Take a train half an hour out of London to the west, and you come to Reading. Pronounced, incidentally, as in Otis, not as in books. It's a sprawling, untidy town, in the throes of trying to re-invent itself: the old Reading of red brick terraced houses and steam age industry is gradually being swept away by a new Reading of designer office blocks, all smoked glass and textured concrete. Whether this is a good thing is a debatable point - does London really need yet another blandly anonymous satellite town? Underneath the could-be-anywhere architecture, however, Reading is slightly more interesting than it might first appear. It is, of course, the home of the Reading Festival - one of the big 'must-play' events on the international rock calendar. Several strata further down in the underground, Reading also has a goth scene...and its own annual goth festival, Malediction.
It has to be said that as festivals go, Malediction is not large. Perhaps about 250 people gather in the delightfully named Club Tropicana (where the drinks, alas, are not free). Nevertheless, there's a sense of occasion as the doors open and the punters filter in. It may be a sunlit afternoon outside, but in the club everything's painted authentic matt black which creates an instant late-night atmosphere. Music Non Stop, the principal UK-based online store for goth/industrial music, have downloaded themselves for the occasion and are on hand with an impressively large CD stall. There's also a stall by Gothstuff, purveyors of glow-in-the-dark tiaras - and even an outlet selling ceremonial swords and hip flasks. And of course, there's the music.
First band of the day is Psychophile. But not quite the Psychophile we know and love. Mat Hook, the band's founder member, guitarist and programmer, has apparently decided that he no longer wishes to play live. In future, he'll confine himself to studio work. This rather abrupt decision means that tonight's line-up features Lucy, the band's vocalist, and a temporary keyboard player, Cliff. It's very odd to see a Psychophile that doesn't feature Mat freaking out on guitar: the sound is present and correct, thanks to the miracle of DAT, but Mat's presence is much missed. Still, Lucy throws herself into the performance with her usual gung-ho enthusiasm. She lets rip with that glorious voice, and instantly grabs the attention of the audience. Even the twin disadvantages of the opening slot and an emergency line-up can't disguise the fact that there's something special here. Psychophile have naggingly insistent songs, a trademark sound that collides layers of guitar with driving beats and electronix, and in Lucy they have a frontwoman extraordinaire. Within a few songs there's a squad of Psychophile fans dancing at the front - no mean feat at four o'clock in the afternoon!
With the audience all fired up and enthusiastic after Psychophile's set, any band should have had no trouble following on. Unfortunately Seize don't, er, seize the opportunity. They're a two-piece electro outfit: a bloke standing behind technology, and a female vocalist. Exactly the same on-stage set-up as Psychophile, then - so why can't Seize capture the attention of the audience? Song after song goes by with only the faintest ripple of polite applause. Many people simply ignore the band. Perhaps it's because Seize's music is just plain wrong for this event. It's polished, light, poppy, commercial dance stuff, the kind of music you might hear on the drivetime show on Kiss FM. The band themselves namecheck London house club Fluid and the dance mecca of Ibiza on their web page - goth references are conspicuous by their absence. All of this begs the obvious question: what, then, are Seize doing at a goth festival? It makes no sense from the audience's point of view - if we wanted to hear lightweight commercial dance we could just switch on the radio. And it makes no sense for Seize - clearly they have no connection, or affinity, with the goth scene, while genuine opportunities for real success very probably await them in the dance scene. They're just barking up the mother of all wrong trees here. Come to that, why did the Malediction promoters take it into their heads to book a straight-down-the-line commercial dance act, when any number of cool goth bands exist (The Ghost of Lemora, Seventh Harmonic, Leisure Hive, Synthetic) which would have been more appropriate? Seize aren't a *bad* band - on the contrary, they do what they do very well. It's just ludicrously illogical for them to be doing it *here*!
If Seize make drivetime music, Swarf supply an altogether more late-night soundtrack. Their sound is electronic, and definitely danceable - but not in a gratuitously happy-happy way. There's real depth here, and a haunting quality that derives partly from the music - spacious, uncluttered electronica, with room to breathe between the beats - and Liz's voice, which glides and soars over the top. Swarf have real songs, cool and catchy and groovy songs. The band's best-known track, 'Fall', is greeted with enthusiastic dancing (people are even singing along) but for me the highlight of the set is the as yet unrecorded 'Drown', a melancholy little number which suddenly builds to one of *those* choruses - it all rises to a sweetly uplifting climax which oddly but effectively counterpoints the rather bleak lyrical content. It's ironic to see so many people dancing so happily to a song about alcoholism! The band come across as unpretentious and friendly, Liz joking with the audience between songs and going into self-parodic dance routines during the instrumental breaks. They wrap up the set with a new one, 'Subtext', a track on which they've been collaborating with Wolfsheim's producer, Jose Alvarez-Brill. It's an instant Swarf classic, and even though it's totally unfamiliar the crowd still greet the song with enthusiasm. Excellent stuff all round from the Swarf team...
In their current form, Libitina have been going for seven years and two albums. They're now one of the UK scene's longest-established acts, so it's odd that the audience receives them cautiously, as if they're a new band without an automatic fanbase. Still, they burst onto the stage in a flurry of hammering drum machinery and guitar-noise, all jumping around like mad things. It's a noticeably more energetic performance than the last Libitina show I saw, supporting Inkubus Sukkubus in London. And yet the band's energy doesn't seem to make the leap from stage to audience. A large empty space yawns at the front as the crowd hangs back, regarding the band with the kind of polite restraint usually reserved for unknown newcomers. At one point Libitina appeal for everyone to move forward - they don't actually say 'Because we're dying a horrible death up here!' - but, to be brutal, when a band has to *ask* the audience to come forward, that's what it amounts to. The music is raw and angular - somewhat Sex Gang Children-esque at times - and packs a good, solid punch, yet still the audience remains static. At last, as a finale, Libitina trot out their novelty cover of Pulp's 'Common People' (infamously re-written as 'Gothic People') and immediately the audience react like Pavlov's dogs, suddenly coming alive and dancing around. It's obvious that *this* is the song everyone's been waiting for. And here, I think, is the problem - Libitina's light-hearted cover version has effectively become bigger than the band. People don't want Libitina, they just want 'Gothic People'. Frankly, it's Libitina's own fault - they've been threatening to drop the song from their set for years, but it seems they can never quite bring themselves to do so. (When I promoted the band back in '97 they made a show of reluctance about playing the song even then - but still played it!) The song has become a millstone around the band's collective neck - but after so long, do they have the courage to discard it?
Remember the days when bands used nice, sensible equipment on stage, like good old Marshall stacks? The Chaos Engine have no truck with any of *that*. Their gear includes two propane gas cylinders, with faces cut into them like cyberpunk pumpkins, and a bizarre silver contraption that's either a length of drainpipe or a bazooka. There's a flight case vomiting wires all over the stage, with a strobe perched precariously on top. And there are four human beings, the Chaos Engineers themselves, who variously play guitar, guitar, bass and, er, megaphone. They hurtle into the set like a runaway freight train. From somewhere among the wires, electronix shriek and burble, beats clang. The guitars crank up - we even have a bit of whammy-bar action tonight - and frontman Lee launches himself into his one-man impression of a small tactical nuclear device that's just gone a bit wrong. He roars and rages and throws wild gesticulations into the air, as the crazed machine of Chaos rampages behind him. But it's not just formless noise: The Chaos Engine posess a genuine, if rather skewed, pop sensibility. Beneath all the ranting and the freaked-out noise lurk catchy songs. Singalong choruses, even. Granted, The Chaos Engine's idea of a singalong chorus is usually something like 'We've come to fuck you up/ME AND MY ARMY!' - but they can set a line like that to a tuneful lilt, and you find yourself joining in, singing Lee's cartoon threats right back at him. Weird, but it works. Imagine Sheep On Drugs having a dust-up with Pop Will Eat Itself over several frames of a Judge Dredd strip, and that's probably as near as it's safe to get to The Chaos Engine's mindset. They're one of the best live bands in the UK right now, and this rumbustious performance demonstrates exactly why. Mad bunch of buggers, mind, but we wouldn't have them any other way...
The Dream Disciples are our headliners, and deservedly so. Having said that, The Chaos Engine are not an easy act to follow. Perhaps to allow the post-Chaos dust to settle, and build up a bit of anticipation, there's a lengthy wait before the DD's troop on stage, but once they're in the firing position they let rip with a salvo of all their best tunes. It's a set based around recent material from the 'Asphyxia' album, with a few excursions into the back catalogue. The Dream Disciples are such a highly-tuned rock machine these days that it's practically a foregone conclusion that they'll turn in a seamlessly stonking performance, and tonight they do exactly that. The beat carries all before it like a river in full flood, and the guitars rev up like a Bently Speed Six powering down the Mulsanne straight at 100mph. In particular, 'OPS' cracks through the PA like stainless steel - the rhythm has so much presence it's like the band have a real drummer hidden away somewhere. (As a matter of fact, the Dream Disciples shortly *will* have a real drummer, but that's another story.) The crowd go appropriately loony, and an outbreak of human pyramid-building suddenly takes place in the middle of the mosh. That's something I haven't seen at a gig for *years*! It's a top performance from the UK goth scene's top band - as if the Dream Disciples were ever going to deliver anything else - and a fine climax to the Malediction fest...
Except it's not over yet, because the DJs take over, and the music continues into the early hours. Me, I'm heading back to London. Real life is scheduled to kick back in within 24 hours. But it's been a great day out. Same time next year, then!
Website of the mysterious SoGoth organisation,
promoters of Malediction: http://www.sogoth.net
Music Non Stop, top online music retailer and Malediction sponsor: http://www.musicnonstop.co.uk
Church of Madness, Reading's regular goth nite: http://www.sogoth.net/~cofm
Gothstuff, Reading-based purveyor of clothing & accessories: http://www.gothstuff.com
Psychophile are now seeking a new guitarist
for live work. This is Lucy's own description of the job, as posted to
uk.people.gothic and elsewhere:
Psychophile are an established (well, sort of) band in the south-east of England. See our website at http://www.psychophile.freeserve.co.uk for a list of upcoming gigs.
@ Club Noir, London, February 22 2002
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Club Noir sounds like it should take place in a back-street basement, all smoke and sweat and matt-black walls. As a matter of fact, it's held in the attic room of The Garage. Right up under the rafters, the venue has created a small, self-contained club with a miniscule stage and an even smaller bar - and everything's painted blue, apart from the bar area, which is orange. It's not London's most lavishly-equipped venue, but with a good crowd in the place the atmosphere more than makes up for the lack of enormodome-style facilities.
Tonight, the proceedings are opened by The Sepia. With a name like that you would think they'd be some sort of etherealgoth band, all frills and lace and mannered Victoriana. But not so - they're an electronic-based outfit, three people standing behind keyboards and a guitarist lurking at the back. Their set essentially comprises mid-tempo electro instrumentals (only two songs have vocals), all based around chunky rhythms and chugga-chugga riffs. And there's the problem: while the band are undoubtedly technically proficient, their stage presence is minimal and the absence of vocals - plus the samey plodalong beats - mean that there's no focal point in the music. It all just trundles along agreeably enough, but there's nothing to latch on to, no *point* to the performance. As background music for the traditional early-evening activities of getting the drinks in and meeting yer mates, it's pleasant enough, but there's nothing here that really *commands* attention, nothing that pulls you towards the stage. I suspect the band are aware of these drawbacks, because the lead keyboard player throws himself at his instruments in a faintly comical display of frenzied key-bashing - hey, when he presses those keys, they *stay* pressed! He's obviously making an effort to bring a bit of showmanship and excitement to a live act that simply isn't inherently exciting. But that, I'm afraid, is The Sepia in a nutshell...
Synthetic also base their music around electronics, but they've obviously been at the Rock 'n' roll pills. Their set is a crazed display of manic freak-outs - which might come as a surprise to anyone who only knows the band from the rather more controlled sound of their albums. Paul Five, the guitarist, is the absolute epitome of rock 'n' roll attitude - posing and swaggering, shooting riffs from the hip like he'd just beamed down from the Stooges or the MC5. He launches himself into the very first song with an honest to goodness punk rock scissor-kick - now how often do you see something like that from an electronic band? How often does *any* band pull a stunt like that these days - and get away with it? Meanwhile, Tim, on vocals, plunges so enthusiastically into the music he seems to have difficulty hauling himself back to reality between songs. Flapping about in his muslin top like the ghost of Johnny Rotten on fast forward, he declaims every word of the lyrics as if his life depended on it. He becomes so immersed in the performance he seems disoriented when he has to address the audience, at one point requesting 'One moment, please!' in bewildered tones, as he apparently tries to remember where he is. Only Sarn V, on keyboards, exhibits any sense of restraint, but even so she occasionally can't help smiling at the antics of the boys in the band. The set is heavily drawn from the new album 'A.D.S.R.', and the relentless rhythmic onslaught of that album - which on CD can become a bit overpowering - makes splendid sense when played in loud and furious fashion through a live PA. A great performance - and TOTALLY rock 'n' roll!
Mechanical Cabaret are, to an extent, the jokers in tonight's pack. They're not really a band - more of a 'performance experience'. They feature the words and music of Roi, formerly of Nekromantik, presented sort-of live in a vaguely Soft Cell-ish manner. That's a comparison I'm sure has been made far too often, but there's definitely a touch of the Marc Almonds about Roi, as he writhes and preens in front of an adoring crowd, singing his songs about low lives and backstreet sleaze. The main difference between Mechanical Cabaret and Soft Cell, of course, is that not only does Roi play the Marc Almond part - he's also Dave Ball. The music - slinky, pulsating electronica - is entirely created by Roi himself. Although his comrade-in-cabaret, Tobi, is standing on stage behind an array of mysterious black boxes, it's pretty clear that the music is coming off some sort of backing track. Tobi's visual presence is great, but he's manifestly not really *doing* anything. The dangling wires hanging out of one of his black boxes, obviously not plugged in anywhere, are a bit of a giveaway, too! For all that, as a spectacle, it works. Roi has his own fan club of gutter hearts down the front, and shamelesly plays up to them. The small venue is actually an advantage here - it concentrates the atmosphere and allows Roi to work the stage, reaching out to his fans in a way that would just look awkward and contrived in larger-scale surroundings. Here, with both performers and audience all crammed together, the experience is heightened and it all works surprisingly well. Having mentioned Soft Cell, it's interesting that Mechanical Cabaret perform their own version of that fine old Fad Gadget number, 'I Discover Love' - perhaps a better indication of the area Roi sees himself occupying. I think further progress - to bigger venues and bigger stages - won't be easy unless Mechanical Cabaret transform themselves into something approaching a real band, but tonight, in the close confines of Club Noir, the Cabaret had class.
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis : http://www.nemesis.to
Mechanical Cabaret: http://www.mechanicalcabaret.co.uk
The Sepia: http://www.the-sepia.co.uk
Club Noir is yet another enterprise from
Flag Promotions: http://www.flagpromotions.com
Upstairs At The Garage, Club Noir's venue: http://www.meanfiddler.com/version1/upstairsat_thegarage/index.asp
with Theatres des Vampires
The Ghost of Lemora
February 9 2002
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Nosferatu, it seems, are finally splitting up. Tonight's gig is billed as their last-ever London show, and there are those who would say it's not before time. And yet, there's a good crowd in the venue: interestingly enough, predominantly younger goths for whom the band must simply be an intriguing old-skool name. I suspect the numbers have also been boosted by the presence of three support bands, all of whom seem to have their own followings...
The Ghost Of Lemora are up first. They're a very new band (still only a handful of gigs old) and they're good. There's a singer who looks like a young Stiv Bators. He's got a dry, sardonic delivery that reminds me of vintage Psychedelic Furs. There's a guitarist in a feather boa who drops surreal quips between songs: 'My canary died today. It was called Princess Margaret.' Bass guitar and keyboards (played live, for once!) complete the line-up. The songs are angular and forceful, powering along with slabs of guitar thunked down over a hard-as-nails drum-machine rhythm. Yep, we like this.
Season's End are also good. Trouble is, they're a good metal band. Doubtless they'd argue that they're a *goth* metal band, and sure enough they've got the whiteface and the lipstick and the regulation itsy-bitsy goatee beards to prove it. But musically they're bang in the metal ballpark (and, given the number of time changes they incorporate into their music, prog-metal at that) so I'm a trifle mystified to see them at this none-more-goth gig. Surely there are better opportunities for them in the metal scene, which is far larger and more successful than goth? Strategy, gentlemen, strategy! Still, they're tight and powerful and they headbang like it's 1973 all over again - it's not my kind of music, but objectively I can see they cut the mustard. It's just that I don't think Season's End will find the hottest mustard in the goth pot...
Theatres des Vampires come from Italy, and I've never heard of them before. After tonight's performance, I'd be overjoyed if I never heard of them again. They're a schlock-metal band, like a playschool version of Cradle of Filth, but without one atom of CoF's showmanship and humour. A bunch of long-haired grunts thrash and batter at the back, while up front a vocalist who looks like the little brother of Gimli from The Lord Of The Rings goes 'Huuurrghh!' Presumably he's going 'Huuurrgh!' in Italian, but the subtleties of the language of the Renaissance are not, alas, apparent. He's flanked by two scantily-clad female backing singers, who instantly become the main attraction for half the audience. There's a bit of play-acting with a wine glass between Gimli and one of the girls - I can't really discern what's happening, but I'm willing to bet it's some hackneyed 'I-drink-your-blood' routine. Ho hum. I'm off to drink some beer before the Nossies come on...
Nosferatu always interpreted the goth aesthetic more literally than most. They sang songs about vampires. They wore frilly shirts. They travelled around in a hearse. They gave themselves names like Damien DeVille and Vlad Janicek. Naturally, all this made them as camp as a row of tents, but both band and fans took it all very seriously. And, to be fair, the music wasn't bad. Solid, stomping goth-rock with rousing choruses and chunky guitars. Even those who found the image a little OTT had to admit the band made a decent racket. In the early 90s, Nosferatu notched up a fair bit of success on the UK scene.
So, what went wrong? Because, somewhere along the line, something *did* go wrong. By the mid-90s, Nosferatu's popularity had nosedived. Just to mention their name in goth circles was to invite derisive laughter. Conventional wisdom has it that Nosferatu were innocent victims of the groundswell of anti-vampire opinion around this time. Well, up to a point, maybe. But in truth I think the real reason why Nosferatu's popularity fell off a cliff is a little more prosaic.
The band were always notorious for frequent line-up changes (every time they played a gig, the half-joking question on everyone's lips was 'Who's the lead singer *this* week?') and too often these were accompanied by in-fighting and acrimony. 1994 brought a bust-up too far - guitarist Damien DeVille quit in the middle of a UK tour. The remaining members continued with Matt North from All Living Fear on guitar, until DeVille, who claimed ownership of the band name, took legal action to force them to stop.
In 1995 DeVille assembled a new Nosferatu with ex-Return To Khaf'ji singer Mark McCourt (renamed for his Nossies career as Dominic LaVey) and an ever-changing roster of hired hands. These shennanigans, unfortunately, shattered the band's credibility. The 'session musician' version of Nosferatu was never really accepted - and the fanbase more or less vanished overnight.
For all that, tonight there's quite a healthy crowd in front of the stage to witness the Nossies' last stand. The band comprises Damien DeVille himself, a bassist who may or may not be Stefan Diabolo (is anyone still paying attention to the ever-shifting Nosferatu line-ups, and the ever-changing stage names?), a drummer who is certainly not Rat Scabies....and Dominic LaVey, who has clearly partaken enthusiastically of backstage refreshment. In short, he's pissed. Staggering drunk. This, it must be said, is not a new phenomenon - I've seen previous Nosferatu gigs which have been much enlivened by LaVey's tendency to nudge the turps - but I've never seen him as trollied as he is tonight.
Eyes screwed shut, he slurs the words in the vague direction of the microphone, while clinging to the stand as if it's his only link with reality. It's a pitiful performance, thrown into sharp relief by the fact that the other band members are clearly trying to put on a good show. The bassist throws rock-star shapes, the drummer wallops and pounds, and DeVille coaxes some blistering runs out of his guitar. The music has been toughened up - this version of Nosferatu is definitely more rock than goth. If it wasn't for the shambling drunk on vocals, this would be a good, stomping, rock show. Older songs like 'Inside The Devil' and 'Wiccaman' sound good with the harder approach, but LaVey's drunken slurring brings it all down. Some of the audience decide to treat the spectacle as a laugh: others stare in stony-faced horror. As a finale, the band smash their guitars, but LaVey (who's already smashed) just ends up collapsed on the stage, dribble running down his chin, as he bids farewell by hurling a barely coherent insult at the audience: 'Aaarrrghya fuckin' cunts!'
Nosferatu had more ups and downs in their career than most bands, but there was a time when they genuinely meant something to the UK scene. Their big problem, I suppose, was always their inability to keep it together when things got rough. They couldn't keep a stable line-up for more than five minutes, and every in-band disagreement became a major public dispute. They tried the patience of their fans again and again - it's no wonder many simply gave up on the band. And then, at their last London gig, when they have one final chance to make it all come right and go out on a high - they blow it. For no reason other than their vocalist can't stay off the drink. What a pathetic, sorry, spectacle.
Don't remember them this way.
Nosferatu website: http://www.nosferatu.fsworld.co.uk
Damien DeVille's website: http://www.damiendeville.fsnet.co.uk
Interview with Dominic LaVey on a Nosferatu fan-page:http://www.twilightrealmzine.com/html/nosfe.html
Theatres des Vampires: http://www.theatres-des-vampires.com
Season's End: http://seasonsend.batcave.net
The Ghost of Lemora: http://www.geocities.com/theghostoflemora
Flag Promotions: http://www.flagpromotions.com
The Underworld: http://www.foundationgroup.co.uk/clubs/underworld/underworld.htm