All the way up to north London from deepest Kent for a pub gig on a Sunday evening - that's dedication to the UK 'industrial scene' for you. I'd heard about K-Nitrate from the Cybase23 Bulletin Board. In fact, it was one of the few places one could find anything about this poorly-promoted gig. Featuring Graham Rayner (ex-Cubanate) and described by themselves as 'hard-hitting industrial sound with techno influences'. 'Sounds interesting' I thought (and any new UK industrial band deserves support for their efforts) so I heroically made the epic Sunday afternoon journey. It was only when I arrived at the venue that I found out the playing order. Headline band was a Goth outfit called The Marionettes (ouch!) and were not of interest (and therefore do not make the review here). I.O.N took second billing and K-Nitrate had the first slot.
First impressions were made not by the band but by the guy behind the mixing desk. The volume was EXTREMELY LOUD. My ears were still ringing and my hearing impaired (honestly) over 24 hours after the gig. Loud volume is often not a problem when the venue warrants it, but The Barfly is in a room at the back of a pub in Camden about the size of an large lounge! Anyway, I ignored the blood seeping from my ears and concentrated on K-Nitrate who are a three piece consisting live of singer (Mr Rayner), percussionist (Christian Weber) and guitar (Joanna Theobold). The energy coming from the band was almost tangible. Clad in his combat jacket (and taking sips of some sustaining liquid from an army hip flask) Graham Rayner is the perfect frontman: plenty of enthusiasm, convincing stage presence and decent vocals. Theobold was clearly well into the event - sporting a broad smile thoughout and waving her arms when she didn't have to pluck her guitar strings. Ironically perhaps, seemingly the least motivated was percussionist Weber.
The description as 'hard-hitting industrial sound with techno influences' is spot on. Lovely fast sequencing synths, some impressive drum programming and the occasional power guitar on top was the staple of the set. Although the elements didn't deviate widely, the songs did not blur into one another - as can often happen when hearing a band for the first time - showing strong and a distinctive song writing ability. The set finished with probably the two most convincing songs of the set - both benfitting from up-front keyboards (albeit on backing and not played live). Despite the audio onslaught, it was refreshing to hear a UK industrial band that shows respect for the past and yet keeps things moving forward. At times I was reminded of Front 242 (particularly by some of the rythmn programming) among other classic industrial bands from the heydays; but the similarities were only fleeting and K-Nitrate bring heavy but danceable industrial music back with a vengenace, and they are most welcome.
As for I.O.N., I caught these for the first time only a short while ago. On that occasion I was quite impressed. I have a soft spot for 10-minute songs and it is always nice to see just three snyths in a row on stage - an rare site these days. This night however, I came away disappointed. Again the ear-splitting volume from the resident sound engineer didn't help. In fact, I.O.N.'s set suffered more because of this. Their songs rely more upon subtle samples and layered sounds than do K-Nitrate's and these distinguishing elements were lots amid the wall of white noise that came forth. But still, they showed they can put a good industrial dance groove together. I.O.N. are very much-more dance music influenced than most industrial bands and this is something I favour - the result is a neat blend of the two that works well.
The problem with having three synths in a row however is that it can lead to some dull viewing and I.O.N. were guilty of this. What I first perceived (at the previous gig) as a cool image of guitarist/synth player flanked on both side by two more chain-smoking synth boys, this time merely came across as apathetic and slightly dull. It was probably this combined with the serious volume that sent much of the already small audience back into the bar where the sound level was more acceptable and you knew you weren't missing anything visually. This was so obvious that even the guitarist said "Where's everyone gone?!" halfway through the set - clearly not an encouraging sign! On reflection it is probably worth chalking this one up as a poor gig and nothing more.
Both I.O.N. and K-Nitrate would be great in support slots as warm-up acts for bigger bands and they ought to get plenty of live bookings on that score alone. Longer term, K-Nitrate show the most immediate potential for a headline live band but then I.O.N.'s style is probably better suited to listening at home, but both would comfortably slot into any industrial DJ's playlist. I'd be interested to see how the two sound on CD before making any more pronoucements but if the opportunity to catch either band live comes up - you should take it.