see all the photos from this event here
Wave Gotik Treffen
Friday May 13 - Monday May 16 2005
~ review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Part two: Sonnabend
Saturday. Leipzig is overcast and grey. Rain glowers on the horizon. What to do? Why, go to the open-air Parkbühne stage, of course. Here, amid the greenery of Clara Zetkin Park (nope, I don't know who she was, either), the atmosphere tends to be relaxed and easy-going: the Parkbühne has a chilled-out feel all of its own. Today, however, with the clouds building and the wind whipping up, it's just chilled.
The rain comes down just in time for the first band, Silent Stream of Godless Elegy, who have come all the way from the Czech Republic only to find themselves struggling with the 'early slot, small crowd' factor - and also playing to a sea of umbrellas. But, against the odds, they do well. They play a folkie-metal blend of music that's tough enough to command attention, while also containing detail and subtlety - the way the violin fits in to the flow is rather neat. The band's main asset, however, is their lead singer. She has an impressively strong voice, but always keeps it controlled - and, even more impressively, maintains a constant good humour in the face of the continuing rainstorm. In the general way of things, this isn't my kind of music, but the band successfully penetrate my prejudices, and I find myself getting into it. The songs have a certain swing and swagger which pulls me in, and that lead vocal, clear and gutsy throughout, makes the whole thing work.
The only slight minus point to Silent Stream of Godless Elegy is the male backing vocalist, who steps up to the mic at intervals and unleashes that bog-standard 'Huuuurrrgghh!' noise, at which points the band instantly lose all their individuality and sound like any old doomcookie-metal act. I suppose, if you want to get ahead in any branch of the metal scene these days, you've pretty much got to go 'Huuuurrrgghh!' - the kids want it, the media expects it, it's just, like, what metal is these days, right? But I'm still maintaining my one-man resistance campaign to the spread of the 'Huuuurrrgghh!' virus, and certainly I'd contend that Silent Stream of Godless Elegy don't need these interruptions. They've got good stuff going on here. Why spoil it?
How appropriate that And Also The Trees should find themselves playing the Parkbühne stage, set as it is in its leafy parkland surroundings. It's almost conceptual: And Also The Trees, and also the trees, if you will. The rain is still falling, which means I have to duck and dive to glimpse the band through a barrier of brollies, but in a way the grey day and the rain suits the serious, purposeful style of And Also The Trees' music. They play a very English folk-influenced rock, and note that I say folk-influenced rock, rather than plain old folk-rock. There's nary a jaunty fiddle or surplus hey-ho-nonny-no in this stuff. Instead, it's as if Nick Cave had grown up obsessed with traditional English music rather than the sunburnt strangeness of the American south. The songs are murky narratives, delivered by a singer in the slightly frayed garb of a nineteenth-century gentleman who's fallen on hard times. It's as if the scion of the manor, his fortune dissipated, had decided to set out to seek his fortune in the dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution - and hey, he's brought his band along, too. It's a quirky approach, to be sure, which doesn't have an awful lot to do with the usual stylings of rock 'n' roll, but it works. The crowd are convinced and cheering from the very first number - and so am I. One final oddity: I recall that And Also The Trees have been at pains to maintain over the years that they're not a goth band. They've always been politely insistent on this point, rather than doing a full-scale Eldritch, but nevertheless the point has been made. And yet, here they are, playing a festival with the G-word in its title, in front of a black-clad audience in Bauhaus T-shirts, and seeming entirely at home. You know what they say, gentlemen - if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck...
And now, here comes ASP, in full-on crazed carny mode, with a stage loaded with so many pyrotechnics I sincerely hope someone's got the fire brigade on standby. Herr ASP himself - the enigmatic central figure around whom the band revolves - looms spookily over the proceedings, and believe me it's no easy task to loom spookily at half-past five in the afternoon. The show ignites with the almost physical whumph of a match in a petrol can. Flames spew forth, and the guitars come tumbling after. It's a gleeful, shameless romp, a brash, broad-brush splurge of rock 'n' roll showmanship, with a soundtrack of muscular guitar riffs and thundering drums. Granted, at a normal gig, all this might seem pompous and silly, and I suspect if I saw ASP doing such an OTT show in a smaller venue all my punk rock hackles would rise - but here, in front of a rain-bedraggled festival crowd, this kind of craziness is just what we need. One point to note is that Matthias Ambre, ASP's musical director and all-round sound creator, is on guitar for this gig, which means we're getting the noise straight from the source, as it were. But it's Herr ASP himself who's the focal point, the eye of the roiling storm. Striding about the stage as fire erupts from all quarters, he harangues the audience in the roar of a mad scientist watching his life's work go up in flames. 'Sing Child' is a riot of audience participation, as a thousand voices join in on the chorus. But it's 'Ich Will Brennen' that really sets things alight, for it's a brakes-off punk-metal slam, as fast as a fire engine and twice as loud. At any multi-band event such as this, there always comes a point where things really kick off; there's always one band which grabs the day by the scruff of its neck and shakes a real show out of it. Today, that band is ASP.
There's only one way to follow an over-the-top showbiz experience like ASP's set, and that's with another over-the-top showbiz experience. Mortiis may not be in the business of pyromania, but he's certainly giving us the full-on visual effects. His band are costumed as if they're starring in a cyberpunk remake of Labyrinth, while Mortiis himself, naturally, appears before us in the guise of a distinctly stroppy goblin king. The set kicks off with impressive belligerence, as if the garden gnomes around Alice Cooper's ornamental fishpond decided to have a fight. It's abrasive, fast, and delightfully loony - but, after a couple of songs, I have to make my excuses and leave. The Last Days Of Jesus are about to take the stage over at Werk II, and if the Gruftibahn is running on time, it should be possible to get to the venue in time to see at least half their set....
The Gruftibahn is indeed running on time, but, alas, I'm not. I arrive at Werk II to find a packed venue and an enthusiastic crowd...who have just witnessed The Last Days Of Jesus bring their set to an end. It's all over just as I walk in the door. However, this means I am bang on time to see the following band on the bill, which just happens to be the Scary Bitches. If you recall my previous Scary Bitches reviews in StarVox, I'm sure you can imagine how pleased I am about that.
Now, here's a strange thing. In Germany, the Scary Bitches have become accepted as the latest cool phenomenon on the deathrock scene. I'm sure this has come as a surprise to the Scary Bitches themselves, for they certainly never anticipated any kind of international success, as we can tell from the parochial, exclusively Brit-centric nature of their lyrics and jokes. Take, as an example, their song 'Lesbian Vampires From Outer Space', which depends for its hook and its humour on the line 'They got a grant from the council, it's a fookin' disgrace'. That's immediately comprehensible to anyone from the UK who is aware of the controversy local government bodies sometimes create by donating funds to minority groups - but who in Germany will know that, or understand terms such as 'grant' and 'council' in this context? Indeed, one Scary Bitch goes by the name of DEADri Ranciid - a name which must utterly baffle audiences outside the UK, who surely can't understand why it's supposed to be funny. In order to get that one, you have to know that a long-running soap on British TV features a character called Deirdre Rashid. It's a pun, geddit? But I ask you: how many people here in Leipzig are aware of such arcane details of UK popular culture? How many people here in Werk II are actually getting the joke? I think this explains the band's success. In Germany right now, deathrock is very much the latest fashion, and just about any band which can muster a 'weird' image and a few songs about vampires and what-not is immediately bundled onto the bandwagon. That, essentially, is how the Scary Bitches suddenly found themselves hailed as Deutsch deathrock heroines. The German audiences are taking it all at face value. They don't realise they're watching a Benny Hill-show style novelty band. They think it's all for real!
So, I stand there, glumly listening to the Scary Bitches trundle through their usual pedestrian pub-rock, the drum machine galumphing gormlessly away behind every song. 'Where's your drummer?' shouts a voice in the crowd - for this audience, knowing the band only from their album, on which there's a full four-piece line-up, wasn't expecting to see the two piece, backing-track version. 'It's the original line-up tonight!' says Alma Geddon, covering up the deficiency with a hasty piece of positive spin. It's the usual show, the usual songs, even the same old between-song patter. The trouble with being a novelty band, of course, is that the novelty soon wears off, and I've seen the Scary Bitches' clunky end-of-the-pier-show act too often to be impressed. But the assembled deathrock hordes lap it all up. Significantly, very few people laugh at the funny bits - but everyone gleefully sings along to the rude bits, and there are no shortage of voices ready to shout out the swear words whenever they crop up in the lyrics. So this is all you have to do to be queens of the deathrock scene now, is it? Put on a lame novelty show, sing a few nursery-rhyme songs about cartoonish spooky stuff, and drop the word 'fuck' into the lyrics occasionally? If that's all it boils down to, then please allow me to be the first to announce that deathrock is dead.
After all that, I'm in need of a shit-hot live act to restore my spirits. Will Human Disease do the business? I know very little of the band: it's not easy to find information. Their website is 'under construction', which is fair enough - except that the info page on their label's site tells me the band formed in 1997. Nine years of existence, and they still haven't got around to finishing the website? Hmmm. Not exactly the hardest working band in showbiz, then. Well, let's hope they've found time to write a few good songs in those nine years. Here they come, looking encouragingly cool in their new wave glam rags, and I'm encouraged to discover that they've got the songs to match the look. The Human Disease sound is a densely-woven net of post-punkisms, a controlled, measured, mash-up of 80s alternative influences, played with the sharply defined punch of the twenty-first century. All of which, of course, comes under the heading of Good Stuff as far as I'm concerned. But where Human Disease fall slightly flat is in the presentation. The band is introspective, uncommunicative, barely acknowledging the presence of the audience. The musicians in the band adopt the traditional heads-down stance of the humble worker-muso, and spend most of the gig in close communion with their fretboards and keyboards. The show, such as it is, is therefore entirely in the hands of the lead vocalist - which would be fine if only he put in a bit of effort. But he, too, chooses to ignore the audience - he stands back, lost in his own world, singing away with all the detatchment of a home studio rehearsal. Bizarrely, he even turns away from the audience on some songs, and adopts a sideways stance - as if he's decided the crowd out front is just too scary, and the only way he can calm his nerves is by singing exclusively to the man on the monitor desk. It's frustrating, because Human Disease clearly have potential - it's just that they don't seem interested in whipping up any kind of storm. Someone needs to slip them some whoopee pills, or something, and tell 'em to face the front and boogie.
The crew comes out and clears the stage. The drum kit goes; everything goes. We're left with two small amps, and a big empty space. Clearly, the next band has what you might call a 'minimal' line-up...
And so, indeed, it proves, because next up we have Sleeping Children, a traditional bass/guitar/vocals/drum machine goth band. Curiously, Sleeping Children seem to be generally regarded as some sort of deathrock outfit, although to me they've always seemed more like a straight-down-the-line goth act - and anyway, as I've hinted above in respect of the Scary Bitches, the D-word hides a multitude of sins these days, and certainly can't be taken as an automatic guarantee of quality. So, here they are: the guitarist in his fishnet vest and mini-skirt, and the bassist, who seems to have availed himself copiously of the backstage refreshments. At any rate, he lumbers unsteadily around, wearing a goofy grin that suggests the recent consumption of many beers. And here's the singer, skinny, angular, moving from one pose to another with all the deliberation of rock 'n' roll yoga. The drum machine does its tick-tock-chatter thing, the guitar goes zeeew-zang, the bass goes bambalambambalambam, while the singer hangs over the mic stand like a discarded overcoat and makes a bizarre 'Ah-waaaw, aww-wow-ah-waaaaw' noise, as if he's decided that as an amusing gimmick he'll only sing vowel sounds. And then they do the same thing again. And again. And all over again. Sleeping Children, it seems, have only one song, which they insist on repeating until their time-slot is up. Or perhaps they have several songs, but as another amusing gimmick they've contrived to make them all sound the same. Frankly, I find the music lame and one-dimensional, and the visual side of things - which basically involves the guitarist and bassist wandering pointlessly and unsteadily around the stage, while the singer carefully arranges himself into yet more poses up front - makes it look like they're just messing about. The deathrockers in the crowd dutifully clap whenever the band's incoherent blatter quietens down enough to suggest that they've come to the end of a song, but the applause dies away so quickly that it's obvious that Sleeping Children aren't winning over anyone who's not already a loyal fan. The overall impression is that the band are simply indulging themselves with a boozy lark, and while that might be good fun at a small-scale home-town gig, it's an utter waste of a high-billed festival slot.
Well, we're not doing too well tonight, are we? I'm still waiting for that elusive shit-hot live act to come out and blow me away (or at least put on a show that I can honestly hail as impressive), but it hasn't happened so far. There's only one more band to go, so it's all in the hands of Bloody, Dead And Sexy. I recall seeing this band at the Parkbühne stage in 2003, where they seemed a little out of place in the heat and sunlight of a hot June day. I remarked then that the band's natural habitat was probably an after-dark slot in a murky nightclub - and here we are, in just such an environment. What's more, Bloody, Dead And Sexy are headlining this time, which immediately focuses attention on the band in a way that just didn't happen in '03, when they were languishing half-way down the bill. Gentlemen, if you can't cut it tonight, you ain't never gonna cut it, OK?
Well, I'm happy (and not a little relieved, after the somewhat less than impressive performances of certain earlier bands) to say that Bloody, Dead And Sexy rise to the occasion magnificently. They seem entirely at home under the lights; entirely at ease in front of a crowd. As with Human Disease, the musicians in the band keep themselves in the background, simply getting on with the business of keeping the noise coming. But, up front, Bloody, Dead And Sexy have the distinct advantage of a singer who knows how to work a crowd - and who obviously relishes his frontman role. Dressed in his best gruftischlampe gear, he prowls the stage, fixing the audience with a baleful stare, drawing all the attention and making the show happen. His musical colleagues, meanwhile, concentrate on generating a thunderous mass of riffs 'n' rhythms. Yep, Bloody, Dead And Sexy are obviously best friends with Mister Riff. The cumulative effect is undeniably impressive. It's as if the band have grown up - or at least grown into their music - in the last couple of years: no longer mid-bill contenders, they really look like a headline-status act now. The audience hangs on every move the singer makes as the band's roaring thunder breaks over the monitor wedges like surf, and it all adds up to a suitably rockin' experience. Well, that's a relief. I was beginning to think we'd never get out of the not-very-good zone. It must be said that certain elements of the band-selection in Werk II tonight did rather create the impression that the WGT quality control department had decided to take a very long lunch break, but we got to the good stuff in the end.
That's not quite the end of tonight's festivities. Around the corner, down a damp alley with a disused factory building standing dark and bulky alongside (Leipzig has disused factory buildings like other cites have, erm, buildings), then up a narrow staircase, and we're in another part of Werk II known as Halle 5 (what happened to Halles 2, 3, and 4 is a mystery). Here, over three days of the festival, a bunch of DJs from around the world are putting on a series of after-show parties. The theme is 'oldschool goth tunes', and the name under which this enterprise trades is When We Were Young. There's no shortage of enthusiastic punters crowding up the stairs and into the party room, for the sounds which came out of the early days of goth are, of course, currently enjoying a surge of popularity - even among those who probably weren't even born when the music was first made. As I glance around at the eager, youthful faces in the crowd, I can't help feeling that a better name for these parties might have been When We Were Sperm.
Still, it's fun. The music is a cool mix of first-wave stuff and contemporary sounds, and it's thrown at us by an all-star assortment of DJs, including CCCP from Onderstroom in the Netherlands (does this mean there was once a DJ called Netherlands in the Soviet Union?), Darlin' Grave of Dead & Buried in London, and Mark Splatter, former proprietor of the legendary Ghoul School in the USA. The place gets packed, and the beer keeps flowing. In fact, the beer keeps flowing to such an extent that I'm a little hazy about exactly how I made it back to the hotel in the early hours. I'm sure the Gruftibahn must've been involved somewhere, but the details of the evening do become a little indistinct after around midnight. Which is all part of the WGT experience, of course. And there's still more to come...