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Slimelight @ Electrowerkz, London
Saturday July 17 2010


The return of Specimen isn't particularly new news. Those trashy glam-punks, best known as founders of the Batcave club, the early 80s London watering hole that played a large part in the invention of goth, have been knocking around in their reformed guise for a couple of years now. They even ran a one-off Batcave in London last year (I was there. It was fun. Find the review in the archive!)

Perhaps aware that the mere novelty of the band's existence in the twenty-first century is not the stuff of which ongoing careers are made, Specimen now seem to be mixing it on the live circuit on a fairly regular basis. They've got to establish themselves as a bona-fide current band, and find an audience that's not just a bunch of nostalgia-seekers or retro-goths if they want to get ahead.

There's even talk of a new Specimen album - astoundingly, their debut, for the band never quite got as far as an album in their original incarnation. It's taken a while - the best part of 30 years, actually - but maybe Specimen are poised to be this year's cool new band. Stranger things have happened.

Tonight, that near-30 year gap between Specimen's origins in the glammy, trashy, anything-goes, inventing-goth-as-we-go-along world of the Batcave and today, where goth stands as a rigourously codified genre of rock music, is neatly illustrated by our support band, NightPorter. In a way they're a neat encapsulation of what goth became in the post-Batcave years.

NightPorter's music is bolted firmly to a deliberate four-square rock structure; the vocals are a harsh rasp that occasionally approaches the traditional heavy metal 'Huuurrgh!'. The drummer flails mightily, as if he secretly wishes he was in Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, while the guitarist has obviously trodden very heavily on the 'Gothic Rock' preset on his effects unit. The bassist, encouragingly, is wearing an MC5 T-shirt, but he's soundly trumped in the shirt stakes by the singer's frilly number, which surely came straight out of the Instant Goth Image dressing up box. This, I suppose, is what much of goth is, these days: four-square quasi-metal in frilly shirts. It's what the kids want. Well, NightPorter certainly give it to 'em.


The band covers the Doors' 'Riders On The Storm', and The Pink Floyd's 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun' - interestingly, both pre-punk songs, choices which in themselves illustrate goth's abandonment of its post-punk origins. 'Set The Controls' becomes a frankly rather dull rawk workout in the hands of NightPorter, enlivened only by the drummer's tendency to vary the tempo at random intervals and the singer's 'Huuuhhhh-aaaahhh-huhhhh!' vocalisations, which sound like he's been asked to open up and say 'Ah!' by his doctor, and he got a bit carried away.

For sure, the band go down well with the crowd, but it all seems rather unconvincing and reverse-engineered to me. Did we fight the post-punk wars just so goth in the twenty-first century could be defined by metal bands doing classic rock covers? I don't know about you, but that's not what I signed up for.

SpecimenSpecimen, fortunately, are entirely unspoiled by progress. The goth scene's drift into quasi-metal hell has left these chaps unscathed. They're older, certainly, and the hairstyles are somewhat less elaborate than they used to be, but Specimen still look like they've just stepped out of their own surrealist pantomime - although I'm not going to speculate as to which one of them is the Dame.

Wearing a wide grin and an array of strange woollen ropes about his person - he looks like he's had a fight with a set of dreadlocks - vocalist Ollie Wisdom is an expansive host, ever ready with a broad grin and a glint in his eye. He presides over the revels with gleeful delight, scolding the crowd for their allegedly lukewarm reactions (although, in fact, the applause is plenty loud enough) and goading us all to greater heights.

The set is a compedium of Specimen's greatest hits, save for one new song, which drops a hint that the elusive album might indeed be in the works. But, new or old, Specimen's songs have an immediacy and a poppy zing which, when set against NightPorter's dour grumblings, illiustrates just how far we've come...and not in the right direction. 'The Beauty Of Poison' is a decadent anthem; 'Deadman's Autochop' is a tower of post-punky riffage, while 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' advances by funky, bass-driven, leaps and bounds.

It's a paradox. Specimen, by resolutely sticking with their glammy, punky, camped-up new-waveness, actually come across as far more contemporary than NightPorter, who've followed the more recent drift of goth into the metal zone, and have thus ended up sounding conventional and backward-looking.

Given that the surge of post-punk creativity which took place in the early 80s informs and influences much of today's music, Specimen - alumni of the post-punk university, class of '83 or thereabouts - have a genuine claim to the territory, and they've definitely got the chops to make an impact in the here and now. Waiting for almost 30 years to release a debut album is about as counter-intuitive strategy as you can get, but in Specimen's case they might end up being right on time.

Specimen: Website | MySpace

NightPorter: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find Specimen by name here.

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