Countdown: 2012: Gigs

This year has been a bit of a crazy year for gig-going, even by my standards. I saw 140 different bands, only 10 of them more than once, at 53 shows, three of which were multi-day festivals. At 36 different venues, in three different countries this time (UK, well, England, Belgium and Czech Republic).

So bearing in mind that two shows were on the same night (Prague, December), I spent 56 of my days this year at gigs. In other words, just over one per week all year. I have no idea how much this lot cost, and frankly I don’t want to know!

These are the best of those this year.


/30 SunnO)))
12-Jun-12 review


There aren’t many shows that are endurance tests, but this was absolutely one of them. SunnO)))’s shows are famously loud, but nothing prepared me for just how extreme it actually was. The incessant drones seemed to bend space and time, leaving me disorientated and a little woozy, but the sheer power in their sound was amazing (I can’t think of another gig where I felt the bass through my entire body, even my teeth). It was topped off by Atilla Cisar’s malevolent, booming vocals that coupled with his corpsepaint and habit of being partially obscured by the smoke blasting onstage, he had a prescence like I’ve never seen.


/29 Icon of Coil
Resistanz 2012 @ Corporation
08-Apr-12 review


The heady days of “futurepop” long a memory, and Andy La Plegua having hit even greater levels of success with Combichrist, have meant for some time that IoC were little more than a fond memory. But a few gigs again in the past year or two finally resulted in a UK date at Resistanz, and we weren’t disappointed. Wisely concentrating on their strongest (and therefore earlier) material, this was a blistering set that reminded many of just why we loved this kind of thing in the first place, but also how industrial music can use dance music influences without just sounding like a bad rave.


/28 Helmet
Electric Ballroom
02-Apr-12 review


Yeah, so another “full album” show, but at least here it was done with some passion (and then some). Helmet’s music – aggressive, emotional music that wasn’t quite metal, not quite hardcore and certainly not grunge – never seemed to quite fit in, perhaps meaning that they never got the respect they always deserved. But this show was a snarling, bristling reminder of just how great they were, with the whole of Meantime played, and a selection of the rest of their best songs…and this was absolutely a gig with all killer, no filler.


/27 Factory Floor
Village Underground


Perhaps another that I really should have picked up on previously, this band appear to have been billed as one of the standard-bearers for a new breed of bands in London (and beyond) taking an industrial template and taking it to new places. In Factory Floor’s case, this means punishing, complex rhythms (their drummer is amazing live), distorted sounds and vocals, and extensive use of repetition that means the description “trance-like” can be used, as live tracks melt into one, lengthy piece. The only problem with their show? As support, they didn’t get anywhere near long enough…


/26 Mazzy Star
O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
03-Jun-12 review


I did consider doing a separate list for the best “reunion” shows of the year, as I saw quite a few over the year. But this one was a bit special. The late-night, bluesy sound of Mazzy Star was one I was always a bit unsure about how it would convert to the live arena, but as it turned out it did fine. The large space and clear sound made their songs chime as they should, and Hope Sandoval’s voice is simply gorgeous. On another note, proof of the band’s enduring appeal was found recently, after Fade Into You was used in yet another film bedroom scene (this time in the great End of Watch).


/25 PULP
Motorpoint Arena
08-Dec-12 review


A lengthy, celebratory homecoming show, this to me had the distinct feel of an end of an era. There was a nod to every corner of their musical history, quite a few stories, and classic song after classic song. Truly, Pulp remain a treasure and a quite wonderful live band.


/24 Marion
O2 Academy Islington
12-Apr-12 review


There are loads of bands who, over time, never filled their potential for one reason or another, and Marion were certainly one of those. Initially hotly tipped, with a string of glorious singles, their second album limped out long after being released in Japan, and the band quietly disbanded amid lead singer Jamie’s health issues. So their softly, softly return a couple of years back had me hoping for a London show, and I very nearly missed it, only finding out about it on the morning of the show and picking up tickets there and then. I was glad I caught it, too, the songs being as wonderful as ever and perhaps more remarkably, the new songs easily standing up too.


/23 My Dying Bride
O2 Academy Islington


I’m not sure I could get tired of seeing MDB live. Even after so many years of their bleak, romantic doom metal, it never feels tired or hackneyed, and this gig was one “for the fans”. No dogged insistence on playing all of the new album, or groaning about playing old stuff, instead the band rolled out pretty much everything the crowd wanted to hear. Needless to say, it was wonderful.


/22 Neurosis
Kentish Town Forum


The most unique band in metal have resumed activity this year with a bleak, dark new album, but once again their live show is one of the most enthralling around. Lengthy, almost-bluesy songs at point, underpinning by crushing riffs and a distinct sense of melancholy and loss. The atmosphere was lessened a little by a lack of the usual visuals, but even so Neurosis are a simply brilliant live band.


/21 The Young Gods
Palác Akropolis


A gig I only attended (and found out about) thanks to a drunken conversation with a friend at Slimelight, and in the sober light of day a plan was quickly hatched so I could attend both this and BIMFest (and I managed it, too). This was the third time I’ve seen The Young Gods in five years, and remarkably I’ve now seen three totally different shows, covering all of their career. This was a celebration of their early material, complete with the return of Cesare Pizzi on sampler, and was a ninety-minute blast of most of the first two albums. And it was awesome. The primal rush of some of these songs – with little of the ambient textures that smoothed out later albums – made for a very different feel, and Envoyé! was quite astonishing, shorn of the electronic remixing and becoming a punk monster.


/20 Sulpher
28-Sep-12 review


The return of Sulpher has been a long-time coming, and while the second album still seems as far away as ever, the two gigs in London this year were great. Ok, so the comeback show earlier in the year was strong enough, but there was a nagging sense that the Purple Turtle’s soundsystem plainly and simply couldn’t cope. So thank gawd for the Underworld being able to deal with it, and resulting in a savage, snarling show where Sulpher blitzed through much of their old material, and restricted new material to the very best stuff. The result? Sulpher are back, and perhaps better than ever.


/19 Bitter Ruin
The Borderline
10-Jul-12 review


A duo I first discovered supporting Amanda Palmer, in recent times they have begun to surpass AFP in their live shows. Part of this is down to their extraordinary repertoire: dramatic, stripped down songs that somehow create an atmosphere live that you cannot tear your attention from even if you tried. This show was the first of two occasions I saw them this year, and was especially brilliant for the addition of new songs that were in some cases even better than the stellar material that came before. With their profile growing – celebrity backing in the unexpected form of Matt Lucas and a big support slot with Ben Folds Five at the end of the year – suggests to me that 2013 should be the year that they break through.


/18 Garbage
O2 Academy Brixton
01-Jul-12 review


One of the first live bands I saw, right back in the spring of 1996, it took me another sixteen years to see them again, and happily I was not disappointed. The extended time off seems to have rejuvenated the band, and the set was a wonderful mix of old and new, and pretty much covered all my favourite songs…


/17 Skindred
O2 Academy Brixton
13-Apr-12 review


This show had the distinct sense of a coronation for Skindred, finally taking their place at the top of the UK metal tree and proving that they really are a band big enough to headline venues like this. And it isn’t through fashion, either – their “ragga-metal” hybrid, if you will, is hardly commonplace but they do it with such style that it is hard not to get swept along. And while the older songs were all fantastic, Warning stole the show, sending the crowd into a monstrous frenzy as the gig hit an amazing climax.


/16 Portion Control/Metroland at BIMFest
14/15-Dec-12 review


In the past I’ve found Portion Control just too much to take in the live environment (pro tip: don’t stand in front of the bass bins in the photo pit when they get going), but here they were absolutely fantastic. Heavy, dark electronics, industrial music with real aggression and menace. Also, my favourite track Icon sounded utterly monstrous and even better for it.

The following day saw BIMFest’s unexpected highlight. Take one part Kraftwerk, and amplify their interest in movement to an entire concept (musically and visually) based around underground transport, particularly London Underground, and you have Metroland – a charming, wonderful set of electronic colour.


/15 Tenek/Winterkälte at Infest 2012
University of Bradford
26-Aug-12 review


The surprise package from this year’s Infest for me, I loved The Nine and had not realised until earlier in the year that this was Geoff’s new project. Their show at Infest was one of the talking points of the weekend, a joyous forty minutes of anthemic synthpop that lifted spirits and had the crowd singing along for much of it. The hordes at the merch table post-gig confirmed that I wasn’t the only one newly converted to the cause.

Very different – later on that same evening – was the brutal noise assault of German rhythmic noise legends Winterkälte, who dished up a noise set of the highest quality. A perfect balance of beats, noise and brutality made for a hugely enjoyable hour.


/14 Cold In Berlin
O2 Academy Islington
17-Jun-12 review


Somehow, I’d never listened to CiB until getting to the She Wants Revenge show early enough to catch them – and I was quickly kicking myself for having missed out previously. This was a searing, savage show of female-fronted post-punk, front-woman Maya a ball of fury as prowled the stage and spat the lyrical venom into the crowd. Their second album that followed didn’t quite have the kick that the first album did, but their sound is evolving – either way live they are a formidable band and well worth seeing if you haven’t already. As a final point, they comprehensively blew She Wants Revenge off the stage.


/13 Refused
Kentish Town Forum
12-Aug-12 review


For a band that had little following when their classic final album was released, they have grown an immense fanbase in the years since – mainly as said album was something of a word-of-mouth hit in the alternative scene (and perhaps because once DJs latched onto the thrills of New Noise, everyone started hearing it regularly). So a long-hoped for reunion appeared at last, and none of the fire and blistering power has been lost in the meantime. Maybe time has been something of a healer here, with hatchets buried and an apparently happier band blasting through all of the best moments of their backcatalogue roared on by an enthusiastic crowd. Seeing as the reunion has now been ended, too, I’m glad I was on the ball enough to get a ticket for just one of their shows.


/12 Swans
15-Nov-12 review


Like SunnO))), I was under no illusions as to what I was expecting here, but the reality actually ended up being even more punishing than that. Well over two and a half hours , a brutal, unrelenting set where Michael Gira took us on a journey through the extremes of our endurance, both musically and emotionally. Last time, he looked back as much as forward, this time he was firmly fixed on the future. Like the past, the future for Swans is hard work but in the end incredibly rewarding as a fan. Just remember earplugs.


/11 The Afghan Whigs
19-Aug-12 review


Yet another reunion show, yes, but this was one I wasn’t going to miss. Particularly after missing my chance at the ATP Alexandra Palace show, and we were treated to a Whigs show that covered the old material and various covers and snippets of other people’s songs, as I might have expected. All those tales of fascinating banter, and one of the tightest live bands going? All true.


/10 Seabound
Purple Turtle
22-Jul-12 review


In a time where the industrial scene seems to be sliding ever closer to abject mediocrity in certain circles, with cartoonish “evil” fronts and unimaginative electronics abounding, there was reason to be joyful of Seabound breaking a lengthy silence, returning to the stage in the summer for a handful of gigs in Europe. Happily one of those was in London, and while the old stuff was lovely to hear, more encouraging was the new material – two of the new songs played being the best Seabound material I’ve heard yet. Can’t wait to hear Nothing But Love when it gets released.


/09 Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Kentish Town Forum
05-Nov-12 review


Not the only band in this list that I waited a long, long time to see, this was perhaps a different set to what I expected. Turning to corners old and new from their career, they still only managed five songs in two hours. But despite the length, this was a show from a band who are (still) at the peak of their powers, a band who appear to understand dynamics and volume better than almost any other in the live environment. There were loud moments (the almost-metal riffage climax of Mladic), and many quiet moments (various points during the epic Behemoth, a new song so long some bands have had shorter careers). But this for me was the fulfilling of a long-held hope – that GY!BE could be as amazing live as they are on record. I wasn’t disappointed.


/08 Blindness
Rattlesnake of Angel
12-Oct-12 review


The one band that I saw more than any other this year, and this was for a good reason – I’ve maintained for a while that Blindness are one of the most promising bands in London at the moment, and the shows this year have proven this time and again, but none more so than this show, a launch show for their recent single Glamourama. Everything came together just right, with a great sound adding that bit more to the band’s complex sound, and every single song sounded better than ever. Also notable for the bizarre choice of cover to finish things with. Look out for great things from this band in 2013.


/07 Faith No More
Hammersmith Apollo
08-Jul-12 review


I waited no less than twenty-three years to see FNM – they were the first alternative band I discovered – and they didn’t disappoint on any level. A blast of nostalgia that I enjoyed every minute of, and indeed the unexpected focus on album King For A Day… has got me listening to some of their material since in a new light. Best moment? Playing my favourite song of all (Everything’s Ruined).


/06 Chelsea Wolfe
The Old Blue Last
09-Apr-12 review


A small venue above a pub in Shoreditch was not exactly the place I was first expecting to see Chelsea Wolfe, but as it happened it proved to be the perfect place. Dimly lit, and a little grimy, this was just the place to enhance the darkness at the heart of her music – as if it really needed any more emphasis. Appearing and sounding like a wraith onstage, this was an intense set that was entrancing and quite brilliant from start to finish.


/05 Rebekah Delgado
Bush Hall
17-Oct-12 review


There were too few “shows” this year. In other words, gigs that are more than just bands playing onstage, where the artists playing or curating actually made an effort to provide a night of entertainment that excites and engages. Rebekah Delgado’s Bush Hall show was one of those – in quite sumptious surroundings, she brought in intriguing support acts, between-band entertainment that involved Burlesque and mojito cupcakes, and Delgado’s best live show to date. This included songs never played live before, familiar songs, special guests and a realising of all of the promise shown before at last.


/04 Primordial/Hell
O2 Academy Islington
05-May-12 review


Primordial don’t play the UK very often, and perhaps they should continue to ration the shows if they are this good every time. A unique band who take elements from various areas of extreme metal, but crucially let the lyrics and atmospheres hit the extremes, and when the whole crowd sang the refrain to As Rome Burns, it was one of those ‘moments’ you only get at a gig once in a while.

Also of note were extraordinary support band Hell, resurrected from the eighties, and sounding unbelievably brilliant with a death/thrash/power metal hybrid that was also impressively theatrical…


/03 Vision of Disorder


Listening to NYHC is something of a blast from the past for me nowadays, or so I thought until this year, when VoD returned with one of the most blistering albums I heard all year – but even better was the sweaty, chaotic live show at the Underworld in September. This was a show that harked back to the past, one where the crowd – and moshpit – actually made a point of looking out for each other, and despite it being pretty crazy there was never a danger of someone being hurt. But it would have been nothing without the awesome music – VoD ripped through material from their entire career, and proved that the new stuff is easily the equal of the old.


/02 Rammstein
The O2 Arena
24-Feb-12 review


Only knocked off the top spot by, oddly enough, their spiritual forebears, this was the sixth time I’ve seen the band, and the only show that comes close to how brilliant this time was is the first one I saw (the Brixton show in 2001). From the torchlight procession of an intro (through the crowd!), to the many, many set-pieces – this was a ‘greatest hits’ of their live show, never mind their best songs – this was the show that had everything, farce, drama, comedy and some of the best industrial anthems going. I maintain that this band are pretty much the best live show money can buy.


/01 Laibach
Tate Modern
14-Apr-12 review


I’ve missed Laibach a few times in the past, and indeed missed a few impressive shows at the Tate Modern in the past too (particularly Throbbing Gristle, which I’ve never forgiven myself for missing). So when this show got announced, we pounced on tickets and happily were not disappointed. An amazing show covering pretty much every corner of their career, from their early Slovenian roots, to all manner of covers, Tanz Mit Laibach. anthems and of course Iron Sky. An entralling two hours that left many vocally disappointed when the band finally left the stage. Unquestionably the gig of the year.

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