"This line-up had all the hallmarks of a great gig"
When I saw this gig advertised in advance I couldn't believe the line up. I'd have paid for three separate gigs to catch each band on the billing - so to find all three on one line up was like receiving an unexpected present - thanks to promoters Nemesis. I was familiar with both Attrition and Covenant and had previously seen both live. Hexedene was uncharted territory though the work of Jonathan Sharp under other guises was known to me. As the night of the gig approached my excitement mounted. This line-up had all the hallmarks of a great gig for fans of industrial music - I just hoped I wouldn't be disappointed.
I knew Jonathan Sharp (of New Mind and Bio-Tek) was the man behind Hexedene and I was also aware of his reluctance to play live, making this rare appearance particularly intriguing. What I didn't expect was the band line up; for Hexedene are two thirds Inertia. That is two members of Inertia Alexys B and Reza Udhin joined Jonathan Sharp live but switch the roles they have in Inertia. Here, Alexys provides the lead vocals and Reza keyboards alone. However, that's where any similarity with Inertia ends. There's lots of strong melody here with plenty of strings and moody chord changes, but there are also retro squeaks and bleeps, and terrific arpeggiating bass synths too. Sharp's constant headbanging seemed to indicate that he might be getting into it, but didn't obviously reflect the tuneful, well-composed structure of the songs. Although I've heard Alexys provide vocals for Inertia live several times before, the marked difference in style here gave her plenty of opportunity to express her range more widely and the results were memorable. Hexedene is one live act I'd go out of my way to catch in future. It would be great if after this night, Sharp decided to play live more frequently. But I'll ensure I pick up a CD just so I don't miss out if they don't. You might like to do the same.
Martin Bowes, the man behind Attrition, is a disarming fellow. When you speak to him before or after a performance he seems like a slightly shy, softly spoken chap - the sort who 'wouldn't harm a fly' kinda thing. But when he is on stage - bloody hell - what a contrast! He doesn't become the screaming, brash, macho front man you might expect, but an altogether far more sinister incarnation. His vocals, often unintelligible even to those familiar with the songs, are a demonically deep mumbling. He writhes and twists on stage like someone suffering from disturbing, crippling fits that happen in slow motion. I've never seen so much anguish on stage as I have at an Attrition gig. That said, this isn't navel-studying, doom and gloom, and it certainly isn't straightforward 'gothic' either as they are often labelled.
Now, I'd seen them live before - more than once so I knew (or thought I knew) what to expect. But I feel sorry for those who had never experienced the band before, for even by Attrition standards, this was a truly bizarre performance! Psychedelic, spacey sounds pumped out of a Nord rack module and blended with the insane twiddlings emanating from a Korg MS20. It wasn't long before Martin was on his knees again, pulling the mike stand over himself seemingly in some odd mixture of sensual pleasure or self flagellation. Many familiar tracks had undergone disturbing audio surgery and emerged in slower BPM versions that seemed designed to deliberately test the staying power of the audience. The dancefloor was pretty empty when Attrition came on and it never really got very busy. Sandwiched between the up tempo Hexedene and the rave-like Covenant this was a perplexing performance. I'm not sure that it would have won Attrition any new fans ,but I'm pretty sure that is totally irrelevant anyhow.
As ever, Martin Bowes' grumblings vied for space with the operatic live diva voice, keyboards and backing 'tapes' - filling our ears to full. Attrition simply do not sound like anyone else - and that's a remarkable statement if you think about it - but it is absolutely true. The music is a odd jumble of influences, sounds and styles. The 'gothic' tag is understandable but inaccurate. Attrition's music is full of darkness but it isn't gothic. Heavy electronic tones, unexpected twisted rhythms, swirling guitars, chanting female voices, deep-spoken vocals, conventional verse-chorus-verse structures sit alongside epic anthems and classical soundscapes. Almost traumatic to listen to sometimes and certainly cerebral, it is also uplifting and dance-inducing. Attrition are genuinely unique and strongly recommended.
Hailing from Sweden, industrial dance-inducers Covenant are one of only a couple of bands who have successfully salvaged the Electronic Body Music (EBM) genre created almost 20 years ago by the likes of Front 242. Fortunately, not only have they kept it alive but they've saved it from the backward-looking and seemingly endless 'heard-it-all-before' recycling that has effectively killed off the gothic genre. On CD, Covenant have the chance to display the subtle reasons why they are moving this musical niche onward. Live, however, much of that is lost in, to quote one of their songs titles, a 'wall of sound'. Whilst I still find that a little disappointing, this band know well what most in this London audience want, and that is to dance their socks off. And boy do Covenant deliver!
The last time they were in the UK they were down to a two-piece - one member having been sick - but this time all three were present. I can't help being envious of their relative success. When I first saw them live it was a shock to discover that all three look as though they only left school a few years ago. Their stylish dark suits, white shirts and black ties are becoming something of a distinctive trademark in a genre not know for its smart attire. They look so bloody cool, like three members of the Reservoir Dogs, each with a rapper's attitude, backed by a banging rave-like live sound. For no apparent reason, the bass on the night must have been set to 'stomach wobbling' and only the lead synths managed clearly to break through the all-enveloping noise. This further buried the more mild tweaks and squeaks which was a shame but it was having the desired effect; I couldn't keep my feet still and the dancefloor was jammed with bouncing bodies.
All three members were enthusiastically bounding up and down the small stage, pointing, pulling cool stances. Once or twice I thought they might (quite bizarrely) suddenly go into a formation dance routine - boy band style! But thankfully it didn't happen. Of course, with a new album (United States of Mind) looming on the horizon, many were looking forward to their first taste of new material. After the strong (at times Kraftwerk) melodies of the superb Europa album, much of the new material was noticeably more doomy. However, the first new track out of the bag (One World?) is a killer. Beginning with an 'Ibiza anthem' synth line it then got much heavier with terrific sequencers building towards a glorious chorus: "One world, one sky, we live we die". This is as involving and as epic as VNV Nation at their very best and I reckon is set to become a new industrial anthem. Not since Front 242's undisputed classic Headhunter have I heard such an infectious sing-along chorus.
A sublime new track (title missed again I'm afraid), very slow, lots of deep, deep bass, based around a beating heart sound was another enticing taster off the new album - "This is the heartbeat of our machines" said lead singer Eskil Simonsson. This then segued into a version of I Am which threatened to implode due to its thundering bass and percussion. The lyrics of Riot had a particular relevance at this gig - the Underworld being one storey under the streets of Camden Town, and Eskil delighted in singing "There's a party going on, we'll all be here dancing underground". Older favourites like Theremin appeared and Speed was the final song of a thumping set - but clearly they'd left plenty of time for encores - of which there were two. Again great-sounding new material mixed with some faves. In contrast to most of their set, a slightly mellower version of Stalker appeared as did a memorable rendition of Figurehead - complete with Kraftwerk-inspired counting in French and Japanese.
With performances like this Covenant can only recruit new followers. This was a pure industrial rave. The smoke machine worked overtime and the non-stop strobe lighting transformed the heaving audience into a daunting throng of sweating, adrenalin-pumped individuals who were having the time of their life. If one had to be critical then the aforementioned loss of detail due to the thunderous mix was the only real disappointment. I don't believe in God, but I'd like to thank someone for Covenant. Life has been so much better with them in it.