In a flash, that is Infest over for another year already. A weekend that shot by – of fifteen bands, a good many DJs, many more friends new and old, some silly moments, some serious moments, a fair bit of wonderfully cheap booze, and whole lot of fun and silliness (and thanks to assisting Tails on Sunday night, I’m still finding glitter everywhere).
And as we are now in the post-Infest comedown period, it is time for my usual roundup of the musical highlights and lowlights of the weekend. There is a comment on every band – I saw each and every one of them for at least a few songs – and a fair number of photos too. Clicking on the photos within the review will take you to the galleries.
Friday started in the usual way – in the bar, in the afternoon, catching up with world+dog and enjoying the company of friends that we never see enough of. That normally means that by the time the bands come onstage on Friday, that a few drinks have normally been consumed, and this time was no exception. But we did actually make it for all the bands, at least, even if I didn’t see a full set all evening.
Like just about everyone else, I can’t say I knew anything at all about Uturns before they took to the stage. Their mini bio on the ever-useful Infest website was rather vague, perhaps deliberately, and this certained piqued the interest of a lot of people, as by the time they came onstage, there were was a large crowd waiting to see what they could offer. What this was turned out to split the crowd somewhat, and I’m afraid I was on the side of those who weren’t enormously impressed. Yeah, so they looked a bit different (with a singer who appeared in various masks, and didn’t look to be taking himself all that seriously), but musically they weren’t offering anything groundbreaking – indeed, I think perhaps rather harshly dubbed them “Tesco Value KMFDM” in conversations after the set.
I was hoping for great things from Code 64 – another of the long succession of Scandinavian acts who provide melodic, catchy electro-industrial songs, and I’ve been quite taken with their recorded output of late. Sadly, for a number of reasons, this show just didn’t work out. Crippled from the start by technical issues that forced about three attempts at the first song – an errant, and crucial, cable failure appeared to be the culprit – and after that something just didn’t seem right with the performance. The vocals didn’t sound right at all, and their high-tempo, muscular rhythms just didn’t engage whatsoever. I am assured from other sources that they have been much better in the past, and these kind of shows happen from time to time, so I’ll happily give them another chance in the future. The band also get a more positive mention for perhaps being the most friendly band of the weekend, having been seen out and about having fun and happily engaging with festival-goers all weekend long.
The addition of Tactical Sekt to the bill was something of a surprise, as little had been heard from the band since back in the first half of the last decade (although I seem to recall an album has been released since the band reconvened). Back when they were active – and for a few years following that – they were an exceptionally popular band in the scene, endlessly requested to DJs, and indeed to appear at Infest. So they had certainly earned their place on the bill here. However from what I heard, I wasn’t all that taken with them. After all, how many more “terror EBM” (or “harsh industrial”, or “industek”, or whatever) bands do we really need? Live Tactical Sekt do all the right things – they have heavy rhythms, they have the bleeps, the samples, and of course the obligatory distorted vocals to make the singer sound like he his about to commit murder (or about to suffer a particularly nasty throat infection). The problem is, Suicide Commando do this so much better, and that was all I could think while watching a band still rather obviously caught in their shadow.
Absolute Body Control
Maschinenkrieger KR52 Vs Disraptor
After an unexpectedly early finish to Friday night for us – we were back at our hotel not long after the bands had finished – we were rather fresher for the long Saturday schedule. And after the slight disappointment with Friday night, the bands got better – but not until after V2A were done.
I’m not really sure where to start with what was wrong with this. This was “industrial cliche 101” by a band uninterested in rising above the mediocre, or what is otherwise known as the lowest common denominator. Ripping off other bands? Check (songs that sound like Combichrist wrote them, blatant steals of Suicide Commando lyrics). Clumsy, sloganeering anti-religion songs? Check. The quasi-military cyb0r look so fashionable about five years ago? Check. There wasn’t a shred of originality here, or any decent songs to nod along to either. Maybe I’m missing something here, or perhaps I’m looking for the wrong things in bands I go and see, but there are countless bands who peddle this kind of thing, and there are only a handful of them who get it right. I want the twenty minutes of my life I wasted to see this back.
Oh, and their T-shirt slogan? “Look like an angel…fuck like a whore“. How charming.
Maschinenkrieger KR52 Vs Disraptor did a good job of blowing away the memories of V2A, though, with a blistering forty-five minutes of brutal rhythmic industrial noise. This was not for the faint-hearted, as is the way with many Hands Productions acts, but if you persevered like me, it was fascinating set of complex rhythms and searing noise – and with their apparently signature gasmasks-with-LEDs on, reminded me somewhat of a nastier Orbital – one seduced by the idea of raw electronic power and that dial that goes up to eleven. Even a fire-alarm midway through the set didn’t throw them, particularly – they were back up and running within five minutes and quickly cranked things back up the ridiculous extremes they were hitting previously. My purchase of their latest album Meltdown instantly gained it the accolade of a ban from being played in the presence of my girlfriend (putting it in the company of Converter, W.A.S.T.E. and Greyhound, amongst others).
There came a moment during Alien Vampires that I realised that I am most certainly no longer “down with the kids”. My girlfriend and I had headed towards the front – mainly so I could get some decent photos – and as the second song cranked up, we realised we were alone standing still amidst a whole gaggle of fans going batshit. To me it was yet more “terror EBM” with no redeeming features, again nothing new, and the vocalist’s hissed, Psyclon Nine-style vocals began to grate extremely quickly. So anyway, not for me, and once I’d got the photos I wanted, it was time to move on, and quickly.
In something of an about-turn, the stylistic shift to Absolute Body Control could not have been starker. Their appearance on the bill was for me one of the “must see” bands of the festival, and I’m glad to say that they didn’t disappoint at all. Standing apart from every other band on the bill by being one of the scene’s pioneers, rather than followers, Dirk Ivens’ now 31-year-old project is still in rude health. The challenge might be in describing it. Rather slower in tempo than what one might expect from an act usually lumped with other early EBM artists, in reality they are plainly and simply very, very loud proto-synthpop. With synth lines that buzz through your skull, some fearsome basslines, and a vocal performance that brought to mind a few other artists. In fact, it was easy to trace lineages a little – Dirk Ivens clearly channels something of Ian Curtis in his movements and deep baritone delivery, and there is no doubt that D.A.F. and Suicide were influences. And, also, how Front 242 amongst others developed from the sounds of bands like this was clear to hear in the sounds used, too. But more than anything, ABC clearly actually had songs amidst the electronic mayhem. Best of which was a thunderous Give Me Your Hands, which seemed to be about twice as loud as anything else they played.
xotox were the first of the bands over the weekend that I had already seen this year, at Kinetik back in May. And much as then, they delivered an energetic and infectious show that lived up to the slogan of the group well: “industrial for hyperactive people”. Too true – rarely did the tempo drop at all, as xotox bulldozed through forty-five minutes of industrial rhythms and noise. Rather more accessible, perhaps, for people who don’t normally like “industrial noise”, too – although there are still squalls of screeching noise that remind you this isn’t fluffy synthpop. I have to admit, though, that I preferred the Kinetik show – this was a bit shorter, and shorn of a couple of the killer tracks from PSI it wasn’t quite as catchy as before.
The final band for Saturday were Hocico, a band I’ve wanted to see for years. I’ve missed various chances, had them cancel a show at least once, so I was crossing my fingers that we would actually get a show this time. Thankfully, we did, and they didn’t disappoint whatsoever. For one, it was a reminder that so-called “Terror EBM” has its masters, and Hocico are that band. They have a snarling, aggressive sound that still sounds unique, pretty much because they understand like so few other bands in their realms that to make songs sound dark, evil and perhaps spooky, it is all about creating an atmosphere.
And this they do so well: Erk on vocals has almost the stage to cover, while Racso looms at the back, behind his bank of keyboards, covered in black bodypaint and in all black – almost appearing as a deathly shadow in front of the imagery being projected through him. Sonically, their songs have harsh beats and snarled vocals, but crucially have creepy synth washes sweeping in and out of the sound, that make the band sound somewhat not of our world. And its a trick they’ve perfected over nearly twenty years of existence.
The set covered a fair proportion of that time, too, digging back into their back catalogue for some cracking old tunes. A blistering Poltergeist was a particular favourite for me, while the pitch-dark themes of Untold Blasphemies early on was also rather wonderful. The newer songs aired reminded that Hocico still haven’t lost it, either – Spirals of Time has long been the pick of Memorias Atrás for me – I guess it is one of those cases of “if it ain’t broke…”.
Late additions to the bill, Julien-K cancelled a matter of days before the festival, and it appeared initially that they weren’t going to be replaced – so it was a little bit of a surprise to find a replacement announced on Saturday night, that would open proceedings on Sunday instead. I have to say that I was a teeny bit disappointed that Julien-K had dropped out – reputedly a more electronic version of Orgy, basically, I never had the chance to see Orgy when they were in their prime. But as it turned out, Sci-Fi Mafia were an unexpectedly great and entertaining opening act for the day.
I can’t say I’d ever heard of them before, but from a quick glance at their website, it would suggest that they are a midlands-based band, and as their impressive stageshow revealed, they have something of a steampunk image. Musically they stood apart from most of the rest of the pack here in being unashamedly industrial metal – chugging riffs, heavy metal rhythms, and loads and loads of samples and electronics underpinning it. Amid the cacophony, I couldn’t make out many of the lyrics, but to be fair, I’m not sure that is meant to be the point.
What elevated their show above the just-vaguely-interesting, though, was the stageshow. There were burlesque-ish dancing girls, an angle-grinding (male) dancer in top-hat-and-tails, and then one of the dancing girls starting angle-grinding too. Clearly this was all well choreographed stuff, and was also hugely entertaining. An impressive start to the day, this. They did however prove yet again that the new Caustic T-shirt (“Stop sampling Full Metal Jacket”) is sorely needed as a reminder to many bands.
I’d heard good things about Analog Angel, so I made sure I saw at least some of the set – although I have to confess that I left early once I heard what was going on in the football. You don’t often see your beloved team score eight against Arsenal. Of what I did see, though, they provided good, solid synthpop with a harder edge – kinda like a Scottish Assemblage 23. It was also notable that they are entirely unafraid of retaining a distinctly Scottish sound, in the way of their vocals. A nice change from everyone trying to sound either German or American in this scene. I picked up a promo from the band that I’ll be giving a listen to this week, too.
I wasn’t really sure what to make of Shiv-R. They were certainly different – both in their elaborate stage outfits, and in their slightly unusual sound. There were the seemingly obligatory harsh beats and snarling vocals, but also guitar riffage and a general feel that this band were trying to stand out from the crowd somewhat. I’m going to give these guys more of a listen on CD, I think – I suspect that it may make sense more that way, as for one reason or another they simply didn’t do it for me live at all.
I have to confess that I approached the mind.in.a.box set with a little bit of trepidation. This wasn’t from any fear that they wouldn’t deliver, it was more a knowledge of the past. I saw them at Kinetik in May, and plagued by technical issues (they lost their video screen amongst other calamities), and shifted back to the end of the night (a 0200 set-time!), their impressive set didn’t quite appeal to everyone. Add to that stories of even more technical failures at WGT the following month, and I was pretty much crossing my fingers that things would work out this time – especially with a delayed start and some nervous faces examining some of the electronics. And thank $DEITY, it so, so did.
If you don’t know this Austrian band, let me give you a quick fill-in. A deeply conceptual band whose first three albums were songs and interludes telling one long story based around a character called Black in a bleak, dystopian world, and fourth album that was a celebration of retro electronics and eighties computer game themes. All through this they have cultivated a unique, atmospheric sound that never seemed to ever to be able to lend itself to performance in the live arena. So all credit to the band for trying to do something different.
Light & Dark
Instead of the usual table of electronics and a vocalist, they chose to rebuild the sound entirely for live shows, turning it into a full band but crucially keeping the electronic elements and ghostly vocal treatments that made the band so intriguing in the first place. And it is this change that I thought might be the issue with the audience, that might lose them fans. In fact, the opposite happened. And part of this was maybe down to the exquisite songcraft that the transformation into a full band reveals.
Fear, already heartrending enough on CD, is transformed into an astonishing, skyscraping ballad with a chorus that I’m not afraid to admit had me shedding the odd tear of joy in how simply fucking amazing it was. If that had been the only highlight, it would have been enough, but those heights just kept on being reached, in every single song. The robotic, inhuman rhythms and repeated refrains of Stalkers made for a punchy, joyous anthem, while Certainty and Identity kept their complex electronic forms, but in much more direct and accessible ways, with the vocals simply soaring above it all – no longer hidden in the mix like on CD.
Compared to Montreal, it felt as if their more prog-like persuasions had perhaps been sidelined, instead going for a more direct set – but that side of things was certainly still there. One of the most radical transformations onto the stage is Light & Dark, a song that as the opener of their first album, was the first song I ever heard by them. On CD it is a lengthy, electronic soundscape with disconnected voiceovers – an introduction to what is to come. Here, it is stripped down to a short interlude, but none the less affecting.
As the short set came to a close, Change was another extraordinarily emotional track, a defiant ode to remaining true to oneself, but at it’s core has a despairing, desperately sad heart. So it felt better that the order this time around had been changed so that the sheer rock power of 8Bits closed things on a high. And what a high – a packed crowd roared on the band as they left the stage, and they genuinely looked taken aback at the reception they received. It was fully deserved, though – one of those rare moments where a band puts on a perfect show, and in a weekend of bands that up to this point were generally harsh, noisy and somewhat negative in outlook, it was a joy to hear a band so nakedly emotional (and so moving). Needless to say, this triumphant set was by some considerable distance the show of the weekend.
After the rather heavy emotional kick of all that, Sonar suffered for me a bit. I was no longer in the mood for what was a very loud, very heavy dose of industrial rhythmic electronics. Don’t get me wrong – this is stuff I’ll normally love, but this time around it was just on at the wrong time. Which is a damned shame, as I suspect my chances of seeing Sonar again any time soon are rather slim.
Tomorrow Never Comes
VNV Nation were the final band of the weekend, making their fourth visit to Infest. And as is usually the case, they were greeted by an insane crowd that acted as if they had never seen VNV, or at least not seen them in many years, as opposed to what is more likely a matter of a year or so at most. This was, to a point, a bit of a greatest hits celebration, if you will, covering every single album so far and a few new songs too – although one surprising, glaring omission from the set was Honour – a track I don’t think I’ve ever heard them /not/ play.
On record VNV do little for me, but it is hard not to enjoy their live show, with Ronan providing the usual banter (and this time, a surprisingly serious speech prior to Illusion about the importance of creativity and being different) – and continuing to be a band that still seem surprised by the reaction they get every single time. A point made even clearer by usual set-closer Perpetual actually looking at one point like it might be kept going all night by the crowd.
And that was that. Another Infest over, and after eleven of them (I first started going in 2000), I’m still not tired of them yet. A great social occasion, a chance to see bands I wouldn’t otherwise see, and a fantastic way to close off another summer. See you in 2012.