Regeneration Promotions have increasingly made in-roads into the UK alternative live circuit over the last 18 months. Their June Bank Holiday two-day alternative to celebrating the Queen's Golden Jubilee, punningly entitled Dark Jubilee, was by far Regeneration's biggest event to date. Although the line-up of artists (inevitably) changed right up to the last week before the actual event, across the two days there remained an impressive, international line up of artists. Unfortunately, for me at least, several of the bands I was looking forward to reviewing were scheduled for the second day and each of them eventually pulled out. So, no Seabound, no Melotron, and no haujobb as originally planned. With the majority of the second day given over to artists either previously covered here or not of interest, I opted to attend for Day One alone.
The venue (a favourite of promoter Regeneration) is first class but not near a tube station, so getting there can be a little more difficult than most venues in London. Still, once you're there - it is worth the extra effort. The Ocean is a state-of-the-art, three-storey building (with its listed Georgian facade intact) boasting three halls, a huge main bar area (plus a couple of smaller ones), a tailor-made cloakroom (no pun intended!), restaurant standard designer toilets, chill-out areas and plenty of space to mingle outside of the halls. The format of the event was to utilise the main and secondary halls to alternate acts throughout each of the two days. By slightly overlapping them, the promoters were able to cram in as many as acts as possible. (A total of eighteen bands performed during the entire two [half] days.) With the artists (very loosely) falling into the alternative electronic and alternative goth/rock camps, and by alternating between the two, the organisers avoided any glaring clashes of interest meaning that, if you wanted to see every band performing you could without missing much more than 5 or 10 minutes of any set. That they managed to keep the whole thing largely on schedule deserves praise indeed.
The following reviews cover all the artists (bar two - Revolution by Night and Killing Miranda) that performed on Day One and are in order of appearance. Kick starting the two-day celebrations were Angel Bomb in Hall 2 (the smaller of the two). For bottom of the billers they put on a polished act. Their music must be up to muster as they've also had airplay on XFM. The specific track aired by the UK's leading 'alternative' radio station was a nifty little number entitled Rock Like Mickey Rourke. Angel Bomb create that ballsy, guitar-driven sound that manages to steers clear of wanky 'rock' territory and keep it in the realms of the interesting. They'd provide perfect support to the likes of Sulpher.
Switching to the main hall for the first 'big' act, In Strict Confidence, and it was apparent that many people had made the effort to arrive in time to catch all the bands. Not sure what the attendance figures were, but more than two-thirds of the total audience for day one were already milling around by the time ISC took to the stage at 6.20pm. Previously, I'd not been especially impressed by these Germaniacs, but this was the best I'd seen them perform so far. The sound engineers probably deserve some credit here, for keeping ISC's backing, live drum kit, two keyboards and hard, in-your-face vocals in perfect balance. I'd have to repeat that I still find little originality in what ISC are doing, but what they do they do with efficiency. With ISC happy to fill the void left by the lower output of the likes of Front 242, and with EBM still carrying a significant number of followers, they deserve to be one of the leading lights of the genre. Today's performance proved they have the required skills.
Back upstairs to the (significantly) smaller Hall 2, and Dust were already doing their thang, with the singer trying hard to engage the modest audience. He didn't succeed entirely, but the band were going down well enough. The live line-up posted female bassist and guitarist alongside the male lead vocalist and synth player. Shouts from the audience of "Show us your tits" to the female members probably weren't what Dust had expected when they'd hoped for a reaction from their audience. They (wisely) ignored such juvenalia and played on. The music was too dirgey for my tastes and the singer too OTT, acting like the star he's far from being at present. Nevertheless, they held their audience's attention no problem and the applause they got once they finished was more than respectable.
Monosect is the new name for UK industrial dance exponents man(i)kin. The name change seems mainly due to a new singer coming on board. Seth is out, and in his place is a lithe, striking female called Lisa. The set was a combination of new and older material, with two instrumentals and an somewhat ineffectual cover of Alice by the Sisters of Mercy. The first vocal track Deity seems an odd choice to go for to introduce a new singer, as the vocal line does nothing for those who don't have either a naturally talented or trained voice. The vocal style, apart from the obvious change of gender(!), is different but still keeps to the same vocal lines.
Frontwoman Lisa also happens to be the lady behind the Cyberpolis club in Nottingham, so she knows a thing or two about putting on a show, and her look is perfect for the band, immediately stamping her striking image on the new line up. The final song was Monosect/man(i)kin at their danciest, and they had no fear in leaving the stage and leaving their machines to play on for another five minutes. This attitude appealed to me greatly and the crowd (by now largely dancing) seemed to enjoy most if not all the set.
Returning to the impressive hall one, and L'ame Immortelle had just begun. After reading about them for some time, this was the first chance I'd had to hear them. Indeed, Dark Jubilee offered them their UK debut. L'Ame Immortelle bring together and slightly odd mix of grandeur in the form of kettle drums and sweeping strings and, at least when Thomas Rainer the male vocalist is singing, an unsubtle voice. The effect is far more harmonious when fiery red-head, Sonja Kraushofer, comes to the fore. Her voice better than I expected from someone who spends most of her time in publicity shots (and on stage tonight) making sure you cannot miss her ample bosom. I'd assumed this was diversionary tactic to compensate for a dodgy voice, but I was mistaken. However, after fifteen minutes a firm pattern and formula had been established that I found too bland to warrant further attention... ample bosom or no ample bosom. Just three days after this gig the band announced that third member Hannes Medwenitsch had to leave the L'Ame Immortelle due to health problems, making this Dark Jubilee show the last live performance for this original line up.
I got another drink, chilled out and grabbed a vantage point at the foot of the stage ready to photograph S.P.O.C.K.'s performance. I'd missed their last UK appearance when they played in London last September, and having been impressed by their cunningly humorous album 2001: A S.P.O.C.K. Odyssey, I was keen to catch one of their famous live shows. Judging by the DSO review of their last UK gig, it seems that, like the synthpop boy band they claim to be, they currently have a well-rehearsed routine which they automatically duplicate time after time. From the opening landing spaceship noise, to walking on stage and taking up their exact positions, through to the 'impromptu' halts in the performance to chat with the audience, and even down to the content of those chats - S.P.O.C.K. work rigidly to a carefully orchestrated plan. Its efficiency and effectiveness impressive enough to give the likes of [insert name of latest boy band sensation here] a few worries, and all this with probably a 1000th of the budget.
The set was a mixture of songs from the latest album with a fair sprinkling of older material. The fans were lapping up every moment and the dancefloor was certainly put through its paces. Having grabbed my close up shots, I retreated to a safer position at the back of the small hall. It was crammed from front to back with folk keen to catch this Swedish band on just their second appearance in the UK. Entertainment was a word created for S.P.O.C.K., yet all their humour and showmanship isn't at the expense of good songwriting. By the time they launched into a terrific version of Back On Mars from their current album, I couldn't help but sing along. A superb show from start to finish but I'm not sure how well it would hold up to repeat 'viewing'.
It was then a quick dash down the the main hall for Day One headliners VNV Nation. Having first caught them in an awkward and technically troubled yet intriguing performance in January 1997 at the more cosy Dingwalls in Camden (only their third ever live performance), there was something quite pleasing to see them perform at a substantially larger venue to a significantly larger audience. They've undoubtedly played far larger gigs outside the UK, it was still as if this show symbolised Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson receiving the credit and recognition from their home crowd for all the hard work they've put into VNV Nation over the years. Following on from their recently released fourth album, Futureperfect, tonight's show was brimming with confidence and maturity.
Although the large stage looked a little vast for just two guys, they managed to fill it with a performance worthy of their billing. Ronan constantly running back and forth, skipping and jumping with energy throughout the hour and a bit set. Back and centre, Jackson now stands astride an impressive array of percussion, dramatically emphasising his physically-demanding performance. Despite its size, the main hall was full to the edges, with the vast majority dancing from the front to the back - almost a hundred people deep! It was as if Harris was sending bolts of electricity into the audience causing them to involuntarily respond. "Come on Jackson!" Harris shouted, egging the tall drummer on.
"This is our anthem. No concert is complete without this song." said Harris as they launched into a stomping version of Solitary that was truly moving. The majority of the set was an almost punishing tour de force through their back catalogue and highlights from the current album - although I was disappointed that Electronaut was excluded. It was also good to hear Ronan pushing his vocals to their limits, emulating the creative progression in evidence on Futureperfect. The performance had moved on a lot since the early days too. Alongside the slides (some more effective than others - the doves worked fine but I wasn't sure about the slide of the Model T Ford though), they've got their specially-commissioned projections. An impressive CGI blend of images and lyrics that serve to heighten the already emotion-laden performance.
There were a couple of minor technical glitches but they were, thankfully, short-lived. I'm increasingly impressed with how passionate VNV remain after so many live performances behind them. Every time you see VNV live you feel that on that particular night they really are pulling out all the stops. Yet they manage to do this time, after time, after time. This enthusiastic energy remains one of their distinctive and most commendable strengths. Like them or not, no one can deny the power that this band can generate when they play live. There are only a handful of artists that can still do this to me; and for one as critical as I, I cannot think of a better compliment.
If Day Two of Dark Jubilee went as well as Day One, then this was a great festival. It's a shame we don't celebrate the Jubilee like this every year, I could certainly get used to it. But I'd be surprised if we didn't see similar festivals from Regeneration in the future, and with this first one under their belt so successfully, it's a safe bet that they won't have a problem pulling in the crowds.