Memory of a Festival: 028: Infest 2017

All it took was arriving in Bradford on Friday, and I knew that I still loved this festival. There was that familiar buzz of anticipation as we stepped off the platform, looking forward to the fun to come, however this year was tinged of course with a bittersweet sadness over what was going to be missing over the weekend.

If you knew him, it was impossible to escape the absence of Tails (who sadly passed away earlier in the year) over the weekend. Bands coming onstage seemed strangely bereft of something, without anyone to introduce them (although this year at least, there couldn’t possibly have been anyone else that did it, that much was universally agreed), and while there was random craziness and spontaneous happenings, there was always that thought of “Tails would have loved that”. There were quite a few drinks raised to him, particularly on Sunday night.

Infest 2017: People

Elsewhere, though, the festival was as usual well-organised and ran well, with lots of happy and enthusiastic punters all weekend – you get to hear quite a lot working at least part of the festival, as my wife and I were once again assisting on the Storming The Base music stall over the weekend. The one bone of contention/frustration for many was one out of the control of the organisers – an unusually poor service from the bar staff, who all appeared to be staff unfamiliar with the festival (in recent times it has been the same staff for some years) and appeared to me to be desperately understaffed, particularly before mid-evening. Hopefully words can be had before next year, with next year being the twentieth anniversary.

So: if you are familiar with this website and the coverage of Infest, this is my usual rundown of the bands over the weekend, with a few personal recollections too. There are photos on Flickr, both of people and bands, and if you want to use them elsewhere, please attribute them to amodelofcontrol.com – it’s only polite, and my photos are Creative Commons-licensed for this reason.

A reminder, in case you ask, these are of course my personal opinions (amodelofcontrol.com is written by one person with occasional guest input), and your views may differ from mine. And if my take on your band isn’t entirely complementary, sorry, but that’s the way I saw it. It’s nothing personal.

One thing Friday openers perhaps gain over early bands later in the weekend is that they are pretty guaranteed a big audience, as the flood of people into the venue when the doors first opened reinforced on this Friday.

Infest 2017: Bands: They Called Him Zone

So it was a little frustating to see They Called Him Zone squander their chance somewhat. Sure, they were impeccably cool post-punk, but to me they were relatively samey, and most damningly rather charmless onstage – no stage patter, and there was a detachment that went beyond cool as they cast contemptuous looks over the crowd that were there to watch them. Hiding behind cool aviator shades is fine (the band’s image was certainly on-point), but that image needs to be backed up by something more interesting than they peddled here. That said, as a friend noted, if it’s good enough for Andrew Eldritch…

Infest 2017: Bands: Noyce

The first pleasant surprise of the weekend came from NOYCE™. In my preamble to the festival in Welcome to the Future: 005 a month or so back, I’d perhaps been a bit dismissive of the band in being “yet another off the German synthpop assembly line”. The reality was that they were considerably more…dramatic than that.

A fully live band, the usual vocalist/guitar/synth/drums combo was unexpectedly augmented by a violinist that really did add something impressive to the sound. They were a band with a flourish, some fantastic songs, and, unlike the band before them, a band that seemed genuinely happy to be there and that wanted to entertain.

I’ll leave my coverage of NOYCE™ with a quote from another friend: ‘like Seabound with an Andrew Lloyd Webber fetish‘.

Infest 2017: Bands: Accessory

No such additional baggage weighed down Accessory, who, as I’d been promised by various people, were enormous fun. They had seemingly limitless energy (backed up by the band getting involved in various other things over the weekend, not least apparently turning out to be a dab hand at Laserquest), and a distinct sense of not taking their music particularly seriously.

The latter point was rammed home by the gloriously catchy Tanzrichtung vorwärts, a song with rather snarky lyrics about other “scene” bands, and was the first live track of the weekend to see the crowd absolutely lose it too. Sure, some of the detail of the lyrics probably gets lost in translation from German, but who cares when their pounding electro-industrial is so engaging and, most of all, fun?

It has been some years since Rotersand last graced the Infest stage – and this was remarkably their third time headlining – and even though there was also a hefty gap between the last two albums (seven years or so), it was clear from the off that there was still a lot of love for this band.

Rotersand setlist

Merging Oceans
Lost
Dare To Live
It’s About Us
Waiting to Be Born
Capitalism TM / Electric Elephant
[included snippet of Beastie Boy’s Intergalactic]
First Time
Electronic World Transmission
Torn Realities
War On Error

Encore:
Exterminate Annihilate Destroy
All in All
Undone

Rotersand shot to the top of the pile quickly after their first album – with good reason, as it was the ideal combination of melody, hooks and slamming industrial beats – and their star only rose further with their second album in particular (part of that success, in the UK at least, was down to a certain song with a Doctor Who sample!). In their time away, though, the landscape has changed somewhat, and here Rotersand seemed to have changed too.

Infest 2017: Bands: Rotersand

Live here, they were reduced to just Rasc on vocals and Krischan on electronics, and while they still have the songs, something just wasn’t right with their sound at all. Despite a belting opening trio (how many other bands in “our thing” can get away with opening with a trio as good as Merging Oceans, Lost and Dare To Live?), the set felt a little subdued and just not loud enough

Whatever was causing the latter, though, was rectified later on and the familiar favourite of Electronic World Transmission sounded so much better in particular. Unsurprisingly, the inflatable Dalek brought along by a friend got to be bounced across the crowd in the encore, and the crowd once again went nuts to a song they must have heard hundreds of times.

Not for the first time, too, it was also notable how many songs the band didn’t play – but that is more of a testament to just how many great songs Rotersand have, rather than a poor choice of set. That said, though, this wasn’t quite the skyscraping show I was hoping for, but then again, they are a band that have set impossibly high standards for themselves.

A relatively early finish on Friday allowed an early get-up on Saturday, to hotfoot it across to Manchester for the morning. This wasn’t as crazy an idea as it appears – living and working in inner London means rare opportunities to make it north, and both my wife and I really wanted to see the True Faith exhibition, that covered both Joy Division and New Order. It was well worth the trip, too, with original artefacts, artwork and some exceptional video footage – the latter of which justifying the trip alone. It is only on until 03-September, though, so you’ve got just a week to catch it.

Infest 2017: Bands: Riotmiloo

Back in Bradford, and back up the hill at the University, there were more bands to catch. I’ve been following the work of Riotmiloo for a while, her intriguing album la pierre soudée standing out among her peers on ant-zen in particular because of the subject matter.

Riotmiloo makes experimental, jagged industrial music, sometimes edging into dark ambient and all-out noise, but mot importantly her songs give a voice to women around the world in challenging circumstances – child brides, abused women, women and children in desperate poverty. It is difficult stuff at points, but voices that need to be heard – you can read more about it on Talk Show Host: 015.

Frustratingly, though, her impressive, punkish industrial noise onstage had the impact dulled by a shocking sound, at least to start with. Microphone problems were part of it, and once whatever the technical gremlins that there was were banished, she seemed to relax and deliver the show that we’d hoped. She and Paul were then joined later in the set onstage by Jamie of ESA to play their collaborative work – both Riotmiloo and then finally an ESA track (Dead Fucking Desire). To me this latter track seemed a strange choice, as after all, this was Riotmiloo’s moment to shine – but it was well recieved, and sounded pretty awesome too.

Infest 2017: Bands: Chemical Sweet Kid

It was a rather abrupt change in style – in fact something that rather characterised the Saturday bill – to Chemical Sweet Kid. A French band that were perhaps unexpectedly fun Industrial Rock, very much in peak-Marilyn Manson style at points, that had a lot of punch and energy. The were great riffs, some stompingly heavy rhythms, and a feel of a band that had truly immersed themselves in what they were doing. The Paint it Black cover was best ignored, though.

Empathy Test setlist

Kirrilee
Last Night On Earth
Seeing Stars
Holding On
Losing Touch
Throwing Stones
Bare My Soul
Demons
Here Is the Place

One of the most anticipated bands of the weekend was Empathy Test. After first appearing on my – and many others – radar just two years ago at SOS Festival #2 at Electrowerkz, their rise has frankly been meteoric since then. They’ve appeared on major German festival bills, toured extensively with both Mesh and VNV Nation, and even played in the UK a few times. That punishing schedule has clearly done them a lot of a good – and won them a lot of fans – as the recent, big success of their Pledgemusic campaign to release their twin debut albums has shown.

The change in demeanour of the band onstage has been interesting to watch, too. Initially they were a timid, nervous band as they found their feet, but that touring – and having to deal with ever-bigger audiences – has seen them hone and sharpen their style to the point that it is now a slick, confident live show.

That would count for nothing without the songs, though, and we’ve already reached the point where Empathy Test are dropping popular songs from their sets as they’ve now got too many. A nice problem to have, but when your first clutch of EPs basically have no duff tracks whatsoever, it is also going to raise expectation.

Infest 2017: Bands: Empathy Test

What is also notable about Empathy Test, too, is that they are band that broadly play an entire set of ballads. Admittedly lush, sweeping ballads with hooks like anvils, but they are ballads all the same, and it is a brave band at Infest that gets away with playing two in a set here without losing the attention of the crowd. So how do Empathy Test do it?

It’s all about the hooks, stupid. That and relatable songs about the perils of love and loss, and a distinct feeling that young heads have learned about life the hard way. Love is a difficult subject to write about in song without sounding trite, too.

An absolute triumph, this set, the best I’ve seen of this band, and I’ve no doubt that there is better yet to come.

There were, of course, no ballads in WULFBAND‘s set. Subtle they are not, but if you like your relentless Swedish-EBM, with a curious sense of humour, they are enormous fun (and very, very loud!). Musically they are not particularly complex – punk-speed EBM synths combine with pummelling beats while vocals are shouted and screamed over the top – but their songs were irresistable to an ageing rivethead like myself, and judging on the vicious moshpit for much of the set, I wasn’t the only one.

Infest 2017: Bands: Wulfband

I’ve no idea why they’ve chosen to be anonymous (the band members wear balaclavas over their faces), but I suspect that at least some of them are away from the dayjob in better known bands, and I’m fucked if I know what the homoerotic wrestling onstage was about either, but by the time a scorching 3, 2, 1, NEIN provided one final knockout punch, I was past caring about the details and just enjoying the bumpy ride.

Talking of a bumpy ride, I found it was difficult to stand still during EndUser‘s set, mainly as the bass (and volume) was so fearsome that I was steadily being moved across the floor. I mean, I knew full well that this was going to be a jet-engine blast of breakcore, but the hyperactive attention span of his music live is frankly quite amazing. While most of the music is firmly rooted in the heavier, darker, louder end of drum’n’bass known as breakcore, Lynn (for he is Enduser) thinks nothing of using the most surprisingly effective sample sources, such as Tamsin Archer’s Sleeping Satellite for the scorched earth rhythms of 2/3. The idea on paper sounds appalling, but this works brilliantly.

Elsewhere, there was effective use of dhol-based bhangra samples, too, and indeed only that afternoon we’d been marvelling at a Pakistani wedding in our hotel that used the awesomely loud sound of the dhol (without any amplification) as, as far as we could tell, part of the entrance to the wedding; while I’m also informed there was a mash-up involving the mighty Bong-Ra somewhere else in this set, too.

Very much the one set of the weekend that was really not for everyone – my wife was complaining of her teeth vibrating while sat some distance from the stage on the STB stall – but for those of us with a passing interest or more in breakcore, this was an hour of education from a master in the field.

Infest 2017: Bands: Die Krupps

Talking of masters, Die Krupps have come a long way since their origins in the Rhine-Ruhr in the early eighties – where they helped to form the sound of EBM, but using metallic percussion along with the synths. After working with Nitzer Ebb on the game-changing Machineries of Joy (itself a rework of Wahre Arbeit Wahre Lohn, one of DK’s earliest singles), though, they covered Metallica songs on an EP, introduced guitars, and the sound that we’re nowadays familiar with in terms of DK was born.

Die Krupps setlist

Kaltes Herz
The Dawning of Doom
Schmutzfabrik
Der Amboss
Hi Tech Low Life
Scent
Black Beauty White Heat
Fly Martyrs Fly
To the Hilt
Metal Machine Music
Robo Sapien
Nazis Auf Speed
Fatherland

Encore:
Machineries of Joy
Bloodsuckers

And fuck me, did the guitars feature here. This set absolutely destroyed, from start to finish, and as is frequently the case with Die Krupps, it was very loud indeed.

There were a handful of newer songs – most of which fit in nicely – but the majority of the set was dedicated to the post-Metallica part of their back-catalogue, with everything in their guitar heavy form. Not that this was a problem – II – The Final Option was my route into the band in the early nineties, and needless to say a few songs from that ever-popular album featured.

But elsewhere there were joys to be found, too. The first song to really get the room jumping – and the pit erupting – was old favourite The Dawning of Doom that has such a bouncing, catchy rhythm that it was impossible not to get swept up into it. The one cover played, too – their pounding take on Visage’s The Anvil/Der Amboss, complete with Jürgen Engler’s stahlophone taking an absolute pummelling, is actually surprising in how faithful that the take on it is to the original – a reminder that Visage were a little harder-edged than the endless replays of Fade to Grey might suggest.

Despite appearances to the contrary, too, the band are capable of moments of great subtlety, like on Scent, where the more restrained pace and feel work very well indeed, and newer tracks like Fly Martyrs Fly also proved that they still have some fabulous tracks in the tank.

Perhaps the infamous stahlophone was not used as much as I’ve seen before, but it still makes an awesome noise and of course took centre-stage for a monstrous take on Machineries of Joy in the encore. Politics, too, were mentioned, with twin anti-fascist songs making up the end of the close of the set, their message loud and clear, particularly with the ever powerful Fatherland, a song that has lost none of it’s power after nearly twenty-five years, and is perhaps more relevant than ever in this age of the “alt-right”.

Most of the crowd looked like they had been pummelled into submission after Bloodsuckers closed things out, and there did appear to be quite a few early finishers that night (me included).

Fortified by enough food (had with friends at the ever-excellent MyLahore) to keep me going for the rest of the day (and indeed until breakfast the following morning), I was ready to face Sunday, which was always going to be the toughest day to face the reality of Tails not being part of this.

Infest 2017: Bands: Among The Echoes

Perhaps wisely, you see, in the main the small events marking Tails’ passing at the festival were all done on the Sunday. Once we’d all had the chance to settle in again, and deal with things in our own way. Personally, the toughest bit was signing the memories book. I started writing, and ended up writing more than I thought I could, but I couldn’t stay in the room after that. I needed a moment to myself.

Sunday afternoon, too, for the bands, can be an utter graveyard, and so this year proved. Back in the day, attendance would be assisted by Tails walking round in whatever outfit he’d thought of then and rounding up people to come and see the bands (he was a great believer in actually checking out all of the bands, in that they are giving up their time to play, so we should do them the justice of at least checking them out). This year, Among The Echoes were the unlucky band to open the day to a sparse crowd.

I’m afraid I didn’t last long, even though I was there when they started. I’d noted in my preview that they had something of a European darkwave feel, but live there was nothing of the sort. This was nothing more than plodding gothic rock. Gothic rock can be be inspiring and life affirming, as bands old and new have proved, this was anything but. No hooks, no new ideas, this was just plain boring, and I lasted barely a song before giving up and putting more money behind the bar. At least I enjoy drinking vodka.

Infest 2017: Bands: Sidewalks and Skeletons

An unexpected revelation – and massively popular act on the Sunday, perhaps to the surprise of many – was Sidewalks and Skeletons. One person in a dark cowl and cloak, hunched over a table of electronics, in dim light does not perhaps sell it too well. But add to that an enthralling set of accomplished, intriguing witch house, and a tendency to stretch the sound into other realms – it was far from cookie-cutter witch house, and perhaps that’s what was so great about it.

But then, did anyone – aside from the tempos and woozy sounds – ever work out exactly what Witch House actually was? None of the artists really sounded too much like each other, everyone having a distinct sound, and it was more of a journalistic grouping in some respects. That said, there was something of the unsettling darkness of m‡яc▲ll▲ here, particularly in the first couple of tracks, and that’s no bad thing.

Something of an underground success already, it was obvious from the amount of disappointed punters wanting to buy CDs afterward (there is a substantial number of digital releases available on Bandcamp), that a large number of new fans were made here.

Infest 2017: Bands: Vampyre Anvil

A duo that needed little introduction to the Infest crowd of recent years was Vampyre Anvil. A collaboration between Jason Novak (Acumen Nation, Acucrack, runs Cracknation records and Cold Waves) and Sean Payne (Cyanotic, runs Glitch Mode Records), the involvement of these two would easily signal what we were to expect.

Indeed, if you’re familiar with Tetsuo that came out last year, this set will not have surprised at all. Rivalling enduser for the weaponised level of bass on show, this was a punishing set that kinda takes the industrial/glitch/drum’n’bass experimentation of Acucrack and pushes it into far darker, malevolent corners. I actually saw Vampyre Anvil at Cold Waves last year (Memory of a Festival: 027), and this was a far louder, better-sounding and more focussed set, to my ears.

Infest 2017: Bands: The Juggernauts

Now then, The Juggernauts. Last seen by me at BIMFest 2015, this project of DJ BORG from the same festival is one with quite the image. One where urban techno commandos, as prophesized by Mandr01d, become reality. Or, put another way, intergalactic riot police by way of Front 242. Oh yes, this is futuristic, pummelling EBM with exactly the sound you want from this kind of description, and thus was a welcome band to see on the Sunday evening.

One band lots of people were talking about over the weekend was iVardensphere. This Canadian act, centred around Scott Fox, have been around for some time now, and their relentless touring and release schedule (they have another album, Hesitation, out later in the Autumn) has made them a popular live draw.

iVardensphere setlist

A Tale of Two Wolves
Thin Veil
Pray for the Day
Stygian
(drum solo)
Black Lodge
Align. Get In Line. Stay Alive.
Myopic
Roots Bloody Roots
Narada

Part of that is down to their sheer rhythmic force as a live act, and how different shows can vary so much. The latter is down to availability, of course, and in this case – about the sixth time I’ve seen them – there were no less than seven people on stage, with at points four of them on drums.

Infest 2017: Bands: iVardensphere

When all those drummers lock into a groove, such as on the sensational opener A Tale of Two Wolves, it easily surpasses the album material, and Stygian was similarly upgraded. Drum improvisation can go the other way, though, and I felt the lengthy drum solo mid-set – as impressive as it was – rather sucked the life out of the middle of the set.

Better were the couple of new tracks aired, including the catchy-as-all-hell Pray for the Day, which suggests that Hesitation will once again be worth picking up, while the now-usual rip-roaring, chaotic take on Sepultura’s Roots Bloody Roots is a fantastic, rabble-rousing way to begin signing off. Regular visitors to these shores nowadays, here’s hoping Scott and his gang can return again soon.

Like last year in Chicago, watching Revolting Cocks live at the moment is a chaotic, but hugely entertaining experience. They got off to an iffy start with some technical issues, not least Richard 23 having no vocals as 38 got going, and he really didn’t seem happy about it. But once that was resolved, and the band relaxed, it didn’t take too long to kick into gear, particularly for the fist-pumping industrial anthem of Attack Ships on Fire.

Revolting Cocks setlist

Intro
38
We Shall Cleanse the World
Attack Ships on Fire
Union Carbide
TV Mind
You Often Forget
No Devotion

Cattle Grind
(Let’s Get) Physical
Stainless Steel Providers
Crackin’ Up
Something Wonderful
Beers, Steers & Queers

Encore:
Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?

“I’m Doctor 23. And these are my patients.”
*pauses, nods back at the band*
“Genitals.”

Infest 2017: Bands: Revolting Cocks

What was most jarring was seeing Richard 23 quipping away onstage, and – once the early tech issues were resolved – grinning away as the set got ever madder. If you’ve seen Front 242 live before, you’ll know why – that band are *so* controlled live, and seeing him let his guard down like that was really surprising.

The set was, as in Chicago last year, split into two. Richard 23 – without Luc Van Acker on this tour, by the looks of things, as he wasn’t at this show – covered the Big Sexy Land material, and then handed over to Chris Connelly who performed material from Beers, Steers and Queers and Linger Ficken’ Good.

It was clear that the later material was familiar to more of the crowd here, and Chris’s flamboyant delivery really amped up some of the songs, particularly a deeply filthy-and-wrong “love song” in the form of (Let’s Get) Physical (yes, the Olivia Newton-John track, but not like you’ve heard it before), and a revved up – literally – Stainless Steel Providers.

By the time of Beers, Steers & Queers closing out the set, needless to say the crowd was seriously raucous, and Chris and Jason – both grinning away – just stirred it up further. Yeeeeee-hah! Richard 23 rejoined for the encore, though, as him and Chris threw the rest of their dignity out of the window and provided a glorious Do Ya Think I’m Sexy that had the crowd happily wailing along to the refrain. I’m still proud of the fact that my wife and I managed to get this cover into our wedding playlist last year.

Infest 2017: People

There was no doubt that RevCo lost some of the crowd – but then, they were never a band that were going to appeal to everyone, and I suspect some of the younger members of the crowd weren’t even born when some of this was released. But I felt that they were great fun once again, and were worthy headliners of the festival.

Much of the remainder of the night, as things began to wind down, got quite emotional for many. A lot of the crew and a good number of the regular punters at Infest have long been friends, and in some respects is an extended family that get together every year. And this year, that get-together just happened to end up being a way of supporting each other in dealing with the loss of a friend, and I’d like to think that he got an appropriate tribute in the form of yet another great, well-run Infest that was a whole lot of fun.

Next year, Infest marks it’s twentieth edition. It’s already in my calendar. Until next time…

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