For the tenth time – I started writing a seemingly ever-expanding review of the annual festival in 2003 – here goes with my coverage of Infest rundown for 2013. As usual this is mainly covering each of the bands in turn from my point-of-view, with a few other opinions as we go, and I’m well aware that my views may not match that of some of my readers. I was also covering the festival for our NYC-based friends at Deadaudio.com, and some interviews will appear there in due course (once we’ve sorted out the files). Also, click on the photos for the full sets.
There was, I have to confess, some concern prior to this year’s Infest, mainly as there was the announcement that it was looking exceptionally unlikely that there would be an Infest 2014, or indeed beyond then, due to a number of factors. So it was potentially seen that this weekend was going to be the end of the line, a celebration of what has been. I’m still hopeful that this would not be the case, and certainly there were murmurs last night that we may well see something next year after all, but in the meantime I put all my energy into enjoying the festival that we have.
After a golden period of brilliant opening bands for Infest – year after year of deliriously entertaining acts that have been the talking point of the weekend – the last couple of years have not been half as interesting, so I was intrigued by the buzz pre-festival from my Scottish friends making it clear that I had to see Metaltech, this year’s openers. They weren’t wrong, either – KISS-inspired white-and-orange makeup and outfits, and an industrial-metal sound that kinda reminded me of Cubanate with a sense of humour and a love of cock-rock. Oh yes, this was half-an-hour of enormous fun, silliness and low-rent effects that proved that all it takes to make a show a memorable one is a bit of imagination and lateral thinking. So bucketfuls of glowsticks were thrown into the crowd to get them waving them, bubble guns were used to “threaten” the crowd, and best of all, party poppers were hurled into the crowd to get them all the unleash them at once during one song, to amazing effect (they made an almighty bang all in sync!).
The closing track was best of all, though – a silly, tongue-in-cheek take on Rammstein called Hammstein, that was in German – but it quickly dawned on me (my German is reasonable) that not all was as it seemed. One particular lyric jumped out at me: pretty much it was dies ist die zweite Strophe, die ich geschrieben habe – or, “this is the second verse that i’ve written”. Nice work, guys…The gentle riffing on Rammstein was finished off by a sparkler on the guitar later in the song!
Inertia were the band with the tough job of following that blazing introduction, and while their sound has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years – having made the leap to being signed to Metropolis is a sign, for me, of how far they have come – I found myself not really able to stop my attention from wandering. I’ve seen Inertia many times over the years, so maybe it was just a case of hearing something I’m all too familiar with? Maybe I’ll try again another time.
Dive were a very different proposition to what had come previously (and, indeed, what was to follow). A scorching one-man show of blistering intensity, it was just Dirk Ivens, a constant strobe light through the whole set, and very, very loud backing tracks. And, despite what you might think as to this set-up being limiting, it was nothing of the sort. Dirk twisted and writhed around the stage, howling out vocals as the sparse electronics squalled like a storm overhead…and I couldn’t take my eyes from the show as it unfolded.
Apparently a hugely-requested band, I have to say that I was a little surprised to find Pride and Fall as Friday night headliners – I knew they were around for a while during the 2000s, and were relatively popular, but then disappeared for a fairly lengthy period, only re-appearing on my radar this year with the announcement of a new album (and this show). Certainly a much-improved live act from around eight years since I last saw them, the “futurepop” tag doesn’t really describe them very well at all. Much more darkwave in feel – lyrically in particular – I struggled to connect with their live show, so didn’t see the whole thing. My opinion was changed somewhat later on, when interviewing the band on Saturday – now I know more about their influences, their sound makes so much more sense. Look out for an interview to be posted online (here and deadaudio.com) in the coming week to find out more.
Saturday – thankfully – dawned without the torrential rain of Friday night (thank god for indoor festivals, eh?), and also we had working aircon within the festival again, meaning that it was possible to watch bands or stay in the bar without dripping in sweat. Which was a good thing, as I had every single band on my list to see across the day. And as befits a festival with a musical reach as wide as Infest, the six bands across the day covered an awful lot of bases.
So we started the day with Manchester-based band aaak [As Able As Kane], a band that actually were mainly active in the eighties, disbanding after equipment theft at the turn of the nineties, and reforming late in the last decade. I saw them a couple of years back, at BIMFest 2011, and commented then that they appeared to be “the missing link between EBM and Madchester”, but listening to them again, there are also elements of post-punk in the vein of Killing Joke, too, and the live drums really make for a much heavier live sound than on CD. Interestingly, and perhaps unexpectedly, they were one of the bands my girlfriend was raving about later in the weekend.
Wieloryb were this year’s straight-up Noise act, I guess, and being on Hands gave me a good idea of what to expect. And yes, to a point they fitted my expectations – they were very, very loud, with brutal electronic rhythmic attacks being at the core of their sound, but unlike some acts in this genre that go all out for the heaviness, here there were some quieter moments, and also relatively unusual uses of vocals (and female vocals, at that). The sound setup didn’t seem quite right, though (unusually an issue for a couple of bands over the weekend – something that Infest has always been very good at avoiding in the past), which dulled my enjoyment somewhat, and writing this now reminds me that I forgot to purchase their latest albums over the weekend, something I must rectify.
European industrial was on the cards for the following act, too, but from France – and Chrysalide were a revelation for many. It took me a little while to get into their recent album Don’t Be Scared, It’s About Life, but having now listened to it a fair bit, I was really looking forward to the live show, and I wasn’t disappointed. Yeah, so there is Skinny Puppy influence – particularly in vocal stylings – on the album, but live the three bandmembers come onstage shortly, covered in streaks of charcoal (it initially looked like paint) and looming out of the near-dark stage, barking vocals amidst a maelstrom of electronic sounds that take in various genres and had a quite scary intensity to the whole thing. A fair proportion of the album was played, and a number of friends were scurrying to the merch stand post-gig as a result. And with good reason, too – this was a fantastic show, forty-five minutes of boundary-blurring “industrial” music that has clearly been developed and written with influences far wider than the usual names, with many tracks throwing all kinds of sounds into the mix: and then to add to that, they closed out their set with a cover of Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2! Their return to play live in the UK again sometime is, I suspect, now keenly awaited.
The real throwback of the weekend – and usually there is at least one every Infest, to ensure a look back as well as forward – was the industrial mastery of Click Click, a band I don’t know a great deal about, aside from knowing that their deeply volatile inter-band relationships appeared to cause a sporadic musical output, one that is currently in it’s third phase. There was the initial material in the eighties, then a lengthy gap to their extraordinary, near-ambient industrial work on Shadowplay (from 1997, which is what I know them for), then another ten year gap to their current activity, which appears to have resulted in an updated variant of their early sound.
And what a sound. Live it is just brothers Adrian Smith and Derek E. Smith, the former a marauding, cryptic presense behind black glasses on vocals, while the latter pounds away at a drumkit with various treated/deliberately damaged percussive items that make for a frankly unique rhythmic sound. The whole thing was frankly completely unhinged, as Adrian used various additional instruments before tossing them away onstage (a Melodica taking a particular kicking), dancing away to tunes in his head onstage, and otherwise providing the odd sneering aside in between lyrical barbs. Certain songs were deeply creepy and unsettling – Rats In My Bed was a highlight, complete with woozy synths and drug hell imagery in the lyrics, while Damage was a pounding, thrilling rhythmic assault whose vocals didn’t half remind me of Stephen Mallinder’s work with the Cabs at points, and felt like four minutes of threatened violence.
From what I could tell, it was a mix of the old and new in the set, and it was utterly enthralling from start to finish. Easily the best band I saw all weekend.
Probably the most anticipated act of the entire weekend were DA OCTOPUSSS, a shadowy French group who perform in cephalpod masks, and have made their name doing soundtrack work (particularly Banlieue 13, as I recall), and seemingly the entire festival dropped everything to watch them (they had a huge crowd for a mid-evening act). And…well, as awesome as they looked (the masks were extraordinarily real-looking – the mark of professional effects artists, that’s for sure), I couldn’t really get too into it. It was cool electronics, with absolutely fearsome amounts of bass shaking the venue, but for me there was little variety, little in the way of dynamics, just all the bass, all the time. Still, that image is pretty awesome, right?
What Is Left to Say
Only in My Mind
Giving In to the Change
Faded Into One
Head Up Too High
As We Fall
There is always, perhaps a danger in a band you have waited to see for so long in that they could disappoint. And to a point, influences outwith the band’s control resulted in exactly that happening to Imperative Reaction. I’ve waited twelve years to see them live (this being their first live show in the UK, to my knowledge), and I have to admit being rather disappointed that a poor sound set-up managed to dampen the enjoyment.Having spoken to various friends since, too, they were also one of the more divisive bands of the weekend. I wonder if this was, in part, to the way that their live sound is a fair bit different to their recorded output – as, like Combichrist, they use live drums and guitars to pummelling effect, and this brings the “rock” side of their sound to the fore. This would all have been well and good, had the sound mix not all-but drowned out the synths at points, meaning some songs sounded really unbalanced, and really did sell the band short.
This was all the more frustrating as at points IR sounded absolutely fantastic. Giving Up (a long-time staple of my own DJ sets) packed a whacking great punch, benefitting from the fact that this song is all about the beats, so the live drumming just upped the power even more, while the oldest song played (Severed, from second album Ruined) just happened to be the song I’d been crossing my fingers that they’d play, and this mercifully also broadly escape the sound issues elsewhere. Best of all, though, was Surface – the lead single from their recent self-titled album that sounded brilliant live, perhaps because more than any of their other songs, it sounds like it was conceived as a live track, performed by a band, as opposed to being a studio project.
The songs generally affected by the problems – and Ted Phelps seemingly starting to lose his voice before the end – were those with a more melodic bent, so songs like Only In My Mind and Giving In To The Change seemed a bit strained, not quite hitting the right spot, with the drums blasting away any subtlety. Some of the best moments in their career, that were saved to the end also suffered a bit, too. Minus All, while otherwise fine, saw Ted really struggling with the roared chorus (understandable in the circumstances!), while what should have been a triumphant encore (an entirely unexpected Collapse, and the sound had suddenly clicked back into place for it, too) saw the synths fail entirely about two-thirds of the way into the song, but gamely the band continued without them.
It was interesting, actually, just how much old stuff the band played. Covering all but their debut album, they concentrated most of all on what we all agreed is their strongest album by a mile, playing half of As We Fall – and the title track was the brilliant closer to their main set, and just somehow, everything seemed to come together for it. What was doubly frustrating is that while there were a number of people like myself that knew all the songs, a lot of people watching were new to the band and either weren’t moved by them or were unwilling to show their appreciation. Here’s hoping that this won’t keep them from returning to the UK – with better sound I’ve no doubt they are a fantastic live band.
Day three dawned, miraculously, with no hangover, a fresh mind and a desire to get on with the day. Our bright demeanour was brought down a bit later by eating what felt like all of the curried food in the world (Cafe Lahore is great, but christ the portions are huge), but at least that soaked up the booze later on to the point that I was clear for all of the bands across the last day..
Opening the Sunday was Tony Young’s now near ten-year-old (!) project Autoclav 1.1, and here he was joined onstage by Kev King on additional electronics and video work, and Jamie (ESA) for additional guitars on the final track. Tony has been exceptionally prolific across this time – his new album Portents Call is his seventh, but crucially over his time under this moniker he has never allowed his style to stay still, adding additional textures where necessary – taking in post-punk and harder industrial sounds, as well as developing his own signature sound which is not far off electronic-based post-rock. I’ve seen his work live a number of times over the years, too, and it has been also fascinating watching the development of that in parallel – and here, I think he finally nailed the best way to do it, a solid mix of styles that showcased all elements of his work, but most importantly it had a dynamic that meant it never got boring, or let the attention wander, and this was assisted by the glorious, colourful visuals.
One of the bands I knew nothing about prior to the weekend were Future Trail. Apparently born from long-running German electro act davaNtage (one of those bands I’ve never got ’round to listening to, I must confess), they were an interesting proposition live that won’t have been to all tastes, but I liked them. Heavier beats, mid-paced rhythms, and some interesting female vocal hooks that certainly made them stand out from the other so-called synthpop bands on the bill. Also of note was their exuberance in being at Infest – apparently their first show outside of their native Germany, and they certainly made a new fan in me.
XMH were something of an “odd band out” this weekend, being the only band even remotely close to the idea of so-called “aggrotech” or “harsh industrial”, and while they were an enthusiastic band – with an especially charismatic frontman – I’ve long since tired of that style of music, and this really wasn’t my bag at all. Following them was the sleek, dance-oriented synthpop of Sono, a band who many didn’t know at all when they were announced, and it transpired that this was because they come from the commercial dance scene in Europe, rather than the “goth/industrial” scene, not that you’d know by listening to their live show. It was pristine, sleek synthpop of the type I could well believe bothering the charts in the UK, nevermind overseas, and indeed it was certainly clear to see why it was warmly received at Infest. But I think “best Infest show ever”, as a few people I saw suggested, is overstepping the mark a bit for me.
As cerebral as their name suggests, Cervello Elettronico supplied one of the most interesting sets of the weekend, although I think it is fair to say that it certainly wasn’t to everyone’s taste. They have usually been lumped in at the noisier end of the scene, but that is selling them very short indeed. Their setup onstage was unusual enough – two people, behind tables at the extreme left and right of the stage, shrouded in darkness (so much so that I simply gave up on photos), with a large projection screen being the focal point, playing interesting, almost hypnotic visuals that worked perfectly with the music. The music itself was very much ambient/techno-based, to my ears, a lengthy, lengthy build of electronics that began as almost drones and by the end was pounding industrial techno, and at points seemed heavily influenced by Clock DVA (not an influence I was expecting to hear this weekend). One of those sets that was richly rewarding if you stuck with it, but may have lost those who joined halfway through…CE were another artist I interviewed over the weekend, and again, the results from that will be online in due course.
Judge of My Domain
No Man’s Land
Edge of Dawn
The Beauty and The Grace
Wir Sind Die Nacht
Call The Ships To Port
We Stand Alone
So, eight years since their last (spectacular) headlining appearance at Infest, it was once again time for Covenant to bring the curtain down on the festival, and while it wasn’t quite the astonishing, skyscraping glory that they reached last time, at points it ran it damned close.Covenant are one of those bands that can be a bit hit-and-miss in quality, but frankly never fail to save the day by simply having the kind of songs that can unite entire crowds in joy and euphoria – and having seen them eight times or so in the past twelve years, I’ve kind of come to know what to expect. That is, the “hits”, and a nice mix of new and old – but even I didn’t expect what was delivered here. Yeah, so the band had mentioned the week before to expect some material from their debut album (that they’ve been revisiting to varying degrees over the past year or so in Europe and North America), but the end result was a diverse set that at points was probably appreciated more by die-hard fans than any casual ones.Frankly this was a brave set indeed, particularly for a band headlining a festival, and it was the first half that may have lost a few people. The surprises came from the off, too, opening with probably their darkest, bleakest song (Feedback) that like other songs aired from Sequencer in recent years, has been retooled a bit and perhaps made that bit more accessible. That said, it seemed to leave a number in the crowd a little non-plussed, but their patience was rewarded with a blistering Bullet to follow it.
And that trick of the payoff was used a number of times through the set. Everytime the atmosphere dropped a bit – through the numerous less familiar songs through the set – one of their many dancefloor anthems would follow to the joy of the crowd. But that said, it has always seemed a travesty to me that songs like Judge of My Domain – one of three or four awesome tracks from the perhaps underappreciated Modern Ruin – are still not automatic dancefloor fillers in the clubs, and even here it’s sleek, techno-influenced builds simply didn’t whip the crowd into a frenzy as it should have done.
But then, maybe this was designed primarily as a set for the head and heart, rather than the feet. This may have explained the appearance of old, old songs like Wasteland, and the elegant, downbeat The Beauty and the Grace – which are both wonderful songs, but hardly the way to reach a state of euphoria, or suchlike.No matter, though, as one of those “moments” was around the corner – and it’s funny how Covenant have them every time I see them live. This time, it was the roar of the crowd as Ritual Noise was teased in, that anthemic intro and lengthy build, before the crowd exploded into life as the beat finally ripped in and the whole crowd became a sea of hands raised into the air. And that was followed by the most promising track I’ve heard from the forthcoming album Leaving Babylon, a frenetic, techno-fied blast called Prime Movers, that suggests the band are nowhere close to exhausting their well of anthems.
The surprises were still not done, either – a dusting down of their debut single Theremin, whose faster and heavier beats (very much from a different era than later Covenant material!) was a wonderful addition to the set, although I was less keen on the playing of the all-but-instrumental Wir Sind Die Nacht, an offcut from the last album that wasn’t particularly interested in first time around and wasn’t especially appreciated by most of the crowd, either…As we hit the final few songs, though, suddenly the band seemed to enter another gear. New single Last Dance has a feel of the old-school about it – which made all the …Cryotank material aired make much more sense – and also, it’s another bloody marvellous track containing yet another of those reach-for-the-sky choruses and the kind of gravitas that frankly none of their peers even come close to reaching.
The songs the crowd really wanted, though, had clearly been saved up for the end. Call The Ships To Port was an entirely predictable closer, but that predictability doesn’t stop any of us being tired of it, as the whole crowd once again got swept up in the moment and thrilling dynamics (that hook that lifts the song into space after the first chorus gets me every time). This continued into the encore – well, after the downtempo, anything-but-happy-sounding Happy Man (a song that I’ve never understood as to how it remains in the setlist every single time) – with a absolutely euphoric, closing sprint through We Stand Alone, greeted once again by a roar of delight and recognition by the crowd that seemed to confirm one thing in particular. This is that the band, in putting it as the closing song of the set, have at last realised what almost every fan long since realised – this is their finest and most effective live song in their entire catalog.
Ok, so this wasn’t a perfect set: there was perhaps too much less well-known material, as good as it was, meaning the atmosphere was a bit flat at points, and on a personal note I was disappointed to find the only album ignored was Europa, an album I love (so when is the retrospective into that coming, folks?), but frankly Covenant even at 90% are better than most other industrial/synth bands live, simply because they have so many songs. Not cool effects, imagery or gimmicks, but actual songs. That human and emotional connection, once again, is damned important.
That connection, on a wider level, is one of the things I love so much about Infest. Many punters are regulars that know many others, the staff, the security, even the bands. Which brings a camaraderie I’ve seen few other festivals match, and it was a common talking point over the weekend as to what the future held. Interestingly, those murmurs post-weekend have got louder since I started writing this, and I think we can expect some form of confirmation soon. Infest continuing is absolutely a good thing – we need festivals like this that are fearless in their booking policy, ensuring that new as well as familiar is an integral part of the musical booking policy. Our “scene” was founded on advancing forward – we need to continue doing exactly that by keeping events like this going, and offering our support.