15th Wave Gotik Treffen - Part 1
The first thing you learn about the Wave Gotik Treffen is that the statistics are impressive. No, more than that. For anyone who's accustomed to the small-scale, hole-and-corner goth scene in the UK, they're downright terrifying.
30,000 goths and over 160 bands in 15 different venues, from cellar bars to theatres, from fields to big tin sheds, plus club nights and parties, shindigs and shennanigans, all artistically scattered throughout one of Germany's major cities. This is the largest specifically goth-oriented festival on planet Earth.
But before we jump to any conclusions, note this: the upfront presence of the G-word doesn't mean the WGW is all-pervasively gothic. Everything from bangin' techno to meticulously recreated medieval folk music is represented; everyone from diehard punks to mutant psychobilles attends. But the festival brandishes its gothic credentials with pride. From a UK perspective, where goth tends to be regarded as, at best, a quirky piece of 80s nostalgia or, at worst, a fantasy refuge for troubled teens who eat melodrama with their cornflakes, that's astonishing in itself.
But things are different in Germany. Goth is a large and successful branch of alternative music - it was never swept aside and marginalised, as it was in the UK. On the contrary, it simply grew and grew, and made connections in all directions. The Wave Gotik Treffen is where all those connections come together, and both the event itself, and the scene from which it sprang, are big enough and bold enough to look the rest of the world straight in the eye.
The Wave Gotik Treffen had humble beginnings in ad-hoc, informal parties which took place from time to time in the old communist state of East Germany. Back then, there was no 'scene' as such. Adherents to supposedly subversive subcultures such as goth could quite easily find themselves on the wrong end of a Stasi boot.
After reunification, goth in East Germany went above ground, and those early parties coalesced into the festival we now know as the WGT. Today, it's a well-drilled, professionally-run city-wide spectacular, a world away from the amiable amateurism of goth events elsewhere. If you have the slightest leanings towards the darker end of post-punk music in all its variety, it's the place to be. And if you're a band of that ilk, it's definitely the place to play.
Did someone say bands? Well, that's what we're here for, so let's get stuck in. This year, the WGT commences with a grand opening event to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the event starting up. It all takes place in the Volkspalast, a communist-era pleasuredome where once the dutiful workers of the state would be allowed some carefully-controlled fun.
The deliciously dated name (Volkspalast, doesn't that just say 'Eastern Bloc' to you?) remains, but on this occasion the revels probably wouldn't meet with Erich Honecker's approval. Tonight, Pink Turns Blue host an all-star gala in which they act as backing band for an array of alterno-scene bigwigs who make brief appearances on stage to sing a few of their own hits and cover a favourite tune or two of someone else's. It's a new notion, and an intriguing idea. Let's get the schwarzebiers in and see how it goes.
If truth be told, the event isn't quite the blockbuster I suspect Pink turns Blue anticipated. It's good to hang out in an impressive venue, meet up with fellow WGT-ers, and swig a few beers, but on stage things never really catch fire. Pink Turns Blue play a few of their own songs to get things going, and these go down well.
But then it's time for the guest spots, and the gaps between the performances, as the different vocalists come and go, tend to kill any momentum which might otherwise build up. It must be said, too, that the guest stars themselves also tend to play safe with their song selections. An impressive array of talent has been amassed tonight - representatives of everyone from In The Nursery to Girls Under Glass are lined up to perform - but, disappointingly, it seems few of the guest stars are up for taking any real risks.
There's a typically manic interlude courtesy of Das Ich, who give us a handful of merry tunes, notably their own 'Gott Ist Tot'. It's a suitably belligerent rendition, a big, aggressive, rhythmic shout - and, of course, Das Ich have pretty much cornered the market in big aggressive shouting songs these days. That's what they do, and while I wasn't exactly expecting them to go all acoustic folk on us, it's no real surprise to find them giving us more of the same here.
Myk Jung of The Fair Sex delivers a confident version of 'Lucretia, My Reflection' which, while remaining rather over-dutifully faithful to the original, at least indicates he'd be a good lead vocalist for the Sisters Of Mercy if Andrew Eldritch ever decides to replace himself.
It's left to Chibi of The Birthday Massacre, who leaps aound with bug-eyed glee, to bring in a welcome touch of lighthearted party bounce with her spirited romp through The Cure's 'Just Like Heaven'. Her performance is boisterous enough to suggest that she, alone of all the artists we've seen so far, has really understood the spirit of the event.
Then, as if to calm us all down, it's Alexander Veljanov of Deine Lakaien, a man who could make nursery rhymes sound sound po-faced and portentous. He steers us into the Very Serious Zone with a forbiddingly stentorian croon through his own song 'The Kiss', sounding like a schoolmasterish Bing Crosby. Then, rather underwhelmingly, he sings a slowed down version of the Banshees' 'Spellbound' to us, reading the lyrics off a sheet of paper, thus effortlessly sucking the natural dynamism out of the song and leaving it dead on the carpet.
Naturally, his efforts are received with huge cheers - Alexander Veljanov is a bona-fide star in Germany - but, as ever when I encounter this particular performer, I'm left distinctly unmoved. A pedestrian effort, frankly, notwithstanding the enthusiasm of the fans.
Fortunately, Frank The Baptist pops up next. He selects as his cover the old Bauhaus tune 'Passion Of Lovers', and does it proud with plenty of - yes - passion. While it's not exactly a wild card choice, Frank certainly has the voice to do the drama-laden chorus justice, and his energetic delivery adds a physical element that works well. And his top hat doesn't even wobble.
Andy LaPlegua of Combichrist is the joker in the pack: instead of turning in an obvious choice of cover - which, for him, would be an electropop classic of some kind - he comes barelling out in full punk rock effect, slamming through Billy Idol's 'Rebel Yell' in a manner which recalls, bizarrely enough, Andy Deane of Bella Morte. It's a real what-the-fuck of a performance, and exactly the kind of off-centre choice that most other guest artists tonight seem reluctant to make.
Ronny of Clan Of Xymox gives us, along with his own 'Louise' and 'Michelle', a measured take on Bowie's 'Heroes' - it's nice, and he certainly sounds at home with the song, but then it's exactly the kind of thing you'd expect Ronny to sing. I would've been more impressed if he had romped merrily through 'The Laughing Gnome'.
Finally, dear old Wayne Hussey, the Queen Mother of goth, comes out to great applause, and proceeds to perform a mini-set of eighties faves - and, to my surprise, I find myself enjoying the proceedings.
I've never been a fan of the Mission, and frankly find Wayne's solo efforts twice as tiresome, but tonight he hits the spot with a measured, controlled, stroll through Depeche Mode's 'Enjoy The Silence', on which he demonstrates that his vocal abilities are still in fine order.
This is followed by a spirited take on Siouxie's 'Cities In Dust' - a far more I-mean-it-man rendition than Alexander Veljanov's earlier take on a Siouxsie song. Next, a genuinely affecting version of Soft Cell's 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye', upon which Wayne hits the sustained notes with a lot more confidence that Marc Almond ever did on the original. And then he wraps it all up with the Mish's own classic anthem, 'Butterfly On A Wheel', and he just can't resist unleashing a bit of those old rock star histrionics, getting down on his knees like he just wants to testify.
Dear old Wayne! If he was any more of a ham he'd be Danish, but tonight his showbiz instincts served him well. He topped off a sometimes slightly muted show with a much needed burst of showmanship.
The band packs up, the DJs kick in. At the WGT, there's no question of rushing out at closing time. Everything carries on into the early hours, and we've hardly started yet. The real festival begins tomorrow.
This way for Wave Gotik Treffen - part 2
For more photos from the WGT, find the bands by name here.