Somehow, despite the feeling I was just getting started, I’m already home, (mostly) unpacked and finishing this write-up of another great edition of Infest. It has long since become far more than just a music festival that I attend because I want to see a few bands – it’s an extended family.
/Memory of a Festival/033/Infest 2019
/Memory of a Festival/Venue/Dates
/University of Bradford Student Union
/23-25 Aug 2019
/Memory of a Festival/Links
/Memory of a Festival/Photos
/Memory of a Festival/Infest
It’s somewhere that lifelong friendships have been made from, opportunities for events and future things to do have come from, we’ve seeked solace in each other in dealing with difficult times, and we’ve partied harder than we probably should (and then vowed we’d not do that again, at least until the next year). And yes, we’ve discovered amazing new music.
This was my nineteenth Infest, and after the mammoth, four-day event last year, we chose to pass on the pre-festival Thursday night this time around featuring Das Ich and Inertia, and instead head up on the Friday as usual. What none of us had banked on, mind, was the extremely warm weather all weekend – surely, we all thought, Bradford will have the cooler, miserable rainy spells as usual, right? Wrong. Note to self: make sure hotel has air conditioning when booking for next year.
This, then, is the amodelofcontrol.com take on Infest 2019. It features coverage of the bands, and photos of the bands (which are all also on Flickr). These are, of course, my opinions and mine only. Yours may differ, and that’s nice for you – we all have our own views.
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The Friday night opening slot at Infest was effectively changed forever by The Gothsicles (2007) and Coreline (2008), who changed the slot from being something of a graveyard shift – in other words, most people were at the bar, catching up with friends that they might not have seen since the year before – to being a must-see, and one that often wasn’t entirely serious. Obviously this might upset a few people, but the majority have enjoyed this shift immensely, particularly as it has often served to kick off all kinds of other, following shenanigans.
So hats off to Bitman for once again opening the festival by putting a smile on my face (and many others, too). What could have been – and has, when I’ve seen him before – a one-man-and-laptop show was transformed by a bassist, and, um, a host of dancers. One of whom was apparently an actual strongman-in-training, another in an inflated dinosaur suit (more on those later) and another in a horses head and shark-print leggings. Serious, this was not. But fun it was, even notwithstanding a short power cut (that as I went out for air, apparently featured said dinosaur leading a Marcarena dance), and the highlight was perhaps the ballsy cover of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer in 8-bit form that had half the crowd singing along. As became a common theme over the weekend, not everyone liked it, but hell, it was an awful lot of fun.
It was a lot more enjoyable than the lacklustre set from Torul that followed it, which rather failed to deliver much of what I’d heard on record. There were a few lovely songs – with live guitar and bass added to the synths, there was a bit more crunch than the sleek synthpop on record – but they were for the most part lacking hooks, and, critically, emotion. Watching early on in the set from the photo-pit, it was all-too-clear that there some technical issues with their gear had plagued them, and I wonder if that frustration affected their performance. I’ll get a second chance to see them at BIMFest later in the year, at least, and hopefully that will work out better.
I’ve seen Sulpher an awful lot in recent years – three times in the last year alone before this show – and there has always been the nagging feeling that if they had better sound they’d be unstoppable. Well, finally, this show had the sound quality I’d been hoping for, and the rest was a blistering set that was very, very loud indeed, but also well-balanced. Indeed, it was notable that after a few years where the sound hasn’t always been as great as I’d expect from Infest, this year was, for the most part, better than it’s been in some years.
/One of Us
/You Ruined Everything
/Follow Me Down
/Take A Long Hard Look
/The Beautiful People/Marilyn Manson cover
Sulpher took full advantage of the improved sound this year by force. Never the most subtle of bands – their take on industrial rock kicks very hard indeed, and their time working with and touring with a number of major live acts (Gary Numan, the Prodigy, Curve and Marilyn Manson in particular) comes through with how solid their show is now. Their second album No One Will Ever Know finally arrived last year, some seventeen years after the first (Spray), and it’s perhaps notable that live, they’ve settled on the hardest-hitting tracks from it amongst various old favourites from that debut.
One notable change is how brutal Didn’t Ever becomes live. It takes a while to get going, but the ripping guitar coda was extended out before they dropped straight into old favourite Problem. I have to confess that I’m not entirely sold on all of the new album – particularly the later ballads – but I was surprised not to hear the excellent title track at least. That said, Take A Long Hard Look remains the bruising highlight of the new release, a track that is faster, heavier and bares even more teeth than just about anything off Spray.
Well, at least other than the anthemic industrial rock of You Ruined Everything, and the lesson in quiet-(really fucking) LOUD dynamics that is Scarred. It starts so calmly, a pedestrian bleeping synth and Rob almost whispering his vocals, before the guitars and chorus crash in like a meteorite, nearly blasting us some distance back from the speakers. The only way that could be topped? By a fun, throwaway cover of The Beautiful People that made it two solid covers out of two on the first night.
Eyebrows were raised, I have to admit, when I saw that not only had Light Asylum been announced for the festival, but also that the now apparently-solo-project by Shannon Funchess was headlining the first night. Then, I cast my memory back to her incendiary show at BIMFest last December, and it made absolute sense.
It took literally minutes for Funchess to blow my mind once again. All it took was the searing religious critique of Pope Will Roll to tear through the room, all beats and Funchess’ formidable, extraordinary voice that leans on both soul and punk, and even some years on from the original release, still sounds like no-one else around right now.
/Pope Will Roll
/Heart of Dust
/Sins of the Flesh
/End of Days
/A Certain Person
Her entire set was an enthralling, unmissable hour, though, a reminder that people other than those within the small bubble known as “our scene” can make exceptional music influenced by and part of the industrial/gothic scene. It’s something that has been the case in recent years, that music of this style has begun appearing more and more within other scenes, perhaps because there has been a narrow focus by some promoters in the past. But now things are pushing back, and those artists are now being pulled into the orbit of the scene, as here. And yes, it needs to be said – Shannon Funchess is, I believe, the first black person – and, I think, first solo artist – to headline a UK industrial festival.
Back to the music, though. Sure, Dark Allies was the breakthrough hit, subsequent dancefloor filler and natural closer here – and rightly so, as it remains an utter belter of an electro-goth-soul track – but the highlight of the entire set, and one of the best songs I heard all weekend, was the rampaging fury of At Will. Across a thumping electro-industrial rhythm, her vocals covered her entire range, exploding into that searing chorus.
A much talked-about set over the remainder of the weekend, and rightly so.
With the unseasonably warm weather over the weekend – the hottest August Bank Holiday ever, apparently – we chose to call it a night after Light Asylum on the Friday, especially as we’d arranged plans with some close friends to head a few miles south to make a now-annual trip to pay our respects to long-time festival compere Tails. That emotional journey over, and we were ready to get going for the long second day.
After some hefty delays on Friday night, things started ominously later than billed on Saturday too, but with a number of artists with relatively minimal amounts of equipment, faster turnarounds broadly eliminated any late running later in the evening, and the rest of the festival seemed to run, at least from where I saw, much more smoothly.
The small delay to Witch of the Vale taking the stage and opening Saturday’s bands perhaps worked in their favour, anyway. There had been a hell of a buzz about them in the previous weeks – particularly after their appearance in Manchester at the BEAT:CANCER show last month – and that buzz only seemed to grow on Friday.
Happily, like Promenade Cinema last year, they were extraordinary live, delivering on everything we’d been promised by the buzz, and leaving a few intriguing questions too. Trying to describe them is difficult, though. Let’s try an elevator pitch, then: “slow paced electronics with the distinct feel of Scottish folk music and an unsettling sense of mystery“.
The full answer is perhaps more nuanced. They certainly owe something to that disparate genre/collective sound known as Witch House. That was something of a curio, where all the groups involved quickly went off on their own journeys that bore little relation to their peers. A few artists I’ve covered before here are very much more relevant. ∆AIMON seemed to delve into the world of the ritual occult (both lyrically and in their suffocating atmospheres, especially on earlier releases), V▲LH▲LL dug into their native Scandinavian heritage and for a while remained anonymous, while M‡яc▲ll▲ had a murky horror aesthetic and sound that they called “Bloodwave”.
Why is this important? Because Witch of the Vale, critically, take a similar base and fashion it around their own influences. There’s no doubt that there is their own Scottish folk traditions seeping into their sound (vocalist Erin, I’m led to understand, is classically trained, and it shows), but also there is an unsettling mystery that shrouds many of their songs. That mystery also was exacerbated by Erin wearing a delicate mask and dark cloak, and hanging onto the mic stand as if it provided psychological support, never mind physical support. Partner Ryan – in quasi-animal shroud and hood, with antlers on head and feathers on shoulder, complete with drum at his waist – provided quite the counterpoint.
The songs were exceptional, too, a gorgeous, subtle electronic base – with the kick of drums where needed – providing a misty, dreamy base for Erin’s voice to head off on flights of fancy, particularly on the brilliant single Trust the Pain, but also on a song I only realised was a cover later on. While Lana Del Rey’s original Gods and Monsters suffers from the oh-so-cool detachment of her voice, here, Witch of the Vale turned it into an incredible, impassioned piece that left my jaw on the floor at the end.
This is a duo that have been around a couple of years at most, have two EPs (and a remix EP) out, and haven’t performed too many times, and they are already this accomplished. The talking point of the entire festival, they also had the biggest audience for the Saturday afternoon graveyard shift I can recall, shifted a whole lot of merch, and I’d hazard made themselves a whole load more fans.
I honestly can’t wait to see them live again.
Such a performance to open the day – and the sweltering heat – made it a tough one for the next few acts to follow. Next up were Craig Huxtable’s first of two performances of the weekend, under the guise of his solo project Landscape Body Machine. It was a solid performance, too, as he has noted himself the sound of this project is very much influenced by the electronic music of the UK, and there was certainly a nod or two to Underworld’s spaced-out epics that I noted in there somewhere.
He was followed by this year’s Hands Productions act, Cacophoneuses, who performed as a solo act here rather than the usual duo. I perhaps don’t listen to as much noisy stuff as I used to – I’d have been straight down the front for this in past years – but something didn’t quite grab me here. It was perfectly good techno-industrial-noise, sure, but I needed some daylight (and likely, another drink).
Judging on the ecstatic reactions from good number of others at the festival (including a number of friends), clearly I missed the bus marked Rave the Reqviem. There was certainly a lot going on – Swedish Melodic Death Metal with dual male/female vocals, quasi-operatic elements, industrial electronics, dubstep drops and a kitchen sink or two – and they were clearly proficient musicians, but at points the different parts for me didn’t mesh at all, and left me wondering whether I was watching three or four bands playing at the same time, and fighting for airspace. Thus I didn’t last long with this band. That said, there’s never been an Infest where I’ve liked every band on the bill, and I’m happy with that – I’d much rather more variety than less.
It perhaps could be said that DIVE – one of the many projects Dirk Ivens has been involved in, and probably the one that is his signature project – was one of the more divisive acts of the weekend. The striking stage delivery might be part of it – a constant, steady strobe light is the only thing that lights the black-clad Ivens on stage through the entire set – but then, the minimalist, harsh electronics might be the other.
DIVE as a project is now thirty-years young, and I was reflecting during the striking intensity of the set that Ivens was way ahead of his time in many ways. The glut of “minimal synth” bands nowadays is testament to that, and perhaps also helps explain why DIVE sounds so timeless – everyone else has only just caught up. As such, this was a challenging headfuck of a set, but brilliant nonetheless.
The Saturday headliners were a left-field, but popular booking. She Wants Revenge very much owe a lot to the second wave of post-punk, goth-oriented music that came post-millenium – and, needless to say, also nod to the Northern English forebears of it (something Justin Warfield made a point of noting when he spoke to the crowd later in the set). Thus not something you might immediately expect at Infest, but then, last year we had Peter Hook & The Light, so…
Maybe jetlag had something to do with something of a slow, low-energy opening (apparently they’d only flown in from LA literally hours before), but as the crowd were roused by the hits peppered through the set, the band seemed to gain energy from them in something of a feedback loop.
/Setlist/She Wants Revenge
/Red Flags and Long Nights
/This Is The End
/Written In Blood
/Someone Must Get Hurt
/She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not
/Out of Control
/Tear You Apart
And when they hit those heights, the band were fabulous. These Things is something of a slow-burner anyway, but sounded great live, while the epic, sleazy glory of Written in Blood – a song of desire, misplaced obsession and failure – sounded better than I could have ever hoped live (they didn’t play it last time I saw them). That said, I Don’t Want to Fall In Love and particularly True Romance felt like noticable omissions, but I guess we can’t have everything, and anyway, the closing four songs basically made the whole thing worth it alone, especially the dizzying dancefloor lust and abandon of Out of Control and then, of course, the relationship-with-teeth of Tear You Apart, that always makes so much more sense in a sweat-drenched venue – and one friend stood next to me, who’d never really heard SWR before, suddenly exclaimed post-chorus that he had heard this song before…
Still, if you might only be known for one song, Tear You Apart is hardly a bad song to be known for. Maybe there could have been a bit more zing to the set, but then there could have been more from the crowd too at some moments (and at least there was only one song from Valleyheart). Still a great show, mind.
After all the racing around for much of the day, I couldn’t face the Zardonic DJ set as well, but I heard a great many good things about the set and the DJ himself from just about everyone else.
For Sunday we rose – quite unlike many of our friends, apparently – hangover free and relatively well-rested, having eschewed after-parties for much-needed sleep. Clearly a sign we’re getting old. It also meant we were there in good time for the afternoon Tea Party, now a fixture of the weekend, and of course for the much-anticipated Sunday debut of DED.PIXEL at the festival. DED.PIXEL are led by longtime festival-goer (and friend) Rhys, and while I’ve seen them before (Click Click: 001) refers, this was a whole different ballgame.
A lot of preparation paid-off, though. A couple of microphone issues aside, this was a great half-an-hour introduction to a group who don’t sound an awful lot like anyone else. Probably the best way to describe them is industrial-space-prog, but rather than disappearing up their own collective arses by providing endless synth solos, a great deal of thought has gone into the sound to ensure that it’s a listenable one, and that was proven by even my wife (who is pretty much absolutely Not a fan of prog) happily telling Rhys later on just how much she loved the set.
The vocodered vocals work especially well with the sleek, futuristic sound of the material, too (the barked vocals early on, not so much) and with live bass and guitar, too, it fleshes out the sound very well. A new album comes soon, and on the evidence of the excellent new songs played, it’s going to be a significant step forward. Something of a triumphant half-hour.
I was intrigued by the concept of Noire Antidote – “experimental noise influenced by Witch House”, according to his blurb – and the liturgical choral samples through his sound certainly made it stand out a bit. But, as I’ve noted before, I can only find one man behind a bunch of electronics on a stage interesting for a short time these days, so I caught some of the set and moved on. I was expecting to do similarly with Future Lied To Us, until I realised that there were some familiar faces onstage. The project is Krischan from Rotersand, Vasi from Frozen Plasma et al and Thomas from SITD on vocals – and the sound was, well, pretty much what I’d expect. So it was enjoyable German electro, stacked with melody and hooks and a nice, stompy sound. Job done, and it certainly got the thumbs up from me.
Better still were one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend. I’ve been a fan of OHMelectronic since they were previously known as OHM, under which title they released their first album back in 2013 or so. They returned at the beginning of this year with their second album, and from the off it was clear that the new material had amped up the aggression levels considerably.
/When Robots Fuck
/Everything Is Gone
/Destroyed In Seconds
The live set only made this clearer, with Craig Huxtable and Chris Peterson triggering and playing all the electronics live, and Craig frequently wandering across the stage and into the photo pit and putting everything into his vocals. Oh yes, this was intense, pounding industrial and it was fucking great. Uppercut, something of a rage against the recent resurgence of the Religious Right and their often repugnant policies, was despatched early, while hearing the slinky nod to Cabaret Voltaire that was With (pretty much the only break for air in the entire set) was probably as close as I’m ever going to get to seeing the Cabs themselves.
Those weren’t even the best moments, though. They came near the end, with the thumping, relentless power of Everything Is Gone (best thing on the new album? Damned straight, and the best thing here too), and then the one moment where the group sound more like the related Noise Unit than anything else that closed out the set, Destroyed In Seconds. The track grooves and twists, but it powered by a monstrous drum rhythm that I’d have been happy to have had on loop for another half hour.
If ever you needed proof of how diverse some labels – and Infest – can be, the fact that OHMelectronic and Kælan Mikla are labelmates proves Artoffact Records’ case neatly, and that each band works in a very different sonic realm but can still be on the same festival bill proves the Infest case well.
The Icelandic trio that make up Kælan Mikla have been making quite the waves recently – especially with the kind of promotion that money can’t buy, in the form of Robert Smith of the Cure being a big fan, and thus playing on a number of high-profile bills with the band – but it’s tempting to think that they could and would have crossed over anyway.
While their earlier material was, perhaps, more straight-up post-punk, their latest release Nótt eftir nótt has seen an increasing electronic and experimental take on the style, but without losing the otherworldly melodic heart of their songs. That latter part is especially important to their sound, particularly as the band have resolutely stuck with singing in their native Icelandic – and that language seems to add to the mystery of their sound. I’ve been to Iceland a couple of times, have a few Icelandic friends, and while I know the odd word, I can’t proclaim to be able to pronounce any of it correctly (even Kælan Mikla is said differently to how we thought it was…).
/Hvernig Kemst Ég Upp?
/Nótt Eftir Nótt
Pick of the set, though, was the awesome Draumadís, a song that had me singing along to a language I didn’t understand from the first time I heard it – perhaps a sign of how inspiring and great the universal language of music can be. A striking presence onstage, too, their energetic and punky performance made them yet more friends, and in time, I’m sure we’ll be saying “remember when Kælan Mikla played Infest?” as they headline far bigger places than this.
I was a late convert to Nitzer Ebb. My voracious consumption of music in my teens (in the early nineties) saw me find all kinds of interesting bands (particularly on the much-missed 120 Minutes), and Nitzer Ebb were one of those – but my route in was seeing the video for Ascend, probably one of their last truly great songs – but perhaps not particularly representative of their most important work.
I also bought Big Hit on the day it came out (but haven’t listened to it in a long, long time, and I suspect the band haven’t either), and the post-reformation Industrial Complex hasn’t aged particularly well, either. The problem is, basically, is that on their first three albums, their stark EBM was so influential and so good, that as they began to experiment outside the confines of that sound, they appeared to lose some of the magic.
My first experience with Nitzer Ebb live, then, was on that first reformation, to promote the Body of Work compilation, and it delivered everything I wanted, and even the new songs (they played a few songs from the then-nascent Industrial Complex were pretty good, even if a bit slower). I never got a second chance in the meantime, so I was rather jumping for joy when they reformed again, and announced this show last summer.
To probably no-one’s surprise, I wasn’t disappointed by Nitzer Ebb coming to Infest. Frankly, from start to finish, they fucking destroyed, a lesson to all the pretenders to their EBM throne that they remain as important now as they were when they began to build their reputation in the eighties. They even were able to tinker with the songs – presumably to improve, to their ears, how they work live – sometimes substantially, and get away with it as the core of all of the songs was left as is.
Sure, Let Your Body Learn didn’t have the tumbling drums of the original, and Ascend‘s build was toyed with, but all told, they were still the songs I know and love, and there were quite a number of surprises in the set. For a start, Getting Closer was saved for a few songs in (I’ve always saw it as the ideal NE opener), but the way it worked out, it simply gave them a run up for it – and the crowd rather exploded into life with them during it, too.
/Hearts and Minds
/Fun To Be Had
/Join In The Chant
/Control I’m Here
/Down On Your Knees
/Let Your Body Learn
The set was also a reminder that, actually, there was more to NE all the long than just their bruising EBM workouts. Captivate and Come Alive are actually pretty wonderful slower tracks, and the jazzy oddness of Lightning Man works better than, frankly, it has any right to do. But, like many others in the crowd – and I simply went from photo pit to down the front without a break inbetween – we were there to dance, and they rolled out all the hits for us to do so.
The final run of songs was exhausting, though – four solid gold EBM dancefloor fillers and the one truly great song from Industrial Complex in the middle – but there was no way we were going anywhere, right? Join in the Chant seemed to last an eternity as the chants were repeated, mind – maybe it was just the heat – and following it directly with Control I’m Here was pure sadism on the band’s part. A bristling Murderous saw off the main set in fine style, and then the encore pulled one last rabbit out of the hat, as Dave Gooday took the mic on a most surprising rip through early track Alarm. The closing Godhead was just one last punch after that, but we were happy to take it before taking a gulp of air.
A friend turned to me as Godhead wound down, and said: “Isn’t it nice to go to church on Sunday, sometimes?“. Isn’t it? EBM is our church, and worshipping at the altar of Nitzer Ebb was as much fun that night as I’d always hoped.
The idea of dancing after that workout rather gave me the fear, which meant I missed much of the Ancient Methods DJ set that I’d been so looking forward to. What I did hear of it sounded impressive, though, and I’ll have to try and catch him next time he comes through London. After that, things got really stupid, as the DJ duo Karkasaurus took over the main dancefloor from Ancient Methods, along with nine or ten people in dinosaur suits and a whole load of people who’d also dressed for the occasion. Needless to say, the whole bloody thing was barking mad and hilarious, exactly the kind of stupid, dumb fun that makes Infest so great time and again.
As ever, too, extracurricular activities abounded, with later-night stuff often featuring Lee Chaos, so often the ringleader in the past, delighting many outside with the return of the “Doofwagon” (now on v5.0 I believe) where many led their guard down and danced to cheesy dance and pop with huge smiles on their faces. Props also to the crew and security who pretty much just let things flow all weekend and the result was everyone having a good time.
Socially perhaps I’d have liked to have seen many people more, but that’s always a difficult one when you’re also photographing the bands like I was. If I didn’t get the chance to say hi, or barely got more than a hi, sorry, and hopefully we can catch up again soon? If not, Infest next year, yes?
The bands, though, were consistently better than they’ve been in a while. The sheer diversity of the line-up – both in their sound and their make-up – paid dividends with an endlessly interesting set of live music, that was well scheduled, and was better lit and had better sound than in some time, too. It also got everybody talking, as everyone had their “moment” that they wanted to talk about over the weekend.
And everyone’s has been different, it seems. Yet another reason why I love this festival, and why this year’s will stay long in the memory. Same time next year, everyone? I hope so.