20 Years Of Live Music – Part 14 (2013)

The other notable event in 2012 was the start of a relationship that’s still going strong today. It’s not something I’m going to write about here or in any future piece, Mandy is very happy to remain the ‘private’ half of the couple, but I can’t write this piece without giving her some credit for my live music experiences, especially in 2013. The story of how we obtained Kraftwerk tickets, for instance – is hers to tell, not mine, and it’s also thanks to her that my return to Wave-Gotik-Treffen was secured, as was my farewell to outdoor festivals.

February 2013 – Music-Non-Stop

This was not my first experience of Kraftwerk live – I’d seen them on their 2004 tour, the one you see on the Minimum-Maximum DVD. But the story of this set of shows and the ticketing fiasco preceding it has passed into legend – suffice to say I was going to see the sixth of the eight “classic album” performances in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern. The album “Techno Pop”, previously released as “Electric Café” was thought to be one of their ‘lesser’ recordings, but given the circumstances, we’d take anything.

On arrival, we received a pair of 3D glasses, an unexpected development. It seems that despite being down to a single original member touring no material less than a decade old, they weren’t going to turn down a chance to ‘get with the times’. 3D cinema might now be thought of as a passing fad, but here it was the “right place, right time”. Never happy to sit on their laurels, these most static of live performers had a decided that a third dimension was the most logical next step to take.

As for the show, the ‘classic’ album was delivered within the first half-hour of the event (BOING-BOOM-TSCHAK – PING!) leaving the remaining time for a decent run through the classics, including full-length takes on ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Trans-Europe Express’, a reference to ‘Fukushima’ inserted into ‘Radioactivity’ (did I mention they liked to keep with the times) and nearly all of ‘The Man-Machine’.

I remember ‘Spacelab’ cropping up unexpectedly, yet genuinely feeling the space-station imagery was flying out of the screen and across the venue, the only time I’d experience 3D cinema and felt the effect. The concept that Kraftwerk now think of themselves as curators of an exhibit rather than a traditional live band might have come across as quite pretentious had it from a lesser name, but they at least have earned the right.

May 2013 – This Ain’t No Disco…..

Back, at last, to Wave-Gotik-Treffen. 2009 was skipped due to the expense – I had other valid used for the money, and history tells me this was nothing if not prudent, so I don’t regret missing that one, especially as many of the Brit scene crowd joined me in absence for similar credit-crunch oriented reasons. 2010 was all personal baggage, 2011 was all about buying a flot, so missing WGT those years was also understandable. By 2012, I’d fallen out of the habit. Regulars warn you of the dangers of ‘giving up your hotel room’, but in reality that only matters if you have a loyalty to a particular one.

Anyway, my return was important on a personal level, but also on a musical one. Remember my comment about three bands that were essentially old-school EBM at Infest 2012 and how it failed to spark a revival in the style in the UK? No problems with that in Germany, where the style was much in evidence and even resulted in complaints about there not being enough ‘harsh’ (new-school) EBM on the bill and the resultant creation of a Thursday Night Tactical Sekt show. Fellow Brits asked me if they’d see me there. Of course not, I was off watching Jäger 90 at the old-school warm-up……

We weren’t just watching EBM. In Strict Confidence headlined the CabbageCircus on the Friday night. I remember Mandy described the band as “namby pamby” and the female singer as a “gothic clothes horse”. I actually liked their songs enough not to worry about that, but the thinking behind that comment became clear 24 hours later. Not before I finally saw Velvet Acid Christ live, great songs but not a frontman comfortable in massive venues, his subsequent UK shows were much better.

Add a Suicide Commando set comprised of 90s material and we were all ready for Leæther Strip, now a husband & husband live show. Kurt remains behind the keyboard stand throughout, leaving Claus Larsen to throw his substantial frame around the Agra stage. This was the musical equivalent of a raw meat main course (VAC providing the vegan starter) and the mosh-pit was in motion throughout.

Mainly Saxons and Swedes from what I could tell, but with the cropped hair, obscure EBM band T-shirt and suchlike, I realised that for the duration of this set at least, these men were my body-beat brothers. The set delivered all the favourites, but the usual closing cover of ‘Sex Dwarf’ was replaced with a cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Nodisco’. Remembering the Essex connection – Nitzer Ebb hail from there, as do I – it was time to belt it out like a Brit.

Good shows would also be seen by the likes of A Split-Second, Pankow, Orange Sector and Brigade Werther. Even KMFDM seemed to have found their touch again. Bands like IAMX and VNV Nation just seemed saccharine-sweet and ponderous in comparison to this. The bitterest pill was the train home from the airport on the Tuesday – I was returning to a scene where I was increasingly losing connection with what was going on. Individuality is no fun if it kills your social life. Perhaps a break from the industrial scene would help?

July 2013 – I’m a Professional Cynic, But My Heart’s Not In It

When Rock Werchter announced its early line-up, it looked surprisingly tempting – Editors (not seen yet), Depeche Mode (not seen for 10 years), Blur (90s revival!) and Rammstein (haven’t you been paying attention?). Only two trains from St.Pancras, too, so tickets were booked. Finding accommodation was tricky (no lectures about camping, please) and the only other band of interest to join the bill thereafter was Nick Cave, but in any case, we were set for a weekend back in the mainstream.

Initial impressions were not good – the stages were offering a mix of landfill indie, on-trend EDM (nice lightshows, shame about the music) and ’emotional’ singer-songwriters, something the music industry regards as an ‘easy sell’ in these times. Also plenty of drunken lunatics thrashing their limbs about (mosh-pitting is communal, bashing people mindlessly isn’t). Briefly thought about an hour after arrival that “this wasn’t such a good idea”. Then discovered you could earn free drinks by collection empty glasses – 20 cups = 1 drink token. Litter pickers paid in beer? That’ll cover us until something good comes on. It duly became an obsession – by my estimation we save 40 Euros on drinks during the weekend via this economy.

Vitalic eventually dished up a modern dance style we could actually dance to, and Blur finally played in the early hours of the morning, and a band from my pre-gigging era was finally in the bag. The next day saw my first live experience of Nick Cave – always a good songwriter and professional performer, and my only recent experience of the now-massive Rammstein stage show. The HD screens erected might have helped us pick out details we couldn’t otherwise see, but even from a distance you can really FEEL an R+ show in all it’s fire and glory.

The final day could deliver quite insipid performances by Depeche Mode and Editors, both acts seemingly past their best, but at least we got a surprisingly entertaining show by 30 Seconds To Mars, not my usual rock sound of choice, but who at least knew that big festival stages were about more than slogging through the setlist and really played to the crowd as a result.

All that said, my final assessment was “Glad I did it once, but never again!”, Some good music, but I never felt like I fitted in. You’ll never see me at the big corporate UK festivals, I’ve retired from doing M’era Luna and whilst I was planning one last outdoor jaunt with Alt-Fest 2014, we probably all remember what went wrong there…..

As for the rest of the year, a mix of old favourites and small club-level shows occupied us (read the snapshots if you must know), before returning to Belgium for BIMFest in December. Compared with Rock Werchter it was a line-up much more ‘us’, and would be the first time in four attempts that I’d see Belgian bands on Belgian soil. Unfortunately, the venue was a room in a soulless, otherwise deserted complex on the ring road, no catering and no side-events (I’m told they’ve since moved somewhere with a little more character). A reminder that whilst bands are crucial to music festivals, you need more than that to make them truly memorable.

Plus these snapshots…..

A real mix here…..

  • A number of excursions into a venue called ‘Mother Live’ on Old Street. I was just about to book it myself when it closed down for an up-market conversion. Gentrification, anyone?
  • Watching UK Decay play outside Rough Trade on Records Store Day.
  • OMD supported by John Foxx. So good to hear electronic music that had space to breathe and let beautiful things hang there.
  • Discovering a significant sum of money had gone missing from my bank account just before a Funker Vogt gig and then trying to work out what the fuck had gone wrong via smartphone.
  • Ageing Crass co-founder Steve Ignorant proving at a November show that there’s more to being an activist than just getting angry about everything – Anarcho isn’t my punk style of choice but age and experience gives a person perspective and Steve has plenty of both.
  • A double dose of Claus Larsen in December – the ‘Strip and Klutæ all in one night.

Next is 2014, or back to the Intro .

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