In a significant change to last year's somewhat truncated Elektrofest squeezed into a tiny club, this was Elektrofest as we really know and love it. Housed for the first time in the cavernous, seven-floor, Koko (formerly Camden Palace), with 11 acts over 9 hours. This annual Easter Bank Holiday pilgrimage requires stamina and enthusiasm in equal measure to see you through. Thankfully, this year's line up was one of (if not the) best ever so it was easy to stay the distance.
I arrived just in time to catch Suzerain. The label 'an English Killers' is about right from what I heard. Long-standing favourites Greenhaus were on next and it had been some time since I'd caught up with them. This was immediately noticeable as they took to the stage - I only recognised one of the original line up - core songwriter Steve Bellamy. He was joined on stage by a new drummer and female keyboard player. Female vocalist Phoenix J has transformed herself from when I first saw her live at Elektrofest 2004. She has developed a captivating stage persona and her vocals are easily the best the band has ever had. Bellamy was almost hidden - tucked away behind a pile of equipment - only occasionally emerging when switching to backing guitar. The older songs are more refined and accomplished and the newer material is accessible in a way that only Greenhaus seem to be able to pull off without compromising their integrity. The finished article remains a compelling mixture of atmospheric instrumentals, cracking melodies, sweeping emotions and a wonderful voice. I'm keen to hear the new album You're Not Alone - due imminently.
An eleventh hour change to the line up ditched some minor league act in favour of 80s cult icons Tik + Tok. I could not believe my good fortune. This is a partnership that I've always loved from their Shock days on. Truly manna from Heaven. Their first live UK appearance in 21 years (!) is a seriously tough stat to live up to, and although they were only on stage for two numbers, amazingly, they not only lived up to my hopes but surpassed them with ease. This was simply brilliant. The first number Dangerous Curves was an instrumental dance backing track flooded with Videodrome samples whilst Tik + Tok performed a classic piece of mime. Initially dressed as two old men - complete with macs and old man rubber masks, as we witnessed the codgers 'commuting on the tube' this was about the drudgery of everyday life. Having discarded their disguises, the real men beneath were exposed.
The years have been kind and both were instantly recognisable beneath the pasty white panstick and black panda eye makeup. Better still, the voices were as good as ever they were, possibly even stronger with the years. Their distinctive tones and timbres still evident. The music was archetypal Tik + Tok, in fact the second song sounded much like a contemporary reworking of Show Me Something Real from their 1984 (and only) album Intolerance. It was a shame this was such a short slot. But they promised to "See you again soon" which we can only hope translates into more live dates in the near future. With new material self-released via the official website at the end of last year, it seems Tik + Tok's years in the musical wilderness are finally over. Amen!
The Modern managed to bag some impressive national newspaper press recently after figures for one of their download singles prompted the ChartNetPolice to suggest that either they or their fans had been artificially creating the large numbers. Whatever the truth of the matter, the headlines are a testament to the maxim that there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Duran Duran (music) meets Franz Ferdinand (styling) with a blonde glamour vocalist certainly sounds like a recipe for success. Whilst I did enjoy watching Emma Cooke's long legs striding around the stage, I was largely nonplused. Not that this was the consensus judging from the amount of people that flocked to the front of the stage to get a closer look (or listen) and who lent plenty of vocal appreciation. Industry stood out with its cheap Casio plinky plonky intro, but tracks like Tokyo Girls just sound too contrived. To their credit though, despite their influences, The Modern have managed to carve out a distinctive sound of their own and all credit for that. Perhaps I need to hear them in the studio where their subtleties might be more convincing.
Since I first caught them live in 2003, I've always been disappointed by Client. Now refined to an all-female three piece live, they still look the part in their tight-fitting suits and pencil skirts (leather look in effect this evening), and with a sound seemingly drawn from early Human League ranging through to Ladytron this really should work. Yet tonight only served to confirm that Client remain flat, dull, anaemic. The darker Overdrive and Radio with its effective melody hookline is as good as it gets. Sarah Blackwood's lead vocals on the latter better suited to her vocal range than most songs they perform.
I knew American synthpop outfit Iris by name but was not familiar with their sound. To be honest, most modern 'synthpop' doesn't do much for me. Too often it sounds like lame, amateurish homage to way superior English bands from the early 80s. It was a pleasure then to discover that none of this could be said of this Texas two-piece. First thing that strikes you is their professionalism in both sound and presentation. They come across as either well-rehearsed or seasoned pros. Since they've only be at this game since the late 90s it must be down to a combination of hard work and talent. Although I may still not rush out and purchase an Iris album, I'd gladly watch them again live anytime. Acting as the official opening act on the De/Vision Subkutan tour (of which this was the UK stop-off), Iris singer Reagan Jones, decked out all in white, was very chatty between songs (uncommon on this scene but a welcome change) and he came across as a genuinely nice guy. Their 35 minute set made for easy listening and because the evening was running ahead of schedule, when the audience demanded more, the promoter agreed to an unplanned encore. This was only Iris' second live appearance in the UK and with performances as good as this they can only win more friends and influence people to purchase their music.
With the evening drawing in it was fortunate that old skool industrial exponents [:SITD:] (it means Standing In The Dark) took to the stage (to the sound of strafing gunfire). Lead vocalist Carsten Jacek, pacing back and forth like a caged animal that's about to leap off stage and maul the audience at any moment, knows how to work up a crowd. With a powerful combination of thumping beats and killer melodies, this is hard to resist. Vocal duties are shared with Thomas Lesczenski who although not dramatically different in terms of delivery does offer some contrast. Lesczenski's sprightly skipping method of traversing the stage reminded me of VNV Nation's Ronan Harris (who was among the audience). Keyboard player Francesco D'Angelo is the third and final member. In spite of a momentary technical hitch (during which we amusingly heard Windows rebooting!) [:SITD:] delivered a cracking set and I hope it isn't too long before they visit these shores again. In the words of Lesczenski's T-shirt: "Pure Fucking Industrial".
Finally, it was time for headliners De/Vision. Over more than 10 years, this German act have put out more than 10 studio albums and performed hundreds of gigs around the globe, and they've a loyal following. I only ever picked up 1998's Monosex (an album chock full of quality songs) the remainder of De/Vision's releases that I've heard providing, for me, fine background music but not something I've felt compelled to purchase. And that's pretty much how their set panned out. Polished undoubtedly and singer Steffen is certainly cool-looking and has the snake hips moves down pat (much to the delight of the females in the audience). I was happy then to hear a few songs from Monosex make it tonight. The Depeche Mode-like New Drug remains a stand out track and the version performed here was a corker. Strange Attraction materialised in a much beefier guise and reflected a often rockier, heavier sound live than you'd expect having listening to their recordings. These being the songs best known to me they were undoubtedly the highlight but De/Vision provided unwavering entertainment throughout.
The final verdict? Well, with nine hours of great music in a great venue with gorgeous women strolling about in corsets - what's not to like?! I'll see you next year.
See also: Tik + Tok Live @ Elektrofest (Downloads)