Clan of Xymox/Method Cell/Dreams Divide/Heretics

Electrowerkz, London - 4th February 2012

"One of the finest darkwave bands of all time"

The doors this evening opened just as the first (but late) snow of winter began to fall. It’s amusing how huge, black leather-clad alternative types can be reduced to wonder-struck children by the fluffy white stuff! Still, once inside it was more as anticipated. Though, with a headliner like Clan of Xymox I was surprised how few ‘goth’-looking sorts there were. Perhaps they were never Goth. Some would argue CoX created ‘Darkwave’ and were never really Goth at all. I wouldn’t argue with that. But years ago they definitely had a Goth following and, to me at least, still look pretty Goth. Then again, Goths of old have, down the years, converted to all sorts of splinter cyber-nonsense and what have you. Suffice it to say, the crowd were an eclectic bunch. And up-for-it too. Clan of Xymox retain a loyal fan base that has largely been with them since their glorious first appearance on 4AD in 1985. We’ve grown old with founder and driving force Ronny Moorings, though not all have retained their looks as well as he has. 

[Clan of Xymox]

Having done my standard bit of journalistic research in advance, new name Heretics were unquestionably worth ensuring I was here for these bottom-billers. Could this be what they call Witchouse? Whatever the fashion label, their particular brand of mist-shrouded, ethereal, (almost folksy) martial electronica was mightily impressive. The restriction to a single performer this evening didn’t impact on the indelible impression Heretics make. The band believe the footage of their set we have on the YouTube channel is the first live footage up there. You should take a look – and listen. This was genuinely exciting. Get these on the same bill as Black Light Ascension and you’d have a compelling (if admittedly gloomy!) evening lined up. Flag Promotions – are you paying attention? 

Southampton-based Dreams Divide get their fair share of London gigs – which isn’t surprising given the unbridled enthusiasm with which they discharge their duties. They are by some way the most likable band doing the rounds in the UK at the moment. Even by his own, highly energised performance levels, front man and lead vocalist David Crout tonight is like a four-year-old who has OD’d on fluorescent, sugary drinks. His running, jumping and bouncing all the more impressive given the limited confines of the venue’s dinky stage. 

The set is another tour around their debut album and there are no surprises for those who’ve seen them a few times before. But that doesn’t much matter. What they pulled together for Puppet Love was a remarkably effective suite of electronic pop infused with darker industrial-inspired touches. Like many a two-piece outfit, they rely heavily on backing tracks to recreate the studio sound, with just Gem Davison playing live synth. However, the positive energy that this male/female duo generate between them, combined with Davison’s powerful set of lungs and Crout’s irrepressible front man performances, continues to overcome any limits on what they are currently capable of producing live. As long as they continue performing I’ll be there. Maybe we’ll get to hear either one or two choice covers or, better still, some new material this year. 

Lead vocalist Apollos and keyboard man Alex, aka Method Cell, were in a particularly playful mood tonight, with Apollos chatting, joking and self-deprecating his way through tonight’s half-hour slot. I felt myself flagging slightly at the relatively constant pitch of the leads vocals, but the frequently remixed music was both inspired and successful. Scissors was significantly reworked into an edgy and unpredictable parallel universe version of its former self. The packed crowd thoroughly approved of the inventive approach and were soon whipped up into a buzzing mob that didn’t stop until the end of the night. 

[Clan of Xymox]

There will always be naysayers who refuse to see a band today that started out a long time ago and have evolved down the years. Those interested only in seeing preserving precious memories of their heroes playing live in their heyday, and adamant that attending a gig today can only serve to highlight the smallest shortcoming or variation from those moments preserved in times long since past. Things do change (thank goodness) and bands do more on (admittedly not always for the better) but if ever you need a textbook example of why those who refuse to participate today are simply doing themselves (and their fading memories) a disservice, just get them to take a look at a band like Clan of Xymox

The perfect case-maker could be found in the opening, eight minute glory of Stranger. This 12” from 1985 was the very first entry point for many CoX fans, myself included, and remains something of an unofficial anthem for the band. From the ambient opening shrouded in underworldly deep voices and unsettling strings, before being catapulted onto the dancefloor with it’s glorious old-school control-voltage triggering synthesizers and overlaying guitar melodies. This perfectly sets the scene for the rest of the night. 

Few songs CoX have written since those first two 4AD albums could hope to match the groundbreaking impact of most of the twenty songs contained on those two classic albums. However, the remainder of the set, drawing smartly from what is now quite an extensive canon, left you in no doubt that they still have few peers capable of troubling their sleep at night. The selection also reminded me they’re not afraid to continually explore other musical avenues. Though, when they do, there is still something distinctly, uniquely Xymox about everything they turn their hands to. For example, as if to specifically acknowledge where they were playing, there was an unexpected (but totally in keeping) cover of Bowie’s Heroes

Like all good acts who truly understand and are at peace with their past, Clan of Xymox know how to manage their legacy. They are never complacent, don’t rely upon it, but they also know that fans like to have a decent few choice highlights, especially from those formative years. Tonight is no different and they don’t disappoint (the sumptuous angst of Back Door as emotionally powerful as ever it was). Fitting too then, that having taken us on a pleasurable guided tour of their back catalogue, they chose to end the set with A Day – the flip side to opener Stranger. The song’s unforgettable sound, voice and atmosphere all still very much in place. I’ve not once been disappointed in all my years of seeing Clan of Xymox live. That distinguished record remains very much unblemished. 8/10

Rob Dyer

Live footage on dsoaudio's YouTube Channel