Sidewalks and Skeletons/Attrition/Black Light Ascension/The Frixion/Jenna Leigh-Raine

Electrowerkz, London - 19 March 2022

"Sublime beauty packed with trauma and loss"

"Flag Promotions present an evening of delightfully dark and eclectic electronica, from the spooky witchhouse, breakbeat and infectious rhythms of Sidewalks and Skeletons, to the dark haunting pulse laden Attrition to the post punk, Joy Division-inspired Black Light Ascension to the shimmering electro pop of The Frixion and Jenna Leigh-Raine." So went the pre-event marketing blurb. But how would the evening actually deliver?

I arrived a bit later than intended meaning I only caught the last song of opening act Jenna Leigh-Raine's set. Music aside, the first thing that struck me was seeing Martin Bowes of (also on the bill) Attrition lending a hand on keyboards. I found out later that this was just Bowes helping out, rather than being a permanent member. Bowes having mastered Leigh-Raine's 2018 Noma album. I hadn't heard of Leigh-Raine before this gig, but even the small snippet I heard here was enough to make me add them to my 'must listen after' notes.

Leigh-Raine is creating some really interesting multi-layered soundscapes drawing inspiration both from the electronic music and the world of mediumship (they also have a business as a psychic medium). The resulting music has a distinctive and unique quality to it that demands closer attention. A quick search online evidences that Jenna Leigh-Raine has been creating such atmospheric music for over a decade. Which just goes to show how easy it is (even in today's constantly connected world) to overlook genuinely creative artists that you'd think you'd have come across by now.

Yet another testament for attending live gigs and arriving in time to catch the support acts.

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Photos [L-R]: Jenna Leigh-Raine, The Frixion

The Frixion are a synthpop duo who first appeared 2017 featuring Berlin-based Gene Serene (vocals, song writing) and UK-based Lloyd Price (keyboards, production). Serene has written and performed songs with the likes of S'Express and Traumschmeire, while Price has previously worked with Massive Ego and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. I managed to see The Frixion's debut live performance (also in London) back in May 2017, but honestly hadn't kept up with their recorded output. So this was an ideal opportunity to get back up to speed.

Although the majority of tonight's 40-minute set drew on their debut album To Hell And Back, released last year, a new track Escape From Alexandria got The Frixion's evening underway. A very moody, slow-paced opener, this was its first live performance. Excellent stuff. The jaunty Magic isn't the kind of style I much like, but did remind me a little of Geoff Pinckney's most commercial material. We Walk A Line with it's memorable chorus nicely delivered by Serene was another mid-tempo number and for me again far more appealing.

The BPM remained in this zone for I Cannot Play These Games and I'd have been quite content with a set that hovered around this pace. A cover of Velvet Condom's Collapse In Slow Motion was either a very perceptive choice or simply an inspired version as it blended seamlessly in the middle of the set. The penultimate Cry, Cry, Cry (the album version of which features Mechanical Cabaret's Roi Robertson on guest vocals) was another live debut and shows that Price knows how to execute beguiling basslines. They closed with the slick album title track To Hell and Back.

I'd forgotten just how polished and technically proficient The Frixion's sound is. Of course, being just a musician and a vocalist live, there's plenty on the backing track, but no more than is typical for the scene, and Price plays a good variety of the track elements on his live gear. I really enjoyed this and look forward to seeing them live again before to long. Until then, I'll be playing catch up with their recorded output.

Setlist: Escape From Alexandria (st play live), Magic, We Walk A Line, I Cannot Play These Games, Collapse in Slow Motion (Velvet Condom cover), Deceive A Believer, Cry, Cry, Cry (first play live), To Hell and Back

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Photos [L-R]: Black Light Ascension x 2

I've a genetic weakness for the mighty Black Light Ascension - the project created by Aussie-born, London based Andrew Trail. And it had been far too long since I last saw them live.

Less than one minute in and I'm back in the dystopian groove. BLA are one of those few acts, like early Sisters of Mercy, that are SO distinctive and SO damn good. The combination of mechanized rhythms and angular guitars is utterly compelling. No one else sounds quite like them, and they don't sound quite like anyone else either. Sure, there's the faint echoes of influences, and a passing mention of Joy Division remains valid. But appearance wise, Trail has turned into James Ray. And it suits him.

The expanding audience was well up for it too. Screaming young women down the front, roars of approval between songs and screams (of a positive nature) during them. Encouraging (and satisfying) to see such a challenging sound drawing fresh, young blood into the scene. Personally, their 2011 debut Ashes remains the pinnacle of their recorded work to date and although only one track from that appeared this evening (the set closing The Dream), I remained transfixed throughout.

The sound mix could have been better. Admittedly I was right in front of the stage, but the monitors seemed particularly loud, and yet the drum pad was barely audible at times. Still, despite these minor technical issues the songs and performance still won out. The psychedelic The Dream was a magnificent hypnotic conclusion to their set.

Setlist: Dark Angels, Night Came In, Journey, Melancholia, Black Sun, The Dream

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Photos [L-R]: Attrition x 2

To have both Black Light Ascension and Attrition, who now took over the stage, back to back on the same bill was genius synergy. Both create a trance-like hypnotic state in me - something I crave when hearing live music. One of my most-seen live bands over multiple decades now, and as enticing as ever, you never quite know what to expect from Attrition live. And tonight was something a bit special.

In a touching tribute to former member (and wife of founder Martin Bowes) Kerri, who shockingly passed away all too young at the start of this year, tonight's set was based on a soundtrack the two of them composed a few years back for Invocation, a horror film. There was live improvisation on top. In fact, the last show Martin and Kerri did together was to perform the soundtrack at a festival in the mountains of Transylvania. I'd never heard it, so the next 45 minutes was an unexpected journey of discovery.

In a nice connection with the band's origins, Bowes was joined on stage tonight by Richard Woodfield, who was in the band when they put out their first album This Death House way back in 1982.

The ambient start had me thinking of James Ray again and his Peru4060 project. Bold, brave, almost confrontational in its style, this felt like an appropriate homage to the lost soul of Kerri Bowes. Martin moved from keyboards, to drum pads, to an Akai Ewi wind MIDI controller plugged into a synth via effects pedals. The latter not always appearing to behave as it should, causing him to look a little perplexed at times. Woodfield played synths throughout, just as he had all those years ago.

Behind the two of them for the duration ghostly images of Kerri were projected. It seemed like Martin was working something out live on stage. It must have been profoundly personal for him. This was a deeply moving combination of black and white projections and troubling soundscapes, and unlike any other Attrition gig I have ever been to.

By the end, with those images of Martin and Kerri performing together, it was heartbreaking to watch. Only Martin knows what he must have felt like, but even for the onlooker, this was sublime beauty packed with trauma and loss.

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Photos [L-R]: Sidewalks and Skeletons x 3

Finally came headliners Sidewalks and Skeletons, marking a dramatic shift in pace and tone after Attrition’s sombre set. S&S is the solo-project of UK artist Jake Lee, who grew up playing guitar in metal bands before gravitating towards creating dark electronic music starting in 2006, making Sidewalks and Skeletons his main (solo) project by 2011.

The sound incorporates elements of witch house, trance, horrorsynth, goth and out and out rave and is frequently instrumental. Even when lyrics are used, the voice is usually buried so deep in the mix that it’s easy to miss it.

But, two minutes into the set, we were all blinded by the light, and I knew precisely what the rest of the evening would bring. At this point in the night, the audience had somehow gotten younger than at the start of the evening. And this predominantly youthful crowd was lapping it up, with plenty of arms held high, bouncing and whooping.

Lee efficiently delivers the goods but live it largely feels like fast food music to me. His older, more ambient stuff, I can listen to at home, but even that I think would struggle to engage in a live setting. Sometimes it’s just like that. A few tunes and breaks here and there made what could have been a relentless onslaught a bit more nuanced. And the witch house vibes remain the most interesting.

So while not the ideal conclusion for me personally, the whole event was yet another terrific Flag promotion. Exposure to Jenna Leigh-Raine, renewing my acquaintance with The Frixion, then witnessing the powerful combination of Black Light Ascension followed by Attrition (a combination I hope to experience again), who am I to complain because the final act didn't suit my proclivities?

Keep carrying that flag. We need you now more than ever. 8/10

Review + Photos: Rob Dyer