/Memory of a Festival /038 /Infest 2023

Just four months ago, I was beginning to be resigned to the August Bank Holiday being devoid of one of my favourite events of the year. So when we finally set foot in the new venues, it was very much a feeling of joy that we’d got there at all.

/Memory of a Festival /038 /Infest 2023

/Dates /25-27 Aug 2023
/Venue /St. George’s Hall /Nightrain /Al’s Juke Bar /Bradford
/Links /Infest online /Infest Facebook
/Photos /Flickr /Bands /Flickr /People
/History/01 /033/2022 /033/2019 /030/2018 /028/2017 /026/2016 /024/2015 /022/2014 /019/2013
/History/02 /016/2012 /013/2011 /009/2010 /005/2008 /004/2007 /003/2006 /002/2005 /001/2003

So what happened? It was made clear relatively soon after Infest 2022 that it was to be the last at the University of Bradford, as they would no longer have capability for live music – presumably students, with higher education costing ever more and carrying ever more potential debt, are being wiser with their discretionary spending.

This resulted in what I understand to be an extensive search for potential new venues – some of which were apparently some way from the festival’s traditional home of Bradford – but in the end, the festival stayed put in the city, but with new venues. And it was quite the change.

/Infest /2023 /People

Rather than the campus base as before, the festival moved into the city centre, using the dramatic confines of St. George’s Hall (a legendary Victorian-era theatre), with after parties at two smaller venues around the corner (and up the hill, as most things are in Bradford). It was an almighty change after so many years at the Uni, but in general, there was an agreement that this was a change for the better. Especially with friendly – if sometimes a bit bemused – staff to help punters and the crew every step of the way.

But what about the music? As well as seeing many friends I don’t see enough, that’s what I’m here for. This, as has been the case for two decades, pretty much, is my take on the Infest that was, with sometimes frank opinions that aren’t always positive. My view? No-one will like anything, and what I may dislike, you may love. And vice-versa.

Oh, and every year, my wife counts up the number of people who are not men in bands, and I agree to post them here, as I concur on the view that we need more of a gender diversity in this scene. Bearing in mind that the organisers had just months to organise this one once it was confirmed, we should perhaps be lucky that we had a festival at all, but this years gender balance wasn’t great. I made it 7 women against 31 men who appeared onstage (and included in that seven was one woman who appeared twice, in different bands). We can do better?

/Infest 2023 /Friday /St. George’s Hall

/Beborn Beton
/Geneviève Pasquier

/Infest 2023 /Friday /Nightrain

/Porno Karaoke

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Goteki

Let’s get one of those dislikes out of the way early, shall we? I must confess that my heart sank a bit when I saw that Goteki were the opening band on Friday night: I was never a fan in the first place, and despite their friendly nature onstage and warm welcome from many in the crowd who clearly did love them, it did absolutely nothing for me.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Geneviève Pasquier

One artist that caught my eye on the line-up was Geneviève Pasquier, whose “noise chanteuse” work (as her longtime label ant-zen neatly describes her as) has long stood out on a label known for its abrasive noise releases. Unsurprisingly, Pasquier confounded many at Infest as a result. Moving effortlessly between dark, lush torch songs and stark, cold minimal wave, her rich voice was a striking presence, and the set was absolutely fascinating. Amid her own work, too, I believe she played both tracks from the recent Indecent Behaviour EP, but both tracks bore her stamp more than anything else.

Headlining the Friday were Pasquier’s compatriots Beborn Beton, and oddly enough, the last time Beborn Beton appeared at Infest, Goteki played as well. Lead singer Stefan Netschio was just as shocked as us when he was reminded, mid-set, that it was twenty-two years since that last appearance in Bradford.

Time has been kind to Beborn Beton, though. They returned eight years ago, after many years of silence, with the exceptional A Worthy Compensation, and then released Darkness Falls Again earlier this year, both albums reinforcing why many people in our scene loved them in the first place, and crucially adding to their legacy by actually having great new songs to enjoy, rather than just relying on the past.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Beborn Beton

Live, then, was a mix of the old and the new, and it was refreshing to see the crowd reacting to the new as much as the inevitable Another World. Early evidence of the popularity of the newer material came with the thundering lust-fuelled 24/7 Mystery, and even better later on was the recent single Dancer In The Dark, a song that has proven a dancefloor filler in times when most people only dance to the old. But then, with such an irresistible melody, hook, chorus – damn, the whole package – it was always going to be a hit.

A sign of the confidence of the band, perhaps, was just how front-loaded the set initially appeared to be. Not even twenty minutes in, and the proportion of the crowd that were inevitably there just to hear Another World were sated. It should be added that this evergreen synthpop hit is now twenty-five years old, hasn’t aged a day, and remains a glorious slice of anthemic electronics, one of those songs that disguises a pretty bleak subject behind hooks that could tow ships.

/Setlist /Beborn Beton

The Colour of Love
24/7 Mystery
I Watch My Life On TV
Another World
I Believe
Dancer In The Dark
Daisy Cutter
She Cried
Mantrap • A Wish Come True
Burning Gasoline
Dr. Channard
Mantrap • The Seduction

That out of the way, it was then a trip into some forgotten corners – at least for me – of the band’s history. The two tracks named Mantrap were both journeys deep into my early days of industrial clubs – and I surprised myself still knowing the words to Mantrap • A Wish Come True while Dr. Channard is nearly three decades old now.

For me, though, such is the quality of the newer material that those songs were the ones that stuck in the mind from this show. The searing dancefloor banger Burning Gasoline had a number of people determined to catch up on Darkness Falls Again afterward, while my wife – and I, frankly – was overjoyed to hear the slower Daisy Cutter aired, an oft-overlooked song from A Worthy Compensation that has yet another of those choruses that owes rent in your head.

Yep, this was an absolute triumph of a set, from one of the finest purveyors of synthpop in the scene. And, perhaps, the last of the acts from the futurepop era who are still releasing essential music.

After that, it was time for the first trip up the hill, to Nightrain. We’d had a really long journey up to Bradford already that day (over six hours driving, all-in), so we didn’t last long, but I got the chance to catch some of Porno Karaoke‘s deeply wrong – and actually quite entertaining – sleazy, tongue-in-cheek takes on industrial and synthpop classics. Their take on Closer has to be seen to be believed.

That said, Nightrain’s big failing was a sound-guy whose answer to everything was to redline the sound to the point of distortion and discomfort. I’ve seen pretty much every band on the “loudest band live” list, and seeing none of them live was uncomfortable and unpleasant as the sound was in Nightrain. Sadly, it didn’t improve all weekend, which rather meant I tried to minimise my time in the venue, instead spending a fair bit of it outside – or elsewhere. I can only hope that this is something that is dealt with for next year, preferably by being somewhere else.

/Infest 2023 /Saturday /St. George’s Hall

/Parade Ground
/Capital X
/Silent Weapon

/Infest 2023 /Saturday /Nightrain

/Red Meat

Bradford is near-home territory for me – I grew up down the road, and up and down a number of considerable hills, in Huddersfield – so often a daytime at Infest is taken out of town, and this year was no exception. We paid a visit, as is now firmly established tradition, to the graveside of erstwhile Infest compere Tails, and also to my parents, before making it back to Bradford in time for the long Saturday programme, which had undergone changes to the line-up in advance, and unfortunately, had to change on the day as well.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Silent Weapon

Opener Silent Weapon had replaced Ventenner, who had to withdraw recently “for health reasons”, but when I realised who was behind Silent Weapon, I was instantly intrigued. I’m familiar with one of Umair Chaudhry’s other projects – the doomy, industrial-tinged sludge of Gift of Blindness (whose 2021 album The Lake is exceptional, by the way) – and his sonic attention to detail carried over to Silent Weapon. Sure, there’s more than a few nods to Godflesh, but guitars are absent, instead the crushing heaviness provided entirely by electronics. And it was an impressive, engaging half-hour – that is, if you like your industrial slow, heavy and oppressive, as proven by the bulldozing Eggshell that was the highlight.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Capital X

What turned out to be probably the highlight of Saturday – and for some the highlight of the festival – took the stage at 1630. Capital X were two women from the south coast of England, and they had rage to burn. Maybe I listened to the wrong couple of songs online beforehand, but I wasn’t prepared for half-an-hour of rampaging industrial/electronic punk with occasional nods to ravey techno, to put no finer point on it. In fact, this was much better than what I’d heard, and like many others, I didn’t leave my spot until they left the stage. Amid the sonic chaos, though, the snappy hip-hop styles of the snarling BITE has the track stuck in my head since.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Normoria

I was deeply puzzled by Normoria. There was a whole lot going on – striking visuals, LED-lit guitars, masks and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten – and that carried over to the music, whose production instructions appeared to be “more is more, and then a bit more besides”. Partly gothic rock, partly industrial, partly dark-electro, partly symphonic metal, it was an awful lot to take in. Sadly I’d retreated to the bar by the time MATT HART joined them onstage…

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Parade Ground

Interestingly, something I’d not noticed at the time was that Saturday was, for the most part, very much about newer artists, but that changed somewhat with Parade Ground taking the stage. A duo who’ve been around since 1981, and are contemporaries of Front 242 (indeed the duo contributed to 06:21:03:11 UP EVIL in the early 1990s), but in many ways their sound couldn’t be more different. Rather than the rhythmic force of 242, more emphasis is put on Jean-Marc Pauly’s striking, almost operatic vocals, such that they sound like no electronic band I’ve ever heard. Perhaps somewhat unsung, compared to other bands of the era, this was a useful history lesson for many.

I mentioned earlier about changes to the Saturday lineup, and headliner xotox – one of the great survivors of the noise/industrial boom of twenty years ago, and currently marking their 25th anniversary – had to withdraw on the day after being screwed by airlines cancelling his flight over from Germany at the last moment. This meant a reshuffle of the bill, with Thorofon (Daniel Hofmann and Geneviève Pasquier effectively reversing their roles from the previous evening) taking the space on the bill with a hastily arranged set.

Thorofon were originally active in the 1990s, and while no means originators of what became known as the second generation of industrial noise, they were certainly one of the earlier bands to push their sound to extremes. This meant, then, that this was an abrasive, sometimes difficult set. Imagine if Throbbing Gristle leaned more into Power Electronics, and shouted and screamed even more, with better quality equipment. It didn’t all hit the mark, but when it did, it was enough to knock you off your feet.

I must have missed the memo on ZyniC for the most part, as I was only familiar in passing with their work when just about everyone else I know was celebrating their appearance on the bill. As I understand it, H.P. Siemandel had chosen not to play live for many years due to sight issues, but has now somehow found a way to make it work, aided by Stefan from Beborn Beton on electronics onstage – and those issues perhaps explained a somewhat static stage performance.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /ZyniC

But this being a synthpop project, the stage performance isn’t so important, it’s all about the songs. And for me, this is where things fell down a bit. Sure: this was perfectly good synthpop. Lyrics aside – mostly preoccupied with death, blood and darker themes to put it mildly – this was, as my wife and I and a few others at the back agreed during the show, “nice” synthpop. It was broadly unthreatening, it had more than a few moments that made me think of other futurepop/synthpop bands, and was a perfectly good way to spend a Saturday evening. But aside from the flat-out phenomenal Dead End that came near the end of the set – think of every good element of Futurepop, it has it all – I was left wanting something more inspiring.

But if we’re judging them by the reaction of the room, it was clearly a roaring success, as a whole lot of the festival was there to cheer for ZyniC, and appeared to leave satisfied.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /RED MEAT

Back to the much louder Nightrain after that, for Red Meat. Rhys Hughes has taken his time with this project, only releasing a handful of tracks so far, and that time appears to have been well spent. Very different to previous work by him, this leans heavily into Queer EBM and thundering techno, complete with appropriately irreverent samples (I can’t think of anyone else that has sampled Heathers in recent times) and lyrics, and it works brilliantly.

I didn’t see all of the set, but what I did see suggested an evolution happening with what he is doing with Red Meat. The new tracks are denser, heavier and leaning more into the WaxTrax! side of things. I’ve seen some suggest classic Ministry being an influence, but I’m also hearing the sleaze of Thrill Kill Kult in there (particularly on excellent new single Providence).

Next time, though, I want to hear this in a venue that will do him justice.

/Infest 2023 /Sunday /St. George’s Hall

/Test Dept.
/Choke Chain
/La Rissa
/Nightmare Frequency

/Infest 2023 /Sunday /Nightrain


Possibly not the most rock’n’roll admission, particularly while I was attending a festival, but god, I enjoyed nearly ten hours sleep after Saturday night, and felt all the better for it. It certainly meant that I was fresh – relatively speaking – for the sometime graveyard shift that is bands on Sunday afternoon at Infest.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Nightmare Frequency

Then again, I’d have been jolted awake in seconds by Nightmare Frequency. I recall that they’d made an impression at Stay In-Fest a few years back, but judging on this show, you really need to see them in person. Confrontational is not the word – indeed, I described them on Sunday as “think Leechwoman meets Skinny Puppy on a diet of Buckfast and fury” – their bracing industrial power was something to behold, especially with vocalist Deano racing across the stage and throwing his dreads, and his body, all over the place.

I’m told by Scottish friends who’ve seen the band live regularly over the years that he’s rarely contained to the stage, and normally they have a live percussionist to add to their power. Christ only knows what that’s like in a smaller, more confined venue, but I’m resolved to find out sometime: I suspect with the strobes and the sheer intensity of the performance I saw, it won’t be a million miles from the shock and awe of a Street Sects performance.

Similarly bracing were INTSEC. I’d been put onto them previously by Rhys of Red Meat, and his enthusiasm for this new act was warranted, particularly live. Clearly an artist who is familiar with noisy industrial of the past, they retreated into the shadows onstage to allow their visuals and quite brutal rhythmic industrial noise sounds to take centre-stage. There’s only so much of “one man and his laptop” onstage that I’ll put up with these days, but this was more than good enough.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /La Rissa

Another much-anticipated artist, judging on the pre-festival chatter and the impressive crowd by the time they took the stage, was local band (well, from Leeds, down the road) La Rissa. They are another artist that I’ve managed not to see previously – indeed I was watching bands at another venue when they played at Goth City earlier in the summer – and from the opening, striking Ultraviolence, glimmers of what everyone else was excited about came through. Although I have to confess that there was a distinct sound of Lana Del Rey gone Darkwave to that song (and not just because it shares a title with one of her early breakthrough tracks), and indeed much of the rest of the set. It was very earnest, very serious and one that I perhaps need to come back to prepared for, next time they play live.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /JE T'AIME

I’ve never seen The Cure live, and JE T’AIME appeared to be on a mission to make me forget that, as pretty much everything they did betrayed a deep love for Robert Smith’s work. As a result, it was a difficult set to love, as all I could think of was The Cure, and the best moments – such as the charging Give Me More Kohl – were when they sounded that little bit more like themselves.

My comments from Cold Waves last year clearly worked, as Choke Chain was one of the more popular bookings for Infest this year, and Mark Trueman – for he is Choke Chain – got the prime spot before the weekend headliners.

Talking to Mark pre-show, he revealed to me that he’d rarely, if ever, played a set as long as the forty-five minutes he was allotted here, and thus suggested he would “take it easy” to ensure he lasted the set. Three minutes in, he was already dripping with sweat and had covered enough ground onstage to have got across Bradford: honestly, I have no idea how he does it.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Choke Chain

For the uninitiated, or those who missed this exceptional show, Choke Chain take from two main influences: classic, confrontational EBM and similarly upfront punk, with savage EBM synth hooks and heavy beats coupled to roared punk vocals. In a change to what I saw last year, he played the entirety of his upcoming album Mortality as well as a fistful of older tracks, and the difference was stark, with the new tracks showing off greater depth, beats that hit even harder and the sense that he’s getting better by the release. Even mic problems didn’t detract – that said, never have I seen an artist so desperately in need of a wireless mic.

I’ve heard the recorded version of the album, too, and it’s finally getting closer to the live power. If you missed this, your next chance this side of the Atlantic will be Resistanz next year, and it’s worth your time.

For any seasoned industrialist, Test Dept. should need no introduction. This fiercely political, left-wing band formed in 1981, and based in New Cross, were early adopters of found-sounds and found-instruments, using scrap metal from the ruined docks and factories on the Thames – and found their voice resisting Thatcherite Britain. Their epic tome Total State Machine tells the whole story (and is well worth picking up).

Indeed, their origins mirror Einstürzende Neubauten in some ways, but while there was an outright nihilism and danger to their work in eighties Berlin, Test Dept. were perhaps more measured in their anger. Instead of setting things on fire, and drilling through stages, Test Dept. were recording with striking miners and donating their profits to the strikers’ cause, and performing onstage with Tony Benn.

/Infest /2023 /Bands /Test Dept.

After splitting originally in 1997, Graham Cunnington and Paul Jamrozy returned as Test Dept.: Redux around a decade ago, and I was privileged to see one of the earlier shows, at BIMFest 2012 in Antwerp – a fierce electronic reworking of many of their older songs that updated samples and political references (most notably a striking take on Fuckhead that took aim at Cameron and Johnson). A new album, Disturbance, came in 2019, and it has become clear in recent years that the band are now looking forward.

With the quality of Disturbance, this is no problem at all, and the entire album was aired at this show in Bradford, where the larger stage of St. George’s Hall was used to the full both visually and sonically, with their self-created percussive instruments centre-stage, and the result was an extraordinary show.

/Setlist /Test Dept.

Full Spectrum Dominance
Information Scare
The Fall From Light
Two Flames Burn
Speak Truth To Power

Full Spectrum Dominance feels like the machine rumbling into life, as if the band need a few moments to fully connect, but when it kicks in properly it’s like a kick in the chest. The words now feel so prophetic, adapted from W.B. Yeats The Second Coming, which was dealing with the aftermath of the First World War and the flu epidemic that followed – a century on, we have apparently learned nothing.

Elsewhere in the set, GBH84 unleashes lacerating fury at the injustices of both Orgreave and Hillsborough, events that have left scars to this day, while the punishing rhythms of Landlord offer “a fist in the face of rapacious greed” as the corporate takeover of public space is challenged, and the chiming percussion of Two Flames Burn was hypnotic.

The hour-plus, mentally and physically exhausting set was rounded off by the raging anti-capitalist critique of Speak Truth to Power, which as well as being in-step with the times, is also the most thrilling track Test Dept. have released in decades, with the track unfolding like a collision between a hellish orchestra and massed ranks of percussion.

Quite the way to close out the main programme of the weekend, I can tell you.

That said, we weren’t quite done. Back up at Nightrain, Zardonic unleashed an hour of vicious breakcore that took in – as far as I could tell – some of his own songs as well as remixes and mashups of others (a particular highlight being an unholy mashup of Pendulum’s mighty Blood Sugar with breathless Gabber!), before Team Wrong took over with a trip with the Doof Wagon, as had been the case at previous Infests.

We managed some of it, before admitting defeat and heading to bed, with a relatively early start the next morning.

The general view – and I share this – in the aftermath is that despite the limited time to prepare, despite the limited time to book bands and DJs, and the new venues, that this Infest was a triumph in every way. The main venue is better, the sound and visuals – and sightlines – are better, I suspect the bar and food is better, too. Sure, a few more seats wouldn’t go amiss, but it was clear that we can happily deal with St George’s Hall again in 2024.

And I’ll be seeing you all again then. To next year!

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