My second visit to Antwerp for BIMFest – I first went last year, which was reviewed here – was once again enormous fun, featuring a city I’m now familiar with, friends old and new (and the usual crazy connections close to home), and of course a whole load of music, of which only a few I had heard before. So, onto the bands.
Friday, as per last time, started mid-evening, presumably to allow more local punters the chance to finish work, and for those of us coming from further afield, to get there in good time. This time – coming from Prague overland the day before – I had far more time to chill out and see the city first, but even so I managed to get there a bit late! I still caught most of True Zebra, mind, and as is often the case with first acts, there wasn’t a huge crowd for them. Those that didn’t get there in time really did miss out, though, as True Zebra were quite marvellous. A bit of a mash-up of styles, with EBM-beats, a synthpop feel, and a warm vocal style (and even some guitars, if I recall correctly) all came together brilliantly to provide a set that quite a few were talking about over the rest of the weekend.
I must confess that Job Karma really didn’t interest me half as much. Dark, gloomy electronics delivered by two guys huddled over laptops, it was mainly notable for me for the extraordinary, complex visuals that accompanied the music. Still ambient, and beatless for the most part, were Nothing But Noise, who seemed to divide the audience over how good they were afterward. NBN are Daniel B from Front 242, and two early (i.e. from the early 80s) members of 242 – the first of two projects either spawned from or the originators of Front 242 over the weekend – and this project is a considerable distance from the parent band. Entirely eschewing the EBM-stylings for a dark, minimalist sound that was actually surprisingly enjoyable, this was clearly a labour of love for Daniel B, but I think it is fair to say that quite a number in the crowd were not hearing what they expected and/or wanted.
Existence In Progress
Everything Is Real?
Following that with Icon of Coil was perhaps a brave move on the part of the organisers. But then, I thought perhaps that IoC were the odd ones out on this bill, the one truly populist, “modern” industrial band here. Andy La Plegua appears to have tired of his Combichrist project of late (and of course this year has seen a pretty prominent backlash begun at Combichrist and a few other artists), and increased the frequency of IoC shows for the first time in a while. This was my second viewing of the reconvened band (the first being a storming headline slot at Resistanz in April), and it was interesting seeing the differences in the show. Here, it felt more stripped down and perhaps subdued, concentrating on different material to that heard before. Still, pulling out really old stuff to start with was much appreciated, while there were perhaps a touch more of the balladering that I would have liked. What was interesting was that new song Perfectsex actually sounded even better live, while closing things here was a pummelling Pursuit, at which point the band left the stage with no hope of an encore. Not quite as great as the show before, but with limited time available I guess they had to make some sacrifices with the set, which seemed to imbalance things here.
Performance of the weekend honours, though, went to an older and even more experienced band – Portion Control. I’ve seen them a number of times now since they returned from a lengthy absence in 2003/04, and frankly they have got better and better each time. This was a brutal, heavy set, stuffed with a never-ending stream of great songs from across their career, and closing off with two of their best (Icon and Amnesia) that had us all wishing that PorCon had been given more time.
Playing second on the bill to industrial legends Test Dept:Redux was no bad thing, mind. Seeing Test Dept’s name on the bill was what convinced me to attend this year – a rare chance to see a band seemingly more revered than listened to nowadays – and even though it was clearly billed as something a little different (original members Paul Jamrozy and Graham Cunnington providing a more electronic take on The Unacceptable Face of Freedom and other early material), I really did feel rather let down by it. Any fury or emotion – which the original material had in spades – seemed to be leeched away by the decision of the band members to broadly remain behind their table of kit, and of course there was none of the metal percussion either, which really did take away some of the musical power.
Their political bent hadn’t been left behind, mind, and it was striking just how much of their material still resonates now (with a similarly extreme Tory Government back in power in the UK again), shown most strongly by a monstrous, furious Fuckhead – where the visuals and vocal samples were updated with cut-up footage of David Cameron and Boris Johnson. This aside, though, I personally was left disappointed. But if they chose to play in the UK, I’d be happy to try it again – a home crowd might make rather more sense of this.
Onto Saturday, and like last year an early afternoon start meant a truncated (and slightly rushed!) day in ‘town, to ensure I got to TRIX XL for the first band. One of the joys of festivals like this, with lots of like-minded people around, is that you get to hear recommendations and suggestions along the way, and on the Friday night I was told by a number of people to ensure that I got there for the first band on Saturday – and my friends were not kidding.
In fact, if Kraftwerk went new beat, they’d probably have sounded a lot like the quite wonderful Metroland. Despite being Belgian, too, they have something of a fascination with the London underground (perhaps given away by their name), which even stretched to a song immortalising Harry Beck, the designer of the iconic tube map…
This was a forty-five minute audio-visual feast, in fact, of stark electro tracks glorifying the ideal of travelling (particularly by public transport), full of catchy vocal hooks and accompanied by a immensely detailed and stylish video accompaniment that riffed on classic London Underground logos and other Metro imagery, as well as nods to other Modernist icons too. Needless to say, their debut album was picked up subsequently (and they appeared to be a doing a brisk trade post-show, so clearly I wasn’t the only convert), and I was amazed to find out afterwards that this was their debut live show. Here’s to more, and soon!
My attention waned pretty badly for the rest of Saturday afternoon, much like last year: this was a time of bands that I had little or no interest in, so instead it mainly became a time for catching up with friends (and getting much-needed food to ensure that I could get through the rest of the day). So I only saw a song or two of about three or four bands on the bounce, none of which did much for me.
The first of these bands was Ulterior, who were yet more of the eighties goth rock revival that seems no sign of abating, and there appears no sign of many of these bands writing an original tune any time soon, either. Next up were Simi Nah, described as the ‘bass player from Praga Khan’. This was actually relatively dull synth/electro, and will probably end up on Alfa-Matrix at some point. Even so, the Client-esque homage to eighties goth hangout The Batcave was deeply odd, too. The Breath of Life were anything but. Goth rock fronted by a wannabe opera singer was not quite what I expected, and not what I wanted, either, the caterwauling voice an extremely uncomfortable listen, and I lasted about one minute before escaping back to the bar.
I must confess that I almost totally missed 7JK, and they have been bookmarked as a band I really ought to listen to, see what I missed, sometime. My interest in the bands really got going again with the appearance of Underviewer, which while something of a nostalgia trip for most was also something of a history lesson. Why? Well, this is one of the two bands that came together in the first place form Front 242 about thirty years ago, so more than anything it was quite interesting to see how the sound developed. The band were formed of Patrick Codenys on electronics and then the familiar voice of Jean-Luc De Meyer on vocals, and while perhaps the sound was a little more stark and less complex, it was clear that this was the roots of 242 – and as a result, this was forty-five minutes of hard-hitting, proto-EBM with a few familiar moments and at least one early 242 song, if I wasn’t mistaken.
There seemed to be a fair amount of excitement over the appearance (and return) of The Invincible Spirit, but this was another where I had little or no interest before, and the set of gothic, industrial-tinged rock did nothing to change my mind. Perhaps more surprising was how good Blancmange were. Yes, another band from the eighties returning to a very different musical landscape, and I was quite surprised to find them on the bill in the first place. But then, their performance and sound suggested that there was much more to the band than a few eighties synthpop hits (which they played, of course). The new material – yes, unlike many other reformed bands, they’ve actually returned to the studio and released something – provided the customary update to the sound, but they didn’t sound out of place, and more than anything the set proved that maybe this band were always somewhat undersold.
The same can’t be said for Peter Hook & The Light. This one was a tough one – clearly Joy Division are hugely popular within our “scene” (as proven by the big crowd that was there for this) – but this is, of course, not the real thing – just one original member and hired hands rattling through the old material. Ostensibly this was Peter Hook doing all of Unknown Pleasures and, so it turned out, quite a bit else too. Things started promisingly with a snarling Dead Souls, but by six songs in I was tiring of Hook’s bellowed vocals that contained none of the subtlely or nuance that Ian Curtis had in the first place. Yes, it is tough to compare him to the long-dead singer, but he chose to cover the songs… And this was the rub. As good as it was to hear some of these songs live (in my case, for the first time), this was a poor attempt at the real thing, and six songs were enough for me to decide enough was enough, and to end my weekend early.
Ok – so this year’s BIMFest wasn’t quite as great musically as last year’s edition (which was so full of awesome music, new and old, that I spent much of the following week listening to new music), but it is still a great festival to attend. Not too big, a great venue, cheap beer and food, and most importantly a varied set of bands that meant there was something new for most people. I’ll be back again for BIMFest 2013 regardless.