Reproduktion 13 Festival: Attrition/Naked Lunch/Cult With No Name/John Costello/Mild Peril

Roundhouse Studio Theatre, London - 4 May 2013

"A summoning of electronic pulses and bleeps"

[Reproduktion 13 poster]The concept behind this mini-festival of electronic music was that there's no reason why the diversity that makes up such a simple label as 'electronic music' cannot be showcased at a single event. Looking at this from a purely UK perspective I can see where the idea that such diversity cannot easily be brought together comes from. The UK is particularly bad at pigeon-holing. About the most diverse electronic music event we get on a regular basis is the Infest festival (now in it's 15th year). Other than that it does tend to be either higher brow stuff at one of the major national arts centres or underground, late night happenings in pubs and clubs. Not only was the aim admirable but anything that brings together acts under a genre label that I use on a daily basis was always destined to be tailor-made for dsoaudio. Of the five acts two were new to me (John Costello and Chris Gilbert's Mild Peril), whilst the other three were long-standing favourites.

I'm not sure about the name Mild Peril, but Chris Gilbert's instrumental project is as good as it is unknown. At the time of writing he still has no 'official' release under his belt, just a couple of EPs worth of free downloads on Bandcamp so far, but a 12” vinyl is imminent. But don't let that lack of track record dissuade you any. For those who like their electronic music from the 1970s, slightly hippy, slightly space-rocky in the vein of Tangerine Dream, Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre, then Mild Peril will convince you that Chris Gilbert's output is less a product of his influences rather that he was born a couple of decades late than his real 'contemporaries'. Even his science fiction visuals of brightly coloured imaginary planets are right out of a series of sci-fi artwork books I used to own as a schoolboy. Such is the authenticity of his composition.

Tonight's set was semi-improvised but incorporated elements of Orb I and Orb II from his first self-released EP and the second main section was a stripped down version of Gamma Zone. The latter still available on Bandcamp. This is no faux, wannabe project either. I've not had the fortune of seeing any of the above mentioned artists live, but seeing such a new talent at a formative stage in what I hope will be a long and successful career turned out to be one of the high points of the entire evening.

Set list: Largely improvised but included elements from Orb IOrb II and Gamma Zone

Apparently this was John Costello's first live gig since an appearance at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff in 1989! What's more, he had to substitute his lead guitarist in the days running up to the festival. Both things considered, this was a pretty impressive showing. It's interesting that Costello was the organiser behind today with the objective of bringing together various sub-genres of electronic music, because that's precisely what Costello did himself within his own set. Some artists have a distinctive, unique sound. Others are a melange of their influences. Costello draws inspiration from a broad range, adds a slightly old school, slightly post-punk attitude to his writing and the resulting set list wound up like a microcosm of the entire evening. There's some electro (Artist Architect), some synthpop (Blanket Expression) and some industrial (Load, Lock, Aim, Fire) in there. Costello comes across as a humble character, delighted that so many had turned out tonight (personally I was surprised and a little disappointed not to see more). About half of his fourty-five minute set seemed to be taken from his new Autotron EP, produced in a limited run of 100 CDs and first available here tonight.

A special mention goes to the back projections that were either random but somehow consistently appropriate (it's very easy to get this stuff wrong) photographs of urban streets, beautiful landscapes, machinery, industrial buildings – usually devoid of humans; or were cut perfectly with images emphasising the lyrical content such as on the effective electro that is Artist, Architect. The constantly shifting nature of John Costello's style meant it took a while for me to hear his own voice but by the time we got to Cities In Question I began to appreciate the intricacy of some of the writing and I was keen to hear the recorded versions. Autotron EP here we come, then I guess.

Set list: Tell Me Now, Blanket Expression, Artist Architect, Romy Haag (Data cover), Cities In Question, Nothing, Lock Load Aim Fire

I've always had a lot of time for smooth two-piece Cult With No Name. Of all on today's bill, it's fair to say CWNN were the outliers of the day, as much of their music stems from two essential components – a voice and a piano. That this is produced live utilising a laptop and a Kurtsweil electric piano is more a means to an end than an ideological technology manifesto. That said, they didn't stand apart as much as I thought they might. Not least because in previewing new material from their forthcoming sixth album we got to hear the most overtly 'electro' track CWNN have so far recorded in Everything Lasts An Age. A chat with the gents later revealed there's more of this feel on the next long player; which is timely news as I was beginning to wonder how much further they could pursue the lounge balladry of their work to date.

On the merchandise stalls outside, they had all the items in their back catalogue for just 5 each – a bargain considering the quality of it all. I hope they managed to sell some of that to new fans as they deserve a higher profile than they have at present. One aspect of their performances that was so subtle tonight, that it may have been lost on the newcomers entirely, is front man Erik Stein's super dry wit. It's an extension of their approach to lyrics and an aspect of their live shows I always look forward to, usually resulting in me grinning from ear to ear during their sets. The most overt example here was when Breathing was introduced as “...our hit single”. It was neither.

Set list: There is Something Frightful In Our Midst (excerpt - intro), To Feel Again, Lies-All-Lies-All-Lies, Everything Lasts An Age, Under The Dirt, Hope Is Existence, Breathing, Context Is Everything, Today's The Day (They Knew Would Come)

[Mild Peril photo]     [John Costello photo]     [Cult With No Name photo]   [Naked Lunch photo]   [Attrition photo]
[Photos - L-R: Mild Peril, John Costello, Cult With No Name, Naked Lunch, Attrition]

My infatuation with Naked Lunch was well document as part of my review of their first gig in thirty years at last year's BASII Festival. I love them so much because they manage to walk the line between an education in old school electro-punk and a thriving contemporary incarnation that's every bit as essential as they were when working the live circuit in 1980. Their anarchic philosophy gives every performance a genuine edge. Tonight lead guitarist Paul N Davies is on particularly unhinged form. Roaring and gesticulating at the audience as he strides on stage in his full length black leather coat, he spends the rest of his time on stage in his own slightly surrealist world. Refusing to play 'lead guitarist' role, he frequently stops, fiddles with equipment, sidles up to lead vocalist Tony Mayo seemingly as much just to pester him as accompany him on vocals. He alone ensures they never become a shallow, complacent, corporate version of themselves. Not for nothing is their record label called Evolve or Die.

This is the band's third gig under their belts since reappearing after a thirty year break. I missed the second performance but it seems each one is a step forward (even though fifth original member Mick Clarke has stepped down to focus on running his own Flight Recorder label). Here, thanks in part to the work of the in-house sound team, each instrument is well-defined making it easier to pick out key parts that at their BASII appearance were sometimes lost amid an occasionally jumbled mix. The volume levels of individual instruments jumped around a little for the first couple of songs but rather than detracting from them actually served to preserve the unpredictable nature of their gigs! As a front man Mayo comes across as someone who hasn't yet fully relocated his original groove but can still growl out the lyrics, such as on early single Rabies, in the required fashion. Still looking very much the part with his shaved sides 'mushroom' haircut, leather attire and riding crop, one suspects his slight air of distraction stems from him keeping an ever watchful eye and ear out for how they are coming across. It sounded great from out front. It looked great too thanks to some expertly matched, and custom made, projected visuals from the guy who also created the band's adventure game-like website.

On the tracks that are more sung than spoken Mayo's voice retains its youthful characteristics and his acerbic delivery of the lyrics still cuts through, producing a subversive smile on the faces of fans in the audience. Those in attendance were lucky enough to hear a new song performed live for only the second time. We Are is an utterly fantastic seven minute exploration of all that makes Naked Lunch so special. The first half is an instrumental summoning of electronic pulses and bleeps. Then the beat kicks in, followed by a Joy Division-esque guitar and Mayo's profound and provocative lyrics about humanity. In the final bars a beautiful synth melody suggests a positive outcome after what has been an epic if traumatic journey. If this is a representative of things to come things from Naked Lunch then the post-apocalyptic landscape in which they exist doesn't appear so resolutely dystopian after all.

Set list: Intro, La femme, Slipping Again, Glow, Rabies, Fade Away, Alone, We Are, Weekend Behaviour, Emotional Turmoil, Slipping Again, Again

It made a nice change seeing Attrition outside of the Goth circuit where they seem to get most of their live appearances in the UK. They've always been more experimental electronic than Goth, so not only did they sit well in the mix of sub-genres represented on the bill today, it was good to see them take the top slot. (Driving force Martin Bowes had worked with festival organiser John Costello for a short period back in the mid-90s on the Engram project, releasing one album, in 1996.) Overrunning sound checking had pushed back the advertised timings by about twenty minutes or so meaning Attrition took to the stage a bit later than planned. Martin Bowes was joined this evening by TyLean (operatic voice) and John Bambury (synths).

They chose to perform just three songs from the new (21st!) album The Unraveller of Angels. Opening with Karma Mechanic, followed by the single Narcissist and, later in the set, One Horse Rider - my first immediate favourite of the new album material. Style wise The Unraveller of Angels sees Attrition in full-on electronic mode with a smattering of fast percussion and drum and bass beats alongside an otherwise very introverted sound. What it may lack in immediacy it more than makes up for in depth with Martin Bowes' vocals being almost exclusively of the dark narrative variety. The rest of the set chose choice cuts from the back catalogue giving them all substantially reworked arrangements so that although the set spanned more than two decades, it all blended together nicely. Well, as 'nicely' as any Attrition set can sound.

Some traditionalists may have preferred to hear the original arrangements, but most true Attrition fans know not to 'expect' anything live. That they are different every time you see them is part of what makes them such an essential live act. Although there were some of Bowes' familiar on-stage contortions, inhaling of joss-sticks, ripping up of the lyrics to Mercy Machine, and even a bit of public exhibitionism with his wife on the dance floor at one point, this was a relatively low-key performance. Entirely in keeping with the current sound and still exuding dark menace, and every bit as 'Attrition' as one might hope. 8/10

Set list: Karma Mechanic, Narcissist, Dante's Kitchen, Acid Tongue, I Am Eternity, One Horse Rider, Two Gods, Mercy Machine, The Long Hall

Rob Dyer

All photos copyright 2013 Giddy Gavin Brick