I am going to preface this review by stating that I am not a Goth. That doesn't mean I do not like Goth it just means 'I am not a Goth'. But it should be borne in mind when reading this review of what was, basically, a day of Goth.
The Faces of Sarah
I missed the first couple of songs by The Faces of Sarah since being on the guest list inexplicably meant I had to wait longer to get in than the regular punters. Casting aside my confusion at the 'logic' of this, I quickly made my way in to hear what was on offer. TFoS's particular brand of darkness can boast lots of energy, strong vocals and a convincing trad style goth. Their output was somewhat at odds with the appearance of the lead singer, whose goatee beard, dark glasses and hairstyle made him look more like a 60s French beatnik. I'm not knocking the guy, far from it. It's good to see some on the scene making some obvious efforts to avoid the crushing weight of cliches that the goth scene still seems to thrive on.
'Does exactly what it says on the tin' is the appropriate phrase here I think. Well, perhaps 'Does exactly what it says in the name' is more accurate. A male two piece digi-goth outfit - singer and err... percussionist. I hesitate since the extent of 'instrumentation' on stage stretched only to a drum machine and... another drum machine (or was it a sampler?). But this was indeed as much an entertaining cabaret as it was about trying to recreate songs live.
The vocalist twiddled with a drum pad and whacked it severely hard at times creating the odd electronic pinging noise, whilst his partner in pantomime looked like he would soon be suffering from a bad case of RSI with the amount of times he rapidly whacked his finger on the 'bass drum' button. Mechanical Cabaret spurted out thumping drums and strong rhythms which were nicely balanced with great synth sounds. Simple but fun.
Next up were Altered States and their HUGE drum kit. It was almost as if they were attempting to make up for the lack of instruments in Mechanical Cabaret's set. This was the more conventional rock style live set up with lead guitar, bass and backing keyboards. The lead singer here was sporting a cowboy hat and a punky attitude. The vocals were the only saving grace for me in what was otherwise an extremely boring, rock-orientated set. The lack of audible support from the audience was also noticeable.
The 'dark side of Underworld' was the description I'd heard before seeing these newcomers and I wouldn't disagree with that at all. Extremely good is another description I'd use. Standing out the most as they displayed absolutely no traces of goth in their sound or style, Greenhaus nevertheless went down a storm. If there's one thing most goths are it's open-minded. And the cheers from the assembled dark ones indicated that most people here loved what they heard. Greenhaus comprised three guys hunched over various boxes of electronic components, with Frankie D moving between two boxes, fiddling with buttons and monitoring the sound through his headphones. The novelty of having all the vocals/spoken voice on the backing track was a nice touch as each track warped into another without pause for a response from the audience.
This was a rave-like assault on the senses with the familiar pumping beats heightened by the blinding strobe lighting and thick smoke. Though lacking the distinctive edge of, say, Empirion, Greenhaus still managed to counjer up some terrific sounds and sequences. I might have been tripping but snatches of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Adam and The Ants appeared to emerge from the wall of sound at times. And when the red and blue lights coloured the swathes of smoke lingering around the stage area it was like being in a Dario Argento film with a rather angry Chemcial Brothers providing the soundtrack. Which was pretty cool. Provided they focus on the more unusual elements in their sound and don't get too carried away with the chemicals beats theme, Greenhaus could become essential. They are already impressive.
Anyone who read my review of Infest '99 will know my severe dislike for Killing Miranda, so I won't labour the point again here. Instead, I'll leave you with a few choice quotes from their singer: "This song is about sex", "Do I make you horny?" and "Do you think I am a gobshite?"... don't even tempt me.
Diary of Dreams
It was good to see the German Diary of Dreams here in England. Their polished brand of epic and tragic synth goth is somewhat lacking in the UK scene. Their dual-vocalist approach is also pretty unusual. Painted, from head to toe, in gold and silver body paint, the two male singers led a professional and energetic performance. Headliners Clan of Xymox registered briefly in Diary of Dreams' blending of trad goth guitars with lush synth strings. Credit due for consciously taking the gothic genre into new territory. I've one DoD CD and, in small doses, they provide a welcome diversion. But after four songs or so, it became apparent that DoD need more ideas to really capitalise on their distinctive qualities. Despite having two vocalists, they both followed the same vocal line throught the entire set. This asset provided the obvious opportunity for imaginative and creative harmonising but was left to take the more predictable route. There was little to dinsinguish between the two singers so it wasn't as if they each had a distinctive voice. So after initially getting me back onto the dance floor, Diary of Dreams eventually drove me away again. But they remained a welcome addition to the bill and few in the audience seemed to share my reservations.
In The Nursery
We were heading into the final straight now and Sheffield twins Nigel and Klive Humberstone returned to the London stage for the first time in five years (outside their live film soundtrack performances), and the anticipation in the audience was palpable. Joined by their long-standing live regulars Dolores Marguerite C. (vocals and percussion) and Q (military snare and percussion), it was great to see In The Nursery back in their traditional gig environment back in their home country. Outside their native England, ITN regularly tour in Europe and South America. So much so that last time I saw them live I had to go over to Hamburg for the weekend just to see them play! So you could say I'm something of a hardcore ITN enthusiast.
Apparently five months pregnant, Dolores tried to explain she would be taking a hiatus as a result of her condition, but it came out sounding like ITN were never going to play live again! But this was clarified later, besides no-one appeared to believe it in the first place. On stage for less than an hour, a third of the set comprised tracks of their latest (and very impressive) album Groundloop with the remainder a résumé of their twentysomething years recording. Indeed, "This next song is 20 years old" they announced just before launching into Mystery. A structually simple track that still manages to hold its own amongst the more polished contemporary ITN sound. A Les Jumeaux (a side project of ITN) track also appeared and its more techno-influenced beats provided a higher BPM pace for the audience to jump around to.
As always, watching In The Nursery perform live was a pleasure and although their usual slideshow was noticeably absent (probably a result of their slot in a very hectic schedule) their mammoth stage presence in the shape of a wide variety of drums, percussion and cymbals was imposing as ever. This is one of the few bands one can see live and see all the members playing drums simultaneously! With many years experiencing ITN performances under my belt, I have to say that this wasn't one of their best, but that's not to knock them. Even when their not firing on all cylinders, In The Nursery are worth every penny of your hard earned money. Don't miss the opportunity to see them live; and if you don't have any of their albums then I suggest you pick up their latest or one of their compilations as a matter of urgency.
Clan of Xymox
I last saw the mighty (Dutch) Clan of Xymox play in London, August 1999. That gig provided Ronny Moorings (the creative driving force behind CoX since its inception in the early 80s) with an opportunity to air songs of their latest album, Creatures. There has been no new album since then and Creatures provided the band with half of the songs for tonight's set. Personally, it was a disappointing album after the glorious Hidden Faces of 1997, it nevertheless contains several impressive tracks which were given exposure here. Jasmine and Roses and Waterfront being the noticeable highlights. The remainder slightly lacking in individuality enough to stand out.
That's not to say that CoX classics like Stranger, A Day and Louise didn't get a look in, because they did. The latter track slightly remixed in "a special version just for London" as Ronny put it. A couple of tracks from Hidden Faces did appear (the 'rocking' Out of The Rain working better live than on CD) but the last song, Going Round 97, is probably the weakest cut on that album (despite being a reworking of a much older track) and seemed to be an odd track to finish the set on. But I don't think this was the plan. When CoX came on stage, Moorings apologised for the delay in setting up (not that this was particularly noticeable to the audience) but clearly he was already concerned about the looming 11pm curfew (which at the Astoria 2 is always strictly enforced). Consequently, Clan of Xymox only got to play for approximately 50 minutes. Not only was that disappointing for fans it probably didn't please the band too much either. So there were almost certainly several other songs planned for the set that the band didn't get the chance to play and the audience didn't get the chance to hear.
But it was good while it lasted. There was loads of smoke, loads of arm waving (both on stage and off) with Ronny Moorings leading the way throughout. Mojca, the (girlfriend of singer Moorings and) bass player at the front was the only other band member clearly present. The drummer, keyboard player and guitarist at the back only rarely visible through the dense gothic smoke screen. Clan of Xymox were the only band I'd moved to the front for and although I wasn't carried away by their performance, as has happened so memorably in the past, they proved once again that they deserved top billing as one of the most impressive and long-running electronic goth acts ever.
Due to the shear number of acts on today's bill things were running very tightly throughout and, as ever, slightly behind. Eight bands in just over eight hours is a tough schedule to pull off, and in hindsight perhaps too ambitious. Had the supporting bands' sets been shorter the problem would have been minimised. But I wouldn't want to see that at the next Flag festival. Better to reduce the number of acts on the bill. Six bands would still offer great value and ensure that all artists (and fans) got a fair crack of the whip. One final parting comment, and that is to say congratulations to the DJ(s?) on the day. Compared to the previous Flag festival (Electrofest) the DJ sets at Gotham were a vast improvement. Well done.