Wave Gotik Treffen
Day 4 - bands in order of appearance:
Nurse With Wound
Parkbühne & Volkspalast, Leipzig
Monday May 24 2010
The WGT's last day has rolled around, and I think it's time for some fresh air. It's off to the Parkbühne this afternoon, to catch a few bands doing their thing in the open-air stage set among the trees and picnicking punters of Clara Zetkin Park.
Zeraphine seem to be one of those mid-table bands that have been knocking around the European schwarze szene for years, without ever really becoming stars. They have their fans, obviously: there's quite a vociferous contingent here today, cheering on their heroes as they set out their stall of acceptable-but-not-inspiring alternorock.
But there's the problem I have with Zeraphine: I can never find anything to latch on to in the music. It's blandly generic alternative rock, without much in the way of distinguishing features. Unless you count the singer's bizarre hairstyle, which has been cunningly engineered to resemble an imperfectly secured wig that's sliding off the back of his head. There, we're only one band in and already I'm talking about hairstyles. I think it's time to retire in the direction of a schwarzbier until someone else comes on.And here's the someone else. Kommunity FK arrive with an impressive old school reputation. The band's founder, Patrik Mata, was one of the original Los Angeles deathrockers, and played a large part in establishing that particular spooked-out strand of post-punk. As a result, Kommunity FK tend to be regarded with a kind of awestruck reverence by American deathrock fans, although outside the USA they're far more of an unknown quantity.
But here in Germany, where 'Kalifornian Deathrock' has been shamelessly marketed as a branded concept (even to the point of spelling 'Califonian' with a K, for added brand recognition), any band that can claim a connection with the real scene wins instant interest. So, here at the Parkbühne, Kommunity FK have a large crowd, more curious than eager, to play to. Now all they have to do is deliver.
I think it's fair to say that while Kommunity FK do deliver, they don't deliver exactly what the crowd expected. Patrik Mata himself is in formal attire: shiny black gloves and corset, lace and studded belt, wide-brimmed hat and full slap. He looks like a cross between a rock 'n' roll Oscar Wilde and, erm, Michael Jackson. You need some front to carry off that look. Fortunately, Patrik plays it reserved and cool. He gets away with it. Thousands wouldn't.
Meanwhile, his partner in crime, Sherry Rubber, is a full-on rock chick, all red hair and I'm-going-to-eat-you grins. She swings a Flying V from the hip, an instrument that fairly screams 'RAWK!'. She looks more like a Plasmatic than a post-punk. She throws down shreds of guitar over a rolling and tumbling backing track, all drum machinery and programming, while Patrik Mata stalks to and fro, leaning into the audience and intoning the vocals with much stylised drama.
It's not deathrock as we know it today, that's for sure. Kommunity FK's combination of theatrical other-worldliness, driving beat-workouts and ripped-up rock guitar puts the band some way out on a limb, when set against the horror-schmorror punker-wallahs that typify most of the scene.
But the band's approach is entirely in tune with the post-punk attitude. Going out on your own limb was what you were supposed to do. I rather like Kommunity FK for that. The fact that they're way off the deathrock norm is a plus point in my book. I like the juxtaposition of Shelly Rubber's rock chick bumpin' and grindin', next to the only-visiting-this-planet air that surrounds Patrik Mata as he gazes quizzically into the crowd. I suspect today's deathrockers are going to have a few problems with Kommunity FK, mind. The band doesn't fit the brand. But they get my vote.
Gitane Demone wears her past with pride. 'Thirty years in deathrock, baby!' she announces triumphantly to the crowd. Well, that's what you call nailing your colours to the mast. But if we're talking about old school deathrock heroes, I suppose Gitane is the ultimate heroine - and those thirty years clearly haven't slowed her down.
Obviously in her element, Gitane bestrides the stage with a peppy confidence. She's animated and in-your-face; her band (who are, basically, The Crystelles without the voodoo corpse kit) play a spare, loose-limbed clamour that gives the performance a stripped-for-action Bad Seeds feel.
Gitane falls naturally into the role of the survivior, the valedictorian of the old school - but there's no sense that she's about to finish with us yet. There's a spark to the set that suggests she only just got done getting started. I'm left thinking that a new Gitane Demone album would be a good idea. That spark needs to be captured.
The Parkbühne closes early, to give the neighbours a wink or two of sleep. But the WGT isn't over yet. There's still time for a tram ride to the Volkspalast, still time for a couple more bands.
In the Volkspalast Kantine - the smaller room off the main area, all bare brickwork and minimalism - Job Karma, two men and technology, are making a noise like machinery decaying in a cave. You can almost hear the metal gently oxidising: there's a melancholy neo-classical-meets-industrial feel to the sound. Animations, monochrome and bizarre, billow and swirl behind the band like Fritz Lang's Metropolis remade by surrealists wielding soft pencils.
It's a fine apertif for our main course, and our final band of the festival, so let's go through to the main hall, under the triumphant Volkspalast dome, where a decidedly un-rock 'n' roll experience awaits.
A collection of middle-aged gentlemen in suits and scruffwear, Nurse With Wound look about as un-rock 'n' roll as it's possible to get without actually joining a trad jazz band. Standing behind tables laden with gear, these chaps could be stallholders at a computer components fair. And yet, this unpreposessing bunch generate a sound as compelling and as visceral as any collection of ramalama guitar slingers.
Unravelling and expanding, mushrooming up into the dome, Nurse With Wound's rumbling resonances emanate (there's no other word: they emanate) from the stacked-up techie hardware like ectoplasm. There's an undertow of bass, a shifting fuzzle of guitar - when guitarist Andrew Liles picks up his plank for some almost-rock riffage, it's amusing to see him put on rock star aviator shades, the better to get in the zone. There are squalls of sax, loops and layers: it's an almost physical sensation. You're feeling the sound coiling around this circular room, rather than simply listening to the band's fizz and thrum.
The whole thing builds and builds, a continuous performance without breaks - there are no 'songs', as such, it's all one tremendous opus - while a giant screen behind the band cycles through disquieting film loops, mostly featuring items of furniture tumbling down a hill, as if the cheese rollers of Gloucestershire had raided the local IKEA. Believe me, watching everyday objects in surreal situations, with Nurse With Wound's cavernous tones providing the soundtrack, can get downright scary after a while.
The performance reaches a climax with the nearest thing Nurse With Wound have to a normal song, at least in tonight's set. Steven Stapleton, the man who is the Nurse, comes out from behind the computer components stall and paces the stage, declaiming the odd anthem to autonomy that is 'Rock 'n' Roll Station'. 'We can do what we want to do!' he asserts, and all of a sudden Nurse With Wound - the antitesis to rock music if ever there was one - have redefined the rulles, shifted all the boundaries, and remade rock in their own image. And there's not a 4/4 beat in sight.
And so, we end as we began: at the Volkspalast, surrounded by Eastern Bloc concrete and musique concrète. That was the WGT - from rock to un-rock and back again in four days flat.
Is there time for one last schwarzbier? I'll drink to that.
Return to WGT day 1 here.
For more photos from the WGT, find the bands by name here.