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Wave Gotik Treffen 2007

Day 4

Entertainment at the MoritzbasteiBands in order of appearance:
Dunkelschön
Eisbracher
I:Scintilla
New Skin
Cinema Strange
Fixmer / McCarthy
Cassandra Complex
Pagan Village, Parkbühne, and Kohlrabizircus, Leipzig
Monday May 28 2007

 

To 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.

If that's a little hard to take, it's possible to experience bagpipes played in 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.

In 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.

Here, 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...

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Eisbracher...to the Parkbhüne, 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.

Also 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.

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I:Scintilla 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, I:Scintillaperhaps 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.

But, 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.

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New SkinIf 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.

I 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.

Well, 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 slot well.

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Cinema StrangeIt's 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.

But 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.

So, 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.

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But 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 Fixmer/McCarthystop. 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!

The 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.

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There's 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.

Here at the WGT, however, the band members - the original line-up, no Cassandra Complexless - 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.

Rodney 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.

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It's 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.

The 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.

 

Essential links:

Dunkelschön: Website
Eisbracher: Website
| MySpace
I:Scintilla: Website
| MySpace
New Skin: Website
| MySpace
Cinema Strange: Website
| MySpace
Fixmer / McCarthy: Website
| MySpace
Cassandra Complex: Website
| MySpace

Wave Gotik Treffen: Website | MySpace | LiveJournal

For more photos from the WGT, find the bands by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.