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 two: Sonnabend
(Bands in order of appearance)
The Cascades
Pink Turns Blue
Sanguis Et Cinis
Diva Destruction
Clan Of Xymox

Day two of the WGT, and Leipzig basks in cheerful spring sunshine. The various live music venues around town tend not to open until mid-afternoon, but that doesn’t mean the earlier part of the day is a cultural desert.  From mid-morning onwards, the Cinestar cinema is showing goth-friendly movies before hosting a production of the Rocky Horror Show.  Elsewhere, there are demonstrations of medieval metalworking, and fruit wine to be sampled. There are theatrical performances at the Villa, and absinthe tasting, literary workshops, and dark folk bands (now there’s an interesting combination of activities) at the Sixtina bar. If all this sounds worryingly cultural, you could opt for some good old fashioned fan-worship, as the bands gather for their autograph sessions, give yourself a large dose of retail therapy at the Agra market, or just choose a bar or cafe and hang out. That’s the beauty of the Wave Gotik Treffen.  It’s a festival that doesn’t feel like a festival. It’s as large or as small, as hedonistic or as highbrow as you wish. For four days, Leipzig is a city of possibilities. All you have to do is choose.

At the risk of appearing uncouth, we decide to forgo the culture and go shopping. Or, at least, take a wander around the counter-cultural hypermarket that is taking place in one of the two vast halls of the Agra complex. It’s an impressive experience, with multiple CD retailers and the huge stands of the four main German-scene goth magazines (who are clearly trying to outdo each other with sheer presence) vying for space with a bewildering variety of outlets selling clothes and acoutrements. Not that I particularly wish to buy any off-the-peg gothic costumes, trinkets, novelties or objects d’art, you understand. I never did connect with the ‘gothic lifestyle’ thing, probably because I’m rooted in a time before the gothic concept had expanded to that kind of all-encompassing extent. But it’s nevertheless instructive to gaze out over the expanse of stalls and realise that, here in Germany, goth is big business, while still being entirely *independent* business. These days, we’re all more or less expected to accept and consume; to eat McDonalds, drink Coke, wear Gap, and dutifully listen to Britney or Busted, Avril or Evanescence. It’s reassuring to know that a viable alternative exists, and it’s big enough to matter; it’s big enough to count. Sure, it might ultimately be just another branch of consumer culture, but at least it’s *our* consumer culture, not theirs.

As far as bands go, today we’re heading across town on a tram ride to the Parkbuhne stage, the WGT’s open-air arena, and the only part of the event that has a traditional festival feel. Picnicking goths scatter themselves about shade-dappled parkland around the stage like a surrealist open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to a soundtrack of sizzling wurst and foaming bier from the refreshment stalls. The Parkbuhne stage itself was originally built many years ago as an al-fresco culture bunker, and is oriented south-west so that the afternoon sun shines directly onto the stage, to provide natural stage lighting. Thus it is that the bands have to play their sets while squinting into the sun, which must be a tiresome experience, but it doesn’t seem to dampen the heavy metal enthusiasm of The Cascades, the first band we catch on stage. They’re a bunch of fairly traditional rock blokes in varying states of grizzlement, and they play a brand of straightforward ‘eavy metal which manages to be suitably thunderous without ever really asserting its own identity. It bumps and grinds in all the right places, and the singer, in PVC rock-god attire, strikes all the right poses at the front, but none of this can disguise the fact that the music is pretty conventional mullet-metal. Not that any of the musicians actually sports a mullet, as it happens, but then a mullet isn’t just a hairstyle. It’s also a state of mind. As a soundtrack to getting the beers in, The Cascades do a reasonable job, but I’m not particularly inspired to pay them much more attention than that.

Things pick up a bit when Pink Turns Blue take to the stage. They look very ‘post-punk funeral director’ in their sharp black shirts and severe black suits, and yet in spite of their formal attire they still manage to exude an effortless coolness in the full sun. Their sound matches the look. It’s a neatly-constructed guitar-layered new wave rush, where precision and energy collide in every song, but always under controlled conditions. There are no OTT crowd pleasing antics during their set - it’s all very measured, as if the band is taking care not to overshadow the music with showbiz foolishness, but that’s OK because the music stands up to close scrutiny.  It’s a very eighties sound, in a way, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Pink Turns Blue originally formed in 1986 and thus aren’t simply influenced by the sounds of that era - they helped to create them.  This performance, it appears, is one of only a handful reunion gigs they’ve played in the last couple of years after splitting up sometime in the mid-90s. Paradoxically, Pink Turns Blue sound very fresh, very modern, very much in tune with the twenty-first century zeitgeist. Perhaps that’s because this style of music - sharp, dynamic, abrasive but under control - is back in contention after being banished to the wilderness for too many years by the twin prongs of dance and metal. Could Pink Turns Blue find their time has come again? If they’re genuinely a going concern, back for the long haul and not simply playing a few revival shows, I think they might just swing it. With Franz Ferdinand in the charts, anything is possible.

Wait a minute - who let the skate kids in? This, it would seem, is Sanguis Et Cinis. A gang of youths who look like they’ve just been turfed out of the local shopping mall are suddenly swarming all over the stage. They’re decked out in middle-market leisurewear and toting guitars like they’ve learned all their moves from MTV. They’ve got the geeky one squinting at a laptop at the back, and a budget price Billy Idol on bass at the front, working his way through a list of rock star poses. A guitarist in highly fashionable (and utterly foolish) cut-off trousers swaggers around the stage as if pacing it out with a view to installing fitted carpet, pausing occasionally to holler out a vocal, while another guitarist in one of those ubiquitous fake school ties does some rather self-conscious ‘rocking out’ on the opposite side. The music itself is a formless nu-punk noise which manages to touch all the right sonic bases without ever really coalescing into anything you could call a memorable song. And oh, look, they’ve kindly allowed their little sister to join the gang as well. A curiously doll-like girl in a thirteen-year-old’s idea of a fetish outfit stands rather awkwardly in the middle of the melee, and occasionally raises a microphone to her lips and trills what I can only assume are intended as backing vocals, although frankly I have heard more assertive budgerigars. The whole thing comes across as a half-arsed youth club project, and I stand aghast at the sheer awfulness of the spectacle. However, I seem to be alone in my horror. The audience gives the band a rousing reception, greeting each formless mish-mash of beats ‘n’ chords with great enthusiasm. This, it’s obvious, is What The Kids Want. I have never been so glad not to be a kid.

Fortunately, the next band on the bill is Diva Destruction, and unless they’ve undergone a drastic style reappraisal since I last saw them, it’s a fair bet that I’ll be spared any further excursions into the ghastliness that is mainstream yoof culture. As the band take the stage, however, it’s immediately apparent that Diva Destruction have undergone a drastic line-up reappraisal. Debra, lead singer and all-round mistress of the Diva Destruction experience, has had another of her end of season clear-outs, and her former musicians have been replaced by a new bunch. The last-drummer-but-two is back, there’s a new guitarist, gamely wearing a rather alarming PVC outfit, and a new keyboard player who spends the entire gig smiling a secret smile to herself. For all these changes, the band sounds much as they ever did - a swirling drama of sound, every song a tumbling rush of rhythm and crashing guitar. This incarnation of the band features no backing vocals, though. It appears that the new keyboard player doesn’t sing, so the dual-vocal attack which has previously been a distinctive element in the Diva Destruction sound is absent this time.  Debra carries the show alone, but with great aplomb. She’s always in motion, whirling and gyrating around the lead-vocal position as if trying to keep her balance on a waltzer, to the cheers of the crowd for whom she’s clearly a bona fide rock ‘n’ roll heroine. The songs seem to strike a chord with the crowd - at any rate, everyone sings along to ‘You’re The Psycho’ as if exorcising demons - and the visual excitements never stop. We get three costume changes along the way, and Debra even takes to brandishing an assortment of artifacts - a scarf, a stick, a flag - above her head, presumably to illustrate the lyrical content of certain songs. An effective bit of schtick, for sure, but I think she should be careful not to overdo it. It almost gets to the point where I’m wondering what the next object she’ll wave at us might turn out to be - a bath towel, a hearthrug, a toaster, a cuddly toy? She throws a bouquet of artificial flowers into the crowd as a grand finale (just as well she didn’t go for the toaster option, I suppose) and there’s an immediate scrum in the crowd as all the boys try to grab a souvenir of their favourite rock chick. Then she’s back for the encores in tight black PVC pants, a costume which increases excitement levels among the male half of the crowd to fever pitch. It occurs to me that the Diva Destruction live experience is an even balance between rock ‘n’ roll theatrics and unashamed crowd-pleasing hokum. If you analysed the show in cold blood, it would probably seem rather cheesy. But, swept up in the swirl and the excitement of the moment, that ol’ hokum works every time.

Clan Of Xymox also seem to have a revised line-up. I’m sure the guitarist is new; and this incarnation of the band doesn’t have a drummer - just a girl doing something-or-other at a keyboard right at the back. But, as ever with Xymox, it’s a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The line-ups may differ, but the overall sound, and to a great extent the songs in the set, don’t radically change. The band even contrive to look much the same as they always do. I mean, surely Ronny must have more than that one pair of boots? I dare say a sizeable chunk of the Xymox fanbase appreciates this, how can I put it, consistency, but personally I think it’s high time Xymox rang a few changes, shifted their ground a little, gave us something instantly, recognisably, *different*. But then, I’m not entirely sure if Xymox plan to be with us for much longer. Their latest album is entitled ‘Farewell’, which suggests the band is contemplating retirement. Let’s face it, if they call their album ‘Farewell’ and then they don’t go for the big bye-bye, what are they going to call their next album? ‘Hang on, We Haven’t Gone Yet’?

So, there are no surprises, but we get a good set nonetheless. The sound is clear and cutting, the programmed drums slap and crack like electro-thunder, the guitar sound builds and rumbles. Ronny himself stands almost casually at the mic, working his way through the songs with easy familiarity. He seldom cuts loose, instead giving us his trademark, relaxed, eye-of-the-storm persona as the set unfolds. Just occasionally, he’ll make a grand gesture, or reach out to the audience with the microphone, but these are uncharacteristic moments of rock ‘n’ roll liveliness in a show that’s otherwise an exercise in cooled-out restraint.  The band play new songs, and new-ish songs, but, as ever, the vintage selections from Xymox’s 80s past are greeted most warmly, a fact which I suspect must be quite galling to the band in a way. They must wonder whether they’ll ever get out from under the long shadow cast by ‘A Day’, a song which is surely over 20 years old by now. But they rattle through it with fine conviction, Ronny putting an impressive amount of passion into the big chorus-shout of ‘Where are you?’ even though I’m sure he’s asked that particular question a thousand times on a thousand different stages.  That’s the thing about Xymox: they always deliver a good show, and while it might be in all essential respects the *same* show, from one gig to the next, from one year to the next, they nevertheless do the business. There’s just a slight question mark - in my mind, if nowhere else - as to how much longer they intend to continue doing it.

And then it’s curfew time. In deference to the good burghers of Leipzig, some of whom doubtless want to get a bit of sleep tonight without electrically amplified gothic thunder invading their dreams, the Parkbuhne stage closes down before 11pm. The rest of Leipzig is still jumping, however: the WGT never sleeps...

...continue to Part 3