|see all our photos from WGT 2003 here
Wave Gotik Treffen
June 6 - June 9, 2003
~review and photos by Uncle
The Agra Market and Live
(in order of appearance)
Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft
At the risk of stating the obvious, the
Wave Gotik Treffen is not a conventional 'rock festival'. It's far more
akin to a city-wide arts festival than the big-stage-in-a-field layout
of British festivals like Reading, or continental events such as Eurorock.
However, the principal focus of the WGT is live music, and that's why we're
here on Friday afternoon at the Agra, the largest of the many venues across
Leipzig which have turned themselves into festival locations for the four
days of the WGT.
The Agra is a complex of several halls,
normally used for trade exhibitions. As a matter of fact, the next event
coming in after the WGT is a flower show. (I feel like I should make a
frightfully witty comment
at this point, but I just can't think of one. Feel free to add your own!)
The two largest Agra halls - vast, echoing hangars into which you could
probably fit several medium-size jet aircraft - are given over to the bands
and the market. The market itself is a bit of a jaw-dropper - a huge area
devoted to just about every manifestation of gothic fashion and culture.
Traders have come from all over Europe to be here; this is the shop window
of the European goth scene, a place where, it seems, any goth-related enterprise
worth its salt must have some sort of presence.
'All over Europe', however, does not include
the UK. I'm a little disappointed to find that the UK is not represented
anywhere in this bustling bazaar of goth-commerce, and even the CD stalls
(of which there are many) don't seem to stock UK artists. Hey, all you
bands - yes, you, with that impressive-looking blurb on your CDs about
'worldwide distribution' - how come I can't buy your music at Europe's
biggest goth festival? The small scale of the UK scene these days is an
inescapable fact, but I don't see why that should mean we simply stop trying.
Unfortunately, one of the principal impressions I gained from my visit
to the Wave Gotik Treffen is how insignificant the UK scene really is in
global terms these days. I was, of course, aware of this fact beforehand,
but it gives me no pleasure to have it confirmed. The trouble is, I think
people on the UK scene today are quite content with this state of affairs.
The small, cosy UK goth scene has become a comforting security blanket
for too many bands, labels, and other scene-operators, who, it seems, just
don't want even to try to conquer new territories. A stroll around the
Agra market illustrates just how much goth stuff there is out there...and
how little we in the UK have to do with it these days. But I digress. I
digress, and I rant. A justifiable rant, I think, but even so...what the
hell. It's time to party. Let's cut the crap, get the beers in, and get
down the front for the first band of WGT 2003 - Cinema Strange.
The sunlight is streaming through the windows
in the back wall of the Agra. In the civilized world, it's
still only tea time. Which, perhaps, explains Cinema Strange's costumes.
The two guitarists have dressed up like a couple of little old ladies at
a tea dance, while the singer is either a sea cadet or a bellboy, I'm not
sure which. There's also a drummer, a new addition since I last saw the
band - he's hidden behind his kit, so I fear I can make no comment on his
costume. I can, however, relay the reassuring news that he has a splendidly
sensible hairstyle. The band take the stage to a roar of enthusiasm from
the crowd, which, even this early in the day, is already several thousand
strong. Cinema Strange obviously have a large and devoted fanbase in Germany,
where the Deathrock thing seems to be the latest big sensation. Every third
person in the crowd seems to be doing the big hair and ripped fishnets
'Batcave' style. It's an odd sensation for me. Here, in this big tin shed,
somewhere in Germany in 2003, it's London, 1981 as far as this audience
By their props ye shall know them. Cinema
Strange are accompanied on stage by a motley assortment of inflatable dolls
and decapitated soft toys. This is either an artistic statement on the
loss of innocence...or maybe the band are just messing about. As ever with
Cinema Strange, you're never quite sure. And then they crank up their angular
art-rock, and away they go. It's a driving, physical set - Cinema Strange
might indulge in all manner of arty weirdness, but somewhere underneath
it all they're still a Rock Band. Their music touches all sorts of bases
- post-punk, post-modern, post-early-for-Christmas - but, dammit, it's
still good old abrasive, freaked out rock, and you can still mosh to it
if the fancy takes you.
Cinema Strange shamelessly ham it up for
the cameras and the diehard fans at the front alike. They
make a point of coming right to the front of the stage (something which,
I must note in passing, few other bands do), hanging over the monitors,
striking poses, grinning and gurning into a hundred eager lenses. The crowd
go appropriately wild. I'm reminded, ironically, of the time I saw the
Virgin Prunes come out in frocks and smear tomato ketchup over themselves
one night at the Lyceum, some time in the early '80s. I was 18 years old
and very impressionable, and I thought it was great. Unfortunately, most
of the audience at that gig were there to see the headliners, Theatre Of
Hate, and were outraged. The Prunes got bottled off. Compare and contrast
with the storms of adulation which greet every move Cinema Strange make
- it's taken 20 years, but this kind of freaky punky-arty-rocky weirdness
has finally found its audience.
FUNHOUSE AT WERK II
As soon as Cinema Strange come off stage,
it's a mad dash to the tram stop to grab a number 11
to Werk II, another venue a few miles down the road. 'Follow me!' says
Alan, a veteran of many previous WGTs. 'I'm good at barging through crowds!'
We're on a mission (ha!) to see Funhouse, whose set is timed to start soon
after Cinema Strange are scheduled to finish. With so many different bands
playing in assorted locations all over town, this kind of frantic sprint
between venues is inevitable if you have a varied list of 'must-see' bands.
At the tram stop we meet some people from Philadelphia, who are freaking
out because they've lost their friend who's got their tickets. 'English-speaking
people!' they cry with relief. Bluffing my way along, I give them some
vital tram-route information, trying to disguise the fact that I only got
into town 24 hours ago myself, and I'm only one page ahead of them in the
Werk II is a rather cool factory building
which has been converted into a performance space. The
old-fashioned industrial ambience - all red brick and hefty wrought iron
beams - lends itself very well to the gothic festival experience. Through
an industrial roller shutter door, and there's the stage. Funhouse are
already on, barrelling through a typically boisterous set of good-time
blastorama goth 'n' roll. The line-up has changed since I last saw the
band (which was, as it happens, at a gig I promoted in London). There's
a new guitarist, who remains a mysterious half-glimpsed shape in the lights
and the smoke, but the band's basic approach - simply to get out there
and *rock* - is the same as ever. Down the front, I run into Martina, an
old friend of Nemesis Promotions. The old-skool crew are in the house tonight!
She pulls me into a good photography position; being a traditionally reserved
Englishman, I was politely hanging back on the fringes of the crowd. Right
up against the barrier, it's possible to get the full effect of the Funhouse
show. It's good rollicking stuff, although because most of the stage lighting
is behind the band, rather than on the band, Funhouse appear as blurred
shapes in the rock 'n' roll swirl. In these conditions of limited visibility,
the interaction between band and audience which I recall from their London
gigs - swapping jokes and friendly insults with the front row - doesn't
happen here. But it's a damn fine show even so. Definitely worth the tram
ride. The band certainly haven't lost any of their gung-ho enthusiasm for
the rockin' experience, and it's good to see this kind of no-shit full-on
performance. We need more of this stuff! But wait a minute - no songs about
Mike's ex-wife? Surely not!
After Funhouse, the next band on stage
is In Strict Confidence, who I saw only recently at the Gotham all-dayer
in London. I'm tempted to stick around and see what this band is *really*
like, since their London set was bedevilled with technical problems and
had to be cut short - and, in any case, the band were struggling with an
audience more interested in seeing the headliners, The Damned. Under those
circumstances, their show quite understandably wasn't up to the usual standard.
The surge of people coming in to the venue suggests that In Strict Confidence
have a big following here in Germany, and I imagine, being on home turf,
as it were, they must have played a much more impressive set. Alas, I didn't
see it. We decide to jump a tram back to the Agra, and catch up with the
THE GATHERING AND DAF
AT THE AGRA
Back at the Agra, we arrive when Silencio
are on stage, a band nobody seems to have heard of. So,
we hang out in what I suppose you'd call the food court - an area between
the venue itself and the adjacent campsite, where stalls selling all manner
of food - from wurst to fruit, confectionery to pizza - have set themselves
up. This area is, more or less, the social crossroads of the WGT. Hang
around here long enough and you'll meet everyone you know at the festival.
We run into Petit Scarabee, DJ at the Edinburgh club Finsternis (her flyers,
incidentally, are the only UK-scene publicity bumph I see throughout the
entire four days of the festival - where was everyone else?), Isabelle,
singer with The Breath Of Life, and Thomas, who's here in his capacity
of sound engineer for Ikon and Faith & The Muse. I'm amused to find
one of the stalls is selling something called 'krapfenbackerei', which
is probably a fine traditional German foodstuff, but with a name like that
I'm not surprised it hasn't made much headway in English-speaking countries.
And then we decide to venture into the
big tin shed of the Agra, and see The Gathering. Not, as it turns out,
such a great idea. What happened to The Gathering? They used to be good!
Brief history: The Gathering started out
as a full-on metal band, then sharpened up their style and became a taut,
pithy alternative rock group, and in this incarnation were actually rather
cool. But now...what's gone wrong? The band have turned into purveyors
of bland MOR coffee-table rock. They appear on stage decked out in casual
leisure wear and baggy blue jeans, and all their songs have turned into
mid-tempo snooze-athons (the gaps between the beats are so long I genuinely
don't know how the drummer stays awake) with Cher-style power-ballad vocals.
The singer simply cannot deliver a line without extending it into a pointless
bout of showing off: 'Wooah-oh! Waaaahhh-oooh-oh! Wooh-yeaaaahhh-ohh!'
Curiously enough, she does all this while wearing a fixed grin. Her mouth
never seems to move in relation to the sounds she's singing - the effect
is rather akin to a ventriloquism act, although I wouldn't like to suggest
who's the dummy.
Meanwhile, the bassist headbangs ludicrously
(it's as if nobody's told him the band don't do that metal stuff any more)
while the guitarist just stands there doing his Very Serious Musician thing. The
crowd lap it up. Every song is greeted with massive cheers. Even the singer's
thank-yous between the songs - naturally, she over-extends even these simple
phrases: 'Danke schooooonnnn!' - receive huge roars of appreciation. I'm
forced to the conclusion that I just don't have the Gathering gene, or
something - at any rate, I'm just bored by it all. I stand off to one side,
watching the audience going apeshit, and I feel utterly bemused. What is
it they're hearing that I'm not hearing? The only spark of interest in
the entire set comes when the guitarist coaxes a brief squawk out of a
theremin, as a climax to one of the songs. But it *is* just a brief squawk,
a little novelty noise - the theremin is never used to any greater extent.
Well, of course not. Why, if The Gathering started doing things like that,
they'd be in danger of becoming interesting, and that's clearly against
band policy these days.
There are many inexplicable things about
the Wave Gotik Treffen, and the presence of The Gathering at the festival
is just one of them. What a load of krapfenbackerei.
Fortunately, the evening is just about
to take a turn for the better. Putting DAF on directly after The Gathering
seems a bit like following Pat Benatar with Cabaret Voltaire, and in truth
I wasn't expecting too much from this bunch of '80s-vintage electro-heads.
Sure, they had their day, but wasn't their day back in 1984 or thereabouts?
Then again, maybe DAF's time has come again. The
band's name (in full, it's Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft) has a decidedly
ironic and contemporary ring these days, what with Donald Rumsfeld issuing
threats to Germany like a spoilt kid who can't understand why everybody
doesn't want to join his gang. In any case, once on stage, DAF demolish
my doubts and simply rip the place up. My photos do no justice whatsoever
to a storming high-energy set. The set-up is a minimal triangle - a drummer
on a big rock kit, Robert Gorl on keyboards, Gabi Delgado fronting the
whole thing with such barely-repressed energy it's almost frightening.
Striding from side to side of the stage, stopping, turning, pacing back
again as if constrained by an invisible force field, throwing his arms
wide and doing the old hand/staple/forehead as if at a loss to comprehend
the mad world he sees before him, tipping water over his head, a silver
stream glinting in the lights...don't ask me how, but he fills the vast
tin shed of the Agra with his presence.
The crowd respond with a show of crazed
moshing which is only slightly less frightening than Gabi Delgado's intense
performance. I'm at the front, attempting to stay on my feet - there's
a girl just ahead of me who turns and frowns with frosty disapproval every
time the seething crowd shoves me forward, and I unintentionally jostle
her. I feel like saying, 'Look, dear, don't frown at *me*! In case you
hadn't noticed, I've got five thousand lunatic DAF-fans going absolutely
mental right behind me!' Honestly, kids today. Give 'em a good mosh and
they don't know what to do with it. 'Der Mussolini' provokes the crowd
to even greater frenzies. It's quite something to look out over the crowd
and see the entire place moving, right the way to the back. But the highlight
of the set comes right at the end, and paradoxically it isn't a frantic
mosh-track. Quite the reverse: courageously, DAF elect to end their set
with a downbeat, almost slow motion take on 'Alles Ist Gut', drenching
the song with a bleak sadness which is quite at odds with the up-and-at-'em
feel of the set as a whole. This, of course, amounts to a telling touch
of irony, for alles ist obviously *not* gut in the world today. Sending
the crowd away with that cautionary shot across the bows after such a manic
performance is a brave move, and demonstrates that DAF are confident they
can take their audience with them, to the highs and the lows alike. An
astonishing performance, and as I wander away through the thinning crowd
I realise that DAF have just made the likes of VNV Nation look like the
woefully amateurish bumblers that they are. And they didn't say 'Put your
hands in the air!' once!
It's now the early hours of the morning,
and the live music has ended for the night. There are clubs all over Leipzig
catering for the real diehards who want to keep the party going, but we're
heading out for the faithful number 11 tram to go back to the hotel. A
few hours sleep, and then we'll start all over again. This was just the
first day. There's more to come...