It’s been a long time since I was last at any kind of festival in person. The last one I went to was the all-dayer 10 Ten Years of Chaos in February 2020 (/Memory of a Festival/034), and the last multi-day festival was Infest 2019 (/Memory of a Festival/033) – so with COVID still looming, and by no means quelled, there was a little bit of trepidation about going to a festival again.
But, I’d committed, and I genuinely wanted to go – I enjoyed Goth City a lot in 2018, and it would also be great to see lots of friends I’ve not seen in a long time, not to mention catch a number of bands on the bill. What made things more difficult, perhaps, was the scorching heat in Leeds for this weekend: something Goth City had never really had to worry about in it’s previous October spot.
The way this year was set-up, too – at venues mostly a little way out of the city centre (Boom Leeds is just to the north-east of the centre, the other side of the Inner Ring Road, while Left Bank Leeds is way out on Cardigan Road, a good couple of miles west of the centre – only Wharf Chambers is remotely central) meant that on occasions it became much easier just to base at one venue, even if that meant missing out on a few bands. But that’s just one of those things – getting venues is hard enough these days, and as it happened, all of the venues were very good indeed in different ways.
Anyway: we begin with Thursday, which was upgraded from the tiny confines of The Fox and Newt a few weeks before, to the much larger Boom Leeds, and this was vindicated by a full room for an evening that was billed as something of a cabaret evening.
Mostly spoken word sets from two artistes took up the earlier parts of the evening, with Ian FTG providing entertaining poetry, hilarious puns and the odd song in his sets, while Carlie Martece provided readings from what I believe is a book to come about their battle with sobriety, and the tales were delivered with biting wit and a self-deprecating manner that made it really quite endearing.
The headliner was the main reason I’d come up for the Thursday, though, and that was Caroline Blind. I’ve been aware of Caroline’s work for a long, long time: I was recommended to listen to Sunshine Blind by the late Andy at Resurrection, one of the early examples of his supernatural ability to tip you onto exactly the kind of music you would like, in the late nineties, and frankly I never thought I’d have the chance to hear any of those songs live. Back then, her band sounded like an unusual mix of shoegaze and gothic rock: which decades on, now feels like they were way ahead of their time. The excellent sound here resulted in a nice clarity, too, for both the old tracks and Caroline’s solo songs.
Things got even better when “Wolfie” (Dave Wolfenden), the guitarist for erstwhile Leeds goths Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, joined the band onstage to play a short set of Lorries tracks. This was a surprise to me, at least, but it turns out that they’ve worked together during lockdown on a project called Voidant, so perhaps we should have seen this coming. Anyway, this was an excellently noisy set, and hearing a ripping, thunderous take on Walking on Your Hands was one of the highlights of the entire fucking weekend, never mind the evening.
A sweltering evening was capped off by Caroline taking to the stage solo and doing her take on the Swans classic God Damn The Sun, a song oh-so-appropriate for this weekend.
Friday dawned even warmer, and by the time we got to Left Bank Leeds, it was obvious it was going to be another hot evening. The venue was the most impressive of the weekend: a deconsecrated church built in 1907 to an awesome scale. The vast space meant it perhaps remained a little cooler, although our throats were all shredded the next morning by the enormous amount of dry ice pumped into the venue, that was for sure.
I first came across The Way of All Flesh when I initially got to know friends in Sheffield back in 2003 (before I moved there for a few years the following year), and just for a while, it looked like they might be able to transcend the local scene and push on. It wasn’t to be, and they disbanded after one very good album.
Well over a decade on, they recovened with a new singer, and indeed played the last Goth City I attended in 2018. This time, they came armed with new songs too, and the general feeling was of a more confident, slicker band, now they’ve bedded in with new singer David. The old favourites, particularly a rampaging Final Resolve, were all great, but new song Killing Floor was the pick of the bunch. A pulsating bed of synths and beats back savage riffage, and results in their best song so far. It is released on the upcoming Shotguns & Razorwire EP, out 08-Aug.
I must confess that I was so busy catching up with friends outside that I completely missed the Byronic Sex & Exile set (sorry Joel!), but I had another chance at the end of the month in London, on the Triumvirate Tour on 29-July (and he was excellent then). Similarly I should probably make sure I see more of Rome Burns then too, as I only saw parts of this set – which was a poor choice on my part, as I what I saw of it was excellent. Alix Corvyn made the first of a number of appearances over the weekend with the band (on a take on Garbage’s No Horses), while the evergreen Non Specific Ghost Story remains one of the best songs written by a UK goth band.
We continued drinking back at a friend’s place nearby, so Saturday turned into a hungover washout until late-afternoon (going on the heat outdoors, mostly hiding in our air-conditioned hotel room was probably the best idea!), and it also meant that I perhaps didn’t catch as much live music as I’d have liked that evening at Wharf Chambers.
For a start, our late arrival meant that we missed Astrofaun – of which I heard a good number of positive things about during the evening, while John Merrick’s Remains, not for the first time, did little for me. I first saw them a great many years ago in Sheffield, and their weird, DIY horror-electropunk(ish) just doesn’t gel with me now, either, I’m afraid.
It was probably the remnants of my hangover, but I should have liked c e l a v i rather more than I did. The only full band set-up of the evening, they suffered from a brutal sound setup that meant their metal-electro stylings were rather muddy, and vocalist Sarah’s delicate vocals were pretty much buried in the murk. Listening to them again online, previous single Bite is really quite great, so I’ll be looking out for them again in future.
A desperate need for greasy food (the Lebanese takeaway ’round the corner from Wharf Chambers, Albaba, comes highly recommended) meant that we missed Alix’s second appearance of the weekend with Last July (she also later appeared at Boom, later in the evening, with her other band Rhombus).
The key band that we were at Wharf Chambers for, though, were headliners Witch of the Vale. A duo that I first discovered back in 2019, on the back of breathless word-of-mouth, that was then confirmed spectacularly at their show-stealing appearance at Infest 2019 (/Memory of a Festival/033), where they opened Saturday’s bands and pretty much were the highlight of the entire weekend. How are things three years on from that?
/Setlist /Witch of the Vale
Trust the Pain
The Way This Will End
Love of A Father
The Boys of Summer
They are doing pretty well, it seems. Signed to Cleopatra, they’ve released their excellent debut album Commemorate, which pulled together many of the tracks from their early EPs alongside a number of new songs, and hearing the collection of songs as a whole began to reveal the scope of the duo.
But really, the live environment is where they become truly fascinating. Unlike any other band all weekend, they had a rapt – and almost entirely silent – audience hanging on their every move, as if any noise or distraction would break the spell that they have an uncanny knack of creating. And what a spell: Erin’s distinctive, clear as a bell vocals ring out across the venue, while Ryan’s electronics create the unsettling atmosphere behind her.
Most of the set was made up of familiar songs from the aforementioned album – not that this was a problem in the slightest, especially with songs of the calibre of Trust the Pain and Undressed, that’s for sure – and as a result, the one new song played was of most interest to my ears. Love Of A Father, due out in August according to the band, takes some of the ideas from the thumping heaviness of Commemorate and takes it in a new direction, with crunching, heavy (and slow-paced) beats providing instrumental power between Erin’s striking vocals.
The only middling spot for me was my preference for their extraordinary take on Lana Del Rey‘a Gods and Monsters (which they appear to have stopped playing live, sadly) over their take on Don Henley‘s Boys of Summer, which they did play, and feels like a cover that has been forced into a round hole – as opposed to Gods and Monsters, whose eerie atmosphere feels perfectly at home with Witch of the Vale.
But that’s a personal opinion, and judging on the reaction of everyone else, I’m in a minority here. That aside, though, the buzz – again – after their performance clearly made them a host of new fans, and their future looks very bright indeed.
I had intended to hotfoot it back to Boom for Rhombus, but a late change to the timings (Boom being unable to get a later licence, sadly), meant it wasn’t possible in the end, so that will have to be next time…
Sunday – mercifully a hangover-free day after Saturday – was once again hot and sunny, which rather reduced our activity somewhat, and we only saw two complete sets in the day.
/Goth City 6 /Sunday 10-Jul /Boom Leeds
/Artists / CHAOS BLEAK
The first of those was from The Scarlet Hour – formed by Mel Butler and Tim Sinister, both well-known Goths in the North-East, and previously members of The Seventh Victim, a band I never got to see. As a duo, it is Mel on bass, Tim on vocals with an electronic backing track, and I perhaps was a little surprised to find them going down a more electronic darkwave route than outright Goth, and set standout Warhead even nodded down the route of VNV Nation more than darkwave. Quite the unexpected set to me in many ways, but I enjoyed it an awful lot.
A desire for food and (relatively) fresh air meant I missed both Down From Above and The Webb, unfortunately, and of course I heard great things about both. Two more onto the list of bands I should check out at some point, then.
One of the main reasons I was even in Leeds at all for Goth City this summer was The Golden Age of Nothing headlining Wharf Chambers on Sunday night. I’ve written about them a lot over the past six or so years on this site, featuring various of their songs and their 2018 appearance at Goth City, as frankly they remain one of the most fascinating bands to come out of the British Goth scene in a long while.
/Setlist /The Golden Age of Nothing
The Imperial Broadcast
The Fall Down
A Little Death
Everything is on Fire
The Golden Age of Nothing are not a happy band: vocalist Graeme Wilkinson writes bitter laments about failure, and he’s a fantastic documenter of such, while Bren Green’s doomy basslines add weight and heft, while Graham Seaman’s viola (often put through pedals and FX, as far as I can tell) adds an edge and threat of violence to their sound. Not to mention the fact that their songs here were that bit more nasty than before, as if all of their frustration with self and the wider world was bottled up and unleashed in this forty-five minute set.
Trying to pick highlights from a set so brilliant was always going to be difficult, but the gloomy lament to a wasted life that is St. Rowland remains a surprisingly tender tribute, while Everything is on Fire now feels like soothsaying (and painfully appropriate), and the closing Whip was six-minutes of scorching feedback and squealing viola, and frankly sounded better than ever.
Now they are back, I hear new songs may be on the horizon, and I for one cannot wait.
After that – and an early evening finish, comparatively – we did finally make it to a second venue, over at Boom Leeds, even if I only caught one song, the closing part of CHAOS BLEAK‘s set: only a quite brilliant cover of Killing Joke‘s Requiem, which left me kicking myself that I hadn’t got over that bit quicker to see the rest of their performance.
It was also a good way to close out what had been a hugely enjoyable weekend. It was clearly a well-run festival, with things running to time, good sound across the board for the most part, and most importantly, over £1,300 raised for PAFRAS this year so far.
Festivals can do good, as well as being entertainment, as Goth City has proven once again in spades.