Some statistics: over 2017, I saw 114 live sets, across 45 days-worth of events (I count festivals by the day, so Infest covers three days-worth of events). Remarkably, by the way, my wife Daisy saw 18 days-worth of the 45 with me (perhaps a larger number than usual!).
2016: Cubanate / Cold Waves V
2015: Mercury Rev
2014: Arcade Fire
2008: Amanda Palmer
2007: The Young Gods
2006: Front Line Assembly
2004: not recorded
Of those 114 sets, I saw 104 different bands, just nine more than once, and one (LOCKS) three times. All of these gigs were in just four towns or cities this year (Bradford for Infest, Nottingham for Six By Seven, and Whitby for the Memepunks; all the rest were in London), and for the first time since 2010, none of them were overseas – and there were gigs seen at 26 different venues, with fifteen of forty-five shows in the heart of Islington (either at Electrowerkz, O2 Academy Islington or The Islington).
What has become notable this year is how much the cost of going to gigs is increasing. I’m doing some work (thanks to my habit of retaining tickets, and of course my e-mail archives) to try and track the cost of gigging over the past few years, but that’s going to take a while to complete. But anecdotally, it feels more expensive, from the cost of the tickets, to the extraordinary cost of service charges in too many cases, to the cost of drinking in venues (well beyond £5 for a pint of lacklustre lager is now the norm, the worst being £6.50 for a pint of Budweiser in a plastic cup at The O2 Arena).
This ever-increasing cost is not making gigging much fun. That and the ever-increasing online scrum to get tickets for any major gig – where, frankly, touts and ticketing agencies have the upper hand and it is becoming less and less attractive, or worth my fucking time to bother – is rather sucking the excitement out of it.
This year has thus seen more small(er) gigs, and I’ve felt energised to write more about them. I’ve covered ten shows in the Into the Pit series this year (and Infest in the Memory of A Festival series), and I’m intending on continuing that into 2018, writing about more shows that I attend.
Anyway, here are the twenty best performances I saw during 2017.
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Putting on lengthy bills with an early start doesn’t appeal to everyone – even on a Saturday – but at least here the BEAT:CANCER folks made the scheduling clear from the off. Even so, I missed the first couple of acts, but I was much-impressed with what I saw. This was a different angle to the industrial scene I know, perhaps, a younger crowd and some variance in styles to my normal listening, too. Particular highlights were the punchy industrial punk of St. Lucifer, the roof-raising industrial dance music of Memmaker, and of course my first time seeing headliners The Gothsicles in a decade. Perhaps remarkably for an act that have never taken themselves too seriously, they remain enormous fun and hugely entertaining, and that was the takeaway for this evening. You can have a serious cause but still have fun doing so.
The Scala, N1
I was starting to wonder, a few years back, if we’d ever see Paul Draper return on record, never mind live. So colour me surprised to find that his new solo material – while obviously still having a sonic link to his Mansun days – actually sees him striking out in on a little bit of a tangent, and it works well. Even more surprising was just how good his return to live performance was. Needless to say, the crowd was full of old Mansun fans, and it was a pretty raucous and good natured crowd, too, but during the songs the crowd was quiet and attentive (if they weren’t singing along), and the warmth and love shown clearly relaxed Draper as he eased into the set. Indeed he was confident enough in the new material, too, to just play a couple of old Mansun songs, which saw the entire room singing along, and that did a nice job to shine the spotlight on the future, rather than just the past. Other “old hands” might want to take note.
The self-styled “Greatest Band of All Time” once again proved themselves an awesomely good – and inclusive – live band, blasting through their Austroploitation fightback with a smile and a snarl. Seriously – I don’t know how this band have managed to keep this going so long, and be so good at it – even the, er, lesser corners of the ouevre (Twins, anyone?) actually work very well, and the best song of the night was the unexpected fist-pumping, anthemic nature of Mr Freeze. No, really.
I first saw Russian Circles a few years ago, and maybe it was the circumstances – they were supported by the-then fast-rising Chelsea Wolfe, who blew them off the stage – but I didn’t really get into it. This time, though, they were firing on all cylinders, and aided by the ever-powerful Heaven soundsystem they sounded absolutely immense. Taking in both the brilliant new material, and a selection of old favourites that went some way back into their history, Russian Circles proved here that they are indeed a formidable force live, and I’m glad I made the return trip.
deux furieuses just get better and better. Their strongly political rock music is perhaps the just the salve we need in these dark times, the recognition that at least someone is fighting in the same corner as us. It isn’t just about the politics, though, as they are an absolutely kick-ass rock duo on record and live. That night was made all the more impressive by the discovery of a band that were on our doorstep, the “Murder Shanties and Death Songs” of the dark, dark folk rock of LOCKS, with a set full of great songs and hints of something much darker beneath.
The Waiting Room, N16
It’s not often you’ll find me at a show that is ostensibly live jazz. I don’t mind jazz – despite what some might think – but likely many areas of music that I have a passing interest in, I tend to be quite picky, and it sometimes requires a link into it for me to appreciate it in the first place. There were two here – one, I’d been in New Orleans just two months before, and let’s be honest, it’s difficult to not end up with an appreciation of jazz having spent a few days soaking up that city and it’s wild nightlife; and two, this is a side-project of Tom Barman of dEUS. dEUS have long since had links to smoky, languid jazz (their first few albums especially), and this project releases the reins on that side entirely, and this show was an energetic, hugely enjoyable hour that was foot-tapping jazz – with the odd rock nod – from start to finish.
A late, late offer of a spare ticket (on the day!) meant that I got to see my first “full” AFP show in some years. I’ve rather lost my love of AFP’s work in recent years, it having gone perhaps in a direction that didn’t appeal to me so much, but this gig did an awful lot to draw me back in. The newer songs were intriguing, the various covers were fascinating (particularly a wonderful take on Everybody Knows), and there was a mischevious sense of fun that made for a few laugh-out-loud moments, too – AFP well aware again that live music is a joy, and she went a long way to make it so at this event.
The Scala, N1
I seem to have been writing about Desperate Journalist for some time, but it seemed that 2017 was the year where they finally broke through that bit further. A number of high-profile support slots, a lot of touring, a well-received second album and quite a bit of radio play, too, has pushed the band to another level, so it seems, and their show at the Scala in the Spring – their biggest headlining show to date – felt like something of a celebration of that fact. A searing set saw the band sounding better than ever.
O2 Academy Islington, N1
One great thing about Laibach shows in particular is that you never get the same set twice from tour to tour. Indeed aside from a handful of songs, I’ve barely seen the same songs performed twice in many cases. This one was perhaps an extreme example of the difference – pretty much all of their conceptual, performance soundtrack of Also Sprach Zarathustra, followed by a number of deep, deep album cuts that I could not have predicted, very much a case of one “for the fans”. This obtuse performance selection might cause some to bristle, but here it was intriguing, hearing them rework songs for the modern times – particularly a deeply unexpected Ti, ki izzivaš, and an unexpectedly tender-sounding Hell: Symmetry. How does this band continue to be a) so brilliant and b) continue to surprise?
Front Line Assembly have seen a number of line-up changes in recent years – in many cases simply down to availability on different tours – so it was no real surprise to see it change again for this tour in Europe. But a first was that it was down to a three-piece – Bill Leeb, Rhys Fulber on synths, and Jason Bazinet on drums. It certainly changed the dynamic in one way, as it immediately precluded any guitar-based songs, but it also allowed a number of digs back into the past that I genuinely didn’t expect. Half of the set came from their breakthrough albums in the early nineties, including a pulverising Iceolate at the end, but just as great were the newer songs, too. Thumpingly heavy, and groovy from start to finish, there’s still tons of life left in FLA yet.
One of the trends of 2017 was a whole host of industrial legends all playing in London in a short space of time – across one month, we had Cubanate, Neubauten and Skinny Puppy, and then later in the year we had Front Line Assembly, RevCo and Laibach too. All of them, too, put in excellent shows, and like the others, Skinny Puppy played an extraordinary show that dug deep into their past. There was a stripped-down costume change set-up here which was dealt with in an imaginative way, and the set-list was equally imaginative in mainly concentrating on pre-millenium songs to amazing effect. I never expected to hear some of the songs live (particularly a slew of songs from The Process), but it was a punchy, snappy show that by common consent was the best they’ve been since their legendary return to London in 2004.
Ok, so the shock factor didn’t exist this time around, but the return of Cubanate to a London stage after nearly eighteen years was still an impressive event. For one, it was absolutely rammed – the gig event in our scene that month, that’s for sure – and also all of the support acts were impressive too. Cease2xist snarled their way through an opening set that confirmed they are getting ever-better live, Je$us Loves Amerika continued their steady evolution as a fearsome industrial live act (complete with a few new songs, too), and KANGA…well, it was frankly astonishing to see the first eight rows knowing every single word (and yes, she was awesome once again). Then, Cubanate unleashed their techno-industrial fury in similar ways to last year – a few different songs, and a longer set, sure, but this was still just as impressive. There have been hints about new material, too, which should be very interesting indeed, as these shows – and others across North America more recently – have certainly put this influential band back on the map.
Billed as a “Greatest Hits” show, one thing you always have to bear in mind with Neubauten is that they can only play material that they have the kit for – which perhaps helps to explain why the really old stuff isn’t played. That said, this was a wonderful show, an intense collection of songs and movements and perhaps flowing and sounding better than they have live in well over a decade. Also, a heart-stopping moment in just a small teaser of Halbe Mensch, as it flowed into Von Wegen – more would have been nice, but that minute was a lovely surprise. One other thing that kept coming back to me after this – there is absolutely no-one like Neubauten.
Going to see Sunn O))) live always gives me a little trepidation beforehand, but this one was another level entirely – seeing as we were in the front row, in the centre. So we got the full force of the sonic attack, a relentless noise that was perfectly balanced, and at points had an extraordinary depth (in the same way that you might look into a terrifying void). Having now seen them live a number of times, what is truly amazing is that what is a very basic set-up – enormously loud drones, non-stop, for ninety minutes or more – is made into something so enthralling and fascinating. I’m just glad they’ve started playing seated venues.
Review: Memory of a Festival: 028
The nineteenth iteration of Infest didn’t disappoint, as usual, with the ever-impressive range of bands and DJs, and the distinct sense of a scene that is still expanding and offering new takes on familiar styles. Three of the best bands over the weekend were evidence of this.
Empathy Test put in the best performance I’ve ever seen them do, with a clear feeling that their live appearances in Europe and at even larger festivals than this have very much sharpened their act. It was slick, it was faultless and I’m not sure there is anyone better doing synthpop right now. Wulfband, who followed them on the Saturday night, were flawed live, sure, but hugely entertaining, their anonymity (behind black balaclavas) adding frisson of threat and malice to their relentless EBM assault that felt more like a punk show at times.
Then there was the Sunday headliners, Revolting Cocks. Like Cubanate, sure, I’d seen them live in Chicago last September, and here they roared through their set that was once again hilarious and hard-edged – and at points plain wrong – just as it should be. Needless to say, I can’t wait for Infest 20 next August.
Hardly the first artist I’ve waited some time to see live, and not the first time that I’d wondered why I’d waited so long, either. An hour of shocking intensity, this, and intriguingly a set almost entirely taken from the new album and first album…omitting The Future’s Void aside from one song. Erika M. Anderson is an enigmatic figure onstage, too, making the whole set unmissable as she unleashed her formidable vocal range and owned the stage – musically she is somewhere between torch songs and industrial electronics, and that balancing act between the two is really, really impressive.
Six By Seven
The Maze, Nottingham
Initially planned to be in London, things changed and this one-off show moved to the band’s hometown of Nottingham (with a shorter set in London in the end, too). It was an important pair of shows, too – where the original Six By Seven line-up reunited to mark a new “best-of” collection, and also a re-issue of their second album, a missive of scorching fury and power. This small Nottingham show – packed with a room of, frankly, devoted fans who knew every word – saw them perform all of The Closer You Get, as well as a second set that played a host of fan-favourites (to my joy, including the pummelling rage of Get A Real Tattoo, by miles their best B-side), and was in some respects just as important as a social occasion, with a number of old friends all catching up. Music is sometimes all about connections, and those connections include friendships made following bands – and Six By Seven’s dedicated fans are one of those groups I’ve been involved in now. An exceptional show made all the better by the time spent with friends afterward (let’s talk less about the 0330 coach home from Nottingham, eh?).
Teeth of the Sea
The Dome, NW5
Another year, another gig where Teeth of the Sea blow the headliner clean off the stage. This time it was CHROME who were the unlucky band to follow them, and London’s best live band bared their teeth for just forty minutes or so here, leaving much of the audience around me slack-jawed in amazement. The band have broadly been playing the same set for a few years now, but seem to be honing it, and this was a set with gleaming edges like sharp knives, culminating in an absolutely staggering take on Black Strategy, that I’m not sure how on earth they will top at any future show. My next chance to find out, by the way, is the Rocket Recordings 20th Anniversary show in March, and you can bet I’ll be there.
Village Underground, EC2
Yet another where I’ve been meaning to see them live for some years now, this time ever since I first stumbled across the exceptional album Stridulum. Seven years on from that, I finally did, and my god, was it worth the wait. I’ve already said a lot about how good an album Okovi is (see the past two Countdown: 2017 posts), but live it was taken to another level. Performed in mostly darkness, with just a handful of spotlights and a gigantic projection that went a long way to obscuring faces onstage, the three-piece made a fearsome noise onstage, the beats cannoning from the walls and her vocals soaring over the top. One of a number of shows this year to prove that you still can get gigs where the sound-balance is faultless from the off, but that would count for nothing if the gig wasn’t so brilliant. Actually, not brilliant, but spellbinding.
Never mind seven years, though, I’d waited over two decades to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. My first exposure to them – probably like many others of my age – was the striking Red Right Hand, sometime in the early nineties. Despite being a keen fan since, and having picked up almost everything released since – and Where The Wild Roses Grow being the song we selected for our first dance at our wedding nearly two years ago – I’d never managed to get tickets to see them live. My wife and I, in the aftermath of Skeleton Tree being released, resolved that upon the next tour being announced, we would get tickets, regardless of price, which is how we found ourselves just a few rows from the front of The O2, at the end of September, awaiting Cave’s arrival on stage.
The whole show was absolutely staggering. The sparse new songs were reworked into stadium-ready epics, old songs swooned and raged (the double-head of From Her to Eternity and Tupelo literally took my breath away), Cave immersed himself physically in the crowd, and frankly made a shed of a venue like The O2 feel like one’s front-room. How he and the band managed to concoct that kind of intimacy I’ve no idea, but this was two-and-a-half hours of ecstatic brilliance, and easily one of the greatest live shows I’ve ever seen.
Nick Cave is an utter treasure, a rare musician who speaks honestly about love and loss, life and death, and despite a world of life experiences likely rather different to our own, manages to “speak” to anyone who listens to his music. I always thought just listening was enough, but experiencing that live was a drug I want another hit of sometime, and soon.
So that wraps up 2017 on amodelofcontrol.com. The site now takes a break over Christmas, and will be back in early 2018 with more new music, more episodes of Transmission: the a-z of industrial, more Tuesday Tens and more interviews. See you then, and thanks for your support – be that a promoter, a band, a DJ, or anyone else, even if you just read the site from time-to-time. Have a great Christmas and New Year.