I'm experiencing what you might call a David Byrne Moment. You remember the Talking Heads song 'Once In A Lifetime'? Where Dave, decked out in his Big Suit, hollers, 'Well - how did I get here?' I don't have a big suit, but I certainly know how he felt. Because I'm walking along a motorway slip road, somewhere in the Czech Republic. Skodas are whizzing past in a steady stream mere centimetres from my face. This, it seems, is the only way to get to the Abaton club, the venue for tonight's Cinema Strange gig.
The club, apparently, is in an old factory building somewhere in a disused industrial yard so far out of Prague city centre I think we're half way to Bulgaria. It's a bit like turning up in London to catch a gig, only to find that the venue is located on a trading estate in Slough, and the only way to get there is to walk up the M4.
Eventually, the Abaton club looms up amid the wreckage of the Eastern Bloc's command economy. Inside, it's stark, spacious, and, given the dereliction outside, surprisingly well equipped. There are five bands in total tonight. In fact, the gig goes by the rather misleading name of the 'Nosferatu Festival', which conjures up an impression of a black lace 'n' vampires ubergoth event, which isn't the way it is at all in reality. And anyway, five bands hardly counts as a festival.
But let's not worry about the terminology. Let's just cast an eye, and an ear, over our opening band, Hysteric Helen. They come from Slovakia and are the nearest thing we have tonight to local heroes - there being no Czech bands on the bill. Like their compatriots The Last Days Of Jesus, Hysteric Helen are very much in the 'loony theatrical' zone. They're painted and be-costumed like mad clowns, and they whack out some whacked-out Batcave punk, the vocalist looming forward in alarming fashion, apparently oblivious to the fact that he's forgotten his trousers.
His vocal is a frazzled yelp - don't ask me what he's singing about, because I'm not even sure what language he's using. Hysteric Helen seem to occupy their own weird world, a world where normal pop music (not to mention trousers) ceases to exist. I suspect they'd drive me up the wall if I had to listen to them in large doses (and I suspect the band would consider that a successful result), but to open tonight's show their peculiar carnival works just fine.
Bakterielle Infection come from Germany, and have been living on a diet of ancient electronics for most of their lives. At least, that's the way they sound. Hunks of elektro-minimalism crash out of the PA like chunks of the Berlin Wall falling down. The beats thunk and clatter in a decidedly 1979-ish manner, while sweeps and shudders of analogue electronics ebb and flow over the top.
The whole thing could come across as a rather cold experience, were it not for the vocalist, who takes it all with a swing and a swagger that's entirely rock 'n' roll, while enunciating the lyrics with such deadpan matter-of-factness that you could swear he learned English from listening to the shippng forecast. Naturally, what Bakterielle Infection do is very retro - electronic music hasn't sounded like this for 20 years. But because so few bands are making this noise nowadays, paradoxically Bakterielle Infection sound very fresh, and if, on occasions, their loping synth riffs sound like they're going to mutate into 'Living On Video' by Trans-X, nobody's about to complain.
'We don't have any drinks,' remarks the vocalist, between songs, and before we've realised that he was actually announcing the next song title - 'We Don't Have Any Dreams' - the band have had a couple of beers bought for them, and passed up on stage. Well, that shows they're making the right impression, at any rate.
The Misfits have a lot to answer for. OK, I'll grant you it's not actually the fault of Jerry Only and his merry crew of proto-horror punks that so many bands these days think that a thrashy riff and a goofy lyric about zombies is all you need to get ahead in the world of rock 'n' roll. But if it wasn't for the Misfits starting it all off, we wouldn't be plagued with such cheesiness now.
In particular, we wouldn't be plagued by the Dead End Guys, who are - wait for it - a bunch of German horror punks who have apparently concluded that what the world really needs is a Misfits covers band. Well, I suppose there's a certain logic in that approach. Why bother writing material which sounds like Misfits songs when you can simply play Misfits songs?
The band bash through the Misfits' back catalogue with commendable efficiency and a complete lack of originality, and while they're perfectly competent at what they do, there's no getting away from the fact that the Misfits have already done it. The Dead End Guys are, frankly, surplus to requirements. Name a Misfits classic, and it's in the set - 'Where Eagles Dare', 'Skulls', 'Die Die' - they do 'em all. Infairness to the band, they also do a handful of their own numbers, but since these are more or less Misfits pastiches the effect is somewhat underwhelming.
The vocalist, giving it the full rabble-rouser thing up on the monitors, tries to goad the audience into a mosh, but the audience refuses to be goaded. Polite applause is the best the Dead End Guys get tonight, and for a band with such obvious self-imposed limitations, in truth that's all they deserve.
The Golden Apes have a ludicrous name (but then, it probably sounds rilly kewl if, like the band, you come from Germany) and, fairly obviously, plenty of Nick Cave and Joy Division in their record collections. They also have a vocalist who plays the doomed romantic with a certain downbeat flair and much dramatic gesticulating with a cigarette. He fronts a band of self-effacing musos, but he's got enough Cave-esque charisma to hold everyone's attention.
The music rolls off the stage like a stretch limo cruising the back streets: big, dark, and just a bit sleazy. The Golden Apes certainly have that existential rock-noir sound nailed down, although having nailed the sound they seem less sure of their ground when it comes to the songs. There's a certain lack of distinctive hooks in the music: it rumbles along impressively enough, but the songs themselves tend to be somewhat unmemorable exercises in style. Although I'm happy to bask in the black light of the band's rumbling grooves, if you asked me to hum a Golden Apes tune once the songs are over and done, I fear I would have to disappoint.
That's not to say I dislike the band, mind: on the contrary, they're quite the noir superstars, and obviously much more at home in this darkened club than the last time I saw the the band at the Wave Gotik Treffen, where the band was opening up the Agra in brightly unforgiving sunlight. I'm happy to stand in the path of their cruising musical limo, as it throbs implacably towards me. But the band's principal influences cast a long shadow. When you tip your musical hat in the direction of towering talents like the Joy Divisions and Nick Caves of this world, you'd better make sure you've got the material to match your aspirations. The Golden Apes aren't quite there yet.
Cinema Strange are on one of their periodic swings through the greater Europe, where their earlier impact as recrudescent Batcavers has bequeathed them a large and enthusiastic audience. Although, of course, that was then and this is now. Notwithstanding the fact that the diehard deathrock contingent still apparently regards Cinema Strange as some sort of substitute Specimen, the band haven't done the Batcave thing for a good few years. They're a long way out on their own limb now.
Tonight, Lucas Lanthier plays the part of the grand vizier of the Kingdom of Shu-Han, costumed and face-painted, gazing absently past his microphone as if abstractedly contemplating his latest war. But first, the revels! The band rev up their taut, teetering, elastic-band-about-to-snap sound. If music was confectionery, Cinema Strange's racket would be a blob of chewing gum stretched out to the very limits of its long-chain polymers.
The songs themselves are familiar enough - 'Unlovely Baby', 'I Remember Tendon Water', 'Catacomb Kittens' are all part of the well-known Cinema Strange repertoire these days, although tonight the band manage to pull off their usual trick of making each tune sound like it was freshly improvised in the soundcheck. Lucas claims, with a deadpan plausibility that's taken with endearing seriousness by the audience, that every other number is 'About my mother', while Daniel gives us a charming interlude on the Omnichord. Michael parades to and fro as if he's a clockwork soldier on guard duty, wielding his bass like a vintage Enfield rifle.
The audience treats each song with rapt attention while they're in progress, and rapturous applause once they've finished. In a way, it's hard for Cinema Strange to fail in front of a crowd that is so clearly primed and ready to scoff whatever they're served, and it's a tribute to the band that they take such care to make every show different when it would be so easy to get away with a performance on cruise control.
At length, it's over. Lucas Lanthier is borne off stage upon a gilded palanquin (no, actually, I made that bit up, but it could have happened) and the DJs kick in. It was, of course, a classic Cinema Strange collision of theatre, imagination, and incredibly strange make-up. Worth the foot-slog up the motorway? Of course it was.
Bakterielle Infektion: Website
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.