Spahn Ranch / Inertia / Star 80

Underworld, London - 24 July, 1999

"The audience lapped up every minute"

Star 80

Beginning with a lightweight but intriguing song that reminded me at times of Modern English during their more mellow moments, Star 80 made a good immediate impression. But from the second track my interpretation was resoundingly destroyed as everything afterwards was much more heavy with derivative rock guitars leading the way. It quickly became apparent that this band were out of place on this industrial billing and would have been better off offering support for any regular rock outfit. Don't expect to see Star 80 appear on this website again.


As ever, Inertia delivered their ballsy industrial pounding and proved to be the perfect warm-up act for headliners Spahn Ranch. On occasion when listening to Inertia, I'm reminded of early Nitzer Ebb; and in the absence of any other rival UK band, Inertia neatly fill the 'aggressive industrial' void created when the Essex boys left the UK scene and became all Depeche Modey. This band is one of the few contemporary UK acts who actual 'rock' live. Their storming noise of great sounds and some nifty keyboard arrangements are a strong feature, although their songs in their entirety often disappoint. Once a track has started there are few surprises until it ends. The infrequent female vocals help some of the set rise about the predictable screaming, and Inertia understandably have something of a following so I don't mind admitting that I might have been in the minority in my opinions on the night. There's no denying that Intertia's music is made for club dance floors and perhaps that's the best place to experience them.

Spahn Ranch

It was good to see this three-piece American industrial/EBM outfit in a modest but extremely welcome whistle-stop tour of the UK - taking in dates in Brighton, Glasgow and the 1999 Infest festival in Bradford amongst others. Nemesis Promotions were behind this London date and although the venue wasn't packed, the turnout was respectable and the reception was certainly enthusiastic. Spahn Ranch are one of the oddest-looking industrial acts I ever seen live. Mostly because each member looks as if he has been plucked out of a different band and been dropped into this one. A short, chubby keyboard player, a long-haired macho giant of a drummer, and the slim, suave-looking singer. I said above that Inertia were the perfect warm up for this lot and in some ways you could describe their sound as a more refined version of what Inertia do but with dramatically different vocals. The drummer stands in his vest top astride a row of digital drum pads, on the opposite side of the stage is the keyboard player, and in the middle is the singer. Dressed in suit and shirt with an untied bow tie lying around his neck and with a stylish quiff of gelled-back hair, he reminds one of Dr Robert or looks like he's been transposed from ABC at their height. But the deceptive appearance didn't prepare you for the wall of industrial dance they then discharged upon a willing London audience.

Spahn Ranch are one of the few industrial bands who can boast a genuinely impressive singer - a rarity in this scene - in Athan Maroulis. His vocals are as refreshing as his looks and give their music a distinctive edge that bands doing similar work cannot hope to attain. In contrast to the vocals, the music takes no prisoners. The heavy percussion and string synths almost exploded but the vocals and other subtle backing elements kept the whole thing just this side of total chaos and the underlying aggression is kept in check adding a dynamic tension to the songs. Some terrific synths and break beat percussion also weave in and out of some tracks adding extra variety to the overall scheme of things. The man-mountain drummer must loose buckets of weight in sweat each gig - not only is his drumming proficient and amazingly fast but he manages to twirl his sticks and wave his arms like a demented octopus. It isn't long before the keyboards are rocking back and forth, and the singer leaps, bends and twists like a puppet on loose strings. With such energetic performers it isn't surprising that Spahn Ranch can boast a mighty stage presence that is the perfect accompaniment to their music. The encore heard the band produce a superb cover of "Swim" from Madonna's "Ray of Light" album. The audience, many of whom were clearly big SR fans, lapped up every minute of the night and the crowds on the floor were jumping with joy. After a tour in America supporting Front Line Assembly, the intimate venues they've played across Britain over the last week or so must have seemed an odd follow-up. But I hope the rest of the gigs went down as well as this one because Spahn Ranch is one US industrial band that deserves plenty of UK support which, hopefully, will bring them back to our shores before too long. From my perspective, they are more than welcome.

Rob Dyer