InFest is an annual festival featuring a fusion of electronic, industrial and gothic acts. It's the usual routine - live bands, DJ sets, a sizable market selling clothes, CDs and more etc. This was the third year of InFest and I'd been to (and enjoyed) every one so far - so this year had something to live up to. I arrived in Bradford an hour and a half late with a bad headache. I quickly dropped my stuff of at my accommodation, changed and headed straight for the venue. Fortunately, the first band, Synapscape, weren't due on until 9.45pm. Unfortunately, they are a noise band and this wasn't gonna do my headache any good at all.
DAY 1 (Friday 25th)
Synapscape (from Germany) were one of four bands appearing at InFest who were making their UK debut. Their 45-minute slot kicked off the three day event in noisy style. Synapscape's grinding groove of scary, technoid, noisescapes and truly disturbing bass was an impactful way to begin the weekend. With back projections of wavering green soundwaves, they looked more like a couple of DJs knob twiddling than a band 'playing'.
Their punishing output conjuered up images of horrible atrocities and whilst not exactly the most danceable sound, did draw a modest crowd onto the dancefloor who were going for it as best as the music would allow. Many of those were obviously Synapscape enthusiasts delighted at getting the rare opportunity of seeing them live in the UK. Approaching the floor was a bit like getting closer to a conflict in a small European country. The white flashing lights that accompanied the white noise and beats were like the blinding blasts of explosions. Although I wasn't whipped up into a frenzy, I didn't feel alienated by Synapscape's aggressive terrorist sound. The beat programming was simple but very effective and their 45-minute set passed very quickly. And, miraculously, my headache had disappeared.
Prior to the event there were some who expressed their surprise (and disgust it must be said) that British hardcore gabba techno exponent Johnny Violent aka Ultraviolence had top billing over Synapscape. I've never been a fan of Ultraviolence in the past, but the performance tonight forced me to reconsider my stance. With the addition of female vocals, two young, female dancers and a guy from Leechwoman providing fountains of sparks courtesy of his angle-grinder, there was plenty on stage to catch your eye as well as your ear.
There were more discernable melodies and Mr Violent's cool Atari T-shirt (very similar to the one I wore on the Sunday) had already begun to win me over! The Ultraviolence sound had definitely moved on since I'd last seen them and the light-hearted side to Johnny's performances, songwriting and stage persona seemed to have been played down. A step in the right direction but still hardly my kind of thing. The crowd also proved that the promoters were correct in their choice of running order. Ultraviolence deserved billing over Synapscape as their show was more 'spectacular' and got far more people onto the dancefloor, but then that's the nature of what they do.
DAY 2 (Saturday 26th)
A rare thing are VoID CoNSTRUCT - a new UK industrial act. After a couple of pub gigs, this was the first major outing for Scott Walker's project and a nice way to kick start day two. The live presence consisted of Mr Walker singing and a cute girl stood behind a tower case PC and monitor. Therefore the live music consisted of... er.. well just a backing track actually. Still, I was keen to hear these newcomers whose debut album has just been released. The sound was another contemporary blending of techno and industrial influences and ought to have no trouble in finding a receptive audience, particularly in countries like Germany and Belgium.
Since the vocal was the only real live element, it was crucial that it was good. And thankfully it was. Although obviously a fan of the harder-edge vocal style popular with German and American industrial acts, Walker's was not too screeching and had enough harmony to hold my attention. Musically, there was an undercurrent of atmospheric sounds and noises, which ensured that VoID CoNSTRUCT didn't have to rely totally upon power to get their message across. Cute though the girl at the back surely was, it was difficult to see what role she had - just stopping and starting Cubase maybe? It can be difficult to recreate electronic music live and it can certainly be difficult to make it visually interesting, but provided the music delivers then this becomes less important. VoID CoNSTRUCT aren't there yet on either front but its a promising start.
A three-piece (two keyboards and vocalist), Sweden's Project X have recently made a mark on the electro/industrial scene in Europe with their forceful live act and a well-received debut album (Forbidden Desires) and singles and an EP. These three fresh-faced lads deliver melodic EBM with the emphasis on sweeping synth lines and high-impact but not OTT drum programming. Vocals are of the common or garden gravel variety and for me detracted from the otherwise good effect. Project X recently toured in the UK as support to Inertia and so they were probably well-used to the UK's often less-than dynamic audiences. But still, the modest crowd assembled for them seemed pretty appreciative. The sort of act that probably sound better on CD where the technical benefits of a good production can polish up some of the rough vocals and help let the backing synths come across more cleanly.
Although restricted to keyboards live, this didn't stop them putting a lot of energy into their stage performance. From left to right you had the cool dude, who stood at his synths and didn't move throughout the entire set. In the middle was the vocalist who was well into it - bounding up and down. And finally the second synth player who proved once and for all that watching someone play keyboards need never be boring. There is a large fanbase for the sound that bands like Project X put out and I see no reason for them not to make more substantial in-roads into the international EBM scene once their second album finally appears.
I skipped Intra-venus (having seen them before) in favour of a meal outside, but made sure I returned in time for MS Gentur. This was UK debut number two and another noise act from Germany. MS Gentur was just one guy and his box of tricks. Looked like a Korg MS20 was at the centre of his set up - this would account for the odd squeaking and bleeping sounds that seeped through the wall of extreme noise. Much of what was said above for Synapscape could apply here but this wasn't as convincing; not sure why, but the effect was just not the same. After doing my duty at the front to get a couple of snapshots and stopping on the dancefloor to take in a handful of songs, I decided to listen to the remainder of the set within walking distance of the bar and seated in a relatively comfortable chair.
Dull pop goth rock. Chart-topping, major-label, Top of The Pops wannabes. Despite three guitarists (which was a novelty at an event like this) Manuskript were as engaging as watching paint dry.
Germany-based but originally from the UK, VNV Nation are a two-piece whose stirring brand of anthemic/epic/danceable/filmic (delete as applicable) EBM has quickly earned them a wide following across the globe. They were then perhaps deserving of the top slot for Day 2 of InFest 2000. Having seen them several times before, I thought I knew the score and felt I could switch of most of my journalistic sensors in favour of some good old stomping. But vocalist Ronan Harris and keyboard player Mark Jackson had other ideas. Although the set was based around the last two (and best) albums, Praise The Fallen (1998) and Empires (1999) most tracks had undergone some substantial remix treatment.
Overcoming some initial technical problems (which by now were beginning to become a feature of this festival) with professional ease, they soon had the biggest audience so far leaping and cheering their way into the night. Reworked versions went beyond the normal extra bleeps and synth lines, and even tempos were changed creating great new versions of some fan favourites. Everyone on the floor was dancing - their energy something that Harris thrives on live and is not afraid to admonish audiences for lacking. Indeed at one point he told them "I wanna see you move like your European counterparts". Both Harris and Jackson seemed to be enjoying themselves before the dreaded technical difficulties imposed upon proceedings again. Nevertheless, Harris managed to keep his anger under control and used the opportunity to converse with the audience. One of the delays was long enough that the conversation drifted into the relative merits of southern and northern football teams!
Finally back on track, VNV Nation managed to overcome the many hitches and launch into a pumping version of Solitary. Apart from the structural alterations to many of the songs, the other most noticeable change was in Ronan Harris' vocals. Although adequate live, they've never been up to the standard of the albums and that has led to some occasional, minor disappointments. But here there was a marked improvement. Notes were not only hit more accurately but they were held stronger than in the past. Whatever the reason, the results were impressive and the songs sounded better live than ever before. It is testament to the standard of VNV Nation's song writing that hearing them perform live is like listening to an act that has been going for decades, who have the advantage of being able to choose from an extensive back catalogue. It's like listening to a string of hits, when in fact most of the set is made up of regular album-only tracks from the last two releases. An incredible feat - not a single weak track amongst them. VNV Nation deserve the praise they so readily receive, because the best just keeps getting better.
DAY 3 (Sunday 27th)
This UK outfit are already well documented on this website so I'll keep my comments brief. Like VNV Nation before them, man(i)kin have moved their live sound forward. Many songs have been significantly overhauled and in all instances the changes are for the better. There was new material too. Sacrament which has been performed live a couple of times before was reworked further and improved. A brand new song, Brutal Choice debuted and it too indicated a progression in style. The third new track was an unexpected but respectable cover of Depeche Mode's Question of Time. Having covered this myself in a band before I was intrigued by the approach man(i)kin took with theirs. Heavy, slightly plodding, good vocals - it worked well enough.
The live version of Skin from their debut album sem(i)nal continues to bear little resemblance to the original album version - which is just as well - for me it wasn't a highlight, but now it adds an acidic techno buzz to their set. Like many others at the festival, man(i)kin were clearly struggling against technical problems. Some of which appeared to be monitor problems for the band - them not being able to hear themselves fully. This appeared to be the reason that the live drumming (they have two drummers either side of the stage) went out of sync with the backing track and detracted from several songs. Shame, as otherwise it was a good performance and strong set. The man(i)kin sound has certainly moved on. It's more confident and convincing as a result. I look forward eagerly to their next release.
UK debut number 3, this time for the Belgian Imminent (formerly Imminent Starvation). Imminent had joined forces with festival openers Synapscape earlier this year for the Ant-Zen album release Screenwalking. By now I'd spotted a definite noise tip to this year's festival and whilst the style isn't something I'm mad over, I give full credit to the organisers for giving these bands their first chance of exposure in the UK. Better this than some mindless, derivative drivel. I'd been out for a meal (again) and was returning to the venue and heard that Imminent had already started. As I got closer, I could feel the air around me vibrating. Imminent certainly put the other noise acts into perspective.
Another one-man-band, Olivier Moreau was huddled over his (guessing here) sampler and mixer. Although the small audience reflected the level of popularity of noise at the festival, those that were brave enough the face the sound were very enthusiastic - confirming that a lack of stage presence means nothing when the music is right. I noticed Martin and Ian of man(i)kin (who'd just preceded Imminent) right at the very front soaking it all up. This was all the proof anyone needed that noise has an important role to play in the contemporary electronic scene and Imminent's hellish, high BPM assaults proved that the noise genre is alive and kicking without restraint. After a one-song encore their 45 minutes were up. The fans cheered their man off stage and sought sustenance at the bar - big smiles on their faces.
In Strict Confidence
I'd skipped Dream Disciples (thank goodness from what I heard) and returned to the main hall for the final act (and UK debut number 4) of this year's festival. Hailing from Germany, In Strict Confidence were yet another band completely new to me, exponents of EBM in the main. An all-male three piece on stage, singer flanked by two synth players, ISC looked like your typical EBM outfit. The sound was in the style of Front 242, Front Line Assembly and others, but the opener combined female choir voices and hefty drum 'n' bass rhythms which was not only novel but convincing. Songs were pretty strong, mostly with conventional verse/chorus/verse structures. Vocals were hard but not overly aggressive. The performance was polished and professional.
ISC have recently signed to the new German label Bloodline and their album Love Kills! has generated some very positive reviews. Whilst they'd be hard pushed to claim much original territory, In Strict Confidence are nevertheless very good at what they do. Unfortunately, for those in the InFest audience who were enjoying ISC (which was quite a few if the numbers on the dancefloor were an indicator), the lead singer was rapidly loosing his voice. After a very brief rest, they returned to the stage to deliver a one-song encore, but it must have been with some disappointment that the vocalist had to admit defeat. His apology in a badly strained voice over the PA was barely audible. They had to cut their losses and leave the stage at least ten minutes earlier than planned, which was a shame. Not an ideal conclusion to a three-day festival, but the audience showed their appreciation - hopefully making ISC's debut in the UK less painful that it might have been.
How was it for you?
And so another InFest was over. The crowd numbers seemed similar to previous years - not noticeably up at least ,which was a shame because this was, in many ways, the best InFest to date. And I say that not because I enjoyed more bands - because I probably didn't. But the organisers have finally managed to make InFest a truly international event with some relatively big names from overseas making rare live appearances in the UK. Two other acts on the thirteen band billing that didn't make this review were the goth-orientated Intra-Venus and Libitina. I'm sure the organisers and staff (all volunteers by the way) will long be discussing the numerous technical problems that plagued bands over the three days. But, apart from a couple of extreme cases (the VNV set for one) this didn't unduly affect the audience's appreciation of the music.
In contrast to the elitist snobbery that often plagues the London industrial/electronic/gothic scene, this Bradford-based event lived up to the cliches of down-to-earth Northerners once again. There's always a very friendly, relaxed atmosphere at InFest and never a sign of any trouble. Most band members are happy to sit down amid fans and have a drink and a chat as much as anyone else, and I caught up with several of the bands, some old friends and made new ones too. I can say only one thing to those who've never attended InFest - make sure you do next year. If you don't you'll be missing out on the UK's premier electronic/industrial/gothic fusion event of the year.
Official InFest website: http://www.infest.org.uk