DJ & Music Writer from the UK

20 Years Of Live Music – Part 4 (2003)

The focus of the last part was my discovery of the wonders of European festivals. It may therefore come as a surprise that my one overseas trip of 2003 came as very much a last-minute thing. There were many other things to distract me closer to home, and the move to a London-based job meant that I was never far away from some kind of gigging action whenever I felt like it. And I felt like it a lot. Rather too often, in fact, as my first major gig of the year would reveal.

March 2003 – Life Keeps Slipping Away

I was now seriously into live music and rapidly ticking bands off of my to-see list. One band I was particularly trying to bag was Ministry, a band who provided some rather sharp relief to my less-than-inspiring early-to-mid years at IC. The venue for the gig was the London Astoria, an ideal location for an see-em-up-close metal gig. And the completely UNideal support band was Raging Speedhorn, a band who had quickly become a personal anathema during a Rammstein support the previous year and now appeared on stage, made a lot of noise and just made me (and several other present, no doubt), even more impatient for the appearance of the headline band.

My first sight of Al Jourgensen in the flesh was disappointing but not exactly surprising – the then-dreadlocked lead singer seemed to be about 20 years older than I knew he actually was, the years of excess having taken their toll. But the music actually sounded OK. Three tracks off the new album to open, then an trawl through the backcatalogue, the hits becoming more and more frequent as the set went on. Which is just as well as there was no getting away from the racket blasted through the PA. Did I say this gig was LOUD? And not just ‘WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?’ but more like ‘FUCK ME, THIS IS LOUD!’. The mosh pit was equally brutal, a 90-minute brawl to the sound of industrial metals most prominent pioneers.

I first realised something was wrong when walking home from the station. The sound of the pelican crossing was slightly off. I got home to find a strange resonating noise every time I heard one object strike another. The problem faded within a day, but I’d realised that the excessive gigging was going to do my hearing some real damage if I kept up at the current rate. I didn’t actually lay off the gigging, but I’d since make a habit of retreating some distance from the PA after a favourite song or two. Nothing to prove by lasting the whole night in front the speaker stack.

August 2003 – M’elta Luna

Do you remember the European Heatwave of 2003? I certainly do. Not being one to take the heat all that well, my overriding memory of that month is being deliriously slumped in the back of a Ford Galaxy in a Dutch Service Station at 2am, being told about this strange new cartoon about a square kitchen sponge, but in my state of mind and body at the time, I felt sure initially that I’d dreamed it.

Truth was, I was only at M’era Luna as a last minute replacement for someone else, and I had little time to prepare for the roasting 40C temperatures at the event, peaking at around the time Red Lorry Yellow Lorry hit mainstage. I still managed to see plenty of bands along the way, although one that failed to impress me initially was Nightwish (not yet known in the UK). Their power-prog-symphonic-operatic-metal was just too much to take in at the time, especially when they completely failed to grasp the weather conditions of the time and covered the theme from ‘The Snowman’. Nope. Not Now, Not Here.

October 2003 – Holy Books and History Texts Forget Because We Know

It was at the above festival that I got my first live experience of Killing Joke, but such was my heat-afflicted state that I really needed another chance to get to know what they were like on stage. As part of an adventuresome weekend, I got to find out. Back once again to the London Astoria. Those of you who have seen the ‘Joke live will know that to truly appreciate the furious, tribal nature of their live show, you have to see Jaz Coleman do his thing at close-quarters. The man has an incredible story to tell, but when fronting up his band, all that matters is that he doesn’t so much take up the mantle of a lead singer, more that of a rebel leader calling his troops to war.

After the deceptively grandiose opening of ‘Communion’, the one-keyed synth bleep that signalled the opening of ‘Requiem’ piped through the PA and it was time to ATTACK! The Killing Joke mosh pits usually consist of men angry about something or other, this year the topic of choice was the Iraq war, and here was a chance to let some of that tension go. The fury reached a peak around the time they played ‘The Death And Resurrection Show’, a scathing, visceral seven-minute epic which turns out to be highly spiritual at it’s core, but down on the Astoria dancefloor, it was just an excuse for an extended length push-and-shove.

After this, I was punchdrunk. Song after song bulldozed their way through the PA….since the band didn’t play their ‘new wave era’ material at the time (‘Love Like Blood’ was definitely absent), there wasn’t a single break in the fury. By the time they got to their now-traditional set-closer ‘Pandemonium’, it was only the tightly packed mass of bodies on stage that kept me upright.

November 2003 – But What Ends (When The Guitar Strings Snap)?

Neo-folk gigs. I’ve been to a few in my time, but it’s always been a scene I’ve hovered around the fringes of, enjoying the songs but not wanting to be complicit in whatever-it-is some of those people stand for. I don’t believe everything that’s said about the political side, I just want to enjoy the music and then go and watch something different next time without having to sign up to any kind of movement.

This gig demanded more attention than most, however. Death In June were playing a show on the HMS President Boat, a decommissioned boat now moored at Blackfriars. In order to mark the occasion, the organisers laid on a vegetarian buffet, which seemed surprisingly principled for a band who’s last album was called ‘All Pigs Must Die’. The PA and stage seem to have been somewhat improvised with little room for performance – Douglas Pearce was seated about a foot from the front row of the audience, whilst legendary neo-folk rhythm-generator John Murphy (sadly no longer with us) was left to play a variety of nursery-school percussion throughout the set, there not being room for the usual drum set-up.

Ian Read (of Fire+Ice fame) played the role of compère, providing us with a quick rendition of ‘Benediction’ before introducing the main band. Douglas appeared wearing his trademark sniper veil, which would lifted after four songs and not lowered for the rest of the night. Also notable was the fact that most of the songs were prefaced with some kind of story or explanation as to their origin. This was somewhat refreshing given my only previous Di6 live experience at Slimelight the previous year, where song after tedious song was delivered without break, without variation or without sight of the singers face.

Indeed, for a musical sub-genre that was often seen as elitist and self-consciously controversial, this all seemed quite harmless, a kind of ‘sing along with Uncle Douggie’ affair. The second half of the set was given over to requests, though the ability to deliver them began to wane due to Douglas’ guitars tendency to rapidly shed it’s strings. There was just time for my personal favourite ‘But What Ends When The Symbols Shatter?’, but what ended when the guitar strings snapped was the gig. We called for an encore anyway, and the collected ensemble of mostly-militantly attired individuals present ended up singing ‘Heaven Street’ without any instrumental accompaniment.

On the walk back from the station, I encountered a drunken man grasping a six-pack of Fosters, celebrating England’s Rugby World Cup win over the Australians earlier in the day. Not realising my unconventional appearance, he goes ‘ WE WON, MAN!!!’ , to which my only response was ‘You’re still drinking Oz Lager though’. I went home happy….not knowing at the time that an ankle injury shortly after meant that this would be my final scene night out until New Year’s Eve.

Plus these snapshots…..

Some moments that reflected the mood of the scene at the time.

  • Mid-bill band ‘Deathboy’ filling the ‘Upstairs at the Garage’ room, only for most of the crowd to disappear before their label mates played later. I called this lack of respect for bands on the bill you didn’t come for “The Deathboy Effect”.
  • Gotham 2003 at the Camden Palace, a wild, all-over-the-place all-dayer blighted by technicals but somehow managed to entertain. I had to leave before The Damned finished their set, it would be 13 years before I’d see them deliver a full show. The assembled punks didn’t care much for In Strict Confidence, though – one of them even told me to “stop dancing”.
  • Second Ministry show, no support so stuck waiting in venue for ages. Then went to an Armalyte show in the Underworld the next day, one of those bands would have fitted perfectly if promotional politics allowed it, but it was never going to happen.
  • [:SITD:] getting an encore at Infest, only to find they’d run out of songs. “Iz vere a track you vould like to hear again?”, indeed……
  • Watching The Galan Pixs play a club show at Slimelight at 2am, which due to daylight savings kicking in as they started, resulted in the show ending 15 minutes before it started.
  • First ever Combichrist show in London, upstairs in Slimelight again, about 50 watched it, how many claim to have been there now they’re famous?
  • The Chaos Engine rallying cry during their Whitby show, getting the adrenaline pumping for…..Wayne Hussey’s acoustic set. Mood whiplash or what?

Now to 2004 , or back to the Intro.

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