A Sort of Homecoming: Fuzz Fest 8 and Deniz Tek


Deniz Tek and band on stage at Fuzz Fest 8, Ann Arbor, The Blind Pig, August 4, 2023

Deniz Tek (center), Chris "Box" Taylor (left), and drummer Al King at Fuzz Fest 8 in The Blind Pig, August 4, 2023. Photo by Christopher Porter.

It was homecoming night on Friday at this year's Fuzz Fest.

Except there were no fancy dresses or ill-fitting suits at this party and the regalia was a little less formal for this annual celebration of scuzzy hard rock and psychedelia. 

Fuzz Fest 8 ran August 3-5 at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, and while the opening and closing days had numerous fab bands with local connections, the most surprising homemade ingredients inside this rock 'n' roll sandwich were on Friday.

The nervy 1980s Ann Arbor post-punk band Nønfiction reunited with twins Laurence and Benjamin Miller; 1990s A2 noise-punks Barbed Wire Playpen got the gang together one more time; and Easy Action—essentially the hard-rock version of Detroit hardcore legends Negative Approach—returned to the venue of its first-ever concert. (It was also the first time Easy Action singer John Brannon, who lived in Ann Arbor during his days with Laughing Hyneas in the late '80s and early '90s, was back inside the Pig since he was kicked out of the club for some reason long ago.)

But the big get on the menu was Deniz Tek returning to play in the city where he was born and raised before moving to Australia and becoming a key proto-punk architect as the guitarist and primary songwriter in Radio Birdman.

Because at its core, Fuzz Fest is a townie party with feedback, always held in August before the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University students repopulate the area, and geared toward the year-round headbangers who fight through the endless warm-weather road closures every freakin' summer.

Deniz Tek on stage at Fuzz Fest 8, Ann Arbor, The Blind Pig, August 4, 2023

Deniz Tek delivers the maelstrom at Fuzz Fest 8. Photo by Christopher Porter.

Fuzz Fest is also a testament to the unending endurance of Chris "Box" Taylor and his crew. It takes a lot of energy to produce a multi-band festival every year while also adding home-brewed psychedelic visuals and a second performance area in the Pig so the sets flowed with almost no downtime in between. I was tired just from standing in the club for about five hours on Friday; these guys have to do it for many, many more hours over three days while also running around to make sure everything is running smoothly. 

Oh, yeah, and the Fuzz Fest committee also played in several of the bands, too.

I'm not sure how many groups Taylor played with throughout Fuzz Fest, but he closed the Friday concert at an ungodly hour playing guitar with his band Mazinga and played bass in Deniz Tek's quartet. (I also saw a photo of Taylor rocking a sitar.)

Taylor has played with the former Radio Birdman before, but his on-stage enthusiasm made it seem like this was his first and only shot to play with one of his musical heroes. The bassist had to learn some solo and more recent Tek tunes in addition to four Radio Birdman jams and one from The Visitors, the short-lived band the guitarist formed after the former group's demise:

"Eddy Would Go"
"Smith and Wesson Blues" (Radio Birdman)
"Workingman's Shoes"
"Can of Soup"
"John Henry's Hammer"
"Brother John" (The Visitors)
"Ballad of Chief Joseph"
"Pine Box"
"Truck and Roll"
"Hand of Law" (Radio Birdman)
"Murder City Nights" (Radio Birdman)
"Aloha Steve and Danno" (Radio Birdman)

Drummer Al King matched his Mazinga bandmate's fervor, with both musicians grooving in the pocket while sweating so much it looked like that scene from Airplane! (You know the one.)

Anne Tek on stage at Fuzz Fest 8, Ann Arbor, The Blind Pig, August 4, 2023

Anne Tek keeps it cool at Fuzz Fest 8. Photo by Christopher Porter.

Conversely, guitarist Anne Tek, dressed all in black, looked as cool as the other side of the pillow, often smiling at musical moments that hit just right. 

Deniz Tek, 70, and his wife must have a rigorous calisthenics and moisturizing program because both looked 20 years younger than their ages. The guitarist's black T-shirt framed his sinewy arms just right and his silver hair offset set his sharp cheekbones.

Tek and Co. ran through their set in 45 tight minutes, with no encore, honoring the punchy brevity of all Fuzz Fest performances. His steely eyes conveyed a focused seriousness, and Tek didn't offer much stage banter. But the little he did say expressed gratitude for being back in his hometown and for the audience's unbridled passion for the past 50 years of his music.

Fuzz Fest Friday was the sort of homecoming where everybody felt like a king and queen for the night.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Life in Michigan will have a big photo-based story about Fuzz Fest 8 soon. You can see some of the shots now on Facebook.
➥ Fuzz Fest's Facebook and Instagram pages have images from this year's fest.
➥ "Friday Five: Deniz Tek" [Pulp, August 4, 2023]