After a decade of increasingly successful festivals it came as something of a shock last year to learn there would be no Infest 2009, but with the venue undergoing a major refurbishment it was not an option to use the University of Bradford’s Student Union halls. Organisers considered relocating but ultimately decided to take a year out instead. With the start of 2010 and still no announcement, there were rumours that after 10 years, having firmly established the Infest name as the biggest and best event of its kind in the UK, and having given marquee names like Front 242, VNV Nation, Front Line Assembly and Apoptygma Berzerk a platform in front of massively appreciative audiences, there was a question of how could they better what they’d already delivered, (especially after Front 242’s mighty performance headlining the last event in 2008). So when, unexpectedly, with a circus theme of “The Greatest Show on Earth”, Infest 2010 was announced in March, whoops of joy were heard across the alternative electronic music scene.
Infest has always been diverse and true to that principle, instead of one major league name to pull in ticket sales, this time around they went instead for a triumvirate of German niche stars: Project Pitchfork, Rotersand and De/Vision. As always, the festival ran across three days over the UK’s August Bank Holiday weekend starting on the evening of Friday 27th, with De/Vision headlining day 1, Rotersand day 2 and Project Pitchfork closing proceedings on Sunday night.
Day 1 - Friday 27th
Apparently, the builders were still applying the finishing touches only the day before! This was evident from the plant, skips and equipment still standing outside that greeted festival goers on arrival. For Infest regulars the new internal configuration of the venue was initially perplexing. The main hall had been made smaller (resulting in a decline in capacity), the stage had swapped ends meaning the access stairs were now directly in front of the stage making getting onto (and off) the dance floor once it was busy a challenge. The open air courtyard much loved by many had disappeared, and the marketplace was now scattered throughout a series of small, inter-connected, maze like rooms. On the plus side there was more seating which was a very welcome improvement and the toilets had been completely refitted and new ones added – two important considerations for a three-day event attracting over a thousand people. Still, the Infest crowd are a good-natured and easy-going bunch and most took the changes in their stride.
Launching this year’s fest were tongue-in-cheek Leeds act Mandro1d. Infest has always displayed something of knowing sense of humour and acts of that ilk have often kicked things off. It’s actually a great way start as there’s no pressure on the band to impress only to entertain. In turn, the audience, although very open and welcoming, can relax, ease themselves into the weekend with a few drinks and enjoy the fun. And there was plenty to be had. Supposedly coming from the future, yet somehow comprising Hymen Records’ artist Keef Baker with Nik Carter and Glenn Herbert from Leeds club The Wendy House, their hilarious style of writing that comprises globally recognisable brands like Sesame Street with local cultural references such as Coronation Street’s Hilda Ogden is nothing if not unique.
The dichotomy presented by the technology of nuclear power, so very eloquently summed up in the lyric: “Nuclear is dangerous. Nuclear is cool!”, had personal resonance as I have struggled for many years to reconcile those two conflicting views. Also, singing the praises of sponsors MusicNonStop and Jagermeister by suggesting that punters “Drink some Jager and buy some CDs”, was a thoughtful touch. However, the surrealist height was saved until last with The Summer of 6.9 (a sci-fi twist on the Bryan Adams hit from the 80s) which somehow descended into chants (with full audience support) of “Comparethemarket.com” - meaningless unless you watch commercial TV in the UK – but insanely inspired nonetheless. Only crudity concerning bum sex and sausages were an unnecessary vulgarity. ;-)
Unknown quantity Heimstatt Yipotash [photo: above right] were next up. I say unknown only because I’d not gotten around to hearing them before today, but residing on the Hands label is usually a sure sign of experimental quality. And so it was proven again. I always come to Infest with an open mind, looking for at least one education opportunity and HYT (as they are known) provided this year’s masterclass. Originally two solo artists, Heimstatt and Yipotash joined forces back in 2001 to explore a joint passion for rhythm, noise and sampling. This was amazing. There’s always at least one band that unexpectedly gets the word buzzing at Infest, and HYT quickly grabbed that for themselves. A thrilling blend of dance music structures but with subversive, intellectual experimentation transforming their output, forcing commentators to struggle to describe both the final result and its impact. This is one where it has to be heard to be understood and appreciated.
At one point they incorporated an audio (and video) clip from 1964 Miss Marple film Murder Ahoy! wherein Margaret Rutherford leads a ships’ crew in a rousing rendition of Rule Brittannia. Don’t know if that was a sop to us Brits or not but it was musical art at its very best. Then there was the almost unrecognisable but mind-blowing cover of Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity – entirely appropriate and in keeping with the experimental nature of HYT’s beats and melodies. The zenith of groovy, melodic rhythmic noise and quite glorious.
Long-running outfit De/Vision [photo: above left] have steadily mined the melodic electronic pop seam over more than 20 years, and despite having been on a major label for a period have never quite made the leap to the mainstream big time. That may or may not have been a source of frustration for members Steffen and Thomas, but it hasn’t stopped them from exploring the outer reaches of the genre and building a solid core of loyal fans around the globe. Rasc, singer with Rotersand, was just one of the other scene activists in the audience bobbing his head throughout their set. For me, there’s an ongoing curiosity with their output. Having seen them perform over many years, there are times when I fail completely to connect and others (like last year in Berlin) when I get totally enthralled. Maybe it was just the song selection, as they received rousing applause and got plenty of arms waving when they asked for them, but tonight, a whole set of De/Vision, I found it all just a tad too s-m-o-o-t-h. For me, the highlights were the rockier tracks which broke away from the familiar De/Vision mold.
Day 2 - Saturday 28th
Returning for the start of the second day, and people were gradually beginning to get their heads around the revised layout, but (as the longest day of the festival) Saturday was likely to see the greatest number of bodies pouring into the venue meaning the new surroundings and facilities would be provided with a great shakedown test for the Bradford Student Union management and create a few anguished moments for the Infest organising team. (The Dynarod van outside later in the day indicated that the toilets were the first casualty!)
Northern Kind [photo: right] I’ve listened to online for some time; usually as streaming background music whilst surfing, but I’ve never been tempted enough to make a purchase. Today was a chance to get a firm grip on my indecision and to see if I could be tipped into parting with my pennies. Expertly applying the tried and tested electronic pop two-piece format, Matt Culpin delivers the synth goods whilst Sarah Heeley overlays quality vocals. The live version of Pop, from their latest album Wired, boasted a melody that wouldn’t be out of place on Kraftwerk’s Computer World album.
Although the songwriting lacks a spark of excitement, there are nuggets of great things like the Vince Clarke Yazoo-isms on the synth lines (easy said but actually hard to achieve), with the heavy basslines and sequencers leading to a beefier live experience than anticipated. As the set progressed the crowd warmed, Automatic going down particularly well, which seemed to please Heeley whose smile suggested she was relaxing into the performance. It’s the sort of signal that audiences pick up on and they reception continued to improve. Culpin’s accomplished technique saw him playing percussion pads and melody keyboard parts on his M-Audio synth at the same time. Meanwhile, Heeley demonstrated a rich, soulful voice from within her petit frame and from her pouting lips. Technically better than many, they just need to find a more distinctive edge to the writing to help set them above their peers.
[I take a break between acts and catch up with one of the organisers. As we’re chatting he takes a call. It clearly relates to one of the booked acts and it doesn’t sound good. It isn’t. Seems Parralox’s singer has been admitted to a hospital emergency ward (what for I don’t pursue) and they won’t be able to make their 6pm slot later today. It is agreed they’ll aim to join the event tomorrow instead. After all, they’d come all the way from Australia! I keep my fingers metaphorically crossed as Parralox were one of the acts I was keen to see live for the first time.]
With the festival programme describing Memmaker as “Sci-fi electro scientists… EBMers… hijacking old school trance” and a photo of them wearing white lab coats, thin black ties and glasses - this was flicking a lot of personal switches. But come performance time, appearance aside, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. When they started I thought we could be is territory not a million miles away from Heimstatt Yipotash. This was too hardcore 90s rave oriented for my tastes and judgment. But the packed dancefloor indicated there were a goodly number of folk who appreciated it more than I. Fearing the early evening slot might drag a little I decided to jump ship before Memmaker finished so I could sample a local curry. An hour or so later, suitably fortified thanks to Omar Khan’s bargain early evening menu, I set about settling in for the long late session.
Out Of Line label’s Agonoize [photo: left] up next and comparisons with Suicide Commando and Klinik created a vivid mental picture but promises of trance synths and arpeggiated basslines (two personal weaknesses) were tantalising. This did remind me of Suicide Commando at its best, with strong, high pitched melodies rising above thumping drums and heavy basslines. The vocals, though rough, were not at the extreme end of harsh meaning the lyrics (alternating between German and English) were readily comprehensible. There were some super fat synth intros, with songs like Alarmstufe Rot demonstrating great synth sounds. For me, many of the songs worked better as backing tracks with minimal percussion and no vocals. Maybe I’m just not that angry any more?
As compère Tails questioned when introducing [X]-Rx: “Are they brothers? Are they lovers? Or are they a Jedwood from the darkside?” Speculation aside, what they definitely were was exponents of industrial rave music. The kids seemed to like them and they must be popular to warrant such high billing, but I couldn’t see or hear any special or distinguishing characteristics and opted instead for some socialising. Best tracks were those that were essentially instrumental in style.
Germany’s three-piece Rotersand [photo: right] have always been strong live, so even if you’re not a major fan you’d probably get more from seeing them live than listening to any of their records. Though it’s a fairly safe assumption to say that the vast majority of the Infestival goers were fans, that minority who weren’t were given a compelling case for converting. This turned out to be the best Rotersand performance I’d ever seen. The chemistry between the band members was fizzing tonight, and singer Rascal expertly transferred that into the audience. Instantly connecting, but without having to resort to excessive theatrics or posturing, he was clearly just loving every minute of being on stage in front of such an appreciative crowd. In fact, at one point, his enthusiasm got the better of him and he spent most of one song walking through the audience singing as he went; incredulous fans beaming from ear to ear and patting him on the back as he went by.
There’s a positive energy passing between the three members on stage and they work with the efficiency of a well-trained military unit. Each has their role and performs it perfectly, but as they are all multi-talented, multi-instrumentalists, they often swap around on stage which all helps to ensure an engaging performance. From the opening intro of juddering broadcast messages of War on Error and Random is Resistance, which went on for five minutes before the guys even took to the stage, through to the encore 90 minutes later, this was a fantastic show. They had originally been allocated just one hour, but with Parralox being a no show freeing up additional space in the schedule Rotersand graciously agreed to fill it by extending their set by half. Rascal admitted that he’d had to re-learn lyrics from some of the songs added to the set on his iPhone.
He was on top form too. He poked fun as some of the other bands on the bill asking why they resorted to singing the way they did with lyrics like "Fuck. Blood. Devil.”! Instead he, Gunther and Krischan offered up a more thoughtful alternative that I and many others were more attuned to and preferred. But he wasn’t so full of himself that he couldn’t take a dig at his own songs. Referring to the lyrics of A Number and a Name he joked afterwards that the song had a 'sophisticated message' (which it does but it is the way Rascal said making fun of the repetative lyrics.). As anticipated, all the material from their latest (and very good) album Random Is Resistance worked great live. It was a quality performance which the entire dancefloor was massively in tune with, so much so that when they played their hit club anthem Exterminate, Annihilate, Destroy (which is built around Doctor Who’s Daleks screaming the title) a guy in the crowd stood out with a full-size Dalek head above him – complete with flashing head bulbs! Quality music, and a quality performance refreshingly free of the usual po-faced presentation, yet still respectful of the material. Brilliant stuff.
Having yesterday been in A&E when they should have been on the stage, Australian electronic pop duo Parralox [photo: left] showed up in time to open proceedings for the third and final day. Having been impressed with the slick presentation of their polished, well-produced synth pop sound, Parralox were one of the bands I was looking forward to hearing live for the first time. In a reference presumably to what had put her in hospital, singer Amii said she usually moves more when on stage, but it was her voice rather than her moves that I was interested in. It was fine, and it was only upon seeing them live that I realised just how often she and John Von Ahlen share vocal duties. It was an uncommon feature and a welcome one. A couple of songs stood out, but overall, despite my already well-tuned interest, I felt they came across as a bit on the ‘flat’ side, they lacked oomph. Perhaps the illness was a factor? Whatever the explanation the recorded Parralox remain worthy of attention.
Old school (but youthful) London lads Concrete Lung [photo: right] first came to my attention via their impressive Waste of Flesh EP released end of last year. They were equally impressive live when they supported Front Line Assembly in London last month. “Proper Fucking Industrial” would be my suggested tagline for the band. As purveyors of that increasingly rare brand of industrial music that’s an invigorating amalgam of punk attitude, searing guitars, fast programmed drumming and triggering synths and samples, they inject a much-needed shot of raw adrenaline into the UK scene. In the days running up to today, singer Ed apparently prepared for the large platform of Infest by falling down a lift shaft and pulling a muscle whilst singing (not at the same time I understand). Not sure what the musician’s equivalent of method acting is but I think that comes close! Thankfully, it didn’t tangibly hamper him any, the usual torrent of projected anger. Destructive opens with the notorious sample from Blue Velvet when Frank announces: “I’ll fuck anything that moves!” Only drawback with the whole punk ethic is that the songs never extend beyond four minutes a piece. But I do know I long to hear a 10 minute version of the searing Recovery Position as giving someone just three and a half minutes of nirvana feels like being teased beyond all decency. Apparently the debut album is in the works and should see the light of day early next year. It’s gonna feel like a long wait. But with upcoming support slots to such influential cult names as Leather Strip and The Young Gods both in London between now and the year end, there’s a chance for more than just one fix to tide me over.
Having firmly established themselves (both recorded and live) as my most completely satisfying band of the moment, Deutscher electronic composers PATENBRIGADE: WOLFF [photo: left] helped continue a great Infest tradition of confounding ‘performance’ expectations. In part that’s because the style of this theatrically-inclined musical collective (built around Dust of Basement members Sven Wolff and Lance Murdock) varies from epic instrumentals sounding like Jean-Michel Jarré pretending to be Kraftwerk, through beautiful female vocal-led melodic synth ballads, experimental electronica and foot-stomping quality industrial dance tunes. So attempting to pigeonhole them is a fatally flawed exercise. It also makes describing or recommending them to others something of a challenge. Then there’s their actual live delivery. Fuelled by a brilliantly eccentric worldview, you can usually expect these guys and gals (whose line up from event to event depends largely on the logistics of location and availability of contributors) to build and perform in a make-shift construction site, complete with a panoply of high-visibility safety clothing, goggles, traffic cones, hazard tape, construction equipment, flashing warning lights and so forth setting the scene.
This time out we get the sexy Antje Dieckmann strutting around the stage in her tight-fitting ‘inspector’ uniform, glasses, pinned back black hair and clip board! Her terrific voice (sometimes Bjork-esque accented when singing in her non-native English) adds a whole new dimension on the slow melodic pop songs like current single Voyage. Today’s set was a veritable ‘best of’, spanning all their diversity, the perfect intro to those open-minded and smart enough to see that beyond the witty presentation some rare intellects and creativity are in full flourish. There’s never been anybody else quite like them. They are genuinely unique and, for my money, one of the most imaginative and accomplished electronic acts in years.
It isn’t often on this scene that when describing an act you can legitimately use the words, pink, fluffy, unicorns and… erm, guns in the same sentence. But with Canadian project Ayria (rather bizarrely) you can. Jennifer Parkin is the leading force behind this unusual blending of EBM/aggrepo in the original days style of names like DAF, and post-dance, post-techno contemporary electro/industrial music. It must be a reflection of Parkin’s personal tastes, which when leveraged with her compositional skills and enthusiastic delivery on stage, makes for a whole new sub-genre in its own right. When I first saw Ayria supporting VNV Nation last year she was missing Seattle-based drummer Mike (Noxious Emotion) Wimer. At the time, not knowing any better, it didn’t appear to affect the performance or my enjoyment. This time around the standard live three-piece including Memmaker’s Kevin Toole on synths was more impacting thanks to Wimer’s participation. Musical contribution aside, the inclusion of a live drummer always adds a welcome additional dose of energy and enhances the presentation. “Analogue Trash” was dedicated to the club night in Manchester that named itself after the song and is a fine example of what Ayria does so well.
Current darlings of many on the European electro scene, Austria’s Nachtmahr [photo: right] is the brainchild of L’Ame Immortelle’s Thomas Rainer. With a reputation for flirting somewhat blatantly with Nazi-ish imagery (though with a clearly anti-war message) but with tongue firmly in cheek, I had held back making a judgement on Nachtmahr, which up until now had been based on listening to their recorded output only. For many Infest goers this was clearly their first chance to catch the act live and their name wasn’t far from many people’s lips during conversations on the two previous days. I was consciously trying to keep my expectations in check and the buzz about them threatened to outstrip their ability to come good on all the promise. Sadly, for me, not only were they unable to rise to the challenge they were, with hindsight, the most disappointing band of the entire festival. Less for what they sound like, which is a familiar enough combination of industrial, EBM, and techno influences, but more for the lack of edginess or even controversial frisson. This was not a serious take on the militaristic aesthetic and because of that came across for what it was – a guy indulging his fetish and producing some reasonable music as part of that. When Uberbyte singer Rich joined them on stage for Do You Believe In Blood that was confirmation of where Nachtmahr, despite their polished visual presentation, were really at. Having quickly been surprisingly underwhelmed I quickly got bored and opted instead to pop outside for an energy boosting coffee and doughnuts, to give me the caffeine and sugar boost I needed to see me through to the end.
Day 3 (and effectively festival) headliners were Project Pitchfork [photo: left]. Since I still only own their second single dating from 1994, I’m still not in the best position to offer a fully informed view on their performance tonight, but we all have opinions. Vocalist Peter Spilles is still very much the leader of this long-running German dark synth band, and although this was PP’s Infest debut, Spilles’ own side project Santa Hates You did put in an appearance in 2008. Much is made of Spilles’ sincerity when working as PP but that doesn’t prevent them doing the whole dressing up and make up thing. The covering themselves in flour bit I put down to being most likely due either to aiming to look vaguely like the risen undead, or to being bakery fetishists (the risen bread? – ouch! ;-)).
The band’s style has evolved down the years, but their own particular take on all things of concern and interest to them has remained a constant throughout, represented not only in their music by in Spilles’ lyrics. Whilst the finished article isn’t exactly art-house it is a noticeably artistic endeavour, and like all art, sometimes you connect with it and sometimes y.ou don’t. I didn’t, and whilst I could see there was something different, maybe even something special about their approach to the electro sound, I just couldn’t plug into it which was disappointing. What was in no doubt was that they did have that charisma, stage presence, magnetism, call it what you will, that was befitting a headlining band. Just a shame it was one I wasn’t in tune with. Still, by then, I’d already had such a great weekend, that as I wended my way back to my B&B in the wee small hours of Monday morning I did so suitably fortified in heart, in mind and spirit. In part, buzzing with the thrill of experiencing acts like Heimstatt Yipotash for the first time, alongside the unfettered joy of PATENBRIGADE: WOLFF once more. In part because of the social interaction with friends old and new. It had been an enjoyably and satisfyingly long three days and I returned home re-energised for my love of music and its ability to move you in ways beyond compare. Every credit must go Terminal Productions the organisers behind the festival for continuing to ensure they easily sit at the top of the quality list when it comes to alternative electronic music events in the UK. 8/10