Into the Pit: 179: Front Line Assembly – Live at The Garage – 21-August 2013

It has been noted recently that there have been a dearth of “club” shows in the industrial scene, at least in the UK, of late, with pretty grim predictions for 2014, too. But in the meantime, there have been the odd show to restore faith somewhat that strong bills can occur, with support acts as worth seeing as the headliners – and this show was absolutely one of them.

Front Line Assembly

The Garage, London N5
21-August 2013

I have to say that the choice of venue surprised me a little, though – while The Garage used to be a common venue for industrial acts (ten years ago or more), gigs like this have been sparse here to say the least in recent years, and say what you like about the Islington Academy down the road, at least it isn’t usually as unpleasantly warm as this place was (do venues just not bother with aircon now?). Really: it was stifling when we entered to a near-empty room just after doors opened, so you can imagine how unpleasant it was later on.

Being a mid-week gig – and to fit in the three sets – iVardensphere took to the stage to a rather sparse crowd, but it did fill up quickly. A rather different show resulted, too, from the previous shows I’ve seen at Kinetik and Resistanz, by virtue of the fact that it was a reduced band onstage. Rather than the many-headed tribal monster I’ve seen before, this was just Scott Fox and Jamie Blacker (of ESA fame, of course), it was much more based around their industrial dance material.

I’ll be honest: this had its negatives as well as positives for me. For me iVardensphere’s fascinating meshing of the tribal and industrial – in a style not really attempted before aside from This Morn’ Omina – has always been their strongest point, so stripping that element away loses a little of their appeal. But on the flipside, picking the songs that they did resulted in a hugely enjoyable set all the same, and also allowed a glimpse of what the future holds for them.

So to start with, there were the ghostly, oh-so-familiar-but-I-can’t-place-them samples and bulldozing rhythms of Here Lies Lily Brant, and then the ever-entertaining Myopic, complete with Jamie doing his best impression of Matt Fanale (and succeeding well, too). That track was one that didn’t grab me a great deal when I first heard it, but over time, and as I’ve got more familiar with it, I’m happy to concede that I was wrong and this really is a great track.

The rest of the set took me, at least, into unfamiliar territory with either tracks I couldn’t quite place, or with new material. The former was the only time in the set where they approached the tribal elements, weaving indian drum sounds and vocals into a slower track. The latter were two brillant new songs, one being a bruising, armour-plated industrial dancefloor track, the other – with Jamie deputising for Daniel Graves – has all the hallmarks of being a huge dancefloor hit. It starts with mournful synths and a vocal to match, before the storm of beats hit you head on, and take the track in a direction entirely unexpected from the intro, and I really can’t wait to hear the album version of this.

After just half-an-hour or so, that was that – a short but hard-hitting set that (once again) gained them new fans, and more than likely also reminded a number of others that there is more than one sound to iVardensphere. They continue to rise through the ranks of the scene, and I suspect The Methusalah Tree, when it drops in the autumn, will make them an even bigger proposition.

Haujobb setlist:
Machine Drum
Let’s Drop Bombs
Renegades Of Noize
Dream Aid
The Noise Institute
Dead Market

Daniel Myer’s Haujobb have no need to build a fanbase, perhaps, although with the lengthy gap between Vertical Theory and New World March, it could perhaps be said there are still people to reach who didn’t realise that they had returned. More fool them, as Haujobb returned with a brilliant album that, like all of their material over twenty years or so, keeps their striking sonic signature while ensuring that they continue to progress and experiment.

This show, too, was at long last my first time seeing Haujobb live. Hardly prolific in live shows in the UK anyway, the couple of chances I have had over the years have never been at the right time. So, I was really quite stoked for this, and happily, they delivered everything I was hoping for. Rather usefully, too, for anyone unfamiliar with Haujobb’s output, this was a forty-five minute crash-course in the band’s near twenty-year career, covering both old and new.

Let’s start, like the band did, with the newer material. New World March was an extraordinary return, with the band picking up pretty much where they left off, a collection of pristine, expertly crafted electronic songs that contain both pop hooks and melodies, but also resolutely stay on the darker side of the spectrum. And live, the big surprise (for me, anyway) was how much harder the band kick. Let’s Drop Bombs had a punchy, punkish edge that certainly doesn’t exist on CD, partly as Daniel Myer is much less restrained onstage. Some didn’t like the rawer vocals that resulted, but I thought they actually added something. Of the other new album songs played, the closing Dead Market‘s stately pace was also rather beefed up, but the chorus especially retains a majesty live that makes it tower over many other Haujobb songs.

The older songs were nice to hear, too, especially a storming Anti/Matter, but the moments that really grabbed me were the ones from Vertical Theory, confirming perhaps that this is Myer’s greatest collection of songs (something confirmed returning to listening to the album a fair bit since!). The Noise Institute, in particular, was utterly breathtaking – a pristine electronic lament for a robot that had a few friends unfamiliar with the band’s work immediately asking what album they could find it on.

That remarkable song perhaps sums up exactly why Haujobb are so loved in certain circles. They somehow manage to marry cold electronics and human emotion to a degree totally unmatched by any other bands – they have no peers, as no-one else sounds anything like them or reaches the heights that they are capable of.

Front Line Assembly setlist:
Resonance (intro)
Final Impact
Neologic Spasm
Killing Grounds
Surface Patterns
Shifting Through The Lens
Mental Distortion


Encore 2:

A band that I’m much more familiar with live is Front Line Assembly. Since they returned to playing live regularly around 2006 (they were mainly, but not exclusively, a studio project for some time since the conclusion of the Live Wired tour in 1996/97), I’ve now seen them seven or eight times – including twice in a week in their native Canada – and I’m not sure I could get tired of seeing them live anytime soon.

This year has reinforced that view even more. Last year’s Airmech was pretty special, but Echogenetic has put even that in the shade with the best album the band have done in a couple of decades (more in great detail on that here), so I was interested to see how this new, guitar-free material was going to fit in. Especially as, over the years, FLA gigs have been heavy on the guitars.

The answer to this was an unexpected one – the band concentrated (mainly) on guitar-free material, and that didn’t just mean playing new stuff. They dug deep into their history, playing songs not heard live (before this tour) in fifteen years and more, and opened with two of them. My gig-going companions and I were laughing with incredulity at hearing the band tear into Tactical Neural Implant-opener Final Impact from the off, a rhythmic attack that I never, ever thought I’d hear live, and they followed that up with Hard Wired-opener Neologic Spasm (another all-electronic attack), to make all the old-school Front Line fans, of which there were many at the well-attended gig, it appeared, very happy indeed.

After that kind of opening, of course, it did beg the question as to exactly where they went from there. What they did was a bit of a winding road, trying their best to reach into most corners of their history, but also picking material that fitted best with the new. And of the new stuff, the best stuff on the album was the material played, and all of it worked brilliantly live, as I might have thought. Killing Grounds, pulverising on record, sounds even harder and heavier live, the bass shaking through the floor, while Deadened, gained a little extra crunch by having guitars added, and still remains as brilliant as when I first heard it. A little more surprising, perhaps, were that the two sweeping ballads from the album, Blood and Ghosts, were enjoyed by a rapt audience rather than one that talked all the way through them (some feat for songs perhaps a little quieter).

There were yet more surprises to come, too. Lose was played from Airmech (the only song played) – and sounded glorious, the elegant electronic melancholy a little surprisingly fitting in perfectly alongside the maelstrom being created by other songs before and after it. Saying that, though, it was a useful breather after a heavier-than-ever Plasticity (one of the few songs that I’ve seen FLA play every time I’ve seen them), which that night had a beat you could break boulders with and exactly the kind of aggression that the song should always have. The final surprise came as the set closer was unveiled – not one of the usual suspects (a bruising Millenium and old dancefloor favourite Mindphaser both appeared in the encore instead), but another very old track, Mental Distortion from Caustic Grip, the album where FLA settled on the sonic palette that first brought them to wider attention, and also it is the first album of their where there are bona fide classics on it (I can think of at least four, maybe five). And this track, like much of that album, is all about the punchy rhythms, and stabbing synths and samples that attack from all sides, and it worked brilliantly live.

With such a brilliant new album out – following a number of solid albums – and a still-awesome live show, Front Line Assembly are on a quite astonishing roll at the moment. I can’t help but think that the currently stable line-up, that has brought a youthful energy to the band and a whole new palette of influences to the basic sound Bill Leeb evolved a long time ago, is at least partly the reason for this, too. Few bands of this longevity are this good in the first flush of youth, never mind well into their third decade. Here is hoping that they keep this up.

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