[Written by Damiano Lenzi]
[Contributions by Sara Lusini, Giacomo Barni, Jacopo Gennaioli, Lidia Manzano]
The Villa Festival is an important event for the neofolk, industrial, power electronics, dark, goth & neoclassical scene in Italy. The organizers have always showed their passion for the music they’re promoting, and they’ve been able to involve in their past editions names as Sol Invictus, Naevus, Sieben, Of The Wand And The Moon, Strydwolf, Die Weisse Rose and others. It’s worth spending a word on the location, the charming medieval village Monte del Lago on the Trasimeno, the largest lake in central Italy.
After its successful edition in Sweden as Valhalla Festival, the organization comes back to Italy with some important changes: the lineup is now mostly oriented on electronica instead of neofolk, as was the case before, and the main stage moves from the Aganoor-Pompilj mansion to the theater of the near town of Magione. Jacinto Otto Olivelli, one of the promoters, explains to us that they wanted a space that was merely intended for music, where major emphasis could be placed on the acoustics and scenic effects. The mansion was instead reserved for the dark ambient and experimental acts of the afternoon (Lost in the Woods, Chordiform, Endless Asylum).
We reach Monte del Lago in time for the stunning sunset on the lake, but unfortunately the afternoon sets will not take place for lack of audience. We are a bit disappointed that we’re not going to see Endless Asylum, one of the many projects by Sathorys Elenorth (Der Blaue Reiter, Arcana) that also features visuals inspired by abandoned places. After drinking a bottle of red wine in the beautiful garden of the ‘villa’ and eating some fried fish of the lake, we reach the city theater of Magione. The beginning of the concerts is delayed in expectance of more audience, but also here there are not many people.
The opening act Digamma Cottage is an impressing post-rock ensemble with three guitars (plus a baritone guitar instead of bass), drums and Farfisa Keyboard. It’s now evident that it would have been difficult to fit such a band in the intimate context of the mansion. Here in the theatre instead, they can turn up the volume of their amplifiers for a better sound. The pieces are a pleasant listen, even if a bit static and poor of dynamics, as if the band still needs to find the right alchemy and confidence between the elements. The level of the performance raises immediately when Andrew King joins the band for a duet. The instruments underline the emotive crescendo of King’s declamation in an almost progressive vein. For the last song Aima from Les Jumeaux Discordants also comes onstage to sing.
Andrew King comes back on the stage for his solo set. In this occasion he has pre-recorded tracks for harmonium and medieval bourdons and he plays live timpani, gong and other percussions. The accuracy and the sincere, passionately academic attitude that he shows in recovering ancient texts, traditional English songs and murder ballads really leaves the listener astonished. We recognize “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” and “The Wife of Usher’s Well”. After the intense set we can talk with Rev. King at the merchandising desk: he discusses happily of Victorian history, of the unfortunate expedition of Mallory and Irvine on the Everest, and of the supergroup “The Muskets”, a project with American Independence War songs where he acts as George III together with David E. Williams, Thomas Nöla, b9 InViD and Erin Powell. He ironically suggests that in a possible sequel about the American Civil War he could play the part of Queen Victoria.
It’s the turn of Les Jumeaux Discordants, a project by Aima and Roberto del Vecchio. Aima’s neoclassical, inspired voice is accompanied by ambient synths and martial drums. Some imperfections in the intonation and in the attacks of the percussions make us think that the artists onstage can’t hear well from the monitors (an impression that we have often had during the evening) and so are facing some problems with regard to orienting themselves in the dilated sounds of the synths.
The fourth act of the festival is Hidden Place, an Italian electro band that marked its tenth birthday this year, with the compilation “Retrospettiva 2004-2014”. In fact their compactness and synergy is clear and the resulting sound is a powerful synthpop with some martial and industrial cadences of acoustic drums. All the members of the band switch efficiently between different instruments (synths, electronics, Micro Korg vocoder, guitar and percussions). The singer Sara Lux, in red dress and German flecktarn uniform, becomes more and more confident with her voice as the show goes on and it’s a pity we are into a theater with seats where it’s impossible to dance. In fact we have to notice that the only missing element is the interaction with the audience, that would have taken their performance to the next level; but it’s not a fault of the band, it’s that there’s actually too few people to reach the correct level of energy. The band walks offstage on the accordion notes of “Sulle Rive del Basento” and comes back to perform some tracks of their interesting neofolk side project Lupi Gladius, positively reviewed some months ago here on Santa Sangre.
And now it’s time for the festival headliner: Sixth Comm. Patrick Leagas nervously walks around the hall during all the other performances, together with his companion Drummer Donadio, featured also in the recent work “Schräge Musik”. One of the most curious aspects of The Villa Festival is indeed its dimension that allows you to have a close contact with such fathers of the neofolk genre like Leagas or Tony Wakeford. You consider them as your heroes, but they’re just a few steps away, enjoying the concert as you do and you can even talk to them. As Andrew King, also Mr. Leagas is very affable and friendly after the show, but during the performance it’s the complete opposite: he’s an imposing, ancestral presence, his priestly moves are menacing and terrifying. Patrick knows how to play this role perfectly, he’s able to catalyze anger and insecurity in an aggressive, exasperatedly percussive style, that has a magnetic effect on the audience. He’s a charismatic and expert musician and his voice has remained intact in all its power and peculiarity after years. Even three songs from the “Nada” era find their place in the tracklist, in the original Death in June versions (not the ones re-recorded afterwards as Sixth Comm): “Foretold”, “The Calling” and “The Torture Garden” an appreciated gift for many fans in the venue. As mentioned above, there has been some delay in the schedule of the gigs and it’s already 3 in the morning when the Sixth Comm set has to be interrupted at half of its length. There are some protests, but it was probably not possible to continue the festival after that time, due to arrangements with the municipal authorities.
In the end, the quality was definitely there, but too few people attended this event. It’s a shame if you consider that this is one of the few festivals of its kind in central Italy. We are either way glad to have been amongst the lucky few who participated, and we wish to the Villa Aganoor Pompilj association the best of luck for their next editions, that I personally hope will be brought back to the mansion. Maybe that would disadvantage the acoustics, but the atmosphere of the ‘villa’ is incomparable!