I could not believe my ears when I heard that electronic legend Fad Gadget was to return. After an all-too-brief but ground breaking career on the fledgling Mute label, the Gadget persona was tucked away in some dark cupboard so that the man behind the chameleon Mr Punch figure could try his hand at a career in urban folk as Frank Tovey. It was with a mixture of irripressible excitement and fear of extreme disappointment that I queued longer than I expected (being on the guest list) dodging the Easter weekend rain.
Finally getting through the doors of the recently rechristened Astoria (LA) 2 almost one hour after regular punters had been gradually flowing in meant that I only caught the last song and a half by newcomers Adfinem. The last track with its catchy chart pop and easy-to-sing-along-to "Set me free" chorus was so repetitive and commercial that it wouldn't sound out of place on Top of The Pops. When they finished, I was almost expecting to hear a voice say "That's Adfinem, at 27 in this week's charts". From what little I heard, I can only think that is exactly where they'd love to be.
After an appearance at last year's Infest festival, VoID CoNSTRUCT have signed to the new Cryonica label. Their debut album Estramay Aleph has just been released. VC reflect an interesting combination of influences resulting in hard industrial dance and harsh vocals that are infiltrated by almost haujobb-like swirling synth pads. This sound only really works well live very loud - that's the only way you get to hear the subtleties. That's very important to VC's sound as it is in those moments of light relief emerging from the background that VoID CoNSTRUCT's defining touch lies. It isn't yet given the chance to fully shine but it is still early days.
Through a process of gradual exposure, I can feel myself becoming increasingly intrigued by Mechanical Cabaret. On the face of it, you want to dismiss them as goths on acid, but given the chance they just won't let you off that easy. A 'band' that originally had a pathetic stage presence, singer/songwriter Roi has developed a distinctive song writing style that's part sleazy dark camp cabaret act and part punk Pet Shop Boys. His theatrical stage prowling stopping only to purposely pose for photographers gathered at his feet. Images of shit-smeared toilets, blood-stained knickers and kitchen sink bondage are the perfect graphic accompaniment to their 80s electro-pop inspired songs of domestic traumas. "She'll bite your dick off and throw it out the door" sings the glamour puss front man with only a hint of humour. Meanwhile, Matrix punk Tobi whacks intermittently on his low-fi drum synth pad. On paper it would probably fail miserably. Yet on stage it improves each time I catch them. I've never seen Soft Cell perform live, but I imagine it wouldn't be a million miles away from this. Somehow, though, I can't imagine even Mark Almond would have the balls to be as honest as Roi is, and that's why Mechanical Cabaret deserve to succeed.
It's techno Jim, but not as we know it. That's because its Greenhaus, and the temporary cable city they erect before each gig to connect together a Heath Robinson array of electronic boxes clearly isn't just for visual impact but powers a unique electronic sound. As Steve, Pug and Frankie take to the stage (with the leather overcoat-wearing Pug towering over his synth like pale-skinned Samuel Jackson in the remake of Shaft) I see another bring a tower PC onto the stage and spend five minutes getting it going. I turn to my pal: "God, I wouldn't want to risk using PC live if I could help it" I say with doom in my voice. Yards and yards of gaffer tape just about hold everything in place and extension leads dangle dangerously from the back of keyboards, as this English three piece release their dark beats on an eager crowd. But, oh dear, the guy with the PC looks troubled - clearly not all is well with his techno-logy. Frankie runs back to help out, but after a few moments fiddling the two reluctantly conceded that it is indeed well and truly... not going to work. I feel slightly guilty, as though my comments had cursed Greenhaus. (I discovered later that the computer was supposed to be the source not of additional sounds as I had assumed but of images to be projected in time to the thumping drums and basslines.)
The band's recent tentative forays into incorporating live guitar are tonight more bold. The results pay off. The funky wah wah space rock riffs take Greenhaus onto a higher plane of existence. I often find myself thinking (and saying in reviews) that bands I hear live are likely to sound better on CD. With Greenhaus the opposite is true. I don't expect any amount of money or expertise will ever capture the essence of their live sets, which is all the more reason to check them out in the flesh. Hooky is the only real weak point - largely because it is too obvious, predictable and retro for its own good. Compared with the creativity behind tracks like Submerger and Transmute it simply sounds lame. Drop it guys - it does you a disservice, you'd be better of without it. Otherwise, their version of Joy Division's Transmission manages to convince that if Ian Curtis and co. had formed in the late 1990s then this is exactly what they'd have sounded like. I can think of several labels that ought to be interested in Greenhaus. I trust the Gods of decency will ensure it isn't too long before someone sees sense and signs these lads up so that more get the chance to benefit from their output.
Icon of Coil
Even though Icon of Coil are hotly tipped to be the next big thing out of Norway (their debut album Serenity is the Devil on Tatra receiving the kind of reviews most bands would pay a decent bribe for), I found them strangely unaffecting. Having heard choice excerpts of their work on various compilations and at clubs I thought I'd find myself preparing for another whirlwind love affair that would see me buying everything in their discography to date. But no such conversion occurred. That their singer reminded me of the frequently naked NAME from the Armstrong and Miller Show was slightly off putting. Singer NAME was incredibly energetic, but after just two songs he was almost completely out of breath. He did a pretty good job of transferring some of his energy into the audience with his screams of "Come on!" but at this point in the evening my hunger got the better of me and I retired to the cafe upstairs and took the rest of Icon of Coil's set as muted background music. This was their UK debut. They are due to appear at this year's Infest festival in Bradford in August. I shall endeavour to be more attentive next time as much for my own benefit as yours dear reader.
In Strict Confidence
Interesting to see In Strict Confidence having the main support slot tonight - even within the confines of the diminutive UK industrial scene they aren't that well-established. I first caught them at last year's Infest and largely perceived their output as a relatively straightforward brand of Front 242-inspired industrial/EBM. Tonight, however, it seemed more like industrial drum 'n' bass from Hell with the singer having taken singer lessons from Al Jourgenson of Ministry fame - but unable to offer up any equivalent of Jourgenson's character in the process. As so often happens with industrial bands then, the vocals remain the weakest link in an otherwise quite good combo. More thought and effort needs to go into the pain-inducing vocal delivery before they'll get much more of my attention. Ian Curtis proved once and for all that you don't need to be able to sing well to be a captivating singer.
It was some measure of Fad Gadget's pulling power that without trying I heard one woman say she'd come all the way from New York just for this gig, and the guy next to me say he'd come over from Belgium especially for tonight. A staggering 18 years had passed since Fad Gadget had last played live in 1983. So, just how does a legend of electronica live up to such a influential past? Simple, he does it every bit as good now, that's how. Entering the stage wearing a white tunic and a maniacally straight face, Gadget quickly proved he was back with a vengeance.
The passing years had not noticeably affected either Tovey's suspiciously youthful appearance nor his ability to entertain. Jerking between the extremes of Caligali sonambulist one second and Iggy Pop's hyperactive younger brother the next, Gadget appeared to have lost little of his famous live energy in the intervening years. Fad Gadget was a persona that was as likely to cause Tovey to self-destruct as much as anything. Twenty years ago Gadget regularly disfigured himself through his risky on-stage antics. Although there was no real blood spilt on stage tonight, it's clear that Tovey went home nursing wounds. Plucking out body hair - either from his armpits, head or from between his legs was how it started. Leaning into the rapturous audience, he picked up an electric drill as the opening notes of the classic Ricky's Hand filled the Mean Fiddler. Pulling out his hand from his tunic he proceeded to drill into the hand, spraying blood everywhere. Ripping out the false hand and impaling it on the end of the drill bit, it spun around flicking the fake blood into our faces. A joke about it being real blood twenty years ago might have suggested that Gadget's return to performing was less then authentic. But far from it. This was as genuine as it gets. Tovey put everything into his performance and not one person in the audience could have any reason to feel short changed. This wasn't Tovey playing at being Fad Gadget, this was Fad Gadget.
The hour-and-fifteen-minute set was a tour around the hits and more. Collapsing New People was terrific, Coitus Interruptus the most reworked, Back To Nature saw Gadget transform into a screaming monkey, climbing high into the rafters atop the PA system. Perhaps the most notable omission was For Whom the Bell Tolls particularly since Luxury, the only strictly non-Gadget track, did get an airing. When Gadget returned to play an encore and asked for any requests, I was delighted that he took me up on my suggestion of Insecticide. He apologised for the lack of rehearsal afterwards but I wasn't complaining any. The sounds were authentic, the drumming spot on and the two live guitars delivered perfect support. Gadget's voice was as strong as ever further prompting thoughts that perhaps he'd spent the last 18 years in an ageing suspension unit. The presence of Depeche Mode's Andy Fletcher and Mute boss Daniel Miller in the crowd was confirmation of the significance of Fad Gadget's return to public life. Word has it that new material will be released in the foreseeable future and that further gigs may well be a reality. I can think of fewer things that could give me more pleasure. Total entertainment from start to finish, this was the most joyous gig I'd been to in ages. A truly remarkable comeback.