One of the obvious casualties of COVID since early 2020 was live music, both in the form of gigs, and festivals. For many, both 2020 and 2021 were almost entirely devoid of the kind of communal joy that these events can bring, and parts of my life certainly felt that bit emptier without them – even if livestreams (and, in the case of Stay-In-Fest, all day events that had a lot of thought put into them) helped get us through.
/Dates /26-28 Aug 2022
/Venue /University of Bradford Student Union
/Links /Infest online /Infest Facebook
/Photos /Flickr /Bands /Flickr /People
/History/01 /033/2019 /030/2018 /028/2017 /026/2016 /024/2015 /022/2014 /019/2013 /016/2012
/History/02 /013/2011 /009/2010 /005/2008 /004/2007 /003/2006 /002/2005 /001/2003
So for most of 2022, we’d been crossing our fingers that the stars would align, and that Infest was able to return as planned. That it did in itself was a triumph, as was a smart booking policy that meant only one artist, even at short notice, had to drop out (and was swiftly replaced without fuss). Sure, there were minor gripes (a cashless bar without enough working card machines, for a start – although certainly out of the festival’s control – reports of inconsiderate afterparties in nominally “quiet” halls, and right-wing idiots wearing inappropriate T-shirts), but generally, the weekend was a smooth one that was a testament to the usual well-organised machine that runs the festival – management, crew and all.
Especially as seeing as just a few miles east, there was idiocy on a mind-boggling scale at Leeds Festival, which served only to remind how much of a “safe space” Infest usually is.
Anyway: for those new here, I’ve been attending Infest since 2000 (this was my twentieth “in person” Infest). I’ve covered Infest in detail every year since 2005 on /amodelofcontrol.com, both reviewing most or all artists playing, and adding in some photographs too. Like everyone else, I have my own stylistic likes and dislikes, so there might be a few bands I disliked that you, the reader, loved (and vice versa). So be it.
If you like this review, or other things you read on this ‘site, tell your friends. Share the post. If you don’t…well, that’s your call, and you can do what you like.
So, for the fifteenth time, here’s my take on this year’s Infest.
Friday, as ever, was something of a whirlwind, and even more so this time around perhaps. With the shorter time alloted, it often feels like most of us are spending the evening catching up in brief bursts, before spending more time with friends over the weekend. Only this time, most of us had three years of catching up to do, so by the end of Friday I was feeling particularly frazzled.
The good thing was that I had the distraction of bands to cover, and I’m struggling to think of a more eclectic Friday evening ever at Infest.
Opening proceedings were KNIGHT$, who were described prior as “Britalo Disco”, and that perhaps is selling them short. Lead singer James is a storm of energy, and that and his enthusiasm quickly warmed up the crowd, not to mention his group’s line in excellent, catchy synthpop that could perhaps be seen as a straight-up eighties homage. Certainly that was the case with the take on the Pet Shop Boys‘ Heart (that I missed, but my wife enthusiastically told me about later), but their own songs stood on their own, with the clear sense that this is an artist that could be going places.
Attrition has already been to many places, and indeed dipped into many styles, over their forty-year history, and not for the last time over the weekend, there was a feeling that not everyone in the room appreciated them. That said, they were rather different to what I was perhaps expecting, too. The original early-eighties lineup reunited for the first time onstage in decades, they leaned into their heavier, more energetic material, rather than the dark ambient that dominated the set last time I saw them.
This meant that at points it was like a psychedelic space rave, complete with quasi-operatic backing vocals, and at others there were thunderous breakbeats and a glowering atmosphere. Attrition have long been a band that seem to be referenced and borrowed from rather than being hailed as the trailblazers they really are, and that seems rather unfair to me.
Rhythm Is A Cancer
White Knuckle Head Fuck
Bigger Better Faster Now!!!
666 on the Crucifix
Not Your Body (feat. grabyourface)
Demonomicon (feat. grabyourface)
Heads Down Face Up
Booze Up and Riot (feat. Eric Gottesman)
Fuck That Fascist Beat
Bury You Alive
Whether Matt Fanale particularly cares about a legacy or not I’m not sure, but Caustic drew the biggest crowd of the evening and put on an impressive show (the first of three times Fanale appeared onstage over the weekend, I should add). Assisted by his usual cohort Eric Oehler, and Keef Baker on bass (who of course was here back in 2007 for the first Caustic show, too), there was perhaps less of the lighthearted chaos of old, and instead a reminder that Fanale has written a whole host of excellent industrial tracks (and subtly and not-so-subtly skewered a number of genres along the way).
Indeed, there was also a good dose of political fury in these times, too, with Grabyourface taking over vocals for a seething, pro-choice Not Your Body (a complete reworking of MMM Papscraper I Love You), complete with appropriate placards held by some of Team Wrong, and the still brilliant anti-fascist industrial of Fuck That Fascist Beat – and with reports of dickheads proudly wearing “anti-woke” t-shirts at the festival, this was a timely reminder that the battle against the far-right in our scene is far from over.
/Setlist /The Cassandra Complex
Nightfall (Over EC)
In The Dead of Night
The Crown Lies Heavy On The King
The Great Sea
Speed of Sound
Old Boys Network
One Millionth Happy Customer
Even more divisive than Attrition were Friday headliners The Cassandra Complex. Another band that have been around for an awfully long time (back into the mid-eighties), Rodney Orpheus was joined here by two of the original members (and the son of one of those on bass!), and as well as playing tracks from recent album The Plague, dug deep into the back catalogue for a few older songs too.
As I mentioned last week, the variety of styles that the group have explored over the years will always mean that any set from them will jump around a bit, but it was notable that here, many of the songs were darkwave-based. As well as a number of songs that were searing takes on British politics, there were also past subjects covered (famine, the AIDS crisis, the end of Communism and European immigration…).
Pick of the set for me, though, was early song Moscow Idaho, whose rampaging electro-punk seemed to jolt an otherwise quiet audience into life for a few moments. It’s weird, though: CX never seemed to catch on in the UK, while when I saw in them in Belgium before lockdown, they were greeted like rockstars. Funny old world.
For some, getting to the venue in time for the first bands on Saturday was a bit much (in other words, they partied very hard indeed on Friday night). Somehow, we escaped all of that and in comparison, were at least partially bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
So as is expected, then, on Saturday afternoon, VAEIN began with a sparse crowd (although it did pick up later). Which is a shame, as their sleazy, queer industrial grooves were excellent. VAEIN perhaps needs to improve their live vocal delivery a bit (at times the vocals were getting lost in the mix), but the songs are already great (particularly the gleefully lascivious Autoerotic), and this was a strong opener for the day.
That said, I just couldn’t get into Reichsfeind at all. I’ve listened to an awful lot of German “dark electro” over the years, and this didn’t really tell me anything new. It was OK, but the seeming lack of hooks meant that my attention wandered pretty quickly, and when that happens, it’s time for another drink and some fresh air (I can’t tell you, by the way, how damned hot it was in the photo pit this year, never mind elsewhere in the venue).
I first encountered Grabyourface some time ago, thanks to their work with Covenant and Matt Fanale (yes, him again). Naturally, though, through this excellent live set, it turned out that this one only facet to the Grabyourface sound. Very much a political artist, too, Grabyourface kicks back against the status quo with snarling songs that incite change. There is a surprising tender side, too, such as in the excellent Rob the Bank, which appears – at least in part – to be an exhortation to criminal acts as an act of love and kindness. It’s also catchy as hell, too.
Then there is FKNBSTRDS, the most recent single, that is pulsating, raging techno and does exactly what it says on the tin. Those collaborations got a look in, too, as Grabyourface performed the Covenant track alone, while Matt Fanale joined for an excellent take on Science Fiction. One of those artists that made a lot of friends both on and off the stage over the weekend, and also one of the best shows I saw all weekend, too.
Another of the best shows of the weekend followed straight afterward, as Glass Apple Bonzai blew our collective minds. Looking back to the eighties, through rose-tinted musical glasses, is nothing new, but simply copying the style has got rather stale. What makes Daniel Belasco’s work stand out was that he has the songwriting chops to produce an entire set of ultra-catchy, synth-based eighties powerpop, and have the audience eating out of the palm of his hand (and assisted onstage by Eric Gottesman, who finally made it to Infest after all these years). A perfect case in point: the surging rush of I Can’t Stop Running, a deceptively joyous song whose chorus has now been stuck in my head for three days and counting.
I knew, too, that Belasco had a number of covers up his sleeve, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that glorious Baltimora one-hit-wonder Tarzan Boy might feature – but I was very wrong. Instead, he took on two rather unexpected British songs, to the evident delight of the audience: first up, a huge singalong through Don’t You (Forget About Me), before revealing his Goth side by doing a better version of Alice than the Sisters of Mercy have bothered to do in years. I do wonder, too, if that’s the first Sisters of Mercy song to ever have featured in an Infest set…
You know it’s a great set, too, when a) my wife stayed for the whole thing, and b) I didn’t want it to end. Come back to the UK, Daniel, and soon – please?
Wynardtage v Hydroxie rather felt a let-down after that. I was listening to aggrotech/harsh electro over fifteen years ago, and tired of it quickly: and this had all of the tropes I would expect – the thumping beats, the goblin vocals, the same synth presets as their peers, and I barely lasted a song before deciding I’d had quite enough. I’m well aware there were a good number of people absolutely loving it – especially as the act has barely ever played live, and there were suggestions that this is nearly the end of the project – but, different strokes for different folks.
/Setlist /Suicide Commando
Kill All Humanity
God Is in the Rain
Cause of Death: Suicide
Trick or Treat
Love Breeds Suicide
We Are Transitory
Dein Herz, Meine Gier
Die Motherfucker Die
I enjoyed Suicide Commando rather more. Seeing as they were pretty much one of the originators of the harsh electro style, Johan Van Roy has had decades of experience to perfect his sound, and while I’ve been listening to his output for over twenty years, it is remarkable that so much of the set sounded so fresh.
That said, that might be because Johan has spent a fair bit of time of late reworking older material (the new version of Sterbehilfe, played here, is vastly better than the original to my ears), but also the use of a live drummer these days gives an almighty punch to the live sound – one that only Moaan Exis would top at his festival, more of them in a bit.
For those new to Suicide Commando, this was a pretty good overview of where SC have come from, though, as well as showing off their 2022 sound. Songs that have an obsession with death, and a disgust at the waste of life in the modern age, and intriguingly the few songs in his back-catalogue that have a nasty misogynistic edge were all absent here (and it was all the better for it).
Sure, some old favourites appear now gone for good from their live sets (Better Off Dead, Raise Your God, Conspiracy with the Devil, to name three), but I don’t think this set missed them, amazingly. Despite, too, a voice that was nearly shot by the end, Johan still came back out for a storming Hellraiser to close, and for a now older artist – and one wearing a substantial knee-brace – he had an energy onstage that would put artists half his age to shame.
I really wanted to hear some of Monya‘s DJ set after this, but it didn’t work out for the most part – although that said, what I did hear when passing by was absolutely ferocious, and friends who did stick around told me great things.
The Sunday openers continued the tradition of “Synthpop Sunday” at Infest, and Berlyn Trilogy impressed in what can sometimes be a bit of a graveyard slot. Their slick, intricate synthpop seemed oddly familiar at points, only to find afterward from a well-informed friend that this was because Dorian from past Infest stars Promenada Cinema used to front the band (and wrote many of their earlier songs), and now I’ve listened to their older songs on record, the links are obvious. Their current singer had a different style, perhaps, but as they settled and the crowd warmed to them, their excellent songs shone through – particularly an outstanding Tokyo Rooftops, that moves from gloomy, downtempo synth(wave) into a massive, neon-lit chorus.
Sadly, things didn’t work out as well for Beautiful Machines. Some impressive songs “on record” didn’t translate at all well to the stage here, with a muddy sound and vocals that simply didn’t sound right at all, and I got the impression that the duo didn’t seem happy from their side either. These kind of shows happen to all artists as some point or another, it’s just a shame it happened to Beautiful Machines on a stage this big.
Do You Klack?/LeCar
Coup De Grâce
Faith in Me
Lost Without You
New Buildings/Move Any Mountain
Rhythm of the System
There were no such problems for KLACK, but then, with two longstanding US industrial veterans (Matt Fanale, making his third appearance of the weekend, and Eric Oehler, making his second) at the helm, it was unlikely there ever would be. Originally intended as something of a throwaway side-project (read more on /Talk Show Host /071 from last year), the duo have unwittingly spawned a monster of an act that is absolutely perfect for festivals.
So what do they sound like? Well, think of a duo paying humourous homage to their formative EBM and New Beat, with a sprinkling of Synthpop and 90s Rave, and never taking things too seriously: but also never letting their humour get in the way of some belting songs.
They have slogans, they have thumping, groovy rhythms, an urge to make the entire room dance, and they succeeded on every level here. In addition, they were even able to take the pace down – particularly for the outstanding Martin Gore worship of Faith In Me (a song that also reminds just how good a vocalist Eric is), before annihilating everything before them with a storming Discipline that is better than anything Nitzer Ebb have done since about 1989.
The cheeky, KLF-referencing T-shirts on sale suggested covers were coming, and their love of 90s Rave was showcased by Move Any Mountain, which went down a storm, before the closing Rhythm of the System suddenly morphed into Eric delivering the rap from What Time Is Love?, to the evident joy of the whole damned room.
The highlight of the whole weekend? Damned right it was.
Moaan Exis ran them close though, for sheer physical force. Just a duo – a drummer and a singer/synth player, they created a noise you could probably have heard across the Pennines, never mind outside. Driven by their drummer who pounds his rhythms out apparently with clubs, everything about their sound is one of maximalism. The synths scream through your ears, the vocals do similarly, and fucking hell, the bass. The one really physical act of the weekend, for those that could hear themselves think again afterward, they were the only act on many people’s lips for sometime afterward.
/Setlist /Empathy Test
Bare My Soul
Fear of Disappearing
I’ll tell you one thing – following that with Empathy Test was a brave scheduling choice. Well, actually, it wasn’t originally intended to be as such, but with REIN being (surprisingly) the only cancellation over the weekend, this was how it fell.
It’s just seven years since I first saw a (much younger!) Empathy Test, in their original duo form, playing at the SOS #2 Festival at Electrowerkz, where they clearly had the songs, but perhaps not yet a lot of confidence. Years since of playing endless support slots, festivals and now headlining tours in Europe has transformed vocalist Isaac Howlett into a confident, towering frontman, belting out his songs accompanied by a good proportion of the crowd on almost every song…and even now confident enough to jettison most of the songs that got them noticed in the first place.
They aren’t like most of their peers – or indeed any other act playing over the weekend – as most of their songs are ballads, but somehow, they translate very well indeed to the stage, and have by now built the kind of dedicated fanbase that most acts would sell relatives to get. I’m not going to lie – their third album Monsters didn’t click with me like the first pair of albums did, but there is no doubt that if they wanted to, they have the wider appeal to leave this comparatively small scene far behind: and best of luck to them if they choose to take that route.
In the meantime, Empathy Test proved here that they can be effective headliners and excel doing so.
How you determine headliners is a matter of conjecture, I guess, as Empathy Test were followed by two very different Berlin-based industrial techno DJs (and certainly such live DJ sets would not have worked earlier in the day). I caught a little of MÆDON‘s furious set, and there was a little part of me that wanted to stick around to experience more of it, but we had places to be – namely the Escape Bar, for my friends Nollie and Kynon’s closing sets of the weekend, that turned out to be exactly the kind of musical fun I needed before ending what had been an excellent return. This, of course, meant I also missed what was likely my only ever chance to witness Adam X doing his thing. Priorities, I guess.
After two years off thanks to COVID, I don’t think I’d quite realised how much I’d missed Infest. A weekend of a variety of music to enjoy and discover, to be able to natter about music with like-minded people, and simply to catch up with friends old and new that we’d not seen in too long, it really is like seeing a giant, extended family once again. Sure, some things might be a bit different, but we adapt, we grow, and we still toast absent friends.
You don’t even need to ask if I’ll be there in 2023. It’s already in the calendar.