Probably one of the weekends of the year I most look forward to is the August Bank Holiday Weekend.
Live @ University of Bradford
24-26 August 2012
Ok, so suggesting that I am heading to Bradford for a long weekend is not usually everyone’s idea of fun, but when it involves a festival as friendly and as fun as Infest always is…
Anyway. This was my twelfth visit to the festival, with one anticipated band having dropped out (KMFDM), and perhaps a lower turnout than usual, but it was no less entertaining than usual. I probably ought to disclose here that I DJed on the Saturday night, too, but as I’m only reviewing the bands, I’ll leave that bit at that (my setlist can be found here, though).
The opening slot on Friday in recent years has recovered after a few years of truly dreadful opening acts – I still maintain that Schmoof are the weakest band I’ve seen at twelve Infests (and this weekend didn’t change that view) – redeemed by (in three straight years) by the hugely entertaining Gothsicles, the avant-noise with a sense of humour (and cardboard robots) of Coreline, and then the straight pisstaking of Mandr0id – and all three were talking points of their respective weekends. I got the impression that Spacebuoy were trying for the same when the arrived on stage. The lead singer was dressed in a bright orange suit, and his sunglasses, haircut and demeanour suggested to me the idea of faded indie “star” Lawrence going synthpop.
The thing is, I never liked his music either. Spacebuoy describe themselves as “futuristic retro synthpop”, but sadly the truth is a little more prosaic – run-of-the-mill synthpop with dull, flat vocals that really did detract from what otherwise could be good, catchy songs.
Much better were Dirty K, an act I first saw play in the tiny basement room of the pub I used to DJ at in Sheffield. I thought that they had more of a passing reference to Converter back then, and now they are Hands-signed act, and Converter is long dormant, this is no bad thing. Their sound has been refined over time, mind, and they now possess an armoury of brutal industrial-noise assaults that were all unleashed on the Infest crowd. This kind of music doesn’t always require a subtle touch, and there was certainly none needed here. It is always heartening to see acts develop from their earliest days, to getting signed to larger labels and playing to larger crowds – and crucially hearing others appreciate them too – and Dirty K took the challenge here and perhaps demolished a few preconceptions too.
A very different band followed them, in the shape of rising stars Necro Facility. They’ve been around for a while now, but their sound has changed appreciably. They began as what could charitably be called a heavily Skinny Puppy influenced band, with a style right out of that band’s eighties heyday, but notice was served a few years back in the shape of one song that their future direction was going to be very different. And so it proved with Wintermute, their extraordinary album from last year that was pretty much as perfect a meshing of the industrial and pop worlds as I’ve ever heard. The album itself is a pristine, elegantly produced item, so it was a bit of a surprise to find the live show was, to put it mildly, somewhat chaotic.
You Want It
Do You Feel The Same?
All That You Take
Watching it from down the front – with SLR camera in hand – was an exhilarating experience, as it was never quite clear what was going to happen next. Vocalist Henrik Bäckström was all over the place, leaning into the crowd, bouncing all over the stage, throwing his microphones and stands all over the place, stealing at least one beer from someone else down the front…and all the while delivering his vocals…just about. Yeah, there were the odd missed bits, but a fair proportion of the crowd knew the words, and it was certainly far more fun than just watching a band stand there looking disinterested.
It also helps, of course, that Wintermute is absolutely stuffed with astonishing pop hooks, all-but-one of which were aired here, which meant that the forty-minute set flashed past and left me wanting more (and talking to the band later in the weekend, work on new material is ongoing, so hopefully we won’t have to wait as long for the next release). Highlights included the near-hiphop stylings of opener You Want It, the Warlock-with-very-large-and-stompy-boots beats – and with an even better chorus – of Do You Feel The Same, but best of all was the pure pop of Supposed, a track performed with such exuberance that it felt like a victory lap. And quite right too – this is a band that took a comparative leap into the unknown with latest material, to find that it paid off brilliantly.
One thing I do love about Infest, above so many other events, is the eclectic nature of the lineups. So it is rarely a surprise to find bands you may not expect to be on the same bill following each other, or at least with styles that are very different indeed. This was another of those occasions, as the jubilant atmosphere that preceded this was pretty quickly punctured by Klinik, whose deeply ominous, bleak electronics I saw in entirely the wrong frame of mind at Kinetik last year. At least here, I was rather closer to the stage so got a better look at the extraordinary outfits – long black leather coats, and heads wrapped in gauze – that force concentration on the music rather than the personalities behind it. The music was relentless, too, bass-heavy nastiness that hardly suggests happier times, and it certainly appeared that for a number of people it was all a bit much. Still, I’d be surprised if there was anyone who found that every single band over the weekend was to their taste!
Saturday dawned less blurry than usual – I appeared to have developed a resistance to vodka over the weekend that left me sober across the whole three days, which hasn’t happened in a while – which for better or for worse meant some time spent in Bradford city centre, which proved more than anything that Bradford is struggling very badly indeed in the current recession. That short interlude aside, it was back to the venue to get on with the bands on the second day.
The day had an impressive start, too, as System:FX comprehensively blew away any remaining cobwebs with a high-octane, thirty minute set that had sirens blaring, guitars raging and beats not dropping below “fucking fast”. Oh yes, it was a hark back to 90s industrial, back when guitars were not a bad thing, and it was great fun to watch. Not a common seam to mine these days, sadly – the contrast to current fashions, as it were, was made all the more stark by the act that followed them – nevertheless System:FX had a good-sized crowd, and with this performance and their recent live assistance to Phil Barry’s newish project Be My Enemy, here is hoping we can see a resurgence of interest in music as hard hitting as this.
I had no such love for Suono. Yet another “industrial rave” band in an increasingly crowded field of bands who apparently have nothing discernable to distinguish them from their peers. There was lots of “oontz”, lots of shapes thrown, and a fair proportion of the crowd apparently loved them, but five minutes was enough for me to decide that this genre left on a boat I missed, so I retreated to the bar and banished the memory of them with more vodka.
One of the joys of Infest over the years is not just finding the new bands, but it is also rediscovering the old bands, too. The latter this year was fulfilled by Belgian new beat/EBM band A Split-Second, who perhaps surprised a number of people by being absolutely fantastic. Despite being a band that are well over twenty-five years into their career (with a break, as I recall, for some time, in all of that, and I’m not convinced they have released much in the last decade), they blitzed through a forty-five minute lesson in old-school electronics that was frankly one of the sets of the weekend. I must confess that I’m not enormously au fait with their material aside from a few songs, but the whole set was worth it alone to feel the thundering pulse of Rigor Mortis as it rumbled forward, built around an instantly recognisable synth hook. Quite possibly the band of the weekend.
XP8 were a late – and by popular demand – addition to the bill thanks to the ballot put out to Infest-goers after KMFDM dropped out. So with quite a buzz for the band prior to them taking the stage, sadly everything went wrong very quickly. At least one hardware failure took out the opening song, causing a considerable delay while it was sorted out, and even once they restarted it was clear that nothing was working as the band intended. Juggernaut limped rather than surged, and the guys were all apologies when they finally gave up fighting it and left the stage. All credit to them for taking it with good humour onstage – hardware failures are just one of those things when in a band that uses a lot of electronics, I guess – but it was sad to see a performance not work out like this. Having seen them before, they are a great live act, so if this was your first time, don’t let it put you off.
DJing commitments meant that I perhaps didn’t see as much of Geistform as I might have liked. Which is a shame, as what I did hear was impressive – well crafted electronic music with all kinds of interesting things going on, and while at points being relatively harsh, it was never too much. I really must make a point of catching a full live set sometime.
One artist I definitely wasn’t going to miss was Solitary Experiments. Yeah, so I saw them at Kinetik last year, but eighteen months on I was wondering whether we might get some new material this time around, and so it proved. More so than in Europe, in the UK they remain an underappreciated band, and that might be down to the fact that they have – to my knowledge – not played the UK before this date.
Odyssey of Mind
Pale Candle Light
A Rush of Ecstasy
The Dark Inside of Me
Trial and Error
Point of View
Rise and Fall
Glory & Honour
Even so, opening with a – admittedly impressive – new song was a brave move, but it wasn’t long before the crowd were onside, and this was reinforced by the rolling out of most of the best moments of their recent history, at least, although a few old songs I might have expected to hear (Miracle, Paradox, Watching Over You) were all omitted. But as an introduction to the band for many, this was a great way to do it. Solitary Experiments specialise in melodic industrial music, that is frequently hard-hitting, dancefloor-bound music, but music that has melodies, and emotion – and these qualities carried them well with one of the biggest crowds of the weekend.
Two songs in particular stick in the mind from the set – firstly, forthcoming single Trial and Error, which is their most dancefloor-friendly song in an age, and then the final song played, Glory & Honour, which took us right back to the band’s early days and the lyrics even seem apt now, as the warmongering around the world continues. Anyway – foisted up as headliners only after KMFDM dropped out, it is fair to say that the band filled the slot admirably.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, DJing after all that really took it out of me (obviously, I’m getting old, and am no longer the sprightly twenty-two-year-old of 2000 when I first started going to Infest), but by the time it was time for bands again on Sunday, I was good to go. As it was, on Sunday there were one of a couple of bands that day I’d not heard of at all, and still being curious about what new bands there are around, I thought I’d give them all a go.
And you know what? I’m glad I did. Sunday openers Resist were something of a revelation, a female fronted industrial/gothic rock band with a ton of electronics, and an impressively live sound. There were elements of other bands in there – in particular Collide in the rolling, deep basslines and the semi-ethereal vocals, and some later points reminded me of Siouxsie’s later work in The Creatures around the time of Anima Animus, and the other obvious influence of Nine Inch Nails popped up in an impressive and well-thought out cover of Right Where It Belongs at the close. This was an enthralling half-hour that was all-too short, and if they make it south to London to play live, I’ll definitely be there to check it out.
Just as brilliant, if not even better, were Tenek. Somehow I’d managed to not really be aware of their existence before I heard their recent track on Electronic Saviors 2 that opens the comp (and is outstanding). At this point I then realised it was a project involving Geoff Pinckney, ex-The Nine, a band I still love now (and I first discovered at Infest way back in 2001!). Tenek take the template of the previous band, and take it further – with better production, a more uptempo (and perhaps more positive) sound and, it could be said, even better songs. Again, there were a few technical issues, but thankfully here it didn’t mean a curtailed set, just a quick reshuffling of what was going to be played – and if some of the songs were second choices (such as the belting new track Elusive), god knows what they had planned in the first place.
Some of the older stuff was pretty awesome, too – the big sing-along hooks of If I Should Fall was a standout, as was the techno-pop of Losing Something. Unusually for a band further down the bill, they had a heck of a lot of fans down the front, and going on the queue at the merch table afterward, I suspect that after this fantastic set they had gained quite a few more.
Blitzmaschine were another band who had a number of us going “who?” when they were announced, and I was still none the wiser by the time their showtime came around. They weren’t too complicated, as it happens – thumping old-school EBM with perhaps more of a melodic edge than many of their peers (let’s be honest here – bands doing “retro” EBM are ten-a-penny nowadays), and if there was any doubt about their influences, one of the songs aired was a cracking cover of DAF’s Liebe Auf Den Ersten Blick.
I found it really hard to get into Absurd Minds, though. Very, very Pitchfork influenced, my attention was wandering within minutes so I decided to knock this one on the head, and take more of a break before the next band (especially as my feet were absolutely killing me by this point).
There was damned good reason why I needed a longer break, too – there was no way in the world I was missing a single second of Winterkälte. It has been a long, long time since I last saw them live, but I wasn’t disappointed here – this was a bruising fifty minutes or so of extraordinary industrial noise, with a sonic clarity that few others can match. Rather than just being an overpowering storm of noise, every single element was discernable and it sounded incredible. Also worthy of note is that unlike many, many of their peers, they use a drumkit and do just about everything live, from what I could tell – some feat when most of the set is performed at one hell of a pace. This was a great lesson in how to do drum’n’noise – or industrial noise, if you will – live. Here’s hoping others were taking notes and will be influenced by a performance this awesome in the future.
The band with the unenviable task of following that were the Sunday night and weekend headliners, Suicide Commando, and something somewhere didn’t quite feel right. This was the third time I’ve seen them in the past year – at their near-two-hour show in Montreal last year, their first ever in North America, and then their very different “retro” show at BIMFest in Antwerp last December – and here they concentrated on newer material, in the main.
The approach for this show had good and bad things. For some reason, it seemed to take a while to warm up, not even Hate Me apparently had the energy needed to shake the crowd out of something of a torpor, but it also seemed like Johan Van Roy was perhaps flagging too, as parts of the show felt kinda lacklustre. Don’t get me wrong – there were moments that were quite brilliant, and some of them were from unexpected places. The pitch-dark depths of Death Cures All Pain, where the beats slow down and the bloody imagery repels, was quite brilliant, while forthcoming single Attention Whore has finally seen SC move away from death, torture and the like into what appears to be slightly snarkier realms to great effect – it is also their most accessible single in a while.
God Is In The Rain
The Perils of Indifference
Death Cures All Pain
Cause of Death: Suicide
Dein Herz, Mein Gier
Love Breeds Suicide
Die Motherfucker Die
Bind, Torture, Kill
See You In Hell (Hellraiser)
Conspiracy With The Devil
Finally, the show was also notable for what was missing. Aside from the recent retro gig – I’ve seen SC about six or seven times – this was the first show I can recall where Raise Your God and Hellraiser, long-time live set staples, were missing (well, a verse was teased of Hellraiser in the encore, but that was it, and here it really showed. Aside from a couple of songs, there really wasn’t that much of a reaction from the crowd, or a connection between them and the band – and I got that feeling that the relative lack of “hits” was part of the problem.
Right at the death, though, roars for one more song – an apparently unplanned second encore – were heeded and Johan then unleashed four minutes of the kind of performance we were hoping for in the first place. Conspiracy With The Devil was delivered with a roar, and pounding beats that finally got the crowd to erupt.
So, as the dust settles on another Infest, this was perhaps a weekend for the underdog. A relative lack of “big” headliners meant that less people were ignoring the bands further down the bill, and in fact I think this perceived imbalance allowed these so-called lesser bands to shine, and many of them took that chance full-on. Either way, for me the fesival was enormous fun. Catching up with the friends – as usual – that I’ve not seen in a while, we drink, we have fun, we watch some bands, we talk about god-only-knows what. But crucially, we have fun, and don’t take it all too seriously. Sounds like a lesson for life, never mind a festival.
Next year, I was reminded, is the fifteenth Infest. Bring it on.