Thursday, 26 April 2012

Gig Review: Resistanz Festival 2012

Well, this review might go on a bit. Lots of it might not really be directly about the bands that played. It may, in fact, turn into a rant. I will try and keep myself focused, but I am also aware that my rants tend to make for quite entertaining reading.

Unless they're about you and your friends. Sorry about that.

It was my first time at Resistanz this year, and most of the reservations I had about a festival being pitched at Sheffield's Corporation venue were tipped over the side shortly after I arrived. There was plenty of room to maneuver, a seating area by the food and clothing stalls, relatively easy access to the numerous bars and more club-oriented rooms in which to lounge if the acts onstage weren't your cup of tea.

Set times were adhered to, the venue was well-staffed and the sound quality was mostly decent (with an emphasis on 'mostly' - we'll come back to that bit later). So all round, 'nuff respect to the Resistanz masterminds and crew. And really, that's mostly what you want from a festival unless you're a filthy teetotal musical bitch. Like me. So onwards to the bands, then.

Saturday kicked off at top speed with Memmaker, a hard dance collective who have made a mark on these pages before - surprising me with a driving performance at Infest 2010. And they delivered much the same at Resistanz, getting most of the early starters into the mood with some crunchy beats and high energy synthlines. It's not (strictly speaking) my thing, but there's no denying that they were a great warm-up act for what was to follow. So great, in fact, that I have to question their placing right down at the bottom of the bill. In all honesty, they were better than anyone else on the Saturday. Give these chaps higher festival slots, please.

Following this kickin' opening were Be My Enemy, a leaden slab of metal-tinged techno-industrial fronted by Cubanate alumnus Phil Barry. And frankly, Cubanate is a very appropriate touchstone. Going so far as to cover a couple of their tracks - including evergreen dancefloor mauler "Oxyacetylene" - they show a lot of promise but something feels like it isn't quite clicking yet. A new take on what they are following on from, perhaps. In addition to this, Barry's JS Clayden-esque sneering whine takes a bit of getting used to when one is used to Marc Heal's ursine roar over the top of this kind of material. None of this was helped by an extremely muddy, poor sound mix.

Next up was trippy-industrial power noise mentalist Jamie Blacker with his project E.S.A., and while his shows are always incendiary and overflowing with aggressive adrenal release I found something slightly lacking to this one. A relative paucity of material from career highlight 'The Sea & The Silence', maybe. Or perhaps now that the power noise scene has gotten a taste of live performance I have become used to howling men in wifebeater vests bashing electronic drums along to big acidic beats. Regardless, it was still a decent show and E.S.A. remain a solid live recommendation.

Soman get labelled with a lot of fraudulent genre titles, but realistically his stuff can be comfortable and simply slotted into the 'techno' bracket. Without a doubt the purest dance material of the weekend, his bubbling enthusiasm for playing live is something that could be seen to be holding the performance together. The music itself is neither stripped-back nor gnarly enough to push itself out from a crowd of similar artists who have been cannibalising each other since the early 1990s, but how much does that matter when one is faced with a grinning lunatic bouncing up and down on stage and generally channeling the cheery raving face of Tyres from Spaced? Well, to a dour old hack like me - it matters quite a lot. Not so much for the audience though, who are fairly happy to just zone out and move to the everpresent four-on-the-floor beat. Soman seems to be slowly morphing into the DJ Tiësto of the industrial scene. Make of that what you will.

A change of pace is heralded by Frozen Plasma taking the stage, wielding a fairly stale take on the old electropop formula championed by the likes of And One. If that's your thing, cool. You'd have lapped them up. Their only saving grace for me was Felix Marc's genuine attempt to be an engaging frontman. This, however, was let down by a mediocre vocal performance and some genuinely drab and dull music to jump around listlessly along to.

Nachtmahr. Oh, Nachtmahr. When will we ever get along? Not any time soon, if this performance is to be a herald of things to come. I will refer the reader once again to my Infest 2010 review, where I railed against the whole military fashion aesthetic and theme of the band like the bleeding-heart liberal bore I am. But what struck me about them this time round wasn't along those lines (apart from Thomas Rainer's haircut, which is getting more Hitler-like every year). It was just how sub-par they are musically. Electro-industrial, electro-industrial, doof doof doof eek eek eek. Waagh waagh waagh half-hearted shouty bit. Like most popular non-noise sub-genres in 'the scene' these days, it's taking a pattern laid down by Suicide Commando and proceeding to smooth out the rough edges, paint it a different shade of black then repeat ad nauseum. And hell, even Suicide Commando were a tad repetitive on the best of days. Throw in some borderline offensive Combichrist misanthropy/un-PC antagonism and we're good to go. I was struck especially by the tune "Mädchen In Uniform", which sounded like an early teenage garage band got ahold of a bunch of synthesisers and wrote a song for their school's battle of the bands.

And yet you schlubs fucking swallow it down and beg for more. I hate all of you.

Saturday was headlined by Grendel. I caught about two songs by them, enough to be rickrolled. Coreline did it better. He had a dance troupe, and the redoubtable Keef Baker dressed as a carrot. Strip the poorly judged Rick Astley cover out, and it's just more electro-industrial. Yeah ok, they're a bit better at it than most. They've been doing it longer. But still. It's a sub-genre revolving around an endless wannabe-cyberpunk scratchy vinyl loop and I'm far too bitter a human being (and lazy a reviewer) to sit through more of it than I have to.

So sorry, Grendel. Sorry, Grendel fans. You're all the very best people, I'm sure. But doof doof doof, eek eek eek. Snore.

Sunday arrived. I made an attempt to shed the horrible pitted husk of my usual self to enjoy Surgyn, and was mildly surprised to find I nearly made it there. Bringing together elements of futurepop, more traditional industrial and ~grits teeth~ electro-industrial to a fairly cohesive whole, what they lack in genre spot-welding talent they make up for with making the effort to put on a show and put across a persona. The overall effect is somewhat brought down by a slight shonkyness that pervades everything, and a potentially interesting insert of operatic vocals into the more typical vocal delivery is let down by a lack of, well, singing ability. But all these things are nothing a hefty lump of experience couldn't fix. Ones to watch.

And just in case I was under a feverish delusion that there would be a surfeit of innovation for the rest of the day, Detroit Diesel come along and pound out a harsh EBM set that seriously could have been any other act peddling similar wares. I suppose I should give thanks they weren't exactly electro-industrial, but it just made me feel I was watching a Decoded Feedback tribute act. Nothing especially wrong, but nothing especially right either. Next.

Oh no. Wait. Next was FGFC820, wasn't it? Christ. More harsh EBM, only now with a military aesthetic and lyrics. All my favourite things in one place. Stomping around the stage in a flak jacket to recycled/simplified old FLA burbles and synths does not make you an American Funker Vogt.  Bereft of charisma, nothing individual or remarkable whatsover. Like an overweight army reject dry-humping his replica M6 carbine along to the beat. While you bay and cheer and dance like the dogs you are.

That's unfair, actually. It implies they went down well. They didn't, really. Maybe you're not all that bad after all.

Thank the great old ones for W.A.S.T.E then, who blast through a tight set of genuinely varied industrial noise complete with full video backing (ranging from atrocities to '80s breakdancing) and occasionally break off from their rhythmic assault to come centre stage and bellow at the swollen crowd. This was the rarest of things, a noise set that felt like a proper gig and not a DJ. Melodic elements were discernable despite the brutal and unforgiving machine noise layers, and the songs featuring vocals really lifted material above and beyond their genre confines. At times veering excitingly close to a more unrelenting and violent old school industrial, W.A.S.T.E definitely got the crowd moving again.

Straftanz. Very popular. Undoubtedly a party act with a fairly mixed batch of sounds and songs, some of their stuff almost touched on electro (for any scene kids reading this, that's without the -industrial bit, and sounding really quite different). Like most party acts though, it wasn't my thing. There's a limit to how much I can jump up and down and go 'woo', and Straftanz hit it about 10 seconds into their set. Can't really condemn them though. Go see them and decide for yourself. What, you want quality AND dedication in your reviews? Go to someone who gets paid for it.

Then Ultraviolence came on stage, and the average age of the audience members went up by 20 years. Managing to be both faintly embarassing and really quite enjoyable, Johnny Violent seemed moderately shocked to be onstage playing to a number of people who still knew his songs. It was a fair tour of his older 1,000,000bpm gabber material alongside at least one newer track that came overlaid with a glittering sheen and was, somewhat shockingly, really very good. That's not to say I don't enjoy Ultraviolence on record or live, but to be handing out genuinely decent dancefloor tunes at this stage in his career wasn't what I had expected. Perhaps a new album, Mr Violent? If it maintains consistency it would be a worthy purchase. Backing the shouting/big beat chicanery was some angle grinding and such, which did wonders to pad out the inherently pared-down sound. Closing with an inevitable "Hardcore Motherfucker", it was a set that most likely satisfied old fans and maybe even piqued the interest of a few vacant cyberkiddies.

A total change was then on the cards with taking to the stage and running through their synthpop material transformed for a traditional live rock band setup. As an exercise for an electronic act, it's fascinating. As something for a near-headliner to do in front of a festival crowd used to their recorded material and with heads full of grinding beats, it's incredibly bold. And it worked too, though the sound once more collapsed under the weight of all those filthy analog instruments. Since the only other band to really suffer from bad sound over the weekend was Be My Enemy, I am forced to conclude that whoever was conducting the engineering for the weekend wasn't used to bands who have non-electronic elements. It beggars belief that any sound engineers fit into that category. Maybe it was just bad luck/equipment. If not (and if the entire weekend was conducted by a single group of guys), then someone needs a thorough whipping for pretending to be competent enough to mix a festival.

And while we're at it, back onto a common cause of complaint for me. Venues, get some decent lighting people in. Because what The Corporation have right now, as many of you do, is not a lighting expert. They're a fucking epilepsy technician. Strobes - 5 second maximum. Once. In one song. Per set. Some bands don't need them at all. Light shows need subtlety, not everything turned up to 11. You're there to augment the performance, not hammer on your buttons like an overexcited primate.

Where were we? Oh yeah, box - innovative, well-executed proggy synthpop guitar thing. Different, engaging and emotive. The tracks I did recognise I definitely prefer in their original format, but I am willing to drop my mask of vile cynicism for a band as genuinely heartfelt as this. Full marks for effort and execution, and a welcome breath of fresh air.

The Sunday - and festival - headliners were Icon Of Coil, and it took less than half a song for anyone with any semblance of brain activity to realise why. Rolling onto the stage like conquering heroes, it was a set that drove home just how little there needs to be seperating the energy of an electronic band from a rock/metal band in a live setting if people know what they are doing. It also clearly hammered in place just how superior IOC were to the current output of follow-up acts like Combichrist. Bringing out half of their debut album 'Serenity Is The Devil' and augmented by choice picks off their other releases, I felt for the first time that my body was moving in some kind of rhythmic pattern. After several minutes, I slowly came to the realisation that I was dancing. I am apparently not quite as leached of passion and youth as the rest of this review might have you believe.

Crucially, Icon's performance helped highlight the weaknesses of a good deal of the other acts that weekend. Charisma? Check. Distinctive sound? Check. A raft of quality material? Check. All things provided by experience and a lack of willingness to simply go through the motions. I'll leave off from completing this rant because I feel an article coming on, but to put it simply - they were awesome. Glittering futurepop anthems like "Dead Enough For Life" were mixed with the likes of the darkly throbbing "Floorkiller", and an encore emerged in the form of their excellent cover of Front 242's "Headhunter". This hopefully won't be the last we see of Icon Of Coil.

There were undoubtedly decent acts scattered through the weekend, and I can't fault the setup of the festival itself. But the message I was left with? The cyber-whatever scene is in desperate need of an adrenalising injection containing equal parts innovation, talent and serotonin.

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