Memory of a Festival: 026: Infest 2016

Over the weekend of this year’s Infest, there was some discussion over the current state of the industrial (and wider) scene. In many other scenes – or indeed in “mainstream” popular music, there is an air of nostalgia as record labels struggling with new sales, are relying heavily on reissues of the old, particularly on vinyl.

Infest 2016

University of Bradford, Bradford
26/27/28-August 2016


Previous Infest Coverage:

The industrial scene is by no means immune, with said vinyl re-issues/remasters being a particularly popular purchase right now, but crucially, there is new music coming through, and it is also perhaps notable to consider how quickly the industrial landscape has shifted in the past few years, with aggrotech and more trance-oriented artists having been sidelined fast, as a newer sound has emerged, based-upon but very much building anew on (mainly) nineties industrial, often with guitars.

Both sides of this coin were very much in evidence at Infest 2016. There were newer incarnations of bands from the past, bands from the past still going strong, bands new to British audiences, up-and-coming British talent, and at least one new(ish) band very much on the rise. Not all of the bands were to my taste – in fact I’m not sure anyone I know or talked to over the weekend liked every band – but that’s the way festivals work.

As a result, there are a variety of opinions across this review, and you may not agree with them, but this is of course my perspective on the weekend. Other things to note – photos can be found by clicking on the links in the sidebar, or by clicking on the photos featured here, and if you wish to use them elsewhere, feel free, but as they are Creative Commons licenced, please do me the courtesy of crediting me if you do.

Finally, I was once again assisting my friends at Storming The Base over the weekend (and will be again next year), and I should thank Jacek for allowing me the time while working to go and photograph and/or watch the various bands I covered.

A few delays with late-arriving equipment, and thus late soundchecking, meant that the first night of Infest ran uncharacteristically late (things are usually very punctual), but happily none of the band’s sets were cut short, although I could well believe that the DJs on the evening may not have been too happy – but these things happen.

Infest 2016: Bands: 26-Aug 2016: Massive EgoThis meant that Friday openers Massive Ego ended up onstage rather later expected – but on the flipside this did mean that they got a bigger crowd than they bargained for. That big crowd got an…ok performance. The band certainly look very striking, make the right moves, and clearly believe in what they do, but for me their glamourous take on synthpop-rock didn’t really do too much else for me. I was struggling later this evening to remember any of their songs, and three days on pretty much the whole lot has gone. Maybe I’ll try again next time they play in London.

Infest 2016: Bands: 26-Aug 2016: Me The TigerThe same thing could never be levelled at Me The Tiger, who were one of the standout acts, and very much one of the talking points, of the entire weekend. A female-fronted Swedish synthpop band, was about all I knew about them beforehand, but it turned that live, at least, they were rather more than that. As their name suggests, they had rather more bite. Although the intro track was a little dull, any doubts were dispelled by the utterly glorious opening track proper, Pocket Sized Edition Ending, whose skyscraping chorus had me and half the crowd singing along by the second time around, and I was sold on the band by the third. There was also something of an infectious joy to the band. I believe it was the first time the band had played the UK, and their enthusiasm to be playing here – not to mention their knack with catchier-than-the-plague hooks – made them an awful lot of new fans, and it was notable that their CDs sold out from the stall in minutes afterward.

One of the other talking points from Friday night came from a very, very different, and rather darker, band, in the form of Portland, Oregon band Dead When I Found Her. Regular readers of I’m sure will be familiar with them by now, as I’ve written about them enough (all coverage here), but for those who aren’t: DWIFH are an atmospheric, complex industrial act, very much influenced by “classic” Skinny Puppy and Mentallo & The Fixer, but with more of an emotional core and some serious studio chops.

So for those of us who were familiar with their recorded work, the question on our lips was, well, how on earth was this going to work live? Thankfully, the answer was surprisingly well, and it also highlighted a few things I’d not previously clocked about the band’s progress over the past six years or so.

Dead When I Found Her setlist:
The Unclean
Better Days
Expiring Time
Fixer Fixed
New Drugs
The Proof
Rain Machine
Tantrum [new song]
Spitting Seeds

For a start, just how much the sound of the band has evolved in just three albums. The two songs from debut Harm’s Way (long since unavailable on CD, and soon-to-be-reissued on ArtofFact) really stood out in style, their heavy use of guitars and much more “rock” feel seemed rather out of place – even though I adore Fixer Fixed in particular, as it was the song that hooked me in the first place.

Second album Rag Doll Blues was represented by two songs also, the poppier-edged Better Days and Rain Machine, both long-time standouts from that album and, the more I think about it, likely contenders for songs of theirs that I’d use as “first tastes” if I was going to recommend them to someone.

Infest 2016: Bands: 26-Aug 2016: Dead When I Found HerAs we have since found, though, All The Way Down went beyond that in beauty, style and sound. An overwhelmingly dense album to the casual listener, it is perhaps understandable that only one song was played from the album proper, in the form of the elegant, piano-led opener Expiring Time, which was a rare ballad across a weekend of generally energetic music and fairly aggressive themes. Instead, Michael Holloway turned to the limited second CD from that album (now available on Bandcamp – and I cannot recommend it highly enough) for the bouncy, catchy rhythms of New Drugs, and most impressively, closing out the set with the astonishing industrial symphonics of Spitting Seeds, part retro-jazzy ambience, part-stomping industrial dance monster, and it reinforced in my mind that it is by far the best song DWIFH have yet released.

There was even a glimpse of the future, too, with new song Tantrum leaving jaws on the floor. It jettisons most of the atmospherics of recent times for a pounding, Caustic Grip-era synth hook, and prime-Puppyesque rhythmic freakout, seemingly replicating some form of furious emotional episode, and it sounded astounding. Eyes On Backwards is out later in the autumn, and expect more coverage of that album when it drops.

It was back to familiar live territory after that, for Pop Will Eat Itself joining the Infest fray. There were a few eyebrows raised about their appearance here, but the reality is that for a large proportion of the industrial scene, these guys were (and in many cases still are) very much part of our lives and listening, and they’ve been surprisingly influential along the way too.

Pop Will Eat Itself setlist:
The Incredible P.W.E.I. vs The Moral Majority
Preaching To the Perverted
Dance of the Mad Bastards
Everything’s Cool
Wise Up! Sucker
Nosebleeder Turbo TV
Director’s Cut
Chaos & Mayhem
OldSkool Cool
Watch The Bitch Blow
They Can’t Take (What You Won’t Let ‘Em Have)
Ich Bin Ein Auslander
Get the Girl! Kill The Baddies!
Their Law
Can U Dig It

The Poppies have actually been around since the late-eighties, and their line-up has shifted a number of times over the years, with Clint Mansell not having been involved since their first reformation (the exceptional Reformation shows in early 2005 where they basically played everything I’d ever want to hear), and since they reactivated properly about six years back, Mary Byker (of Gaye Bikers on Acid) has taken Mansell’s place, joining original member Graham Crabb on vocals, and Fuzz Townshend has now rejoined too on the drums.

I’ve seen the band quite a few times over the years (most recently at Cold Waves in Chicago last year), and while this show wasn’t quite up to the heights of that, it was still pretty damned good. Despite the new line-up, and the new material (there have now been two albums and a few singles since reformation), the band are still wise enough to understand that for many gig-goers, particularly at festivals, they want the hits.

Infest 2016: Bands: 26-Aug 2016: Pop Will Eat ItselfFor the most part, the band delivered, with beaming smiles suggesting that they were as happy bouncing and leaping around the stage to the likes of Everything’s Cool and Wise Up! Sucker as we were doing the same in the crowd. It was in songs like these, too, that the influence on other bands loomed large. Everything’s Cool is surely the punishing crunch of 3TEETH two decades earlier, while Everything Goes Cold, Caustic and (shudder) Petrol Bastard certainly owe quite a debt to The Poppies generally as well.

There were a few missteps for me, though, in the set. There was quite a bit of new material lumped together in the middle of the set, that rather killed momentum and atmosphere (it was fairly obvious that a good proportion of the crowd were either unfamiliar or entirely unaware of the new stuff), and as a few of the crowd drifted away in disinterest, it meant that what should have been a victory lap through their most beloved songs didn’t quite have the celebrationary atmosphere that it should have had – although Their Law, and it’s furious vocal refrain (originally about the Criminal Justice Act, but equally applicable to a few Government decisions since) went down a storm, and Ich Bin Ein Auslander (pointedly dedicated to the victims of the increase in hate crime since the Brexit vote) was also a popular choice.

And, y’know, it was also very clear indeed that none of us are bored of Can U Dig It or Def.Con.One yet, either. Also great to see was the band happily hanging out with fans after the show, and saying how awesome Infest was – being so friendly and open like that is not something all headliners do, that’s for sure…

As is traditionally the way, reports were that post-band partying went on long into the night, and the many pale faces, sore heads and croaky voices were testament to that.

Infest 2016: Bands: 27-Aug 2016: TapewyrmSo it is probably quite possible that Tapewyrm were exactly what many Infest goers didn’t need to open Saturday, being probably the heaviest and noisiest act on the lineup. But for those who could or wanted to stand it, they were rewarded with a brutal half-hour of industrial power-noise that took in barrages of overlayered rhythms that were like airstrikes, tribal drumming like declarations of war, and surprisingly groovy, danceable rhythms that suggest a bright future ahead for this project.

It is also notable that Tapewyrm is a new British noise artist – something I’ve not seen too much of since the early 2000s when there was something of a resurgence of the scene. More would be lovely – and I’ve also seen a few new noise-based nights beginning to reappear – but in the meantime I’m happy to suggest that if you need a neighbour-bothering, angry noise sound in your life, Tapewyrm could be exactly what you need.

One of those wonderful Infest style clashes followed – over the course of one day at the festival you could easily wonder across much of the industrial/goth spectrum, and this Saturday was certainly one of those – with the act following that noise attack being the whole lot more accessible Monica Jeffries.

Infest 2016: Bands: 27-Aug 2016: Monica JeffriesProbably the most gothic-oriented artist on an Infest bill in a few years, her work is one with a very much European flavour, where the goth doesn’t just rely on basslines but actually rocks very hard indeed, with great melodies and accessible, enjoyable songs. Her slick live show is also clearly one of hard work – she’s toured extensively with The Crüxshadows, Project Pitchfork and Front Line Assembly, and that has clearly paid off in how good she was live. It was also notable for being the only CD my wife bought all weekend…

I wasn’t really in the mood for Hysteresis, so it turned out. Their (very) bass heavy grooves were ok, but it didn’t really go anywhere for me, and I reckon listening to them on CD might well make more sense.

The “show” of the weekend, though, more than likely went to Grausame Töchter. It was certainly something to watch – fetish/BDSM-themed industrial rock (now I think about it, actually, it wasn’t a million miles from what Genitorturers have long been doing in the US, but with a more electronic feel), but let’s be honest – much of the audience attention was not on the music.

Infest 2016: Bands: 27-Aug 2016: Grausame TöchterThe focus of pretty much everything is vocalist Aranea Peel, who came onstage in a glittery silver dress, and her general look and demeanour made her look terrifying – a feeling made all the more real (at least to us in the photo pit!) when she started swinging a very large and real-looking knife around during the second track. I’ve never seen so many photographers flinch at once.

Otherwise, there was (lots of) nudity, there was on-stage spanking, there was urination on stage. I didn’t envy those in the crew mopping up the stage afterward, and while it was certainly an eye-popping show, without all of the showy elements, we’d be left with an unremarkable industrial rock band who happen to sing about the darker side of sex.

Talking of the darker side of things, next up was Velvet Acid Christ, an artist hardly unfamiliar with this part of the mind. A highly anticipated show for many – only his second UK show ever (the first being his lengthy – over two hours – show at Electrowerkz almost exactly two years ago) – Bryan Erickson once again proved just how divisive his long-running project is.

Velvet Acid Christ setlist:
Pretty Toy
Fun With Drugs
Bend The Sky
Phucking Phreak
Ghost In The Circuit

I can appreciate this. Fairly heavily drug-influenced electro-industrial is a (fairly big) niche within the industrial scene, and an awful lot of older Velvet Acid Christ material has always been best appreciated when on a dancefloor and utterly binned.

But as I noted in my look at the Greatest Hits release earlier in the year, dig a little deeper and there are some remarkable songs in his back catalogue – many of which didn’t even make that collection. This live show ended up covering both sides of this, and was perhaps one of those sets that fans might enjoy more than others.

While there were four people onstage, the focus was unquestionably on Erickson (I understood his usual live associates couldn’t make it over, so he recruited more locally for this and presumably for the other European dates coming up), and indeed this time around there were no female vocals, meaning songs like Slut, and others, were missed out. It also sounded very, very clean and tight – too much so at points – suggesting that a fair amount was on a backing track, but in the industrial scene, that really would be nothing new.

Infest 2016: Bands: 27-Aug 2016: Velvet Acid ChristThis was fine by me, as it allowed other songs to feature instead. Particular highlights this time around included a storming Malfunction early on, the umpteenth variant of the evergreen Phucking Phreak, and best of all, an utterly scorching take on Dial8, long the best VAC dancefloor track of all, and it was perhaps one of the few moments where a tepid crowd actually started moving a bit.

It wasn’t all perfect – it really did meander at points, losing the interest of a few, but I think that VAC is very much an artist where you need to be willing to immerse yourself in the sound and judging on the amount of the chatter in the crowd (a plague all weekend, sadly), few were doing so. Their loss.

There are no photos of Atari Teenage Riot, and there is a good reason for that – the band actually refused to allow any press photography of the show (while we knew on Friday, those of us with press/photo pit/SLR passes were all informed officially on Saturday by e-mail – although I believe at least one official staff member was eventually allowed to shoot). I have to say I was curious as to why – maybe they just, as it proved, planned to be using the photo pit and barriers as part of the stage. Or maybe they don’t want bad coverage or poor photography.

Well, if they wanted to avoid negative coverage, they needed to be a whole lot better than they were at Infest. Some context is important, though. Back in the nineties, ATR were a genuinely dangerous band. Coming from the politically active, left-wing and vehemently anti-fascist underworld of Berlin, they tore in the conciousness with some brutal, gabba/power-noise-meets-industrial-punk anthems, scared the bejesus out of the mainstream and played some amazing shows. I saw them opening at Reading Festival in ’99, on the Saturday lunchtime, and they sounded like a riot was breaking out onstage and in my head (I was massively hungover, and ATR did not help that).

The band eventually disintegrated after Hanin Elias left, and MC Carl Crack died of an overdose – and with both Alec Empire and Nic Endo having relatively successful solo projects (as did Elias), it was questionable if they’d ever return.

But they did, as this decade turned, but the new material was very much in the ilk of Empire’s own work, and a live show at the Garage was disappointly tame…and this is what happened here, too. Less of an Atari Teenage Riot, more of an Apple Middle Age Scuffle.

There was Alec Empire exhorting the crowd from the off to “make some fucking noise!” (play something to get us going and we will, right?), and Nic Endo (without her iconic makeup) playing something of a second fiddle to Empire’s voice. But the really damning bit? It wasn’t loud enough. Everything about ATR’s material was about extremities, particularly the volume. So to hear that it was quiet enough to be able to talk to someone without having to shout? Fuck.

In addition, the new material is kinda dull. Yeah, it rages against Wikileaks, governments, racists, the usual, but it just feels half-hearted. And this was all made so much clearer by the brutal closing trio, where the old ATR finally reappeared. The ghost of Slayer entered the room as No Remorse (I Wanna Die) was unleashed, and as the BPM skyrocketed suddenly there was a buzz again, and the following Speed kicked even harder. There was even the political fury of old, too, as they closed their main set with what became their calling card, Revolution Action, where they detailed their plans for a revolution and sounded like they meant it. It’s the one song that really misses the late Carl Crack (especially as the new MC they had last time was nowhere to be seen), though, and it paled a little after the pair that preceded it.

So, this wasn’t a great show by any means. It was wonderful to be reminded of more idealistic days where there was modern punk and protest music being made, but ATR nowadays, like so many other bands, seem to have lost the will to fight, like much of their audience. Politics have now swung uncomfortably far to the right in much of the western world, and it’s beginning to feel that many are now acting like there isn’t a way to win. A soundtrack and clarion call to fight for the left – or just good people – is needed, and while it should be job of a new generation to be fighting, ATR now come across as if their music is strictly business. In other words, they’ve been co-opted into the mainstream they once purported to fight.

So, onto Sunday and what is a frequently something of a graveyard shift, as the hungover masses shuffle in like zombies and frequently the first band or two on Sunday get rather sparse, tired crowds. This was, pretty much, the fate that met Johnny Normal, and afterward it seemed to have been an artist that rather split opinion. I mean, they were ok, but do we need another band that sound rather like Gary Numan, and doing covers of Adam Ant songs? This was very much a case of a band that is spending so much time looking backward that they forgot to make a sound for themselves, that will make them stand out.

Infest 2016: Bands: 28-Aug 2016: VigilanteFollowing that, Vigilante certainly stood out, and injected a mighty amount of energy into the room, too, waking up those hungover zombies in short order. Musically they were storming, a techno-bass-breaks rock hybrid, not unlike Pendulum in some respects as they hit insane peaks, dropped some heavy breaks, and got everyone dancing like looks. But – and there is always a but – man, the hippy-dippy, idealistic politics really ground my gears. We don’t need to “become one”, or “come together” to make things better, we need to fucking burn it down and fight back. I appreciate that Vigilante come from a different part of the world (South America, as I recall), and so perspective is key, but broad brush political nothingness like this is selling records, nothing else.

Infest 2016: Bands: 28-Aug 2016: RRoyceSundays have long been associated with synthpop bands at Infest, so it was a bit of a surprise to find just one such band on the bill on this Sunday, but the good thing was that I really quite enjoyed RRoyce. They very much fit the standard mould of Germanic synthpop, with big, sweeping choruses and upbeat rhythms, and at points didn’t half sound like Solitary Experiments, but their great songs made it worth listening to, and anyway, I can always find room for more synthpop in my listening routines.

There had been quite a bit of anticipation for Displacer pre-festival, and I have to say that I was kinda surprised that he hadn’t played Infest before. So it was a welcome appearance, and as it turned out the whole set was really quite brilliant. Joined by occasional collaborator Keef Baker onstage, this was a sublime forty-five minutes of what would usually be termed IDM, but I think it rather deserves more than that. This was a sinuous set of elegant, mellow electronics, with passages that wandered but never meandered, and Keef added guitar textures to the sound – it even had a funk feel at points – but it was always as part of a wider whole rather than dominating any part. An exceptional forty-five minutes that was possibly one of the finest of it’s kind I’ve ever seen at Infest.

Infest 2016: Bands: 28-Aug 2016: Leæther StripEarlier in the afternoon, long before Leæther Strip took the stage, Claus Larsen happened to drop by the Storming the Base stall, and he said that he was going to do an “old-school, punkier set”. He wasn’t wrong. His first greeting on stage – “…finally. Hello!” – referred to the long, long wait for LS to at last take to the Infest stage, and from then on, it was eighty punishing minutes of classic electro-industrial, where the pace barely dropped for the whole time. Honestly, I have no idea how he did it – I was knackered just watching it.

Leæther Strip Setlist:
Don’t Tame Your Soul
Civil Disobedience
Kiss My Deutschland
Crash Flight 232
Fit For Flogging
What’s Hell Really Like
Strap Me Down
I Am Your Conscience
Japanese Bodies
Black Leather [The Klinik cover]
Desert Storm
Body Machine Body
Sex Dwarf [Soft Cell cover]

As he promised, this was very much a retro, greatest hits set. At least half of the set was from the early nineties material, where he made his name and released punishing dancefloor track after another, and the set felt like the most killer dancefloor set ever. Right from the off, as Don’t Tame Your Soul rolled out that roared chorus, before the military precision EBM of Civil Disobedience – the best LS track of the past decade – had the entire room jumping, and this was only two songs in!

The hits kept on coming through the set, with a particular highlight being old, old favourites Strap Me Down and Japanese Bodies tossed away mid-set. The latter, in it’s lengthy, extended format, is probably my favourite LS track of all (my original route in, too), and that opening synth hook has been copied and recycled by quite a few other bands since. There was even nods to Claus’s own influences, with both The Klinik and Soft Cell covered – and both help to show how LS, despite the aggressive sound, have run with a similiarly minimalistic take on electro-EBM. It’s just that LS made it harder, louder, and groovier than either.

Before Sex Dwarf closed things out, the final LS track was a bruising take on Body Machine Body, one final furious march of his exhausted troops in the crowd. This was an awesome set, and well worth the lengthy wait – I’d waited years to see Leæther Strip live – to see it.

Infest 2016: Bands: 28-Aug 2016: 3TEETHWhich left many of us wondering, how on earth could 3TEETH possibly follow that? For those of us who’d seen 3TEETH live before, the answer was fairly simple – loudly. I’ve now seen the band live in each of the last three calendar years (2014, 2015 and 2016), and their evolution as a live band has been interesting to watch. First time ’round, at Cold Waves, it was a slightly mechanical performance as they were still working out the live show, the Slimelight show last year was chaotic, but far more fluid and punchy, while this was a further level up.

3TEETH setlist:
Final Product
Insubstantia [new song]
<shutdown.exe> [new song]
Sell Your Face
Pearls 2 Swine
Master of Decay


Their time on tour with Tool has clearly loosened them up a bit, and given them a much fuller sound live, and indeed the newer material (including a couple of brand new songs) aired at this show had obviously been written with live performance in mind, something that wasn’t perhaps the case in the first place. Not that you’d know it from the usual opening salvo of NIHIL, X-Day and Final Product, which still remains an unbelievably ballsy piece of front-loading of the set that they get away with every single time.

NIHIL remains their calling card, really. That ominous, clanking intro, the stomping, robotic beats and the single two-line refrain will likely be their opening track live for a long time yet, but it is also interesting that the band have not, thus far, returned to the violent carnage that X-Day is (restrained verses, rampaging, thrash-industrial-metal chorus). If there is one possible criticism of their set, it can be a little one-paced at times, especially as a number of the newer tracks followed a similar, admittedly impressive, style. Sometimes, too, the vocals aren’t always totally audible amid the shredding maelstrom, but at the volume that the band play, this could well be an issue regardless.

That said, if new single Atrophy is anything to go by, the new album should still kick very hard. The use of restraint and multi-layered, glitchy synths and beats gives way to a monstrous, grinding chorus of the kind that Nine Inch Nails used to specialise in back in the nineties (and long since left behind), complete with anthemic vocals and a feeling that this and the new albumis going to be very much a stepping stone to much bigger things than Infest (Indeed it was confirmed that the new album <shutdown.exe> is now due in February, according to what was said during the show, so a bit longer to wait yet).

Perhaps understandably, too, the crowd flagged a bit later in the set, despite heavier, more energetic tracks being the order of the day at the end, but the short break before the now usual unleashing of Eradicate as an encore seemed to inject a ton more energy again that saw everyone baying for more by the end.

Where next for 3TEETH? They’ve risen through the industrial ranks extremely fast – we only first heard of them three years ago – and in that time they’ve come from talking to small circulation websites like my own, to having videos premiered by the likes of Billboard and Rolling Stone. For once, it looks like a band is going to cross over, out of the smaller industrial pond and into much bigger seas. All power to them, and anyway, this is a sound that will appeal to metalheads and rivetheads alike. We should applaud their success, and I certainly intend on doing so.

Infest 2016: People: 26/27/28-Aug 2016This was a festival that absolutely flashed past. Before I knew it, before I’d had much chance to think about what I’d seen, things I’d been recommended, friends I’d missed along the way, we were already on the train home. Infest remains, as it edges toward it’s twentieth anniversary in a few years time, a survivor. A festival that has created a family that now stretches across the world, friendships that have endured for years, and bands that come back as punters after they’ve played because they love it so much.

In addition, it also treads a fine line between that idea of indulging both nostalgia and the future, and this year, perhaps more than any before it, that line was better balanced than ever. The headliners covered both bases, and a number of the smaller acts – and indeed some of the DJs – here were part of the future of our scene. It has been discussed at many points that the scene needed younger blood, those enthusiastic to take it forward as some of the older generation drop out for one reason or another, and this year this was much in evidence, and you know what? The future of industrial in the UK may well be in safe hands after all. It’ll be interesting to compare and contrast with Cold Waves in Chicago in a few weeks time, where the line-up this year is similarly balanced between old and new, and I’ll be reporting from that once again too.

Anyway, put the date in your diary for Infest 2017 – 25/26/27 August. I’ll be there, will you?

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