This weekend was so fucking good – like, to the level of best Infest ever – that I when I started to write this I was wondering where to start.
Live @ University, Bradford
22-24 August 2008
Let’s start with the general stuff. Everything about this weekend was just brilliant. Getting to catch up with so many friends that I don’t get the chance to see often enough, seeing loads of great bands, meeting new people, drinking more vodka than was strictly necessary (and no hangover all weekend – WIN!), meeting one of my heroes, and finally getting to DJ to a packed dancefloor on Sunday night. So, let’s try and get this written down, shall we?
[Note: A different take on the festival by me was also published on BBC Bradford on 19 September 2008]
As is now usual, we arrived early, and were in the bar by 1500. Many others arrived by 1600 or so, and the drinks were well and truly flowing within the hour. So much so, in fact, that I think I had the early signs of a hangover by 1900 – nothing that sugary food and a large mug of tea couldn’t fix.
And like so much of the weekend, time flew by – to the point that before we knew it the first live act of the weekend was onstage. The honour this year went to Coreline. In the past, the opening slot has been something of a graveyard slot, and usually a band that was either very poor or just nothing to write home about – something that The Gothsicles last year put right in some style by being one of the highlights of the weekend. Now, I’ve seen Coreline before, I (and many others) knew all about the cardboard robots and minor stage show. But really, nothing could have prepared us for this. The whole set was an awesome show – featuring Chris himself in a robot suit, Keef Baker as a carrot-clad ninja, another percussionist and four dancers in robot outfits. No, really. The music was as great as ever, too, a particular highlight being a euphoric sprint through Overdrive. The top moment, though, was saved for the end, when the whole festival got Rickrolled. Watching a whole room of normally serious industrial fans going batshit to a cheesy eighties pop hit was one to savour.
Very different – but no less barking – were Snog, a band that many went “who?” when they were announced, and their set here more than likely left quite a few even more confused. A band that are impossible, pretty much, to pin down, their set covered a fair proportion of their long career but perhaps unexpectedly barely touched on the recent album The Last Days of Rome – the only track that we could recall being played from it was an admittedly marvellous Lost at Sea. An early highlight was the shuffling trip-hop beats of Hooray!!, which kinda summed up David Thrussell on stage – like a crazy, end-of-the-world conspiracy theorist muttering his musings to a very confused audience. His songs do actually have a lot to say about corporate culture, the decline of the individual in the wider world, oh, and world politics.
The point where he really may have lost many was the mid-section “interlude”, featuring the country-esque “ballads” Don’t Go Down to the Woods Today and Al Qaeda Is Your Best Friend, which were hilarious if you could make out the lyrics. The second half of the set was a quick run-through of some of his best-known tracks, starting with the shuffling Late 20th Century Boy, and the tempo was pulled considerably higher by Corporate Slave and the closing Cliche. A brave booking this, and I’m really glad Snog were snared for this festival. In a world of identikit EBM bands seemingly smothering everything else, these guys made for a refreshing change.
Friday headliners were Grendel. I’ve seen them before, of course, so I knew what to expect. And in that way, they didn’t disappoint. They delivered all the hits, the crowd went crazy for them, but it simply didn’t grab me. The earlier acts of the evening had already reminded me that there is far more to this “scene” than just straight beats and big samples in the form of dancefloor “EBM”, and while I couldn’t fault the presentation or the technical aspects, my attention quickly began to wander.
The rest of the evening was the usual drunken lunacy of Friday at Infest – everyone trying their best to catch up with everyone else, usually meaning conversations last for about a minute at a time. No afterparties for me – it was time for sleep…
Saturday was where things began to get kinda busy. After a quick trip into Bradford city centre to pick up some lunch, it was back to the flat to relax for a while, then as always, to the bar.
First band of the day were Skinjob – another artist I’ve seen recently, and indeed I had been particularly looking forward to this performance due to the dreadful sound at that previous gig. As hoped, the sound was much improved, and it helped to showcase just how good a band they are. Once again opening with Beauty Is Your Toy (I still maintain this is their strongest song), the whole set went pretty smoothly and will hopefully have swelled their growing fanbase further.
100 Blumen were the only act of the weekend, really, to keep to the traditional “noise” stereotype of one man and his kit onstage. Musically they didn’t keep to the usual influences, though – a cracking mix of industrial rhythms with a punk-like structure. All this made more sense when we interviewed the guy behind it on Sunday – when asked what his musical influences were, the first names mentioned were Napalm Death, Discharge and Crass! As for the name? It comes from the Hundred Flowers Campaign and a particularly famous slogan…
I really didn’t get Santa Hates You. Peter Spilles and his female colleague dressed in PVC and fishnets, pounding out techno beats while shouting unintelligable lyrics over the top. I think I lasted one song. Much, much better was the jaw-dropping stage show of Heimataerde, whose Knights Templar-themed stage set went into so much detail that the band were even swigging their drinks onstage from period-jugs and goblets! Awesome to watch, and the music – dubbed “Crusader EBM” by one friend – was pretty damned good too.
All this – and much of the rest of the weekend’s live acts – were eclipsed entirely by the staggering stageshow of 5F-X. Two guys dressed in alien costumes – one in a huge, furry suit that looked something like a (very large) Moomin gone over to the dark side, and the other in a silver and purple cloak with a huge box covering his head – wandering around the stage and making various bits of spaceship equipment light up and move, not to mention the guy in the monster suit ambling through the crowd pointing a large raygun at everybody. There was music, too – mainly top-notch breakbeats and tribal techno – which while not live, this was excused due to the sheer level of fun of the show. Another friend noted at the time that the era of “one man and his laptop” finally seems to be over – this weekend proved that perhaps more is now needed to entertain.
Exactly how And One were meant to follow that was a question on many people’s lips after that, and as it turned out they turned in a solid, if not spectacular show. And One do very good synthpop, and having been doing so for many years, it is clear that they are a very polished unit live. They appeared to suffer a little from a crowd that weren’t as appreciative as the band might have wanted, and I did wonder afterwards if the glaring omission of Panzermensch from the set might have had something to do with that. Still, with the likes of dancefloor standards like Timekiller, Deutschmaschine and the pop thrills of Military Fashion Show, it was hardly that poorly received. I’m still not certain on that cover of It’s A Sin, though…
The last day of Infest 2008 could not possibly have opened any better – getting the chance to interview Patrick Codenys from Front 242 for Dark Assimilation was really quite something. The interview will be broadcast at some point soon.
Onto the bands – Deviant UK were the first band on, and got a big crowd befitting their reputed “most requested band for Infest” status. I’ve seen them many times before, so like a number of other bands from this weekend, I knew what to expect. And that is solid but unspectacular tunes, showmanship and a nagging feeling that I’ve heard it all before. Still, in my opinion they are a much improved band live than before, I just find it hard to get excited about them.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend for me were Marsheaux. The only female-fronted band of the weekend, they delivered a set of fantastic, breathy, swooning synthpop that was impossible not to enjoy. Very much in the vein of Ladytron, but with a perhaps “warmer” sound, they had a distinct sense of style that set them apart from all other bands here. Highlights were the single Hanging Onand then closing track Ghost.
I wasn’t quite as taken with Tyske Ludder, whose bruising, military-themed EBM saw them swiftly dubbed “Commando EBM”. Not a lot of variety in the set – lots of brutally heavy beats, lots of shouting…and that was about it. The thing is, I saw Arnie-alikes the other week in the form of Arnocorps. They were far funnier. These guys appeared to be deadly serious and ready to go and wage war in some foreign country…
Onto Noisuf-X: did I miss something here? I’ve heard loads of comments about how great they were, I was bored within four songs. Once again, it was all about the show. Two men on stage, hunched over their equipment – and there was little in the way of engagement between “band” and audience. The tunes were competent enough, but there are loads of bands of this ilk (mainly instrumental, thumping industrial beats, obvious samples), and for a band to stand out from the herd I want more than they delivered. That, and I’m sick and tired of hearing Hit Me Hard.
Thank fucking god for Front 242 to blow away the cobwebs, then. When they arrived onstage, clad in black and all in shades, they looked like the coolest fucking band alive. Happily, they sounded like the coolest band in the world, too. Opening with a new track (’98) was a brave move – wot, no Happiness to open? Gah! – and the unexpected track choices didn’t end there. The first two or three tracks didn’t really get everybody going, and it took a scintillating Moldavia with both Richard 23 and Jean-Luc de Meyer doing the tag-team vocals for the first time in the set to really get the crowd going. The whole set was a very, very loud lesson in how to do EBM live – and taking us on a journey that impressively covered something from every Front 242 album – all the way from U-Men (now, what? 26 years old?) to ONE (With the Fire) (the one track I love from the patchy P.U.L.S.E. album), via album tracks like the wholly unexpected Until Death (Us Do Part).
Their sheer energy and power live was jaw-dropping – particularly the way that they could suddenly leap through the gears and nearly take the roof off. Their first attempt at this was a mid-set trio of Body to Body, an absolutely brutal Religion and then the iconic Welcome To Paradise, and then the end of the main set concluded with the twin attack of Im Rhythmus Bleiben and then the evergreen Headhunter, which impressively had the entire crowd with their hands in the air counting through the chorus.
The encore continued the slightly unexpected choices, but finished with Punish Your Machine – and the line “I Feel So Fucking Alive!” frankly summed up how I felt at that moment. Front 242 were awesome, everything I had hoped they would be live. They were the first industrial band I ever heard, way back in 1989, and started me on a journey into the realms of alternative music that has got me where I am now, so this gig was more than a bit fucking special.
Anyway, after the show was over, it was time for me to continue DJing. I had already done one set between Tyske Ludder and Noisuf-X, and I was allotted 90 minutes after 242 to get the dancefloor moving. Although nerve-wracking to begin with, it ended up being the most fun and most rewarding DJ set I have ever (and, frankly, will ever) do [setlists here]. Thanks to everyone who offered their support, and came down and danced like bastards. A storming end to a brilliant weekend.