Part 1 - Bands in order of appearance:
Cold In Berlin
The Chapman Family
The Duchess, York
Friday July 22 2011
I've just looked up the York tourist website, which tells me that I should "...visit York and be inspired. Renowned for its exquisite architecture, tangle of quaint cobbled streets and the iconic York Minster, York is fast developing a flourishing, cutting-edge scene."
Well, that sounds encouraging, dunnit? I have to knock a few points off for the website writer's use of the phrase "city of contrasts" a bit later - that's tourist-blurb cliche number one, and utterly meaningless. York would hardly describe itself as a "city of monotony". But hey, that cutting edge scene sounds good. Let's go and find it.
I'm not sure if the DV8 Festival is quite what York's tourist chiefs had in mind when they identified that cutting edge scene, but as festivals go it's got plenty that you won't find elsewhere in the UK. 50-odd bands in five venues around the city over 4 nights - it's not quite the Wave Gotik Treffen, but it's as close as we're going to get without leaving the country.
Not that DV8 insists on calling itself a goth festival. On the contrary, DV8 body-swerves adroitly around the issue. The name is neatly neutral. If they'd called it or 'The Dark York Festival', or 'Bats Over The Minster', or somesuch name that includes the usual gothic trigger-words, they'd have ring-fenced the event from the start. By calling it DV8, all options are open.
Without getting all Andrew Eldritch about it, the festival's decision not to nail its colours too firmly to the gothic mast is a wise move.
The goth scene in the UK is not large, and as the years pass it's increasingly becoming a social milieu in which friends and acquaintances meet and socialise in familiar surroundings.
Events tend to be organised by people from within the scene, expressly for the extended scene-family. Nowt wrong with that, of course, but it does rather limit what anyone can achieve. It would probably be impossible to muster 50 bands, and fill five venues, from the resources of the UK goth scene alone. The extended family doesn't extend quite that far.
DV8 has spread its net wide, and booked a variety of bands from within the goth scene and without. Bands which, while being entirely compatible with the essential aesthetic, don't move in scene-circles. Now that post-punk influences loom large in current music, there's no shortage of suitable contenders. Goth, of course, was itself a feature of the early 80s post-punk musical landscape. Although nowadays the g-word can mean anything from doomcookie metal to cheery synthpop, there's still common ground here for anyone who wants to stake it out.
With such an embarassment of riches on offer, we'll stake out just three days of the festival's four, and one venue of the festival's five. Welcome to our rock 'n' roll home for the next three days: The Duchess - a concrete bunker beneath a brutalist sixties multi-storey car park, an example of York's 'exquisite architecture' that the tourist website mysteriously fails to mention.
Opening things up in the coveted teatime slot, here come the Partly Faithful with their arch dramatics ricocheting off the concrete. Up front, Ed Banshee strikes attitudes and declaims in blue gloom. With ex- and current members of the Screaming Banshee Aircrew, John and Jehn, and Nosferatu in the ranks, here's a band that can have their post-punk cake any way they like it, dark chocolate gothic topping or not.
Today they're all mannered and slo-mo, vamping through a set of scrupulous atmosphere workouts, stalking from one song to the next in a flurry of theatrics. The Partly Faithful don't seem to have any fast songs, which may turn out to be a disadvantage if the band ever finds itself in front of a more moshable crowd. But DV8's early-doors audience is happy to sway along.
Cold In Berlin, however, are all about the fast songs. But they don't deal in jolly jump-abouts. They're all about tension and pressure, their set a staccato fusillade of short, sharp shocks. Everyything is delivered with an air of frantic dread, as if the band see something nameless and ghastly lurking on the horizon. But they've evidently decided to rush towards their certain doom anyway, with all guns blazing.
When vocalist Maya stretches out her arms towards the audience, it's not the usual rock 'n' roll jolly-up you might expect from lesser bands. She looks more like she's summoning demons. The Cold In Berlin experience is probably a little more intense than some of today's audience is used to - there are as many apprehensive glances as delighted grins in the crowd - but round here, we say scary is good.
The Chapman Family have a certain intensity about them, too, although in their case it's matched to a rather more blokeish blood 'n' thunder. The band set up their trademark belligerent bash-and-crash, with Kingsley Chapman looming at the microphone like the football hooligan big brother of Ian Curtis. But don't let that comparison fool you. The Chapman Family don't trade in Joy Division-esque introspection. They're all about kicking out, not looking in.
Occasional interjections of keyboard bring shafts of light into the band's glowering roar, but for the most part this is a set with everything locked on eleven. In a sense, The Chapman Family are the most conventional bunch here today, in that they are simply, fundamentally, a rock band, rather than post-punk art-heads or new wavey weirdos. But someone's got to represent good ol' rock and roll, and the Chapman Family do that very thing without taking prisoners.
O. Children's vocalist Tobi O'Kandi thanks us for sticking around, rather than heading off to see "That other guy." Gary Numan (for it is he) is playing DV8's top star slot tonight, across town at the Barbican. But we've got our own stars right here in the concrete bunker of The Duchess. Because O. Children have a certain confidence about them, and a quietly assertive air which I suppose is entirely justified. With a well-received album under their belts and the new wave-ish end of the indie scene at their feet, the band is entitled to exude a touch of unflappable assurance.
O. Children have also made a bit of headway within the goth scene - and making headway within the goth scene is a rare achievement even for bands who ply their trade exclusively within it. For a band from outside to register on the goth scene's radar is a bit like non-union labour landing a job in a closed shop.
But you can see the appeal: Tobi O'Kandi's rich baritone strides commandingly over the band's rolling musical landscapes, while his physical presence - he's almost too tall for the stage - dominates the room. O. Children manage to make a connection between the edgy angularity of new wave with the most grandly driving gothic rock, and they do it all without ever descending to mere fustian bombast. Wayne Hussey could learn a thing or two from these boys.
Tonight, 'Dead Disco Dancer' - perhaps O. Children's most conventionally gothic anthem - gets the place a-rocking, but it's the new song, 'My PT Cruiser Is' (a strange half-title that surely should continue 'No Substitute For A Real Morris Minor') that's the top tune of the night, with its killer krautrock beat and its ascending, climactic groove. If this represents O. Children's new stuff, I'll predict they won't be playing concrete bunkers under car parks much longer.
On to DV8 Fest part 2 here.
For more photos from the DV8 Fest, find (some of) the bands by name here.