Last year, the first Resistanz festival in Sheffield was one of the talking points of the “scene” in the Spring, and due to family commitments that we couldn’t miss, we couldn’t make it. So, an early decision was made this time around to ensure that we would make it north this time, and return to Sheffield for the first time in a while, and to return to Corporation for the first time since I moved back to London at the end of 2009.
The strong line-up helped, too, although it did appear to my eyes, and a few others, that the line-up seemed a bit lop-sided at points, with some very strong acts a bit further down the bill than they should be.
So, Saturday‘s bands opened with Memmaker, an act that long since broke into the industrial mainstream thanks to a number of monstrous dancefloor hits and a long series of great shows all over the place. Their position as the opening band raised eyebrows, but it was a gamble that paid off spectacularly – the venue was absolutely heaving by the time they came on, and as a result they brought the whole festival to life immediately with their energetic, enthusiastic live show. If you saw them at Infest a couple of years back, there weren’t any great surprises in the set, but delivered this well there didn’t need to be. Forty-five minutes of absolutely pumping, triumphant industrial music to dance to, and if there were any people left wavering over how good Memmaker are, this should have made the decision for them.
This set the bar very high indeed, and it is probably fair to say that it was a little unfair to expect Be My Enemy to match it. After all, this was Phil Barry’s first gig with his recent project. That’s not to say they weren’t great – for the most part, they were – but it was kinda clear that this is a work in progress. And for that, I was willing to cut them some slack. Musically they were great – thundering industrial beats, guitars and a few old familiar favourites. Oh yes, Phil was even willing to delve into his Cubanate past.
This Is The New Wave
You Created Me
Ghost In The Machine
It was actually quite interesting which songs did work better than others. Opener This Is The New Wave lacked a bit of punch, while Death Drive and Ghost In The Machine were absolutely storming. But the real highlight of the set was the unexpected one – a bit of an obscure old Cubanate track, Ordinary Joe, delivered with such snarl and menace that was an utter pleasure to hear once again. The other Cubanate song was rather more obvious, of course, but was not half as punchy. By this time, however, Phil seemed to be be struggling somewhat with his voice, which also affected an otherwise blistering Disintegration somewhat.
But all told, this was an impressive start. Some might say that Be My Enemy are not exactly Cubanate, but that is a little unfair. Whether we like it or, Cubanate are gone, and Phil Barry is moving on. I’ll settling in for the ride.
No such pressure on E.S.A., of course. Jamie Blacker is an old hand at this, and with his recently released new album Themes Of Carnal Empowerment Pt. 1: Lust returning to a sound dominated by heavy beats and rhythms, as opposed to more prog-esque textures, the set here was hard-hitting, intense industrial noise. And it was great. There weren’t any huge surprises here, to be honest – I’ve seen Jamie more than enough times to know what to expect – but he is so consistently good that his sets are always enthralling. This time it was a mix of older material, across all his albums, pretty much, as well as some of the stronger moments from the new album. Interestingly – and this was the first time I’ve ever heard it mentioned after an ESA show – a number of people were commenting on how unsettled they were by the background visuals (which have been those used for some years) from the video for Principals of a Paradisic Resolve. For me, the visuals work well – treading a fine line between suffering and pleasure that ESA’s musical themes have revelled in since he first released an album. It isn’t meant to be easy listening, and I’m sure Jamie would prefer it stayed that way.
Going back a few years, I’d have been far keener on a Soman show. The first couple of times I saw Kolja’s live sets, they were an epic danceathon – but now, my tastes having changed somewhat, I’m finding myself less and less interested in a set that can get rather monotonous. Especially as his last album, frankly, was rather disappointing. Still, a lot of people did love it, so obviously it was just me…
The one band of the weekend that I didn’t watch at all was Frozen Plasma. I saw them at Infest a few years ago, and was deeply unimpressed then, and their recorded output since has not convinced me any further. So we stayed in the bar. I didn’t venture out for long to see Nachtmahr either, to be honest – another band I’ve seen a few times, and I don’t think we are going to be seeing a radical change of direction for their sound anytime soon. Clearly, Nachtmahr are hugely popular with the “kids”, but personally I find their co-opting of certain elements of military imagery somewhat distasteful – not to mention that for the songs that I do like, I’d rather hear those in a club environment than the live show.
Over the years of gig-going at Corporation, the sound has often left something to be desired, and while much of Saturday’s output had good sound – an upgraded PA since I left Sheffield, apparently – Grendel sounded pretty poor. I’ve been vocal in the past over my dislike of Grendel in recent years – for some time stuck in a rut, seemingly destined to be repeating Soilbleed and Zombie Nation forever – so hearing that their sound has apparently been revamped for their forthcoming album, I thought it prudent to see what the changes were. Well, there was a guitarist, and more people onstage than I recall previously, but as they kicked into Harsh Generation, something sounded very wrong indeed. The track was nearly unrecognisable, especially as the vocals were untreated and sounded, to be it bluntly, rough as hell. That the band then attempted to rickroll the crowd in the latter part of the song suggested that it was time to move on. My girlfriend put it simply – Coreline builds better rickrolls. I did return later, mind, and a bruising Hate This had sorted out some of the sound gremlins, but it wasn’t enough to make me stay.
Onto Sunday, and after a nights sleep, it was time to return to booze, food, more booze and then some bands. For me the overall lineup on the second day was rather stronger than the first, so I was keen to ensure that I saw each and every band for as long as possible. Which meant getting there early, so that I could see what all the fuss about Surgyn was. Interestingly, they appear to have been one of the best-promoted “new” industrial-scene bands in the UK in some time, with a flurry of T-shirts, stickers, flyers and general internet promotion, but oddly, until this set I’d not actually heard a single note of material from them, aside from a couple of remixes.
And I have to say – they didn’t sound like I’d expected. They were, I guess, a meshing of camp disco, industrial beats and gothic themes – and a pretty striking surgically themed image. Not all of it worked – the opening song had soaring melodies and a somewhat histrionic chorus that apparently hit notes just out of reach of the vocalists at points, and a guest appearance from Geoff (Modulate) was partly scuppered by equipment issues. But I’m happy to give credit to a group trying something so different and out of step with the rest of the scene, and one that has also refused to fall into the trap of simply hiding themselves behind their electronics.
Detroit Diesel followed that, and were pretty much that standard two-person lineup (although notably, they featured one of the few women performing onstage all weekend). This was more harsh industrial, with more of the same beats, presets and vocal stylings. And so didn’t keep my intention for all that long.
I caused a bit of a ruckus with my review of FGFC820 at Kinetik last year, so I resolved this time to come and check them out again, to see whether a second viewing would change my mind. It still isn’t my bag – military-themed “harsh” industrial-EBM with treated vocals generally isn’t nowadays – but in a smaller venue than at Kinetik the sound was that bit punchier, and I did like the death metal growling of the backing vocals. Apparently, too, I missed the highlight of the set – a cover of Ich Bin Ein Auslander. But this is the curse of festivals like this – with ultra-tight timings between bands, sometimes you need to miss parts of sets just to give time to have a break, get a drink, etc…
That break was needed, too, if I was going to make it through forty-five minutes of W.A.S.T.E.. By some considerable distance the heaviest band of the weekend, they unleashed a brutal set that made no concessions to anyone, a blistering sensory overload of industrial noise, ugly horror movie clips (and added Kenny Powers) and heavy use of strobes. There was also none of the dark ambient stuff in the set, either – it was all the heavy nastiness. So there was the EBM-beats-turned-up-to-twelve of The Death March, the fetish-themed brutality of Gun To The Head…but it was the earlier stuff that really pushed the limits. The first album material is pretty much about as extreme as beat-laden industrial noise can possibly get, proven once again by the drilling white noise intro that heralds I Don’t Give A Fuck. What is interesting, though, is that W.A.S.T.E., despite how extreme they are, are well capable of dishing up a live set that is varied enough to keep the attention, something that some of their peers (Greyhound, in particular) have struggled to do in the live environment. So, as a result, it would appear there a more than a few converts to W.A.S.T.E.’s noisy sonic assault post-gig. Even my girlfriend managed to stick around for three songs of the set, which I’d say is high praise indeed.
Straftanz were, perhaps, the big surprise of the weekend. While I was – and still am – a big fan of the first album, I thought the second album fell a bit flat, apparently lacking the monstrous dancefloor anthems that the debut was littered with from start to finish. How wrong I was. Live, the new songs sound utterly transformed, turbocharged into a whole succession of rabble-rousing tunes that had the packed room jumping from start to finish. And none of this “serious industrial performance” nonsense, either – the band looked like they were having an absolute ball as the crowd went nuts, even leaping into the crowd during a quite fantastic Resist! that saw Surgyn join the stage to add vocals, and they brought a few others with them that ended up looking like a mini stage invasion. Picking highlights was pretty difficult – it was perhaps easier to marvel at those that they were able to drop, including Out of Time and Praise the Panic, for a start – but the closing Tanzt Kaputt, Was Euch Kaputt Macht! was exactly what industrial dancefloor music should be about. Thundering beats, anthemic vocals and getting the huge crowd in on the act. Perhaps they aren’t going to win any awards for originality, but who cares when it is this much fun?
I Am Destructor [Ultraviolence Redux]
Electronic Death Resistanz
Stigmata [Fuck Everything]
Heaven Is Oblivion
Death of a Child
Hardcore Motherfucker 2012
I have to confess that I didn’t even know Ultraviolence were still going until two things last year confirmed that they were: the surfacing of a new song, and their adding to the bill here. And that new song – Electronic Death Metal, aired here in its Resistanz-specific incarnation to astonishing effect, a three-minute firestorm of gabber beats and savage guitar riffs – served notice that Johnny Violent had a score to settle. And you know what? His set was huge fun. There were all the elements we’ve come to expect, so stupidly high BPM counts, cheesy female vocals, Johnny barking over songs, and Hardcore Motherfucker to finish with. But what was an improvement was a tighter set, with less mistakes and missteps, even if I could have done without the ballad-ish elements later on, and the choice of cover was a hell of a lot better than Paranoid, too, as Stigmata (the now 24-year old Ministry classic) was rolled out to spectacular effect. There were not a great deal of vocals, but I’m pretty certain most of us in the crowd could fill in the gaps ourselves. A surprisingly good return.
Given various sound gremlins over the weekend, I had the fear that Mind.In.A.Box may struggle with their set, and sadly, this time it came to pass. From the photo-pit before they started, it was clear not all was well with various bits of kit, and when they finally got started, it was nearly tears of frustration this time as opposed to the tears of joy at Infest. Opener Unknown was destroyed by microphone and effects failures, and a sound mix best described as “muddy” did catastrophic damage to Cause and Effect, too. Remarkably, though, as Remember opened, the sound suddenly snapped into focus, and that joy came flooding back.
Sound problems or not, you see, when MIAB can fight through it, they sound utterly fucking glorious. And it was perhaps notable that those songs that were being played live for pretty much the first time were the ones that suffered most, not that they were all bad soundwise. A much-changed Control, for example, was wonderfully melancholic, and musically transformed into a robo-funk monster, while Not Afraid morphed into an 80s rock ballad that it is ok to like.
Cause and Effect
The old songs, though, were the most astonishing highlights once again. Stalkers seemed to have had an additional dose of power, and had a fair proportion of the crowd singing along for the chorus, while the closing pairing of Identity and 8Bits, the pair of them the most “rock” of all of the song transformations, had the whole crowd punching the air with their fists and baying for more. Sadly Change, the most delicate and bruised of all of their older songs, had to be ditched after the pitch-effect for the microphone totally failed, robbing us of perhaps the most amazing song to be reprised from their Infest set, but it was easy to understand why. And anyway, the airing of a barely changed Lost Alone, perhaps the most conventional electro song from their first album – aside from the heavy vocal treatments, of course, was an utter joy that I was willing to forgive just about anything to be able to hear – even the omission of Fear from the setlist.
The sad fact about the delicate beauty and intricacy of the MIAB live show is that issues are, seemingly, to be expected. Not that most of the failings here were anything to do with the band – the sound balance was an utter mess from the start, with the drums far too loud for parts of the set, too much booming bass, feedback from the microphones that took half the set to mitigate and a general sense that the band were having to fight against the issues rather than be able to work with the sound engineers. Would it be too much to ask to ensure that all bands actually have a soundcheck that is more than just the short time before they go onstage? The short turnaround times between bands really did seem to cause a lot of trouble, leaving no margin for error, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one who would happily take one less band each day, or a later finish for the bands, just to ensure that the sound can be right in the first place – so that we can properly enjoy the bands we’ve paid reasonable sums to come and see.
There were no such problems for headliners Icon of Coil, but then, it is fair to say that their sound is rather simpler, and perhaps more direct, than MIAB. Andy LaPlegua and the band have been dabbling in bringing back their old band for a while now – even though it is now eight years since their final album, and both Andy and Seb Komor have gone onto (many) other projects, with Andy’s now-long-running “side-project” Combichrist long-since his main focus.
It has been notable, though, that as time has gone on elements of the old IoC sound have encroached into Combichrist’s sound, with more vocals, more big choruses and even more melody, softening the edges of the aggressive sound Combichrist have had so much success with. This, performance, however, was an opportunity to forget all that followed and return to IoC’s sleek, anthemic futurepop sound, that sounded so striking from the very start.
For many people, too, including my girlfriend, this was a first opportunity to actually see them live. And in song choices, they appeared to recognise this, returning time and again to their older material, rolling out pretty much all of the old favourites that still sound unsullied by the passage of time. Yeah, so thrillcapsule and Shallow Nation had their arrangements messed about with, but everything else was as it should be, and what was initially a bit of a nostalgia trip quickly turned into a hugely enjoyable hour or so.
You Just Died
Existence: in progress
Dead Enough For Life
It wasn’t just the anthems, though – there were a few surprises, like old, old album track You Just Died, that as the synth hook kicked in nearly raised the roof, and some later songs that sounded particularly impressive. But that’s the thing about gigs like this, with no new material – the years since release have allowed everyone to be hugely familiar with all the songs, and of course everyone has their favourites.
So let’s just mention mine – early single Formerself was every bit as brilliant as when I first heard it, still pretty much a futurepop gold standard, and the closing Floorkiller hit very hard indeed, complete with the whole crowd continuing the synth refrain long after the song had ended! We weren’t going to be letting them be going anywhere with an encore, and “that cover”, of course, mind, and sure enough Andy recognised this, and duly delivered. Needless to say, Headhunter was a heck of a thrill, as it always is, and the techno-fied take IoC have on it is infinitely superior to any of the remixes of the song that were done a decade or so back.
Andy’s comments at the end of Floorkiller, though, hinted perhaps that they have tired of rehashing the past, and that this could be the last time IoC play live, and I guess his comments must throw into question the long-rumoured new IoC album, too. Unless he is just fucking with us, of course, but any new material would really have to go some to hit the levels of the songs aired here.
And, that, pretty much, was the end of my visit back to Sheffield, socially at least. We were far too drained to do the aftershow clubs on both nights, sadly, but to be honest it was the music I was there for. And for the most part, it delivered. As is always the case with festivals like this, not everyone is going to like every band, and anyway I’d rather that happened to allow variety and as broad an appeal as possible.
Socially it was a marvellous weekend, anyway, with lots of booze, silliness and the usual chance to catch up with friends from far, wide and a bit more besides. See you all next time!