Into the Pit: 105: Modulate – Live at the Purple Turtle – 28-July 2011

I’ve seen a whole lot more gigs this year than I have in a while. I’m putting it down to being back in the heart of the action (i.e. London) and being able to get out to Montreal this year: plainly and simply I have access to so many more venues, and the reality is that many more bands are willing to play London than more, er, provincial locations up north. So, post-work on Thursday, I headed back down to Camden to a venue I’ve seen a fair bit of recently, and I have to say that I’m still not all that enamoured with it, either.

I’ve been meaning to catch Kommand+Kontrol live for a while now, since I got talking to Angus from the band a few months ago at Synthetic Culture. I must confess that I’d not actually heard them by the time I saw them live this week, but I was sufficiently interested in what I knew about them to ensure that I was there in time to see the set. And I wasn’t disappointed, either: rumbling, old-school EBM influenced industrial that was very…English. This might have been something to do with their onstage attire – sharp business suits, ties, Angus in a bowler hat, and a hat/coatstand on stage – but also in the bands that their style invoked. The more uptempo tracks certainly brought to mind Nitzer Ebb (both in beats and David Chapman’s vocal delivery), while other moments instantly made me think of Portion Control in their punishing, beat-heavy electronics.

Don’t let the influences fool you, though – simply a “retro” industrial band they are not. There are nods to newer styles, and the overall sound is sharp and punchy, the mark of a band who are keen to update industrial for a new era, and thankfully they are band who have no apparent interest in allowing so-called hard-dance styles to infiltrate their sound. Best moment, though? An absolutely thundering What’s Wrong, an instrumental track featuring a dual (electronic) drumming attack that has a vicious, writhing rhythm and was head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the (very impressive) set. Now to obtain the older EPs.

I wasn’t anywhere near as impressed by K-Nitrate, sadly. They appear to make much of the fact that they are long-time ex-members of Cubanate, but the reality is that they are nothing like the band they originally spawned from. Two men on keyboards onstage, and a seemingly-never-ending barrage of techno-industrial movements that, devoid of any accompaniment like, say, vocals or guitars, are really quite boring.

By the time that it was time for Deviant UK, we were outside – one of the glaring flaws of the Purple Turtle is that it appears to have no form of ventilation whatsoever, so standing watching bands in there for more than about an hour at a time is actually really quite an unpleasant experience. So I must confess that I gave Deviant UK a miss this time around. I’ll no doubt have at least one chance to see them this year.

Needless to say, there was no way that I was going to miss Modulate. I’ve seen them recently of course – as they took the roof off at Festival Kinetik in Montreal back in May – but I wanted to see them again for a number of reasons. First of all, because they have great tunes. I’ve been championing Modulate for, umm, a long time: I first reviewed their demo “album” Dystopia back in February 2006, and this has been clear for at least that long. Secondly, because Geoff Lee has an innate understanding of the dancefloor, and what makes crowds go nuts, and it is intriguing – and fun – watching what happens when Modulate unleash their pounding dancefloor rhythms onto the crowd.

This occasion was another of those. Opener Buzzsaw has seemingly been opening Modulate gigs for some time now, and it works every time. It’s not their best song, in my mind, but it is a good warmup to get things going – and here it did that and more. But it was what happened next that was most interesting – something of a calculated risk, perhaps, in playing no less than four new songs back-to-back to follow it. For many live acts, this would be suicide. But here, it only served to whip up the crowd into an utter frenzy: watching the crowd totally lose their shit to Boombox and Robots was enormous fun, and was an interesting mirror (in a smaller venue, of course) of the reaction at Kinetik to these two songs. Both are different: Boombox is a straight-up techno-industrial monster, with an incessant, urgent “Are You Ready?” sample building up to a flashpoint of energy that could have been jacked to the mains (this is going to be a massive, massive hit on industrial dancefloors when it gets released to DJs, mark my words), while the blatant Daft Punk nods of Robots clearly is no problem for fans to go batshit to it. I love Daft Punk, so it’s no real problem for me, either, particularly when done this well. The other new tracks didn’t quite have the same energy levels, but they were admittedly less familiar. Maybe they need repeat listening, too…

Modulate setlist

[new song]
[new song]
Dirtygrrrls/Dirtybois (Modulate Remix)
No Good
Drty Fckn Dsko (Modulate Remix)
Electronic Battle Weapon
Hard and Dirty

The surprises continued, with three covers/remixes/whatever you want to call them following, back-to-back. As good as they are – particularly the Faderhead re-work, which is vastly better than the original – I still wonder about playing remixes of other peoples’ songs live, especially as Modulate have so many good songs of their own. And maybe I’m just sick of hearing No Good, in any version.

After that mid-section, things did get much better again. Nightmare completed the trio of new songs I first heard in Montreal, and while seemingly very long, it does the “epic” dancefloor tune bit very well, and while it certainly isn’t as immediate as other songs, I reckon it’s another dancefloor hit in the making. Talking of dancefloor hits, the final stretch of the show proved just how many cast-iron dancefloor tunes Modulate already have established – old favourite Revolution sounds better than ever (and for me still better than the closing Skullfuck), Electronic Battle Weapon always deserved better than being a B-side, while Hard and Dirty‘s cheesy sex samples appeals to the crowds, at least. It is also remarkable that Skullfuck has so much staying power – even after six years or so of being a dancefloor favourite (it is one of those tracks that industrial DJs everywhere will resort to if they need a track to rescue a dancefloor and quickly, including myself), it is amazing just how mental everyone goes for it. I’m becoming almost certain that the band will get sick of it first.

For now, though – there is no fear of it being an albatross around their neck. Modulate have more than enough great tracks, and from what we’ve heard so far, album number two is shaping up to be easily as good as the first. Continued dancefloor domination awaits.

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