"German industrial rock terrorist" was the description that appeared on the T-shirt worn by krautrock legends Faust's drummer. German industrial rock terrorism is pretty much what they used against the packed Royal Festival Hall on this, the first night of a UK tour of their score for FW Murnau's silent classic Nosferatu. I used the term 'score' loosely as Faust themselves seem to have interpreted the label as more of a convenience than anything else, as they played for fifteen minutes before the film started and continued to play for a short period once it had finished.
This wasn't so much a score being performed as live accompaniment to the film being projected, this was more Faust sprawling across the Festival Hall stage with their theatrical set (sheet metal, two drum kits, assorted instruments, lots of fake cobwebs, and multi-coloured lighting) with Murnau's seminal work of art squeezed somewhere behind all this. This was a Faust concert foremost and a screening second. The use of a German print (so all the intertitles were in German) and the fact that the lower section of the screen was obscured by the equipment towering on stage also proved that the band weren't too concerned about Murnau's film. The drummer chose to recite (again, in German) some of the on-screen captions through the PA but he didn't do this for every one and as the film progressed he offered less and less narration. His selection seemed random and didn't aid comprehension for those who couldn't read or speak German and had not seen the film before. Of course, it wouldn't have helped much if you could speak German since it merely repeated or emphasised what was already on screen. By the time the fireworks, metal banging, flash bombs and two angle grinders spraying sparks had all done their bit you were left in no doubt where your attention was expected to be. This culminated in a metal 'bench' at the front of the stage being set on fire as the drummer clanged away at it with two large pieces of metal piping.
Curiously enough, I'd been to see In The Nursery three days previously perform their new score to another silent film. It was impossible not to compare the events and the approaches couldn't have been more different, with ITN seated in the dark, to one side of the stage; movingly audible but virtually invisible. Faust's angle on the other hand was to set about creating a terrifying sound to dramatically drag the silent film out of its comfy position as an admittedly still eerie but inescapably 'period' piece of ancient (in cinematic terms) film making. In doing so they created an unnerving and unsettling soundscape that itself adds a new terrifying dimension to Nosferatu. Or, more correctly, to watching Nosferatu.
I had seen the film more than once before but never has it scared me. What Faust have cleverly done is to give modern audiences the chance to experience, to 'feel', Murnau's film they way audiences did in 1921. They were horrified by the film. Now, thanks to Faust's ingenious (if excessive) approach, modern audiences can watch Nosferatu as a horror film and be horrified at the same time. The somewhat relentless structure (there were no periods of silence throughout the performance) and clearly little attempt at 'synching' the score to the images on screen meant that the more serene moments in the film suffered at their hands. Nevertheless, as a bravura piece of performance I cannot say I've seen anything else quite like it.