in order of appearance:
Fixmer / McCarthy
and Kohlrabizircus, Leipzig
Monday May 28 2007
UK eyes, one of the stranger tangents of the German goth scene
is the Medievalist movement. An entire sub-culture based around
a keen interest in the thirteenth century and all that followed
might seem odd to us: surely this should be the province of eccentric
students of long-gone folkways? In Germany, however, it's a vibrant,
colourful and entirely contemporary scene. The WGT provides several
points of connection with the world of modern medievalism. There's
usually an entire day at the Agra devoted to medieval metal bands,
who mash up sqawking bagpipes with thunderous guitar riffs - resulting
in a musical style that's very much an aquired taste, it must
be said, and one that doesn't travel much outside Germany.
that's a little hard to take, it's possible to experience bagpipes
a more traditional manner at the WGT medieval market. This runs
throught the festival at the appropriate location of the Moritzbastei,
the remaining fragments of Elector Moritz of Saxony's 16th century
fortifications that now rise incongruously from the middle of
the modern city. A
stage, unencumbered by the paraphenalia of rock 'n' roll technology
- this area is entirely devoted to acoustic music - provides a
platform for wandering minstrels to entertain random passers-by.
One such performance - which seems to be partly music, partly
comedy banter - is going on as we pass. But we can't stop here.
We're on our way to the village in the woods.
an area of woodland close to the Agra - but a world away in other
respects - an entire medieval village sprouts up for the duration
of the Treffen. Here it's possible to quaff fruit wine while watching
blacksmiths ply their trade, take part in charades in period costume,
gnaw on roast animals of various kinds, buy a broadsword (ideal
for killing those animals before you eat 'em, of course) - or
even watch some bands.
the stage set-up does make a few concessions to the modern world.
There's a PA, lights, all the basics necessary for new-fangled
amplified music. And, making full use of these facilities as we
pass by, we find Dunkelschön.
They're a fairly traditional folk group with enough amplified
punch in their sound to encourage even passing leather-clad deathrockers
to stand and watch. Female vocals swoop over the twang and thump
of traditional instruments, and I'm left to reflect that this
is what Ataraxia would probably sound like if you filled them
up with fruit wine and told 'em to rock it up a bit like they
did in 1395. Good stuff, but we must move on...
the WGT's full-scale open air stage, set, as you might gather,
in pleasant parkland not far from the city centre. There are no
quibbles about levels of rock 'n' rollness here. Towering PA stacks
flank the stage; the electric panoply of juiced-up rock music
is in full effect.
in full effect as we enter the arena are Eisbracher,
a loud and implacable rock band who are clearly in no mood to
take prisoners. Fronted by a fearsome gent in military gear -
just in case we haven't caught on to the band name, he helpfully
brandishes an ice pick at us - Eisbracher thunder like an irony-free
version of Laibach. There are no witty concepts or shafts of oblique
humour here. Just barrelling, bass-heavy rock music, with a down-in-the-basement
rumble of a vocal giving it all a focal point. As far as it goes,
it works, although when all's said and done it is pretty conventional
stuff. Still, being conventional never hurt anyone's chances of
success. We shall expect great things of Eisbracher.
arrive on stage to find an audience that has noticeably thinned
out since Eisbracher's set. That's because I:Scintilla
are a new band to the WGT, and indeed a new band to Europe as
a whole. Over from Chicago for the first time, they seem a little
diffident on this big stage, perhaps
aware that they haven't quite got the sizeable European fanbase
that would normally be necessary to command a mid-bill position
at the Parkbhüne.
But what the hell. They've lucked in to the slot - now they've
got to fill it.
The band cook up a guitar cake with electronic icing, the sound
somewhere between New Order's electro grooves and the precision
engineered rock of Garbage. It's slick without being over-polished,
and if the first few songs don't quite have that hit-'em-between-the-eyes
factor, I:Scintilla eventually turn up the heat and the second
half of the set hurtles along with gusto. The band's stage presence
is largely in the hands of the singer, a personable young lady
with an engaging smile, intriguing tattoos, and fearsome boots
- a killer combination of assets, let's face it.
perhaps more to the point, she also possesses a voice plenty strong
enough to lead from the front, and by the time the band wrap things
up they've convinced the crowd and made their slot their own.
A slow start, but a big finish. Not a bad result for a debut appearance
on a European stage. I think I'll put I:Scintilla on my 'must
check 'em out again' list, and look out for an opportunity to
catch another gig.
I:Scintilla seemed a little incongruous, holding down a prime
slot on a big European festival stage while not really having
the profile to justify it, New Skin
have the same problem to an even greater degree. They're a UK
alternorock band, not especially well known even in their home
territory, and utterly obscure as far as the WGT audience is concerned.
don't know whether their presence here is due to some record company
string-pulling, or perhaps it's simply because the WGT experienced
a certain difficulty in attracting enough big names to fill all
the stages this year. I can't help wondering if the Treffen's
focus on big set-piece events such as that rained-off In The Nursery
opening show left the festival a little short of resources when
it came to assembling 'name' bills for the normal stages.
whatever the reasons behind their unexpected appearance, New Skin
grab their opportunity with all hands and endeavour to rock up
a stage considerably bigger than those they're used to on the
London gig circuit. Again, the show is focused on the singer.
She's a garage punkette who looks like she's come straight from
browsing the racks at her favourite thrift store, and she has
a voice that combines a certain seen-it-all-before world weariness
with don't-mess-with-me assertiveness. Factor in the band's frayed
at the edges rock racket, and the whole package holds together
rather well. Driven along by the forceful yet detailed drumming
of Belle (yep, that Belle - denizens of the London alternative
rock scene will know him instantly) New Skin look surprisingly
at home at the WGT. Not quite as at home as I suspect they are
in the rock clubs of London, mind, but nevertheless they carry
off their Parkbhüne
getting late. Darkness is gathering, and so is the crowd. Now
we have a repeat of the phenomenon we noticed previously, when
the Super Heroines played: a sudden influx of be-mohawked deathrockers.
This time they're gathering to witness the latest episode in the
surreal soap opera that is Cinema Strange.
it's interesting, and perhaps significant, that Cinema Strange
are playing here, on a varied bill of bands with no particular
style in common, rather than at the Werk II 'deathrock day' which
some might assume to be the band's natural home. But then, Cinema
Strange have moved a long way from their early incarnation as
Virgin Prune-ish purveyors of eighties-influenced proto-goth wailing.
The Batcave hairstyles once sported by the band are also long
gone - even if they're still largely sported by the fans. Even
Cinema Strange's booking agent no longer describes the band as
'deathrock', preferring instead the encouragingly vague term 'art
rock'. This is a band in the process of shifting its territory,
and as deathrock boxes itself in with undemanding punker, rocker
and metal parameters, perhaps it's wise to make that shift.
the revels begin. To a fractious rattle of drum machinery and
a nervy flurry of hi-end bass, the Cinema Strange carnival parade
disports itself over the innocent concrete of the stage. Guitar
crackles like ice forming on glass, and in the centre of the clangourous
racket, vocalist Lucas Lanthier strides back and forth in his
suit and high heels (an entirely logical combination in Cinema
Strange terms), making the exaggerated moves of a silent movie
star. On guitar, Michael Ribiat is robed like an animate version
of one of Aleister Crowley's more outre pulblicity photos, while,
on bass, Daniel Ribiat has clearly unleashed his inner Ziggy Stardust.
It is, naturally, a spectacle that goes a long way beyond mere
rock 'n' roll, and when the night sky starts throwing rain down
on the crowd, it's as if the shower is just another special effect.
once more we must take our leave before the end of the set, for
there's another gig to catch across town. We head out just as
Lucas Lanthier is attaching balloons to himself - again, a move
that appears entirely sensible in the context of Cinema Strange
- and begin the long walk back to the tram stop.
The side streets of Leipzig are empty, the cobblestones shiny
with rain, and by some strange quirk of acoustics the sound of
Cinema Strange follows us up the street, captured and funnelled
by the ruler-straight rows of Soviet era apartment blocks. It's
as if the band are following us through the city, a mere block
or two behind. This sort of thing can quite unsettle a fellow,
I don't mind admitting. But here's the tram stop, and here's the
tram. To the Kohlrabizircus!
Kohlrabizircus is a unique location in the international gazetteer
of rock 'n' roll in that it's the only music venue named after
a member of the cabbage family. A vast dome, resembling the lair
of a James Bond baddie, the venue was once (and for all I know
still is) a vegtable market. But tonight, at any rate, it's full
of a seething festival crowd, primed to party. On stage and also
seething, the slammin' elektro-dance workout that is Fixmer
/ McCarthy provides a pounding soundtrack. This is
old-skool EBM, relentless and ruthless, without any of the tiresome
cod-emotional baggage latter-day practitioners such as VNV Nation
brought to the genre. Mr Fixmer and Mr McCarthy rack up the beats
and kick out the jams with a power that's almost physical, a masterclass
in rampant rhythm. That's how it's done, folks. And they didn't
staple their hands to their foreheads once.
one more band to go. The headliners are due on stage any minute.
Suddenly, a backdrop of LEDs blazes into life, as if someone's
tapped a vein of raw electricity. Shadowy figures take up instruments.
This is Cassandra Complex, a band with a convoluted past that
goes back to the 80s in the UK, and a slightly more recent status
as alternative rock heroes in Germany. Like many bands with a
lengthy history, Cassandra Complex
have gone through many line-up changes and periods of not-doing-much,
or only-doing-stuff-in-the-Continenal-scene, to the point where
the band's UK profile has in recent years barely risen above earthworm
level. Significantly, while several Cassandra Complex pages exist
in various international editions of Wikipedia, the English-language
entry is brief, basic - and written in the past tense.
at the WGT, however, the band members - the original line-up,
- are hailed as conquering heroes as they emerge from the shadows,
with main man Rodney Orpheus recieving his own ovation. And it
doesn't let up from that point forward. The band crank it like
good 'uns, kicking up a driving, thunderous, rhythmic onslaught
that sweeps all before it. Curiously, given that in certain quarters
Cassandra Complex are hailed as pioneers of EBM, it's unashamedly
guitar-driven music (just in case we haven't twigged, the guitarist
demonstrates a fine repertoire of plank-hero postures throughout
the set) that tips its hat to ye olde rock 'n' roll even as it
eats the big dancefloor beat.
Orpheus himself is obviously revelling in the experience - fronting
a pounding behemoth of a band, before a crowd of cheering fans
- well, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,
innit? Unashamedly milking the adulation, he strikes messiah poses
that would seem downright Spinal Tap-ish were it not for the big
grin on his face. He even indulges in some quality crowd surfing,
trusting the fans to bear him off into the hinterland of the audience
and then return him stagewards just in time for the chorus. It
all fits, and it all works: the celebratory atmosphere, the ever-shifting
LED array strobing over everything, and the beat that just doesn't
quit - if ever there was a situation where all the threads are
pulled together into a glorious whole, we're witnessing it now.
over. Outside, it's raining. Taxis circle under hissing lights.
Leipzig absorbs the WGT crowd; another Treffen fades to black.
This unique, contradictory festival - vast and yet intimate, a
huge event that can come down to particular memorable moments
in clubs and cafes, where unexpected bands can shine (and, sometimes,
come unstuck) - has worked its peculiar magic again.
genius of it is, of course, that in many ways it's not over-organised.
When you boil it down, all the WGT promoters really do is book
up a few gigs around Leipzig, and let the performers and the punters
do the rest. Significantly, when they try for a big dramatic gesture,
as with the opening ceremony this year, it doesn't necessarily
quite come off. Keeping it simple keeps it cool. It's down to
the bands and the audiences to make it or break it. That's why
the Wave Gotik Treffen works.
New Skin: Website
Cinema Strange: Website
Fixmer / McCarthy: Website
Cassandra Complex: Website
Gotik Treffen: Website
more photos from the WGT, find the bands by name here.