LiveJournal Twitter MySpace Last FM Facebook
Live

WGTWave Gotik Treffen

Day 2 - bands in order of appearance:

Los Carniceros Del Norte
Christ Vs Warhol
Twisted Nerve
Catastrophe Ballet
Jabberwock
Cobra Killer
Schneewittchen


Felsenkeller, Parkb├╝hnne & Moritzbastei, Leipzig
Saturday May 22 2010

 

 

It's a constant source of surprise to me that the WGT manages to find such a huge number of venues for festival events in a city that's only about the size of Bristol - and every year, they seem to find a few more.

The Felsenkeller, an ornate dancehall that hosts everything from banquets to bands, was new venue for the WGT last year. It seems set to become the location for the WGT's 'deathrock day' - the day-long slot on the festival schedule devoted to surviving bands from the post-punky early 80s, and current bands that have copped a touch of the essential style. At any rate, that's what's happening today, and that's why we're here. Old-school pioneers Sex Gang Children are slated to play a bit later, but we'll take a look at a couple of newer bands, and thus maybe take the temperature of twenty-first century deathrock.

Los Carniceros Del NorteLos Carniceros Del Norte are in many ways typical of the current crop of deathrock acts. They play it fast and punky with plenty of melodrama on top. The singer makes bug eyes, writhing manically in a fetish-y costume as he declaims the lyrics in an over-enunciated yelp. The guitar riffs fast and frantically. If you cut Los Carniceros Del Norte in half, you'd probably find 'fast and frantically' written through them like so many sticks of deathrock rock.

The frontman commands everything with his antics and his dramatics and whacko expressions - he looks like a horrorshow Charlie Harper who's sat up all night drinking too much coffee. His performance is more goofball than ghoulish, but that in itself is typical of modern deathrock, too. Much of the genre these days is closer to slapstick than sinister.

While Los Carniceros Del Norte would probably be most offended to be termed a comedy band, the fact remains that their frontman's schlock-horror showboating is the band's dominant element. Well, that's OK, but I say this: who wants to be dominated by a horrorshow Charlie Harper?

Now, here's a little problem. For unspecified reasons, the bouncers at the Felsenkeller today are not letting any photographers into the photo pit at the front of the stage. I don't know if that's because the bands have come over all nervous about cameras - 'But they capture our souls, don't you know!' - or whether it's just some over-officious rule that's been handed down from on high. I only know this: when I show my photo pass in a bid to get into the pit - which, after all, is what a photo pass is for - the bouncer at the entry point does his best impression of a brick wall, and says Nein.

Actually, the bouncer says quite a lot of other stuff, too, and while I can't entirely follow his German, I suspect he's saying something along the lines of  'Nah, can't let you in there, mate. More than my job's worth. Rules is rules, innit. Snot my fault, mate. I don't make the rules around here, I just have to enforce 'em.'  Brick-wall negativity sounds much the same in any language. At any rate, the result of this strange edict is that the empty photo pit yawns pointlessly throughout the bands' sets, while a bunch of disgruntled photographers try to grab a few shots from the midst of the mosh.

That wouldn't be so bad - after all, the mosh is my natural home; some of my best photographs have been taken under moshpit conditions - but for the fact that Christ Vs. Warhol seem to have opened the stage presentation handbook at the page marked 'red and foggy'. Either that, or their lighting tech has gone to sleep with his head on the red fader and his arse on the smoke machine button.

Christ Vs. Warhol struggle to make themselves visible through a wall of red-tinged smoke that makes it look as if they're trying to escape a forest fire. This, coupled with the fact that it's Christ Vs. Warhol forbidden to get into the pit, means that grabbing decent photos of the band is a constant struggle, at maximum zoom. Maybe that's the way the band want it - maybe they're trying to create an air of enticing mystery, or something - but if so, it's all turned out a bit counter productive.

Fortunately, Christ Vs. Warhol are a lot better than their lights 'n' effects. They're the latest of the seemingly never-ending line of Californian deathrock bands which emerge at regular intervals, usually featuring slightly different permutations of the same people (Christ Vs Warhol are unusual in that they don't have Stevyn Grey or Tony Havoc on drums: give it up, please, for Geoff Bruce, ex-Sunshine Blind).

Most of those Californian deathrock outfits seem to arrive in a MySpace promotional flurry, hang around for a bit without doing much, and then vanish abruptly, only for the band members re-emerge, slightly re-arranged, in other bands. If Christ Vs Warhol follow that same career trajectory, that'll be a shame, because they've got the chops to take it further.

Their sound is all schlanging Chameleons guitar and relentless, driving drums. Eve Ghost (ex-Scarlet's Remains), on vocals, paces the stage restlessly, letting rip with her controlled caterwaul of a vocal, an other-worldly sound that's almost (almost!) strong enough to roll back the fog. The band keep it taut and economical. Everything is firmly tied to an insistent rhythm while the guitar unfurls sheets of noise like sonic phosphoresence. I'm duly impressed, in spite of the straitened circumstances. This is a band that could really make headway - as long as they don't split up next week, and reform the week after as three new bands. Keep it together, push it forward - and less of the wall of red smoke, guys, OK?

Twisted NerveAnd now, our first vintage band of the day - old-schoolers Twisted Nerve, who've been playing occasional gigs on the deathrock circuit after reforming for the Drop Dead Festival in 2008.

It's an odd thing, but 80s-vintage British bands tend to be treated with bizarrely exaggerated respect at the WGT, while contemporary British bands seldom get a look-in.

Twisted Nerve, alumni of the 80s UK post-punk scene, are practically a shoo-in for a WGT slot, but it's by no means as easy for the bands that are making noise and making waves in post-punky circles now  to get their pointy-booted feet in the WGT door.

Don't ask me why that is - perhaps it simply comes down to the fact that the WGT doesn't know much about the contermporary British music scene, and there's nobody on the team to nudge the bookers in the direction of, say, KASMS or Ulterior, Factory Floor or Cold In Berlin. In fairness, I suspect the British bands may not know much about the WGT, either, so it might come down to a simple absence of communication in both directions. Me, I say there are people on both sides who need to talk.

Well, the new bands' loss is the old bands' gain. Twisted Nerve aren't about to waste their opportunity. They come barrelling out to a Gary Glitter intro tape - it takes a certain mount of chutzpah to use an intro tape when you're only the third band on, still more to use Gary Glitter - and they're immediately all menace and thunder, the band's frontman looming impressively over the still-empty photo pit in his shades. They throw down a chunky, back-alley racket, every song a boiling stew of tension, like a fight about to break out.

Sure, Twisted Nerve are living on old glories. Their last release that's not a compilation, or a remix, or some other rehash of the past, came out in 1984. But for all that - what the hell - they're convincing.

Catastrophe BalletNow it's tram time, because there are other bands to see, elsewhere in Leipzig. I'm heading for the Moritzbastei, the subterranean network of tunnels and cellars that once formed part of a 16th century fortress, and now form a warren of bars and restaurants and performance spaces. But there's a bit of time in hand to take the scenic route - via the Parkb├╝hne, the open-air stage hidden among the trees of Clara Zetkin Park.

I'm just going to put my head round the door (or, at least, round the turnstiles) to catch Catastrophe Ballet, a band I saw at the WGT back in 2004. Then, they were dynamic and edgy, punked-up and loud.

Now, unfortunately, they're...not so much. Maybe it's maturity thing; maybe they're just slowing down in their old age. Catastrophe Ballet, 2010 style, seem to have come over all AOR. Their music is meticulous and respectable conventiono-rock. The singer, all waistcoated up like the head of the sales team at a trendy software company, throws shapes like he's learned them from the Classic Rock Book Of Frontman Moves. I don't recall him being so studied about his performance last time. But then, 'last time' was six years ago. Maybe I was drunk at the time. Or maybe he was. Anyway, the uninhibited, wild band in my memory has little to do with the judicious conservatism I see today.

So, it's down the Moritz, then. Look, we're just in time for Jabberwock, which is handy, because they're a band I put on my must-see list, on the strength of a quick listen to the songs on their MySpace page. That's a slightly dangerous way of sorting out the good bands from the not-good bands, of course, for it tells you nothing about the way the band present their music on stage. In my book, it's all in the performance. Fortunately, this is exactly the area in which Jabberwock nail it.

JabberwockThey're all suited and booted, as if they've just stepped out of the office. Their sound is an uninhibited, ripped-up elektropunk riot, all staccato, clattering rhythms and distort-o-guitar, the four band members letting loose in the songs like geeks on a spree, then collecting themselves and hastily assuming respectable expressions between tunes.

It's a bit like watching a punk band formed by Devo's accountancy team, who've decided to hold an impomptu party while the senior partner is out of the office.

Quite apart from the lunatic energy of the performance, the Jabberwock show is an object lesson in how to employ a certain raised-eyebrow wit in the cause of rock 'n' roll. It's fascinating to note how Jabberwock's formal, suited image acts as a counterpoint to the band's manic antics - a complete contrast to the superficially similar suited-up appearance of Catastrophe Ballet's frontman, who looks like a boringly level-headed salaryman when set against Jabberwock's anarchistic admin team.

A screen behind the band flashes up blocky graphics and fragments of lyric, like a Powerpoint presentation that's been sabotaged by the forces of chaos. Between the songs, the remaining set-time counts down: 'You have twenty minutes remaining'. And then the band plunge into the next song, scaling greater heights of deranged intensity every time the computer says Go. The audience reacts with a combination of stunned disbelief and delighted enthusiasm, and insists - loudly - that Jabberwock come back for an encore. This was obviously unexpected - the back-projection has run its course - so the band thrash through a final number in front of a blank white screen.

White light, white heat, grey suits. An unlikely combination, but in Jabberwock's world, that's rock 'n' roll.

Cobra KillerAfter all that, the only thing to do is push the showbiz surrealism envelope even more. And here come Cobra Killer to do just that. On the face of it, Cobra Killer are a fairly straightforward proposition: a girl-girl electro duo, with a neat like in catchy, dancey, loops 'n' samples tunes. Kinda kewl, but so what, right? Well, this is what. Cobra Killer have a killer app, which is, basically, that they're artfully, brilliantly, bonkers.

The Cobra Killer live show is a gloriously messy bout of performance art moves and surreal grandstanding, which occasionally touches base with the conventions of a gig, but, mostly, doesn't.

While their tunes rattle infectiously out of the PA - chopped-up loops 'n' beats, sliced, diced, and re-assembled into archly idiosyncratic dancefloor fillers, every song a parallel-universe chart smasheroonie - Annika Trost and Gina D'Orio, the two Killers behind the Cobra, sing with a glazed detachment that has a kooky charm in itself. But that's not the best of it. Nor is the Cobras' kitsch dance moves, as if they learned all their actions from mid-seventies reruns of Top Of The Pops. It's not even the bit where Gina D'Orio produces a noose and tries to hang herself.

Nope, the best bit of the Cobra Killer show is when the Cobras grab bottles of fine red wine and tip the contents all over themselves, like they're chanelling that scene from Withnail And I, and it's all got a bit out of hand. They don't even do this as some sort of grand finale. They do it a couple of songs in, and then they perform the rest of the set in wine-soaked dresses, their killer heels sliding on the soaked floorboards as the beats roll and hit, and the songs keep on coming. Now that's what I call commitment to your art.

What does it all mean, though? Well, it probably means Cobra Killer have a sky-high dry cleaning bill, for a start. It also means they win the Brilliantly Bonkers award of the WGT - so far.

SchneewittchenYou'll notice that I qualified Cobra Killer's Brillantly Bonkers award by saying 'so far'. Because we haven't seen Schneewittchen yet, and I suspect they might put in a late bid for the prize.

The venue is filling up, now. Schneewittchen obviously have a loyal following, although - listening to the voices around me in the crowd - it seems almost exclusively German. Maybe that's understandable, for Schneewittchen are a very German phenomenon.

Schneewittchen are what would happen if Richard Wagner and Nina Hagen had a fight - and Nina Hagen won.

Bursting onto the stage in a one-woman riot of pearls and boots and tits and flounce, Marianne Iser is a valkyrie at variance with reality, a deviant diva, an operatic apparition. She's a performer whose tragi-comic presence is equal parts hand-on-heart and hand-staple-forehead. She's attended, on keyboards, by her musical foil, Thomas Duda, but he's very much in the background during this performance. Mostly, it's Marianne's show: she stomps about the stage like a one-woman thunderstorm, her voice a thing of awesome operatic force. She doesn't sing the songs: she engraves every word of the libretto on the back wall of the venue through sheer force of sound, probably taking out a few innocent passers-by as she does so.

But Schneewittchen know how to handle dynamics. It's not all a blast of operatic drama: there are witty little cabaret ditties, too, moments when it's all taken down a bit, where a certain lightness of touch comes into play. But then the music is cranked up again, and Marianne Iser once more scales the musical mountains, scattering pearls all over the stage as she does so.

Schneewittchen have carved out their own territory, halfway between Grand Guignol and grand opera - but do they get the Brilliantly Bonkers Award? Let's say they can share it with Cobra Killer and Jabberwock. It's nights like this, where one maverick performer follows another, and the conventions of normal rock music don't even get invited to the party, that give the WGT its edge. 

Tomorrow, perhaps, we'll see what the conventions of rock music can do for us. Tonight, Bonkers rules.

 

Los Carniceros Del Norte: MySpace

Christ Vs. Warhol: MySpace

Twisted Nerve: MySpace

Catastrophe Ballet: MySpace

Jabberwock: Website | MySpace

Cobra Killer: Website | MySpace

Schneewittchen: Website | MySpace

Wave Gotik Treffen: Website | MySpace

 

On to Day 3 of the WGT here.

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

Search Nemesis To Go
Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson. Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston.
Red N version by Mark Rimmell.
Creative Commons LicenseWords and photos in Nemesis To Go by Michael Johnson are licenced under Creative Commons. You may copy and distribute this material, or derivations of it, provided that you give a credit to Michael Johnson and a link to Nemesis To Go. Where material from other sources is used, copyright remains with the original owners. All rights in the name 'Nemesis To Go' and the 'N' logo are retained.