The early days of 2015 saw me quell a number of inner demons that had loomed large for the past couple of years. In terms of live music, there was plenty of action throughout the year, but it once again fell to Wave-Gotik-Treffen to provide the first big story.
May 2015 – This Time…..
I could write a book in its own right about our WGT 2015 adventure. Mixtures of health issues (our own and family members) and the looming train strike on arrival in Germany and our return to Britain on Tuesday actually made me feel as certain times that ‘not making it’ was a genuine possibility. But make it we did, hours after we should have done, but in time for the EBM warm-up at The Villa, where the bands never run to schedule anyway (the actual festival runs like clockwork most of the time).
But it was the Saturday that possibly gave my greatest single WGT tale so far. It started with a trip out to the Felsenkeller, back on the festival circuit after a few years out, and that was a good thing, as it’s certainly one of the more fit-for-purpose venues in use (we’ve had a few too many ‘hasty civic conversions’ of late). A couple of supports of moderate interest before a chance to The Beauty of Gemina once more.
Now, they might have been my favourite darkwave/gothic rock hybrid since Diary of Dreams, but my only live experience to date was their SOS acoustic show, a mere sample of their songwriting talents and a pale shadow of their full electric set. Which we got tonight. One track to lead us in, and then ‘This Time’ hit us with such force it felt like a bomb going off. ‘Kings Men Come” and ‘Suicide Landscape’ were heard with their critical synth lines very much intact and when they got to ‘The Lonesome Death Of A Goth DJ’, well, I hardly need tell you how THAT one clicked.
And then a band that had eluded me for years in any form – Megaherz. I’d seen their ex-frontman project Eisbrecher the night before (now regarded as the bigger band of the two), but with a new Alexander W. on vocals (Wohnhaas instead of Wesselsky) and an excellent new album ‘Zombieland’ to play, it was clear the band were here to claim back what line-up changes had taken from them. After years on the back foot, Megaherz had their identity back. There’s something special about that.
But I couldn’t stop and celebrate. I had 15 minutes to get out, find a cab (only two available – I grabbed the first) and a drive across town, legged it into and across the Agra Park, round to the entrance and inside to catch the first song of tonight’s headliner. And who justified such a break from my trams-only WGT procedure?
Front 242, who else? By this point I was so delirious with excitement that I barely recall the details of their set, but the sheer number of things that might have prevented me from making it this far had all been bypassed. That was a classic WGT day, and I still have the 242 hoody as a souvenir.
The rest-of-the-fest didn’t disappoint of course – first chances to see Goethes Erben, Mono Inc., ClockDVA and Lights of Euphoria, the least-worst performance I’d see of US gothic ‘legends’ London After Slimelight (that’s what I call them) and the usual defies-any-extreme reaction show by Clan Of Xymox. The threatened train strikes were eventually called off, too, though our journey home was delayed-at-every-stage from Berlin Schoenfeld onwards anyway. But every WGT needs a day like the Saturday of WGT 2015.
July 2015 – He’s Just Trying To Survive
I’m very much aware of a significant body of work from New York in the late 60s and early-to-mid 70s that paved the way for much of the alternative sounds we know and love today. However, I had never seen any of the notable bands from that era play live – most had split up and many simply didn’t have enough living members remaining to have any hope of reformation. Suicide, pioneers of electronic music and/or punk (depending which musical historian you ask) were still going, and an event was booked at The Barbican Centre entitled ‘A Punk Mass’ as part of a series of related events dedicated to something-or-other.
And yes, this was more of an ‘event’ than a ‘gig’, with Henry Rollins providing an opening talk about his own discovery of the band, before each of the members came on in turn to perform material from their solo careers, aided by a Moog operator toward the rear of stage. Martin Rev was in good shape (not many men of pensionable age can pull off a PVC suit), but Alan Vega was not. Unable to stand for any length of time, he still put every bit of energy he could muster into his performance. I only hope his appearance here was voluntary and not part of any music industry coercion, as it didn’t seem right to keep a 77-year old stroke survivor on tour against his will.
But this was the spirit of the original punk movement contained in the last venue anyone would have expected to have found it. The second half of the show was dedicated to Suicide material proper. Or should that be ‘improper’. Unwilling to take the easy route out, they launched into a set consisting of fragments of known pieces and backcatalogue obscurities, cutting from one line of attack to another, the kind of all-over-the-place performance that would have had the unknowing music critic turning up their noses in disgust. But this was Suicide. An anarchic performance like this was exactly what we SHOULD have expected. Not content with ripping up the rulebook back in the 70s by playing those synthesizer things, they ripped up their own rulebook for good measure.
And as if to prove this was the last act of defiance by a project who simply wouldn’t play with convention – Suicide never performed live again. Alan Vega died in his sleep a little over a year later, and another New York legend had fallen.
August 2015 – I’ve Got Blood On My Hands
The feeling I had before Infest 2015 was that I had unfinished business from the previous year. Project Pitchfork were back having cancelled last time, but what I really wanted was one ‘blow me away’ performance, from any band, in any style. I’d previously established the first two bands playing Friday were both in styles that weren’t for us, so we got an early evening train and saved having to take a day off work.
Cocksure were the only Friday band not doing ‘dance music masquerading as something else’ and a first chance to see Chris Connelly on stage to boot. Day two kicked off with Altered, well known from regular London shows. Decided to go for a curry after them, but wanted to get back in time for a band called Chant. The name didn’t give much away, but a number of people who’s opinion I’ve come to rely upon were saying great things about them, and it was clear whatever style there were, they were seriously good in their own right and not just playing to this week’s style of choice.
I did not expect the frontman (Bradley Bills) to be a singer-drummer, rarely seen in this genre or any other (no references to Phil Collins, please!). I did not expect a mere two people to be able to generate such an intense percussive assault. And I did not expect the NIN concept for US industrial rock to be picked up and taken in a direction so ear-catchingly rhythmic. This was the most essential act I’d seen at Infest for many years, certainly the best “new discovery” the festival has ever offered. Perhaps I got over-emotional at the end, but that awkward feeling of 2014 was finally beaten out of me by Bradley’s tribal fury.
L’ame Immortelle were an anti-climax after this, and I only mention the fact as most of the reviews I read seem to have boycotted them entirely. Still, had a lot of fun with Mechanical Cabaret, BhamBhamHara and Project Pitchfork on the final day, the ghosts of one year ago very much exorcised.
The remainder of the year saw a selection of live events to attend, possibly too many – by December I was getting live band fatigue, to the point where I just couldn’t get into a show that should have been a dead-cert (Fear Factory performing ‘Demanufacture’). Maybe time for a new approach next year?
Plus these snapshots…..
Trying to be selective here….
- Seeing all surviving members of Throbbing Gristle live at some point. Carter Tutti playing Chris and Cosey worked out very well, Genesis P.Orridge in Psychic TV less so.
- Agent Side Grinder playing London the night before we were due to fly to WGT.
- Seeing Part 1 in the woeful ‘Power Lunches’ venue shortly before the place closed for good. I usually regret the loss our live venues, but this is one we are better off without.
- Going to see Cradle Of Filth, for shits and giggles if nothing else.
- AlterRed doing the most convincing Kubrick Stare I’d ever seen at their Clockwork Orange-themed Halloween show at Reptile.