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Wave Gotik Treffen 2007

 

Day 1

Bands in order of appearance:
NVMPH
Kosmic Horror
Pzychobitch
In Strict Confidence
Werk II, Leipzig
Friday May 25 2007

 

The Wave Gotik Treffen must seem like a strange and surreal thing to most people from the UK - and, perhaps, to people from many other locations around the world. Why? Well, in a nutshell, because it's gothic, and it's big.

Here in the UK, our once cutting-edge goth scene - don't laugh, it really did look like the future back in 1982 or thereabouts - has now more or less dwindled to a small social circuit, based around DJ-driven clubs that play eighties chart hits and familiar, no-brainer floor-fillers for an increasingly ageing dress-up-and-party crowd. By and large, the denizens of the UK goth scene take little interest in music from any other area or era. That's assuming they take any interest in music at all, of course. That in itself seems like an assumption too far sometimes.

WGT ticketSet against that, the sheer scale, diversity, and no-shit success of the WGT seems positively unreal. This is a festival based firmly on the concept of contemporary music. Not just goth bands, but bands of many different styles (the 'Wave' part of the festival's name encompasses just about anything post-punkish and alternative), all playing live in real time. You couldn't make it work in the UK, that's for sure. But this is Germany, where different rules apply. Goth never faded to grey here. It never retreated into a retro-party scene, as it did in the UK. It just kept on keeping on.

Today, the schwarze szene (to employ that useful all-purpose German expression which, basically, means all things dark and weird) is a high-profile and successful part of the German music scene at large. A festival such as the WGT - where 30,000 enthusiasts for all things schwarze descend on the city of Leipzig, which is very happy to receive them - is par for the course. Indeed, it's just one of many festivals which network the schwarze summer in Germany. But what makes the WGT unique even among these other, similarly large-scale events, is this: at the Treffen, everything takes place in a city. In theatres, bars, cafes, night clubs, churches and factories, the WGT takes over Leipzig for four heady days, and fills it with weird noises and strange hairstyles.

Now, I don't know about you, but that sounds good to me. So, shall we dip in?

 

NYMPHLet's take the number 11 tram from the Hauptbahnhof to Connewitz. We shall start our WGT experience at the converted fire extinguisher factory that is Werk II. This old industrial building, all red bricks and steel beams, has exactly the right atmosphere for a bit of left-field art.

Trouble is, I don't know if the first act on stage qualifies on either count. NVMPH are a two-piece industrial-dance outfit. You can probably guess what they sound like from that two-word description, can't you? Yep, you've got it. One bloke stands behind technology, and ostensibly makes the bangin' beatz happen (I say 'ostensibly', because, as so frequently with this kind of band, I suspect the music is all on the backing track). Meanwhile, his colleague prowls the otherwise empty stage and shouts. The vocals are the standard 'Huuuurrrgh! Huuuurrrgh! Huuuurrrgh!' racket, which seems to be What The Kids Want in this particular musical area, although personally I can't see what's so special about making indigestion noises over a beat. I guess that makes me, like, rilly uncool. I shall try to live with this devastating blow. Now, bring on the next band!

Kosmic HorrorOne aspect of the WGT which I rather like (although I know other people for whom it's a constant irritation) is the way in which bands of utterly different musical persuasions often follow each other on stage. Exactly that kind of juxtaposition happens now, as a bunch of sci-fi hooligans gathers to entertain us.

If you've ever wondered what a Klingon version of Hawkwind would be like, wonder no more. Kosmic Horror are here to show us. Fierce but cartoonish, they roar out a set of rampant spacerock, while dressed in alternate-universe stormtrooper gear. They sound like a heavy metal nightmare; they look like they invade planets in their lunch break. The set is loud and theatrical and defiantly silly. Vastly entertaining stuff, in short, although I have to admit to myself I would never choose to go and see a band like this at a regular gig. But served up at random on a festival bill, they prove an unexpected, if slightly guilty, pleasure.

 

The musical direction of the evening now takes another abrupt turn. If you listen, you can hear the tyres squealing on the tarmac, as everything is wrenched around to Pzychobitch. It would be easy to describe Pzychobitch as another industrial-dance combo, because their music, controlled from some mysterious black boxes by two anonymous gentlemen in black, certainly has the requisite levels of assertive electro-stompiness.

PzychobitchBut Pzychobitch have two assets which push them way above the usual stomp-and-shout merchants which inhabit the electro zone. They have a knack for writing cheerfully surreal, risqué pop tunes, most of which seem to prominently feature the word 'pussy' in the lyrics. And they have Sina on lead vocals, pacing the stage in ankle-strap heels, part dominatrix, part delinquent. If Client are the head prefects of electropop, Sina must be the naughtiest girl in the school. She commands the stage like it's her own personal playground, but she's always ready to let slip a knowing, mischevious, smile. The performance is humourous and engaging, and strikes just the right get-the-party-started note. Just what we need, on this first day of the WGT.

I last saw In Strict Confidence in London, doing their robust industrial rock thing as support to The Damned (if you can believe that - it was hardly a meeting of musical minds). Then, their set was brutally cut short due to a late-running schedule, a state of affairs that I dare say did not please the band. So, it's nice to catch up with them once more, this time under more favourable circumstances.

The line-up seems to be new (I certainly don't recall the female bassist/vocalist, staking out her territory stage left in her Lily Allen dress, last time) but the music still walks the tightrope between edgy and accessible. It's abrasive and thunderous stuff, and certainly hits all the right industrial buttons. But In Strict Confidence do have real songs lurking in the churning industrial murk. There's structure behind their stomp, stomp, stomp. Perhaps, bearing in mind the pop sensibility of Pzychobitch, this illustrates a trend in industrial-ish circles: bands have realised the impact is all the greater when there are songs behind the noise. In Strict Confidence walk that tightrope with a certain verve and - yes - confidence.

In Strict ConfidenceThe bands continue at Werk II for a few hours yet, but we're heading off now, with a view to catching In The Nursery at the big opening ceremony at the Volkerschlactdenkmal across town. This huge, looming war memorial, built in 1912 to commemorate the battle of Leipzig (although who was fighting whom is something I fear I cannot tell you) is visible from any high vantage point in the city, towering over the surrounding landscape like a landlocked lighthouse. It's a suitably dramatic location for a show, and indeed at previous WGTs bands have played inside the memorial itself. This time, the plan is for a full-scale open-air extravaganza. In The Nursery are to play with an orchestra; fireworks and floodlights will light up the night.

That's the plan, anyway. Unfortunately, it's raining.

This, of course, is the inevitable risk that goes along with any open-air gig, but in this case, given that this is supposed to be the big set-piece opening show, the weather does more than put a dampener on the proceedings. The prospect of trekking across the city in the rain, to spend more time standing in the rain watching just one band (albeit playing a special set with fancy trimmings) doesn't really make it past the cost/benefit analysis. An early night in a nice warm hotel room suddenly seems a more enticing prospect. Later, talking to hardier souls who did make the trek, it appears that the event was scaled back at the last minute (the fireworks were cancelled) and, while In The Nursery did play (under some hastily-erected canvas sheeting), the overall drama of the show was rather ignominiously reduced.

In a way, I'd say that's almost poetic justice. The WGT made its name, gained its reputation, and attracts its crowds on the basis of a very simple idea: putting on a bunch of bands, large and small, of many different styles and sounds, in a variety of venues around Leipzig. Throw in some shopping opportunities and club nights, plus the natural attractions of the city, with all its bars and restaurants, parks and streets - and let the festival-goers themselves take it from there. Huge set-piece extravaganzas aren't really what the Treffen is all about, and aren't really necessary. Perhaps more than any other festival, the WGT is created by its people. All the organisers have to do is put the basics in place, and then sit back and let the Treffen happen.

And indeed the Treffen will continue to happen...tomorrow....

 

Essential links:

NVMPH: MySpace
Kosmic Horror: Website
Pzychobitch: Website | MySpace
In Strict Confidence: Website | MySpace

Wave Gotik Treffen: Website | MySpace | LiveJournal

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

 

Wave Gotik Treffen 2007 - Day 2 continues 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.