Inkubus Sukkubus at the Underworld - now that's familiar territory. Back in my showbiz days I promoted a couple of gigs for the band in this very venue - in fact, I believe the first gig, in February 1995, was the first time Incubus Succubus (as they were then spelt) had set foot on the Underworld stage. Since then, they've been back, and back, and back again. Thirteen years later, here we go round the mulberry bush one mo' time. Inkubus Sukkubus, Top Band on the UK goth scene, return once more to their gig circuit home from home.
That's not to say that everything is the same as it ever was, mind. Inkubus Sukkubus themselves have changed quite a bit. Back in the 90s they were a full-on rock band, guitar, bass, drums, percussion - a heady brew at a time when the default line-up for a British goth band was two men, a drum machine, and a handful of recycled Sisters Of Mercy moves. Inkubus Sukkubus were distinctly different, and, it must be said, downright better than most other contenders at the time. They were a band at a time when British goth had largely become the province of bedroom-based studio projects, and in their vocalist, Candia, the band had a gutsy yet controlled singer, a world away from the sub-Eldritch mumbling or mini-McCoy rasps that passed for vocals elsewhere.
was, therefore, a slightly bizarre move when Inkubus Sukkubus ditched
the live band line-up, aquired a drum machine, and reinvented themselves
as more or less exactly the kind of straight-outta-the-bedroom goth band
they had once effortlessly eclipsed.
The venue is about one third full - probably the best result anyone can hope for in the UK goth scene these days. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly - most people seem to be friends or aquaintances, which in itself illustrates how the UK goth scene has become a social network these days. It's all very agreeable and easy-going and familiar, which I dare say is exactly the attraction for most people here. But it's hard to escape the notion that we're a long way from any kind of sub-cultural cutting edge.
of which makes Maleficent the odd
ones out at this gig. But then, Maleficent would probably be the odd ones
out at any gig. Their live show is an extravaganza of surrealist theatre,
in which ballet moves and gonzoid performance-art interludes are served
up to a rampaging racket of post-industrial, post-metal, post-early-for-Chrtistmas
noise. A crazed and wayward child rushes out and dismembers a teddy bear;
the masked bassist looms scarily over the monitors.
Faces Of Sarah are another band who've been hanging around
the UK goth scene for more years than I care to contemplate. They've always
been a slightly incongruous bunch in goth circles, for the band's stock
in trade is four-square rock music, entirely free of any theatrics, extravagances,
or, indeed, anything particularly gothic.
The highlight of the set ('highlight' being a distinctly relative term here, you understand) is 'Misery Turns', an old anthem upon which Nick Schultz is joined by Candia, who rushes on stage and delivers an impromptu backing vocal, thus lending a sudden burst of excitement to an otherwise entirely workmanlike affair. At which point it occurs to me that if the most exciting moment in The Faces Of Sarah's show is the bit where the backing vocalist comes on, I think it might be time to adjourn swiftly to the bar.
shunt to the front again for The Ghost Of Lemora,
however, because this bunch of arch and witty pop-goths are always worth
noticeable tonight, however, that Richard's vocals default to a monotone
chant a little too frequently for comfort, especially on the newer, more
melodic numbers where he's required to sing rather than simply
declaim. On old songs such as 'Dread The Day The Cities Rise' - essentially
a big sci-fi shoutalong - he's entirely at home, but when he's called
upon to essay a melody, his limitations shoulder their way to the front.
Headline time. Inkubus Sukkubus take to a bizarrely empty stage. No drum kit, naturally - but a distinct absence of backline, too. These days, if a band doesn't mind being entirely at the mercy of the monitor mix, it's possible to eschew the on-stage furniture and plug straight into the technology. A very practical way to tour, for sure, although the emptiness of the stage tonight emphasises how far Inkubus Sukkubus have come since their days as a full-scale rock band. And yet, in other ways, Inkubus Sukkubus haven't really come far at all...
backing track rolls, and the band crank things up. I'm immediately struck
by how familiar much of the set is. Although Inkubus Sukkubus now have
more than ten albums to their name, I'm sure large chunks of tonight's
set are the same as that first show back in '95.
Candia carries the proceedings with cheerful charm, and her voice slices through the regulation gothic fog-bank like a siren through a storm. But the guitar riffs and occasional bursts of soloing are the same as ever, and even guitarist Tony McKormack's outbreaks of slide-down-the-strings noise and guitar-behind-the-head showboating are only effective if you haven't seen him pull exactly the same stunts at upmpteen other gigs - as, it must be said, I have. The programmed drums - which for all I know sound thunderously impressive in the band's home studio - come across as cheesy, tinny, dated and embarassingly rinky-dink, rattling apologetically through the Underworld's 6K PA. It's this, as much as anything, that takes the edge off the show.
The loyal fans down the front cheer every move, of course - for them, the reasurring familiarity of the set is welcome, and the band's cheese-flavoured goth-isms are exactly what the UK goth scene of the 90s onwards was built on. But I'm standing there, remembering the other Inkubus Sukkubus, that wild and dynamic live rock band of the old days, and I wonder what posessed them to take the fork in the road marked 'cheesy drum-machine goth'.
That's the paradox of Inkubus Sukkubus, I suppose. They've changed, and yet they haven't changed. They ditched the good stuff, and aquired some excess baggage. They're playing the old songs, and new songs that sound comfortingly akin to the old songs, but they're doing it in a manner that seems distinctly economy-size compared to their 1995 incarnation. And I dare say they'll keep on doing it. They'll be back in the Underworld next year, I'm sure - and the next year, and the next.
I think, however, I'm likely to be elsewhere.
more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.