Memory of a Festival: 014: BIMFest 2011

So for one final flourish this year, in a year where I have attended more gigs and seen more bands than I have done in a long, long time, I headed outside of the UK once again, this time for a weekend visit to Antwerp for the two-day, tenth-anniversary of BIMFest. Despite a grim and cold weekend (it was either pouring with rain, blowing a gale, snowing or at points all three) in what is otherwise a very pleasant city, the festival itself was well-run, well-set up, friendly and full of many good bands. And in something of a first, this was an industrial festival for me where I’d seen just two of the bands on the bill before – so there was lots to discover, new bands to enjoy and things to follow up afterward.

BIMFest 2011
Live @ TRIX XL, Antwerp, Belgium
16-17 December 2011
Flickr Photo Gallery

Friday’s schedule was rather shorter than Saturdays – so started mid-evening, and after the bands went long into the night. I must confess that I decided to eschew the post-gig stuff on both nights, deciding that I needed sleep. This was definitely a good plan.

Container 90: BIMFest: Antwerp: 16/17-December 2011Anyway, first band on the Friday were Container 90, who I quickly discovered were the first of a few bands over the weekend I really ought to have paid attention to previously. Just what we needed to get us going – fucking ace EBM, with a smart sense of humour and clearly a deep love of 80s EBM in particular. So the music wasn’t enormously complex – fast-paced, danceable rhythms and thumping beats were the order of the day, a very-Nitzer Ebb feel to many of the songs, especially with the dual-vocal delivery – but was of note were the songs where they were clearly poking fun at themselves, at their peers, and a few others besides, but only in a fun way. And the punk-like choruses fucking rocked, too.

Following that was aaak [As Able As Kane] – a band who were first around back around the turn of the eighties/nineties, and then returned a couple of years back. Basically more EBM, but with guitars and a few interesting twists (not least some fantasic visuals). They sounded very British, but that is no bad thing. Catchy tunes, too. And at a couple of points, they appeared to be the missing link between EBM and Madchester, with guitar lines that sounded like they should have been at home in the latter. Certainly this set them apart from any other band here.

Pankow: BIMFest: Antwerp: 16/17-December 2011A big surprise for me was how awesome Pankow were. Blisteringly harsh EBM – one of the early exponents of the genre, I guess, means that this is how it should be, savage and uncompromising. Indeed I was actually a little surprised at how much of it sounded familiar, too. Also it was a reminder of just how much sexual imagery and the first wave of early EBM were intertwined (a storming Me & My Ding Dong being the most glaring example here), but for me the rollout of Gimme More (Much More) was even more awesome – a thundering rhythm topped off by a vocal that had so much more variety than might be expected. One of the best bands of the weekend for me, and yet another that I’m asking how it has passed me by before…

One that I really had trouble with was The Anti Group. The first of Adi Newton’s appearances over the weekend, and the first “difficult” band of the weekend – and notably this was reflected in a smaller crowd. This was beatless, exceptionally dark ambience with pretty visuals, that over the course of nearly an hour (and it felt a very long set indeed) gradually ratcheted the intensity up to quite unbearable levels. This wasn’t music to dance to, of course, so it actually became just what I needed to rest my feet for a while!

Especially with Severed Heads following them up. The first of two sets over the weekend, one each night, as a final farewell to a group that have existed in one form or another since 1979, and this was a pretty good farewell. Initially I thought that this was the more accessible stuff, but after both nights it was difficult to tell. ‘Cos, well, this isn’t exactly the most easy music to appreciate. A strange, heady brew, if you want reference points, of something resembling Skinny Puppy’s weirdness, New Order’s electronic workouts, and it is easy to see, perhaps, where Snog fit in after hearing these guys live. Tom Ellard has a similarly strange, sardonic sense of humour that you get the feeling may be lost on many people. For me, though, this was an enthralling hour of industrial – and the music suggested that when it was initially released, was years ahead of its time (some of this stuff dated well back into the eighties). The visuals were astounding, too, with some spectacular computer-generated animations that were just as enthralling as the music. And yes, we got Dead Eyes Opened, and it was wonderful. But Harold And Cindy Hospital trumped it on the audio /and/ visual front with a distinctly unsettling video and it’s monstrous, slow beat.

Front 242: BIMFest: Antwerp: 16/17-December 2011Finally for Friday evening, Front 242 put on the best of the three shows I saw this week (if you are new to this, I saw them in Glasgow and London last week). A huge, up for it crowd for a start helped lift this beyond the others, but for some reason everything was lifted up that one notch or so, supercharging songs to the point that I thought they might be about to take the roof off. Much like the previous shows, it was the same old favourites that did it, of course, but maybe the fact that this crowd was a dedicated bunch of old-school EBM heads, and so knew pretty much every song, and went nuts to each of them too. I think I’ve said all I can about 242 this week – but once again this show proved that when on form they are an absolutely untouchable live band. Setlist, by the way, was the same as last week in Glasgow.

Onto Saturday, and despite a late arrival (I was being a tourist in Antwerp over Saturday lunchtime while the rain had finally abated for a while), I still saw a fair proportion of Definitivos, and they did so little for me that I was quickly wishing I had stayed in ‘town a bit longer. They were certainly a bit of oddballs on this bill – rather more old-school punk rock, and they peppered their set with a surprising number of covers. But for me, I was never a big punk fan, and this rather dreary, unremarkable set reminded me why I normally avoid it. One thing that wasn’t dreary, though, was the singer’s remarkable shirt.

ITurnbull A.C's: BIMFest: Antwerp: 16/17-December 2011 was also no fan of Portrait Bizarre. To me somewhat run-of-the-mill, guitar-aided synthpop that I really found it difficult to get too excited about. With the ingredients they have, they probably have a killer song somewhere – but if they do, they didn’t play it here. Much, much better were Turnbull A.C’s – another band that like their fellow countrymen Container 90 were enormous fun. Not surprisingly they sound a lot like Spetsnaz (sharing a member of the band does that), but the oh so slight punk edge makes it nice and hard hitting live. The fact that they actually write memorable tunes helps, too – We Can Drink Without Having Fun is a cracking anthem that I really ought to stick in my DJ sets sometime, and Man Made Modern Machines isn’t far behind it.

A fair amount of early evening drinking with new and old friends – hey, the beer wasn’t exactly expensive, and was surprisingly drinkable – meant that I didn’t catch half as much of a couple of bands as I probably should have. We quickly decided Flesh + Fell weren’t worth our time, especially as it appeared that most of the songs at least were covers – in particular the most bizarre cover of I Wanna Be Your Dog I’ve ever heard, that was sung in another language that we never quite worked out. I also barely caught any of Section 25. One of the earlier Factory Records bands, their post-punk electronics didn’t grab me at all.

I wanted to enjoy PouppĂ©e Fabrikk – initially they sounded right up my street. Thunderously heavy ebm that should have been far more interesting than they were, the lack of variety in the set had me heading back to the bar within twenty minutes.

Severed Heads: BIMFest: Antwerp: 16/17-December 2011There was no way I was missing any of the final Severed Heads show, though. The split of styles over the two shows was certainly noticeable, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. The fabulous visions were still there, though, and it was good to note that each set was totally different – with no overlap at all that I could tell. The end came with a strangely joyous Big Car, and that was that. And you got the distinct feeling that Tom Ellard needed to end Severed Heads properly, almost as closure. The smiles on his face as he left the stage suggested an albatross being lifted. I’m just glad I was privileged to see SVH live.

A band I’ve seen more than a few times live is Suicide Commando – indeed I already have this year, at their first ever North American show at Kinetik back in May. But this was different, a return to the roots by concentrating only on their first three albums, or pre-Hellraiser, if you will. In other words before SC became a very big fish in the industrial scene, and quickly influenced countless other acts. In addition, this was a show stripped back to the original equipment, too, with just Johan and a second guy on electronics, and of course Johan providing vocals where needed. And god, some of this took me back. Like a hissing, brooding Mortal Kombat, which was my re-discovery of the evening. Even Time sounded radically different in its original form, as the new version – much cleaner, less, um, evil than the original – has been the one aired on the recent tour. Apparently a one-off, this show, which should be lauded – an artist willing to revisit his past without completely reworking it along the way, but also actually proving something worthwhile, in that we missed some cracking material by picking up SC a bit later.

Clock DVA: BIMFest: Antwerp: 16/17-December 2011And finally, I got to see a band I’ve wanted to see for years, and I never thought I’d have the chance. The announcement of Clock DVA as headliners for this festival (only their second proper show in Europe in many, many years) were, frankly, the reason I made the effort to come across, and they didn’t disappoint at all. A searingly intense – and loud – hour or more of experimental, industrial electronics that was utterly absorbing as the music and visuals coalesced. That was the strange thing about this set – each part of it was vitally important, as I suspect the set wouldn’t have been half as good without the visuals. There were some perhaps unexpected choices for the set, and some of it I didn’t know at all, but this was a sonic journey with a damned good pilot. One where the individual tracks were perhaps not so important as the overall result.

Clock DVA setlist:
Intro
The Fissure
Sigma 7
Fractal 9
[unknown]
Midnight Blue
Sound Mirror
Thee Scryer
The Hacker (Hacked)

Encore:
Fractal 9

That said, a couple of the old favourites unleashed were oh so impressive, emerging from the electronic attack like beasts in the night. Sound Mirror was astonishing, underpinned by a pulsating, monstrous rhythm, while The Hacker was all but shorn of its vocals and appeared to be two different variants of the track spliced into one, but that stabbing, sinewy rhythm was all present and correct, and it sounded simply awesome.

It seemed a bit strange as they returned for the encore, and performed (an admittedly fantastic) Fractal 9 once again – it was difficult to tell whether this was meant to be a comment on the absurdity of encores, or just that they had nothing else prepared. But then, that was always one of the attractions of Clock DVA for me – a band that prefer to remain in the shadow of their musical output, to experiment and see where those moves take them. They are a challenging band, and always have been, and this is what industrial music should be about. Not about fashions, or styles – taking existing sounds and ideas and reshaping them into new electronic forms. And indeed, this whole weekend was a great exhibition of where one half of the genre at least now stands. Away from clubland, some fascinating ideas are still being hatched. And the past is still a very interesting place too.

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