Test Dept: Redux/Feral Five

Amersham Arms, London - 10 September 2016

"The set was plagued with technical difficulties from the off"

[Test Dept/Feral Five banner]

Feral Five seemed out of their depth from the off, swamped by the accumulation of Test Department's gear littering the stage and confined to a very small area. They were dogged by a muddy sound, and were rather too poppy to hold my attention for very long. The singer had a good voice, but they lacked any bite, and made almost no impression on me. A strange choice to open this particular gig, although they went down well enough. 3/10

For the uninitiated, Test Dept. were one of the original 'Industrial' bands, using metal salvaged from scrap yards and skips to make a thunderous racket, incorporating elements from avant-garde art movements, soviet-style visuals, male voice choirs, opera, and even bagpipes in their long career. Expressly left-wing, they happily dodged the trap of fascist association which their hyper-masculine image (all cropped hair, combat boots, army gear, 'dignity of labour' shtick and muscle vests) might easily have lumbered them with.

I'd always followed their progress with interest, as they were based locally to my SE London stamping ground (the first time I came across them in late 1981, I was house sitting a squat in New Cross when I heard a hideous metallic grinding/ scraping sound, which I assumed was someone tearing the copper piping out of the house next door. On investigation it turned out to be Test Dept. setting up their gear to practice in the basement), so the chance to see them in a small venue within walking distance of my house was not to be missed.

This new incarnation (featuring only two members of the original line-up), is somewhat different to the previous set-up - hence the 'Redux'. Where formerly the core of the sound had been metal percussion with additional elements (electronics, tapes/samples, 'real' drums and the aforementioned bagpipes etc.), now the main thrust is tribal rhythms played on real drums with a layer of live bass, electronics and metal-bashing over the top.

[Test Dept: Redux 2016]

Photo: Test Dept: Redux (C) Test Dept.

The advances in technology in recent times should have made things easier, but the set was plagued with technical difficulties from the off. I'm not sure what the lap-top on stage right was supposed to be doing, but it manifestly wasn't doing it. The sound engineer rushed hither and yon, checking cables and clicking buttons, worried faces attempted conferences in which it was clear no-one could really hear what anyone else was saying, irritable gestures at headphones indicating a lack of sound and a general throwing up of hands in despair were seen. And that was just the first ten minutes.

Consequently, they never really built up any momentum, the rare moments where everything came together were too few and far between, and there were far too many periods of prolonged extemporisation to cover the fact that the machinery wasn't doing what it was told.

The sound mix wasn't great either, with the more subtle metallic elements barely audible most of the time. Even when things were working, and recognisable songs could be heard, they bore little resemblance to the previously recorded versions. Most of what I identified was from the Unacceptable Face of Freedom LP (F*ckhead, Crusher), but the lyrics could have been intoned over a completely different song for all I knew.

I kept willing them to give up on the malfunctioning technology, work up a rolling percussive rhythm, and just improvise from there for the rest of the set. Given the pedigree of the three new members (Pulkas/ Headbutt), and the fact that they all play together as Hercules II, this really wouldn't have been too difficult to pull off. Unfortunately there wasn't a 'Plan B', so we were stuck with the defective 'Plan A', which just wasn't enough to keep me there until the end.

I did buy a very nice T-Shirt though. 5/10

Review: Nick Hydra