see all photos from this concert here  

Launch Party for the Wasp Factory Compilation album
Working With Children and Animals Volume 2 
Ariel and the Flames
Club Noir, London
Friday July 26
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Wasp Factory, for those who've just joined us, is a UK-based independent label which provides a home for a bewildering array of left-field noisemakers. The roster includes manic freak-industrialists, The Chaos Engine (Lee of the band is the label's founder), techno-poet Tarantella Serpentine, glam-punk mayhem-merchants D.U.S.T, and assorted other square pegs who've discovered that the round holes of the mainstream music biz just don't fit.

Once in a while, the label gathers together a selection of its own artists, plus a few friends and fellow-travellers, and assembles a compilation album with the intention of showing the world just what strange life-forms wriggle and spawn in the undercurrents of the UK music scene. The first of these collections came out in December 2000 - Working With Children And Animals, Volume 1.  Now it's the best part of two years later, and Volume 2 is ready to go. The album's being launched tonight, in the upstairs room of the Garage. Wasp Factory have commandeered Club Noir and remodelled it in the label's own style. Let's join the revels.

Our first band isn't actually a band - or, indeed, a Wasp Factory artist. Um, right. So, it's illogical business as usual, then. Ariel and the Flames were supposed to open proceedings for us, but only Ariel - a scantily-clad woman who looks like a New Romantic gym mistress - is actually on stage. Seems the Flames couldn't make it. So, Ariel gives us a solo performance-art show which involves contorting herself into all manner of strange shapes, while a synth-y backing tape plays. It's, er, interesting. If this was 1982, and Ariel was performing at Blitz or Billy's, I'm sure she'd be the toast of the Futurists. In 2002, in the prosaic surroundings of the Garage's attic, I'm not quite sure if it all works, but what the hell. Ariel is extremely brave to get up there all alone and do her stuff, so I'll tip my hat to her for that. Oh, and...nice boots, too.

Next, Deathboy. The name covers both the band - an assortment of black-clad rock blokes, plus an electro drummer who favours the cyber look - and the band's frontman, Deathboy himself. He looks like a marketing man's idea of yoof in his just-so spiky hairdo, cyber-designer T-shirt and wide strides - and he isn't a Wasp Factory artist, either, although that situation may soon change. It seems the label is keen to sign him. OK, then - let's see what Deathboy can give Wasp Factory in exchange for his lavish advance. In a nutshell, it seems he's doing a NIN thing. Angsty guitar-industrial, but with enough straight-down-the-line rock moves to keep the metallers happy. Could be a winning formula - I'm advised that 'the kids' like this sort of thing - but in all honesty it's not the sort of stuff that breaks down barriers or goes down in history. It's the acceptable sound of alternative rock, I suppose. And, dammit, I didn't fight the Punk Wars so today's yoof could listen to 'acceptable' music!

One slightly incongruous element is Deathboy's vocal. I'd expected the identikit 'Huuurrgh!' sound which so many bands in this generic area seem to employ, but no - his voice is natural, which is a pleasant surprise. In all honesty, he's not the world's greatest singer - some of the songs tonight feature virtually spoken vocals - but it's nevertheless good to find he hasn't taken the well-worn path into the distort-o-zone. He's got a lot of mates, too: the front of the stage is crowded with well-wishers, all of whom seem to be on joking terms with Deathboy, who returns their quips and hands out free chocolate bars. It's all very friendly and nice, but maybe that's the problem. I don't necessarily *want* friendly and nice, and I certainly don't want 'acceptable' industrial-rock! I want to be astonished, transported, taken aback, skewered on great music and left for dead on the dancefloor. Now, Deathboy might do all that for the younger alternorock kids of today, and he might even do it for you. But, alas, I have to say he just doesn't do it for me.

Psychophile are a relatively established band now, although the present line-up is still quite new. Vocalist Lucy is joined tonight by Cliff, the band's latest guitarist. Many and various guitarists have passed through Psychophile's ranks (there's even an ex-Psychophile guitarist in The Empire Hideous), but the present incarnation of the band is particularly notable for not featuring any original members on stage. Mat Hook, the band's founder, now confines himself to studio boffinery, while Lucy and Cliff do the live thing. They're both wearing PVC tonight, which might be a bit of a mistake - it's a hot night and the venue is approaching sauna-like conditions.

Still, they launch into the set and - hang on, where's the guitar? Oh, right, somewhere in the tangle of wires on stage a plug isn't in the correct socket. With that fixed, the band hit the accelerator again and turn in a damn fine show. Lucy's voice is, as ever, the focal point, swooping around the music like seagulls over Brighton pier, while Cliff thrashes and clangs and grinds all sorts of noises out of his guitar. He does backing vocals, too - a new departure for Psychophile, and a brave move for Cliff considering he's got a genuinely outstanding singer right there on stage with him, but his almost-falsetto interlude on 'Visions' actually works very well. The heat seems to be taking it's toll on Lucy, however, and the last few songs are delivered in an uncharacteristically restrained fashion. I get the distinct impression the band are more than a little relieved when the set draws to a close and they can leave the stage.

Last time I saw Swarf, they were playing at the Spectrum in Montreal, effortlessly captivating the C8 audience - no mean feat, considering most of that crowd had never seen Swarf before and knew nothing of them. After that experience, it must seem like a bit of a come-down to squeeze onto the tiny stage at this venue - the drum riser at the Spectrum, upon which Liz so memorably played air guitar, is probably bigger than the entire stage at tonight's gig. There's also a slight question mark hanging over the band's involvement with Wasp Factory. A quick look at the band-roster on the Wasp Factory website reveals that Swarf are no longer listed as Wasp Factory artists. What can this mean? Well, I suppose we'll find out soon enough. For now, Swarf are here, set up and ready to go. Let's put all other considerations on hold, and just enjoy this.

Like Psychophile, Swarf seem to be wilting a little in the heat, but they still deliver a fine set. Their songs are so well-judged and effective - rolling, liquid rhythms, through which Liz's voice slices like a knife slits water - that they're impossible to ignore. Swarf immediately attract the biggest crowd of the night to the front - even Deathboy, with his instant fan club of mates, didn't get a reaction as good as this. In any case, genuine fans count for far more than mates. Anyone can make their gig look good by getting a bunch of friends down the front. *Real* appeal is a much more precious thing, and Swarf have it by the truckload. The set is a selection of the 'hits' - 'Fall', 'Drown', and 'Subtext' stand out, and get everyone grooving. As ever, I'm impressed - although I've seen Swarf umpteen times now I still can't get over just how *good* they are. With a judicious bit of pushing and shoving in the right areas, I'm certain it would be possible for Swarf to become a genuinely big band - not big in goth-scene terms, or whatever, but *big*. They've got that essential something, and it would be criminal if they were not given the opportunity to go all the way. 

Freudstein top things off tonight. They're an electro-duo, but that simple description doesn't do them any kind of justice. They're a couple of mad professors, hard-wired for happiness among a fearsome array of keyboards and sequencers and black boxes of all kinds. There's such a jumble of electronic gear piled up around them, the stage looks like an explosion in a Maplin store. But hang on - there's a guitar on stage, too. Looks like Freudstein have added a bit of rock 'n' roll to their musical brew. They press the go button, and they *go*. The music is, I suppose, tangentally related to techno, but Freudstein have no truck with genre-boundaries. They make a full-on stompy electro-noise with all sorts of detail in the mix that keeps it interesting even if you don't want to dance. The two of them take turns on vocals and guitar. Whichever Freud isn't fronting the band at any given moment hunches over the electronix at the back, tweaking this, prodding that. Good stuff, and only the band's tendency to indulge in banal jolly-ups (come on, did they *really* have to start the set with a shout of 'HELLO LONDON!' ?) brings things down a bit. Come off it, Freudstein, you have too much depth and substance for this flimsy stuff!

After the bands, Lee Chaos is scheduled to commandeer the decks for a stint of DJing, but unfortunately I have to honour his set in the breach rather than the observance, as 'twere. It's getting on for midnight, and it's time to go. The crowd has, in fact, thinned out quite noticably by this point: many people have headed off down to Soho to catch a few hours in Tenebrae, the increasingly successful goth 'n' related club with which Club Noir rather unwisely collides. I'd rate tonight's shindig as an eight-out-of-ten, most of that score being accounted for by the magnificent Swarf and the splendid Psychophile. Deathboy, I'm afraid, account for the two points I have to knock off.

Wasp Factory has established itself as a thorn in the side of the music biz monster, pricking the hide of that lumbering beast with an assortment of cool and maverick artists - and then gleefully running away, cackling with mad laughter. Long may that attitude continue. But if the label has decided to go for a more 'acceptable' alternorock strategy....well. That way an entirely different madness lies!

The stars of the show:
Ariel and the Flames:  No website...

see all photos from this concert here

Wasp Factory label site:

Flag Promotions, proprietors of Club Noir:

Upstairs At The Garage, venue for the  show:

The way it was. The launch of 'Working With Children And Animals Volume 1', December 2000:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: