see all the photos from this concert here
Fiction 8
Void Construct
Mono Chrome
Underworld, London
Sunday October 5 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Somewhere between a gig and a festival, this five-band event is intended to showcase some of the acts on the UK electronic label, Cryonica Music.That fuzzy Sunday afternoon feeling seems to be hanging heavily over Camden today, which means that the venue is slow to fill - the audience drifts in, little by little, some clutching purchases from Camden's myriad yoof-culture shops, others heading straight for the bar to hand over the beer tokens. I don't envy Mono Chrome, who are opening the show: somehow they've got to grab everyone's attention and pull the drifters and the barflies to the front. A bit of a harsh introduction to the UK gig circuit, perhaps, for this US band - but as the newest act on the bill Mono Chrome are in the tough but inevitable position of having to work their way up from the bottom. Hey, that's showbiz.

And yet, Mono Chrome aren't entirely an unknown quantity. Clint Sand, keyboard-jockey and all-round electronics-controller, is also 50% of, while vocalist Victoria Lloyd is perhaps better known as a member of Claire Voyant. The opposites-attract combination of an insistent, danceable, electro-beat and a volitant female voice is, of course, highly effective, especially in an area of music where a harsh rant is often the best we can expect in the vocals department. Mono Chrome have it down to a fine art - the music drives along, a non-stop electroswirl, over which Victoria builds a tower of insistent, expressive vocals. And it works - the drifters and the barflies do indeed flock to the front and pay attention. It's smoothly impressive stuff.

Nevertheless, I'm not entirely convinced that the band we see before us is the *real* Mono Chrome. Their equipment is very obviously borrowed from the other bands (there's nary a US-spec power socket on stage, which is a bit of a give-away) and Mono Chrome even seem to have borrowed a couple of band-members, too. Filling in some stage space around Clint and Victoria are two random keyboard-mimers, one of whom, if I'm not mistaken, is on loan from Seize. Neither of them appear to be playing a note of genuine music; they're clearly only there for decoration. Indeed, Clint himself barely touches his keyboard throughout the set, preferring instead to pour himself an endless succession of plastic cups of Jack Daniels and Coke. At times, he stands behind his keyboard, swaying gently, eyes screwed shut, as if the music has transported him to a higher astral plane. Or maybe he's just rat-arsed. I'm willing to bet Mono Chrome are simply giving us a karaoke show tonight - everything's on DAT aside from Victoria's vocals, which means she has to carry the entire performance while everyone else takes it easy. She does this with great aplomb, but I confess I'm a little annoyed that the band haven't troubled to create a more convincing on-stage identity. It's not that I have any particular downer on the use of backing tracks on stage - if that's the only way to reproduce a certain studio-created sound, then by all means roll the tape. But I draw the line at pointlessly packing the stage with unconvincing mime-artists, especially if they're not even genuine members of the band!

Which brings us neatly to Void Construct. Regular readers of the StarVox CD review section will know that I'm hardly a devotee of this band, holding them to be the absolute nadir of that grimly platitudinous electro-industrial-plus-distorted-shouting sub-genre which, inexplicably, seems to have so many adherents these days. On stage, vocalist Scott Walker throws a succession of virtual martial arts shapes, looming out at the audience, fixing us with an assertive stare as he prowls about with the mic. Well, I'm no fan of the music, but it's good to see he's putting a bit of energy into the performance - although I'm a little baffled as to why he's wearing an old sock on his head. It's also good to hear the vocals a little more clearly than on the band's recorded works. Void Construct's trademark distortion-over-everything effect has been backed off to the point where Scott's voice is almost natural. Not that he does anything as dangerously radical as *singing*, you understand - the vocals are still an aggressive chant throughout. Still, at least the absence of the ubiquitous distort-o-effect means a little bit of character can come through.

But I divert my attention to Vicky Halliday, behind the equipment-rack, because there's something I want to check out here. On Void Construct's latest album, 'Sensory Division', she's credited with 'live programming'. Now, the thought of watching a band getting into the virtual nuts and bolts of their software and actually creating new programs live on stage intrigues me. This, surely, would be the direct antithesis of the stand-behind-the-DAT-machine-and-try-to-look-busy approach of most bands in this genre. Unfortunately, I think I was sold a pup. Because Vicky doesn't do any 'live programming'. In fact, as far as I can see, she, erm, just stands behind the DAT, and occasionally, when she remembers, presses a key or two on the keyboard. It's all rather unconvincing, I'm afraid, and the fact that the band are obviously sensitive enough about this aspect of their live incarnation to try and explain it away with an entirely spurious credit on their CD isn't actually much use when the truth is revealed on stage. Ho hum. Well, if *that* is all Void Construct do, I'm off to the bar.

However, I don't stay at the bar too long, because Swarf are on next. Swarf are on a roll at the moment: they've just come off a full-scale UK tour supporting John Foxx, during which they got to play to 'non-scene' audiences and scared up some very complimentary reviews in the mainstream press. As a result, Swarf probably have the highest profile of any band on this bill - certainly, they're the only band of tonight's five to have put their heads even slightly above the underground goth/industrial/whatever scene parapet. The boys in the band squint at their equipment (stop sniggering at the back, you know what I mean) while Liz supplies the glamour and the voice. It's a bit of a shaky start: the band seem a little nervous, as if anticipating some ghastly technical balls-up (then again, Chris always looks as if he's expecting his laptop to explode at any moment), but as the set unfolds and nothing untoward occurs, they hit their stride and it all starts to go seamlessly right.

There's new material in the set; I can give you no song titles, but I can report the presence of some odd, off-kilter rhythmic ideas, underpinning that effortless pop sensibility which Swarf always manage to conjure up. For the rest, it's Swarf's greatest hits, served up with the band's customary good humour. Liz cavorts about the stage, even playing air guitar at one point, and is only momentarily thrown when someone throws a pair of knickers on stage. In short, it's a top performance by a band who are looking increasingly like they've outgrown the confines of the genre from which they originally emerged. The future for Swarf looks like it could be rather interesting...

I see on the Cryo-Fest flyer that Inertia are billed as 'The UK's premier EBM outfit' - which, perhaps, isn't such a great selling point as it might first appear. Sure, in the early years of the genre, Electronic Body Music was a cool and creative offshoot of the industrial scene, and in the 80s such bands as DAF and Nitzer Ebb re-wrote the dancefloor rule book under the banner of EBM. Nowadays, however, mention EBM to most people and they'll immediately think of the banal party-party bollocks of the likes of VNV Nation, encouraging audiences of merrily bouncing cybergoths to wave their glowsticks in the air. Not, in my view, Inertia's natural territory at all. They're much more firmly rooted in the manic, abrasive, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-isms of Skinny Puppy: *that* sort of area. And, on stage tonight, the band turns in exactly the kind of rip-roaring set that old-skool industrio-heads would surely dig. Inertia are a colourful explosion of energy and noise, but - crucial point coming up - their songs really *are* songs. Even at their most rampaging - 'In The Psychiatrist's Chair', 'No Defect' - there are still verses and choruses and all that good old songwriting stuff at work in the mix.

Alexys comes out from behind the drum kit to take a couple of vocals (and to bust a few moves which look alarmingly like they're going to turn into a full-on belly-dance at any moment), and the audience reacts with equal quantities of cheering, shouted encouragement, and good-natured heckling. It's a vintage performance, and, overall, a demonstration of just how good a live act Inertia are. And not a glowstick in sight!

Despite their position on the bill, it would probably be inaccurate to describe Fiction 8 as tonight's headline band. They're so much of an unknown quantity in the UK that there's no way they'd qualify for the top spot under normal circumstances. As a matter of fact, it's not easy to find out about Fiction 8 even if you try - the band seem to have abandoned large chunks of their website some years ago (check their info section: ' the year 2000 draws to a close' - uh, what?). So, until I saw them walk out onto the stage before my very eyes, I wasn't entirely convinced they were still a going concern. However, I am happy to report that Fiction 8 are alive, well, and actually rather good. They're an incongruous bunch at this gig, given that their line-up includes guitar, bass, and electric violin: much more of an alternative rock band who just happen to include pre-programmed beats and synth-stuff in their sound, rather than any kind of 'industrial' outfit. But their strength is in their songs: very neatly-structured excursions into classic-pop-with-a-twist territory, both male and female vocals, and you're never more than a few bars away from a rousing chorus.

Main man and guitarist Michael Smith keeps on apologising for the late arrival of the band's new album, although, for most of tonight's audience, even Fiction 8's old stuff is unfamiliar enough to count as new. But they're an amiable bunch, apparently happy just to be on a UK stage, playing their music. It's a shame, then, that I have to duck out before the end of their set: the gig is over-running, and, what with this being a Sunday night, it's necessary to make a dash for the absurdly early last train home. I'm not the only one, it seems, to beat a hasty exit - the crowd has thinned out alarmingly over the last half-hour of the show, and I feel rather sorry for Fiction 8, condemned by brutal logistics to bring their set to a rousing conclusion when there is hardly enough of a crowd left to rouse.

But, for all that, it was a good gig. Sure, there were certain elements of the show which served to point up the problems and limitations of trying to present electronic music in a live setting, and I wish somebody would come up with a better idea than the ubiquitous solution of padding everything out with crashingly obvious miming non-musicians. But when all's said and done, the show is the thing, and there were some good ones tonight.

see all the photos from this concert here

Fiction 8:



Void Construct:

Mono Chrome:

The Cryonica Music label:

Virus, the Cryonica offshoot-project which organised the gig:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: