One of the must-see shows in the calendar for the past few months finally arrived over the weekend.
O2 Academy Islington, N1
Review: Cubanate – Brutalism
Review: Cold Waves V
2016: Best Albums
2016: Best Gigs #1
260: Tracks (May 1996)
121: Tracks (Jan 2011)
Interview: KANGA 2016
Interview: Marc Heal 2016
Interview: Marc Heal 2015
A killer line-up, featuring the return of a couple of old hands (particularly Cubanate) to London after quite an absence, and a handful of smaller, but no less exciting bands, including what is currently the hottest band in our scene. Happily, the line-up was enough to entice a large crowd out on a bank holiday Sunday, for a hot and sweaty show that rather felt like old times with the amount of friends and familiar faces that were out for it.
That said, the venue is not the best, but then it never really has been. Hardly popular with anyone, the fact that it is one of the few venues of its size left in North London means that it is often used in spite of the failings (often poor sound, poor layout, extraordinarily expensive drinks – but that’s a problem with all O2 Academy venues, frankly), but in this case the best was made of it, and while the sound wasn’t perfect, it was a damned sight better than on a number of other occasions I’ve been there over the years. The packed venue was nice to see, too.
In addition, I was back there the following night for the Mesh show, too, and some comments on that will follow. In the meantime, here’s my thoughts on the bands from Sunday. Photos are my own, with grateful thanks to the promoters for providing me with a Photo/Pit pass.
I first saw the openers Cease2xist four years ago, at Resistanz 2013, where I noted that they were a bit rough around the edges, but certainly promising. Their recent album Zero Future has proven that they have definitely moved forward – particularly the exceptional Make The World A Bitter Place, which opened the set and saw the band baring their teeth very quickly. The songs are sharper, they have kept their insane energy onstage (throwing themselves all over the place), and the new album proves they have the production chops too.
Je$us Loves Amerika have been around rather longer – I first saw them live at Infest in…2003? – and while being inactive for a period after their album Advanced Burial Technology was released, they had a string of EPs in recent years that were very good indeed.
This was the first time I’d seen the band in a few years, and what interested me was what wasn’t played – as far as I could tell, it was all newer or new songs (with nothing from said album). As is customary, the bulldozing industrial groove of FYA was an obvious highlight, with the bruising techno assault of Breathe closing things out. With a few new songs apparently aired – or at least a few that haven’t appeared on releases yet – I can hope that there is another new EP at least to come.
What surprised me somewhat was the crowd reception for KANGA. I mean, I didn’t realise just how many people had caught onto the album over here since release late last year. I guess I was part of the buzz (2016 album of the year on this site, for a start, and an interview with her in November too), and frankly, the crowd went nuts for her from the off.
Metal (Gary Numan cover)
If you could see her, mind. As at Cold Waves last year, she began the set in almost total darkness, Matthew and her both only visible in the shadows as Something Dangerous cranked up the anticipation. Knowing what was coming this time, too, didn’t lessen the impact of how brilliant this set was.
KANGA has seemingly perfected an accessible, poppy industrial sound that has remarkable crossover appeal (just looking across the crowd from the photo-pit provided ample evidence for this), and by the time the hard kicks and swirling chorus of Viciousness swept the dancefloor off its collective feet, it was clear she had the crowd in her hand.
Which meant approving nods for the (very good) cover of Numan’s Metal, and a new song (Maybe called Wanted?) that suggested the future is looking bright, too. But the best was saved ’til last, with the sultry grooves and salacious lyrics of Vital Signs (I’m fairly sure it’s not after a heartbeat, let’s put it that way) providing the final slam dunk on an exceptional set.
I’ve seen Empirion a few times since they returned at the beginning of the decade (most memorably with Meat Beat Manifesto in the cramped confines of the Purple Turtle), and I have to confess that I’ve rather lost interest nowadays, my tastes having rather moved away from straight-up techno that doesn’t really go anywhere. That said, Narcotic Influence seems to have had a rather longer life than many drugs that people might take to dance to it, and their pummelling rework of Headhunter that they played at least part of, if I wasn’t mistaken, is better than I remember.
But, as expected, Cubanate blew almost everyone else away, and quickly. After their triumphant, breathless show in Chicago at Cold Waves, at least I knew what expect this time around, and with a bit more time available, the band broadly expanded the same set into just over an hour of brutal industrial music.
Lord of the Flies
Kill or Cure
But what I didn’t expect was the crowd. London crowds – particularly in the industrial scene – are nowadays rather reserved, but here, with a something of London rivethead reunion vibe going on (seriously, I saw people who hadn’t seen each other in fifteen years warmly catching up again), it was anything but. From the moment a titanic Lord of the Flies cranked into life, the moshpit (yes, a moshpit) blew up, and aside a breather during a (very unexpected) The Horsetrader, it was like that ’til the end.
So yes, like Chicago, this was an intense, hard-hitting set, but I couldn’t imagine Cubanate doing it any other way. There were highlights all over the place, from the primal roar of Barbarossa (Marc Heal notes in the liner notes for Brutalism that this was “something of a live favourite”. We can update that to “still a live favourite”), to the newly updated, rebuilt and groovy-as-shit Junky (featuring some awesome guitar work from Phil). Joy was much better (and so much louder!) this time around, with some subtle changes to Marc’s vocals that made the chorus flow better, while my enjoyment of the slamming breakbeats of Isolation were tempered slightly later by the suggestion that it sounds like Girls Aloud’s Sound of the Underground. More scientific work is needed on this, but I wonder if the Girls Aloud producers/writers were aware of Isolation when writing the former… With Cubanate’s profile around then fairly high still thanks to videogame appearances, it’s possible, I guess. Stranger things have happened.
Elsewhere, old favourites were delivered as expected. Body Burn and Oxyacetalene, of course, nearly took the roof off once again (which might have improved the dreary sweatbox that this venue is, frankly), while the hulking drum’n’bass (and more bass) of It nearly did the same for the floor.
There was one last surprise, too, in an encore that unleashed the techno-industrial rush of Ordinary Joe, and got the crowd roaring along one last time.
Marc Heal is a striking frontman – constantly pacing the stage, assuming a persona onstage (totally unlike his offstage persona that I’ve found) that rants, raves and roars with the music, almost at points as if he is ad libbing the vocals as he goes along, and letting the music take him wherever. This gives an intimidating air to proceedings, that’s for sure, with you as the viewer not entirely sure what’s going to happen next (in the photo pit this counts double), especially with Phil glowering over the crowd to his side, as he wrenches riffs from his guitar like it’s about to consume him. But the aggression contained therein works with the music, as Cubanate were always showing the inherent aggression that could be unleashed within industrial. (Also, a nod to JLA’s drummer Gordon, who was the Cubanate drummer for this pair of shows, and did a great job).
While it’s not brainless music, it is impulsive, powerful music, and their live shows since their return have provided power and brawn in spades. It has also been quite, quite brilliant, and with at least another show at Terminus in Canada scheduled, I can only hope a few more shows happen after that. Whether there is any appetite to write more music I’ve no idea, and I’m perhaps in two minds over whether I want them to do so (on a personal level). Their four album run in the nineties was all-but unimpeachable, as Brutalism proves, influencing a string of industrial, techno and metal bands since, none of whom perhaps managed to nail the raw fury of the original.
Two decades on, then (thereabouts), from their original end, and Cubanate are perhaps better than ever live, and are now ripe for rediscovery by heads old and new. It’s worth the hazy memories that might be uncovered. “I did what, with who?”