There was something oddly life-affirming about seeing a queue for this one day festival snaking around the exterior of one of London’s longest-running, best and intimate live music venues in the form of Camden’s famous Underworld. It was a perfect autumn Saturday: chilly air but clear blue skies and blindingly bright sun. The ideal day for a stroll in a park or a bike ride. Instead, what I (and scores of black-clad others) decided the best way to spend such a day was by secreting ourselves literally underground where there is no natural light for six hours listening to loud, (mostly) fast and occasionally tuneful EBM/Cyber/Industrial bands.
For the record, I’m one who winces at the continued use of ‘cyber’ when it comes to music. Fine if you want to deploy it when talking about Doctor Who adversaries or high-contrast fashion items, or the 80s/90s science fiction movement. But it’s application to music to me seems painfully outdated. Still, I did choose to come because the line-up included some tantalising names. These included impressive new kids on the block Dreams Divide, the increasingly interesting Kommand + Kontrol and Method Cell whose debut album earlier this year caught our ears here at dsoaudio. Given that this event had been pulled together by Machine Rox’s Richard Kaltenhauser, as the organiser and promoter, such hearty efforts in these straightened times seemed worthy of support and attention. So, that’s why I did indeed spend six hours underground on a beautiful Saturday.
Photos L-R: Dreams Divide, Kommand + Kontrol, Decayed Reflection
For the pounds in my pocket, first band on at 4:30pm, Dreams Divide were really the stars at the bottom of the bill. If you have yet to see them live, make sure you do soon. I cannot see how they can justifiably languish at the bottom of any bill for much longer. Their debut album put them firmly on the radar (just recently given a physical CD release on Russian label Glory & Honour – I suggest you go and buy it today), but it is their stonking live performances that have so rapidly earned them a place close to my heart so very quickly. First time out was just a few weeks back opening for Covenant down the road in Islington. They seemed rock solid but I couldn’t be sure if that was a fluke.
Second time around, I can assure you, it was no fluke. Dreams Divide’s David Clout and Gem Davison are the real deal. There’s an irrepressible joyousness about their live sets that transcends any amount of reliance on backing track. Having great male and female shared vocals helps a lot. As a team they really click together. Probably due to them having been friends since childhood both with long-standing common interests in music. The vibrant combination of David’s passion and Gem’s soaring voice creates a thrilling, tangible buzz.
Down the years, I’ve seen the likes of VNV Nation, Covenant and Mesh perform early in their careers here at the Underworld. I’d like to think that, in a few years time, I could mention Dreams Divide in the same manner. They really are that deserving. They’ve been booked for WGT in Leipzig next year. I’m telling you now, after that gig things will never be the same for David and Gem, as I expect Dreams Divide to really begin their rise to bigger and better things. With a rather good start to the day ;-) great then to get going in such an energised manner (and if you turned up after Dreams Divide, you really did miss a treat).
Decayed Reflection are two youthful, good-looking human beings. One male, one female. He was singing, she playing keyboards, providing backing vocals (and occasionally flicking back her long blonde hair coquettishly). They did a Psychlon Nine cover version which was a bit surprising. I didn’t realise that Psychlon Nine were that much admired. Evidently they are. For their own material, Decayed Reflection serve up a decent (if not what you’d call envelope-pushing) take on the harsh electro scene. The presentation was polished suggesting that this couple have been putting in the hours behind the scenes to ensure their on-stage performance makes the most of the resources they currently have at their disposal. If you’re partial to a bit of electro industrial then you should scope them out.
Socialising meant I missed Terrornation's set entirely, and it was third billers Kommand + Kontrol that I caught next. Once in a while, and it really doesn’t happen that often, a band you think you know catches you unaware, unprepared, surprised. Tonight Matthew, that band were Kommand+Kontrol.
As your mum and job interview advisers will tell you, first impressions are a very important thing. Good then that K+K decked out in suits, white shirts, thin black ties and bowler hats were a universe away from the hair extension, goggles and glow sticks I expected to be overwhelmed by at a festival called CyberSoniK. But their stylish appearance wasn’t the best bit. That was saved for their sound – which has definitely stepped up a few gears since their 2009 album Dead Ground Ahead. There appeared to be a concerted effort to not just develop their industrial sound but to take an almost entirely new approach – and it pays off too.
Lead vocalist Terminal suddenly bears a striking resemblance to a youthful Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb fame. The vocals were actually pretty sparse on several tracks and I kinda wanted more, but that may have been down to the setlist. Their latest release, an EP entitled Watched By Machines, was officially released today and will definitely be reviewed for dsoaudio. A very interesting development on the UK industrial scene. The question now for Kommand+Kontrol’s fans seems to be the one asked by Terminal midway through their set: “Was that industrial enough?”. Let’s hope their bold approach to push beyond the obvious trappings of their genre is rewarded.
Photos L-R: Machine Rox, Method Cell, V2A
Machine Rox, fully kicked in for me when they upped the techno and trance elements of their songwriting over the industrial/electro aspects. Witness Kill Me (With Your Kiss) which sees bald-headed, sunglasses and glove-wearing lead male vocalist Richard Kaltenhauser really getting into his stride. I find it impossible not to think of Jean-Luc De Meyer of Front 242 fame but this is most directly comparable to De Meyer’s 32Crash project. More like this would be welcome. Kaltenhauser was formerly with Global Noise Attack about a decade ago and the energy I remember from their sets is still very much present today. Originally a solo project, since last year he's shared the stage with female vocalist and keyboard player Aga. Listening to some of their stuff online in the run up to the gig You Make Me Wanna stood out, but that didn’t make today’s set – maybe next time out. A name like Machine Rox pretty much sets up only one impression in one’s mind and they deliver on the implied promise. One of those ‘does what it says on the tin’ names. If I were dishing out credits for attitude and enthusiasm then Machine Rox would rack ‘em up.
Like Dreams Divide who opened proceedings, Method Cell currently have just the one long-player under their belts. It was quite an impacting debut and they must be doing something right to get to #2 on the bill. And you have to say they filled the held the position well. Dextrous key work from Alex was impressive. There appeared to be a lot of flirting happening on stage but that may have simply been Apollos' androgynous style. Finishing on Push, which has already established itself perfectly as the signature anthem for the band, was no surprise and the ideal end to a solid set.
Finally we were into the last straight with headliners V2A. These British EBM exponents don’t do subtle. A glance at the T-shirts they were selling which had, in very large block capital letters, the words “FUCK/WHORE” on the back will instantly tell you whether or not they’re likely to appeal to you or not. I had seen them once before but that was back in 2006 at the Black Celebration Festival. I recall being non-plussed then, but that was five years ago and, as Kommand+Kontrol had made clear earlier, things can change over time.Currently promoting third album Machine Corps, this was more of the same in more ways than one. Not least because there were a lot more people on stage than when I last saw V2A. Not sure what they were all doing up there to be honest, but it certainly created a constantly moving feast for the eyes. My ears on the other hand were less well served and concluding that V2A hadn’t changed for the better I decided to cut my losses and call it a night.
All credit to organisers Syncrotrax for pulling together seven rising UK acts, securing a great location in the Underworld and pulling it all off so efficiently on the day (stage times were kept to like clockwork – a rarity on this scene!). They got a good crowd out, on what was as a beautiful Saturday afternoon, to spend their day underground and kept decent numbers throughout. As ever with all festivals, it’s rare that any individual is gonna love each and every act, and despite the umbrella ‘Cyber’ label the line up today actually represented a fairly broad church of UK industrial/electro/EBM/synth acts. In contrast to the economic climate (and perhaps partly fuelled by it?), if today was any kind of measure then you’d have to say the heath of the UK alternative electronic scene is doing alright. I don’t know if there are plans to repeat the efforts next year or if this was just a one-off but, either way, it was a great way to spend a sunny Saturday. 7/10
Live footage on dsoaudio's YouTube Channel