see all the photos from this concert here

Sleeping Children
The Screaming Banshee Aircrew
The Verge, London
Wednesday May 26 2004
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Ah, Wednesday - the most un-rock ‘n’ roll day of the week. But this particular Wednesday has been wrenched in the direction of rockin’ craziness, because Antiworld are in town, taking a swing through London before heading out to an appearance at the Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig.  Joining them, two support acts from France and the UK. All three bands are making their debut in London.

It’s early in the evening, and The Verge is slow to fill. Punters trickle in while behind the decks, Cavey Nick of the Dead And Buried club keeps the noises rolling. Glancing around with a jaundiced eye (which I keep in my pocket for just these occasions) I note that the venue’s lighting rig now sports a handsome total of three lights - hey, don’t knock it, that’s a 50% improvement on state of the rig last time I was here. Unfortunately, as if to make up for this generous technical largesse, it sounds like 50% of the venue’s sound system has been disconnected. At any rate, Cavey Nick’s DJ selections sound thin and mid-rangey as they blare through the PA. Hmmm.  That doesn’t exactly bode well for the quality of live sound we’ll get tonight, but let’s bring on the first of tonight’s bands and see how we make out.

And our first band is...The Screaming Banshee Aircrew, stars of the ‘oop north’ scene. Indeed, I believe this is as far south as the band have ever ventured, and they’ve still only reached Kentish Town. I dare say the ‘Crew are hoping that their first London show will be a wild, hedonistic triumph right from the word go. Well, it doesn’t quite work out like that, unfortunately, although not for any want of effort on the part of the band.  They’re stymied by sound problems: the monitor mix, it seems, is barely there, while out front their backing track is so low it’s hardly audible to anyone. So we get a rather distracted performance, frontman Mister Ed making all his trademark moves while wearing a frustrated frown, while the rest of the band try their best to put on a good show even though the overall sound is all guitar and vocal and not much else. Half way through the set the guitarist takes it upon himself to tweak the on-stage equipment, and all of a sudden the backing track booms forth, loud and...well, I wouldn’t exactly say ‘clear’; this is The Verge’s PA we’re talking about here, after all. But there’s a distinct improvement in the quality of the sound which makes me wonder why the band didn’t ensure the mystery tweak was done before the start of their set. Come now, chaps, that’s what soundchecks are for! Thus encouraged, the Aircrew hit their stride and the performance gets a whole lot more lively; much more like the rollicking, confident, band I saw in Leeds a while back. A victory, then, snatched from the very jaws of a fuck-up.

I know nothing about Sleeping Children beyond the fact that they’re French.  And yet, paradoxically enough, they turn out to be a very British goth band, in a way. There are three humans and a drum machine on stage, kicking up a very 90s-style gothic rock racket, not a million miles away from the kind of stuff that soundtracked the UK scene about ten years ago. The vocalist sings in a bizarre style of his own which seems to turn the lyrics of every song into an all-purpose ‘Ah-wow-ah-wow-ah-wow’ sound. I was curious to find out whether he’d deliver his lyrics in English or French, but I fear I cannot tell you. His heavily stylised vocal technique swamps the words to such an extent that he might as well be singing in Klingon for all the sense it makes to me. Meanwhile, to his left, a guitarist who looks uncannily like Matt North from All Living Fear (and even has Matt’s habit of singing along to himself while doing a series step-forward-step-back moves as he plays) churns out the riffs, while on the opposite side a bassist who seems to have dressed up as Scary Lady Sarah for the gig handles the bottom end. It’s all a bit surreal: a gothic rock episode of Stars In Their Eyes.

The audience receives Sleeping Children politely, without ever going quite as far as showing any particular enthusiasm - it’s as if everyone’s waiting for the band to do something really special, to pull that killer song out of the hat. Alas, it never quite happens. The band have that good ol’ gothic sound down to a fine art, but I don’t hear any songs which particularly stick in my brain. There’s a distinct lack of hooks and choruses and memorable melody lines. The baffling, vowel-heavy vocals don’t exactly help, of course. In truth, Sleeping Children don’t really provide much to latch on to. They’re not *bad*, you understand - but they never quite rise above the ‘not bad’ level, and that just isn’t enough.

The set is short. Abruptly, the band stop, and are gone. There’s a moment of bemused silence. Nobody’s quite sure if the sudden halt is caused by a technical problem, or if it really is the end. Nope, they’ve finished. A smattering of applause breaks out - but only a smattering; a fair reaction to a competent but not particularly inspiring set. I suppose the lesson here is that just because a band hails from overseas, and thus has a certain exotic cachet about them, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be anything special on the night. We have bands in the UK which can do everything Sleeping Children do, and do it better to boot. After all, if you’re after a no-nonsense gothic rock band with a guitarist who looks like Matt North from All Living Fear - why not book All Living Fear?

The band everyone really wants to see tonight, of course, is Antiworld, who, in tonight’s piece of shameless hype (every gig must have one) are billed as ‘Wave Gotik Treffen headliners’. Now, if I were a pedant, I could point out at this juncture that the Wave Gotik Treffen doesn’t actually have a ‘headliner’ in any conventional sense, and even if it did, Antiworld, whose slot at the festival is actually one down from the top at just one of more than eight different venues, wouldn’t be it. However, I wouldn’t dream of being so picky, so I shall say no such thing. Tonight, at any rate, their top spot is not in doubt. The band wander casually on stage, picking up their instruments, tweaking this, adjusting that. They’re an exotic looking bunch: part undertakers, part gangsters. It’s as if we’re watching ‘The Sopranos - The Spooky Years’. The mysterious DJ Psyche introduces the band, and they dive straight in to their amiable, bouncy, pop-punk set. And yes, Antiworld *are* pop-punk. This band isn’t in the business of tackling the big issues, or even pushing any particular musical boundaries. They’re all about having fun to a soundtrack of pell-mell 80s-style punky riffs. They’re a permanent Hallowe’en party, and if you take them on that level, they’re jolly good fun. The visual focal point, of course, is Grandma Fiendish, on vocals - a spooky storyteller, looming out at the audience with tales from the crypt, cautionary fables of all the bad things that’ll happen to us if we’re not good children. She throws out fizzy sweets and novelties into the crowd, and if Antiworld’s music, if truth be told, doesn’t have much more substance to it than those one-crunch-and-they’re-gone candies, nobody’s complaining tonight. This band is unashamed spooky-trashy fun; they don’t pretend to be anything else - and they get exactly the right kind of good-humoured reaction from the crowd. Antiworld might not take you on any kind of astonishing musical journey, but on a Wednesday night in Kentish Town they’re probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

see all the photos from this concert here


Sleeping Children:

The Screaming Banshee Aircrew:

DJ Psyche, promoter of the gig:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: