see all the photos for this show here 

Venus Fly Trap
Club Noir, London
Friday June 28
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

The theory, I suppose, goes something like this. If you book a lot of bands, and squeeze them into one night, you stand a good chance of bringing in a big audience. Book five bands, each of whom pull in their own fans - even if they only attract 20 people each, that's an instant crowd of 100. In a small venue like the 150-capacity upstairs room at the Garage, where Club Noir takes place, that would count as a good result.

This, I assume, is the reason why tonight's Club Noir has turned itself into a mini-festival, with five live acts and consequently reduced time for the DJs. As a fan of live music, that's fine by me - but if the intention was to create a big crowd out of the bands' individual fanbases, I fear something's gone wrong. The audience never climbs above 50 people all night, and that figure includes band-members. God knows how many actual paying customers are in - nowhere near enough to reach break-even, I'd say!

Why is the crowd so small? You don't have to look far for the reason. Club Noir clashes head-on with Tenebrae, a longer-running and more established club at Gossips in Soho, where the Descendants of Cain have a regular live slot. Although the two clubs theoretically occupy different musical territories - Club Noir is supposedly 'cyber', Tenebrae roots itself far more firmly in guitar-based music - in practice everything crosses over with everything, and *any* head-on club-clash in London will result in one of the two events losing out. It seems Tenebrae has definitely won tonight's crowd. It'll be interesting to see what happens in August, when Club Noir takes a deliberate swing towards the guitar-goth end of the scene, with live sets by The Faces Of Sarah and Corrosion. Now that amounts to an obvious attempt to steal Tenebrae's audience.

This kind of club-against-club rivalry can never be healthy for the overall scene, and as a general rule I disapprove heartily of it - but isn't it interesting that a cyber/electronic oriented club feels it has to steal a bit of the action from the guitar-goth end of things? That's a real turnaround from the situation that's existed for the last few years, when cyberstuff was in the ascendant. Are we seeing evidence that the much-vaunted resurgence of guitar-based goth is actually happening? Has the Mighty Bleep had its day? We shall see!

But enough club politics. Let's pay attention to the bands. Our opening act is Zwartenblauw, who I reviewed at their previous Club Noir appearance a few months back. That was their first ever gig: tonight, they're hard-bitten old campaigners by comparison - this is gig number four. At first glance, it's business as usual: there's the guitarist, hammering out some robust riffs while maintaining an impassive presence, and there's the vocalist, in her early Robert Smith hairstyle, giving us some feisty noo-wave attitude at the mic. But it's quickly apparent that Zwartenblauw have grown and changed and developed over the last few months. Their on-stage presence seems more confident - not that the singer was ever a shrinking violet to start with, but now the guitarist stands up front instead of hiding in the background, making Zwartenblauw look much more like a *band*, rather than a bedroom project that's been hauled into the limelight. The music seems to have been tweaked a little, too: it's not quite so dominated by the thumping beat as before - there's more going on,  more to actually *listen* to. The sound mix isn't the best I've ever heard - the vocals are way too low throughout - but the band overcome this with sheer verve. The fact that their songs are rather neat, spiky little squibs of post-punk energy helps a lot, too. 'Talking To Myself' definitely passes the lodge-in-your-brain test.Yes, we'll definitely give Zwartenblauw the thumbs up.

I recall catching an I.O.N. gig long, long ago at the Falcon in Camden. Then, they seemed to be doing a fairly standard EBM/techno thing. Now it seems they've toughened things up, brought in a big, bad, guitar, and decided to rock out - in a rather surreal virtual-reality way. The line up is vocals, guitar, keyboard, keyboard, keyboard - so to look at you'd think they were still predominantly in the EBM zone. And then they crank up their noise, and it's a gritty rock-monster sound, underpinned by a walloping dance beat that doesn't so much back up the guitar as challenge it to a fight. It's an odd mix, but it works. Comparisons? Well, I suppose The Young Gods must be mentioned here - the original virtual-rock band! Or perhaps a mash-up of Apoptygma Berzerk....and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The singer, who looks like he's just rolled in on a skateboard, has a powerful rock voice - and thankfully *sings* rather than just going for the 'Huurrgghh!' noise we've all heard far too frequently these days. The whole package is unexpected (hey, I thought Club Noir was a *cyber* club? Didn't it say 'Electro special' on the ticket?) but very effective. The band throw in a cover of 'Enter Sandman' which is a trifle audacious - covering such a familiar song is surely a high-risk strategy, because if it doesn't work, *that* is what everyone's going to remember! However, I.O.N. pull off their version of Metallica's finest moment in fine style, giving the song a no-shit Killing Joke-style backbeat which gets even the most diehard cyber-types grooving away. We'll chalk that one up as a result for these virtual rockers, then.

If I.O.N. were something of an anomaly at a club which supposedly caters for the cyber/electro end of things, Venus Fly Trap are even more incongruous. This is a band with history: they've been around, in more line-ups than I suspect they'd care to remember, since the 1980s, and play the kind of robust alternorock that was once the main ingredient of Kid Jensen's alternative music show on Radio One, back when I was young and impressionable. It's quite nice, in a way, to find that this kind of music is still being made - although where it fits in to the music scene of today is anyone's guess. Sure, Venus Fly Trap are incongruous at Club Noir - but then, they'd be incongruous anywhere these days. Their natural territory is probably supporting Echo And The Bunnymen on a UK tour, circa 1984. The band come before us as a duo - guitar and vocals - and launch into a set of tunes which combine intelligence with attitude. It's a much more involving performance than the last time I saw them, supporting Altered States at the Underworld. At that gig, the band just seemed to droop disconsolately on stage, and trundled through the set without much passion. Tonight, they go for it in much more vigorous style. Perhaps the small stage is a plus point here: it concentrates the band's energy and pushes it out at us, while at the Underworld it all seemed to get lost in the ether. The set is cut short - it seems things are over-running - so the band fast-forward the backing track and wrap things up with a cover of proto-cyberpunk combo Suicide's 'Rocket USA'. A nice touch, given the supposed musical slant of Club Noir, although I can't help wondering how many people here tonight recognise the song. One for the old-skoolers, I think!

Angelbomb are a new band to me, but their presence in the second-top spot presumably means they've been around a bit and established a bit of profile. The singer, sporting orange mini-dreadlocks and a blue T-shirt, is the only splash of colour on stage. He comes across as confident and commanding, the immediate visual focal point. He's backed by three men in black, all toting guitars. Looks to me like we've got another band on our hands here who are more rock than anything else. Well, so much for Club Noir's 'Electro special' concept! Angelbomb fire up their noise, and, yes, they do indeed rock. In a Nine Inch Nails way. Sort of. Loads of energy, loads of writhing about on stage, and musically it's all nailed down to The Mighty Riff. If it were not for the fact that the beats are coming out of a box, rather than from a live drum kit (the only 'electro' or 'cyber' element on show here) I'd say an opening slot for the band at Ozzfest, or some other rawk extravaganza, would be a distinct possibility. What the hell, maybe Angelbomb should go for this sort of angle even with the beat box: the rock scene accommodates all manner of left-field stuff these days. I'm sure nobody would get hung up on their drum-free line-up. Their set is chopped short - the show is still running late - but they've made their mark.

At last, it's time for tonight's headliners. Goteki are, essentially, a rebranded version of Sneaky Bat Machine - a real-life collection of anime characters with a neat line in bouncy synthpop. Supposedly, the band's name-change hearalded a more serious approach - and tonight it's noticable that Sneakybat himself, in his capacity of lead vocalist, is somewhat dressed down compared to his previous incarnations as a cyberglam action figure. Why, he's not even wearing goggles! Behind him, keyboardist Crash 303 sports a beret that gives him a purposeful military air. Only Doctor A, at the other keyboard (Goteki are the only genuinely 'electro' band tonight) has dressed up in anything approaching the old Sneaky Bat Machine look. This stripped-down image is, paradoxically, a bit of an eye-opener - we've become so used to seeing Sneaky and his chums in full regalia that it's odd, in a way, to see Goteki looking something like a real band. And I use the words 'real band' deliberately: I think one of the problems Sneaky Bat Machine had was that everyone simply regarded them as an amusing novelty. A colourful, fun, collision between pantomime and manga, an entertaining spectacle on stage...but you wouldn't necessarily want to buy the album and take it home to *listen* to. I suspect the new band-identity, and apparent strip-down of the image, is designed to change all that. Well, the image-change certainly sends out a let's-get-serious message, but it's hard to tell if this has been accompanied by any beefing-up of the music. The soundmix, which has occasionally  come close to adequacy tonight, dies on its arse as soon as Goteki take the stage. It's all bass and midrange, reducing every song to an identikit thump-thump-thump. Sneaky's vocal is swamped in reverb, and so far back in the mix it creates the bizarre impression that while Sneaky himself is present, his voice is still in the dressing room. The reverb isn't even knocked back between the songs, so when Sneaky speaks to the audience it sounds like he's addressing us from the bottom of a very deep well. The only song that emerges from the murk in half-way recognisable form is the old Sneaky Bat Machine hit, 'Boneshaker', which is greeted with somewhat relieved enthusiasm by the audience - at last, something identifiable enough to dance to! The band try hard to make it all work, but it's heavy going. I think we'll have to wait for the next gig before we can assess Goteki on their true merits.

A rather frustrating night, then, which raises more questions than it answers. A 'cyber' club which seems to think that four guitar-based bands out of five constitutes an 'Electro special' - and which seems intent on moving towards guitar-goth for future events? Has Club Noir lost the plot? Given the poor turn-out tonight, it certainly seems as if Club Noir is losing its audience. All five bands did well under trying conditions - but *why* were those conditions so trying? It strikes me that someone, somewhere, just isn't taking care of business - and certainly doesn't seem to know much about music! Club Noir has to either shape up - or close down. Which way will it go? We shall watch and wait...

see all the photos for this show here

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis:

Angelbomb: [No website?]
Venus Fly Trap:
I.O.N: [No website?]

Club Noir is brought to us by Flag Promotions: