As my train pulls into Prague, I watch the thick, overhanging clouds looming above the historic Bohemian city with concern. They obstruct the sun, bring rain, potentially spoiling the mood for everybody. Not the best conditions for a three-day music festival. Music? Indeed. I'm on my way to the 14th annual Obscene Extreme Festival. As the name suggests, this is not gonna be your run-of-the-mill summer rock festival with the occasional hard rock or heavy metal band thrown into the equation. What awaits me is three days of aural assault and straight up brutality.
A closer look at the running order reveals band names like Gutalax, Human Scum, Splattered Mermaids, Vomitory, Necromorph, Bowelfuck, Rottenness, Vulvectomy and Sublime Cadaveric Decomposition. The genre these bands belong to could be roughly described as grindcore, although there are a million sub- and affiliated genres like hardcore punk, crust, deathgrind, D-beat, powerviolence, thrash, death metal, goregrind, etc. Precisely which genre/subgenre/subsubgenre a band belongs to is often cause for (sometimes heated) debate, but a Youtube-comment I read the other day sums up that issue quite well: "WHO GIVES A SHIT WHAT IT IS?? IF IT MELTS YOUR FUCKING FACE JUST FUCKING LISTEN TO IT, SIMPLE AS
I buy some bread and cream cheese in the railway station supermarket. While I'm studying the all-Czech ingredient lists in bewilderment, an alternative-looking guy approaches me and asks if I'm a local and can help him find the right products. "Oh, you're vegetarian as well?" I ask him. "Vegan", he replies. I haven't even made it to the festival, but already I'm not hardcore enough. I tell him I can't help him and ask if he's going to Obscene Extreme as well, to which he just says: "Of course."
The train towards Trutnov, a small town in the North of the Czech Republic, in close proximity to the Polish border, is already full with all types of different characters. I see lots of dreadlocks, black band t-shirts, military shorts and heavy boots. Their owners carry big backpacks, sleeping pads and bags, and are mostly busy drinking beer.
In Trutnov, I follow a small group of those folks, hoping they'll lead me to the festival grounds. When they enter a restaurant, I keep going and ask a fella with a dreadlock mohawk for directions. He says he's going there as well and that
he can show me the way. All of a sudden, however, it starts pouring down like no tomorrow. We take refuge at a bus stop.
"Fucking shit", the guy says, looking up at the sky in exacerbation. "Every fucking year. Always rain. Always for Obscene Extreme. Every fucking year."
-"Maybe god doesn't like grindcore."
-"Maybe god doesn't like grindcore."
"Sorry, my English not so good." He takes a small glass pipe out of his black fanny pack and proceeds to load it with an herb from a small PVC-seal bag. He lights it, takes a drag, exhales the smoke and offers it to me. "Marihuana?"
-"No, thank you."
He nods and smiles, taking another drag. Again, not grindcore enough.
After another 15 minutes of walking, I find the festival, pay the entrance fee, leave my bag at the storage tent, and head straight to the stage. The first band I see are Human Scum, probably the only grindcore band from Tunisia. Weird how this type of music is almost non-existent in countries where people really have a lot of reasons to be pissed off. Not that
Dutch old school death metal
people from the "First World" don't have any reasons to be pissed off, but you get what I mean.
I find Félix somewhere in the crowd. He had been staying with me in Halle for a few days, then left for Prague a day before me to check out the city. Together we watch the Tunisians blast away. 69 bands in 3 days, and I think there's only one that doesn't make use of blast beats. That means, for the whole of the festival, based on a very conservative estimate of 180 snare drum hits per minute played, if you convert beats to kilometres, it would cover one and a half times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
My first impression tells me that the organization is top-notch; there are many food and drink stalls, only vegan and vegetarian food is served, and beer rules, of course, but you can also get cocktails, wine, shots and a few non-alcoholic drinks. You pay using tokens that they sell at several counters. A half-litre beer costs one token, about €1.25, plus two tokens deposit for the cup. The result is that everybody clings on to their cup during
the day, even in the mosh pit. Keen collectors pick up as many cups lost and thrown away as possible, to immediately cash them in for tokens to buy more beer.
The campsite is right next to the festival area, and it is fenced off to try and discourage potential thieves from outside. In reality, it's probably not that hard to get in, but I didn't hear of anybody who had something stolen throughout the festival. Félix knows a group of Slovenians, one of which offers me to sleep in his tent. I fetch my stuff and put it into the guy's tent while it's still light.
By now, the intermittent, but persistent rain has turned the festival into a mudfest. Most of the bands on the first day are not of too much interest to me, but I still watch them play. Splattered Mermaids and local heroes Jig-Ai play some pretty sick goregrind, which I would like a lot more were it not for the incessant pig squeals. Splitter from Sweden, on the other hand, are right up my alley; political, high-energy grindcore without gimmicks or bullshit. Wolfbrigade are just the type of Swedish crust punk that
bores me to death after the second song. Sweden is very overrepresented this year anyway. 10 bands, most of them playing death metal or crust, way too much for my liking.
Suffocation from New York, USA are the heavyweights of the first day. They play brutal death metal with insanely low growls and put on a great show. The crowd rewards them by going crazy, doing massive circle pits, incessant stage diving and unleashing general mayhem. People who are not used to this type of music would probably be very surprised were they to attend a show like this. All you see is smiles and happiness and silly behaviour all the way, no angriness, no violence, no fights. The pit can get very rough, of course, but the moment somebody falls down, he's already helped up by a bunch of moshers. There are no self-centered, moronic show-offs doing their wannabe capoeira moves or karate-shit, taking for granted that those who get in the way get hurt.
Cephalic Carnage's brand of technical deathgrind is something I can give a miss, so I go and eat some delicious vegan goulash and wash it down with a dark beer of the
superior quality to be expected from Czech beer. As it's getting colder and colder, and seeing that I'm not adequately prepared for 9°C and rain, I head to the tent and spend the night trying to get warm inside my cheap sleeping bag.
In the morning, I make the woeful decision of walking around with shoes, but without socks for a while. As a result, my heel is scraped raw after half an hour. Not good. I eat a little palacinke cake and have a black tea with milk for breakfast, then head to the stage just in time for the first band of the day. S.C.A.T. from Russia open the 2nd day at 10am with their own, filthy type of goregrind. They all wear red woollen stockings over their heads, without any openings for mouth or nose. I just stand there wondering how they can possibly breathe underneath. The vocals take some getting used to, they range from pig squeals via toilet flush-gargle to the sound those souvenir wooden frogs you can get all over Southeast Asia make.
Next up is probably the biggest surprise of the festival: Creative Waste, a grindcore band
Swedish brutal deathgrind savages
from Saudi Arabia. How they can even exist, I have no idea. So after their set, I approach their singer and ask him. He tells me that in 2008 the government cracked down on the underground music scene, and that several people were arrested, or deported, in the case of one Syrian guy. Ever since then, they've been trying to do their thing without attracting too much attention from the officials. Basically, they're treading on very shaky ground. Their set is cool, nothing too great or special, but admirable for the novelty factor and the risk they're taking by merely existing.
Some seriously good bands I didn't know follow: Evisorax from the UK and Buffalo Grillz from Italy, followed by Ente from Ecuador, Social Shit from Argentina and Sakatat from Turkey. The line-up is a lot better than the day before, and I'm enjoying the fact that there's more than just Czech, German, Swedish, Dutch and Merkin bands.
Weekend Nachos from the US evoke the biggest pit of the day so far, and after a few more bands it's finally Wormrot's turn. The Singaporean grind monsters tear it up like never before, and stagediving reaches new heights. The
unfortunate crew members who try desperately to implement the stagediving rules of not staying longer than 5 seconds on stage before jumping, not stepping behind the monitor boxes, and not disturbing the artists are faced with a sisyphean task, as most people entering the stage just start dancing randomly, grabbing microphones, running from one side to the other and laughing at the poor fuckers who try to get them off stage.
After a breather and more food, it's finally Nasum's turn. Their show is part of an extended reunion and farewell tour, for they broke up after their singer died in the 2004 tsunami, not getting a chance to tie up the loose ends. Their set is probably the most anticipated of the whole festival, and I don't think there's but one person present who dislikes the Swedish grinders. Hence, the place is packed and people go completely apeshit. The pit is at its most violent, and I last a mere 15 minutes inside before retiring to the sides after being kicked on my bloody heel and stepped on by heavy boots one too many times. After their surreal one-hour set, I head straight to the tent to catch
up on sleep and lick my wounds for the next day.
The bands on day 3 don't start out as furiously as on Friday. The first band worth mentioning are Brazil's Baixo Calao at 11am, whose singer is probably the highlight of the festival so far. He has only one and a half arms, and his legs are only rudimentally there, yet he puts on the best show and proves that you don't need legs to dance. The crowd loves it and goes nuts, just one big older bloke goes a bit overboard by constantly hugging and high-fiving (no pun intended) the poor guy and even going so far as to pick him up during the last song of their set.
Malaysia's Tools of the Trade are my favourite new band of the festival, they're almost in the same league as Wormrot when it comes to intensity and dedication. Looking for an Answer from Spain play hella cool, raging grindcore, and are a crowd favourite. The Frenchie grinders Blockheads know how to shred as well, then it's time for Asphyx, which many people have been waiting for impatiently. I didn't even know the band,
and after a few songs of their mid-tempo doom/old school death metal, I go and eat something. In hindsight, I was most likely only confused by their absence of blastbeats. I've listened to their newest record, and it's pretty good, which proves you don't need blasts to be insanely brutal.
One thing I find a bit strange and funny at the same time is the fact that out of those who attend the festival in pairs, many have the exact same fashion. There are a lot of dreadlock couples, old school-metalheads with matching jeans vests covered in patches, prehistoric punks with rivet-covered vests and dreadlock mullets. The going fashion for grind chicks seems to be a short black denim skirt with black tights underneath, either steel-capped boots or Chucks and a band-shirt with ripped-off sleeves. Not to say they all look the same, but there appears to be a general tendency towards those garments.
I also realise that most of the food on sale is pretty lethal for the digestive system. Vegan chili with lots of kidney beans, potato gnocchi with sauerkraut, garlic soup, goulash, vegan burgers, grilled camembert, falafel. Tough for you if you have a preference
for flush toilets. Either you go to the forest, to a restaurant in town or you bite the bullet, use the pit latrine and shit on other people's shit. Not the most pleasant thing, but still, it provides release.
The last band of interest to me are Germany's fastcore heroes Yacöpsae. It's only the second time I've seen them live, but just like the first time, I end up disappointed, watching their show from the sides, frozen and immobile. I can't fathom the reason, maybe it's that their entertainment value pales in comparison to many other bands I've seen on this festival, or it might be that their music is just not good music to dance to.
Afterwards, I bid farewell to Félix, who's gonna catch an early train to Prague and then a plane to Kyiv, and head to the tent for my last night in there.
In the morning, I take a much-needed shower, use up my remaining tokens and hop on a train to Prague. Again, I'm greeted by rain, but I'm too tired, bruised and weary to be up for any serious sightseeing anyway. I just wander around for
Palačinka and black tea with milk
a bit, grab a bite to eat, make my way to my host's place, interact for a while and go to sleep. First thing I do when I get home after a long train ride is ditch my muddy canvas shoes, which are full of holes. I resolve to wear some heavy boots as well the next time around, and to come better prepared in general.
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