First thing to say about this event is congratulations to the promoter Flag. Not only was this the first ever industrial-only festival in the UK (that I've ever been aware of), but you got a remarkable eight bands for just ten pounds! That's £1.25 per band! Talk about excellent value. The second thing to say about the gig was that Germany's Das Ich pulled out just days before the event, long after all the promotion had been done, leaving a gap at second on the billing for the promoter to fill. In fact, what the promoter wisely did was move everyone one up a slot and give Covenant and Inertia longer sets. This also opened up a space at the bottom for newcomers K-Nitrate to make a welcome appearance (having received only 48 hours notice thanks to the actions of Das Ich). There were posters around the venue apologising for Das Ich's absence, but it was clear that the band had simply dumped Flag in it in favour of a better offer in the States. To say their name was like dirt on the day would understating it slightly. If you're reading this Das Ich - don't expect a warm welcome from industrial fans if you ever choose to come here again!
This was the second time I'd seen K-Nitrate and their brand of ballsy industrial (complete with rock chick guitarist) was a great way to start the day. Going on at 3.30pm - only half an hour after the doors had opened - the few who had gathered on the dance floor appreciated what they heard; and the longer the band played the more people came to listen. Tracks like Destruction and Measure of Pain often start off bordering on industrial cliches but they can be pretty unpredictable at times. However, too many tracks did seem to build towards the 'false-ending' brief stop before finally coming to a conclusion.
K-Nitrate's live set up is minimal: couple of standing drum pads, one guitar and (good) singer. This lack of personnel and the way the songs had been arranged for playing live meant the band did seem to rely too much on the backing. Guitarist Jo was often left only with the odd power chord to play. This and her irrepressible urge to wave her arms wildly at every opportunity only emphasised how little was actually being played live. Nevertheless, it did sound good. One song reminded me very much of Nitzer Ebb at their best and that can't be bad. It is still early days for K-Nitrate and there's loads of potential here, but there's enough here already to warrant your attention.
Next up were DSO favourites man(i)kin. Problems with the PA (that dogged several of the early bands), and uneven vocals didn't help the opener, Faithless, which is a shame as it is a cracking track. Here it was presented in a slightly different version to that on the band's first album as were many of the songs. The mix, initially, seemed a bit dodgy too. Vocals too loud, percussion too loud one minute too quiet the next and the live synths and the backing track both far too quiet. Fortunately, after a couple of songs things settled down and the band got the chance to shine (even though the synths were too low throughout for my liking). We were treated to a (first?) performance of a new track - Sacrement that showed that the band seem to have overcome their early tendency to be too bombastic when playing live. A good new addition and one that whets my appetite for further new material.
This band improve every time I see them. Their stage presence is commanding, their performances professional and polished. I am glad Das Ich pulled out of the event because that meant this great band didn't have to open the day and were thus playing in front of a dance floor that was almost full just 45 minutes after the doors had opened. They shouldn't be playing at the foot of bills any longer. With a number of regional gigs over the last few months, man(i)kin are set to quickly build on the following they have already developed and take their superb sound overseas to new audiences. Lucky foreigners! They went on to provide some storming live mixes that were much more than just straight forward copies of their album counterparts. The catchy Deity finished the set and the audience's reaction was, as ever with this act, incredible. During the entire set, cheers and clapping filled the gaps between songs without pause. I've said it before and I'll say it again - miss man(i)kin at your peril.
After man(i)kin had got the audience worked up (and managed to coax people away from the bars in significant numbers), next up were the wonderfully-named The Borg. Ever since I saw their name on a flyer, my interest was tweaked. Thoughts of them 'assimilating the audience' were running through my mind in a sad and cliched industrial-cyber-type way. But this didn't happen. There was a bald singer in sunglasses and a soldier's tunic and a keyboard player to one side. They began their set with a superb cover version of John Carpenter's title theme to Halloween. (Highly appropriate under the circumstances - this was the 31st October after all.) Initially sounding very close to the original it built into a slightly more industrial, anthemic version by the end. Terrific. Funny thing was, the gig I'd played the week before - we'd opened with exactly the same thing - but I don't mind admitting that The Borg's version was far superior. A slow but extremely cool build up for the rest of the set.
"We are The Borg" the singer then said. I couldn't help getting excited by this point. But, then... oh dear, it all went pear-shaped. The second track faltered after about 5 seconds and had to be abandoned - the perils of using Mini-Disc live I suspect. Skipping to their third track they were still dogged by feedback, strange booming noises and complete but brief cut-outs from the sound system. But they bravely soldiered on. However, after such a promising first track, the rest of what I heard comprised of covers of Gary Numan songs. Good though they were - and they were very good - cover bands just don't interest me. So I switched off and retired to the bar midway through their set. Promo flyers for The Borg indicated that they intend to write and record some original material so maybe we'll take another look at them sometime in the future.
If you are a fan of industrial music and you yearn for those pioneering days of macho metal banging, and bands like Test Department, Einsturzende Neubauten et al, then Leechwoman will provide you with the perfect contemporary fix. Although their usual angle grinder wasn't in evidence today (a wise decision judging from the number of early technical problems - sparks flying all over the stage would have probably been unwise!), the familiar sight of their bare chests, crazy beards, raw guitars, and gas cylinder drums was. Leechwoman's two-screen slide show backdrop included an image of a woman tied up with rope, dumped in front of a rusting car. It could be the ideal visualisation of the sweet noise they make. The structure of their percussion-driven compositions is ingenious; great swathes of ever-changing patterns, beats and guitars - completely unconventional. Their striking stage show is a joy to behold and as regular live players in the UK you'd be daft to miss 'em.
The Chaos Engine
It was at the point between The Chaos Engine and Inertia being on stage that I decided to step outside for some fresh air. Having seen both several times before I didn't mind catching only part of each band's set. I saw the least of The Chaos Engine but their talented vocalist and heavy, often trippy industrial sound (complete with projections saying "Vote Chaos", "Chaos is Good" etc.) is always enjoyable. If you've not seen them and you want to read more then check out my review of their gig at London's Sound Republic last April.
I did manage to catch a handful of songs at the end of Inertia's set and whilst I still remain unphased by most of their output I am more than happy to watch them perform. And any fans of the band will know that you get plenty of opportunities! How on earth do the band members manage to hold onto full-time jobs and tour as much as Inertia do? Anyhow, percussionist, guitarist and backing vocalist Alexys B looked cute with her dainty fairy wings, worn (I assume) on account of it being Halloween - but with Alexys you never know! Lead singer Reza certainly knows how to milk an audience, and by now (8pm) the LA2 was packed out and the dance floor was heaving. In the past, I have been put off Inertia to some extent by Reza's harsh (and sometimes cliched) vocal style, but either I'm warming to him due to over exposure or he has slightly 'softened' his approach in recent months - but it certainly seemed to sound better. Their bouncy energy was a foretaste of follow-up act Covenant, and it's great to see Reza and Alexys B exchange so many laughs and smiles during their live performances. They clearly love what they're doing and they seem to enjoy their own gigs as much as their fans do.
It has to be some measure of a band that, of all eight acts on the bill, I was looking forward most to seeing Covenant - Sweden's greatest export - even though I'd seen them live only the month before. Beginning with what sounded like a version of Kraftwerk's Voice of Energy that then briefly morphed into variations on Computer World and Numbers, this terrific EBM trio kicked off their latest storm of sound in their usual, irrepressible manner. And quoting Fatboy Slim by repeating "Right here, right now, right here, right now" before launching into a roaring version of Tension, lead singer Eskil proved that they're not shy to show their influences and why should they be? This leads to their unique sound that blends techno, ebm, industrial, hard dance and fleetingly even hi-RNG touches.
You certainly get good value out of Covenant when they play live - they frequently rearrange the songs not just to enable them to play them live but to add another dimension to the tracks. Some sound like extreme remixes but this isn't always entirely successful. Whilst the choral voices added to Wasteland resulted in a glorious effect, the extended intro and stripped down version of new song One World was something of a mess and lacked power (particularly compared with the memorable version they played at London's Underworld in September). As ever, the enthusiasm of the three members does threaten on occasion to cause the whole thing to implode - good job there's plenty on the backing track then to keep things in line - but you can't help getting almost as worked up about it as they do. They wound up their hour slot with the ever-popular club hit Speed, which went down great as always. Shame Covenant have decided to delay their fourth album, United States of Mind, until early next year; but if the teasers they keep performing live are any guide then it is set to be another inspirational album. Of course, for me it is already a must-buy anyhow.
Perhaps the 'ex-members' band to end all industrial ex-members bands, C-Tec boasts ex-members of industrial heavyweights Front 242, Nitzer Ebb and Cubanate in the form of Jean-Luc De Meyer, Julian Beeston and Marc Heal respectively. If Covenant are the (relatively) new kids on the industrial block who are causing a lot of heads to turn then the members of C-Tec must be the wise old men of the style. They've been there and done that - several times over if you're JL De Meyer. C-Tec were the only band on the bill to use a conventional drum kit and the difference was marked. They began with a track off their (yet to be released) second album. A pretty heavy number with a pumping guitar throughout. Not bad. The rest of the set featured songs from their first two releases and was a mixture of the hard 'n fast and soft and slow. There were good performances of the more thoughtful tracks like Stateless and Epitaph but the heavier songs sounded a bit rough around the edges. The entire set seemed to suffer from being untidy, and made me think that perhaps they hadn't had put in the rehearsal time they should have.
Marc Heal effectively delivered only backing vocals to JL De Meyer and his efforts were largely superfluous. But it was interesting watching the two singer's contrasting styles. The more I see JL De Meyer dance the more I believe he is a robot pretending to be a human, whereas Marc Heal was bounding up and down, grabbing the mike with both hands (causing feedback) and leaning onto the monitors so he could get nearer the audience. For much of the set it was clear that these guys didn't have the grip on the dance floor that Covenant who had just gone before had. In comparison, C-Tec's set sounded laboured and they were clearly struggling to keep as many engrossed as their Swedish predecessors had - as the space that opened up towards the back of the dance floor made apparent. But the strength of what are some great compositions still impresses - the guitarless The Lost was a personal favourite. But I couldn't help thinking that it all looked like hard work for the members - perhaps they should give C-Tec the time it needs to succeed as a project in its own right, or abandon the idea altogether to concentrate on their other work.
As an event...
...Black Celebration 1999 was, despite the Das Ich problem, a complete success as far as the audience was concerned. From the brutal bashing of Leechwoman to the suits 'n ties techno of Covenant, it showcased the breadth of styles that come together under the simple 'industrial' label these days. And with six of the eight bands on the line up coming from the UK it proved that exciting and fresh music is being created in this genre on this small island once more. Evidence of the upturn that this style of music has undergone here over the last two years or so. I understand from the promoter that Black Celebration 2000 is on the cards, so put it in your diary now. Trust me on this one: you'll be glad you did.