I don't like the Islington Academy. Its too cramped, too hot, too corporate (the venue is officially known with the name of a beer company as a prefix), the security is OTT, the stage is too low to see half the acts, its in the middle of a shopping centre (how rock and roll is that?) and they charge £3.55 for a Smirnoff Ice. Just as well then that decent bands play here occasionally, otherwise you'd never catch me here. The big story of the day was that the supposed comeback gig by 80s cult heroes B-Movie was not to be. The band would not be appearing due to one of those usually obscure incidents like "a breakdown in communications". This was clearly a major blow, not just to me, but to many others who had travelled out this Sunday afternoon to catch the Dead Good legends.
Nevertheless, Elektrofest is usually a safe bet for a good day out. Whilst the headline acts held little interest for me (Project Pitchfork, XPQ-21 and Billy Ray Martin do not make this review), the rest of the bill offered an engaging mix of known quality or newcomers. And true to its name, there was a lot of electroclash about today. The band names themselves said as much, but when many took to the stage this was confirmed.
Boy/girl two piece Ex: Rental had the task of warming up those who had bothered to arrive for the start. They have more tunes and melodies than much electroclash, and the light "Ba, da da da" choruses, despite the Prodigy-like bassline and drums, gave it all a slight Eurotrash/Pet Shop Boys feel. The male vocalist put plenty of effort into his performance so there was enough stage presence to keep you engaged throughout.
Schmoof's kit looked promising. An SH101, an old Roland, a Juno 6 and a little pile of black boxes and wires all promised plenty of retro sounds. Overcoming a slightly dodgy left hand side PA Schmoof's popiness was a surprise. But then I guess a guy and doll clad head to toe in Bakofoil and wearing sunglasses weren't gonna be the latest country and western discovery. The second song featured someone called Nick from a band called Western Electric Systems on guest vocals. Despite the glam appearance, the camera-friendly leading lady was chatty between songs. "Although I love my boyfriend dearly... I love chocolate cake" was the introduction we got to the next song about the dilemma of choosing! Songs like Warm Electric (featuring two SH101s) drifted towards mid-period Human League which was nice. But the Casio cover version of Guns and Roses' Sweet Child o'Mine was a tad too much! Credit due to guest guitarist Will though.
X-Lover I'd seen previously but they'd left me cold. They did the same here. By now, it seemed as if the women in each of these bands was trying to out glam the others. If that was the case, then X-Lover's lead vocalist won - purely on shock value alone. Looking like an emaciated Tina Turner but coming across like Cher wasted on heroin but tripping on acid, with nails like she'd been dead for a year, would all have been an irrelevance if the voice warranted respect. But the weak 'attitude' vocals were simply dreary. The monster mash of Come on Over was as good as it got.
Things leapt immeasurably when Ju Ju Babies took to the stage. It's no mean feat providing a masterclass in electroclash, delivering first class entertainment to a paying audience, and having a laugh and larking about whilst doing so - without looking self-indulgent. It's rare on the underground electronic music scene to have ten people on stage at the same time, but Ju Ju Babies do. Tonight, they were accompanied by their own official Ju Ju Babies cheerleaders!
The anthem Ju Ju Time, this time with a Blue Mondayesque bass drum, saw someone brandishing a large and dangerous-looking wood saw. His whirligig waving looked sure to cause some accidental blood-letting but, amazingly, both the rest of the band and the audience came out unscathed. The cover of Iron Butterfly's 1968 classic In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida was more inspiration than execution but that hardly mattered. Ju Ju Babies continue to lead where all other electroclashers follow.
The ascendant Seize then took center stage. There's a lot of hype around this act, and I'm still not sure it's all warranted. They've undoubtedly come a long way since one of their first live appearances at Club Noir back in June 2001. But persistent label comparisons to acts like Kosheen and Massive Attack do nothing but raise expectations beyond what Seize are still capable of delivering. Besides, from what I've heard live, this is more Ibiza future pop than trip hop and anyone expecting the latter is duly warned.
Tonight, Sandrine's vocals were noticeably unsteady. She hit the high notes well enough (which is more than many on this scene can achieve) but couldn't seem to sustain a lead melody for very long without her voice wavering. Of their own material, Don't Let Me was the standout track, where the breakbeat percussion and Sandrine's vocals really hooked up together. The other highlight was an impressive cover of Visage's Fade to Grey. Again the vocals were slightly on the weak side and lacked the charisma of Steve Strange's original, but the music and the sounds in particular were remarkably accurate and undeniably created an emotional tug. (Impressively, Sandrine was asked to provide the vocals for a rare live performance by Steve Strange of Fade to Grey at a Club Noir event in September.)
With neither Project Pitchfork nor Billy Ray Martin holding much interest for me, Greenhaus were the biggest name on the festival bill that I planned to stop for (XPQ-21 were sandwiched between the other two - but by now I was just too knackered to continue). Having seen Greenhaus many times before, I knew that you could never predict just how they will either sound or perform. Tonight was no exception. Much of the darkness and smoke that has traditionally accompanied every Greenhaus live appearance was noticeably absent. Finally taking the plunge and employing the vocal talents of a tiny Asian woman to front most of their songs, instead of relying on a backing track, was an interesting development. Whilst her vocals were impressive, her jaunty, leaping 'dancing' was more keep fit video than cutting edge electro act, and her too cute chatting to the audience between numbers was excruciatingly cheesy. Both unfortunately destroying most of the atmosphere the music had generated. The extended ambient intro to Stoned was ruined by incessant jabbering. Do not dance! Do not speak! Just sing!
A male guest vocalist's overwrought delivery on a new song was another point of interest in what was otherwise a largely lackluster performance. However, the set finished on a high with an absolutely blinding performance by Mechnical Cabaret's Roi on Best That You Can Do. Fuled by alarming amounts of alcohol, this was passionate, exciting, dangerous even - in fact, everything that Greenhaus needed. Thanks to Roi, tonight's performance was saved from the mediocre.
With b-Movie being absent, this event was otherwise going to have to work hard to retain my interest. It did in parts. What it certainly did was reinforce where the talent lies and where more work needs to be done. But the failure of bands to appear at Flag promoted events seems as big a problem as ever. I'm not sure where the weakness lies, but something needs to be done to improve the success rate. Once that procedure is in place, I hope that b-Movie are given top-billing at a more suitable venue.