This was my tenth Infest (out of the fourteen that have taken place since 1998). I hadn't been to the previous two on account of the line ups comprising either bands I am overly familiar with or was a mixture of acts I'm already not a fan of. Not only did this year's line up look strong across the board, but there were plenty of names in there that I had never seen live before. A good number too that I didn't know well at all. On paper then, the ideal Infest.
Day 1 - Friday 24th
Kicking off the three-day proceedings is in many ways an unenviable slot to take on. On the the other hand, it's also a terrific platform for rising acts. The choice of orange-clad synthpop two-piece Spacebuoy was clever. Having only seen them for the first time at the BASII festival in May, their quirky stage delivery was just the kind of leftfield, attention-grabber you want to get a festival quickly up and running. Lead vocalist Howard Moth ensures that, once seen, Spacebuoy should not easily be forgotten. Some singers use striking a pose, 'expressive' dancing and inter-song banter as a distraction tactic. Not necessary here - what you get is all part of the package. Theirs is a quality brand of synthpop, coming from men rather than boys, meaning there's a decent amount of perspective, a touch of irony, as well as a healthy respect for their forebares resulting in very distinctive rather than derivative songs.
Having gotten to know their stuff a bit more since first hearing them earlier in the year, without a doubt, the most exciting aspect of their Infest set was the first public airing of a new song - Breathe. An evolution in style from their debut release (the EP Fashionista), it is an unexpected and fascinating development. Possibly their lowest BPM song to date (they have a tendency to be on the hi-BPM side!) it's also a touch darker, has superb chord changes and progression. A totally impressive and mature piece of songwriting. Moth's voice on this track suddenly struck me as sounding remarkably like Mark Hollis from Talk Talk. Breathe might surprise some of their early adopted fans, but for me demonstrates remarkable added potential for their debut album due next year - which has instantly been elevated from 'of interest' to 'must hear'. When the real world outside is so grim, we all need a bit of brightness in our lives. Like the phone adverts used to say: 'The future's bright. The future is orange'. Who knows, perhaps the future belongs to Spacebuoy?
Spacebuoy setlist: Deliverance, The Fear, Velveteen, Breathe, Desire and Vision, The Look To Die For, Venom
[Photos L-R: Spacebuoy, Dirty K, Necro Facility, Klinik]
Dirty K have steadily made a modest reputation for themselves with four self-released albums blending rhythmic and power noise. Earlier this year, German label Hands (widely seen as the art house contemporary industrial label on the planet) thought what Dirty K were up to was so good that they signed them. That's no mean feat for any band. For an English band to be taken up by the Germans is more like a miracle. So although not much of a power noise fan, the expectations for Dirty K were already raised significantly than if they'd self released all their materials (such is the burden of recognition by your peers!). Whilst I like a lot of rhythmic noise, there are far few pure power noise acts I can listen to at length and hear something special in. Moreover, knowing there are not that many Hands label artists I can say I actually 'like' my expectations were not high. I'm not one for getting anal about genres but, in the case of Dirty K, I can say it was down to their loudness being a blend of rhythmic (like) with power (less like) noise that made them way more palatable that I anticipated. Dirty K were very dirty indeed.
Dirty K setlist: Nasturtium (2012 version), Impulse (by E.I.D. Dirty K remix), Torrent of Fury (Final), Demon To Some (5am Racket), Cataclysm, Something Dark
Necro Facility were nothing more than a name before today. Out of the sixteen bands appearing I'd never seen eleven live before. Indeed, until the week before the festival when I was researching the acts online, I'd never even heard most of them. Which, to me, is a great position to be in when you're in such safe editorial hands as the Infest Crew. And what exactly is in a name? Necro Facility - OK so I should find them in the 'Industrial' section of the festival programme right? No, they were to be found in the 'Synthpop' section which, to the uninitiated, seemed odd - trying to square a name like that witht he label 'synthpop'. Until you understand a little of their history. You see, it seems they started life as an industrial band but having become disillusioned with the industrial scene thought they'd spice the scene up a little. They did this by switching tact and fusing their industrial past with a fondness for synthpop for their second album Wintermute released last year.
Sounds like marketing hype but, on hearing them, I've gotta say there is substance to the words. I've never heard such an astonishing combination before. There was virtually no live instrumentation to speak of but that hardly detracted from the impact. It was still an incredibly powerful set. They're both good-looking, had energy to spare, and come the end of their set there were probably many in the audience who would have been happy to take them up on their request to be taken out on an old fashioned English pub crawl. Some songs focus heavily on one side, others blend the two, to occasionally disorientating effect. Not sure why they needed to keep calling the audience 'fuckers' all the the time though. Must be a hang over from those angry early years. It isn't until you actually hear a set that has an almost schizophrenic personality that you realise there are few bands doing precisely what Necro Facility are right now. Seems I've some catching up to do.
Necro Facility setlist: You Want It, Explode, Cuts, Ignite, Do You Feel The Same?, Fall Apart, All That You Take, Supposed, Skrik
The Klinik, or just plain Klinik if you prefer, are a band that I've never actually sat down and listened to an album by all the way through. Shocking really. All the more shocking now that I've heard them live for an hour and realise what I've been missing out on all these years. Started by Marc Verhaeghen way back in 1981, this was not only their first appearance at Infest but their UK debut no less. There can have been no better home for such a landmark event. Aside from Vergaeghen being the only constant, the line-up of Klinik has changed repeatedly down the decades. Dirk Ivens has been the second longest member and has himself appeared at the festival in years past, as Absolute Body Control in 2011, Sonar in 2002 and 2011 and Dive in 2001. Not having a great deal of knowledge about any of those I managed to keep expectations in check but knew of all his projects it is The Klinik that is most often held in the highest regard. They even turned up in their legendary gauze head wraps and black leather trench coats. Surely we were in for a treat?
Coming from the minimal, coldwave, industrial techno space, they didn't need to resort to cheap tactics such as cranking up the volume to make your ears bleed. Klinik do not need to do that to make an impact as they have a full understanding, appreciation of the constructional approach to composition of electronic music that weaves together original sound creation, efficient (and therefore minimalist) use of recording tracks. There is little to no personal ego involved here, but personal principles are obviously being applied. The result explains why Klinik have been an influence on countless other artists down the years, including Sunday headliner's Suicide Commando. Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. The best acts know when less is more. Klinik understand this impeccably. Combine that with a rare talent for musical creativity and it should be no surprise that Klinik are as revered as much as they are. They've earned it. In a word: brilliant.
The Klinik setlist: Plague, Murder, Walking With Shadows, Quiet In The Rooms, Hours And Hours, Mindswitch, Black Leather, Pain And Pleasure, Obsession, Sick In Your Mind, Moving Hands, Memories, In Your Room, Braindamage, Go Back
Day 2 - Saturday 25th
I have a fondness for System:FX's Deb and Steve Alton which was only re-enforced earlier this year when we discovered that not only had we had been to the same mountain top in Japan (no not Fuji), but had both succumed to document the fact by having our photographs taken next to a Hello Kitty monument that can be found there (!). I had hoped to spend time with them both during the weekend exchanging tales of travels in Japan. Unfortunately, we didn't as when they weren't performing their stomping set they appeared to spend much of the rest of the festival in the karaoke bar (a place you will not find me). As much as Spacebuoy were a more mainstream (but successful) start to day one, System:FX were an obvious audience choice, likely to be popular with many Infest regulars. And so it proved to be. If it's no-nonsense industrial EBM you want then look no further. What System:FX may lack in groundbreaking credentials is balanced by delivering precisely what a good number of the festival goers were clearly craving.
The band aired a three-piece line up (with Matt Powell handling keys, freeing up Steve to focus on pure guitar work). More than half their set was new material, some never performed before, and one (song three) that doesn't even yet have a fixed title. The only familiar tracks, FKD and Overdrive, both coming from their recent Overdrive EP. That's a brave step to take in front of a big festival crowd. None of which hampered them delivering their typically committed performance, with all the new material blending in perfectly with the familiar. Though if I were in the band I'm not sure I'd be able to relax whilst Deb literally rocks her digital drum kit back and forth whilst she is playing it. I thought it was going to tip over into the audience at times. Thankfully it didn't.
System:FX setlist: Stay In Your Homes (unreleased), Fire (unreleased), untitled, FKD, 21st Century (unreleased, first performance), Overdrive
[Photos L-R: System:FX, Suono, A Split-Second, XP8]
Suono are cut from similar cloth as SAM and [X]-Rx (who appeared at Infest in 2010). That is to say, thumping club basslines and beats crowned with anthemic melodies. There isn't much on that scene I've much time for and, having seen [X]-Rx at Infest before and being thoroughly unimpressed I'd marked Suono as an act that I could probably bail out on once I'd heard enough to write them up. Two youthful, well-groomed, Germans walked on stage and, true to form for their scene, stood behind a large table which presumably had some form of equipment on it. 'Presumably' as it was setup so that the audience couldn't see what it did contain. If anything. During their forty-five minute set, you could probably count the number of times their hands stopped waving for a moment and actually went down to touch whatever it was on their table. I overheard one of the crowd at the front saying "Have they even touched their synths?". Synths? If only!
Now, I'm not going to get all granddaddy about just how their sound was created. The band did say: "We are from Germany! This is our first time playing live in the UK" Interesting choice of words as, let's be honest, there was next to nothing being 'played' live during their entire set. This in itself isn't a deal-breaker for me. I fondly remember seeing 5-FX at Infest back in 2008 when there was no-one on stage playing anything just a bunch of Dr Who-like rubber monsters wobbling around the stage. But it was never presented as anything other than that (and they were amazing). If Suono just want to play their backing tracks, and pull some admittedly quite cool dance moves that's fine. As it happens, the music Suono delivered was far more engaging than I anticipated, meaning I hung around for their entire set. When you deconstruct the elements of their compositions I guess that shouldn't come as a surprise to me. I'm a sucker for a phat bassline, metronomic thumping beats and a well-crafted lead melody. And it was the latter that helps set Suono apart from their peers and the aforementioned. Unlikely though it is I will be purchasing a Suono release, I can readily see myself listening to a YouTube playlist whilst online, or catching them in supporting role in the future.
A Split-Second do proper, old school EBM and Belgian New Beat. Indeed, many credit them with having created the New Beat genre with their 1986 debut single Flesh. But their's is a glorious mixture of influences. Chuck a bit of punk, a bit of New York rock a la The Velvet Underground, and early Front 242 together and you'd get something close to A Split-Second. This was monumental, you could hear so many bands that followed in the path of A Split-Second in their sound, several of whom have played Infest in the past, so it seemed only appropriate that they had an opportunity to set the record straight by demonstrating that they were also one of the early key players on this scene. So that the kids today could hear, first hand, where some of the bands they listen to now got their inspiration from.
I wasn't even aware that A Split-Second were still going. These days the band is built around original frontman Marc Ickx (how cool is that name!?) who was joined on stage tonight by guitarist Djuro and keyboard player Roel Eysackers. When he wasn't singing, Ickx himself beat the hell out a digital drum kit with whatever came to hand - drum stricks, a leather trap, his knuckles. The percussion-heavy industrial EBM they produce strikes that very difficult balance of utilising rocking guitars and hard electronics. Ickx' vocals reminded me a lot of Dance or Die's Gary Wagner. This was a sensational show from start to finish. It was only when they'd finished that I realised just how fortunate I had been to be witness to seeing A Split-Second live. I sincerely hope it won't be the only time.
A Split-Second setlist: Megabite, Rigor Mortis, The Colosseum Crash, Cold War In The Brainbox, Baby Is A Mental Case, Close Combat, Firewalker, Vengeance C.O.D., Mambo Witch, Flesh, On Command, Bend My Body Armour
Italian duo XP8 could be forgiven for wanting to forget their entire appearance at Infest. And it all started so promisingly too. When the previously booked KMFDM had to pull out, the festival organisers reached out to the fans with a shortlist of bands asking for nominations of their preferred replacement. XP8 were the winners of that public vote. All they had to do, was turn up, play their set and they were guaranteed a popular reception. However, their two Apple Macbooks had other ideas and within minutes of starting their scheduled 45 minute set, the backing tracks began to collapse and fall apart. Bullet Hole and a live medley of Cuttin'n'Drinkin just about got out unscathed but it got progressively challenging for the boys on stage.
Marco Visconti and Marko Resurreccion had to point out the difficulties they were battling against, but soldiered on. However, come The Art of Revenge it was as if the hardware was mechanical rather than digital and all the cogs seized up preventing any further movement or sound. Reluctantly, they conceded defeat, apologising for the short set and technical failings. Nevertheless, the partisan crowd cheered their approval for what they did manage to get and there was more sympathy than hard feelings. XP8 are playing in the UK again before the end of the year when hopefully no such challenges will befall them. (So much for the bulletproof reliability of Macs eh?!).
XP8 actual setlist: Bullet
Burning Down, One True God (sort
XP8 intended setlist: Bullet Hole, Cuttin'n'Drinkin Live Medley, Burning Down, One True God, Wake Up!, Juggernaut + The God Particle Live Mix, Decadence, The Art of Revenge, Eins, Zwei, Drei, FUCK
[Photos L-R: Geistform, Solitary Experiments, Resist, Tenek]
Barcelona-based Rafael Martinez Espinosa's Geistform project shares the same Hands label home as Winterkälte and Dirty K. Espinosa is a solo operator so this was another laptop-based set putting out loud, rhythmic industrial noise. But, for me, Geistform has more layers than many of his bigger name scene counterparts. Less reliance upon the simple brutality of a barrage of speed, loudness, white noise and beats, there are other less-common elements helping to set his sound apart. Whilst not in my favourite acts list this year there was plenty to like about Geistform's set. Those who like their power noise may either find Espinosa's more broadly-influenced take on the genre a rewarding step into a broader landscape or will think he's messing with a basic formula too much. I think it works well.
Geistform setlist: Schrödinger's Cat, Radiacion, Atlas, Iskra, Antimatter, Tesla, Noharmonix, Hipercube, Cern
Solitary Experiments were one of the bands that made me decide to come this year. I've never been much of a fan (I don't mean that in a critical sense, just that I'd never gotten around to giving them a good hearing - hence why I was here today). I like the Kraftwerk-inspired look and their unusual approach to EBM that places equal emphasis on melody and vocals that are as untreated as they are processed. In an attempt at 'tuning myself in' to the unfamiliars during the week running up to the festival I was largely unmoved by what I heard, save for a well-crafted instrumental called Counterpart. Nevertheless, seeing as though they utilised many of the components other bands I like put to good purpose, I fully expected to enjoy my final hour of day two in their company.
What I'd not picked up before now was how 'futurepop' rather than EBM these guys sound. Lead vocalist Dennis Schober reminded me of Robert Enforcen from synthpoppers Elegant Machinery a couple of times. It caught me off-guard. Which would have all been fine, but I kept thinking of VNV Nation (which I definitely wasn't expecting). Too often, I couldn't understand why these guys are even labelled as EBM. There was little EBM in what I heard tonight. What I heard was fine and hearing vocals in which you could readily follow the lyrics felt remarkably novel, but I ended the day with my first disappointment of the festival.
Solitary Experiments setlist: Stars (unreleased), Odyssey of Mind, Pale Candle Light, Homesick, Epiphany (unreleased), Delight, Déjà Vu, Immortal, A Rush of Ecstasy, The Dark Inside of Me, Trial and Error (unreleased), Point of View, Encore: Still Alive, Rise and Fall, Glory & HonourDay 3 - Sunday 26th
Reading about Resist in advance I thought I'd pretty much nailed what to expect. Boy, was I wrong. There's an awful lot more to these guys, who cite references including Nine Inch Nails, Gary Numan, Sisters of Mercy and Evanesence, than meets the eye. A combination of guitars, synths, drums and styles like synthpop, dark electro, rock and alternative. The only faint points of reference I could summon up were Sulpher and Das Flüff at their rockiest. A five-piece live, their various and varied influences somehow come together into a blended electronic indie rock sound that even as I type this sounds like it should be terrible but works incredibly well. They finished with an excellent arrangement of Nine Inch Nails' Right Where It Belongs proving that even when it comes to doing covers they avoid the obvious - and still succeed.
Resist setlist: Tattooed, Queen of Destruction, Voyeurism, Speak, Magnetic, Crush Me, Right Where It Belongs (Nine Inch Nails cover)
Tenek setlist (sort of): Losing Something, Higher Ground, Under My Skin, If I Should Fall, Elusive, Submission, Blinded By You, No Time For FightingThe sight of a Roland JP8000 was a safe indicator of the type of quality, fat, bass sounds we could expect from the next band. Of German band Blitzmaschine the programme had the following to say: "Few bands (if any) have been as successful resurrecting the bass und klang of Nitzer Ebb/Die Krupps/Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft as these guys." Problem is, we hear such comparisons and praise all the time - and rarely do they live up to the hype. Blitzmachine though seriously deliver on that tantilising promise. One of the finest old-school EBM outfits I've ever heard. Normally, bands performing in this genre tend to go with one of two extremes of the format - either the uber minimalist, simple beats and limited lyrics or a more complex, layered compositional approach that some die-hard fans tend to spurn. Lately, bands like Jäger 90 have fought to maintain the minimalist approach, but not since Nitzer Ebb's evolutionary sound (that steadily changed over a period of years) have I heard a band pull off such a convincing suite comprising both ends of the EBM spectrum. Of the former style, Useless Pain and Emotional Man pretty much step straight out of the textbook. A cover of DAF's Liebe auf den erstenblick slotted in seamlessly.
Blitzmaschine setlist: Do Not, Liebe auf den erstenblick, Gotcha, Blondes Mädchen, Vorioäts!, Useless Pain, Blute Jetzt, Emotional ManNext on stage we Absurd Minds from Germany (man, those Germans know how to do this stuff!). First up, two guys walked on to the back of the stage and took up positions behind a tall table. OK, so this was going to be another laptop act. Then another guy walked out taking up a position behind a synth and mike stand front right of the stage. Oh, that's unusual I thought. Not seen that kind of presentation before. Then a fourth guy steps out taking up lead vocal duties. OK, so it is a more conventional four-piece, but immediately they set themselves apart as different. I was now keener to hear their music more than when the first two guys stepped out. As the voice of Absurd Minds' Dresden electro take on a broadly synthpop baseline, Stefan Großmann has a lot going for him, spanning well the ability to hold a note for the more melodic numbers as well as the less taxing requirements of the darker, heavier songs. He sounded remarkably like Covenant's Eskil Simmonson on a couple of tracks. He also did a good job of whipping up the festival goers, throwing in shout outs for "London!" and "BradFORD!" in time with the beats. I love the way Germans pronounce Bradford.
Absurd Minds setlist: Intro + Eternal Witness, Countdown, Interconnectedness, Dependence, I'm Dying Alone, Deception, Tear It Down, Serve or Suffer, Hurt, Brainwash, Herzlos
Of all this year's acts, Winterkälte were unquestionably the one most revered that I was pretty sure I wasn't going to take to live. Another Hands label artist creating what they call drum n noise from laptops. It's another power noise project - not a genre I've ever much taken to, I think I managed to remain open-minded enough, ready for assimilation. I positioned myself in the photo pit hopefully to grab a few atmospheric shots of this two-piece in action. This was one of the rare occasions that I've actually been pleased that the 'Three photos, then leave the pit' rule existed. Just inches from the PA stack isn't the best way to look after your ears at any gig. When it is a Winterkälte set even less so. I was using earplugs whilst I grabbed my shots, but that's never a way to listen to a band live. I took them out and stepped back into the audience to soak up more of the real pummeling experience. It was a mixed bag. Some tracks were terrific, neatly maximising the use of the live percussion whilst producing something more discernably tuneful. Others were everything I don't really get about power noise. Either way, this was LOUD. I think Winterkälte's set might actually have killed some members of the audience.
Having released his first cassette-only album back in 1986, Suicide Commando can justifiably be called one of the elder statesmen of the industrial scene. He was instrumental in defining a whole new sub-genre: harsh electro. My fondness of and appreciation for Johan van Roy's project has waxed and waned during the many years I've been following him, but he always wins my admiration as an ambassador for the genre. If ever an act warranted use of an overused label like 'the definition of' then Suicide Commando are it when applied to harsh electro. I interviewed van Roy a couple of years ago, but we never actually met. We didn't always see eye to eye in our communications, so it felt right to finally meet him before he went on stage tonight. Having seen Suicide Commando live before and never really getting much out of more than a couple of numbers, I wasn't expecting too much from tonight's set. Expectations eh?
All the things I want from my Suicide Commando gigs I got tonight. The basic human need for beats and melodies working in synchronicity, so when a track like Love Breeds Suicide hits you, it works on more than just on the visceral level of glorious thumping beats but delivers those trademark, John Carpenter-esque high note melodies that Van Roy can pull out of the bag time and time again. Over the course of this entire set you really get a feel for the subtleties of his ideas and beliefs - something I don't often manage to take away. It was a pile-driving set drawing from way back in the catalogue right up to the next single Attention Whore. I suspect a good number of those leaping up and down were not thinking too much about what Van Roy is actually saying in his lyrics. But he speaks about them, us, everyone in society. My guard must have been lowered, and van Roy and his team on form as this turned out not only to be the best Suicide Commando gig I've been at but an ideal conclusion to the three day festival as a whole.
Suicide Commando setlist: Intro, Severed Head, Hate Me, God Is In The Rain [clubmix], The Perils of Indifference, Death Cures All Pain [suicide edit], Cause of Death: suicide [remix], Dein Herz, Meine Gier, Time [remix], Attention Whore, Love Breeds Suicide, Die Motherfucker Die, Bind, Torture, Kill, See You In Hell, Hellraiser (extract), Conspiracy For The Devil
In a year that has seen promoters struggle, big European festivals getting cancelled, and what you'd think would be safe bet gigs being postponed due to poor advance ticket sales, it is heartening to see Infest not only retaining its position as the torch bearer for the UK alternative electronic music scene, but doing so with a resolute commitment to envelope pushing. Indeed, the difficulties experienced by others are probably due in part, at least, to them playing it too safe, over familiarity with the acts that repeatedly turn up live in the UK.
Of course, this presents the classic Catch 22. If you risk putting on bands many won't know so well, or at all (but might just fall in love with), how do you generate enough ticket sales in advance to ensure you can still afford to put on the event? Ignoring the crowdfunding route, festivals offering traditional ticket sales (like Infest) are prepared to take any risk on the chin but minimise the downside with smart programming. This means all the Suicide Commando and Solitary Experiments fans you can probably count on are effectively underwriting bringing over bands like Winterkälte, Klinik and A Split-Second, often for their UK debuts. Though these acts may not generate the advance tickets sales their better-known counterparts will, chances are a good number of those drawn by the familiar will go away with a new-found excitement for the unfamiliar. Surely a key part of any festival worth its salt?
This was one of the strongest Infest festivals ever. And after fourteen of them, you've gotta hand it to the organisers for pulling off such an impressive feat. Easily onto our shortlist for the 2012 dsoaudio award for Best Gig. 9/10