KMFDM are one of those bands that seem to have been around for ever. It's perhaps rather unfair that they've never really been hailed as innovative alumni of the old school, in the way that contemporaries from the 80s industrial zone such as Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb are often regarded.
For all that, KMFDM have made their mark on the last two and a half decades. I suppose, objectively, there must've been a time when KMFDM anthems such as 'Godlike' were not guaranteed floor fillers at your local industrial club, but I'd be hard pressed to recall it. Yet KMFDM never seem to share in the kudos that's often handed out to other 80s pioneers. Maybe that's why the band are now on a tour that's pointedly billed as a celebration of 25 years of their heavy heavy monster sound. 25 years, y'hear? Now let's have some respect!
Right now, let's have some support bands. Last time I saw Leechwoman, the stage looked like a scrapyard in the aftermath of a hurricane, and the band hammered guitars and drums and bits of old washing machines with equal intensity. The rhythms were fierce; the spectacle was downright frightening. But that was last time. This time, Leechwoman are no less fierce, but, now slimmed down to a three-piece guitar-bass-guitar outfit with technology taking care of the beats, they're more of a metal experience than anything industrial.
The stage-left guitarist, in particular, never wastes an opportunity to strike comedy 'rock' poses, and flip metal fingers at the bemused audience. Fortunately, vocalist and all-round principal Leechwoman-man Alex is still as gonzoid as ever, and it's he who carries the show in a frenzy of flailing dreadlocks and incomprehensibly roaring vocals. But I wish Leechwoman were still a bunch of mad drummers and scrap-bashers. To me, heavy metal seems a bit too much like the default option.
It's time to get conceptual. AlterRed are a difficult band to describe: on the face of it, they're an electro dancefloor experience that doesn't stint on the slammin' beats. Well, so far, so good, but there's no shortage of such bands out there. What makes AlterRed different is that there's a certain touch of glam drama to the music - and some sort of overarching idea behind the detailed surrealism of the band's theatrical stage show.
If I seem a little vague there - I admit that 'some sort of overarching idea' is hardly a definitive description of what's going on - it's because I can't quite figure out what it's all about. There's a human clockwork doll on stage, her internal workings probed by a mechanic until she falls over, spring unwound, cogwheels out of place. There's a man in a straitjacket who bursts into laughter for no apparent reason. It's all quite baffling, but it certainly keeps the attention of the audience fixed on the stage, if only because nobody's sure what will happen next.
The songs themselves rise into rousing choruses, sharply constructed and accessible, the element that ties all the conceptual stuff together. It's an intriguing experience, but I wish AlterRed would hand out programmes in advance, or something, so we could follow the story that is presumably being told here.
Every time I see Trauma Pet, it seems to be at some sort of industrial gig. And every time I remark on the strangeness of that situation, because Trauma Pet are not an industrial band. They're a straight-up rock outfit. While their sound features a few programmed electronic noises (generated, it seems, by an unfeasibly huge desktop computer that's been lugged on stage for the purpose, surely a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut), that by itself doesn't get 'em under the industrial wire.
Trauma Pet would probably be quite successful if they pointed themselves squarely at the contemporary rock crowd, for their sound is punchy, the delivery is slick, and in their vocalist Elie the band has a consummate rock frontwoman who seems to be already preparing for the Metal Hammer photoshoot, if her skimpy rawk chyk outfits are any guide.
Alas, tonight, in front of a crowd of industrialists keen to get their heavy beat on, Trauma Pet seem out of place, and the cheers that erupt from certain sections of the crowd when Elie announces the last song tell their own story. A band with potential, then, but - inexplicably, doggedly - pointing in the wrong direction.
And now, the heavy beatmeisters themselves. The stage set-up is functional and minimal, with founder member Sascha Konietzko and long-time vocalist Lucia Cifarelli stationed behind large racks which support small items of equipment. I suspect this is more of a visual ploy than anything else, since neither of them appears to pay much attention to the technology. Two guitarists and a drummer bulk out the visuals and bulk up the sound.
Ironically, given that I've just remarked on Trauma Pet's incongruity as a rock band at this industrial gig, it must be noted that for all their industrial schtick, KMFDM have survived and prospered for 25 years by delivering what is, when you boil it right down, a non-stop barrage of driving, insistent, dance-rock anthems. And, sure enough, they come: the heavy beats get cranked, the guitars give it the authentic monster riff treatment, and the crowd becomes an instant mosh-beast.
KMFDM's formula hasn't changed much over the years - there are recent songs in the set tonight, but they dovetail seamlessly with the old songs, without any evidence that pesky progress has got in the way. Over the course of an hour-plus show that formula perhaps becomes a little too obvious for comfort. At times, I find myself wishing that KMFDM would play something that wasn't a driving, insistent, dance-rock anthem.
But what the hell, it all works in that stomp-up-to-the-rousing chorus manner, and nobody in this audience is inclined to argue with Lucia Cifarelli as she comes to the front of the stage, all accusing stares and silver PVC trousers, and virtually dares the crowd to stop dancing. Sascha Konietzko himself hangs back, seldom venturing out from behind his technology-tower, the main man but certainly not the front man. With any other band, that might be a problem, but KMFDM is a brand as much as a band, and all tonight's crowd is concerned about is that the anthems keep rolling out like conquering armies. Sure enough, they do. 'World War III' is a weapons-grade riff machine, 'A Drug Against War' is an artillery stonk of drums. And, of course, 'Godlike', the song that filled a thousand dancefloors, is the ultimate anthem.
Maybe KMFDM won't go down in history as great innovators, but you've got to give them this: for 25 years they've been the absolute masters of the industrial disco throwdown.
For more photos from this gig, find the bans by name here.