Memory of a Festival: 022: Infest 2014

A sign I’m clearly getting old – this was my fourteenth Infest. God, time flies. This year was perhaps a bit special for a number of reasons, though, at least partly down to the fact that this edition very nearly didn’t happen, and in the event it is a damned good thing that it did happen, as this summer would have been a hell of a dead zone both musically and socially in our corner of the music world.

Infest 2014

University of Bradford, Bradford
22/23/24-August 2014


Not only that, though, this was perhaps the most daring and varied Infest line-up in some years. Yeah, sure, not all of it came off – the organisers were damned unlucky to have no less than three artists have to pull-out in the run-up, but replacements of an impressive pedigree were found for all and it was heart-warming to see it pay off in what appeared to be the busiest edition of the festival in a few years.

This is also the tenth year that I’ve covered Infest in detail on, too, and I’m sure that regular readers will know the way I work by now. This is all from a personal perspective, of course, and I’m well aware that my musical tastes don’t always dovetail with others. But hey, that is the wonder of the industrial musical world – there is pretty much something for everyone, and Infest does an amazing job in catering for as broad a spectrum as possible, but this does mean for me that there will be one or two bands that I will sit out. But I tried to see something of every band, and this is hopefully reflected below. Of course, more photos of the bands (and some people shots) can be found by clicking on the links and photos. An added “complication” this year was that I was assisting my friends at, which meant that I perhaps didn’t get out to socialise as much as I maybe would normally have done, but working the stall was awesome fun – getting to talk about music all weekend? Works for me. And if you were one of those that passed by the stall, and picked up a CD that I recommended (there were quite a few instances of that!), I hope you liked them…

I have to say that the Friday night line-up was the one I was most excited about, mainly as it included a few bands I’ve been requesting for years.

The opening band this year, Dreams Divide, were one band I knew little about and while the number of T-shirts of theirs on display over the weekend suggested that they were certainly a popular band on the bill, they did little to convert me to their cause. I’ve heard enough dual male/female-vocal electro/synthpop in recent years and this didn’t add anything to the style I hadn’t already heard. I’ll be giving them a go on CD sometime, though, as sometimes these projects do work so much better in the studio.

Of the US acts on the Friday, I was already well-acquainted with what to expect from Acucrack, having seen Jason Novak’s project twice in Canada three years back. Assisted here by Sean Payne, Jason unleashed an enthralling, marvellously eclectic forty-five minutes of industrial-drum’n’bass-techno-mashup that took in old and new Acucrack material – the rolling, awesomely heavy grooves of Violence being an obviously highlight, similarly-styled remixes of a handful of metal classics, and even at least a snippet of the sinister violence of Acumen Nation’s Elective Surgical Strike, a track I’ve got my fingers crossed that I might hear in full when the band (surprisingly, perhaps) reunite at Cold Waves III next month. A new act to many Infest goers, I suspect, and one that clearly made a number of new fans over the weekend.

Cyanotic setlist:
Transhuman 2.0
F@5h10n V1k+um5
Disconnect Me
(Paranoid) Disbelief
Order Out Of Chaos
Sensory Deprivation

Rabbit Junk setlist:
Break Shins To This
What Doesn’t Kill You Will Make You A Killer

I’ve written many pages on my love of Sean Payne’s primary band Cyanotic on over the years – I first stumbled across the band back in 2005, when their debut album Transhuman hit me like a bombshell. Taking the ideas and concepts of bands like Numb, Cubanate, Ministry and others and giving them a full technical upgrade, it crossed the boundaries of industrial, metal and drum’n’bass in ways I’d always wanted to hear. So, the patient wait to see them live went on as their profile rose, through two albums (and a stellar remix/rework of their debut that is so different at points as to be another album), a few EPs and even a trip to Ottawa while in Canada, which Cyanotic had to cancel the show at. Nine years after first discovering them, then, I finally had the chance to see them live. Broadly, they didn’t disappoint, either.

This wasn’t quite the full band – only Sean and Chris made it over from Chicago, with JP Anderson from Rabbit Junk assisting the Cyanotic side of things before they switched ’round for Rabbit Junk – but even with three of them they made one hell of a noise, drawing from each of the albums released so far, and even dropping in one of the new songs from (very) imminent album Worst Case Scenario too. What was very obvious from the set was just how much more of an impact the stupendous amounts of bass on their tracks has live, with the intro to Insurgence/Resurgence (it appeared to be a hybrid of the two versions, really) in particular nearly knocking me back on my feet in the photo pit, while the later airing of the far faster tempos of Order Out of Chaos (not to mention the near-death metal breakdowns) inspired the first moshpit that I can ever remember in all the Infests I’ve attended.

Infest 2014: Bands: CyanoticTheir influences were not forgotten, either, with the rampaging Alt.Machine announced as the missing link back to Cubanate, while it took until seeing Cyanotic live to notice just how much of Sean’s vocal delivery is hip-hop influenced – I’ve listened to their material enough to surely have noticed this before, but apparently not! That style was shown up best, perhaps, during the seething scenester takedown of F@5h10n V1k+um5, which alternates between slower, hip-hop verses and roaring, furious guitar-heavy choruses (and the club-time imagery of Chicago industrial clubs translates to London and the UK, for sure).

A few sound and technical issues dulled the impact a little, perhaps, but even so this was a hell of an introduction to a band who should make a step-up with the new album. Sadly sound issues also ravaged Rabbit Junk‘s shorter part of the joint set with Cyanotic (which even so appeared to overrun rather, not that I was complaining!), stopping the anthemic, thrash-meets-industrial-hardcore of opener Break Shins to This dead in its tracks, but happily not making a dent in the blastbeats of Demons – aside from Amelia (tonight’s “SumGrrl” vocalist) having a microphone that was barely registering for much of the set. All told, it was short, sweet, but as crazy and schizophrenic as Rabbit Junk’s music always has been – somehow managing to bring together various strains of metal, industrial, punk and pop into a hugely enjoyable whole. Like Cyanotic, they also have new music imminent, too, this time in the form of the Pop That Pretty Thirty EP, from which the glorious I-D-O-N-T-G-I-V-E-A-F-U-C-K was aired in the set. Come back soon JP, we want to enjoy a full set of this mayhem sometime.

After that hour-plus of breathless mayhem, Haujobb felt distinctly subdued. That isn’t to say they were boring – Haujobb are anything but – but for sure they were more sedate, more measured and precise. After seeing them last year supporting FLA, I knew what to expect – a mix of old and new(er) songs, providing a useful potted history of the band, if you will – but most interesting for me was watching them up close from the photo-pit. Unlike so many electronic bands, it appears pretty much everything is live, played with a precision many other bands would kill for, while vocally it still amazes me that Daniel Myer is so much more raw live than the smoothed-out edges of his vocals on record. Musically, of course, Haujobb remain unlike anyone else – a take on industrial that has truly evolved from their early beginnings in the nineties, where they did owe something to what came before, to the intriguing emotional/technological-hybrid that they’ve become that could only be them. And if anyone has recorded an industrial track as affecting as The Noise Institute, I’d like to hear about it.

Saturday’s music didn’t perhaps start in as good a fashion – by all accounts The Ladder suffered with a desperately messy sound set-up that did them no favours, and I retreated to the bar very quickly as it was clear this was no way for them to showcase themselves. Although I’m not sure the world needed a cover of Apop’s Until The End of the World, either.

There was a lot of comment over the weekend over sound “issues”, actually, and while initially I also thought this was a problem with the sound techs, a few conversations behind the scenes revealed that a number of bands perhaps didn’t help themselves – after all the sound desk can only work with what they are provided. And it was notable that Be My Enemy, featuring a long-time feature of the industrial scene in Phil Barry (not to mention his backing band of Keef Baker, and Deb and Steve Alton from System:FX, all of whom have been playing live for years too), suffered no such sound issues.

Be My Enemy setlist:
Break Your Body
Party Monster
Ghost In The Machine
Kill Your Television
To Protect and Serve

Indeed, it was perhaps notable that this was only Be My Enemy’s third live show, and they’ve come on in leaps and bounds since that first show at Resistanz a couple of years back. For a start, Phil Barry is getting ever more confident as a frontman, which adds more bite to the show, and helps to make a number of songs even more hard-hitting (Party Monster and Kill Your Television in particular). Of course, with the pedigree that Phil Barry has, musically it is perhaps along similar lines to Cubanate – bruising, heavy-duty industrial with guitars, and of course evergreen dancefloor favourite Oxyacetalene got an airing again – but one thing pushed more to the fore in BME is the old-school dance music influence in tracks like Ghost In the Machine, not to mention the seething political lyrics in many tracks that is a significant departure from the past. By far the best BME live performance yet, I’m only sad that I’ll be missing their show in London in a week or two as I already have commitments elsewhere.

Xenturion Prime held no interest for me, really – I was never a fan of Code 64, either, so I chose to take a breather here, so you’ll have to rely on the words of others for these guys. The mass toga party to introduce them was entertaining, mind…

LEGEND setlist:
Amazon War
Runaway Train
Benjamite Bloodline

There was no way I was going to miss Legend, though. One of the talking points of the weekend, both before and after, and it was notable on the Storming The Base stall in the run-up to their set just how many copies of the album we shifted (and it took all of three minutes to clean the rest of them out post-set). There was a good reason for this – the album has been a “buzz” album for a while (and was top three in the albums of 2012), and seems to have spread mainly by word of mouth to an awful lot of people. So by the time of the show, there was what Daisy reckoned was the biggest crowd she’s seen for a mid-evening show at Infest ever (and she’s been coming since 2005), and that big crowd got bigger as the set progressed.

Infest 2014: Bands: LegendThat crowd was treated to a hell of a show, too. Like the album, the slow (wordless) burn of Amazon War got the set going, as the lengthy build gave way to an explosion of emotion (and drums), and the pacing of the song was kind of a microcosm of the whole set. Things started slowly, adding layer after layer before packing a real punch by the close. Picking highlights? Fuck me, that would be the whole thing. Sister was the first song that seemed to really grab the crowd – those that didn’t already know it, anyway – the massive hook of a chorus having the desired effect, while the electronic pulse of City took everyone by the hand into a giddy rush of the joys of throwing yourself into life, and was perhaps even more life-affirming that the already wonderful album version.

I was asked to describe what they sounded like to a few people into the run-up to their performance, and I was perhaps a little out with my long-standing reply of “Depeche Mode with more of a gothic grandeur, and bigger choruses”. In fact, Krummi’s work in hardcore nutcases Mí­nus is important – there is the feel of a rock band who just happen to have turned their hands to electronic music, and throughout the live show there was a staggering, burning intensity to the delivery that elevated this beyond the watchable to the unmissable. And as a scorching Benjamite Bloodline left our ears ringing, there was the sound of a crowd baying for an encore that was unfulfilled. Krummi suggested later that he likes to play shorter sets and leave a crowd wanting more. On this and on many other levels, he and the band can consider this to be mission accomplished. By a mile the set of the weekend.

Lesser acts would have wilted following that, but a second performance of the weekend from Daniel Myer, this time in the shape of Architect, was not a lesser act. Eyebrows were certainly raised last year when Mine was released – a somewhat abrupt switch from the atmospheric, noisier textures of old to more mellow, soulful material, even using vocals – but this show proved that both sides work well, even if it does jar a bit. Star of the show, perhaps, is Emese Arvai-Illes – her vocals are extraordinary live, with a depth and warmth that suggest she has a serious talent, and they merge perfectly into the slow, brooding music Myer creates around her. Hearing some of the older songs – particularly a stonking So I Went Out – more than anything helped to remind just how much of a departure that Mine feels to be, and it was notable afterwards that this was a show that split opinion, particularly if you were familiar with Myer’s previous work as Architect….

Saturday night headliners Juno Reactor were one of those bands that it appeared everyone wanted to see, resulting in a mightily cramped hall to watch them in. And this was indeed a show to watch – one of staggering musicianship and lots going on, with Ben Watkins running the show like a circus ringleader in his coat and top hat from behind his synth rig, occasionally coming forward to play guitar, dance with his female vocalist or just whip the crowd into a frenzy – assisted of course by Budgie’s amazing drumming that helped to push this set into the mightily impressive. The energy was unreal, an unrelenting rush for well over an hour, although it did seem to meander into “jam” territory later in the set. It was great to hear, if I heard correctly, God Is God, too.

I’ve mentioned before than Sunday afternoon can be something of a graveyard slot, one where crowds are sparse for a few hours as Saturday night hangovers are finally cleared. So the recent trend of putting a more interesting band in the first Sunday slot, one that people will actually come out for, is something to be applauded. It worked, too, this year, with SYD.31‘s punky industrial-dance music proving an entertaining wake-up call that was certainly worth watching for a half-hour or so. Although I’m still not totally sure if their closing cover of Mr. Vain (yes, this) was a sign of madness or genius…

Infest 2014: Bands: Syd.31There has been an awful lot of fuss over Mr Kitty across the “scene” in the past year. His breakthrough album Life last year was greeted like the second coming, which to me seemed a bit of an overreaction to an album that was a reasonable synthpop album, but nothing spectacular. Still, there was a lot of excitement for his appearance (and sales of said album were brisk over the weekend), so I thought I’d give it another chance by seeing how his material sounded live. And…I’m still not sold, I’m afraid. His hooded figure, with him and synth placed well-back on the stage, suggested a somewhat shy performer, an impression not helped by the fact that for the most part his vocals were near-inaudible – the perils of using a headset mic, I guess. Yeah, some songs were impressive – the punchy, catchy Destroy Me really stuck in my mind afterward, as did the slightly odd images conjured by Insects – but too much for me was reed-thin synthpop that had little substance. Another divisive artist, I suspect one that everyone who saw it had an opinion to one extreme or the other.

Late-addition to the bill ESA, replacing the sadly injured Le Moderniste, proved no mere stand-in. Jamie Blacker has spent some years now under this moniker, investigating the darker side of human nature to fuel his often harsh industrial rhythms, and familiarity with his music has still not dulled the impact of it. So, this was the umpteenth time I’ve seen his music live, and it delivered exactly as it should – a rare “noisy” artist that actually invokes emotional responses rather than just battering you around the head with jagged noise. Which isn’t to say that he is more than capable of that, too…

Solar Fake have been around for a while, as I recall, so it perhaps wasn’t a surprise to see a fairly big crowd for them, too. They didn’t do a great deal for me, though, and I quickly tired of their somewhat generic, Germanic electro-synthpop sound. Apparently by leaving so soon I missed their Linkin Park cover. Indeed, synthpop was something of a theme for the Sunday of Infest this year, with no less than four of the bands on the day working in these realms, and in the prime spot before the headliners were Ashbury Heights. After their troubles – line-up changes, label issues and at least one dissolution – I have to say I was surprised to see them so high up the bill, but a large crowd again perhaps backed up the decision. And the band maybe, just maybe, choked a bit.

Infest 2014: Bands: Ashbury HeightsRather than delivering a “festival-friendly” set, they chose to broadly stick to unfamiliar new songs, resulting in a tepid crowd that started to drift away, not helped by Anders and Tea being somewhat standoffish on stage, barely engaging with the crowd, and also yet more sound issues at points. The thing is, just for some moments they sparked into life and were wonderful – old song Waste of Love was utterly glorious, a reminder of their promising early days, while Anti-Ordinary lived up to the title, and the closing Spiders even had the crowd singing along. I’m sure the new songs will grow on us given time, but was a festival set really the place to reinvent and apparently try to bury the past? The evidence here suggested that it wasn’t.

And so onto the weekend headliners, VNV Nation, also a replacement for Project Pitchfork who also had to drop out relatively late on. Some were disappointed about the changeover, but judging on the absolutely enormous, and raucous, crowd, there weren’t too many complaints. I’ve never been too much of a fan of their recorded output, as long-time readers will know, but Ronan and Mark know how to please their fans and this time ’round was no exception. Seemingly concentrating on later-period material, it was still a surprise to hear Legion live of the old songs played – and in this time of war in a number of corners of the globe, perhaps a rousing Honour was appropriate. Some things never change, though, and as the crowd finished off Perpetual for the band, it was time to bring to a close another festival and think about the return to normal life again.

This festival is becoming a great survivor. In times where some new start-up festivals don’t even make it to their first, and many others come to an end prematurely, this one managed to resurrect itself after the announcement of it ending last year, helped by a groundswell of support from the very punters that attend it. And the organisers and punters alike were rewarded this year with a bigger crowd than in a few years, one that loves it’s music and hedonistic tendencies in equal measure, resulting in a buzzing, positive atmosphere that was barely punctured all weekend. With the future safe again, here’s to 2015. Same time, same place…

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