Infest 2018
Peter Hook & The Light/Mesh/Aesthetic Perfection/Cubanate/This Morn' Omina/Empirion/Elegant Machinery/Iszoloscope/Leibknecht/Sarin/Actors/Strvngers/Siva Six/Valhall/Zeitgeist Zero/Yura Yura/Promenade Cinema/Massenhysterie/Def Neon/Flesh Eating Foundation/Adam Is A Girl/Grave Diggers Union

Bradford University, West Yorkshire - 23-26 August 2018

"Peter Hook and The Light fucking owned Infest"

So, Infest 2018 saw this venerable alternative electronic music festival reach its impressive 20th Anniversary.

And they did it in some style.

I make no secret of the fact that I do not automatically attend every year - I'm driven purely by the lineup and how tempting that is.

Having said that, it's a tribute to the quality and breadth of the bookings the festival organisers have consistently pulled off year after year, that I have attended 15 of the 20 to date.

The immediate clincher this year for me, and I suspect many others, was the announcement that former Joy Division and New Order member Peter Hook (as Peter Hook and The Light) would appear. To celebrate this mighty landmark, a extra day was added to the start of the usual three-day event, that always takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

It's had a permanent residency at Bradford University which has become something of an annual pilgrimage for many, a good number of whom have been to more than I.

Infest 2018 20th Anniversary poster

Thursday 23rd

Grave Diggers Union are a UK two-piece, comprising Nik Brierley, vocals and synths, and Michael Whalley on drums. Their attempt at weaponised goth combat poetry, where the spirit of the 80s fights with Whalley's ironic check shirt and the staple samples was largely successful.

On tracks like Clouds the similarities with Black Light Ascension are readily apparent - a good thing in my book. If you could hear the lyrics over the bass then it might be more impacting live, but Grave Diggers Union were still a satisfyingly morose start to proceedings.

Setlist: Beverley, Down, Tonight, Clouds, Ghost Dance, Move & Shake

Leeds based Zeitgeist Zero didn't have far to come for their Infest debut. One of the bands I had to research in the run-up, I'd largely dismissed them as exponents of what can broadly be called goth rock - something I'm rarely partial to. However, by the end of Domestic Blitz, their opening track, my preconceptions had been nicely challenged.

Second track Diamonds saw lead singer Teresa Dead (I'm guessing not her real name) pounding a floor tom which not only looked cool but sounded like a metallic machine gun. The half-hour blitzkrieg stomp that followed sounded more menacing than I'd anticipated. Fat, raspy synth backing and pile-driving guitars were a constant throughout.

The content shows a range of influences from punk to synthpop, jumping around so the only predictable thing is the sense of fun. In many ways then the ideal Infest act, supported by a big and vocally appreciative crowd.

Two bands in and the weekend was already beginning to buzz.

Setlist: Domestic Blitz, Diamonds, Don't Pop My Bubble, Pushed to the Edge, United In Black, Toxic Twisted, Dance of the Fallen

DJs JuDas and Matt C alternated throughout the night, between them creating just the kind of playlist you'd want to get Infest properly up and running.

Grave Diggers Union, Infest festival 2018
     Zeitgeist Zero, Infest festival 2018    Zeitgeist Zero, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Grave Diggers Union x1, Zeitgeist Zero x2

Next up were Peter Hook & The Light. It was clear that some in the audience were here purely for his set.

I've seen New Order a handful of times down the decades, (the first time I can remember was at Woolwich Coronet in February 1987). I am, of course, a Joy Division fan too, but was too young to have caught them. So whenever New Order performed a Joy Division track at a gig I was always grateful.

I've not seen New Order for ages and wasn't entirely sure if Peter Hook and The Light performed any of their own original material or purely JD and NO songs. I was very happy to find it was only the latter.

I lost interest in New Order after the Brotherhood album, so hoped tonight's set would be based around Joy Division and only early NO material. Thankfully, it was. The first half of their 75 minute set was an incessant barrage of quality Joy Division songs, with only Temptation, Blue Monday, and True Faith from New Order cropping up in the final 20 minutes.

It's easy to be a bit cynical about Hooky doing what he's doing now (reliving past glories rather than creating new ones). He has a lyric booklet on a sheet music holder in front of him. And because he's now lead vocalist on all the songs, he even forgoes performing most of those glorious bass lines that make his impressive back catalogue so legendary. Hook's own son Jack Bates now handles most of that. (Although it doesn't stop Hooky throwing his famous swung bass poses.)

BUT. Those songs! What a legacy to have given the world.

It's clearly been too long since I've played a Joy Division or New Order album. Hearing this music live reminds you just how utterly brilliant so much of it is. The influence of both bands on the goth and alternative electronic scenes to date is undeniably huge. The festival organisers deserve every credit and praise for securing such an opportunity for the Infest crowd.

Justifiably, Peter Hook and The Light fucking owned Infest.

Rarely has the Infest mass leapt up and down with such unity front to back. It's true that Hook's voice is better suited to the Joy Division stuff. By the time we'd gotten to New Order pop of True Faith the effect wasn't exactly elegant. Whereas the more he hollered the more convincing it was.

It's perhaps to be expected that the fire in Hook's belly wasn't as raging as it has been in years past. However, the playful attitude was still present. He recalled Joy Division playing in Bradford at the Royal Standard in 1978 when they got heads kicked in by skinheads - saying he hoped the end to tonight's gig was more favourable. It was. (Bonus trivia: New Order previously played at Bradford University in 1981.)

At the start of the set he apologised guitarist David Potts was not wearing any black. Something to do with it all being in the wash - Hooky said he wasn't convinced. But by the end of the set he praised Potts for doing a decent job - "Despite not wearing any black".

Peter Hook & The Light, Infest festival 2018    Peter Hook & The Light, Infest festival 2018    Peter Hook & The Light, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Peter Hook and The Light x3

It's futile trying to talk about 'highlights' from a set that included Isolation, New Dawn Fades, Transmission, She's Lost Control, Shadowplay, Heart and Soul, Temptation, and Ceremony. Add into the mix an excellent rendition of Blue Monday and finishing on Love Will Tear Us Apart and you get 75 minutes of brilliant music skillfully delivered, that's hard to better.

With so much of the set focusing on Joy Division material and with Hook taking over vocal duties (to varying degrees of success), it inevitably calls to mind what this may have been if Ian Curtis were still alive. Actually, I found it hard trying to imagine Curtis still performing at Hook's age. But this isn't that, nor was it attempting to be.

This is a different universe to the one Curtis is in now. But, at times like this, I'm so very glad I am in it.

Setlist: Dead Souls, Isolation, Digital, Disorder, New Dawn Fades, Twenty Four Hours, Transmission, She's Lost Control, Shadowplay, Heart and Soul, Temptation, Blue Monday, True Faith, Ceremony, Love Will Tear Us Apart

How the hell do you follow a set like that?! Smartly, you go to the other end of the musical spectrum.

Hard dance, industrial techno - call it what you will - but Empirion continue to captivate me. There's little head involved. This grabs you on an emotional, visceral level. Their effect on me is similar to Portion Control - a band I adore live (and who also played Infest in 2007).

It's also a measure of Empirion's effect on the Infest audience that they'd been asked to return (something that doesn't happen often at here) and so soon too as it was only 2015 when they first appeared on the bill. Listening to both Empirion and Portion Control live I think of that sample from Front 242's First In/First Out: “I went there every night, just to feel the beat”.

Music has to work on an emotional level. For me it has to be transcendent. I'm always hoping for that trance like state that comes. I know I'm getting there as soon as I'm compelled to close my eyes and simply listen. Which, given the impressive visual show Empirion put on (extra lighting was brought onto both sides of the stage ahead of their set and screens behind and in front of members Oz Morsley and Jamie Smart), was a shame!

Given that they play no instruments on stage, Empirion shows are more like DJ sets. The extra effort they go to with their live presentation is both welcome and pays off. But none of this distracts from the music.

Remarkably, they've only released one album so far (1996's Advanced Technology on XL Recordings), followed by a string of EPs/singles. Tonight's set focused heavily on new material. Their latest EP (out later this month) includes Red Noise and I Am Electronic. Both of which featured in the setlist. Both of which are great examples of what Empirion do so well (Red Noise the build, I Am Electronic the banging tune).

What I particularly liked (and want from this style of music) is rather than attempting to hit you with a barrage of hi-BPM ‘hits' one after another, they focus on what make this genre so effective - the gradual build. Not just over a single track - but across the entire set. If the album works like tonight's set did (and there's little reason it shouldn't given that all of the set bar two songs was new album material), bodes very well indeed. The new album, on Dependent, is imminent.

Setlist: Red Noise, Stepper, Side Swipe, Lock it Down, I Am Electronic, Jesus Christ, Narcotic Encore: Hate the Hate

Empirion finished just before 12:30am closing off what was one of the strongest opening nights (possibly the strongest) of the festival since it began. What a start to this four-day weekend!

Empirion, Infest festival 2018    Empirion, Infest festival 2018    Empirion, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Empirion x3

Friday 24th

Def Neon Another band that when listening to them online beforehand I'd expected to almost be content to skip. But as often happens, bands that don't grab you recorded turn out to be engaging live. There's an irrepressible charm about them that's hard to knock. What looked like first song nerves instantly dissipated following a rapturous reception from an already busy venue.

The classic anime projected behind them was suitably retro hip. Clearly had a lot of fans here as no sooner had they played a few notes of a cover of Rage Against the Machine's Killing In The Name than the roars of approval rang out. And, before I knew it, their set was over.

Setlist: Just Do It, Destroy, Nightvision, Chocolate, Rotoscope, Control, Killing in The Name

It was at this point in the proceedings that I noticed a lot of Hawaiian shirts being worn. Apparently, it was in tribute to The Big Labowski which is 20 years old this year. That's Infest for you. Least Inkling from Front 242's seminal Geography album caught my ear, so I looked up to see who was spinning such quality and the masterful Daniel Myer was on the decks. Nice.

It was good to see Greece represented again at the festival (Marsheaux memorably flew the flag ten years ago), but unfortunately, Siva Six were on ambassadorial duties this year. Their brand of aggrotech wouldn't have been considered innovative at the height of the movement, let alone today. Which begs the question why bother?

In every artist's work there is an age that fits. Sometimes this is driven by external pressures or accomplishments, like the twin shadows over Peter Hook and the Light, and other times it is where the artist feels most comfortable. Siva Six may have delivered a perfectly capable and danceable set, but after capturing the first three songs of the set from the photo pit I was more than happy to skip the rest.

There is nothing in music that is magic. Anyone can press a button, or twiddle a knob. Anyone can add another layer, or speed up a beat. Anyone could be Iszoloscope. But they aren't. There is magic in music, having the confidence of knowing when less is more, how long you can hold the dancer on a beat, how many layers is the sweet spot between too many any too few. No-one else does these things quite this way, there is only one Iszoloscope.

Setlist: Faint Negative Charge, Zero Becomes One, Spectral Inverter, In the Face of Descent, Chronophage, Spirit Intrusion, Relevance Outside Logic, Stretched into the Thereafter, Inseparable From the Void

Def Neon, Infest festival 2018    Def Neon, Infest festival 2018    Siva Six, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Def Neon x2, Siva Six

The return of Cubanate in 2016 at the Cold Waves Festival in Chicago caught pretty much everyone off guard. Much loved on the industrial/crossover scene, their last official album of new material was [gulps] 20 years ago this year. Since their return, gigging and the release of Brutalism, a compilation album featuring 14 remastered songs from Cubanate's first three albums, the response has been pure joy for most.

Personally, I was never taken by Cubanate. Which, when I stop to think about it, is curious. Not least because original member Graham Rayner's work since then, particularly with K-Nitrate and Audiowar, has always appealed, and operates in a very similar vein. Moreover, pretty much everything else Marc Heal has been involved with I like (C-Tec, Cobalt 60, PIG and Lord of the Flies). Maybe it's guitarist Phil Barry's influence, as founding front man Heal's solo album The Hum from a couple of years ago really grabbed me.

Anyway, I digress.

Fully accepting I was very much in a very small minority tonight, I vowed to give this a good hearing. Few can holler quite like Marc Heal. The floor was packed to capacity for their set. With Inertia's Reza on percussion at the back and Barry on guitar up front.

It didn't take long for Heal to get up to speed. Referring to the lyrics of Junky - "The junky needs the dealer. The dealer needs the junky" - when he shouts to the crowd "Which one are you?" you could tell he was was well into the performance. Likewise, during the encore of Ordinary Joe when he yells: "Look in the mirror, beat your chest, and say I'm a genius!" you can believe he has done that at some point.

Heal clearly draws extra energy from his audience. He could so easily of phoned it in and might just have gone down as well but he didn't. Lord Of The Flies was the most compelling track of the set for me. But, obviously, it's Oxyacetylene which closes on a well-earned high, inducing the by now sweaty Infest masses to scream along.

Setlist: Colossus, Barbarossa, Hate Song, Joy, Junky, Body Burn, Isolation, Annihilation, Lord of the Flies, Kill or Cure, It, Oxyacetylene Encore: Ordinary Joe

Iszoloscope, Infest festival 2018    Cubanate, Infest festival 2018    Cubanate, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Iszoloscope, Cubanate x2

Saturday 25th

I came to UK three-piece Flesh Eating Foundation some years ago via their attention-grabbing and leftfield remixes for Global Citizen. But this was my first live sampling of their activist electro punk, almost co-fronted by John E. Smoke and The Juddaman.

They have a penchant for circuit bending children's toys, which were in evidence today. These were further augmented by the prongs of a gardening fork struck with a piece of metal, and an instrument that appeared to be a plug in a socket on a piece of skirting. I've absolutely no idea what that was doing musically (if anything) but the randomness of its appearance appealed immensely.

Delivery was enhanced by the participation of angry poet Adam Probert, who when he wasn't adding his voice, was brandishing hand scrawled banners emphasising key lyrics on a couple of songs including a cover of The Fall's Blindness (given extra frisson as Smoke is both blind and deaf). Probert recklessly (but impressively) jumped from the stage, over the photo pit and barrier and onto the dance floor. He crumpled into a heap after one leap but the adrenaline carried him through. (Don't try this at home kids but do pay attention to their message.)

Their recordings can't capture the raw feelings they seem to bring to the stage. It's not easy, on any level, but not is it supposed to be. Angry and political, just what Infest needed an injection of at this point. The perfect opening act for the afternoon.

Setlist: We Are Fucked, Scumbags and Spent Slags, Futurelast, Punch Drunk, Having Fun, So Yeah, Blindness (Fall cover)

Adam Is A Girl - or two guys and a gal tonight to be precise. In the studio, based out of Berlin, they're the duo of Alexander Pierschel and Anja Adam. On stage they are clearly properly into what they're doing, and they do it with aplomb. Lead vocalist Adam is captivating, reminding me a little of Sol Flare's former vocalist Jenny Jones, in that she totally immerses herself in the music and her performance - almost blanking out the audience.

Not that she needed to, mind. As they were well-received by an open-minded audience.

The rendition of their best-known single, Soldier was terrific, confirming that the solid writing of the studio carries over to a live setting, losing none of its impact. Last track of the set, Sky is the next single, almost having something of Chvrches about it.

Each member appears confident in their role. Each playing their part, rarely looking at each other, but all gelling together. Serious about what they do, but through their charming lead vocalist they came across as down to earth, clearly loving the reception they received for their first-ever UK gig. They wondered if they should take a bow. Hesitated for a moment, then did. It was well deserved.

Setlist: World At Your Feet (Intro), Shadows, Chase Her Down, Your Silence, Soldier, Sky

Flesh Eating Foundation, Infest festival 2018    Flesh Eating Foundation, Infest festival 2018    Adam Is A Girl, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Flesh Eating Foundation x2, Adam Is A Girl

A little goes a long way with Yura Yura, most tracks giving plenty of space within the compositions. Whilst only about half the slightly lighter crowd appear to have found the beat this is no reflection on the confidence projected from the stage.

Recdrum in the middle of the set is a track on the last Maschinenkrieger kr52 vs Disraptor release (who appeared at Infest in 2011), but here Yura Yura added noise and melodies on top of the original rhythmic track. And then there's the bass that makes your insides vibrate. Like Izsolosxope yesterday, the best stuff came towards the end of the set. The drum driven, less crunchy noise tracks appealed the most.

Setlist: Holokine, Morder, Okiko, La mort, Recdrum, Nigra, Shamdead, Eko, Suspiria

Joy Division-influenced post punk meets early Clan of Xymox guitars via Interpol - is what I thought when listening to Actors ahead of the festival. Live, it all sounded rather different. Oddly, less thrilling somehow. This is a band that is always playing to an arena of 100,000 - a massive amount of competence and confidence beaming out from the stage. They're not there yet but they're headed in the right direction.

The music is arguably a little mainstream for the Infest crowd, but no doubt also too alternative for the mainstream. Some of the crowd doesn't seem sure quite what to make of it, or how to deal with it, but there is no denying the quality of delivery.

I'd like them to dig deeper to find what it is that could make them stand out in what is currently a very crowded sub-genre. They saved the best for last though. The final guitar-driven anthemic Like U Want 2 seemed to come more naturally and may be where they should start that search for a more distinctive sound.

Setlist: It Goes Away, How Deep is the Hole, L'appel Du Vide, Slaves, Face Meets Glass, Crystal, PTL, We Don't Have to Dance, Bury Me, Like U Want 2

Yura, Yura, Infest festival 2018    Actors, Infest festival 2018    Liebknecht, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Yura, Yura, Actors, Liebknecht

Liebknecht is one of Daniel Myer's projects little-known to me - seemingly because he only created it last year, having released only one 4-track EP to date. So I was looking forward to hearing this one live for the first time. I'm a big admirer of much of Myer's work, and it seems the festival organisers are too, as he's appeared previously several times, under different guises (Destroid and Architect in 2006, Haujobb in 2014).

Liebknecht sees Myer focusing on the his techno material and, in tonight's specially curated set, remixing several other artists, including the likes of Maelstrom, Djedjotronic, Mikron and Rendered (yet another Myer project). Remarkably, seeing the response to his dropping House of Pain's Jump Around into his DJ set yesterday, overnight he rustled up a version of it to include it into today's set.

As is often the case, there were flashes of genius, and more than a few moments where the music and the crowd are in perfect sync. Probably because the project is so new, and the decision to include works by other artists, it didn't feel quite as clear a sense of purpose and identity as some of his other more established projects.

Setlist: CMU (Infest Intro Version), Danzig, Lux (Maelstrom - Liebknecht Edit), ICE Over Erfurt, Hamburg, Chasing The Lights (Djedjotronic - Liebknecht Edit), Smoke / Jump Around (Infest Version), Leipzig, Sink (Mikron - Liebknecht Edit), Köln, Adrenalien (Rendered - Edit), Berlin

It is a little tough to work out what Mesh want to achieve. Their lyrics are downbeat and show the goth influences, but the melodies and the way they push the crowd can be more upbeat. The crowd are there, and in big numbers too, confirming their appearance is undoubtedly a major draw for many. They were willing them on, but have trouble knowing what to do other than sway most of the time. The band are sharing, and being acknowledged for that, but at the same time leaving some perplexed. Until the encore Born To Lie - which seems to deliver what many are after from them. As for me? I remain as impervious as ever.

Setlist: My Protector, You Didn't Want Me, Tactile, People Like Me, The Fixer, Little Missile, I Fall Over, Leave You Nothing, Last One Standing, The Traps We Made, Friends Like These, From This Height, Taken For Granted Encore: Born To Lie

Next up, as we approached midnight on day three, was Sarin. The Infest website said he was from Iran but it seems he's based out of Berlin. I enjoyed this quite a lot. At times I had thoughts of early Cabaret Voltaire as if heard through the mind of Andrew Lagowski and Brian Williams' Terror Against Terror project (whose only album Psychological Warfare Technology Systems on Paragoric in 1992 still thrills and disturbs today).

I wasn't surprised to learn afterwards that Sarin cites Terror Against Terror as an influence - it is readily apparent. Though this wasn't nearly as punishing as I'd expected. The mask he was wearing was very Danger Diabolik (the titular hero of the kitschy 1968 French/Italian spy thriller - check it out if you aren't familiar).

The compositions are deceptively simple in nature. A steady beat throughout with a couple of big drops, works much the same as techno does and Empirion did on Thursday. Squelchy overdubs and some moody voice samples all add up to something special. Some nice, minimalist, geometric black and white visuals too. No hurry, no rush, no face - just solid beats. Sublime, utterly sublime and the perfect choice for the hour.

None of the music from tonight's set has yet been converted from Sarin's machines into proper tracks, meaning what we got here was essentially improvised works in progress. Impressive indeed.

Setlist: none - all improvised, works in progress

Mesh, Infest festival 2018    Sarin, Infest festival 2018    Promenade Cinema, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Mesh, Sarin, Promenade Cinema

Sunday 26th

A male/female two-piece from Sheffield, I first heard Promenade Cinema via their track As The World Stops Revolving when it appeared on the Synth Wave Volume 1 compilation album a couple of years ago. This sounds sharp, looks sharp (so sharp, in fact, you could cut yourself on it) and, crucially, works live. 

I realise this was the opening slot on the final day of the festival (and there will have been some fragile heads in teh audience) but their entire set could have done with being a lot louder. They were almost scuppered by the infamous Infest fire alarm four songs into their set, but thankfully after a few seconds it was cleared. Cue a huge cheer from audience. They had just started playing Credits - a terrific song in an already impressively strong collection.

The Vangelis Blade Runner like synthpads that cropped up here and there worked perfectly. Indeed, film soundtrack are clearly a big influence on the music composition - helping to set them apart from, and raise it above, many others working in the same genre. They refer to their sound as "cinedramatic synthpop" - and that sums it up perfectly. Electronic pop with more than a twist of classic, cinematic noir.

Their debut album Living Ghosts, released at the start of this year, showcases production by Steve Whitfield (wo has worked with The Cure, The Mission) and mastering at The Bowling Green (who have worked with The Human League, Pulp and Moby). So they're clearly investing in their self belief. Based on what we saw and heard here, it's a self-belief that's well-placed. Emma Barson's voice in particular was seriously good live. 

When As The World Stops Revolving reached its crescendo you could easily visualise this act playing massive festival stages - Chvrches stylee. Their stylishly  a more minimalist take on synth that flirts with taking itself a little seriously but overall delivers a solid opening performance for the day. Very healthy crowd help support the effort with atmosphere.

Setlist: Polaroid Stranger, The Quiet Silently Wait, Cassette Conversations, Credits, As The World Stops Revolving, Spotlight

It's hard to pin down all the influences on Massenhysterie. It's possible to pick out rock, pop and all kinds of electro in a performance that identifies as 'kinky' but apart from the commitment to PVC is more broad and accessible, if hard around the edges.

However, some of those influences were explicit in two cover versions that appeared during their half-hour set. Rammstein's Buck dich, a smart choice, unsurprisingly went down well, and the slightly more obscure Eins, Zwei, Polizei by Italian dance act Mo-Do also cropped up.

Knuppel aus dem Sack, set to the backdrop footage of marching female soldiers of the Korean army, appeared be channeling the spirit of 2 Unlimited's No Limit - which worked for me. It's all delivered tongue-in-cheek and is best consumed in the same manner. More fun than filth.

Setlist: Mehr Geld, Weiber Regieren die Welt, 1000 rote Rosen, Buck dich, Hart ist der Stiefel, Knuppel aus dem Sack, Schmutzige Finger, Eins, Zwei, Polizei, Massenhysterie

Massenhysterie, Infest festival 2018    Valhall, Infest festival 2018    Elegant Machinery, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Massenhysterie, Valhall, Elegant Machinery

Another act new to me, Sweden's Valhall (another female/male two-piece), billed in the run-up using words like fantasies, folklore, myths, dreams, nightmares could have served up po-faced histrionics. Thankfully, their darkwave songs, wrapped in a cloak of witch house and neofolk, were far more fascinating than I'd expected.

An occasionally disconcerting blend of music and noise that refuses to define what it is, and consequently strikes out into new ground. Particularly notable for being a noise-related act where the microphone is not solely a detracting instrument of torture, rather even a positive influence on the overall work. The male/female vocals counterbalancing one another. His were grumbling rather than roaring. Hers nicely tempering his, recalling Chandeen at times.

One of the acts worth investigating further for their recorded output - where I imagine further detail and subtleties might be found.

Setlist: Einhärjar, Bonetrees, Lilies For Belial, Ormens Offer, A Threat, Dead Waves, The Hunt, Water Harp, Grimoire, Down In The Woods

Back in 1993 I picked up my first Elegant Machinery album Shattered Grounds (their second). Although it came out the same year as Depeche Mode's somewhat more sophisticated Songs Of Faith And Devotion, the casual listener could have been forgiven for thinking it had been released a full decade earlier.

Indeed, it actually plays better on the ear now, 25 years(!) later, than it did on release. Largely, because one listens to it on its merits the context of the year of its release long since faded from the memory. But it still feels more impressive if you choose to believe it really was released in 1983.

Pure, melodic synth-pop is what Elegant Machinery do. And they do it unashamedly, with a passion and joy that's disarmingly compelling. And that was before I heard them live.

Surprisingly, this appearance marked their UK debut. The commitment of frontman Robert Enforsen's delivery instantly made it clear that if you weren't up for a fun ride, there'd be little point in staying for the duration. I preferred Enforcen's vocals today more than I did back in 1993. Then they were too mannered. Today, they're more measured.

His irrepressible bouncing up and down, punching the air, and clapping was mirrored in the audience, who clearly shared Enforsen's sheer delight at them finally performing to a UK audience. Songs I knew well like Hard to Handle and Shattered Grounds had been given an update. The latter was quite a different arrangement, both sounding punchier than their poppy origins, but neither suffering as a consequence.

Over the next forty-five minutes they slickly did the business, leaving an energised audience with smiles as broad as their faces would allow. And they sure know how to write some cracking melodies.

Setlist: Feel the Silence, Entwined, Hard to Handle, Watching You (Hard Rain), Move, Do You Know, Shattered Grounds, Process, Save Me

I met the members of Canadian outfit Strvngers on the Friday evening. One of the bands who was here for the entire festival and clearly in their element, more than happy to mingle and have a drink with the Infest regulars. Formed only in 2015, they followed their self-titled 2016 debut with Amor/Noir on the Negative Gain Productions label earlier this year.

Calling your album Love/Black in French could either be cheesily obvious or a bold statement of confidence. It's definitely the latter. For the uninitiated, the stage set - looking like a set from an imaginary expressionist Ed Wood horror movie - nicely set the scene for what followed.

Strvngers, Infest festival 2018    This Morn' Omina, Infest festival 2018    Aesthetic Perfection, Infest festival 2018

Photos [L-R]: Strvngers, This Morn' Omina, Aesthetic Perfection

Even the broad church of electronic music has its tribes, and those tribes have edges. Stare into the space where those edges come together and Strvngers are staring back. A deep electronic bass beat, melodic layers, industrial guitar lines, growly vocals, on stage energy - it should be an almighty mess, but instead it is a robust delivery of... something much more.

Presentationally they recalled old favourites U-turns (who I introduced to Infest in 2011), and sonically a more sinister and kinky sounding version of Mr Kitty who appeared on the same stage in 2014. Only the guitar sounded a bit out of sorts live, even though I can see why they thought it was a good idea.

The genre witch house is never mentioned in their promo, but elements of that are definitely in there. Lead vocalist Maria Joaquin is a commanding presence - even when he's hidden behind a jeweled mask. And on tracks like Noir the agility of his voice is a distinctive asset, flipping between almost twee and demonic from line to line.

This was bonkers - but in a good way. If Tim Burton had turned to music as a teenager instead of filmmaking it would probably have looked and sounded like this.

Setlist: Fetisha, Shapeshifter, Venus, Pink Coffin, 976-EVIL, Noir, Vanity, Hexxxed, Dancing With Myself, Dressed To Kill

I was introduced to This Morn' Omina by One eYed Man - one of their finest tracks - via the Thisco label compilation Thisoriented back in 2002. But this was my first live sampling - and it turns out that they are one of those acts that sound better live than recorded. The energy they generate on stage takes it onto a higher level.

One eYed Man made the set and it was a stomper (and, coincidentally, includes a repeated chant throughout that could quite easily be heard as "Infest!"). Front man Mika Goedrijk asking for, and getting, strong vocal support from an appreciative crowd, many of whom will have waited years for this Infest debut.

The beat is everything, and everything is the beat. There is such power in the background that it dominates the foreground. Not to say all the vocals subtract rather than add, but less is definitely more with most This Morn' Omina tracks. The voice as instrument works so much better than the voice as oration.

My thoughts briefly drifted back to Juno Reactor's mighty appearance in 2014.

By the time they get to Garuda Vimana from the last album, its chanting is echoed back from the 1,000 strong Infest crowd back to the stage. Drawing the audience into the performance, taking the show into another dimension. Another highlight of 2018.

Setlist: Ayahuasca (Let's Shift Together), (The) Ninth Key, Kachina Red (The End of the World), One eYed Man, (fl), Iboga, The Immutable Sphere, Garuda Vimana, (The) Rûach (of God), Maenad Encore: Epoch

Aesthetic Perfection are another band that I just don't understand the popularity of. At best indifferent but most often I just find them boring, not only didn't my opinion shift, it only confirmed that I would consciously avoid ever hearing them again. If only bands I do like, who use Aesthetic Perfection for remix duties, would also play ball, then I might get my wish.

Perhaps the fact it doesn't take itself too seriously means it works for the many - and there were many soaking up this final act of the festival. Meanwhile, I was socialising elsewhere.

The takeaways from this, the 20th Anniversary Infest?

Peter Hook and The Light's set was excellent, and the undoubted highlight. If you're in any doubt as to whether or not they're worth seeing, go. Caveat - just be sure that the set they're playing is the one you want, as they tend to focus on specific albums when they tour.

On the noisy side of the field, this was one of the most satisfying festivals for me with Yura Yura, Iszoloscope and Sarin all doing something within the genre that was either pushing further than many do, or (in the case of Sarin) nailing their particular furrow. Whilst This Morn' Omina handled the tribal rhythm thing perfectly.

Promenade Cinema lived up to the constant praise I've been hearing from friends for a couple of years. Elegant Machinery were a pure joy from start to finish, whilst Empirion proved their new material is some of the finest yet - the perfect promotion for their new album.

Although the lineup this year was missing a one or two personal favourites that usually seal the deal for my attendance (and deliver the emotional rush typical of Infest), the quality of the hitherto little-known acts was pretty constant, proving yet again that Infest delivers to those always open to anything new. 8/10

Review: Rob Dyer (with additional perspectives from Simon @ Disturbing)
Photos: (C) Simon @ Disturbing

Official Infest website:

See also:
Infest 2017
Infest 2016
Infest 2015
Infest 2014
Infest 2013
Infest 2012
Infest 2010
Infest 2008
Infest 2007
Infest 2006
Infest 2003
Infest 2001
InFest 2000
InFest '99
InFest '98