Conjure One/Swarf/Devotion

Electrowerkz, London - 11 November 2006

"Understated and cool but disappointing"

[Conjure One flyer]This evening of female voices closely followed Black Celebration VIII, indeed, it was only through a flyer at that festival that I found out about this gig. Lucky really as anything Rhys Fulber is involved in is usually worth anyone's time.

[Devotion - not all sweetness and light]Devotion are an ethereal three piece, fronted by two red velvet wearing female vocalists who can boast some of the most soulful vocals I've heard on this scene. Sensations was tad too cheesy but otherwise this was very impressive. A rewarding mixture of dark, rumbling bass noises, distinctive vocals, choreographed arm waving and live violin - an instrument that I probably last saw at an Attrition gig. These would go down a storm somewhere like the Whitby Gothic Weekend, kinda like Medieval Babes meets Delerium meets In The Nursery.

It wasn't all sweetness and light either - there was some pretty chilling screaming at times, plus great low-fi sounds on the slower numbers. The contrast of the two vocals worked out well to make the most. They may have begun by playing to an empty space but it soon filled up, and by the time they'd finished the audience had just warmed to them. Not as twee, gothic or predictable as you'd imagine. Devotion undoubtedly deserve to be much bigger than they currently are. Rewarding stuff.

The quality of the PA between bands was atrocious. An abysmal mess of distortion and bass heavy noise. This was unfair on a night of good DJs who were spinning lots of DSO favourites like John Foxx, Karl Bartos and In The Nursery. They deserved better and doesn't act as much of an advert for resident Goth club Slimelight.

I first saw Swarf almost six years ago and they've always threatened to step out of the Goth ghetto and hit the mainstream with their intriguing melodic electro Goth tunes. This they still haven't done, but its clear that their sound is now close to reaching it full potential. Less poppy, and more thoughtful, though thankfully lead vocalist Liz Green is as irrepressible as ever she was. Stockinged feet with her huge smile and ungainly but fun dancing - she always has a great time. There's definitely a touch of the young Debbie Harry about Liz's voice. She's a fine figure of a woman too who exudes a natural vivaciousness that's undeniably attractive. Something she capitalises on by always being down the front - as close to her audience as she can get. This has the effect of emitting enthusing vibes into anyone who watches Swarf.

[Swarf: a touch of the young Debbie Harry]They received a very strong response after their first song. Which Green loved no end - causing her to jump up and down in thanks. The third song was dynamite. I think it was entitled Not Enough which Green reassured us was "...not about my height!". With this more sophisticated songwriting the entire experience was more convincing and compelling than before. I still (!) hold out some hope that Swarf crossover to a larger mainstream audience, they've undoubtedly earned it.

Finally, Conjure One (in the form of Rhys Fulber and guest female vocalist). Unfortunately, no one introduced the singer, or if they did I didn't notice. It would be interesting to know as Fulber's Conjure One project has worked with several female vocalists and it would be nice to know which one it was we had the pleasure of hearing tonight. Having lasted on the industrial/underground scene for more than 20 years via key projects like Front Line Assembly, Delerium, Will, Synæsthesia, Noise Unit and several more, Fulber carries with him an element of cult hero cachet that was apparent (judging by some of the fawning fans stationed at his feet) as soon as he took up position behind his keyboard front left of stage.

[Conjure One: cool but disappointing]He looked both understated and cool in his Tajikistan T-shirt. My view of this project is that it isn't as rewarding as Delerium when they were at their best. It is still early days though for Conjure One - the second album was only released the year before last. One can't help also contrasting small appearances like tonight with the 2006 world tour of Front Line Assembly (as seen at this year's Infest) who Fulber has recently returned to but who he has chosen not to go on tour with. Both were rewarding but in different ways, but I am compelled to state that I was more impressed by FLA's Infest outing than tonight's modest soiree. A few modest projections (images of rain forests, deserts and oceans... hmm...) helped to inject some atmosphere into the otherwise sterile surroundings.

It took twenty minutes or so before they found their groove, or perhaps it was the better songs coming into play? The performances were not slavish copies of the recorded songs. Some appeared reworked slightly for the style of a single female vocalist (Centre of The Sun for example). The albums featuring several vocalists, including Sinead O'Connor on Tears From The Moon from the debut album - which our couple served up much to the delight of many. Unexpectedly, Tears neatly morphed into a cover of The Eurythmic's Here Comes The Rain Again before ending. The vocals were mighty especially on the encore song (Tidal Pool ?).

The sound at the front was fine, but I noticed that towards the back it sounded pretty ropey, muddy and distorted. Possibly a reflection that Elektrowerkz has served several different businesses to make ends meet including acting at the venue for a laser gun game. I assume it functions better as the latter than as a music venue. Back to Conjure One, a live drummer or at least some live percussion would have helped a lot on the presentation front, and with only a one song encore the total set was less than one hour which is disappointing for a headline act. Nevertheless, I'm still glad I've managed to catch Fulber live again and can tick off another act from my live list. He remains a boundless talent who broad range never ceases to surprise and excite. Grateful too, to Cryonica for putting on the event and getting Fulber to make one of his rare UK appearances (though a bit more actual promotion up front in future, such as, oh I don't know, sending electronic music review websites an email in advance, would be a good idea ;-) ). 7/10

Rob Dyer