A few weekends ago, I was fortunate enough to join international skate-punk super-group Dead Neck on a trip they took to Jera On Air. I had never previously heard of Jera, so was excited to get over to Holland and check it out for myself. With a lineup as strong as this years, I was surprised that it had escaped my radar for so long. You can read my thoughts on what turned out to be an incredible weekend of punk and hardcore music below.
Upon our arrival at the festival, there was a sense of something chaotic in the air. Thick mud carved up with footprints and tyre tracks seemed to crawl around the perimeter fences, congregating predominantly around the entrances. We had noted the ominous clouds on the horizon during the long commute to the previous evening’s show in Namur, Belgium and how they appeared to be grouping in exactly the direction we were heading. It quickly became clear that the site had been hit with a colossal volume of rainfall, that had sent the staff into disarray. After several failed attempts at directions and some pretty hairy off-road rally driving from Dave Long (Dead Neck, LuvDump and tour driver extraordinaire), we managed to find where we needed to be. Despite the lack of coordination with regards the location of the artist entrance, we were greeted by an incredibly happy, helpful volunteer, who managed to see to us efficiently and politely, whilst clearly juggling several other (probably more important) tasks.
‘Muddy, rainy but super fun!’ – Pete, Sick Of It All
The festival itself starts at around clocking off time for most European workers and we arrived shortly after, around 6pm. This left us just enough time for a quick beer and a stroll around the site before Joe MacMahon (Smoke Or Fire) was due to open up proceedings over at the ‘Punk Rock Bar’, the smallest of the three indoor stages. Along with the two massive tents, smaller Punk Rock Bar (still the size of a large club), an acoustic stage and the ominously titled ‘Cathedral of Chaos’ had been provided for performances. A huge selection of vegan, vegetarian and non-vegetarian stalls made up the dining options which faced the signing and merchandise tent and your typical ‘Monster’ hair salon type stuff was also in attendance. We took a quick seat, rolled up and sampled some Dutch delicacies whilst soaking in the atmosphere (which had definitely not been dampened by the previous night’s weather) before heading in to watch a few songs of Siberian Meat Grinder ahead of Joe’s show.
For those of you who don’t know them, Siberian Meat Grinder are an awesome way to start any party. Rather than mince my words about them, I’ll use their own description here. ‘Siberian Meat Grinder is a crossover gang from Russian frozen hell, mixing raging hardcore thrash with many different genres from black metal and rap to stoner rock.’ A talented band with a wide arsenal at their disposal to bring you the heavy in a variety of ways. Like I said, perfect party-starters. Unfortunately, we were only able to catch a handful of songs before we headed back over to watch Joe MacMahon’s acoustic performance at the Punk Rock Bar.
More famous perhaps for his work with Smoke or Fire, a Joe McMahon acoustic performance is an intimate affair. He sings heart-felt songs alone, with just his guitar and a gut-load of passion. It was a great way to start the festival properly and whilst there we met up with friends from Antillectual, who despite not appearing on the lineup had come to enjoy Jera. After a good old sing-song with Joe culminating with the Smoke or Fire classic ‘Monsters Among Us’ we headed to pitch up our tent before it started raining, we got too drunk, or both.
‘Chaos, friendship, together, open and simple’ – Odet, Punk Rock Bar stage manager, aka ‘boss-bitch’
On the way we ran into Liverpool hardcore superstar Elliot Swift (Stuck in a Rut) who came to supervise us with our tent erecting. Under Swifty’s excellent ‘laissez-faire’ approach to management we managed the get it looking as close to watertight as we could be bothered to and it was suddenly time for Dead Neck to load in. I lent a hand with their gear in front of the self proclaimed ‘boss-bitch’ and stage manager Odet, a pocket-sized powerhouse of a woman who was adamant that the guys were late (we were adamant to the contrary, of course). Wishing my travelling partners luck I sensed an opportunity to get involved in some down-tuned filth before Dead Neck took to the stage.
I managed to negotiate the sea of mud that was now infecting large areas of grass and stood in the middle of the crowd for Bury Tomorrow. I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of that kind of metal-core but I do enjoy watching any live music and a good show, which they delivered with professionalism to a packed out main stage. After enjoying a few of their tracks, an enormous circle pit and ‘the heaviest fucking song (I) will ever hear’ I made my way back over to watch Dead Neck perform.
There was a good buzz at the stage whilst they played their thirty minute set and the crowd seemed to thoroughly engage with the more dangerous sounding skate-core Dead Neck pedal. I’d never actually seen this lineup of Dead Neck before (come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the same lineup twice) and knowing what I knew about the truly heroic drive Dave had undertaken the previous day was seriously impressed by the three-piece’s sound. A few teething errors perhaps, but remember these are tough-as-fuck skate-punk songs. Riff-laden, with a heavy sense of melody and some serious drum chops provided by Alex Gavazzi (Thousand Oaks, ex-Jet Market), Dead Neck are rougher around the edges than your average skate-punk/melodic-hardcore band and quite frankly I love Andy’s approach to song-writing. The set culminated with ‘Cooking With Nunchucks’ which only served to further energise the room. Charged up on that great opening vocal melody, two of the more boisterous members of the audience crashed into one of the two steel tent-supports, rattling the entire structure to the nervous stares of two of the volunteers at the front barrier. I was well into my sixth beer of the evening by this point and with my journalistic integrity rapidly fading I’ll just say that they ‘rocked’.
‘Go on pals! Nice one!’ – Andy Dazzler, Dead Neck
When I re-met Dead Neck, they were in high spirits backstage, as was everyone so I took the opportunity to do some ‘work’. We sat in a portable cabin/bar area for the bands, smoked, drank and chatted, and every time I spotted a band member just relaxing, harangued them for five words that sum up Jera on Air to them. It seemed a fitting way to get some quick opinions without the hassle of a full interview and like I said, my journalistic head was definitely too far gone to do anything more serious.
After a few beers and an unwind it was time for more music and taking to the Punk Rock Bar stage next was The JB Conspiracy. Apparently, despite it’s more hardcore and metal-core leanings, people at Jera On Air fucking love ska as the place was rammed to absolute bursting point. As the band rifled through their tracks the atmosphere in the venue was immense, a truly great show, with the energy of the group reflected by the crowd and vice-versa.
It was finally time for one of the shows I was most looking forward to of the weekend, Municipal Waste, over at the second stage. Being a more recent convert to the band, I wasn’t overly familiar with track names and some songs were straight up new to me but the energy with which the band played more than made up for my naivety of their back catalogue. The crowd was thick and wild, just the way you would want it for a headline act at a festival. The set was angry, aggressive and punchy with headbangers having their faces ripped off by the denim clad cross-over behemoths in front of stage. One thing’s for sure, Municipal Waste will fuck you up.
‘Hey! I’m drunk, cool fest! Great time! Gotta go!’ – Nick Poulos, Municpal Waste
The night was in full swing and the general consensus between camp Dead Neck was that some hard liquor would go down well and made our way backstage to try and buy a bottle off someone better prepared than ourselves. We ran into one of the guys from Gino’s Eyeball who was performing in a Nofx tribute act and needed some help inflating about three hundred beach balls, plastic crocodiles, loungers and chairs. Naturally we got involved and were rewarded for our troubles with a bottle of orange brandy and a litre of a clear spirit (I’m guessing vodka). We mixed up some drinks and got ready to watch the covers set.
I must admit I was a little dubious about watching a covers show at a festival but as it turns out I was glad I did. The tent was packed out again, maybe even more people than for The JB Conspiracy and of course everyone knew every song back-to-front. The inflatables were a big hit with people riding crocodiles from the rear of the room all the way to the stage and others enjoying the comfort that a blow-up mattress can offer the stage diver. It wasn’t long before we all, fueled on a pretend Fat Mike’s cooler, were stage diving with the best of them and getting really into the spirit of Jera On Air. It was actually one of the festival highlights for me and the atmosphere was a thing of beauty. It’s a rare event, these days, that you are at a show with a large enough crowd to FULLY commit to a risk-free stage dive, that doesn’t have a large barrier separating band from fan – naturally we indulged heavily.
‘Frantic, high, love and union’ – Bob Birkett, The JB Conspiracy
Live music finished for the evening, we headed off towards the tents and ran into Joe MacMahon. A five minute chat at some benches stretched into a five hour drinking session and before we knew it, it was getting light again. Now it was definitely time for bed.
Day Two began somewhat later than I had originally intended, awaking to Andy nudging me and uttering the word ‘Belvedere’ at me, with a joint in hand. After confirmation that we were in fact missing the day’s music we hotfooted towards the second stage where Belvedere were just starting up. The guys played great and I enjoyed hearing a few tracks from latest release Revenge of the Fifth live for the first time as well as some firm favourites from previous releases, but in all honesty my hangover was getting the better of me. I managed to stay vertical for five or six of their tracks before deciding to grab some food and hopefully coffee in the press area.
After a breakfast consisting of soup and bread rolls and a herculean intake of complimentary coffee I was feeling a bit more alive and so sparked up a conversation with one of the volunteers also enjoying a bit of downtime. We chatted about the super-human effort that had gone into making sure the festival could go ahead and how it was literally only possible because of people like herself putting in the hours, unpaid, to make sure the event took place. I was awestruck at the commitment she had to her cause and also just how swimmingly (pun not intended) the festival was actually running, despite the forces of nature clearly conspiring against it. I told her of the chaos that we encountered the previous day on arrival and she said that many of the volunteers had been at the site since 5am, rearranging access points and such, in order to make the whole spectacle a reality. Humbled by my chat and feeling much more alive than before I hit the press tent I braved the mud once more to meet up with Andy and Swifty.
We caught a couple of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes‘ tracks but it not really being our bag we just chatted at the back of the tent in anticipation of that evenings headliners. The festival was due to conclude later that evening with the trifecta of hardcore awesomeness that is H2O, Sick of it All and Pennywise, a lineup, which I’m sure you will agree is about as strong as you can get for any punk-rock festival. We decided to quickly restock on beers and snacks at the local supermarket before it closed in preparation for what was sure to be a great night of music.
‘Positive, inventive, intuitive, exciting and highly anticipated’ – Rusty, H2O
Supplies obtained, we headed back to over to the second stage for the mighty H2O. The crowd was busy and energetic particularly during sing along tracks like ‘Nothing to Prove’ and ‘Faster Than the World’. Playing a great selection of tracks from their extensive back catalogue, the band showed why they have been considered part of the essential hardcore canon for over twenty years. The back-to-back classic tracks from my youth were certainly a powerful remedy against the remnants of the morning’s hangover and the beers accompanying them had us all feeling ready for the night ahead. One down, two more to go and next up would be festival stalwarts Sick Of It All.
Another band with a lengthy time in the lime light, Sick Of It All seem to visit my side of the Atlantic on a yearly basis and have done since, well, forever. They used to play second from top on the punk-rock stage at Leeds music festival, every year, without fail and I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from one of their performances disappointed. Drawing on over thirty years experience in the game, they commanded the main-stage and had everybody in the tent moving during stomp-along favourites like ‘Busted’. A great set from a great band enjoying the love they absolutely deserve.
A beer or two, a quick smoke in between sets, and finally it was time for the festival headliner to take to the stage. Pennywise, again, are as close to a house-hold name as you can really get in hardcore music and are a band who are no stranger to playing in front of the biggest crowds. Having earned their stripes on over ten full-length records since their inception in 1988, the guys played for well over an hour hitting a good selection of classic tracks from across their career. The atmosphere in the tent during tracks like ‘Society’ and ‘Broken’ was electric and Swifty and I enjoyed a wild pit for the last time that weekend.
‘Drinkin. Drunk. Drunker. Drunst. Beer.’ – Mark, Octopussys
As Pennywise finished up, the realisation was hitting home that the festival was nearly over so we made our way back to the tents to finish our drinks and compare notes about the evening. Overall, Jera had been a massive success. We’d all had a blast, made a lot of new friends, hung out with old and distant ones, seen some legendary bands perform, and Dead Neck had played a great show to a lot of potential new fans. The commitment to live music that had been displayed by the plucky young volunteers and organisers of the entire festival had been an inspiration. I make no exaggeration when I emphasise the monumental task the whole team were up against during the weekend with the weather hitting the site in the way that it had. To see the event take place as if nothing had happened is testament to the resourcefulness and commitment that is synonymous with the world-wide punk scene in general. I can only extend my most sincere thanks to all the organisers, volunteers, bands and fans for putting on one hell of a weekend. Well done people!