Unable to attend last year's Infest and seeing the terrific line up the organisers had planned for this year, I was determined to make the annual pilgrimage to West Yorkshire for Infest 2003. There were no less than seven UK debuts amongst an impressive international line up that took in acts from the US (God Module), Belgium (Hypnoskull), Germany (Seabound, S.I.T.D., Needle Sharing), Sweden (Tarmvred), Spain (Culture Kultür), and even Australia (Resurrection Eve). I didn't bother with the opening Friday night as headliners cut.rate.box had already been sampled live, scrap.edx were unknown and (from previous experience) Tarantella Sepentine was of little interest.
With their name alone, Je$us Loves Amerika ensured a prompt 4pm arrival and fair hearing. It was worth the effort, with their brand of grumbling dark industrial and muttha fucka rap lyrics working surprisingly well. Stylistically, a bit American, i.e. aggressive and hard, but with some good tunes and harsh but competant vocals. I also liked the "Satanic Army" T-shirt branded in the style of the Salvation Army. The trancey sequencers, hard percussion, brutal beats and odd guitar riff mixed well with the 9/11 disaster samples. A solid performance that went down well despite the early slot.
Spain's Culture Kultür were up next and one of my three main draws this year. So far, their albums have a tendancy to veer alarmingly between the brilliant and the embarassing. The vocals being particularly variable. Live however, they were better than I'd anticipated with a frontman Salva Maine who proved he can sing really well. The show was energetic and the set focused on the strongest of their songwriting - although their superb instrumentals were sadly absent.
Relative newcomers Seabound were the second of my three main reasons for attending. Having been impressed by the less obvious aspects of their debut album No Sleep Demon, this was someone I'd been looking forward to seeing since they had to pull out of last year's Dark Jubilee Festival. In all honesty they were a little disappointing. The vocals were well below album standard and none of their instrumental or more ambient tracks - which set them apart from the future pop tag - were included. Apparently, this was their first live date this year and that may have accounted for the less than perfect vocals. Certainly, they appeared to improve as the set progressed. Even so, singer Frank Spinath, significantly changed the style of his vocal delivery and never for the better in my view.
In addition to a selection of high BPM stuff from their debut album, including Torn, Hooked and Travelling, Seabound peformed several new songs. The slow ballad Kiss was a rare point of temperance and first-rate it was too. The Infest crowd were priviledged to hear the first ever live performance of Seabound's new single - Contact which was a pumping dance floor number. For the encore was another solid new (higher BPM) track - Transformer. For an act with only one album under their belt, Seabound are both mightily confident and impressive performers and so worth checking out. Their concluding cover of New Order's Confusion was as inspired as it was unexpected.
Remarkably, the third main reason for my attendance was next up - talk about concentrated euphoria! Swede Jonas Johansson's (aka Tarmvred) first album, sub:fusc has already been selected by DSO as one of last year's essential purchases and I was desperately trying to keep my expectations in check for fear of disappointment. I needn't have worried. This was pure brilliance. Emotion-laden melodies, distortion, crushing beats - truly remarkable. It's difficult to find words to do this set justice. Known for never wishing to give the same performace twice, Tarmvred's sets are largely improvised and relatively freeform. This results in Commodore game bleeps combining with pure noise and drum 'n' bass percussion. Yet in Johansson's skilled hands the resulting sound transcends its parts and passes onto a new form entirely.
The audience loved every minute of the all-too-brief set which, I discover later, had to be cut short by ten minutes due to technical difficulties. Apparently Johansson's normal gear had been stolen the week before the gig and rather than cancel, he bought new equipment, had a acutely steep learning curve a few days beforehand and 'muddled through' as best he could on the night. This fact makes this performance all the more staggering. This man is a genius.
Needle Sharing - now had the programme not advised me that this guy was from Germany, I'd have sworn he was, on first impressions at least, American. His insane energy and half distrubing/half engaging permanent grin either an outward expression of a susceptible state of mind or general good mood. Once he confirmed, in heavy German accent, that he was happy to be in England I realised that he was just a happy German. The second of several 'one man and his laptop' acts that would grace this year's event, this reminded me a bit of Ultraviolence only more industrial and less techno. It didn't exactly fire me up like it is clearly supposed to - this isn't exactly the sort of music you chill out to on a Sunday morning - but it was okay. Again though, the performance stood out as something special despite the limited stage presence. Already this was an emerging theme of this year's festival.
American trad industrial/EBM outfit God Module have certainly managed to garner much praise since they emerged onto the scene a few years ago. Until today, I'd only heard tracks on compilations or that they'd remixed and had been thoroughly underwhelmed. Still, their top billing on the longest day of the festival certainly seems to have been valid if the general audience reaction was anything to go by. But I have to say these lived up to my low expectations. I do not see why folk are so excited by these two guys. Competent sure, but nothing original at all.
First to the stage were Arkham Asylum who reminded my of the sort of digi-goth bands that used to clutter up the early Infests. Named after the insane asylum where Batman's nemesis The Joker was incarcerated is a fine heritage to draw on but it is wasted on this amateurish trash. I listened to about thirty seconds then promptly went back outside for some noise pollution free air.
Resurrection Eve had travelled all the way from Australia to appear at this event - presumably seeing this as more of a marketing exercise and brief holiday rather than a money making exercise. If that was the aim then they succeeded perfectly. Comparisons in the festival programme to De/Vision and Diary of Dreams were both well made. Good 'n' glossy with a slight Gothic tinge, the singer crept around the stage, frequently pulling dramatic poses. Yet this theatrical delivery was fine given that the vocalist was excellent; technically, probably the best voice of the entire festival. The vocals are perhaps the band's biggest selling point, but that's not to say that the thumping tribal drums and strong melodies were any less polished. Probably unknown to 90% plus of the audience before today, they can rest assured that after their appearance Resurrection Eve have firmly made their mark on the UK.
I'd heard Snuff Machinery by the next act, S.I.T.D., on the second Septic compilation which then reminded me a little of :wumpscut:. In fact, they weren't much like :wumpscut: at all, but were like a very good German industrial/EBM outfit. Primal industrial electronics that drifted into heavy VNV territory at times, this was effective stuff. But why is it that these live two-piece bands insist on letting the singer roam around the front providing the only visual interest, whilst the lone keyboard player is banished to the centre back of the stage? This seems even less logical when, as here, the guy at the back was sharing vocal duties.
Still, that's not to suggest that this was anything but a performance brimming with enthusiasm. Lead man Carsten Jacek, was clearly having fun and was determined to feed that back into the audience - which he did to great effect. The band's remix for the Pzycho Bitch track Reach Up was delivered with gusto, but it was the stuff from their Snuff EP that registred most - Rose Coloured Sky being the standout track. It made perfect sense to save their best-known track for last and, sure enough, Snuff Machinery had the desired effect on a responsive crowd. A satisfying conclusion to an impressive set. One of the unexpectedly pleasant surprises of the festival - which is always part of the fun of these events.
By now, 8pm on Day 3, the 900-strong crowd were well warmed up. The response so far was broadly very positive, expressed both vocally and physically, with more folk on the dance floor, even for the smaller acts, than I can recall at any previous Infest. "This should be something special" said one of the organisers to me just before Hypnoskull took to the stage. Another 'one man and his technology' set up, I wondered just how special such a limited... bloody hell! I wasn't ready for this. Mad gabba breakbeat industrial techno noise with rap lyrics on top, there was an Orbital-like rave atmosphere as the cut-up samples and visuals were punched home with serious drum 'n' bass beats. This was a brilliant performance. Huge, high contrast black and white graphics slaming single words - FUCK, SHIT, etc or more considered anti-capitalist slogans onto a screen behind Patrick Stevens (one of the founder members of Sonar) perfectly reflected the audio barrage. Very entertaining, if not for the faint-of-heart.
Finally, VNV Nation took to the Infest stage for a second time (their first appearance here being in 2000). Unfortunatley, like Seabound the day before, VNV were (initially at least) a bit disappointing. Ironically, whereas earlier in their career it was more likely that the vocals would be a let down, this time it was the sound mix and the presentation. The music was too bass heavy, meaning that the band's trademark haunting melodies were simply drowned out. Standing was a prime example - the song's drama lost amid the muddy sound. This was frustrating since Ronan Harris proved once more that his live vocal performance has come on significantly since their early live appearances. Secondly, it was impossible to make out the impressive, bespoke CGI visuals due to the proliferation of smoke and bright lights.
Nevetheless, things did get better. A superb rendition of Electronaught (my highlight of last year's Futureperfect album) and, get this, a storming cover of Nitzer Ebb's Getting Closer with Ronan on keyboards and Mark sharing vocal duties with Tom - the backing vocalist from S.I.T.D. - who both did remarkably accurate impressions of McCarthy et al! There is a saying, if you've been to one VNV Nation gig you been to them all. While there is an element of truth to that statement, here at least there was clear evidence of the band trying some newer ideas out (if not exactly being radical). The extra euphoria keyboards at the end of an extended Standing were one example. And, despite popular myth, they've lost none of their humility. Ronan and Mark are just as likely, indeed more likely now to stop and have a five minute chat with the audience throwing in everything from self-deprecating jokes about Paddys stealing cars to tales of getting pissed on park benches the night before with fans. Hardly the stuff of prima donnas some would have you believe they are.
A series of choice international DJs ensured that the periods between bands was of a similarly high standard, loads of cute babes wearing very little (of course), some friends and good conversations, cheap beer, significantly improved catering, several CDs and DVDs purchased in the essential marketplace and the best ever attendance. All in all - a corker of an Infest... Hell, call a spade a spade - it was the best Infest yet. The organisers and all involved should be proud that they can say, without any question, that Infest is the UK festival that you must visit at least once in your life. Go on, you owe it to yourself.