At times it felt like we were looking at a jam session in the HIM rehearsal room, albeit a rehearsal in which the band were enjoying themselves immensely, yet were unaware of the sizeable number of people looking in the window. They closed a shortened setlist with ‘Soul on Fire’, ‘Wicked Game’ and a quality ‘Funeral Of Hearts’ but it was just a little too late to get the crowd rocking.
Anthrax were in town to perform two sets and Friday’s set on the Bohemia Stage featured seminal album ‘Among The Living’ in its entirety. Benante, Ian, Bello, Donais and Belladonna were in flying form as they dominated the stage in front of a screaming hoard. The whole classic album set idea is becoming very popular and the real plus is that songs like One World, ADI/Horror Of It All and Imitation Of Life were aired and lapped up by the old school fans. During ‘Indians’, Scott stops the show and asked for a bigger Warrrrrrrdannce and the “dancers” duly obliged with an explosive reaction. Before ‘One World’, Scott quipped, “When we wrote this, we thought we could change the world… We were 22!!!!” Frank Bello was his normal dynamic self and Joey was in the face of every person in the audience. He has the talent that all classic front man possess. He made every person feel as if he was talking/ singing to them and in doing so brought every fan deep into the heart of a special evening. Closing with a gargantuan ‘I Am The Law’, Anthrax were the kings of the Friday at Sonisphere and left many a bruised fan ‘Caught in a Mosh’.
As the Prodigy bopped the Apollo crowd, Electric Wizard closed the Bohemia Stage for those of the more metal persuasion with more sludge than a rusty canal dredger. Jus Osborn was nestled centre stage decked in a no frills white spotlight, while Liz Buckingham laid the rhythm in front of her stack of amps. The pair were the focal points in a set delivered with a hazy passion that matched the smoke fueled atmosphere. Special mention to the fellow in the crowd who was playing an air guitar so big, it was more like an air cello; pure dedication to the riff. ‘Witchcult Today’ and ‘Dopethrone’ were highlights in a tent fueled with laid back abandon. Electric Wizard were a welcome contrast to the evening’s headliners.
Photos by Steve Dempsey : Down the Barrel Photography