Another Sunday, another impressive line-up (and number of acts), another reasonable ticket price, therefore another essential day out. It could only be another Flag promotions event and it was. Elektrofest originally seemed aimed at the electronic pop side of things. Germany's De/Vision were in the running at one point and Sigue Sigue Sputnik appeared on the billing fairly late in the day. So between conception and delivery, Elektrofest mutated slightly into a broader overview of the current European electronic music scene, but at just £11 a ticket for nine bands no-one seemed to be complaining.
Already on stage by the time the late opening doors finally gave way, The Nine, like many of the bands on the billing, were a new live experience for me. Having heard good things about this two-piece from England and having read a favourable review of their stuff, I was expecting a hard-edged Depeche Mode type sound and that's just what The Nine delivered. But before you groan and skip to the next band - I want to clarify that. The Nine are not just another Depeche Mode-wannabe outfit (see Mesh below) but a successful blend of occasional Mode-isms with an industrial attitude that leads to a whole new style of music.
A talented lead vocalist, some sturdy melody-driven song writing backed by heavy percussion and a very professional delivery meant that The Nine made a good impression pretty rapidly. Plenty of variety in the song-writing and vocal approach (including one track where the keyboard player and lead vocalist swapped roles) ensured my undivided attention just moments after arriving. Their half-hour set was entertaining from start to finish - not a dud song amongst them. The clever combination of mellow lead and harder backing styles manages to set them apart from the profusion of electronic pop-oriented seeping out of Europe in recent years. The Nine show all the signs of maturing into a distinctive new band. A great way to start the day and certainly one to watch in future. And, in the meantime, one to catch live at the first opportunity you get.
The first time I saw The Borg (at last year's Black Celebration) they were the hapless victims of dodgy equipment and an equally dodgy PA. Fortunately, there were no such problems this time around. Opening their set with the voiceover from the beginning of cult children's TV programme Camberwick Green ("Here is a box, a musical box, wound up and ready to play..."!), The Borg took to the stage and discharged their brand of 80s-inspired dark electro upon the gathered crowds. Formerly a Gary Numan tribute band, this (second) two-piece concentrated here on the new material written for their debut album expected anytime soon. It was certainly an improvement over a set based around cover versions but I found the songs to be too simplistic and retro for their own good; I thought that the 'walking' basslines of most of their tracks died out with Bronski Beat years ago - but apparently not. Nevertheless, what they might lack in creativity is made up for in enthusiasm, and the lead singer with his bald head and goatee beard is undeniably cool. He certainly managed to pull off wearing the sunglasses better than the singer of The Nine. Still, if you've no reservations about retro sounding stuff then it is worth placing yourself in the path of The Borg when next they pass your way.
Deity is a track that often finishes a man(i)kin set so it was a surprise to hear them open with this full-on techno industrial piece. Clearly deciding to concentrate on their heavier/darker side for this gig, this impressive English band gave another solid performance. (One wonders how they would go down in the States? They would provide the perfect support act for Inertia next time they play out there.) Although the more mellow track (and to my mind one of their very best) Faithless put in another terrific appearance, some other more vocally demanding tracks exposed the limitations of their lead vocalist; but this didn't detract significantly from the overall impressive effect. Frontman Seth has definately matured in all other respects and his on-stage persona came across well. It was difficult to tell if he was really getting carried away by the music or if he was acting it all up. The percussion (partially provided by two live drummers and adding a much-needed sense of variety to the on-stage appearances) seemed to have undergone some slight changes - but perhaps that just the novelty of it being played live - they could improvise. The remixed version of Skin that brought their performance to an all-too-quick end was almost unrecognisable but superb and left the audience shouting for more but, alas, time did not permit it. Developing nicely, man(i)kin remain high in the DSO list of recommended new artists.
Angels & Agony
"Hello London" called out the singer of Dutch band Angels & Agony. With a synth player and guitarist positioned either side of the vocalist, A&A gave a perfect overview of the current European industrial/electro crossover sound - complete with the silver body make-up. The quiet backing and percussion gave more emphasis to the live keyboards, guitar and occasionally Pete Murphy-esque voice. Backing vocals providing a harmonising effect with the live voice was a clever touch and helped mask any shortcomings there may have been. However, in providing in one package the perfect summation of the European scene, Angels & Agony had difficulty sounding distinctive in any way. Not bad in any sense just nothing special, but it was good to see them in England and I'm sure they'll have their share of ardent fans.
I was at the bar when Intra-venus came on, deep in conversation with a friend. But nothing I heard tempted me away from the bar. A mish-mash of different styles failing to blend convincingly was all I could really make out. Only the last song that ripped of the KLF to a large extent (so much so that I thought for a moment that it was a cover) was distinctive. I don't feel I missed anything by not watching Intra-venus.
Hexedene on the other hand I like. I did miss a couple of songs from the beginning of their set but the first female vocalist in the shape of Alexys B from Inertia was a welcome change of style. So too was the music which perhaps more than any other act (save headliners Sigue Sigue Sputnik) went off into otherwise uncharted territory on the day. Project creator and songwriter Jonathan Sharp plays guitar live and apart from throwing his long hairstyle around adopts a fairly low-profile role. This isn't a problem when you have another Inertia member (lead singer) Reza in your line up. Trust me, one Reza is all any band could desire. By the end of Hexedene's run he was going berserk - rocking his synths back and forth as he usually does. So much so this time that he knocked one synth off its stand and just managed to grab it before it hit the stage. He then grabbed the heavy, analogue-looking beast under one arm and continued to play! Hexedene's chilled dance rythmns and beats follow the lead vocals - pop style, and though relying on fewer BPMs than many of their predecessors on the day, the finished article was more thoughtful and imaginative than most.
Undoubtedly the surprise and THE stars of the entire event, were Germany's Evil's Toy. Bringing some melody back into the industrial dance sound, and with hard (but not harsh) vocals I couldn't help hearing a touch of man(i)kin about them - an influence on the younger English band perhaps? Much of Evil's Toy's current sound is perfect club fare - pumping beats, strong hook lines, sing-a-long vocal lines and plenty of skill and imagination. Captivating performers too - quickly whipping up the audience into a frenzy of cheers and whistles between each entry. Angels Only was a highlight and the lead singer called out in true David Gahan fashion: "Let's see those hands!" and the heaving throng gladly obliged. I'm not sure how long their set was as I quickly lost track of things and stopped taking notes so that I could get on with dancing.
Evil's Toy seemed to be enjoying themselves - the lead singer jumping up and down and bounding across the stage and the audience were lapping up every minute. Their sequencer-driven songs provided plenty of variety and tempos varied enough to keep you guessing what would come next. Female vocals guested on one track and before I knew it they were apologising for reaching the end of their set. They managed to squeeze in another song - a mid-tempo number with a nice lead piano and melodic string backing. Then, all to soon, it really was all over. Evil's Toy were a massive hit on the day and I'm sure 90% of the audience would agree with me when I say they deserve to headline their own event next time they play here. They'd got the crowd into the perfect gig mood and created a charged and buzzing atmosphere. I look forward to seeing them again and, in the meantime, will pop along to my favourite music shop to pick up a CD or two.
Once again, the lightweight synth-pop Mesh had the difficult task of following a class act in the form of Evil's Toy. And again, in my eyes, they failed miserably. No band whose singer wears baseball cap backwards is going to get much respect from me. 80s-obssessed pap that badly needs to move on.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik
But if I thought Mesh were dull then my indifference to them pales into insignificance in light of my hatred for Sigue Sigue Sputnik. They were crap in the 80s and (despite my honestly open mind - believe me - otherwise I wouldn't have stopped this long) they are equally crap today. I listened to the first song and thought "That's surprising, they're playing their only hit first". I thought they'd save that for the encore... but then I realised it wasn't Love Missile F1-11 it just sounded exactly the SAME. Jesus, I'll be fucked if I was gonna listen to an hour of this shite. I grabbed my coat and headed for home. But I'm not sure which disturbed me most - having to listen to five minutes of SSS, or watching a large portion of the audience lap it up - worrying in the extreme.
As an event...
...it was patchy to say the least. Having said that, I still had a great time because the good stuff easily outshone the bad and it introduced some more acts to the UK live scene, and that has to be a good thing. Besides, if it was all great I'd never get the chance to get to the bar. Each band that played should find its niche in future Flag-promoted events but, please, no more SSShite.