I had the opportunity lately to experience a very special gathering of kin, held in the Tahoe National Forest of Cascadia. The Stella Natura festival which caters mostly to neofolk, ambient noise, and black metal was sanctioned for existence on the 21-23 September this year over the fall equinox. A plethora of bands, artists, esoteric record labels, mead makers, printing groups, photographers, and pagans alike migrated into California to set up a temporary canvas homestead (or for some few, a cabin) for 3 nights at the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I first of all must say this was something I felt indebted to be a part of after having to cancel a previous trip to Bergen and Oslo for a couple black metal festivals. I have never experienced the communal atmosphere of such an event, and have been fascinated by the lands of the Pacific Northwest ever since discovering music from those regions. The past Stella: Reaping the Flesh of Light summoned up such auditory relics like Halo Manash, :Ruhr Hunter:, Arnica And Fauna. This one was entitled “The Light Of Ancestral Fires”, here is the complete list:
My trip was set to begin here, in Montreal, on a brisk morning. I made my way through 2 flights on my way to Seattle where I met a couple friends that until then I had not met in the flesh. We the took the 16 hour car ride to the site ‘Shineyboo Cabins’ with a detour in Portland and Eugene on the way. By the time we were in the thick of the Cascades and Mount Shasta it was getting dark and foggy, thus it was hard to see the peaks. Alas, at 4 a.m we arrived, the first people there, minding the volunteers who were already sleeping in preparation for the next day. I was with Tristan Emerick (see AMSI) & A.e Csaky, and I felt I could hardly be in better company. The need not only to attend, but to share a common respect and connection of values helped ease the weekend into place as we discoursed for hours on our long car rides.
Shineyboo Creek Cabins was situated way in the backwoods of Northern California, about 3 hours away from the Sequoia/Redwood forest where General Sherman stands. Half of our drive was in darkness, so I could hardly tell one valley from the other. Shadows drifting across roads were like faunic spectres in a half sleep state, stars in the sky drifted in and out of existence with a carrying fog that levitated over us. The woods were more open grounded than I had expected which was pleasing. I had pictured a little niche in the woods with only enough room for 100 people to stand but probably due to a few selective cuttings for cabins, there was grass growing amongst towering trees, rock caps, bluffs, and open areas for the stage. There were two stages which housed most of the bands, one beside a lookout of the cascades, and one nearer to the rest of the forest. I believe we were around 1,600 feet above sea level. Some beautiful log cabins were dashed throughout the trails, and the Yuba River cut it’s serene course at the base of the cliff, littered by macro boulders and sea rock.
The people here were by far the most down to earth, interesting, open, and friendly individuals I have had the pleasure to be in the presence of. Although I am quite socially awkward and have been for my entire life, I felt more willing to engage here, and did meet some interesting people even indirectly. The great repose of relationship with others was quite evident. Seeing the same persons every day, it was as if I had lived in isolation here with these people and had known them for months. Many chose this time to adorn their creative pagan outfits, drinking horns, and battle vests so there was also a sense of alternative appreciation for aesthetics here. People were there with their mates, some with dogs, trios of gothic women, dancers, heathens, black metallers, age indifferent groups, and one guy dragging a ball and chain from his waist. The 3 fires were holy places for communication and intoxication. People were generally scattered around the few hundred hectares of land, either watching music, relaxing in their tent camps, hiking, or swimming nude in the river. The music really penetrated into the spirit of most people, and I saw many lost in the flow, dancing around the fires, or otherwise lost somewhere in their head. The love that people had really affected me. I am used to avoiding the general population, and many time nourish hate more often than love, as I feel trapped in a sick society. Here in the company of other like minded folk, there was this love, social constrictions were not really present, and everyone had a commendable respect for the ecosystem by not leaving trash around. It served as a stage on earth for people to love each other and worship nature.
On the path between the two stage sites was the source for all temptations… homemade mead (of which I drank half a bottle of raspberry, fermented for 11 months), layouts of handmade cassettes and vinyl collections, art prints, band garments, tribal masks, Asatru info, herbs and resin packages, amongst others. The quality was utmost of everything that was being sold, and fortunately because I did not carry American money I did not end up going broke on them, and resisted the urge to buy anything, I just wanted to experience it.
Many of the bands were performing their last performance (Blood Axis being one of them), or for some I believe their first. A couple even returning from the past Stella Natura. Many others were of quite rarity (C.O.T.A, Burial Hex). I came across a few them rehearsing in a distance portion of forest or by the river, and nearly all of them added something to the visual appeal of their shows with bones, incense, banners, costumes, plants, exotic instruments, etc. I think some of them deserve special attention…
This finnish horde was set to open the ceremonious equinox as well as close it. Their first ritual was held in daylight lasting only 30 minutes, but truly setting the avant-garde tone that the rest would somehow adopt. They adopted one live member for performances, and are known for their interactive, often provocative shows. All three of the were in black sheaths that draped their waists, and burlap sacks over their face with mouth and eye holes. Identity was blurred in the paradigm of unification, each member acting as part of the unit. They began pouring corn meal over the grass in lines, while a sharpened knife pierced the houmus soil in front of them. Swaying with bells and chimes, engaging in animistic behaviors, mumbling incantations, and drawing points with the knife tip then pouring mead over it and flailing it around walking through alleyways left by the sitting watchers. The sounds they produced were like the Tanpura tones for meditation, and their sun-time performance ended when everyone was brought up to their feet and a binaural hypnotic drum beat became louder and louder. Bodies swirled around the hooded figure in a trance and became existentially violent.
The dark show at the nigh end of the festival was more of an orgy of sound. The gong vibrations rattling the cool night dusk, to the incantations of bells and chants. The drones of their instruments, including something that resembled a violin pulled the fabric of order into a chaotic frenzy of audial memorization.
River & Novemthree:
More folk-oriented, with a light all encompassing tranquility permeating every sound. Music that spoke deeply to the impermanence of dying beauty, the fragility of life, and epic nature-scapes. An acoustic medley that sent a clarion call to the peaceful harmony between man and his land. I lay down on the grass for them, and just soaked it all in.
C.O.T.A. (Children of the Apocalypse):
Transcending the loopholes of mere musical experimentation, two dark vectors blazing into the realm of the hidden. The use of sigils and sway cast a special aura outwards, and inwards, retreating from a pigeonholed expressionism that is lacked in dark ambient purveyors, and letting the astral self to be revealed.
An orthodox, but progressively refined black metal guild that really impressed me. Their songs generally ranged past the 15 minute mark, studded with banshee screams and blasting cacophony throughout. The member did not use mic, minding for their instruments and would instead scream at the top of their lungs, either at the sky, the people, or the tree, or apparently on other occasions inanimate objects like books. The sheer primal core of this band and the musicianship undertaken was alone worth praising.
Sadly I missed over half of these German ambassadors, but I came in time to hear their militant hymns of folkloric singing and their climactic ending. Overlapping drones from two steer horns and a french horn, each one adding yet another layer to a riveted pile of drones ad echo. This hit me, just hearing each concurrent frequency taking over the other and seeing the horn players almost go blue in the face from forcing all their breath out. My spine felt cold, and the guard hairs were raised all over my exposed skin.
A perfect rendition of classic Blood Axis material reaching out to some of the more nostalgic folk, and the newly adapted. In between songs, sir Moynihan recited some ancient stories, enchanting us with his words, then foraging into the militant sermon of their ancestral musics.
A very static performance, of which I mean this in the most positive way. Two hooded menaces anchored on either side of the stage with a soundboard, deer antlers, and a banner that looked like a torn up bedsheet restitched and drawn over with the FC symbol in blood red. One member repeatedly hammering on the antlers with a rod, but producing the sound of a drum. The lack of stage light was fitting to their sinister aura.
Sings songs of Finnish mythology and death… these Nordic troops came marching out of the forest behind the stage carrying a banner, wrapped in neo-medieval cloaks. The effect was quite nice towards the fantasy fetish of elder tales. They brought a new sense of heaviness on stage, rattling the earth with deep guttural mantras. My interest in them was rekindled after this show
Harsh feedback and a labyrinth of cords running over the stage. The stark contrast of power electronics and atypical sound devices was interesting to absorb amongst the circle of lush pine trees. Clay made walks into the audience, like a brute, writhing in complication and shoving bodies out of his way, yelling in peoples faces, but all in respect. I have seen other performance of such interaction. A strange interlude between the 450-60 minute performance of keyboard harmonics surely published a very peculiar sense of unexpectedness to the set. He ended by sticking the mic in his mouth and banging two corded metal rod type instruments together, that sounded like the breakdown of an industrial structure in slow motion.
I have to commend these barbarians for the immense amount of energy they were able to generate. Several candles on the stage served as their only light, and a distressed vocalist who strode on stage near the end of the set really punched you in the heart with his agonizing screams, hunched over away from our eyes.
Seeing Sutekh Hexen is comparable to being tangled in a web of barbed fire, their abrasive sound was rather hypnotizing at the same time. I sat and watched the disarray as incense billowed through the air.
A unique duo disguised in the decaying skulls and jaws of their elaborate stage totems. It was half ethereal, and other half pure metal.
Northern California is steeped in rich biodiversity, ancient trees, mountainous peaks and ebbing valleys, and rivers weaving crystalline pathways through rough terrain. All of these was amalgamated at the site where I stayed. I did take the opportunity to cleanse my body in the waters, and traverse the steep slopes to find caves, and shady redwood shelter. One medium sized cave, had nooked inside it’s corner another smaller cave. I was able to crawl through it and inside this cave was a black waterfall, all the walls were dark brimstone color and the water coming from above. I was actually beneath a river at this point. It looked like an ashram for the water element, and I could have easily fallen into a stupor if I stayed longer. Just to sit in it’s dark grotto for a couple minutes and go under the torrent I felt very alive. I drank a half a bottle of mead, and felt such potent agility and energy that I took to the rocks and was pacing them on all fours, snarling, and jumping, and climbing as fast as possible. This was where I lost most connection with my humanity, I was just another animal. This was it’s own microworld, where many animals thrived. Spotted lizards scrambled over the rocks, lush plantation spread out from crags in the stone, the bark of the trees were as scales growing over top of each other several inches thick. Some of the native trees in this landscape were Douglas fir (the symbol of the new Cascadia flag), White fir, Ponderosa Pine, Incense Cedar, Black Oak, Sequoias, Redwoods, & Lodgepole Pines. I feel my wisdom of trees still growing it’s base, but I certainly felt an intimacy towards all of them, and feel there is much to learn from them. The trees speak a language of old that resonates in the hearts and spirit of it’s residents, and are under increasing conservation. I might suggest looking into the documentary ‘Occupied Cascadia’ on recent progressions with protections of these woodlands. The sheer magniloquence and stature of the vast forest gives me such peace and longing to leave my quaint little apartment room, and spend the rest of my life amongst them. Listening to them creak in shamanic wooden tongues in the night, and open their reservoir foliage for birds and other fauna in the day. Rattlesnakes are also prevalent here, although more common in the unseen crevices of stones, and beneath tree roots, I did not see one but could somehow hear the incipit sound of their rattle in the air, as if it never really was far away, only quieted at times.
Just as the rattle of serpents, or the spectral glow of constellations, or primitive secrets of the forest, the whole region reeked of a tangible essence that I think everyone felt on some deeply personal level. The love of the people towards it, and what it simultaneously gives back to us on an existential level is certainly a reason to protect them from being harmed. I was left feeling contented of having been through a very important life experience, having never traveled this far before. A part of me was traded with this place, the old stasis left behind and a new trans-formative piece taken with me. The knowing. The respect. The unity. I was honored to see all the bands, meet people, and share the experience. If there was anything I could have changed about the festival would only be to not have the same bands from the last one, and a couple more Shamanistic/Ritual Theatric bands. Also, I would also like to attend a future event possibly without a camera to lessen the need to make photos and let the music have its way with me.
To put photos here would be inferior so look at the array of moments I experienced here where I have created a separate folder for this weekend: http://journeyoftheseer.tumblr.com/tagged/stella-natura/