Infest 2014:
VNV Nation/Haujobb/Juno Reactor/Ashbury Heights/Legend/Solar Fake/Architect/Cyanotic+Rabbit Junk/DJ? Acucrack/Xenturion Prime/E.S.A./Mr Kitty/Be My Enemy/Dreams Divide/The Ladder/Syd.31

Bradford University, West Yorkshire - 22-24 August 2014

"Glorious moments, frozen in time"

Infest 2013 saw this legendary (and longest-running) UK festival reaching its 15th Anniversary milestone. However, before last year's event, the infamous Alt-Fest was announced. A wildly ambitious attempt to bring a 50,000 audience alternative festival to the UK - which would have made it the biggest of its kind in the world. The gravitational pull of a festival with that potential size had, by the time of Infest 2013, already sucked in a good number of bands that would have been perfect for Infest 2014. Clearly, the Infest organisers saw a major problem with putting on another alternative festival, in the same month, to a niche audience. There was even the possibility that Infest 2013 was going to be the last ever. They'd achieved pretty much everything they'd could have dreamed of, let alone set out to accomplish with the first event in a distant, Goth origins in 1998. But an end-of-festival questionnaire last year convinced the organisers to have another, possibly last, stab at it for 2014.

But it was as if the (sadly unsurprising) collapse and cancellation of Alt-Fest in the run up to Infest (Alt-Fest was due to happen between 15th and 18th of August) somehow infected the scene with bad juju and even having been no-more, still impacted on Infest's plans. First up, original headliners Project Pitchfork pulled out due to illness. Then Ambassador21 had to cancel. Then, the day before the festival was due to start, promising-sounding noise merchant Le Moderniste had to pull out on the advice of his doctor after receiving what he descibed as a major back injury. The solutions to these problems were all rapidly in place, with the immensely popular VNV Nation replacing Pitchfork. This was especially appropriate as VNV were one of the dozens of bands scheduled to play Alt-Fest. So there was certainly a sense of universal karma at play when they stepped into the breach to assist the organisers here. Architect replaced Ambassador 21, whilst UK ear bashers E.S.A. stepped up with little more than 48 hours notice to fill in the gap left by Le Moderniste. Christ knows what it must have been like behnd the scenes, but from the front of house it all still looked promising enough.

Friday 22nd
English synth-pop male/female duo Dreams Divide I've always had a soft spot for after hearing their first, self-released, debut album back in the summer of 2011. I saw them supporting Covenant live a couple of months later and that experience only consolidated my first, favourable impressions. Now signed to Juggernaut, performing material from their imminent second album, poetically entitled Tears From The Night Sky, of the six song set four were taken from the new album.

The writing has developed nicely and just as I might have hoped. There's a weightier, slightly more 'serious' side which is appealing. It might be a bit tricky for them to strike a balance live between their familiar exuberant performances of their energised synthpop and this more reflective side. But then VNV Nation seem to have mastered that trick quite well - which perhaps bodes well for these two. For some inexplicable reason, the female half, Gem Davidson, is relegated to the back of the stage. Frontman David is a perfectly nice fella, but it falls entirely to him to carry the 'performance' which, given the qualities of Gem's voice in particular, seems frankly daft. They need to get Gem into the limelight a little more. She (and the audience) deserve it, and the show would be all the better for it.

Dreams Divide setlist: Creation, Faces, Trashed, Filth, Puppet Love, Heaven Comes To Get You

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Photos [L-R]: Dreams Divide, DJ? Acucrack, Rabbit Junk, Haujobb

Jason Novack's DJ? Acucrack is the present form of what was once Acumen Nation. Not that I had any expectation baggage from that era - as they were unbeknownst to me. I just took this for what it was, which was part DJ set/part live show, joined on stage by Cyanotic's Sean Payne, as other regular member Jamie Duffy was absent. This was his UK debut. It was a deft mash up of original material, samples of classic era electro - Nitzer Ebb, Meat Beat Manifesto et al were worked in very nicely and to impressive effect. Their own material was rich and consistently shifting. A cover of Depeche Mode's A Question Of Time was well-executed and received. The first act this year to require post-festival homework. ;-)

The description on the Infest website of Cyanotic being 'cyber metal warriors' would have been hard pushed to have use any other three word combination that could have appealed to me less. So it was out of a sense of little more than curiosity to see a band I'd never seen before that got me in front of them. It was only on arrival that I noticed that Cyanotic had multiplied to become Cyanotic+Rabbit Junk. Consistent with Infest's tradition of booking acts not everyone is likely to be familiar with, I'd never heard of the latter but a peek on Facebook implied that many others thought their appearance was a thing of much celebration. Sadly, and after such a build up, I'm afraid I cannot shed any further light on them. For I only saw the first twenty minutes or so of Cyanotic. Whilst I often sympathise with the message behind their songs, the metallically heavy style of delivery often leaves me cold.

Cyanotic setlist: Frequency [recycled], Alt.Machine, Resurgence, Transhuman 2.0, F@5h1on V1k+um5, Disconnect Me, Deface, (Paranoid) Disbelief, Order Out of Chaos, Sensory Deprivation
Rabbit Junk setlist: Break Shins To This, Demons, IDONTGIVEAFUCK, Crutch, What Doesn't Kill You Will Make You A Killer

Anyone well-read on this website will know I have much admiration for Daniel Myer and his numerous musical projects. Haujobb, for me, is his most defining act, it is certainly his longest-running, and the first one I discovered back in the mid-90s on the Off Beat label. Like most of Myer's projects, Haujobb (a partnership for some years with Dejan Samardzic) has never stood still, its style evolving down the decades, taking in electro-industrial, IDM, ambient, industrial, electro and other variations. Their most recent stuff hasn't quite spoken to me as much as some of the seminal early work (1996's Solutions For A Small Planet gets my vote as one of the finest electronic music albums of all time), but Haujobb, indeed any Myer project, live performances are richly rewarding experiences for the partial. As it turned out, today's set included some choice early cuts - most memorably Eye Over You and World Window.

Never, ever, sitting on the laurels of his recorded achievements, Myer consistently pushes the creative boundaries so that no two live performances are ever quite the same. Impressively, he develops and evolves his works for a live setting; the result being that much-loved songs familiar in their beautiful detail sound different, not as anticipated, but as good as ever, even enhanced. Tonight was no exception. The rendition of Anti/Matter (from the aforementioned Solutions...) alone was truly stunning. One of my favourite recording artists is also one of my favourite live artists. In a word - quality.

Haujobb setlist: Machine Drum, Anti/Matter, Renegades Of Noize, Let's Drop Bombs, Crossfire, Eye Over You, Little World, Dream Aid, World Window, The Noise Institute, Dead Market

Saturday 23rd
In my pre-festival research (aka watching announced bands on YouTube) I may have confused The Ladder with Legend. When you get to my age, with the music-addled braincells I have, if two six-letter band names begin with 'L' there's a reasonable chance I'm gonna get confused. Point being that I was down down the front with time to spare and it wasn't long after they started that I realised what I was hearing wasn't what I thought I would hear. Still, if Infest is about anything it's about discovering new music you might just already be attuned to. Problem for The Ladder, and the audience, was that technical issues caused by thier setup were plaguing their attempts, seemingly stopping them from hitting their stride.

Their lengthy instrumental intro using an extended sample from Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder was tantalising but what followed didn't live up to VNV Nation's well-known (albeit much briefer) use of the same sample in their classic track Forsaken. Yet there was still something about their approach that tweaked my interest beyond the surface and I went away vowing to check out their studio work.

The Ladder setlist: Charade, Disconnect, Requital, Until The End Of The World, Down, Enabler

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Photos [L-R]: The Ladder, Be My Enemy, Xenturion Prime

Be My Enemy though relatively low down on the bill were generating a lot of pre-festival buzz - given this is the new project from Cubanate's Phil Barry. I was never particularly taken by Cubanate's version of the crossover style but many were, and if the comments heard after their set today were anything to go by, there's clearly a lot of love still out there for anyone associated with the band. A four-piece on stage, half of which was made up of members of fellow dance floor stompers System:FX, with scene regular Keef Baker providing the rare opportunity to watch an electric double bass in action.

I was very partial to the tracks that sounded like they could have been included in a new version of Wipeout like opener Break Your Body. The more thrashing, guitar heavy songs held me less. But 'twas ever thus. Their second album, The Enemy Within, recently appeared as a self-release, and with that Cubanate pedigree and growing reputation for nailing the live shows, ought to do well for them.

Be My Enemy setlist: Break Your Body, Party Monster, Insomniac, Ghost In The Machine, Oxyacetalene (Cubanate cover), Kill Your Television, To Protect and Serve, Helter-Skelter

Continuing the 'we used to be in a more famous band' theme, Scandanavian powersynthers Xenturion Prime rose from the ashes of synthpopers Code 64, who I never fell in love with but then I never actually got around to listening to very much. XP are Hasse Mattsson and Bjørn Marrius Borg, and continue very much in the synthpop vein, meaning former Code 64 fans are likely to have been well sated by their forty minute set. Whilst they reminded me that there's no shame in liking a good thumping synthpop tune they were unable to garner any more interest from me than their previous incarnation.

Xenturion Prime setlist: Mecha, Rise, Transmission, Second Nature, Ignition/Power Up, Voyagers, Elite, Beyond Infinity, Leaving Earth (Code 64), Power Run (Laser Dance cover)

If the purpose of Icelandic duo Legend by creating a logo that split the name into two equal halves of three letters each, then placing them on top of each other so that their name could quite easily be mis-read as "Leg End", was to generate inordinate amounts of conversation among festival goers as to whether or not this was the intention or a wise move, then they succeeded admirably. There's always a dark horse at Infest; the one band that either in the run-up, or at the festival once it has started, are the act that a very large number of people are excitedly tipping as the hot 'discovery' band of the event. Legend emerged that dark horse.

After a solid performance of lengthy tracks (just six songs filled a forty-five minute set), positive debate about the band continued, meaning that whoever on the bill was anyone's personal favourite, Legend certainly claimed the most discussed act of the entire weekend and probably went away having generated the most new followers. This was tight, polished and delivered with guts, but more familiarity with their recorded work in advance would have prepared me better.

Legend setlist: Amazon War, Virgin, Sister, City, Runaway Train, Benjamite Bloodline

Originally scheduled to appear were Belarus outfit Ambassador21. However, once they become one of the dropouts in the run-up, the organisers quite understandably turned to the multifaceted scene stalwart Daniel Myer, already booked to perform with Haujobb, to see if he could bring more of his bountiful talents to bare. He could. Architect made their UK debut at Infest in 2006. Back then, it was predominantly a noise project (indeed, the album many rate as a defining one for the project is entitled I Went Out Shopping To Get Some Noise). A genre that's very hit and miss for me.

The most recent album Mine however shows a significant change of direction being far more measured and melodic. With the addition of sweeping female vocals in the form of Emese Arvai-Illes, at once more accessible and, potentially to fans of the early work, alienating. What may have displeased others delighted me as it meant here was another Myer project that was closer to my tastes. Whichever project he happens to be working on, Myer does have a restless tendency to evolve and develop its sound over time, and this can be off putting to some. Myer performing live percussion on a couple of floor toms during the set added to the live and visual presentation, but it will likely be Arvai-Illes' impressively expressive voice that will stay with most.

Architect setlist:  Neverending, Set My World On Fire, The Mountain Top, Immaterial, Unhuman, Closer, Hummingbird, For You, The Sun

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Photos [L-R]: Legend, Architect, Juno Reactor

Trance/world music mixmaster and contributor to the soundtracks to The Matrix films Juno Reactor have been consistently avoiding me for many years. I was pissed off when they played in London a few years back on a double-header with Laibach. I knew nothing of it in advance - despite being on both the (then clearly useless) Juno Reactor and Laibach emailing lists! A couple of years back, I was in Japan when they were playing in Osaka, only twenty minutes away by train, but only discovered that reading a magazine on the flight back to England.

Juno Reactor play to massive audiences globally on the dance scene. However, for the organisers of Infest, this must have felt like something of a punt as to how they would play with the Infest crowd. They needn't have fretted. Infest has always attracted a following that straddles a young crowd, who tend to like their club inspired/dance floor-driving acts, and the 40+ goers who hope each year to catch one or two of the more cerebral legends from the 80s. In Juno Reactor the orgnisers got the best of both worlds. This year's lineup was noticeably lighter on the 'mature legends' than in recent years, but Juno's Ben Watkins has a long pedigree, so Juno Reactor being on the bill was probably satisfying some of those who like their school a bit older.

Although not as large as some of their stage shows, particularly in terms of numbers of musicians on stage, this was still a spectacle. The pre-festival promotion mentioning that Budgie, of Siouxie and The Banshees fame, would be providing the live drums definitely intensified the advance buzz, and his (what must have been) exhausting efforts on the night more than lived up to the hype. I only have one Juno Reactor album  - Shango from 2000, largely on account of it containing for me their pinnacle in Masters Of The Universe. Sadly, that didn't appear tonight but Pistolero from the same album did. The better-known God Is God was a high point, and Navras probably the epic nirvana. Also present was Mona Lisa Overdrive used in The Matrix soundtrack, complete with backdrop of cascading green symbols. Although short of perfect (live keyboards an odd exclusion for a trance act), nevertheless, for the uninitiated Juno Reactor were the revelation for many at this year's event.

Juno Reactor setlist: Conquistador I, Conquistador II, Biot Messiah, Invisible, Navras, Zombie, Conga Fury, God Is God, Mona Lisa Overdrive Encore: Pistolero, Final Frontier

Sunday 24th
Dubbed by some as 'synthpop Sunday' on account of a generally more... err... synth and pop-orientated lineup, culminating with VNV Nation, (and it being a Sunday) the final day of Infest 2014 had a couple of nuggets that helped sealed the deal for me at least this year - Mr. Kitty and Ashbury Heights - both of which did happen to fall into that category. Others, however, certainly did not.

The unenviable challenge of kick-starting Sunday afternoon (after two days of fans indulging late into the early hours) fell to Syd.31. On paper these looked like every band I would give a very wide berth to. Described as Rob Zombie vs Europop with banging tunes and crust punk vocals, I rarely take to any band that appears to be in it mainly for laughs. Infest is well-known for never taking itself, or the scene, too seriously, so it isn't uncommon for them to serve up the odd curve ball like this. In the past this has been either painfully unpleasant (cf. The Gothsicles in 2007) or a revelation (cf. Coreline in 2008). Which would this be - I wondered? Hearing they cited The Vengaboys as an inspiration and their set usually included a cover of Culturebeat's Mr. Vain, it really didn't bode well.

Nevertheless, I like to think of myself as being generally very open-minded when it comes to hearing new stuff, and today that approach paid off in spades. For as much as Syd.31 is out to have and provide a good time, he underpins it all with something serious to say. Calling your debut album Start A War is a good place to start. Like the original punks thirty years before, he realises that there should be more to life on this planet than what surrounds us. He's also acutely aware that we're all too easily subliminally conditioned to be as passive as possible. The single biggest surprise of the entire weekend. I want to hear that album in full.

Syd.31 setlist: Start A War, Power!, Dieter Rams Is Dead, Future Ska 2.0, Monsters, One Night, Mr. Vain (Culturebeat cover)

Although not fawning at his feet like some were clearly happy to, I was already taken by some of Mr. Kitty's (aka Forrest Carney) work to date, so the chance to see this young American in the UK was one I was looking forward to. And, for me, this delivered precisely what I hoped it might. Sounding very much like some of the witchhouse I'm quite partial to, belying his youth, Kitty-chan describes what he does as 'self-destructive synthpop'. Hopefully, he won't feel the compulsion to top himself too soon, as his fourth album Time and today's set present an impressive take on the genre. One imagines Carney might have a shrine to Donnie Darko (and its soundtrack) in his bedroom in his parent's house, to which he regularly makes an offering, perhaps with the slightly wistful hope that some of that film's charming tales of troubled youth will be reflected in his writing.

Whatever he's bringing into play, there's enough already to suggest there's plenty of staying power here. I've had Insects on heavy rotation ever since I stumbled across it online, and its early appearance in today's set remained the best example, I've heard so far, of the alchemy possible when he gets the delicate balance of components bang on. The remainder of the set held my attention too, meaning this was one of the performances this year that I stayed in the photo pit for the duration.

Mr. Kitty setlist: XIII, Insects, Destroy Me, Unstable, Haunts, If You Were Here (Jennifer cover), Pathogen, Neglect, Amnesia, Child Of The Earth (Encore:) London

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Photos [L-R]: Syd.31, Mr. Kitty, E.S.A.

It was thanks to Infest that I discovered E.S.A. (Electronic Substance Abuse) in 2007. Back then I was quite taken by their considered take on the audio exploration of the darker side of the human psyche. So hearing that they were the final, last minute replacement for the back injured Le Moderniste, I made sure to get down the front before they took to the stage. But, oddly, this time around it failed to either engage or engulf me. I had no idea why this should be and hung on for the first twenty minutes or so, but eventually walked away - somewhat confused and disappointed.

E.S.A. Setlist: The Heart Is Marked, Breathing Through You, Blood Is Merged, The Shape of Hate to Come, Paradise Inside Punishment Defined, Wretch, Bliss, All You Brought To Me Was Fucking Nothing

Solar Fake I first saw live when they were last in the UK, also supporting VNV Nation at Koko in London. They do that the Berlin-based, two-piece electro thing perfectly and, in many respects, are the ideal Infest act. Their club-friendly beats, drops and whoosing synth pads are tailor-made for a festival atmosphere and many arms were indeed waved in response. But like many similar acts on the German scene, as much as one can admire their slick delivery, it quickly all sounds too familiar, short on distictive qualities.

After the lull that was Solar Fake, I was really looking forward to seeing Andreas Hagström's Ashbury Heights live again. The first and only time before was back in 2007 - and I loved it. Since then, Hagstrom has replaced the other female half of the band twice, released two albums, had a very public falling out with former label Out Of Line, a nervous breakdown, and announced he was quitting the music scene for good. Thankfully, all that trauma seems to be well behind him. It might even have helped fuel the songwriting.

I still really like the first, John Fryer produced album Three Cheers For The Newlydeads, and merely like the second double LP Take Cair Paramour. Work on a third album, with third female partner Tea, is well underway, so it was with a slightly unsettling mixture of anxiousness and excitement that I waited to hear the new material. Thankfully, I really liked what I heard. Mostly because what they aired here avoided some of the 'obvious' appeal of their older, more pop-song based writing, and firmly demonstrated a more ambitious, if less 'immediate' sound and vision. Calling one of your tracks
If You're Shooting With Your Left Hand It Means The Right Side Is Working takes some balls and only works if you deliver the goods - which it did. Probably the lowest BPM song in the set and one of the best.

Their time on stage was hampered slightly by flaky microphone connections, but I expect this was more than counterbalanced by the attractive appearance of the two members. Hagstr
öm - a dapper if slightly detached dandy. Meanwhile, Tea, who also earns a living as a fetish clothing model, clearly enjoyed coaxing wolf-whistles from the crowd with her flattering rubber dress and frequent pouting. At times, it did feel as if she was slipping into photo-pose mode at the expense of performing her vocal duties, but it's clear that this is still a work in progress and should be more refined after a few more gigs. But it is in Hagström's passion for his work where the strength of Ashbury Heights really lies. He's obviously very serious about what he does. His focused and impassioned delivery is admirable but can come across as lacking connection with his audience. I don't much mind this as their music carries it for me, but between the two of them it can come across as a touch too stilted. Nevertheless, based on what I heard here, they will be on my must-do list whenever they play the UK, and I'm now looking forward to the new album with even more anticipation.

Ashbury Heights setlist: Crescendo, Glow, Waste of Love, If You're Shooting With Your Left Hand It Means The Right Side Is Working, Headlights, Anti-Ordinary, Phantasmagoria, Heart Of Darkness, Spiders 

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Photos [L-R]: Solar Fake, Ashbury Heights, VNV Nation

I've fallen in and out of love with VNV Nation down the years since their first album Advance and Follow back in 1995. Most everything up to Futureperfect is worth having in one's collection. Then came a few dodgy years, with the false step that was Matter + Form and the forced attempts at re-creating the earlier magic with a couple of too formulaic albums in Judgement and Of Faith, Power and Glory. 2011's Automatic though was a defnite return to form. However, Transnational, their ninth and current album, again falls back into inspiration-free territory. Nevertheless, I've been to VNV gigs in recent times and there have been some glorious evenings among them.

Sadly, tonight's set relied heavily on Transnational meaning the past magic failed to materialise. Whilst all the usual and familiar buttons were pressed, this did little to thrill; with some of Ronan's delivery, particularly his vocals, feeling almost laboured at times. Having said that, it was clear that booking VNV, who should have appeared at the recently demised Alt-Fest, was appreciated. The audience on the Sunday noticably swelled by a couple of hundred who'd clearly purchased day tickets on account of VNV headlining.  

This year, only Haujobb blew me away. Several others appealed a lot (Ashbury Heights, Mr. Kitty, Syd.31, Dreams Divide, Juno Reactor), but musically speaking, for me at least, I was left wanting more. As a social experience it was the best year ever; possibly due in part to so many people coming together at an event they love and which a year ago they thought they'd lost forever.

I think Infest might exist in a parallel universe. One where time passes more quickly than it does in the one in which we Infesters occupy during the rest of our lives. I consistently found myself saying "Oh, gotta go, the next band are due on...". I wanted more time to watch bands and more time to explore the markets and talk with fellow Infesters. Just where exactly was all that time going? I'm not one for wishing my life away; I like to slowly savour the moment. The perplexing thing about time in the Infest universe is that not only does it simultaneously pass quicker than usual, but it also stops. Fleetingly offering glorious moments, frozen in time. Created by the passion of those on the stage, those behind it, and those standing in front of it.

Review: Rob Dyer
Photos: © Simon @ Disturbing

Official Infest website:

See also:
Infest 2013
Infest 2012
Infest 2010
Infest 2008
Infest 2007
Infest 2006
Infest 2003
Infest 2001
InFest 2000
InFest '99
InFest '98