This was my first visit to the newly refurbished Ocean in Hackney, London's East End. Many millions were spent of gutting and refitting this listed former library and it shows. It's a very impressive venue. There are three huge video screens above the main bar area relaying the stage performance. And, as if that was impressive enough, the cigarette machines on the lower levels had video screens on the front of them doing just the same - talk about extravagant!
There seemed to be some confusion about the running order of tonight's three bands. The tickets and pre-publicity had the Norwegian Echo Image in the number two slot, but this synth pop three piece were first to take to the stage. They struggled against the lack of atmosphere since the main lights weren't dimmed for their performance, giving the hall something of a school disco air about it - at odds with the impressive facilities. What little I knew about Echo Image was gleaned from their neat website a few days prior to the gig and what I'd read in the genre press to date. Strong on image, a kinda smartly dressed, more colourful version of Ladytron, but less brooding. As was the music. I didn't catch much of the set but what I heard was pretty powerful stuff (through the Ocean's very capable PA). Upbeat danceable electro pop was the order of their half hour set, delivered by a cute female vocalist.
No Comment took the second slot. Again, what I knew about this second (German?) three piece was minimal, although I had read they've got no less than five albums under their collective belt. Less impressive image wise, but again a female vocalist flanked by two guys. This time a live drummer and synth player. The most immediately striking thing about No Comment are Franziska Kalb's unconventional and adept vocals - comparable only marginally to Kate Bush in its sometime 'squeaky' intonation, there's nothing else like them on this scene. The synth player and singer swapped roles for one song with the synth guy resorting to the rather tired megaphone thing for the vocals. Ignoring the minor technical difficulties with the drums on the first song, No Comment produced a very polished sound. Problem was, after while it came across as a bit too mechanical, too pre-programmed, lacking passion and emotion.
Which is something that Norway's Apoptygma Berzerk could never be accused of. Lacking either passion or emotion that is. I'd first seen Apop (as their fans say) headlining the 1999 Infest festival in Bradford. I was quite impressed and have since listened to more of their material, and although I could hardly be called a fan (I still haven't bought one of their releases), I can understand why they have build up a fairly large global following over the last couple of years. Singer, songwriter and founder-member Stephan Groth is obviously well into what his doing, and this spills over into the eclectic audience. The healthy crowd comfortably fill the Ocean's main floor and reflect the band's broad appeal, with goths, electro poppers, industrialists, cool dudes and plain old regular-looking folk making up the varied and sometimes colourful audience.
As this was the UK-leg of their World in Harmony tour, out promoting the new album Harmonizer, there was a mixture of the old and the new tonight. From the new album we got to hear the band perform Suffer In Silence, Unicorn, Photoshop Sucks (love that title!), Spindizzy, Pikachu and the latest single Until the End of the World. The effect is undeniably 'epic'. All members of the band, including the drummer, stop whatever their doing at one point or another to encourage the audience along, be it in arm waving, singing along, or simply generally to go berzerk. Almost everyone in the audience is dancing and arm waving upon command. Apop are famous for their live shows, that is putting on a real spectacular, and the light show alone would have been worth the entry. But a word of warning. Those lights are blinding, literally! Earlier in the evening I, like others, was smiling at the kids wearing huge dark goggles. Daft fashion statement I thought. Well they will have been the ones laughing at the unprotected afterwards. You honestly couldn't look towards the stage at times because of the halogen lamps. The band bring their own light and sound equipment when they tour and the results are worth the extra effort and expense.
"Any old skoolers out there?" asked Groth, heralding a selection of older material. Deep Red was one of the few titles I recognised. The tunes were more familiar. Kathy's Song, Forever and Starsign were in there too and the crowd were loving every second of it. If they were reserved in their appreciation for the two support acts, then what they saved on them was more than made up for here. At the Infest festival I'd put these guys down as Depeche Mode wannabes. But that's wrong. The biggest similarity was in the scale of the stage show. Above the band's heads was a long, thin screen upon which a montage of video clips, specially shot footage, some CGI, an animated recreation of the equalizer image from the sleeve of the new album and most, impressively, Christine Klausen beautiful chorus vocals on Spindizzy were perfectly in sync with images of a singing female. There were even high powered jets of cobalt blue illuminated 'steam' shooting up at the front of the stage! But none of this by way of attempting to mask any shortcomings in the songs themselves. Even to the relative novices like myself it's an imposing collection of beats and melodies. There were just two brief (single song) encores and it was all over. Apoptygma have come on a lot even in the short time since I first saw them. They seem to be a very ambitious outfit and the way they are going I can see them getting to the very top if that's what they really want.