see all photos from this concert here

Wave Gotik Treffen 
Leipzig, Germany
Friday May 28 - Monday May 31 2004
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Part One: Freitag
(Bands in order of appearance)
The Count
Catastrophe Ballet

In the 19th century, it was the done thing for ladies of a certain delicacy to travel to the spa towns of Europe for rest and recuperation, to restore their equilibrium when the trials of daily life had dimmed their natural sparkle. At such elegant resorts as Baden Baden and Bad Kissingen, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Bad Woerischofen, they would take the waters and promenade in the bracing air, returning home refreshed and revitalized.

Two centuries later, I know how those ladies felt. At least, as far as gothic ennui is concerned. A year of the UK goth scene, with all its restrictions and limitations, is enough to take the shine off anyone’s sparkle. Fortunately, now as then, it is possible to take a cure. A few days in Leipzig, over a certain spring weekend, is enough to revive the flagging enthusiasm of even the most jaded goth scene observer. Because on that certain spring weekend, Leipzig plays host to the Wave Gotik Treffen, the legendary city-wide festival of goth and related music, art and hedonism. It’s even possible to take the waters, suitably combined, of course, with hops, malt and yeast.

We start our cure underground, in the subterranean network of bars, restaurants, and performance spaces that is the Morizbastei. The ambience is rather like being under a Victorian railway arch - old brickwork curving overhead - but these chambers were built two hundred years before railways were invented, as part of the old city of Leipzig’s fortifications. And we start at the Endraum, as it were, for that is the name of the first band on stage at this, the first event of our 2004 Wave Gotik Treffen experience.  From the way the gig-room fills up with people, and the buzz of anticipation that fills the air, it’s clear that the band have a certain status on the German scene, a certain profile, some genuine pulling power.  And yet I’ve never heard of ‘em. That’s often the way it goes at the Wave Gotik Treffen, of course. Being confronted with previously unknown bands is all part of the experience, and one which I rather enjoy. Whether or not those unknown bands actually turn out to be cool discoveries, of course, is another matter, but that in itself is all part of the fun. It’s like playing Russian roulette with bands. Spin the chamber, pull the trigger. Do we get an explosion, or do we get a dud? We don’t know until we try it.

Endraum, it appears, are a mostly-electronic outfit, comprising a keyboard player and a vocalist - and also, for a few songs, a cellist, who seems to contribute suspiciously little to the overall sound. Large swathes of music sweep by, and he just sits there, his bow poised above the strings, but not actually *playing*. When he does venture to touch horsehair to catgut, his melody lines are sparse and simplistic, to the point where I wonder why the band need him on stage at all. My guess is that he’s primarily employed to give what would otherwise be a fairly minimal live show a bit more visual interest. Most of the music, it’s clear, is coming in roughly equal proportions from the backing track and keyboards, which are played with furrowed-brow concentration by Endraum’s principal musician. Meanwhile, the vocalist, casually lighting a succession of fags and pouring himself several drinks as he goes, sings a selection of restrained, haunting songs in a controlled baritone.

Endraum seem to deal in sensitivities, atmospheres, moods - they don’t, as their line-up might suggest, head straight for the dancefloor, VNV-style.  That’s quite a relief, in a way, but I fear I’m not able to share the obvious respect in which the band are held by most of the audience. For me, the singer seems just a little *too* casual to be convincing. The way he breaks off between songs - and sometimes during the songs - to attend to his refreshments and spark up his oily rags is distracting. It creates the impression that he’s not overmuch concerned about his own music; he’s just cruising through the set, not really giving his all. On one particular song, the vocal part is followed by a lengthy instrumental coda, a long, plaintive drift through some affecting keyboard stylings, building up a reflective, introspective atmosphere. The audience is rapt, silent, letting the music flow - but, during this interlude, the vocalist, momentarily having nothing to do, decides to light up yet another cigarette. Having done so, he throws his lighter down onto the stage. It hits the boards with a resounding ‘CLUNK!’ which brutally interrupts the sensitive music, and utterly destroys the mood. Even the vocalist himself looks a bit embarrassed at that, but this little vignette does sum up his apparent attitude to his own music. When all’s said and done, he’s not really bothered, and although the fans don’t seem to mind his cavalier attitude, it bugs me. The end of Endraum’s set is greeted with a surge of cheering, and the band duly return for an encore. The keyboard player provokes laughter from the audience by repeatedly fluffing the intro to the encore-song - well, at least that’s one way of proving that you’re not miming - and the band create another of their atmospheric anthems to finish. There’s much to like in Endraum’s music - they’re certainly masters of atmosphere, that’s for sure. I just wish the singer would make it look a bit more like he *means* it.

A short break, just long enough to get the schwartzbiers in, and then a collection of clean-cut, intense looking young men take the stage. This, it seems, is The Count, and before the band play a note of music I’m taken aback. With a name like that, I’d assumed the band would be some sort of uber-gotik vampire-schmampire outfit, all ruffled shirts and doomy melodrama. Well, I was wrong, wasn’t I. The Count, it turns out, are a punchy modern rock band without a shred of vampire-ness about them. Come to that, they don’t have a huge amount of gothness about them, either. They’re all dressed down, looking moody and purposeful in T-shirts and cropped hair, like a toughened-up version of Depeche Mode. Their music is a pretty tough proposition, too. They slam into a set of stripped-down metallic rockers, each song louder and more punchy than the last. The guitar sound is huge, the drums pummel the audience into submission. Not that there’s too much of a crush at the front, for The Count seem to be a relatively new band. They certainly don’t have the kind of devoted fanbase that Endraum can command. The venue is distinctly less full for The Count’s set, but the band blat on regardless, hammering away at their heavy, impassioned, almost-metal songs. That, I’ll grant you, is not the most elegant description of a band’s musical output that I’ve ever coined, but it suits The Count down to the ground. Almost-metal. The guitars roar like Rammstein, but the songs have enough of a poppy structure to lighten the load, and the band’s image - clean-cut young chaps all, aside from the female backing singer, who comes on for a few songs looking endearingly nervous - helps to soften what would, if you judged the band purely on the music, be a rather cartoonishly over-intense experience. It’s one of those ‘it shouldn’t work but it does’ things, I suppose. They look like Depeche Mode, they sound like Rammstein, and they’ve got a name which makes you think you’re going to get a junior version of Nosferatu. Somehow, they make it all hang together, but I’d hate to be the record company that has to figure out a way of marketing that bundle of contradictions.

Third band of the night is also new to me. They’re called Kartagon, a name which doesn’t conjure up any particular musical or stylistic references in my mind. Kartagon? Sounds like a brand of washing powder. What kind of music could possibly lurk behind a name like that? We soon find out.  Kartagon are a three-piece. There’s an electro-drummer lurking at the back, a keyboardist toting a shiny white strap-on (stop sniggering, you know perfectly well what I mean) and a vocalist in designer cyber-gear. If their name is cryptic, their appearance and their hardware gives it all away.  Kartagon are a futurepoppy EBM band, and within two songs I’ve got their musical vocabulary nailed. They’ve got the driving beat, the upbeat sequences over the top, the half-chanted vocals - and, I regret so say, some foolishly trite lyrics, most of which seem to be recycled lovey-dovey pop-song banalities. One couplet in particular makes my jaw drop with its shameless banality: ‘We’re flying to the moon/We’ll get there very soon’. I kid you not. The singer really does deliver those words, with nary a twitch of an eyebrow to indicate that this might be a knowingly ironic spoof. He means it, maaan. Oh, sure, I realise Kartagon are writing songs in their second language, and I shouldn’t necessarily expect subtle wordplay or complex interaction of rhyme and alliteration - but, ye gods, I *do* expect something a little more creative than ‘moon’ and ‘soon’. The one slightly tangental moment in the set - the one point where Kartagon do something unexpected - is when they throw in a cover of David Bowie and Pat Metheny’s 80s jazz crooner, ‘This Is Not America’, which, even in Kartagon’s EBM-ed up form, still retains its distinctive melody, and thus stands out among the bands own four-square dance-pop ditties. But this is the only real heads-up moment in a set that doesn’t really do anything more than press all the familiar futurepop buttons. The odd thing is, I learn later that Kartagon were previously named Panic On The Titanic, a name under which they scored quite a bit of success. I can only assume they used up all their ideas-fuel thinking up their former - and rather witty - name. Now, as Kartagon, they seem to be simply following a well-tried musical recipe, with a lyrical garnish that’s as bland as margarine.

Catastrophe Ballet have played in the UK in the past, although I can’t recall the band ever coming to London. But I know the name, and somewhere in my head they’re filed as ‘Trad-goth outfit, not bad if you like that sort of thing’. Or, at least, that’s how they *were* filed, because their performance tonight overturns all my preconceptions and forces me to radically re-arrange my in-brain band filing system. On tonight’s evidence, Catastrophe Ballet are a rumbustious bunch of glam-punk buccaneers, a grandstanding, showboating, full-speed-ahead rock ‘n’ roll experience which has about as much to do with the narrow parameters of trad-goth as Wayne Hussey has to do with market gardening. Most of the show is in the hands of the vocalist - who, I discover, is called Eric Burton. Wasn’t he in The Animals? If so, he’s been reincarnated as the quintessential rock ‘n’ roll showman, hauling the mic stand around like a circus ringmaster might brandish his cane, throwing shapes and striking poses. He’s flanked by a bassist, who’s no slouch at the rock ‘n’ roll moves himself, and a keyboard player who, by contrast, preserves an air of bemused detachment throughout. Somewhere in the back there’s a guitarist and drummer, but they’re very much down in the engine room, so to speak, leaving the decks clear for the captain to stride about in full commanding officer mode.  The music is a heady rock ‘n’ roll rush, fast but structured, never giving way to mere thrash. The band seem to be treating the show as an opportunity to have fun - they’re on home ground here in Germany, they don’t need to convince anyone tonight. They can cut loose and please themselves, and when they launch into a brace of covers it’s as if they’ve decided to play a couple of their favourite songs just for the hell of it. And their cover songs are revealing: ‘Anarchy In The UK’ (oddly enough, it sounds like the singer’s delivering the Megadeth version: I’m sure he sings ‘and other cunt-like tendencies’ instead of ‘another council tenancy’) and Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s ‘21st Century Boy’ - cheesy choices, in a way, maybe, and certainly the band get no left-field points for these songs, but tonight Catastrophe Ballet burn like an oil-rig flare.

So, we’re four bands down with three days to go. Not that the Wave Gotik Treffen ever really *stops*, you understand. Here in the Moritzbastei, DJs take over when the bands finish, and you can party in the labyrinth to 6am if you have a mind to do so. Meanwhile, there are clubs and parties and unofficial ‘fringe’ events all over town. Going to bed need not be an option. Except...I’m going to bed. I’ve been awake for 21 hours, traveled across three countries to get here, and there’s more to come. Much more...

...continue to Part 2