Posts Tagged ‘Swans’

Human Worth – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I am, unashamedly, a massive fan of Modern Technology, and have been from day 1. And their DOIY label, Human Worth, too. Not only do they make and release amazing music of immense weight, but they have real principles, donating a cut of the proceeds of every release to charity, and being thoroughly nice guys on top is just a huge bonus.

The label’s latest release – their first 7” single – is absolute gold (despite actually being marbled silver and black) And that’s another thing: the quality of the label’s product is magnificent, from the design to the finish. With vinyl’s resurgence, we’ve witnessed a greater attention to the physical product as an artefact to behold and to cherish, for all the reasons fans of vinyl spent about 20 years going on about at every opportunity while people moved away, first towards CDs and then towards streaming. I suppose aficionados of the ‘physical product’ proffer the same kind of case for vinyl as books, but when Kindle fans counter that ‘it’s just like a book’, the common retort is that what’s even more like a book is a book, and there is simply no substitute. Streaming fans don’t even have that: all they have is ‘convenience’, but they simply don’t grasp how much is missing from the experience when interacting with a physical format.

I may digress, but it’s relevant: when presented with a gut-punching welter of noise, it always hits harder when blasting from a fat chunk of wax through some speakers with a bit of poke. And shit, is this a gut-punching welter of noise.

Modern Tech and 72% crossed paths just days before life was placed on pause in March 2020. Sharing a bill for Baba Yaga’s Hut in London, no-one foresaw the year that was to come. With the prospect of live shows remaining tentative at best, this single feels like a necessary release of energy.

It’s 72%’s ‘Drowning in a Sea of Bastards’ that’s the (nominal) A-side, and it’s a squalling, full-throttle noise attack. It’s actually the drumming that dominates, while everything else collapses in on itself to create a volcanic sonic explosion of frenzies guitars that are played in such a way as to not really sound like guitars as much as a wild cacophony. There’s screeding feedback and all kinds of chaos flying every whichway, and somewhere, buried low in the mix, are some anguished vocals. You can’t make out a word of it, but the sentiment transcends language.

Meanwhile, Modern Technology continue to go from strength to strength. The first new material since their debut album, Service Provider in September, ‘Lorn’ is a six-minute monster. The droning feedback that howls from Chris Clarke’s bass is more mid-rangey than usual, bringing a sharp, brittle edge to their dark, dingy abrasion that’s pushes forward slow and heavy, propelled by Owen Gildersleeve’s crushing percussion. When the chords hit, they hit hard, and – as is now well-established as integral to their distinctive sound, Clarke’s vocals, distorted and buried in a wash or reverb, snarl and growl all the rage, landing somewhere between Lemmy and Al Jourgensen circa Filth Pig. It’s a trudging slow-burner that builds with a cumulative effect.

Oh, and there’s more: a brace of bonus tracks, starting with a head-shredding remix of ‘Drowning in a Sea of Bastards’ by Wayne Adams (Ladyscraper / Big Lad / Petbrick). Unrecognisable against the original, it’s a pulversing mangled mess of clanging metal and industrial-strength overloading distortion. Gnarly as fuck, it’s bloody brilliant. And as a double bonus, the additional cut from Modern Technology is another new track, ‘Ctrl’. In something of a departure, it finds Clarke deliver a spoken-word piece against a backdrop of thick, booming bass and slow, slow drums. As the murky layers build, so does the crushing weight of a track that’s reminiscent of Swans circa 1984: it’s claustrophobic and suffocating, and makes you feel tense.

It may only be fifteen minutes in total for all four tracks, but to describe the experience as intense would be an understatement, and I find myself simply too blown away to conjure a pithy one-liner to wrap up. Yes, it’s absolute dynamite.

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When an album contains just three tracks, you know before you even hear a note that it’s going to be possessed of epic qualities. Similarly, when a band’s pitch includes ‘RIYL bands like Swans, MONO, lots of layered drums and percussion, ambient soundscapes, and wall of sound guitar and big strings’, (and I think it’s pretty much public knowledge by now that I do), then the same applies, and so needless to say I was all over this in an instant.

The first track, ‘The Gift’, is a twenty-minute behemoth, a sweeping exploration that builds from tense strings of the kind that would likely be at home on a Netflix period drama into something altogether more awe-inspiring, as the drums rumble like distant thunder at a gathering pace and intensity. Over its immense span, it leads the listener on a journey through an array of soundscapes, and there’s not only considerable atmosphere being conjured here, but the music also has a very visual aspect. You feel as if you’re being transported through different scenes, and at times, are creeping cautiously and peering around corners, while at others, staring out from a high plateau overlooking immense vistas that stretch further than the eye can see.

This is very much latterday Swans providing the inspiration here, with the expansive instrumental passages and near-ambient stretches that came to define releases from The Seer to The Glowing Man via To Be Kind, each of which stretched over a full two hours apiece. However, solarminds’ compositional approach and overall sound is quite different, leaning very much toward more conventional post-rock tropes (but without the contrivances of, say, Sigur Rós) and while there are some immense percussion-driven crescendos, with the strong-centric instrumentation, they don’t hit the explosive peaks of, say, Explosions in the Sky or Her Name is Calla. None of these are bad things, and while the sheer scale of their music does definitely sit within the domain occupied by MONO.

‘The Visit’ begins with an amorphous mass of dank, dark ambience, and is thirteen minutes of elongated, undulating drones that twist, turn, scrape and screed against a tumultuous barrage of percussion.

Closer ‘The Lie’ marks a significant departure, as the sound of heavy rain and extraneous noise gives way to a near -acappela vocal, an acoustic guitar, muffled and distant, providing the sparsest of accompaniment. It’s here they’re most reminiscent of Her Name is Calla at their most minimal, stripped-back, and folky, and it’s a delicate, tender experience that grows in emotional intensity and pulls at the gut with its starkness, its rawness.

Dissolving in a rumble of thunder, it’s a fitting conclusion to an album that, beneath some smooth surfaces, presents some quite troubled currents in the depths.

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Hummus Records – 23rd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Well of course my interest was piqued: Convulsif’s fifth album, pitched as a work of ‘self-inventing gloomy rock in the abyss between such subgenres as noise, metal, jazz and grindcore’ likely to appeal to fans of GOD, Godflesh, Swans, Naked City, Napalm Death, Painkiller, Boredoms, and Neurosis. It doesn’t get any more of my noisy industrial-favouring bag than that – not least of all because the referencing of short-lived Godflesh / Techno Animal offshoot GOD seems wilfully perverse. Let’s face it, what is the real scope for techno-hued jazz/grind crossover?

The Swiss quartet eschew conventional rock instrumentation with a lineup featuring bass, drums, bass clarinet and drums, and I can already hear many wailing about the lack of guitars. Hearing the cacophonous freeform racket they conjure, however, would be enough to make even more wail, and certainly not just about their unconventional band makeup, and just to enhance the album’s commercial appeal, the bleak set’s titles are all cut up and mashed up lines of Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary.

The first cut, the seven-minute ‘Buried Between One’ is dominated by the gut-churning, nausea-inducing rhythm section stylings of Swans circa Filth and Cop – the drums explode like volcanic detonations, slow and sporadic, and the lumbering low end stops and starts and lurches woozily, while everything else on top is just discord, and as the track progresses, it all whips into a hellish maelstrom, a brutally sustained crescendo that leaves you wondering ‘where’s left to go from here?’

The elongated drone, low, sonorous, ominous, that introduces ‘Five Days of Open Bones’ provides some respite, , before dolour bass and brooding violin drift in; the atmosphere is dense and grows from a mist to a fog as the drumming builds… the tension increases… they sustain it, but you now it’s surely a matter of time before something yields… the clarinet ebbs and flows like a layer of synth, but the fact this is organic and orchestral somehow ads something else… and then… and then… Anyone familiar with the last incarnation of SWANS will now what it’s like to endure such a seemingly endless build. It’s exhilarating and torturous in equal measure. Your heart’s palpating and your lungs feel ready to burst and you think you might vomit… and then it all breaks into a frenetically frenzied jazz noise of parping horns and hundred mile-an-hour drumming. No, that’s not right. Surely. But then, this isn’t SWANS, this isn’t your regular avant-industrial: this is the kind of experimental freakout that’s right at home at Café Oto, and ‘Five days’ feels literal in its timespan.

A couple of brief, lurching interludes make for more difficult listening, with ‘Surround the Arms of the Revolution’ sounding like ‘A Screw’ played by a drunk jazz ensemble, paving the way for the fourteen-minute finale that is ‘The Axe Will Break’, which is constructed around a tight, cyclical bass motif, which is again, decidedly jazzy in a Sly and the Family Drone sense. The endless repetition is mesmerising, hypotonic, and the tension builds almost imperceptibly… but build it does. It grinds it way through a merciless squall of noise through which filters mournful woodwind that flickers hints of post-rock reflection before being submerged in the swelling surge of chaos. The final five minutes – an eviscerating sustained crescendo of monolithic proportions – is little short of devastating. Jazz isn’t always nice.

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It was through Children of God that I was first introduced to Swans. It was probably around 1988 or ‘89, so Children of God was their then latest album, and I was starting to properly spend my Saturdays hanging out at the second-hand record shop where I would subsequently land a job. Another guy who hung around / worked there had dark, diverse, and obscure musical tastes, and passed me a copy of the album he’d recorded to tape. This is a perfect example of why home taping didn’t kill music.

And so, while it’s an album I have played a lot over the last – urgh – thirty years – it’s one I’ve listened to without necessarily reappraising. There’s nothing like a reissue to provoke such contemplation.

And even now it’s by turns eerie, chilling, and heavy as hell. Admittedly, it’s not as heavy as the releases which preceded it, and which I would subsequently discover – at that time by plundering racks at record fares, at a time when it was paying £8 for a vinyl copy of Cop or the Young God EP felt like a lot of money but there was no other means of hearing this stuff back then.

There isn’t a lot audibly different from the early 00’s reissue here. For any remastering, the sound is still dense and murky, and that’s to the good, and it’s an integral part of the listening experience.

The first grainy chords of ‘New Mind’ bludgeon hard, and it’s a bleak, oppressive trudge when taken in isolation (by which I mean, without comparison to their back catalogue). It doesn’t exactly scream ‘MTV exposure’, but weird shit was happening back then. And shift didn’t get much weirder than Swans’ foray into evangelism – pitched as an exploration, it adopted the tropes with such a seriousness that it almost felt like the real thing.

‘You’re not Real, Girl’ is dreamy, opiate woozy, sultry, serpentine: Gira croons lazily, drawling, but also hollow, empty, his voice reverberating in a chasm of nothing. It’s hard to articulate precisely how deeply this resonates, and it’s all in the delivery, which rattles and reverberates around the ribcage and the cranium in an hypnotic swoon.

‘Beautiful Child’ is a raging stomp, ‘this is my life! This is sacrifice! This is my damnation! This is my only regret! That I ever was born!’ Gira screams maniacally, over and over, and over and over. Jarboe’s vocals soar like a chorus of ghosts over the ugly march.

My personal favourite track on the album is ‘Trust Me’, with a trilling harmonica intro giving way to a landslide of discord and gut-punching percussion. Against lurching guitars, Gira’s vocal is detached, inhuman, other-wordly, a cavernous monotone

As fans will be more than aware, the Swans catalogue is a shade messy, particularly around their late 80s / early 90s period. ‘Blackmail’ first appeared on the ‘Time is Money’ 12” in ’86, so the Children of God album version is a revisitation and a subtle reworking. With the 1999 compilation Various Failures and the previous CD reissue being long out of print, it may have perhaps been nice for the ‘New Mind’ b-sides ‘Damn You to Hell’ and ‘I’ll Swallow You’ to have been included here, but on the other hand, this release retains the integrity of the original.

The contemporaneous live album, Feel Good Now very much does, though. Recorded on the European tour supporting Children of God, it packs some storming live renditions of songs culled from Children of God performed during a quite specific peak of the band’s live career.

Swans have always pushed the limits live, and taken the songs to new and different levels of intensity and duration, and the eighteen-minute rendition of ‘Blind Love’ on offer here is a prime example. It’s barely recognisable, and despite being led by a simple acoustic guitar, it’s absolutely fucking punishing – and not necessarily in a good way: Gira’s elongated notes and wordless, formless yells are uncomfortable, a raging beast tortured and pained, while the guitar and rhythm section batter away without mercy. The drums are brutal. Having witnessed Swans live post-millennium, I have come to appreciate that nothing short of nuclear annihilation can convey the sheer force and volume of Swans live. However, Feel Good Now definitely goes a long way to capture the intensity of that volume.

The tracks appear in a different order from the original release, instead representing the sequence of the 2002 reissue. As this isn’t an actual concert, but a document of a tour, the sequencing is largely inconsequential, and ultimately it’s about the cumulative, bludgeoning effect. The sawing churn of ‘Like a Drug’ is pulverising, brutal, nauseating, and while ‘Children of God’ may only run for five and a half minutes, the effect is something else, the drumming thumping relentlessly in rolls of pure assault. Gira hollers impenetrably into the void as Jarboe ‘s voice floats effortlessly and with grace and true beauty over the ugly, pounding mess.

‘Beautiful Child Reprise’ is so savage as to be almost unlistenable long before it gets to the ‘Kill, kill, kill’ chant. It will come as no surprise for anyone who’s encountered Swans’ pre-85 live material, but fuck me. If one band could be considered to define excruciating sonic brutality, it’s Swans.

Children of God was a pivotal album, and remains a particular high point in the band’s career on many levels. There is no question that it broke new ground, or that it broke them to a new and far wider audience, although there is no way you could describe it as commercial or even accessible in terms of the common understanding of the term. It also very much stands alone in terms of its sound, defining the crossroads between the crushing basalt slabs of violent loathing which defined their early years, and the almost folksy melodicism of their early 90s releases.

What this edition lacks in terms of additional material and, indeed, any radical audio differences from any other editions through its remastering, it makes up for by simply making the recordings available again, particularly on vinyl.

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Gizeh Records – GZH99 26th June 2020 (Digital) / 25th September 2020 (LP/CD)

Christopher Nosnibor

Wren’s third album – or ‘third chapter in Wren’s seasonal lore exploration’ as the press release puts it – is their first on Gizeh, and promises ‘six melancholy-shrouded sonic ruminations [which] swell between intimate performances devoid of adornment, and evolving soundscapes of auditory ruin’. And pitched as being of interest to fans of Godflesh, ISIS, Kowloon Walled City, Neurosis, it does the job of bringing slow-burning slow-trudging metal with an emotionally-articulate aspect and certain musical nuance.

The first megalithic sonic slab to assail the listener is the nine-minute ‘Chromed’, an epic battery of guitar and anguished vocal, and it piledrives in with a repetitive chord sequence, there are heavy hints of Amenra, and it’s the grainy, earthy quality that’s most reminiscent of Neurosis. There’s a lot of space here between the crushingly weighty power chords that drive, hard, low, and slow, less like a battering ram and more like a tank driving against a wall: slow, deliberate, and completely devastating.

There is detail, there is texture, and there is space within the broad parameters of this ambitious work, giving moments of respite and pauses for reflection between the raging infernos of fury that flare upwards toward the skies from the troughs of gloom. And yes, Groundswells is gloomy, dark, lugubrious, the soundtrack to motional trauma and swings from anguished introspection to annihilative rage.

If the album’s entirety could be encapsulated on a single track, it would be the dynamically-flexible ‘Subterranean Messiah’, which stretches out beyond ten minutes as it works it was way though a series of peaks and troughs, venturing into a range or mood-spaces and sonic terrains to forge a compelling sonic journey that’s utterly immersive. Jo Quail adds layers of subtlety and not to mention sonic depth with her cello work on the track also.

The final song, ‘The Throes’ is a grinding dirge, Godflesh played at the pace of Swans’ Cop. But amidst the torture, punishment, and the anguish – those excoriating vocals and that shrieking lead guitar that battles against the dense, slow chug and grind coalesce to form a perfect prism of pain, the psychological expressed through the physical.

If the band’s name suggests something soft, delicate, melodic, then Groundswells tears those expectations to shreds in the most obliterative way. It’s simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, and an all-consuming experience.

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Following the release of their debut self-titled album, Human Impact have kept busy and continued writing and recording more songs they will be releasing over the coming months. The first of those new singles, "Contact" (which debuted via Louder Sound), was written and recorded shortly before the outbreak of Covid-19.

An eerie premonition, it predicts the new reality we all currently inhabit. In anticipation of this release, and as an act of connection in this time of isolation, the band put a call out to fans across the globe for video footage to use in the video for "Contact" showing how the Coronavirus has affected all our daily lives and environment. Asking the question: What does this new reality look like for you?

About the music and video, Human Impact remark: "We’d like to write songs about humankind living in harmony and balance with the world, about governments and corporations being of and for the people. But those songs would be narcotic lullabies spitting in the wind of what’s real. We wish this song were wrong. "Contact" was written, recorded and mixed just before the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. Originally written as a response to a feeling of international vulnerability to the spread of disease via air travel, the song’s lyrics proved to be an uneasy and uncanny prediction, foreshadowing our current quarantined reality."

As residents of North America’s hardest hit city, the band has earmarked their proceeds from the song to be donated to the NYC COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. Human Impact ask fans to consider donating to this or their local charities as well.

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Human Impact

Photo credit: Jammi York

Human Impact, a “band that collects members from three of New York noise’s most important groups — the hardcore-influenced, ultraviolent Unsane, industrial anger mongers Cop Shoot Cop, and erstwhile Lower East Side pummelers Swans” (Rolling Stone), have released a video for “E605”.

The Samuel Mitchell-directed clip visually echoes the gritty, industrial-tinged noise rock on the band’s forthcoming, self-titled debut album (March 13, Ipecac Recordings). It is the second song to preview the 10-track release, with the band previously sharing the song “November”.

Watch ‘E605’ here:

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Human Impact, the New York-based outfit that features members of Cop Shoot Cop, Unsane and Swans are to release their self-titled, debut album on March 13 via Ipecac Recordings.

When news broke of the band’s inaugural live performance (August at NYC’s Union Pool), the New York Times said: “This supergroup’s lineup represents the fulfilment of a noise rock fan’s most fervent wish; the face-melting guitar sound of Chris Spencer (Unsane), coupled with the sampling mastery of Jim Coleman (Cop Shoot Cop), supported by the innovative percussion of Phil Puleo (Cop Shoot Cop, Swans) and strung together with the minimal yet impactful bass rhythms of Chris Pravdica (Swans).”

An early preview of the forthcoming release is available now, with album opener, “November” streaming here:

Young God / Mute 25th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

On receipt of the new Swans album, I posted on Facebook that I was ‘too excited to download it.’ This wasn’t sarcasm or bathos. The arrival of a new Swans album is always an event of no small magnitude, and with a certain sense of duty to deliver a review of a band I’ve revered my entire adult life comes a certain weight of responsibility to do justice. Swans have always been more than merely a band, standing as a sonic entity with almost infinite capacity to overwhelm. And they haven’t lost that.

Their last three studio albums, The Seer (2012), To Be Kind (2014) and The Glowing Man (2016) redefined epic and over their course took extended improvisational forms to a logical conclusion, each with a duration in the region of two hours.

Given the tone of Michael Gira’s statement about the end of the iteration of the band who produced these albums, Leaving Meaning brings two substantial surprises, the first being that many of the personnel from the previous incarnation remain present, and the second being the speed of its arrival. Kristof Hahn remains in the latest lineup, which also features eternal mainstay Norman Westberg – arguably as integral to the band as Gira himself – albeit only on some tracks, and Thor Harris, Phil Puleo, and Christopher Pravdica. They’re joined by an immense cast of contributors including The Necks, Baby Dee, Anna and Maria von Hausswolff, and Larry Mullins.

Leaving Meaning sees Gira take a slightly different and more openly collaborative approach to the realisation of his ideas, and it’s a more concise record in comparison to its predecessors. It’s all relative, of course, but in context, ninety-three minutes is concise.

Because of its sheer enormity, Leaving Meaning isn’t an album it’s entirely appropriate to dissect, and it’s constructed in such a way that it is very much best experienced as an album rather than dipped into. That means its effect is optimal when experienced in a single session, but that also means – as was the case to an even greater extent with its predecessors – that it requires a significant commitment of time in a time-pressured world. But then, Swans’ music has the capacity to lift the listener out of time and into another zone altogether.

The longer tracks are considerably shorter than even most off the shorter tracks on the last three albums, with the twelve-minute ‘The Nub’ being the album’s longest track.

Intro segment ‘Hums’ is appropriately-titled, consisting of just two minutes of cascading, hovering drones interwoven for create a soft ambience. ‘The Hanging Man’ revisits the nagging, dizzying cyclical bass motifs of numerous extended workouts from the last trilogy, and grinds it out for ten minutes. Anyone who’s familiar with the band’s extensive back-catalogue will be aware that this style of composition harks back to the band’s dawning and has remained a trademark of theirs, as well as Gira’s solo work. Paired with Gira’s vocal delivery, which switches from a monotone drone to a maniacal holler of elongated vowels and jabbering ululations and monosyllabic barks and yelps, it’s vintage Swans that threatens a climax around the mid-point but saves the real intensity for the finish. It’s less about volume than plain, bludgeoning repetition.

‘Amnesia’ is not the same ‘Amnesia’ as on 1992’s Love of Life. Perhaps Gira’s forgotten about it. It is, however, a brooding acoustic-led folk song. At heart. One of the things that constitutes a significant point of departure on Leaving Meaning is the return to sparser structures: gone are the immense sustained crescendos and pulverising explosions of discordant noise. There’s an altogether more mellow feel about Leaving Meaning. That said, there are orchestral and choral surges which punctuate both here and elsewhere.

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‘Sunfucker’ is another classic Swans composition built around endless repetition, and with its backing vocal chants serves as an apocalyptic counterpart to ‘I Am the Sun’ from The Great Annihilator. Tapering off to drones in the mid-section, it suddenly explodes into a stomping glam bash. It’s bewildering, unexpected, everything all at once and probably the most daring and adventurous thing Swans have recorded in their entire career.

‘The Nub’ is gloomily funeral. Ethereal, haunting, but ultimately bleak in mood; ‘Some New Things’ is mantric, looping, hypnotic, while ‘My Phantom Limb’, one of the album’s standouts, has stronger echoes of Greed-era’s tortured pounding. It sits at odds with the rest of the album, but then so much of the album sits at odds with itself it feels right in a perverse way.

So what do we take from this? More or less what we’ve take from Swans over the last thirty years: with their ever-shifting parameters but constant core focus and the creative vision of Michael Gira always the driving force, Swans never cease to evolve, but never cease to be Swans, and are immediately identifiable as Swans, however far out they go.

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Leaving Meaning is the fifteenth studio album for SWANS, the follow up to 2016’s The Glowing Man, and is due for release by Mute / Young God Records (N America) on 25th October 2019. Leaving Meaning will be released on double vinyl in a brown chipboard sleeve, double CD in a brown chipboard digipack and digitally.

Written and produced by Michael Gira, the album features contributions from recent and former Swans, members of Angels of Light as well as Guest Artists Anna and Maria von Hausswolff, Ben Frost, The Necks, Baby Dee, and a Hawk and a Hacksaw,

Michael Gira explains, “Leaving Meaning is the first Swans album to be released since I dissolved the lineup of musicians that constituted Swans from 2010 – 2017. Swans is now comprised of a revolving cast of musicians, selected for both their musical and personal character, chosen according to what I intuit best suits the atmosphere in which I’d like to see the songs I’ve written presented. In collaboration with me, the musicians, through their personality, skill and taste, contribute greatly to the arrangement of the material. They’re all people whose work I admire and whose company I personally enjoy”.

Listen to the first track from the album, ‘It’s Coming It’s Real’ here:

In autumn, Michael Gira will be touring select cities on a solo tour with Norman Westberg. Swans will tour in the spring of 2020.

11 Oct – Skanu Mezs Festival – Riga, Latvia

13 Oct – Saint Petersburg, Russia

15 Oct – Moskva, Russia

18 Oct – Athina, Greece

19 Oct – Thessaloniki, Greece

23 Oct – Ljubljana, Slovenia

25 Oct – Bucharest, Romania

26 Oct – Cluj-napoca, Romania

28 Oct – Warsaw, Poland

29 Oct – Warsaw, Poland

31 Oct – Kyiv, Ukraine

1 Nov – Vilnius, Lithuania

2 Nov – Helsinki, Finland