The Chaos Engine

Sound Republic, London - 14 April, 1999

"This band's biggest asset is their unpredictability"

I first caught Chaos Engine in a support slot for Attrition at the Borderline in London a couple of years ago. I remember being both taken by surprise and very impressed by the lead vocals and often strong lead melodies to their songs. Many, many months later and my memories of their music were beginning to fade (I've not picked up their first album), so I welcomed the opportunity to catch them again in London recently.

Chaos Engine had the fourth slot in a six-band night of 'the talent scout' at one of London's trendy new venues - the Sound Republic (where Channel 5's Pepsi Chart Show is filmed each week). Apparently, the evening was being filmed for MTV (Europe?). Although they only had a half-hour-ish slot, their impact was considerable. First act was a bloke with a semi-acoustic guitar, second was a singer-songwriter female with limited backing and third was some tiresome indie thing that got on my nerves. Clearly savouring the opportunity to stand out from the crowd, Chaos Engine took the stage, spent a few moments setting up their back- projections and set about blasting the audience with a wall of heavy bass synths and driving guitars. Although I didn't stay to watch the last two bands (what was the point after seeing the best the night had to offer?) I'm sure that Chaos Engine had attracted the largest following on the night.

Their set was lapped up by appreciative fans - mostly regulars on the scene - lots of familiar faces (and dancing for that matter!). This band's biggest asset is their unpredictability. Just when you think you've got them sussed ("Ah - it's like Die Krupps when they had the guitar / synth mix right") they go and throw in sampled angelic female voices or a bloody piano and drop you into confusion - struggling for comparisons! As already stated, the singer helps set Chaos Engine apart from the rest of the heavy dance industrial scene. His vocal range is better than most in the genre and his style can change at the drop of a hat to suit each song. Sure he relies upon the tried and tested snarls sometimes, but he puts many professionals and/or big names in the scene to shame.

"Nothing" wasn't a Depeche Mode cover but did feature an entertaining backing of squishy techno keyboards. It was the most 'accessible' song in their set not least because it stuck to a more familiar structure. More common to the CE-sound are impromptu breaks with sounds and samples from right across the musical spectrum. However, the resulting songs are strong and tight, they may be complex but are not the cacophony of noise one might suspect. "Purge" was the last song of the set and the least inventive - noise thrash complete with the naughty 'F' word thrown in many times for naughty 'shock' value. Chaos Engine are much better than this and don't need to resort to such mundane tactics to grab attention. Utilising a megaphone (that was remarkably clear as well looking and sounding cool!) to produce the vocals on one song, and managing to mix bouncy digital synths and pounding guitars throughout, these boys (and one girl) from Cheltenham should be pleased with themselves; they are managing to bring something original to a musical genre that is frequently accused of looking to the past - and that is always worthy your time.

Rob Dyer