DJ & Music Writer from the UK

Infest – A Personal Retrospective

This is an article I wrote on Facebook shortly after Infest 2018.  It’s been slight tweaked for website purposes, but is essentially a retrospective to mark the 20th anniversary of the event (even if I didn’t go to all of them).

The Early 00s – Running on Empty

I first became aware of the event’s existence in 2000, but having just left uni and on a temp workers income, attendance was impossible. Similarly, in 2001 I’d hit the end of a short-term contract, not knowing where my next pay packet was coming from, so no chances there. 2002, finally with a low-paid but secure post, and I was on the way. I’d already managed my first M’era Luna a few weeks previous, so this should have been a piece of cake in comparison?

Had to cut a few corners though. I bought the festival ticket and train ticket for £40 all-in from someone who pulled out. It was too late to get into the halls but I found a single room at the Westleigh for not-much-money – all the doubles had gone but in those days I travelled alone. Pity about the train – turned out the person I bought the ticket off was a smoker, so my seat reservation was in the smoking carriage. Yes, they still had those then. And I never liked cigarette smoke, ever.

And the festival itself? Band-wise it was unusually familiar to me – I think Flag Promotions helped with the lineup as it featured bands like Mesh, Synthetic, Greenhaus and the like – all familiar to me from shows ‘down south’. Biggest discoveries? Rhythmic noise. I’d flirted with the style but now fully got into it. And Welle:Erdball – incredibly, despite my since-regular patronage of scene festivals in Germany, this would be the one and only time to date I’d see them. Also, the DJing was pretty much ‘my kind of thing’, lasting to the end on all but one night.

Such a pity that it wasn’t particularly social. Only knew a few groups of people back then, many people seems to have an agenda and quite a few individuals were quite spiky when spoken to. I felt like I was expected to read minds most of the time. And there was pretty much nothing going on outside of the music. No-one I knew fancied going off-site to eat, even if catering ran seriously short of options towards the end. Generally, I felt very “B-Listed” the whole time. I did make some new friends along the way, but once I’d exhausted the markets (remember Grave News? Music Non-Stop?), I was staring into a pint glass between the bands (45 minute gaps then) more than I would have liked.

I still returned in 2003, again, only knew a few people. Trains were afflicted by engineering works, so I took a coach, but I couldn’t find a way of booking a route that avoided Leeds – where ‘another’ festival takes place and swamps whatever public transportation one uses to get out of West Yorkshire. As for accommodation, In halls this time, though travelling solo meant I ended up in the company of people who, whilst pleasant enough, were there for totally different reasons to me – stallholders with no interest in the music and people there for the breakbeat/drum’n’noise bits of the lineup.

Indeed, it was safe to say that this years lineup didn’t have the hit-rate of previous year in terms of my own tastes. VNV Nation should have been a safe headliner, but I’d seen their Futureperfect-era set enough times by then, and they didn’t even fill their alloted time. Still, people did seem friendlier this year, though this might have been down to personal change – I’d established the Aspergers thing in the intervening year and was starting to find my way socially. Back then I tried to hide it to the unknowing – now I tend to ‘ride the wave’. Incredible how many future friends were there but not-yet-met, but, well, that was to come.

2005 and 2008 – Because I Needed That

I didn’t go in 2004, the lineup either ‘seen elsewhere in past year’ (Spetsnaz, Converter, A23, Suicide Commando) or not of interest at the time – in retrospect, a mistake. I later really got into Lights of Euphoria and it took a tram-dash at WGT 2015 to see them. Proyecto Mirage and Ah Cama-Sotz would also later be of interest, but as of yet – never bagged live.

But then my first truly great Infest – 2005. Sick of being a lone wanderer, I attached myself to a collective from Reading, meaning I finally had meaningful company in halls and a lift to Bradford, even if it did involve getting to Reading at 6:30am Friday. But there was something deeper at play here. I was in the middle of a major rework of my EOL-Audio site (remember that?) and I was getting severely bogged down. I needed an escape, a release. And Infest was what I needed. I got my first taste of the legendary Bradford curry on the first night and from there I was set.

To this day, the lineup that year remains a blur. I know Covenant gave us advance hearing of ‘Ritual Noise’ and ’20Hz’ and Blutengel flopped having arrived three years after their period of popularity in the UK. But it was the first time Infest felt like an experience in it’s own right rather than three extended-length gigs with an attached market. I finally ‘got it’. Only downside was a couple of people I knew mysteriously having AAA passes despite not being performers or crew – friends in high places seemed to be enough. As one busting a gut on EOL-Audio, a service to the scene as it were, it felt like a slight at my efforts that who you know counted more than what you did sometimes. Oh, and getting a lift back to Reading meant catching ‘that’ festival crowd again!

2006 was skipped – I went to several other events that year and the money wasn’t there. I settled for FLA and Stromkern in London the day after and a Frozen Plasma/Reaper double bill at Slimelight later in the year. I don’t think I missed anything on this occasion. 2007 was skipped primarily for personal reasons – I’d quit EOL-Audio and retreated to the outer fringes of the scene by this point and didn’t feel that well disposed to a VNV/Apop dual headliner, nor scene events as a whole. The occasional gig, sure, but once WGT was done, no more festivals.

I was tempted back in 2008 by the booking of Front 242. Add a host of other personal favourites – Tyske Ludder, And One, Heimataerde and even Infest’s first ever Peter Spilles appearance (testing the water with Santa Hates You before committing the Pitches), and it was a must-attend once more. By now, I’d arranged a lift from my own native East London – much easier! And once again, Infest’s component parts were great, but it amounted to more than the sum of those once it got under way! And like 2005, it was a boost during a difficult time personally – the break-up the previous month was thankfully as undramatic as it could have been but it was still leaving me in need of a lift.

It was indeed the end of an era. The last old-layout Infest, but for me, it was my last ‘offline’ Infest (not yet owning a smartphone, I was buying newspapers and tuning into FM radio to get various sports results during downtime), the last time I’d stay in halls (ended up in a ‘dead zone’ when I needed a party) and the last time I couldn’t find anyone to have a curry with – the hotel dwellers had a free-meal-deal and everyone else had already hit the booze by this point. There was also a slightly sour note at the end – talk of it not being the expected sell-out and rumours the event wouldn’t take place in 2009 starting to circulate. But between all this, the actual festival was fun, fun, fun, all the away from start to finish!

The rumours were true, though – the venue rebuild made it impossible to run the event the following year. I’ve always maintained that if a year off was necessary, 2009 was the right one for it to fall on. The recession had led to many people being short on money, there was a real drop-off in scene talent coming through and the weak pound (almost as bad as it is now) would have made hiring a lineup of European scene megastars prohibitively expensive (most scene bands charge in Euros). During the lay-off, I’d taken up DJing, but more on that later.

The Early 2010s – New Layout, New Band, Old Habits

The festival was back in 2010, and during one of the high points of a highly eventful year for me personally. The appearance of the Jury’s Inn Hotel near the festival site provided me with a useful accommodation. I’d recently secured a promotion at work so had more budget to work with, and whilst many remained loyal to halls, I preferred a bit more luxury. Hotel breakfast was still way overpriced, ended up eating stale croissants in my room. The threat of an EDL march kept most away from the city centre, so hunting for a fry-up didn’t seem wise.

The venue was only just ready in time – signposting the new route to the venue wasn’t fully in place and catering was an afterthought, two food vans providing the only solid sustenance (remember – city centre was full of nasty people). So most either ate at hotels or elected for a liquid diet for the duration. And despite all this, it was still a great festival musically, with Rotersand’s 90 minute epic on Saturday night reminding everyone how good they can be. Project Pitchfork finally made it too – I wasn’t the only one who’d waited AGES for this.

2011, and for the third time in four Infests, I was in a poor state. This time, the purchase and furnishing of a flat had taken almost everything out of me – I’d actually bought my Infest ticket not knowing if I could attend. I’d fought off a cold just in time to make it, but I was nowhere near my best. Decided to let go the whole time and fix my life on return.

And the plan worked brilliantly. Using vitamin pills to avoid having to worry about diet (also got a deal on hotel breakfast – bad for the body, good for the soul), plenty of bands of interest (possibly overdosing on harsh EBM but otherwise on the money), and that amazing final few hours on Sunday. A trip-out experience to mind.in.a.box on the last day, retreating to the then-new karaoke in the Escape bar to do my best possible Sham 69 impersonation, then back to a ‘greatest hits’ VNV Nation set. I really needed that.

Happier times in 2012, my first Infest attended with a partner (adventures always mean more when they’re shared), even if it was partially booked before we’d met! Back to travelling by train, my chosen method from here on. Still in the Jury’s Inn, but now with breakfast in the Titus Salt pub. Three old school EBM bands on the bill. Tenek and System:FX giving some real hope for UK bands. I had a double shot at the karoke, too – still sticking to ‘London accent songs’, of course. So apart from some awkward building works on site and some unpredictable weather, this was was a thumbs-up-all-the-way Infest.

But we still didn’t go in 2013. By now, the spectre of Alt-Fest had appeared. The advance booking of both bands and tickets had let to much money and much talent being ‘tied up’ until August 2014. Infest still put together a line-up, but it lacked any real must-see content (Click Click the only regret at not seeing – and Da Octopusss were a definite reason to NOT go). We’d instead attend a couple of Belgian festivals, including BIMFest, then in one room in an otherwise-deserted complex in the outskirts of Antwerp. Fantastic line-up, but soulless in terms of atmosphere. They’d later move somewhere with more character, but this was at least a reminder that Infest had a unique ‘flavour’ that transcended a simple list of bands.

What happened next could have been a terminal blow for the event and the UK scene. Infest 2014 was nearly a non-event, deciding to go ahead only due to the audiences appeals. Alt-Fest crashed and burned (not repeating that story, this isn’t about them). Infest, still limited in who they could book, then lost three bands from the original line-up, including the headliner (Project Pitchfork), replacing them with VNV Nation, now way past their best. The acrimony of Alt-Fest had largely subsided in conversation by the time Infest came around, but there was still an awkward feeling.

Me personally? I’d spend the recent years trying to establish DJ Terminates Here, though late 2013 and early 2014 proved to be difficult times on that front (few people wanted an electronic DJ that wouldn’t touch dubstep back then). Encouraged by others, I thought an Infest set would be a perfect chance to show what I could do. But I couldn’t get a response. I was invisible. I tried to drum up some business at the festival itself but went largely unheard. As for the bands, it was a case of many interesting projects, but no one moment of “WOW – THAT WAS AMAZING”. After several good-but-not-great shows, I remember when Ashbury Heights played – I was thinking “this is my last chance to get blown away”. In the event, the poor sound quality ruined their set and for the first time since 2003, I walked away from an Infest not feeling fully satisfied.

Also, I totally fucked up my voice trying to sing Leftfield/Lydon’s “Open Up” at the karoke.

The Recent Years – Back on Track

I thought I’d have another shot at getting a DJ slot in 2015, deciding this time to wait until I’d established my own event so I’d be taken seriously. “Tragedy >For Us<” indeed worked, but too late to get on the bill here. Still, with Project Pitchfork making up for lost ground and plenty of interest further down, the lineup looked promising. Having established the two “not of interest” bands were on early Friday evening, we’d even avoided taking a day off work and came up Friday evening, determined to spend as little time in Bradford as possible. Sadly by now, everyone had discovered the useful location of Jury’s Inn and it sold out fast, so we had to stay at the Great Victoria, further away but full of old-world charm. And old-world plumbing.

For the first half of the weekend, I felt like I had ‘unfinished business’ from the previous year. Cocksure were good on day 1, but I really needed that one mega-show by any band. Fresh from my annual Bradford curry, we wandered in to see a previously unknown project “CHANT”. The furious drumming, the US-industrial rock styling, the turn of phrase – it all clicked perfectly. It was everything I’d been waiting for. Almost in tears at the end, like a weight had been lifted that I’d carried for a year – the rest of the weekend flew past. Mechanical Cabaret, BhamBhamHara, a couple more goes at the karaoke and the year-overdue Project Pitchfork finale. Back on track.

And finally, in 2016, DJ Terminates Here was on the bill. Announced shortly after my WGT return, it was proper celebration time. To the point where I threw caution to the wind and bought First Class train tickets! (I’ve actually done that ever since, a once-a-year treat!). Fate played into my hands further – the one band on the bill I hated – Atari Teenage Riot – played Saturday night, at exactly the time I was meant to be getting ready to DJ anyway, so I had plausible deniability in paying them any attention at all! And the set itself, whilst limited by PA volume, was a tour de force through all my tracks of choice, with the “Nova Cokey” at the end sticking long in memory.

There was a celebratory air about the last day. The bands were good even when the descriptions said “not for me”, and I even got rid of my remaining 2014 ghosts by singing “Open Up” in the karaoke, and making a much better job of it. It reached a peak when Leæther Strip (who’d also waited some time to get a slot here) came on stage. Claus Larsen knows how to egg the crowd on, and the set itself was pure intensity from EBM’s Big Man. Mission complete.

Onto 2017. We’d now settled on the direct Grand Central train both ways – fast to Doncaster then SLOW through Yorkshire. Bradford unfortunately had a customer service bypass this year. The bar staff at the venue took ages to get up to speed, the hotel (the Not-Hilton this time) seemed more interested in an NA conference going on and couldn’t even set a breakfast table right, and even our old curry favourite The International had lost the plot, serving up all the curry and no cutlery! Being hassled in the street on the way to the venue didn’t help much either. In a wider sense, the sad loss of event compere Tails earlier in the year was a big hit to all involved. He was part of the distinctive atmosphere of the event, a part of Infest’s charm.

Luckily, the festival music was as good as ever – Riotmiloo, Empathy Test, Wulfband the best of the new names, Die Krupps finally appearing, the long awaited (for me) iVardensphere and a finale of Revolting Cocks. We’d already seen the show at WGT earlier in the year, but we were well up for a second helping. Proper industrial was back, and it sat just fine amongst the newer styles – some people were critical of this direction in subsequent discussions, suggesting technically-good but hitherto-unknown names for future headliners, but they missed the point. Got to sell tickets, and big names from the past draw the masses. Save “technically good” for the beard-stroking single-genre fests elsewhere.

2018 saw the event reach it’s 20th anniversary.  In not the best state of health and in quite a distant hotel, my energy levels weren’t exactly what they needed to be for a 4-day weekend, and more of my scarce energy supplies were worked off on day trips to nearby towns on the ‘extra Friday daytime’.  By the time of Cubanate’s show, I was a walking wreck that could barely walk.

A trip to the Bowling event the next day (arranged at the last moment) restored morale, though, and by Saturday evening I was going crazy on the bouncy castle provided on site.  Oh, yes, and I also saw some bands.  Two amazing shows at each end of the weekend – Peter Hook on Thursday and Elegant Machinery on Sunday, plenty of other good performances and enough curry-break moments and so I still got my weekend to remember.

A month or so later and I finally nailed down the health problems that had interfered with my enjoyment, so all I can say is roll on Infest 2019, with Nitzer Ebb headlining!

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