Now in it's fourth year, Infest remains the UKs largest alternative electronic/industrial event. Taking over the University of Bradford's student facilities for three days each August Bank Holiday weekend, it provides a welcome focal point for those on the fringes of what is generally considered 'trendy' by the UK music press. With the likes of noise artists such as Dive, Monolith and P.A.L. there's no reason why the likes of The Wire shouldn't be writing up this reliably entertaining festival each year. But, hey, you get some of those Goth types, those die hard industrial rivet heads and, heaven forbid, that euphoric Euro techno pop like Covenant at Infest. How can that be hip? Well, let those who are too concerned about their street cred stick rigidly to events at the South Bank each year, instead of venturing out and risk discovering something for themselves that they haven't been told is cool to say you're into.
The non-mainstream electronic scene in the UK is (amazingly) fickle and elitist. In contrast, Infest welcomes all comers and its eclectic booking policy always ensures that they'll be not only something for everyone but (just as important) they'll be something new to discover. Even for some like like myself who has a keen interest in this scene it is difficult to keep up with every artist and Infest frequently provides overseas artist with their UK debuts. First timers this year were: P.A.L., Beborn Beton, Dive and Monolith with Sweden's 21st century Kraftwerk, Covenant, fulfilling the headlining duties.
The Friday was supposed to kick off the proceedings with The Nine, Inertia and industrial dance Krautrockers The Galan Pixs. Unfortunately, 'Due to circumstances...etc. etc.' The Galan Pixs were not playing. This was particularly disappointing... 1) because they would have been one of the highlights of the event and, 2) they were the only reason I've taken a precious half day off work to be able to attend the first night. UK newcomers Swarf came in at the eleventh hour to foot the Friday night bill, but both The Nine and Inertia play so often that I wasn't too bothered about catching any sets that first night. Just as well I had good company then in the form of Jo and Chris, aka two-thirds of K-Nitrate. We spent the entire evening deep in conversation and consuming alcohol.
Day two and doors opened at three in the afternoon with the first band on at 4pm. It also offers the first opportunity to stroll around the market stalls. In amongst the regulars (basically record sellers, clothing stores and band merchandise tables) were the new outfit Soundlust.com. Their minimalist and stylish stall (with pre-purchase previews available via a laptop) selling all electronic things experimental and avant garde was a discovery and one of the few places to stock difficult to get Beefcake material which was readily purchased. Having nipped out for lunch (there's only so many chips and burgers a guy wants to consume in one weekend), I arrived back in time to catch cult German noise favourites P.A.L. (aka Christian Pallentin). Despite a good reputation, this one-man Ant-Zen project was awkward on stage. (It was only after the fact that I learned that Pallentin is visually-impaired and this goes some way to explaining aspects of his performance.) His occasional singing voice was fine, but everything bar a handful of weak drum pads was on backing tape which didn't help the delivery. His unusual combination of melodic EBM and noise clearly had its devotees but the entire set failed in the 'power' stakes - it simply didn't have any.
Next up were Germany's Beborn Beton. An enigmatic name that I'd frequently come across in the past and caught just once or twice on the odd compilation. These were one of the bands I was looking forward to the most, believing (for some reason) that they shared the 'future pop' tag that Covenant are usually pinned with. No sooner had BB stepped on stage than the contrast between them and P.A.L. couldn't have been more striking. This was bombastic, danceable electro pop carried by heavy bass lines, huge amounts of enthusiasm and energy from the members and a convincing vocalist. This was feel-good electro. Beborn Beton clearly at their happiest when the audience was clapping, cheering and singing along (as most were). Throughout their set of somewhat infectious Elegant Machinery melodies and 242 bass lines, BB put on a show that puts most electronic acts to shame even if after a while the songs began the blur into one another.
Jump forward forty-five minutes: "We're Suicide Commando" said front man Johan van Roy, "Let's kick some ass". Tucked away in the shadows at the very back of the stage was another figure - a woman playing keyboards, but she was so tucked away that many in the audience may not have even known she was there. Van Roy's snarling vocals might have sounded the part but due to his blue jeans and grey sweatshirt looked more like a Bradford Uni student who'd wandered onto stage in error. The classic See You In Hell aside, I've never been a big fan of Suicide Commando. Still, if the look wasn't exactly what many might have expected from tonight's headline act (I guess you could say that at least he avoided the clichéd combats), then at least the music was what we were expecting. Day two's artists had done their bit, it was now up to the DJs to keep the kids dancing and this they did with pleasure.
Heading into the back straight, and the third and final day three, Sunday, offered up everything from hell spawn of Sneaky Bat Machine - Goteki, through the slightly legendary Dirk Ivens (here as Dive), up to the big act of the entire festival - Sweden's Covenant. Skipping Goteki since they still seem to think the word 'cyber' is interesting, I jumped straight into Monolith. Having collaborated with Dirk Ivens under several guises in the past, Monolith sees Belgian Eric van Wonterghem go it alone to pursue rhythmic industrial beats and white noise trance. The result was weird - kinda like Fat Boy Slim on cocaine and heroin speedballs. There was pleasure and pain in equal measure. It was harsh and relentless. This was machine music all right; van Wonterghem set it up and let it roll - just keeping it on track with the occasional tweak and poke of his little black boxes.
18:30 and Icon of Coil were up to bat next - this time for Norway, only one of them had left his passport at home. So for tonight they were reduced to a two piece. Again, I'd nipped out for food and so missed much of IoC but I remain unconvinced. With their pop song structures they can help but remind one of compatriots Apoptygma Berzerk who played at Infest in 1999. Icon of Coil interrupted their set to call their absent member on a mobile phone - honestly. "Hey, we're playing in Bradford!" singer Andy LaPlegua said. He then got the audience to say "Hello" but after having difficulty in getting through in the first place, and having taken up five minutes to effectively deliver a 30 second joke - some people were clearly only interested in hearing them play and not interested in listening to a telephone conversation as entertainment. They finished on a redundant if effective cover of Front 242's seminal Headhunter.
Belgian Dirk Iven's one man project Dive was always gonna be less commercial than Icon of Coil's pop(ular) tunes. It seemed only natural then that much of the audience dispersed before he did his thing. His thing comprising largely of dissonant electronics and mesmeric rhythms. It was good in small parts but each song rapidly became repetitious to the uninitiated like myself. Iven's trademark megaphone came out for a song or two and although only the vocals were performed live, his kinetic physical performance pleased the hardcore of fans that gathered at the foot of the stage to witness one of their heroes in action for the first time in the UK.
The late summer sun having set outside, the last of those pennies spent on new CDs, fed and watered enough to sustain me to the very end, I prepared for personal favourites Covenant. The suited Swedish three-piece gave us a needlessly heavy version of Go Film; the three of them grooving at the front of the stage to the brilliant Flux; and an over-vocodered Stalker. Singer Eskil Simmonson was feeling chatty tonight: "This is fun!" he confessed. Hardly profound but typical of their irrepressible enthusiasm. As usual, the set varied material from throughout their career taking in all five albums since 1992. Tour de Force lived up to its name impeccably, and the industrial stomping favourite Figurehead brought their performance and Infest 2001 to a satisfyingly forceful close. Covenant are in danger of 'over doing it' live, and there were some examples (as above) here where too much unnecessary tweaking was going on. There last two albums in particular have proven that Covenant have a flair for writing measured, moving soundscape-based songs like the wonderful Helicopter (which also appeared). They don't need to go down the bombastic route - their song writing holds up live whether its 130 or 80 BPM.
All over, the friendly, fun, fetish fans made their way back to their temporary accommodation, ready for the return journey home on the Bank Holiday Monday. Compared to all previous years, the attendance in 2001 was at an all-time high, approximately 700, which, for a decidedly niche audience, for three days over a public Bank Holiday Weekend (when most everyone else is fighting for space on some occasionally sunny beach on the coastline) is a definite result in the UK. Infest retains its title as the best and most enjoyable alternative electronic event in the annual UK calendar.