This is one of the hardest years to write about in terms of my ‘man in the crowd’ perspective, as this was the era when my DJing and gigging schedules crossed over the most. I’ve already said that stories of those events will be told at a later date. Luckily, I didn’t quit being a ‘regular punter’ entirely, and hence there are a few live stories to be told.
Most of my 2012 live experiences occurred in small venues. I saw The Mission and The Cult in the Hammersmith Apollo (it was meant to be somewhere bigger and also feature Killing Joke, but wasn’t meant to be), and the next largest venues I visited were Bradford Uni (for Infest) and The Scala (for VNV). Most of the other shows I attended were in bar or pub level venues. In many cases, this featured bands ‘just starting out’ – plus (dare I say) a few cases of ‘has-been’ and ‘never quite was’, so the sparks of greatness were thinner on the ground than some years, but compensated for by the sheer variety and volume.
January and December 2012 – In a Solitary Field, In Some Nameless Foreign Land
VNV Nation have a habit of cropping up in this story time after time. Maybe it’s the devoted fanbase, maybe it’s Ronan’s Irish charm, but VNV gigs always used to have a certain ‘atmosphere’ about them. I say this in the past tense, as from 2013 onwards, their live shows have become laboured, flabby and lacking in ‘guts’. It’s the kind of decline bands rarely recover from – so I was fortunate that my 2012 was bookended by what I can only guess will be the last two VNV shows I’ll ever enjoy.
January 2012 is of course in the lyrics to ‘Honour’, and VNV played some shows to mark it, including the bizarre decision to play in the Purple Turtle pub, a 200-capacity venue that sold out very quickly. Indeed, the gig over-sold to the point that the regular guest-list had to be turned away Given how I never became a lasting member of that fraternity, all I can say to that is ‘schadenfreude’. The band even polled online to decide what songs to play, though this was a missed opportunity as most people voted for stuff already in the touring setlist. Anyway, this was a hot, packed and intense show, an rare occasion to see a band that had made it ‘big’ up-close.
The year ended with another VNV show, this time at The Forum. This was a straight ‘greatest hits’ set, but memorable as the only time since I first saw them where my two favourite songs (Joy and Solitary) got played on the same night, and numerous other favourites made it in too (sadly nothing from Advance and Follow, but otherwise on the money). It was a rare chance to get a truly exciting gig in that ‘between Christmas and New Year’ period, and a farewell to me enjoying this band as a live proposition.
August 2012 – Moving Your Hands
Infest provided the other live notable live action of the year, and it provided one of the strongest line-ups for ages. Their pick of the UK scene bands was spot-on. My East London friends in System:FX finally got a shot at playing the festival, electronics done with all energy and no messin’ about. There was also my first live experience of Tenek, successors to The Nine, but still the catchiest of catchy synthpop – the kind of thing that has you singing along with the choruses before you know what the lyrics are.
As for the overseas acts, much as I enjoyed Absurd Minds and Solitary Experiments, it was a trio of The Klinik (Dirk is something of an Infest legend), A Split-Second and Blitzmaschine that provided this festival’s defining moments. Old-school EBM rarely reaches these shores, and in an era where the wider electronic music scene was obsessing over Deadmau5 and Skrillex (fuck that), this felt like a real “pay attention children, you might learn something” moment. Suicide Commando, one of the names most credited for the 00s harsh EBM trend, might had headlined, but simply lacked the dynamism of the more stripped-down acts that came before.
The thing that got me was that whilst these three bands seem to have been well-received at the festival, it didn’t result in the revival of the style in the UK. Infest themselves booked very few acts in this style thereafter, though the 2017 line-up promises a return in that direction, whilst the club scene carried on with the tastemakers pushing various nightmarish EDM/dubstep inspired material, arguments usually being resolved on the “brute force” basis of either “who has the biggest friends list on Facebook” or “who has the highest-profile DJ slot”. If you think that last line is aimed at you, swallow your pride, it probably is.
Oh, and for those of you about to accuse me of some form of ‘genre fascism’, I do usually adopt a “live and let live” approach to style I don’t like. But only if I can either steer clear of them (most genres with ‘core’ in them fall under that banner). But the trends in electronic music at the time flaunted their stuff to such an extent that I could not afford this movement (of the bowel-churning bass variety) the same tolerance.
Plus these snapshots…..
You’ll read about most of the rest in my DJ story, but here’s a few more fragment from a ‘paying punter’ perspective.
- Getting stranded in London after a Clan of Xymox gig due a broken tube line and a snowfall messing up the buses.
- Spotting Gary Numan in the crowd in the Purple Turtle watching Sulpher. No, I didn’t say hello – he’d waited as long as me to see them again, after all.
- A dubstep DJ playing on stage between Heretics and She Wants Revenge – totally unsuited to the event and not in the booth where support DJs belong (we know our place). Do you now understand why I felt that genre flaunted its stuff just a little too much?
- Watching The Cult – Ian Astbury prefaced Sanctuary with a comment about a time when DJs were brave enough to play such things on the radio. I eventually did hear it on the radio two years later. On a local station. In Belfast.
- A number of small-scale events involving the Terminal Gods. I have to mention this as I suspect at least one of the band members will end up reading this and I’ve mentioned most of the other London local favourites at least once.