To Leeds, and the agreeable surroundings of the Metropole Hotel, for the third annual Beyond The Veil festival. This event, as I've remarked before, is very much an exercise in swimming against the tide as far as the UK goth scene is concerned. It's devoted to giving new, or relatively unknown, bands from around the world and around the UK some vital exposure, and generally pushing things forward into territory as yet uncharted. The usual ingredients of most UK goth scene events - familiar big-name headline bands and crowd-pleasing eighties-hits DJ sets - are conspicuous by their absence at Beyond The Veil.
This, of course, inevitably means that big crowds are also conspicuous by their absence. These days, the UK goth scene is predominantly populated by the dress-up-and-party crowd, who tend to regard goth as an opportunity to socialise and celebrate. As long as the social whirl is soundtracked by a suitably upbeat selection of familiar floor-filling tunes, that's all many of the party-people want. Relatively few UK goths seem to take a particular interest in the music (still less new music), so an event like Beyond The Veil, which is all about new music, obviously has to struggle to find its audience. All this means that the Metropole hotel ballroom, where a temporary stage has been set up for the bands, for what is now the main event of an expanded three-day festival, is never in any danger of becoming uncomfortably full. However, what the Beyond The Veil audience might lack in sheer numbers, it makes up in genuine interest and enthusiasm. Everyone's here for the bands; everyone's ready to pay some real attention to the music. In the UK, that's a situation that is more rare than it should be these days.
First band, taking the stage before a small but intrigued audience of early arrivals, is Opened Paradise. They're from Greece, they formed in 2003, and - somewhat astonishingly - this is only their third gig. It seems that opportunities for goth bands to play live in Greece are very few and far between, although I'm surprised that Opened Paradise have not blagged other gigs in the rock/metal area. They're very much a Nephilim-inspired gothic rock outfit, all guitar-drama and sepulchral vocals, although the overall sound is lightened by a certain delicate touch in the arrangements. But there's always a foundation of no-shit rock power in the music, and this is where the band's crossover potential lies. Even if the Greek goth scene is vanishingly small, surely the band could find an audience among general rock-heads? Here in the UK, of course, we are very familiar with the Neph-esque style of goth. There have been umpteen bands over the years doing this kind of stuff, some of them even featuring ex-members of McCoy's mob. This means that what Opened Paradise do is hardly new or strikingly original: they're ploughing a furrow that has already been well tilled. The vocalist even has Carl McCoy's lean-forward-and-stare routine down pat, and it's at moments like these that Opened Paradise reveal their influences just a little too obviously for comfort. But, for all that, they're good at what they do. The musicians work well together, the various elements of the sound mesh with a neat precision that hints at many hours spent in the rehearsal studio. If you're up for a bit of melodramatic gothic rock with all the trimmings, here's a band you might want to investigate.
Voices Of Masada occupy similar territory to Opened Paradise, in that they're very much a traditional gothic rock band. Deep and dramatic vocals, plus that just-so guitar work - although, of course, in this case live drums are replaced by the time honoured tick-tock of the British Goth Drum Machine, nudging everything along with mechanical precision. And again, we find ourselves on well-trodden ground, for Voices Of Masada essentially do what many 90s-scene British goth bands have done before them. It's a familiar sound and a familiar style, and while it's undeniable that Voices Of Masada rumble through their set with plenty of competence and confidence, I have to say that this is not the kind of music that sets my little heart aflame. I'm frustrated by the reserved, introspective demeanour of the musicians on stage, while the drum machine beats sound incongruously weedy amid the painstakingly constructed drama of the music. The band never cuts loose and catches fire - it's all meticulous and careful, to the point where it simply gets a bit ho-hum. There is, undeniably, an audience for this style of music, and if four-square gothic rock tied down to that ol' programmed beat is your bag, then I'd certainly recommend Voices Of Masada as a band to check out. But me? I think I'll pass.
Agonised By Love come from Poland, and that's all the background information I know about them. They're a two-and-a-half piece band: a vocalist, a keyboard player, and a guitarist who appears on stage for certain songs only. When he's not required, he steps off the stage down by the monitor desk, and applies himself with great dedication to the business of swigging beer. The band have a selection of fast, danceable songs which get the crowd moving: big beats behind an abrasive rush of noise. The vocalist, gesticulating intensely and fixing the audience with a disconcerting stare all the while, does a fine job of filling the stage space and commanding attention. It's a bit of a shame, then, that after kicking things off in such no-holds-barred style, the band should then lose it a bit by introducing several mid-tempo semi-ballads into the middle of the set, which slow things down just when everybody was getting in the mood to dance. The songs themselves are fine, but slamming the brakes on just when the set seemed to be reaching top speed is surely a bit of a boo-boo in the pacing department. Fortunately, things pick up again after the ballad-interlude, as the guitarist returns to throw down some suitably freaky riffs and runs, and Agonised By Love sprint to the finish. Yep, this band certainly makes the grade: it's good to experience dance-floor oriented music that isn't just straightforward EBM, and Agonised By Love clearly know how to weld rock and dance elements into a noise that's all their own. Easy on those ballads, though, chaps, OK?
I confess I wasn't expecting much from mysterious French contenders Violet Stigmata. There's something about the name that suggests the band might be a collection of Mansonite spooky kids, all schlock-horror imagery, bad make-up, and vocals that go 'Huuuurrrrgghh!' Which just shows how dangerous it is to go by names alone, because in fact Violet Stigmata aren't like that at all. Sure, they're dressed up like a collection of mad vicars, but their music is an exhilarating blast of pell-mell rock 'n' roll, with all the right musical references to post-punkish goth to keep things barrelling along. Everything's based around a locked-solid interplay between drums and bass - at times, it all gets quite early-Killing Joke, and that's perfectly fine by me. The bassist and guitarist, both encased in formal black coats, like 19th century prison visitors, strut and pose as if ordered about by a manic theatre director, but it's the vocalist - a crazed figure in a Puritan hat, who grins hugely to himself whenever he's not actually singing - who dominates the stage. He hollers out the lyrics as if microphones hadn't been invented, and the audience, after a moment of bemused indecision, decide that, yes, this is good stuff, and enthusiastic dancing breaks out down the front. There's one song, with the oddly Crasstafarian title of 'Police State Machine', upon which the keyboard player takes the lead vocal, and her stroppy caterwaul immediately transforms the sound of the band into a stomping anarcho-punk experience. It's all a bit surreal, but it works. Apparently, this is the first time Violet Stigmata have performed with a real drummer, and I suspect that with a drum machine keeping time in the background they'd be rather more of a standard goth-band experience. But in their new incarnation, powered along by that big beat, with all their theatrics and eccentricities on parade, they're a gloriously non-standard rush of loony visuals and hammering, rhythmic, noise. This is the great thing about Beyond The Veil: a band you've never heard of before can come out of nowhere and steal the show. Violet Stigmata certainly did that.
Murder At The Registry are the odd band out at this event, in a way, for they have a history which goes back almost 15 years. As such they might be justified in coming on like some sort of elder statesmen, veteran campaigners of the old-skool tapes-and-fanzines scene in Germany, showing the young upstarts how it's really done. But, as it turns out, they adopt no such approach. Instead, there's an air of matter-of-fact self-deprecation about the band - no grandstanding, no pulling rank. They simply wander on stage and start playing. The music is neat, economical, classic new wave, the kind of stuff you'd hear on the John Peel show years ago. Murder At The Registry have, of course, been adopted by the deathrockers in recent times, although anyone expecting clownish face paint and comedy songs about zombies (those cliches of the deathrock scene which I for one am starting to find increasingly tiresome) will be disappointed. But the Batcavey 'Cupido' and the cranked-up, manic, 'The Creatures Are Having Fun With The Hollywood Dreamblaster' contain more than a soupçon of punky spunk, and neatly illustrate why this band has found a place in the hearts of the mohawks 'n' fishnet contingent. Thomas Stach, the main man of the band, on vocals and guitar, is a good-humoured and engaging frontman, although overall the band's stage presence is low key to the point of reticence - the keyboard player even chooses to remain hidden behind her keyboard when she switches to guitar. Murder At The Registry certainly don't go in for crazy crowd-pleasing antics on stage, that's for sure, but the music cuts through and connects.
Thus it is that Beyond The Veil winds down gently, rather than being brought to any kind of big climax. But it's been a good experience, and, of course, has achieved its aim in bringing new bands and new music to the UK. It's a high risk enterprise on the part of the organisers, but if our scene is going to grow and develop it's vital that somebody out there is brave and committed enough to drop the new stuff into what would otherwise become a rather stagnant UK goth-pool. Now let's hope the ripples move out...
see all the photos from this concert here
Murder At The Registry: http://www.murderattheregistry.com
Violet Stigmata: http://www.violet-stigmata.com
Agonised By Love: http://www.agonisedbylove.art.pl
Voices Of Masada: http://www.voices-of-masada.co.uk
Opened Paradise: http://www.openedparadise.tk
Gog Promotions, promoters of Beyond The Veil: http://www.gogpromotions.co.uk
All Gone Dead
Dead & Buried, London
Friday April 1 2005
~ review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Once more, dear friends, into that incongruous but friendly Irish pub in the Holloway Road, for another night of big hair and loud music. It's the first Friday of the month, and as usual the Dead & Buried club has taken over the north London drinker known to generations of Guinness-quaffers as the Lord Nelson for another night of deathrock DJing and live bands. Let's bring 'em on.
All Gone Dead are playing their first-ever gig tonight, but they've nevertheless got a bunch of enthusiastic fans and supporters clustered around the stage. It's not every band who can call up a fanbase before they've even played a note in public, but All Gone Dead feature two deathrock superstars in their ranks, in the elegantly-coiffed forms of Stitch (ex-Tragic Black, on vocals) and Darlin' Grave (DJ and cover star, on bass) and thus have an advantage over most new bands in that they're starting their musical enterprise from a few rungs up the fame ladder. There's nevertheless a slight air of first gig nerves about this performance. Eyes fixed firmly on fretboard and keyboard, the musician members of the band pick their way through the songs with meticulous attention, not quite confident enough to indulge in any rock 'n' roll dramatics. Maybe that's also the reason the stage lighting has been switched off. At any rate, the band appears indistinctly as vague shapes in the darkness and smoke, the white lightning of the strobe and the photographers' flashes bouncing off the haze. It's odd that All Gone Dead - a band who have clearly given much thought to their visual identity - should try to create a situation on stage where we can't actually see them, and where available-light photos are well-nigh impossible, but maybe that's another manifestation of those new-band nerves. It's Stitch who carries things visually, coming to the front, throwing out gestures and lurching around as if Dead & Buried's tiny stage is a rowing boat on a rough sea. The music is a slo-mo punkish grind, every song nailed to a mid-tempo programmed beat, the vocals enunciated almost English-punk style. It's almost as if All Gone Dead had decided to update Adam & The Ants' early style - the Dirk Wears White Sox material - for the laptop generation. That's actually a pretty cool concept, although, paradoxically, when they play an Ants cover it's the pop-star period song 'Ants Invasion'. There's one more cover to finish, Christian Death's 'Romeo's Distress'. 'This one goes out to Rozz Williams!' announces Stitch. (Deadpan voice in audience: 'They'll 'ave to play loud.') It's the only fast song in the set, and offers a glimpse of the potentially cookin' combo that lurks behind All Gone Dead's neophyte hesitancy. All they need to do is speed it up and turn the lights on.
This isn't Ausgang's first gig - not by a long way. But it is the first time they've set foot on a UK stage for 15 years, and I'm willing to bet most of tonight's crowd know of the band only from various historical references in Mick Mercer's books, assorted big-ups on the web, and other suchlike second-hand sources. Nevertheless, the sudden surge of interest in all things post-punk means that Ausgang suddenly find themselves with a twenty-first century audience, and tonight that audience is primed and ready to rock. There's a roar of approval as the band, suited, booted, and looking like a bunch of rock 'n' roll gangsters, get stuck in to their tribal clamour. It's all a frantic rush of drums and vocals, Max spitting out the lyrics as if every word is an alien being erupting from his internal organs. The set is, inevitably, mostly old songs from the band's 80s incarnation, among them such steaming classics as 'Four Tin Doors' and 'Lick', 'Fat Vigilante' and 'Crawling The Walls'. But there's a brace of newies, too - 'Big Big Love' and 'Itchy Fingers a-Go-Go', which hint that Ausgang have plans to stick around and carve out a new career for themselves as a contemporary act. If that's the plan, I'm sure they could do well, for this is a band with enough energy and intensity to put much younger outfits to shame. I'd suggest, however, that they re-think their covers policy, for the set ends with a run-through of that hoary old rockers' standard, 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', a song which has been done and done and done so many times over the years by so many bands that it counts as no more than a crashingly obvious cliche now. Indeed, two bands on the present-day UK goth-gig circuit - Excession and the Screaming Banshee Aircrew - have recently featured this song as a live cover, and, frankly, Ausgang's choice of the very same number simply looks like they experienced a failure of imagination just when a fresh idea was needed. So, yes, it's good to have Ausgang back, and there's certainly potential here for the band to make an impact in the here and now. But future progress is going to depend on a hefty injection of genuinely original ideas. Old songs and old covers ain't gonna cut it for ever.
What's this? Devilish Presley headlining over Ausgang? London's upstart gung-ho rockers taking precedence over a classic band from the golden 80s? Well, yes. Sure, Ausgang might have the history behind them, but Devilish Presley have the current-scene profile and the guaranteed crowd-pull, advantages which they've worked hard to gain, putting in much effort and playing more gigs than just about any other UK band in recent times. That's what gives 'em the top spot tonight. This is also the last time Devilish Presley will play Dead & Buried: they've more or less been fixtures at the club for a long while, and both band and club have done very well out of the association. But it's always best to make a move before things get stale, and I suspect Devilish Presley have decided it's time to get out there and carve out an audience beyond the London deathrock club crowd. Hey, even Specimen had to stop playing the Batcave in the end. So, here come Johnny and Jacqui for one last time, attitude in full effect and guitars turned up good and loud. Naturally, it's exactly the kind of take-no-prisoners performance we've come to expect from the band: a raucous romp through 'Prick Up Your Ears', their ode to the great bard, 'Billy Rattlestick', and their instant-deathrock hit, 'Hammer Horror Glamour'. I'll freely admit I don't think this particular number is anywhere near Devilish Presley's best song, being as it's basically just a shopping list of deathrock-isms which sounds like it took all of five minutes to write. But what the hell - tonight, in front of a moshing mass of mohawks and ripped-fishnet merchants, it works. Mr Navarro leads the crowd up the garden path with a bit of call-and-response participation ('Everybody say hell yeah!' Audience: 'HELL YEAH!' Johnny: 'Everybody say antidisestablismentarianism!' Audience: confused mumbling) and the riffs just don't stop...until, of course, eventually they do. A vintage performance, and while I think Devilish Presley are entirely right to spread their wings beyond the confines of the Dead & Buried audience, it's a shame we'll no longer be able to see them brewing up their unique storm in this particular north London rock 'n' roll hole.
see all the photos from this concert here
Devilish Presley: http://www.devilishpresley.com
All Gone Dead: http://www.allgonedead.net
Dead & Buried: http://www.dancefloorpoison.com
The Forum, London
Tuesday April 5 2005
~ review by Uncle Nemesis
All images © Simon at http://www.disturbing.org.uk/
Shortly after Killing Joke's 25th anniversary gigs, here come proto-industrialists Einstürzende Neubauten, on a similar mission. Tonight's performance is intended to showcase highlights from the German metal-bashers' quarter-century career, and as such is divided into two hour-long sets, in which the band mash up vintage hits and more recent material.
There's no support band to warm things up and get the show rolling, which means the audience is somewhat subdued when Blixa Bargeld, elegantly suited as if he's the manager of the Deutsche Bank of Heavy Industry, leads his crew on stage. Blixa gives us a little opening speech, in which he notes certain highlights from Einstürzende Neubauten's history, in particular the notorious early gig at the ICA, at which the band tried to demolish the stage with a pneumatic drill in the name of improvisational art. Einstürzende Neubauten have been dining out on their reputation as a hardcore avant-industrial crew ever since that fateful night, but if truth be told I have never found the band to be quite as radical as their reputation would have you believe. Oh, they've done good stuff, sure enough, but I've never quite bought into Einstürzende Neubauten's supposed reputation as the rag and bone men of the apocalypse. When it comes right down to it, they've always been a rock band in my book.
Tonight, there's a scrap-metal drum kit on stage, plus an assortment of 'found objects' (drainpipes, shopping trolleys, unspecified lumps of old iron) with which the band set up a good old percussive cacophony - but there are also standard rock instruments (bass, guitar, drums) in the line-up. It's interesting (and paradoxical) that in spite of all the junkyard paraphanalia on stage much of Einstürzende Neubauten's music actually sounds quite conventional. Even the scrap metal drum kit doesn't sound particularly different from a normal kit. The metallic crash of a drumstick hitting a home-made cymbal, fashioned out of a plasma-cut circle of metal, doesn't sound too far from the noise you'd get out of the readily available products of Mr. Paiste or Mr. Zildjian. The hooting noise a length of drainpipe makes when you blow down it could be neatly reproduced with any wind instrument and an effects rack, or indeed any keyboard with an ersaz-oboe preset or the like. The metal-on-metal rattle of a stick scraped over the wire mesh of a shopping trolley sounds like any old effect a conventional percussionist could generate from a standard percussion kit. In short, Einstürzende Neubauten's overall sound is much more of a straightforward alternorock racket than the band's junk-art aesthetic might lead you to believe. To be sure, the visual effect of all the salvage yard gizmos is quite striking, but the music isn't anywhere near as out-there as the whacko line up suggests it could be.
Still, the band rattle though their two sets of greatest hits with great good humour and a relaxed, easy familiarity, Blixa Bargeld himself urbane and dapper at the vocal mic, taking time out to tell more funny stories along the way. I particularly like the tale of how the band's old bassist went to work for Sony, and now holds a high-falutin' executive position in the company. When Neubauten were in search of a new record label, they contacted Sony, assuming that the presence of their old mucker in the corridors of power would guarantee instant interest. Back came the message from on high: 'Tell 'em to send in a demo!'
The sets contain more or less every song any long-standing Neubauten-kopf could wish to hear: 'Yü-Gung (Fütter mein Ego)' (a title that I always think sounds like a bizarre sexual practice to an English speaker), 'Haus der Lüge', 'Ende Neu', and then, in the second set, such favourite tunes as 'Perpetuum Mobile', 'Draussen ist Feindlich' and 'Ich gehe jetzt'. Curiously, the audience greets much of the material with subdued approval, rather than wild cheers. Given that the band are quite deliberately skewing their sets towards crowd-pleasers and old favourites, that's a bit of a surprise. Sure, there's a bunch of diehards at the front who spend the entire gig positively seething with joy, but further back the crowd is downbeat, disinterested, many people simply chatting together or sending text messages on their mobile phones instead of paying attention to the on-stage action. It's curious, but then I find my own attention beginning to wander, as Neubauten crank up yet another not-quite-as-radical-as-all-that alternative rock number, cruising through their songbook effectively enough, but never quite catching fire. Ultimately, I have to file this show as one of those good-but-not-great experiences. Einstürzende Neubauten pressed all the right buttons, and, indeed, bashed all the right bits of metal. But the essential spark just didn't happen tonight. Maybe they should've brought the pneumatic drill back for an encore.
See all of the fabulous photos from this show here courtesy of Simon at Distrubing
Einstürzende Neubauten: http://www.neubauten.org
The Forum: http://www.meanfiddler.com/displayPage_forum.asp?PageID=428
Jayne County And The Electric Chairs
Honest John Plain And Amigos
Friday March 25 2005
~ review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
It's punk night up the Underworld. And a slightly unusual setting in which to see Devilish Presley, in that for once they're not playing within the goth and/or deathrock scene. I suspect the band have realised it's time to branch out and move on. They've established a name, a reputation and a fanbase among the deathrockers, but the limitations of playing to a 'scene' audience are obvious. Even the best bands risk ending up as big fish in a small pond, while the real opportunities lie elsewhere. So, here come Jacqui and Johnny, taking on the punks with a beat box, a bucketload of attitude, and ten strings between them. They seem entirely undaunted by the sparse crowd, for only a handful of punters are in the venue at this early hour. Significantly, the band's deathrock fans have almost entirely failed to show, a fact which in itself demonstrates how unwise it is to rely on a 'scene' crowd. If the gig ain't in the scene, the scenesters won't be seen! But the trademark Devilish Presley rock 'n' roll blast is as loud and raucous as ever, and even if there's a mystified silence when Johnny dedicates 'Hammer Horror Glamour' to '...the deathrockers!', the dense, guitar noise rush of 'She's Not America' and the full metal rattle of 'Prick Up Your Ears' come across well. I suspect this gig won't go down in Devilish Presley's history as the easiest they've ever played - the punks certainly required more work than, for example, the primed-to-party Dead & Buried crowd - but nevertheless I think this kind of show represents the way forward.
Honest John Plain has a murky punk past in second-string 70s bands The Boys and The Lurkers, and an amiable, undemanding present with his current band, the Amigos. They've got a good, chunky sound and a set of accessible, power-poppy songs in which covers of vintage rock numbers - Roky Erikson's 'I walked With A Zombie' and Tommy James and the Shondells' 'Crimson And Clover' - figure prominently. It's all clearly intended to be an exercise in good-time rock 'n' roll, and on that level it works. Nobody's in the business of pushing any boundaries here, or battering head-first at any musical barricades. The band are clearly having a fine time on stage, cruising through music which it's obvious they know well, and their good humour communicates itself to the audience. It's all unpretentious power-trio riffing, neat melodic songs, and an easy-going demeanour from the chaps themselves. Nothing jaw-dropping, for sure - but nice.
Jayne County, on the other hand, definitely doesn't do 'easy-going'. With a sharp wit and sardonic gaze, and wearing an outfit that can only be described as Elegant Gothic Grandma, she strides about the stage like a wicked witch at a wedding, holding forth on such subjects as sex, God, and punk - and woe betide anyone who's foolish enough to heckle. She has a hundred crazy tales to tell about the early skirmishes of the Punk Wars, first-hand accounts all, because she was there: Wayne County and the Electric Chairs were one of the original New York punk bands of the 1970s, and possibly the most notorious of the lot. Thirty years and one gender-rearrangement later, Jayne County is back with some new Electric Chairs and a set that isn't so much a music performance as a surreal spoken word show punctuated by some splendidly fuzzed-out interludes of low-slung sleaze-rock.
We get lurid tales of long-ago nights at Max's Kansas City (followed by the song Jayne wrote as a tribute to that legendary NYC venue), large quantities of bile and vitriol poured on the head of George Bush, plenty of pointed remarks about religion ('The only thing wrong with Baptists is they don't hold 'em under long enough!'), and some unflattering speculation as to the size of a certain audience member's, er, member. At times it's hard to follow Jayne's freewheeling anecdotes about the early days of New York punk - at least, not without a thorough working knowledge of such arcane details as Dee Dee Ramone's ex-girlfriends - but we're never far from a suitably acerbic punchline or humourous put-down, and, of course, the songs come just as frequently as the laughs. The band, three punky types who do a fine job of following their leader's whimsically erratic path through the show, crank up a good old glam-punk racket, and such songs as 'Rock 'n' Roll Resurrection' remind us just how good Jayne County is at writing sleazoid rock 'n' roll anthems. The one song everyone's waiting for, of course, is the mighty 'If You Don't Want To Fuck Me Baby, Baby Fuck Off', and naturally it's the climax of the set. A distilled slug of rock 'n' roll firewater: spiky, spunky, attitude a-go-go. And after that, Jayne really does fuck off. It's the end of the show, and there's a general feeling that we've seen something special from a genuinely unique performer. Three decades on from what most would consider her heyday, Jayne County is still ripping it up like a stilletto heel in a badly-fitted carpet.
see all photos from this concert here
Jayne County: http://www.jaynecounty.com
Honest John Plain (apparently no website, but info can be found here): http://www.theboys.co.uk
Devilish Presley: http://www.devilishpresley.com
The Underworld: http://www.theunderworldcamden.co.uk
The Deep Eynde
The Ski King
Sunday April 10 2005
~ review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
There's an atmosphere of mingled celebration and relief in the Underworld tonight. This gig marks the final night of a 16-date European tour put together by the People Like You label of Dortmund, Germany, who, in true 'cut the crap and make it happen' style thought it would be a fine idea to take a bunch of their bands out on the road and lay waste to innocent music venues across eight countries. It's a real package deal, with the show starting even before the first band has appeared on stage. The tour compere, The Ski King (nope, I don't know why he's called that, either) comes out to formally bid the audience welcome, introduce the bands...and sing a few Elvis covers to a backing track. That's a faintly surreal thing in itself, but he's a genial, witty presence and actually has a rather good voice, and he manages to pull a smattering of early-doors punters to the front to witness the first band of the night...
The Deep Eynde. And I'm surprised. Because every reference to The Deep Eynde I've ever seen on the web or elsewhere, every photo, description, write-up or review, has given me the distinct impression that the band are some sort of noir-styled deathrock outfit, all face-paint and dramatic spookyness. And yet, now that I see them before my very eyes, they reveal themselves to be a perfectly straightforward ramalama punk band. Sure, they're pretty good at being a straightforward ramalama punk band, don't get me wrong - they have a muscular, punchy, sound, and Fate Fatal is a fine frontman, cool and intense throughout. But the fact remains that they exhibit no evidence whatsoever of their supposed after-dark aesthetic. No deathrocky melodrama, no dark spark. They simply rattle through a set of rumbustious punker anthems, and that's that. It's possible, I suppose, that The Deep Eynde have deliberately decided to soft-pedal the gothy stuff on this decidedly punk-oriented tour, but the fact remains that this wasn't what I was expecting from the band. I thought they'd be like a cross between Bauhaus and the Stooges. Instead, they're more like Chron-Gen on steroids.
Some more rock 'n' roll crooning from The Ski King, who now appears to have equal numbers of fans and hecklers, and then it's time for The Generators. If you cut this band's veins open I'm sure they'd bleed pure Essence Of Clash. They wear their principal influence unashamedly on their sleeve. Without ceremony, they proceed to hammer out a set of terse, staccato songs, most of which contrive to sound uncannily like 'Clash City Rockers'. The frontman has even adopted Joe Strummer's minimalist rocker look, all cropped hair and angsty expression, as he barks out the lyrics. There's no doubting the band's commitment to the cause of righteous, rumbustious, rock 'n' roll, though, and while I must admit I'd prefer to hear The Generators ring the changes a bit when it comes to their overall sound and style, it's still good to hear a bit of old-skool punk rock blasted out with such conviction.
The Ski King gives us another musical interlude, and then introduces the only British band on the bill - and the only band that isn't entirely a bunch of blokes. Deadline come from the badlands of east London (well, OK, Gravesend) and feature an energetic, assertive female vocalist, who manages to combine a cheery good humour with a certain undercurrent of don't-mess-with-me sassiness. She bounds around the stage as if she's made of coil springs, hurling herself forward to deliver a lyric and then stepping back, casting an appraising eye over the audience as the boys in the band crank it up. She's certainly the band's best asset as far as the on-stage spectacle goes: the lads by and large keep themselves in the background, squinting at their fretboards and allowing their energy-packed singer to carry the show. Deadline make a fast, furious bubblegum-punk racket - the two covers in their set, 'Sheena Is A Punk Rocker' and 'Hanging On The Telephone' dropping clues to their love of punky pop. But it's one of their own songs, the fizzing riot of energetic new wave-isms that is 'Out Of Luck' that hints at potential greatness. It's a speedfreak party of a tune, a freaky, catchy anthem which wouldn't sound out of place on the first two Blondie albums. If the band have more where that one comes from, I'll stick my neck out and predict big things for them.
By now The Ski King's between-band singalong interludes have become a little more contemporary. Out go the Elvis numbers - in comes a cover of Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' 'Hurt', rendered faithfully in the heart-wrenching Cash style. And if that seems surreal, you ain't seen nothing yet. Because here comes our next band: the US Bombs, and blow me down if they're not a bizarre cross between Guns 'n' Roses and the UK Subs. Now, there are two band names that you'd never normally see mentioned in the same sentence, but somehow the US Bombs manage to combine the wasted, low-slung swagger of Axl's gang with the unpretentious blare of Charlie Harper's bunch of scruff-bag street ruffians. Over in the glam corner there's a guitarist, shooting riffs from the hip and throwing shapes like he's just strolled in from Sunset Strip, and centre stage there's a vocalist, sweat-soaked and hollering fit to bust. The band kick up a massive racket, and the mosh kicks off like nobody's business. US Bombs have a rabid bunch of fans down the front who choose to express their devotion in a free-for-all ruck. You may gauge the intensity of the mêllée by the fact that one bloke breaks his ankle in the scrum - and then simply sits on the stage to watch the rest of the set. All of this doesn't seem to upset the band's junior fan club - in amongst the colliding bodies there are some young fans who I'm sure haven't even reached their teenage years yet. Their stamina puts me to shame, as I discreetly hang back until the all-in wrestling match of the swirling pit subsides at end of the set. That was....impressive, although I'm not sure if the show belonged to the band or the fans.
It's getting close to headline time now, and The Ski King gets the crowd in the mood with a selection of uptempo tunes. He does a very creditable impression of Jack White's squeal on the White Stripes' 'Seven Nation Army', and then morphs into Lemmy for Motorhead's 'Ace Of Spades', complete with guitar soloing on the mic stand. But then it's time to wheel on the heavy artillery. Mad Sin have the line-up of a rockabilly band, stand-up bass and all, and the sound of a punk rock freight train derailment. They're loud and brash and they don't believe in playing their songs at anything less than 100mph. The band members are all done up in rock 'n' roll glam rags (I particularly liked the matching nail varnish), but the undeniable focal point of the whole crazy caboodle is the frontman. Huge and boisterous, hurling himself about the stage like a be-tattooed psychobilly version of the late great Divine, he gradually becomes more and more camp as the show progresses. I can't decide if this is a deliberate ploy, or whether his natural persona is simply revealing itself as the excitement of the show takes hold, but his gestures become more exaggerated and his between-song banter becomes more risqué with every number. The expressions on the faces of the audience range from bemused incomprehension to outright delight as he gives shout-outs to all the 'Homo rockers' in the house, and inquires solicitously 'How d'you like your ass?' It's all gloriously incongrous, an utter subversion of the traditional straight-as-a-die psychobilly band approach, and it makes for a hilariously entertaining show. But Mad Sin have more than just a crazy-camp frontman to entertain us. There's also Hellvis, a satanic Elvis lookalike, who takes a couple of lead vocals, and then comes back to breathe dangerous quantities of fire at the Underworld ceiling. There's the thrash-punk cover of Bob Marley's 'I Shot The Sheriff', and the one-woman stage invasion by a punkette in a black leather dress. Mad Sin are a wild carnival of punked-up weirdness, a no-holds-barred assault on the usual band-on-stage routine, an escaped fairground attraction with very loud guitars. Decidedly warped, and definitely brilliant.
see all the photos from this concert here
Mad Sin: http://www.madsin.de
US Bombs: http://www.yami.com/punkrock/bands/bombs
The Generators: http://www.the-generators.com
The Deep Eynde: http://www.deepeynde.com
The Ski King: www.ski-king.de
People Like You Records: http://www.peoplelikeyourecords.de
The Underworld: http://www.theunderworldcamden.co.uk
Three Children Of Fortune
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
Tuesday March 22 2005
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Notwithstanding my long and close personal friendship with Her Majesty, I very rarely find myself strolling down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace these days. But tonight, I'm doing just that, although I'm not on a royal visit. I have an audience with quite a different queen, at another location. I'm heading for the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which occupies the ground floor of an imposing terrace a mere tiara's throw from the London residence of our revered monarch.
A few years back, I used to see gigs at the ICA quite regularly. But I don't think I've set foot in the place since nineteen-eighty-whatsit, when I saw a very fine show involving Danielle Dax, Severed Heads and Hula. I recall that one in particular, because the ICA hadn't been putting on live music for very long at the time, and the venue staff were not exactly wise to the ways of rock 'n' roll. I met the world's champion blagger outside the venue, who cheerfully proceeded to score free entry and all-areas passes for both of us on the strength of nothing more than a bit of fast talking ('...and we've got to pick up a couple of passes - yeah, those ones there, on the desk - those are ours!'). These days, The ICA staff are a little more sussed, and passes, alas, are no longer to be had for the asking. But I've got a ticket, and that gets me in.
Three Children Of Fortune have a name that hints at wild, buccaneering rock 'n' roll romance - and an image that hints at High Street leisurewear. A trio of almost defiantly ordinary-looking lads in T-shirts and jeans, they come across as a much more workaday bunch than you might guess from the name. Their music see-saws crazily between winsome indie-jangle and roaring metal noise. Songs start out sounding like The Smiths, and end up like Metallica. It's an odd combination of styles that does actually work - at least, some of the time. But the band wear their ordinariness like a badge of honour, hunching over their guitars, chugging away like diligent rock 'n' roll craftsmen, and once I've got my head around the incongruous indie/metal mash-up which seems to be their principal musical idea, there's not a lot to hold my attention.
The coolest thing on the current music scene these days is the post-punkish influence of the early 80s, and Ariel-X seem to have bought into the style wholesale. There are several spike-perfect examples of new wave haircuts in the band for us to admire, and the guitarist sports a vintage Adam Ant T-shirt. The band throw themselves into their music with a swaggering verve, throwing shapes and giving it loads - yep, they certainly pass the 'putting on a show' test. I'm initially interested, captured by the full-on roar and tumble of the performance, but little by little I begin to lose heart. The music doesn't have anything like the new-wavey sparkle that the band have obviously tried to add to their image. It's essentially yer average emo-rock - loud, fast, and impassioned in that angst-by-numbers manner that never quite gets as far as convincingly genuine emotion. In the end, it all gets a bit dull. It's not that Ariel-X are a bad band, exactly: for all the post-grunge kids who want some fashion with their passion I'm sure they'll hit the spot admirably. But for me, Ariel-X just don't live up to their hairstyles.
It's obvious which band most of tonight's crowd are here to see. The Queen Adreena barmy army, wide-eyed and glammed-up, are present in force. This is a band which has always been able to count on a loyal cult following, and cynics might say that's just as well, given that Queen Adreena have never quite arrived at the kind of Garbage-style alternative-cred-plus-chart-hits status that I suspect their record labels were hoping for. Indeed, the fact that the band are about to release their third album on their third label hints somewhat at expectations that have never quite been fulfilled. But the fans crush themselves down the front with the devotion of true believers, and it's immediately clear that although Queen Adreena's career so far might have left a trail of disappointed music biz executives in its wake, they certainly aren't about to short-change the faithful tonight.
With a roar and a caterwaul, they're away. The sound is a huge squalling mass of guitar noise and rumbling rhythms, almost Zeppelin-esque at times in its ever-thundering avalanche of blues-flavoured rock. Queen Adreena are, of course, a four-piece band, but the drummer and bassist are dressed down, heads down, anonymous and discreet throughout. The attention of the crowd is elsewhere. Guitarist Crispin, all cheekbones and stripes, a study in effortless cool, has his own coterie of fans. They follow his every move as he insouciantly slashes at his strings, or leans into the mic for a backing vocal. But it's vocalist Katie Jane, fronting the band like a mad rag doll, lurching and staggering as if buffeted by ever-changing air currents, who's the real star of the show. Dressed in a messed-up white outfit that makes it look like she's just discharged herself from a very odd hospital, she flails and wails about the stage in a non-stop frenzy. The set leans heavily on new songs from the as yet unreleased album, and maybe that's the reason the mosh is slow to kick off. There's a sense of expectant appraisal among the crowd as the new songs are introduced, and it's only when older numbers like 'Cold Fish' and 'Pretty Like Drugs' make an appearance that the pit really begins to seethe. Perhaps the crowd's restraint is also due to Katie Jane's indisctinct vocal style, which makes it impossible to latch on to lyrics you don't already know. She slurs and drawls, shrieks and roars the words with a fine sense of drama, but without much in the way of clarity. At times, her voice becomes mere sound rather than communication - and at these moments, as the guitar churns away, Queen Adreena start to sound oddly and alarmingly like a heavy metal version of the Cocteau Twins.
Still, even though the music might be unfamiliar, the spectacle still grabs attention. Katie Jane's one-woman theatre of the weird, tumbling around the stage like a marionette with unravelling strings, wrenching out the vocals as if it's all the microphone's fault, gives Queen Adreena an undeniable visual edge. And yes, it is theatre: Katie might look like she's in a world of her own, but as ever I'm left with the impression that all her moves are planned and rehearsed. Inside her head she always knows exactly what she's up to, and which move is coming next. That sprawl over a chair, the collapse-on-the-floor routine, even her sudden attack on Crispin (who continues to play his guitar as if nothing unusual is happening) are all theatrical moves, deliberately worked out for maximum effect. Even the moment when Katie grabs a bottle of white wine and pours it over herself is not a spontaneous outpouring of angst. A glance around the web at some of the fan-photos from other gigs reveals that she pulls the same stunt on every date of the tour. Sure, it all works, and many fans seem to take it all at face value, apparently believing that they're witnessing Katie Jane's personal demons in action. But me, I reckon she's not half as mad as she makes herself out to be.
By the end of the show, some of the real diehard followers at the front are wearing expressions of near ecstasy. It's as if the Queen Adreena experience has been some sort of catharsis for them, a kind of cleansing ritual in which the crazy obstacles of life can be swept aside by a glorious surge of uninhibited wildness. I'm less convinced. I think Queen Adreena deliver fine rock 'n' roll theatre, but I can't abandon myself to the feeling of gleeful release which some of the fans clearly seem to experience. I see a band in control, rather than a band letting go. Even if you allow for the new songs factor, which made this show slightly less of a coruscating blast than usual, the overwhelming impression I take away from the gig is that tonight we saw Queen Adreena demonstrating just how firmly they grip their artistic steering wheel.
see all the photos from this concert here
Queen Adreena official site (not necessarily up to date): http://www.queenadreena.com
Queen Adreena fan site (best for info and latest news): http://www.room-eleven.org
Queen Adreena fans gather here: http://www.livejournal.com/community/hotelaftershow/
Three Children Of Fortune: http://threechildrenoffortune.com
Institute Of Contemporary Arts: http://www.ica.org.uk
The Sixth Chamber
Special performance by Kitty Diggins
Friday, May 13, 2005
The Derby – Hollywood, CA
~review by Blu
(Photos of STG by Jenn Bats. Photos of Cinema Strange by Blu)
It’s rare that I go out to see shows these days but this was a must-see in my book because Cinema Strange doesn’t play home that often and an STG performance is an exciting and welcomed treat from a band that was all but gone 10 years ago. The event was held at the swank and cool Derby in Hollywood on Friday the 13th and put on by the folks at Gothic Beach Studio. Doomie, iconic-scene personality, played host MC while local DJs Erika D and Frank H-Bomb provided a rotating ring of music from the front room to the back that ranged from traditional goth, post punk, deathrock to new industrial, EBM and dance. The promoters were definitely trying to cover all their bases that night making sure there was a little something for everyone and indeed the crowd that turned up was an eclectic mix of subgenres that seldom share the same dance floor in Southern California.
Up first were The Sixth Chamber. I knew little of the band although they’ve been reviewed by the likes of Gothic Beauty and Mick Mercer who all suggested they were a punk/goth cross over. Added to that expectation was Matt P (of the Cinema Strange think-tank and secret agent society) who, bouncing up and down next to me excitedly exclaimed, “I love this band!” After two songs it was evident to me that either the band were having a really bad day; what’s on their CD doesn’t translate well live; or what I think of as “punk” isn’t what the band considers “punk” because what I heard sounded like every other emo/indie band to hit the airways lately. Admittedly there wasn’t much of a crowd to play to at that time in the evening but their stage presence wasn’t engaging as they took the “on your marks, play!” approach. Third song down and I left the handful of people on the floor and took in the rest of the show from across the room in a booth. They easily became background music to a myriad of conversations. In the end, I wonder if they wouldn’t do better at a different venue with an indie rock vibe? I’d see them again just to see if it was a one-off bad night.
After a brief interlude of DJ’d music, Cinema Strange took the stage with little fanfare even though the floor had filled all the way up with giggling, giddy, CS fans all pressing closer and closer and closer to the stage. The boys looked fantastic. Lucas was in that delightful Sailor outfit and Daniel, well, he gets more outrageous every time I see him. He had on this crash-test helmet over a long blonde goldie-locks wig, Tammy-Faye-inspired eye make up, a hand-me-down second hand dress and boots that were more duct-tape than boot. The effect was cartoon-ish and a bit odd but nonetheless brilliant. I think these days he works hard at not being the beautiful boy on stage (which I'm sure got old years ago). Michael, on the otherhand, was exceedingly dashing. He was graceful dressed in stylish black clothes with newly bleached blonde hair. He worked the stage far more than usual and every once in a while let a whammy of a smile escape from his otherwise serious demeanor. I realized during the show that he had all the control, commanding character and fine angular cuts of Peter Murphy.
The music was intricate and enchanting and Lucas was an animated story teller with hands gesticulating wildly as he postulated and preached. There was a wild mix of melodies over complicated and ever-changing rhythms – a fact enhanced by the presence of a live drummer. Unlike the sometimes naïve idea that Cinema Strange is just another re-hashed deathrock band; they exhibited mature technical skills that betrayed their musical schooling. (Just between me and you, there's more than a few actual musical degrees in this group). There were moments of mystery and soft silence followed by rushes of anticipation and adrenaline. From musical composition to mind-numbing, yet whimsical lyrics - they were playing on a level far above most bands in this scene.
Having said that; it always cracks me up when mosh pits break out in the middle of a Cinema Strange show. The jumpy time signatures surely don’t lend themselves to such things but this throng of die-hard fans could have cared less. Their excitement needed an outlet and soon the entire dancefloor was a sea of jostling limbs and bobbing heads. It was illogical and chaotic and so much fun you could not help but grin.
Between the bands a burlesque performer called Kitty Diggins took the stage and while I do so appreciate the promoter’s effort to add some culture to the night's festivities, I think she was the last thing the throng of hard-core rockers wanted to see. Don’t get me wrong, she has a classic sort of beauty (just check out her webpage) but the procession of not-exactly-athletic men in togos had me worried from the start. They escorted her to the stage and then just kind of stood there, lost, until she shooed them away. She did her little show, which wasn’t all that bad but she seemed uninspired and lacked the “umph” that it would have taken to grab this crowd's attention. Maybe it was the music selection (something slow and classical) or maybe it was the stares of the audience who were now packed from the front of the stage to the back of the room jockeying for a good viewing point. They obviously wanted just one thing: to see STG perform.
Armed with more band members than I think they've ever had and dressed in a kind a war paint; STG took the stage while a noticeable tension in the room grew. The crowd wanted this performance (was nearly salivating at the thought of it) and I knew if the band delivered, it was going to be chaos. Without warning they unleashed a wave of sound with battle-like percussion that transformed the floor into a large, whirling mosh pit before Shane could utter the first word of the first song. STG was an animal on stage. Industrial/hardcore/punk – whatever you chose to call it, it was brutal. Every band member jumped and writhed and thrashed, putting in as much physical effort as they were musically. I’m sure even the drummer would have joined in the mayhem had he been able to escape from behind his drum kit. How no one got hurt is anyone’s guess. I cringed at several near misses that would have left someone impaled on the neck of a guitar.
The crowd doubled the band’s effort - everyone belting out the lyrics with their arms in the air, fists pumping, matching Shane word for word. Pent up frustrations with our current political situation certainly fueled some of the angst as STG proved its messages were as relevant today as they were in the early 90’s. The band rampaged and raged through its catalog of songs old and new without missing a beat. At one point they even recruited Dave Skott – former STG band member recently retired – to come belt out a chorus much to delight of fans.
People I never expected to see in the pit were suddenly caught up in the moving mass of bodies. Unfortunately, those at the front of the stage became human bumpers and ultimately even I had to pull back and take in the rest of the show from a different vantage point. The night would continue to go on like – STG and the crowd never running out of steam as if it were a battle to see who could last the longest. Near the edge of the pit I ran into Matt P. again who was grinning from ear to ear and out of breath from having gone a few rounds with the crowd. I pointed at the red mark on his forehead. He rubbed it and said, “oh. Yeah… I’ve fallen down like 7 times already” and with that he threw himself - full bodied dive - back into the mix.
see all the photos from this show here
Gothic Beach Studio: http://www.gothicbeachstudio.com/
Kitty Diggins: http://www.kittydiggins.com/
Cinema Strange: http://www.nightmarezone.de/cinemastrange
The Sixth Chamber: http://www.thesixthchamber.com
The Derby: http://www.the-derby.com/