I was a late starter to live music. My first ever gig ticket was an 18th birthday present. It would be another few years before I caught the gigging bug. But even those early shows gave me stories to tell.
June 1997 – It started with a Laser Harp……
Seated in the Wembley Arena next to my old friend Anthony, awaiting the arrival of my childhood musical icon, Jean Michel Jarre. The audience seemed tense and uncomfortable, the generation gap between old and young just a little too obvious. Jarre’s fanbase covers all age groups, and not everyone wanted to stay seated for the duration. We young un’s would dance to anything, the older fans preferring the comfort of their plastic seats.
A group of people on the far side of the arena attempted to resolve the tension by triggering a Mexican wave. After a couple of minutes of false starts, the whole arena was suddenly awash with arms, everyone suddenly remembered why they were here, and, as if on cue, the lights dimmed and the screen shielding the stage fell.
A green laser shot down from the ceiling, fanning out across the centre of the stage. Monsieur Jarre was right behind, cutting the beams and triggering the opening notes of ‘Oxygene 7′. My induction into the world of live music had begun. And the first instrument I’d hear through a concert PA just happened to be the most obscure device of all. A Laser Harp.
December 1998 – Consumed With Memories
Fast forward 18 months. Halfway through my degree, but more importantly at the end of what I’d call the worst year of my life so far (only 2001 would later compare to it). My uni life was collapsing around me for the second time (having pulled myself back from the brink once already). I’d had enough of my college, degree, hall of residence, the lot. I’d developed some alternative music tastes by now, but couldn’t at the time find a social life to match it.
One cold December morning, a call from Anthony unexpectedly arrived, returning the favour of the Jarre gig the previous year. We were off to see Fear Factory, and a bunch of mates from back home were coming along too. That evening. Time to find out what a metal gig was like at incredibly short notice. It so happened that ‘Obsolete’ was one of my favourite albums of the year, ‘Demanufacture’ I liked even more. In a break from my usual military precision, it was time to cancel the evenings plans involving some kind of alcohol-fuelled carol service. I had to see this.
Trev, already a veteran of the metal scene, decided that the best place for me was standing at the back looking after people’s stuff. Bollocks to that. Despite all warnings, I was going down into the pit. The opening salvo of Shock, Zero Signal and Self-Bias Resistor and I was still standing. Then came ‘Edgecrusher’ and it was time to ATTACK!!! I discovered, up-front and personal, what a mosh-pit was, and being six foot tall and heavily built, I found I could hold my own just fine. And not just survival. I was going to fight to the front.
Amid songs old and new, the pain of the year just gone began to alleviate. I was where I needed to be. By the closing chords of ‘Pisschrist’, I was within a couple of metres of Burton C.Bell. And then came the opening orchestrations of ‘Resurrection’. I loved that song, still do. And the lyrical sentiment of the song summed up a crucial turning point – slowly but surely, everything would turn round in my life from here.
Back into the pit afterwards, still moshing hard to ‘Replica’ at the end of the set. I emerged from the pit to find my buddies from Brentwood waiting for me at the back. Trev, frankly amazed that I’d outlasted him in the pit, grudgingly goes ‘Not Bad For A First Try’.
1999 – A short hiatus
I’ve noted that when people tell stories like this, they wax lyrical about all the exotic locations that they visited. Or sometimes fail to. I used to have a colleague who’d spent 6 months in office jobs stashing and 6 months travelling. I knew him shortly after his tour of Australia, a place with plenty of beaten tracks to veer off. Yet he could not spin one exciting tale of his adventures. Analysis of which precise brand of sandal was most appropriate for exploration down under hardly counts as a memorable anecdote.
In comparison, my 1999 was spent in a remarkably confined space. Take a map of London and Essex and draw a rough oval around Hammersmith, Kentish Town, London Bridge and Shenfield. I didn’t leave that area once, despite it otherwise being a cathartic rebuilding year for all of my previously shattered hopes. 1999 was the year where I started clubbing at alternative nights, discovering a whole host of new bands, Rammstein and Apoptygma Berzerk especially. It was also the year I discovered the alternative scene within my university – small but (eventually) making itself heard.
Yet I didn’t manage to see a single gig. Attempts to see live bands, NIN and Type O Negative never came together. But the appetite was growing. I’ve included this section only as a lesson to those self-righteous types who seem to think that distant travels or attendance at vast numbers of significant events is needed to live a rich and fulfilling life. Exactly how I turned things round in 1999 is a longer tale to be told later, but for now, let’s pick up the live action in 2000.
May 2000 – And I Need Your Chemicals
My next gig was actually my first sight of established favourite Apoptygma Berzerk, which I mainly remember for falling on that once-in-every-four years ‘leap day’ and Stephan Groth’s ‘Polizei’ T-shirts. But this is meant to be about relevant memories, not irrelevant ones. A few months on and it was during a clubbing visit to Full Tilt that I won a ticket to Flag’s first ever ‘Gotham’ festival. I had no idea about any of the line-up barring one Xymox 12″. But what the hell, a free ticket, after my exams were all done. Why not go along and check it out?
No-one else I knew was interested in going, but I went along in relatively high spirits and sure enough, I got into the spirit of things once I got there, and actually quite enjoyed the sets by Mechanical Cabaret and Killing Miranda, which was just as well as I’d see plenty more of them as the years went on. I met a few people I’d previously met in London clubs at the venue, so I wasn’t as lonely as I was worried I’d be, either.
But it was Diary Of Dreams that stole the show for me. It was clear that a lot of people had come especially for them, and it would be a hypnotising set, utilising on this tour a dual-vocal approach. I was won over immediately, especially when they got to a song that was quite obviously called ‘Chemicals’. I had no money to actually buy a CD at the time, but I kept requesting ‘Chemicals’ at every club I went to until I saved up the pennies to buy a copy.
The money would eventually arrive via unfortunate means. I was due to see Nine Inch Nails at the Lost Weekend the day after my degree result was announced and I left uni, but they pulled out. Not tempted by a line-up now headlined by Ash (WTF?), I got a refund and purchased said CD at Resurrection later that day. It’s had more than a few plays since then.
There were other gigs in 2000, including my first chance to see VNV Nation and Front 242, but unemployed and unwanted after the end of my degree, I was never in the best frame of mind to enjoy them. 2001 would bring little improvement to my state of mind, but as you’ll soon read, my gigging tally began to grow……
Plus these snapshots…..
I can’t write a full account of every gig (well, won’t actually), but there is more to my gigging experiences than just these stories. To capture the remainder, I’ll end each chapter with a selection of short, isolated memories from the gigs I didn’t cover in full. Sure, they may be rejects and near misses from the main text, but they all bear some relevance.
- Watching the Chemical Brothers at midnight at Brixton, with no idea how I was going to get home
- Richard Pyne from Killing Miranda comically baiting a predominantly-gothic audience, something I’d later discover was a personal trademark
- The Galan Pixs covering ‘Closer’ a couple of weeks after NIN pulled out of the Lost Weekend.
- Going home from Black Celebration with The Nine’s ‘Transmission’ stuck in my head. Said song wasn’t released for several month – what a wait to hear it again!
- Thinking I’d discovered the next generation of industrial metal in Sulpher, only for Rob Holliday to instead choose the life of jobbing guitarist for arena-scale bands a couple of years later.