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WGTWave Gotik Treffen

Day 1 - bands in order of appearance:

Mona Mur And En Esch
Dark Diamonds
Genitorturers
Conjure One
Kirlian Camera
Brendan Perry


Vokspalast, Kohlrabizirkus & Agra, Leipzig
Friday May 21 2010

 

However many times you attend the Wave Gotik Treffen, the sheer scale of the event still requires a certain shift of brain-gear. At least, it does if you're coming from the UK, where goth had its brief heyday over twenty years ago. Notwithstanding the occasional bout of cautious prodding from the mainstream media, and the steady seep of noir-ish influences into other musical and stylistic areas, goth-stuff in the UK has existed several levels under the radar ever since.

Today in the UK, goth survives as a small scale DIY scene - which has its own appeal and its own advantages, of course. But it does mean that nobody ever really gets ahead. If you want to see what can happen when the brakes come off - or, more accurately, if they were never applied in the first place - you've got to come to Germany.

In Germany, goth simply stuck around and grew, to the point where it's now big enough to be taken seriously. Big enough to get real media attention, big enough for big events. The notion that a festival the size of the WGT - 20,000 attendees, 160-odd bands, more than 40 venues, for four days across a major city - could happen in the UK is frankly laughable. In Germany, however, it's routine. The WGT itself is 19 years old now, and it's just one event on a festival circuit that readily includes goth as just another top-table contender alongside every other musical genre - a state of affairs that looks almost surreal from a UK vantage point.

Well, here we are in Leipzig. Let the surrealism commence.

No matter how comprehensively the old East Germany may be assimilated by the West, you know you're in the former Eastern Bloc when you enter a venue called the Volkspalast. This looming pile of classically-styled concrete - it looks like a well-worn railway station from the outside; it's an elegant workers' playground within - is where we'll rendezvous with our first band of the festival.

Mona Mur And En Esch both have a certain amount of history behind them - Mona Mur as an arch-collaborator with a host of left-fielders from Einstürzende Neubauten to Yello, En Esch as a founder member of KMFDM. But, together, they create a kind of punk rock cabaret, all howling guitar dynamics and Mona Mur's assertive yet seductive vocal.

There's a strut and slink and - more than anything - a presence to the performance that is entirely appropriate for this grandiose venue - but something tells me they'd be just as effective, ripping it up in a small club. En Esch paces the stage and unleashes the guitar fireworks; Mona Mur is stern and yet somehow manages to hint at an undercurrent of mischief. It must be said that her version of 'Surabaya Johnny' does rather hang together better than the version I saw Angie Bowie perform a few days ago, if only because Mona Mur knows the real German lyric. I'm sure she'd get Frau Dietrich's vote.Mona Mur and En esch / Dark Diamonds

A tram ride across town brings us to Werk II, an old fire extinguisher factory that now hosts arts and entertainments amid an elegantly shabby post-industrial ambience. This is just a flying visit, to catch a bit of atmosphere, throw down a beer, and see whatever random band happens to be on stage.

The random band turns out to be Dark Diamonds, a fairly straightforward rock-mit-elektronischen outfit dressed up with an outré image that isn't matched by their essentially conventional sound. Metalnoize with added electro decoration isn't quite the radical idea it might once have seemed - and anyway, in the case of Dark Diamonds, the metal side of things always wins. The singer flings himself around in a flurry of green hair; a female backing vocalist in PVC looms sternly. But none of this really makes up for the fact that the music is...well, straightforward rock. All the flurries of coloured hair in the world can't make up for monochrome music.

So we'll duck out and head elsewhere - to the Kohlrabizirkus, via the new number 31 tram route laid on specially for the WGT. Endearingly, the route number is displayed on the tram stop signs on a black background. Well, of course it is! But this in itself indicates how much of an impact the WGT makes: it's big business, and well worth the city going out of its way to help the event succeed.

WGT trams

Apparently the WGT brings something like five million Euros into Leipzig every year - definitely worth an extra tram route, that. The city authorities recently refused to sell the Agra site - home of the WGT's largest venue, campsite and Medieval village - to developers who wanted to build luxury flats. In Leipzig, they'd rather have goths than yuppies. Compare and contrast the attitude in the UK, where local authorities routinely roll over and beg to have their tummies rubbed any time a developer heaves into sight, and where any manifestation of non-mainstream culture is either brushed aside as amusingly insignificant, or simply regarded as a problem. We're in a whole other world here, that's for sure.

Right now, we're in a whole other venue. The Kohlrabizirkus was once a fruit and vegetable market. Now it hosts rock bands. Some might say there's not much difference between the old role and the new. It seems to have become the metal venue for the WGT - most of the bands here today seem to make variations of a 'Huuurrrgghh!' noise, anyway. But there's one band on today's bill that might be more interesting.

GenitorturersI first saw the Genitorturers years ago, at the Torture Garden, where their rampant metaaaal provided the soundtrack while a willing volunteer got his lips sewn together. These days - you might be relieved to know - the dungeon theatrics have been replaced by a no-shit, let's-rock approach. At any rate, nobody gets their body parts sliced 'n' diced as part of the Genitorturers show today.

In fact, the band seems to have reinvented their sound in a far more glammy, punky, trash-rock style, somewhere between The Distillers and Hanoi Rocks. Vocalist Gen dominates the stage like a glam-rock warror woman while her band of louche rock reprobates kick out the jams.

There are interludes of theatre, but it's mild stuff compared to the old days. Gen dances with a devil brandishing a bottle of Jack Daniels during 'Devil In A Bottle' - nothing like a literal interpretation, I always say - and some dominatrix-play occurs with a female slave. A few songs in to the set, Gen festoons herself with tubes and pipework - she looks like a cyberpunk vacuum cleaner, which presumably illustrates some sort of fetishistic point - but these are minor excursions into showbiz. For the most part, it's a stripped-down rock 'n' roll blast all the way.

Perhaps the Genitorturers realised that they couldn't keep the X-rated stuff coming indefinitely. After a while, even the most outrageous act risks becoming commonplace. So it's a counter-intuitive step back, then, but it works. The Genitiorturers have emerged as a kickin' rock band, pure and simple - and they're rather good at it.

Now it's time for another tram ride to the Agra, the edge-of-town exhibition complex which provides the WGT with its biggest single location, and largest music venue. Although many bands tend to regard an Agra slot as something of a coup - out of all the WGT venues, it's the big one - it's not necessarily an easy venue to play. The acoustics are interesting, and it's not always easy to engage the attention of the crowd all the way to the very distant back of the hall.

Conjure OneStill, entering the venue today, it looks like Conjure One are doing OK. They've got the crowd grooving to their easy-listening 90s trance. So far, so good. Personally, I'm just a bit bemused that it is easy-listening 90s trance. Not only because we're a decade on from the 90s now, but also because Conjure One's main man, Rhys Fulber, was once in industrial noisemakers Front Line Assembly. You'd think he'd have kept an edge in there somewhere.

But it's all smooth stuff, shuffling beats and bubbling electronics, and a female vocalist warbling inoffensively over the top like sugar icing on a very light sponge cake. It would be acceptable as far as it goes, but for the fact that the lyrics seem embarrassingly trite. I catch the line 'Tears fall like rain' - well, of course they do. What else would tears fall like? Clichés?

It's been a long strange trip for Kirlian Camera. From the bouncily accessible synthpop of the band's early days to their altogether darker, more brooding present incarnation as electro-stormtroopers of some unspecified apocalypse. At least, that seems to be the concept. The band's stage presence - all balaclavas and fist-over-the-heart salutes - might be scary if it wasn't so hammy. And anyway, you surely can't be scared of a stormtrooper supermodel like singer Elena Alice Fossi, who looks like she's just stepped off a Milan catwalk to do a little light troops-rallying.

Kirlian CameraTo start the set, there's a short video statement which informs us that Christians are unrecognised victims of persecution, and Kirlian Camera will support them in their hour of need (but what if the Christians don't like moody electro?). Then it's into the music.

Synth-atmospheres jostle beats that are never less than thrusting; electronics swoop dramatically, shimmy and and shiver. Elena Alice's voice glides and ascends as if on thermal air currents, always keeping an air of unruffled control. In the background, Angelo Bergamini, the band's founder and scariest member (he's the last to take his balaclava off) stands impassively behind a keyboard, except when he emerges to pace the stage as if making sure everyone in the band is doing the right thing.

In a way, there's a curious mismatch between Kirlian Camera's forbidding image and the accessible glissade of the music; the functional paramilitary costumes and Elena Alice's natural glamour. Maybe that's the point.

But at times it does make the band seem a little awkward, as if they couldn't quite decide which way to push the presentation, so they simply decided to mix up the imagery and music any old how and just let the resulting mash-up happen. The Agra audience has no doubts: the band are cheered like heroes by a crowd that can apparently see no paradoxes. I'm left pondering how odd Kirlian Camera are.

After the official headline slot at the Agra, there's a kind of headline-of-headlines in the shape of the 'Midnight Special' slot, otherwise known as a late (sometimes very late) performance by a superstar artist. Tonight's superstar is Brendan Perry, he of Dead Can Dance, who emerges on stage in a scruffy old coat and grizzled beard. He looks like a minicab driver who's taken a wrong turning.

Unassuming and downbeat, he leads his band of equally unostentatious musicians into a set of warmly meticulous songs, as precise as science and as sensitively constructed as matchstick models of cathedrals. All this is greeted with equal parts enthusiasm and affection by the crowd of loyal fans, who seem to regard Brendan Perry as a kind of genius uncle. I'm not quite so convinced. Too many of the songs seem soothing rather than stirring. Brendan Perry's mellifluous voice shades too far into mere easy listening territory for me. I'm waiting for some spark of mecurial creativity that unequivocally pushes the experience out there - but it never quite happens.

In the end, Brendan Perry's songs are a pleasant way to end the day, but I was hoping for something more than a musical hot-water bottle. Back to the hotel, then, for the last few hours of the night. We'll do the same again, differently, tomorow.

Brendan Perry

Mona Mur And En Esch: MySpace

Dark Diamonds: MySpace

Genitorturers: Website | MySpace

Conjure One: Website | MySpace

Kirlian Camera: Website | MySpace

Brendan Perry: Website | MySpace

Wave Gotik Treffen: Website | MySpace

 

On to Day 2 of the WGT, here.

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

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