There was a healthy run of interesting shows early in 2014. Laibach were back on tour, as were B-Movie, another chance to see Tenek and rare appearance of Rosa Crux, still one of the most unique stage shows you’ll ever see. But I’m determined that this piece is about documenting the influence of live music on the person, not a dry collection of live reviews. And in a year in which I was rarely in a truly happy place (reasons to be discussed elsewhere), I needed something more than isolated gigs to move me.
June 2014 – This Volatile Paradox Will Never Stand
It indeed took until Leipzig for a truly moving live experience. A late one usually means a hot one and this was no exception. Early on were my first live experiences of The Eternal Afflict, The Fair Sex, Poupee Fabrikk, White Lies and Placebo Effect, a scrappy showing by Apop and a truly intense one by The Klinik (Dirk Ivens never fails us). And then – Front Line Assembly.
A controversial name in WGT circles (google ‘Soy Leeb’ if you don’t know the story) and now with me. Leeb has never been afraid to jump on a bandwagon to keep his sound fresh, but his appropriation of dubstep influences on his last two albums, followed by a turd-in-a-CD case remix comp (maybe it kept sounding like a stuck CD ’cause the critics had wanked over it so much?) and my opinion of him had never been lower. I’d gone as far as boycotting his London 2013 show, the reports of ‘This is the future of industrial – Dubstep influence will save us’ were beyond the pale.
But when the band hit the stage, this time it was REAL Leeb. And REAL FLA. One brief hint of a bass drop early on, but otherwise the new and old material actually meshed together to cohesive whole rather than the jarring review bait practised by others, the more blatant references to the now-fading music fad already phased out. A band you expect to be great all the time is one thing – but a “Return To Glory” performance is that much sweeter.
Indeed, influences can be unexpected. Borghesia played the next day, and tried to escape the tag of being ‘Slovenia’s 2nd-most famous industrial band’ by returning from their lengthy hiatus in the form of a psychedelic rock act. On a mixed-genre stage it might have worked, maybe even somewhere like Infest (remember Mind,in.a.box?), but on a specialist EBM stage between Vomito Negro (another first for me) and Spetsnaz, it was never going to work, they almost cleared the room, but I still got curious enough to check out the album later on.
Have to end on a sour note, though. My festival experience might have been positive in terms of the music, but the post-festival comedown was the worst ever. It was ‘straight back to bad times’ almost as soon as I’d hit UK soil. WGT had not cured my unsteady state of mind, it was merely a 5-day pause button. As I discovered later that year, even the pause button trick wasn’t guaranteed to work.
August 2014 – Alt? Delete!
Alt-Fest, meant as my goodbye to outdoor fests, fell to pieces in a much-publicised story. I won’t repeat the story as I was never really involved, but the fallout pulled a second, smaller festival under, and it was left to UK promoters to pull together hastily-improvised line-ups for the intended weekend. One had to be grateful for any live action back then, no-one made any real money out of the debacle and many lost big, but there was no hiding from the awkward atmosphere.
Still, the British spirit is best exemplified by our small-scale fests and making do with less than the best, and Flag Promotions (who deserve credit for many of the gigs previously mentioned here) called on their contacts and rallied what they could of the originally-booked Alt-Fest bands plus a few extras and made a three-day festival at Elektrowerkz, entitled SOS (Save Our Scene). Enough bands were willing to play for free (or close enough) to make it worth doing.
I went to the first two days (work commitments prevented the third), and actually quite enjoyed the first, local favorites Jordan Reyne and Black Light Ascension coming in late in the day to play sets and then a first chance to see Spiritual Front. Day two was devoted to the gothic bands – my first chance to see The Beauty of Gemina was sadly an acoustic show (either cutting costs or just choosing that variant of their sound for the occasion), with my main memory being She Past Away immediately winning a UK fanbase having come all the way from Turkey – so someone at least deservedly benefited from this mess!
Infest came a few weeks later, originally rumoured to be sitting out 2014 but deciding to go ahead anyway. Limited in terms of the bands they could book, hit further by three cancellations, included my hoped-for Project Pitchfork, replaced by the now long-past-best VNV Nation, unexpectedly available after the ‘big’ festival failed. A name band when one was needed for sure, but off the back of the lifeless ‘Transnational’ not longer a guaranteed ‘must see’.
The end result was a very sociable festival, the bitching and backbiting having subsided by now, but a lineup that ended up too reliant on melodic synth acts and no one big performance that stood out in the memory. Maybe I was in the wrong state of mind, a mini-breakdown of sorts on Sunday night on the way back to the hotel backs up that theory. Oh, and singing ‘Open Up’ by Leftfield/Lydon in the karaoke room and fucking up my voice in the process.
But for whatever reason, the trick that worked at Infest 2005, 2008 and 2011 in a ‘pick yourself up and move on’ manner didn’t work at Infest 2014. Blame cannot and will not be apportioned – sometimes the stars simply don’t align.
December 2014 – Stop!
2014 didn’t get any easier, it continued the feeling of scrabbling around, making good where possible and trying not to get sucked under. By mid-December I was out of ideas and just zoning through to Christmas. One final gig remained – Erasure. I might have overdosed on synthpop at Infest but let’s at least see how the masters do it. We even got the bonus of Parralox on support – any band with the guts to kick off their set with a cover of ‘Eye In The Sky’ by rock dinosaurs Alan Parsons Project gets my respect, for sheer gumption if nothing else.
But we were here for Erasure. And if ever there was a template for the prize of ‘the perfect pop band’, it would be an dead-heat between them and the Pet Shop Boys (sorry, I say what I think even if it undermines the gravity of a statement). My first chance to see synth-meister Vince Clarke live in any project, and with Andy Bell, camp enough to house a million festival-goers but always a true performer, it was the perfect environment to forget concerns and just have some fun.
A couple of well-rehearsed backing singers and the show was complete. Erasure are a band who know what their audience wants – pick the best three off the new album and mix them in with all the hits. The inevitable call for an encore followed – we sort of knew ‘Sometimes’ would feature, but given the time of year, I was also half-hoping for a cut from their recent ‘Christmas’ album. And what does Andy do? Come back with his backing singers and sing ‘Gaudete’. A Capella. Just the way it should be.
And only THEN sing ‘Sometimes’, with Vince back on the keyboards.
This was also the gig which sparked a viral video, triggered after show, of a whole tube platform singing ‘A Little Respect’. I sadly missed this, but I assure you I would have joined in had I been there. Nothing like a communal sing-song to boost morale (why do so many people hate these?).
But for me, It was a last act of note in a year where I’d never truly felt ‘in sync’ with the world going on around me. Stress-related illness would see me out of the loop until New Year’s Eve on a social level, but the enforced break definitely did me good – doing nothing for a few weeks was indeed the solution. Any negativity you’ve observed over the past few chapters ends in 2015.
Plus these snapshots…..
Amid everything that happened, some memories still remain.
- Leaves Eyes at the Garage, meaning I’d seen every Liv Kristine project live once, and Theatre of Tragedy once with each singer.
- Arriving at a Rosa Crux gig to find the middle of the floor occupied by a large plastic sheet. It’s purpose only became clear when the dust-dancers came on.
- Kirlian Camera and Die Krupps playing London, two bright lights in an otherwise muggy, tense and uncomfortable summer. Die Krupps had my other favourite Die K band (Die Kur) as support – you’ll read a LOT more about these guys when I write my DJ story!
- Underworld playing ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ start-to-end and all the B-sides and Lemon Interrupt material from the same era.
- Stompa finally sees new-school old-school EBM (for the want of a better term) reach London, and a precursor to the Ad:Rem event I’ll cover in my DJ story.