RITUAL UNION: a 5-band review

ULRIKA SPACEK, FLAMINGODS, JOSEFIN OHRN + THE LIBERATION, PINKSHINYULTRABLAST and BO NINGEN at Oxford’s new RITUAL UNION festival, October 21 2017

There’s a new festival in town and it’s called Ritual Union: three venues and four stages of bands – The Bullingdon, The Library and the O2 (upstairs and down), and some in-stores at Truck Store – make this a proper Cowley Road music community effort.

It all kicks off early aft this windy Saturday, and as ever with multiple-band jams like this, we want to like a lot and, with any luck, get blown sideways by somebody.

That somebody won’t be Ulrika Spacek, though. 20-something minutes in to a 30-minute set in the Bullingdon, I’m trying not to drift off standing up. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s late … no, it’s 6pm. Velvets-y new wave with a less than stellar vocal – not much to grab hold of, and that’s a real shame ‘coz after catching the very end of their support set for Minor Victories last year, I swear they’d made a loud, moto-rhythmic first impression. It’s why I had them down as a cert for today.

But wait … the final track, wassis? Thicker guitars, more sprawl, spacier voice and yes, a moto-groove. It’s good. It’s very good. It’s Everything: All of the Time, and is surely how they wrapped their Minor Victories set last year. My tip? Get to the gig 10 minutes from the end, you’ll love it.

Sticking with the Bully, next up are Flamingods, and these guys – Bahrain-formed culture clashers – radiate musicality before they even strike a note. You can just feel it. And when they do start, they lift the room BIG TIME with a soaring, infectious, free-flowing fusion that’s bursting with soul from whatever genre-culture they see fit. Like what, like who? The fact that they were tour buds with The Comet is Coming this year gives a kaleidoscopic clue, but my rock-ist worldview (depressingly narrow in front of this lot) means that Neu!, Boredoms, Mr Bungle/Secret Chiefs 3, Goat and even Hawkwind all fly to mind, at least for this punchy live set. Smile and dance the trance, Ritual Union-ists! Rich, colourful, euphoric stuff – GO SEE THIS BAND. Proper players mixing it up, a real celebration.

Next: Josefin Ohrn + the LiberationKnowing nothing about them, this could go either way, so … the dark instrumental space halfway through the set is a welcome place to make a late entry. Heavy on the rhythm again, but more driving, shadowy and goth-flecked – channelling The Creatures (Siouxsie) a bit, mebbe? – theirs is a different kind of psych, if psych is what it is. A low-key summoning, perhaps. Another one to keep eyes on.

Pinkshinyultrablast.
No.

Sorry. And with that, we do a weird exits early from the Bullingdon and head upstairs at the O2 for Bo Ningen. YES…. their live rep precedes them and, to be honest, they are the reason for getting a buzz about this Ritual thing in the first place – a chance to see them melt minds right here, in Oxford. And they do.

Fried space rock, total reverb overload and damaged psyche with vocal yelps that jab your eyes, it’s what Comets on Fire could be like if they took a Man’s Ruin desert trip with Boris and jammed at full tilt. Wild but never, ever sloppy, Bo Ningen bow out with a noise maelstrom that’s utter fucking carnage. Astonishing.

Downstairs, festival headliners Peace are on the big stage with whatever it is that they do.

But who wants Peace when you can have war? BO NINGEN. Game over.