Festival Review: E-Tropolis Festival 2016

Oberhausen was cold and humid as ever (or as everytime I go to Oberhausen) in this timid morning of the 5th of March.
The warm-up party had occurred the evening before, and I don’t know if people were warmer in anyway but it did affect the attendance at the first few gigs of the day (this is how I justify missing the first round of bands).

HARMJOY
The first band we see is Harmjoy. The oversmokey, suited-up goths from Harmjoy take up the stage at 3.30 pm. A bit hard to realize they are actually there at first, due to the consistent fog on stage, and it’s only at the first beats of “Don’t Judge Me I’m a Goth” (“Inside Out”) that the crowd starts shaking in rhythm.
The beats are great, effective and dancey, the drum parts both perfectly crisp and bassy, but the singer doesn’t quite manage to bring himself up to the same level.
The vocals are rather low, and it’s not unlikely that he can’t hear himself, for he is not always perfectly in tune.
Ah well, this is not gonna be the last “small technical issue” of the day.
The singer is reminiscent, undoubtedly on purpose, of Eskil Simonsson, with his slick hair combed back, his black suit and general “classy attitude”.
Overall a nice little show to start the day, and soon we are off to Assemblage 23.

ASSEMBLAGE 23
Curiously enough, Assemblage 23 played pretty early in the day, however the impressive turn-up at barely 4 o’clock probably hinted the organisers they could book them a bit later in the evening next time.
The main venue is tightly packed as A23 opens up with “Let Me Be Your Armor”, and it’s under a thunder of cheers that Tom Shear climbs on stage and starts the show.
Shear looks a bit lonely on stage, but works as hard as he can to use as much space as possible.
A slight “technical issue” occurs during the second song, as it seems one of the drum microphones has fallen on the floor, picking up obnoxious rattling for a few seconds, before a roadie swiftly comes up and fixes stuff.
A23’s performance on the day can be qualified of “very faithful to the studio versions”, indeed the live songs are pretty much identical to what we already know. No surprises there, but at least the quality standard is met, with the addition of a great explosive electronic drum kit, and a powerful clap instead of the standard kick drum, which works as a great live uplift.
Without surprises, A23’s performance is not “crazy”, jumpy or very live-focused, but a simple set, where Shear performs the songs quite soberly.

BEBORN BETON
It is time for Beborn Beton to set the second venue on fire. Or die trying.
Very quickly the audience is won over by the very cool bass lines playing off-beat, setting up a rhythmical call and response with the vocals.
The melody of the words has been carefully chosen to groove around the beat, and the rhythm it creates works perfectly live. The only issue might be that the vocals level is not high enough in the mix and can sometimes be lost in the synths. It’s probable that the live mix hasn’t been customized for each band, or at least not for the afternoon bands, which is a shame.
But Beborn Beton still delivers a pretty good show with catchy tunes and a motivated band and crowd.

While we stroll between venues, one thing becomes clear. 2016 is a unicorn year.
The surprise to spot the first unicorn balloon fades away pretty quickly upon encountering the many unicorns plushies, bags, accessories, the full-on pink and blue PVC unicorn costume, the metal unicorn tattoo with a machine gun in its mouth, and the disquieting unicorn face mask.
Goths will be goths, they say. Pink and pastel and fluff and stuff.
In other news, quite a lot of bubbles fly above the crowd at all time, and a few over-excited girls shower people with confetti and sparkle dust as often as they can.
So much for goths are dark.

CASSANDRA COMPLEX
The first rock, not-so-electronic, not-EBM and no-BDSM-straps band of the day.
CC leans quite obviously towards 80’s goth rock, but also slightly older post-punk, all gothed up in their slightly too large black suits and their smokey “Fields of the Nephilim meets Joy Division” vocals.
The British touch is obvious, both in the subtle dance move and the satirical sense of humour.
No German stomping here, no mechanical synth wall. This is a flowing with the guitars, grooving Rock n Roll.
The slightly hyper singer gets carried away by the mesmerizing bass more often than not, at the greatest pleasure of the crowd, while the guitar player happily jumps around and shoves his boots in the air.

Much distortion, punky high pass filters, lyrics that go “Stupid! Too stupid to sin…“
Everything there screams “post-punk”.
Especially the singer, who screams a lot.

The presence of the singer is swinging, colourful, powerful. Without being over the top, the cheekiness and intelligence makes him magnetic, entertaining. He jokes around here and there, never too much, affectionately mocking his guitar player “Are we ready? Andy is not ready. He tunes his guitar. Andy always tunes his guitar”.

“Everybody can be happy
Everybody will be happy
happy happy happy happy…”

Cassandra Complex is a fantastically enthusiastic, spontaneous live rock band which delivered a personal, super cool post-punk-y performance that felt refreshing among a day of German stomp stomp. I like German stomp stomp, don’t get me wrong. But change is good.

It’s always amusing to vacate one venue and travel to the other, as we catch a glimpse of the goths having a rest, a pancake, a sausage.
Once more, E-Tropolis shines by its organisation, with a festival merchandise stand as well as a voucher desk in the entrance hall, where one could exchange money for vouchers, which allows to buy pretty much everything on the site without having to juggle with coins and stuff. A very clever system that also speeds up the waiting at the food stands. And what food stands! There is so much offer for a one day festival, it’s hard to prevent yourself from tasting it all. Everything, from currywurst to bretzels, pizza, schnitzels (!!), coffee and cake as well as vegan food (crepes, burgers, etc.) is excellent, and not THAT expensive. The traditional Met stand (mead) is there as well, always greatly appreciated by us goths. Overall, E-tropolis spoiled us food-wise this year, with one of the best food offers I have seen in a festival so far.

WINTERKÄLTE
3 words: Loud. As. Fuck.
But also, danceable as fuck.
Long story short, Winterkälte is a two-men, instrumental formation that is solely based on heavy trashy beats to make the goths move their booty. Their merciless, bassy industrial got everyone excited real quick, and within minutes, the hall is moving frantically along the mad fast no-break beat.

The electronic drums of Winterkälte are simply a war machine, the bass drum is beating deep down everybody’s chest, and everyone is dancing irresistibly while the synth man drops wheezing melodic bombs here and there.
It’s heavy, vocals-less, battlefield-y, infernal in every way and overall quite brilliant.

On the background behind them displays some cliche political messages:
“WK (Winterkälte) – NUCLEAR FREE WORLD”.
But then the message switches and displays “Nuclear Free Europe” upon the second song onwards. So I don’t know what’s the story, if they discussed it and thought, “oh well, maybe we’re going a bit too far with the world, let’s scale down our ambitions a bit and settle for Europe”. I didn’t stay long enough to see if they switched to “Nuclear free Germany” or “Nuclear Free Dusseldorf and its surroundings”.

The one negative thing about Winterkälte at E-tropolis, but I’m guessing this is an “issue” that follows them wherever they play, is the volume. Of course it is very exciting to have such merciless beats blasting away on the dance floor, and of course it gets everyone on fire, but their level of loudness on that day is simply painful and a bit scary: the more you would step away from the stage, the less you hear the details of the music, only to feel the overwhelmingly crushing bass frequencies, which quite literally shook venue 2, and most of the corridors and rooms until venue 1.

A small break in the “food court” hall allows us to peak at the merch shops and stalls, where a nice variety of corsets, band merch, EBM branded t-shirts and shirts, horns (yes, horns. Not for drinking, for wearing) and the usual fancy jewellery is on display.
There isn’t a crazy amount of shops, and it is nothing like the gothic galore that can be witnessed at Amphi Festival, but the variety is there and once can appreciate that there’s got to be something for everyone.

WELLE:ERDBALL
We leave the world-shattering Winterkälte behind to get ourselves ready for the amazing Welle:Erdball (not.biased.in the slightest). And it is with pleasant surprise that we see, as the stage is getting ready for the upcoming show, that the actual band members of Welle:Erdball are doing all of their tech themselves, carefully and swiftly miking, mixing, testing, every band member doing their share, all on the same level, like equals, like a family.

At last, all technical matters vacate the stage to leave room for art, as the light goes dimmer and the spotlights turn to the center of the stage, where Lady Lila stands, dressed in a bird-like white gown.
Bird I said? Sorry, angel. Upon the end of the first verse sung on an 8-bit melody played by frontman Hannes „Honey“ Malecki on her right, the white plasticky wings spread out to deliver the grandiose chorus, as she looks like an 90’s video game’s angel.
The grown wings, elaborate hair and blue lightings also tends to make her look like a greek goddess, which is probably not intentional but adds up to the epicness of the set up.
And then Welle:Erdball’s magic operates: the gig has just started, and the crowd is already blown away, there’s an angel on stage, and the speakers are bellowing the epic synth-pop chorus like there’s no tomorrow.
The song stops, and in seconds the atmosphere switches, Lady Lila changes into the traditional fifties pin-up dress trademark of the band and we’re back to Welle:Erdball’s Kalte Krieg era.
“Honey” is on fire, some 90’s technicolor visuals tickle our epilepsy in the background, and the two girls kick their drum thingies hard.
The frontman looks like a 70’s James Bond villain, in a poppy, electronic and excited sort of way.

Commodore 64 follows without a break, and it’s villain black leather gloves time for Honey, while the girls stand on display like gigantic plastic dolls.
“KAUFEN!”, “KONSUMIERE!”, say the huge signs Lady Lila and Fräulein Venus hold high in the air.
Honey shakes his hair appropriately on time with the beats, while delivering fire on stage and into the microphone.
“VERMEHRE DICH!” says a new sign, while Honey shoots a barrel with a stick and sends sparkling confettis flying all over the front rows, like paper fireworks.
Welle:Erdball never fails to be one of the best live bands of the scene, and once more they proved it, before a sea of marvelled, electrified fans.

LEGEND
We then moved on to Legend for a total change of atmosphere.
Legend are truly the outsiders of this year’s amphi, for even if their goth/dark roots are obvious, they clearly clash with the EBM environment. But that’s ok, because they are fucking magical.
Legend slowly and confidently get stage-ready, the bearded, jean jacket and beanie-wearing singer going back and forth on and off stage, the 70’s rock drummer lighting up a cigarette, drinking and smoking peacefully seconds before the show starts.
Then the long, transcending intro of “Amazon War” starts to resonate in the hall, reminiscent of Legend’s fellow countrymen and post-rock legends (heh, joke) Sigur Rós, and the band gathers on stage at last. This long, haunting, enthralling intro slowly comes to end, and dies as the second song kicks off, and the gigs catches fire. The singer drowns the venue in his sensual vocals, on a bed of harmonics that are not dissimilar to some 90’s Depeche Mode. It is subtle, tasteful, measured, coated in a graceful reverb during the choruses, and this time, the mix is perfectly balanced.
The singer throws in the three German words he knows, which round up to “danke schön”, “guten abend” and “wunderbar”, before switching back to English, with a wonderfully delicate Icelandic accent.

Legend’s presence is mesmerizing, and expectedly, “Sister” adds yet another layer of eerie to the performance, like an invisible veil of magic upon stage 2 and its crowd, while the overwhelming reverb is wrapping us up lightly. It’s warm, comforting, soothing. It’s like a dream, a moment out of time. Legend rocked in the best way possible.

FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY
New climate change with Front Line Assembly, and change of scenery too as we reach stage 1 and notice the camo decoration that has been laid on the stage speakers, along with a feel of first wave of EBM.
Then the band shows up, and the silver-masked, grotesque-haired singer reaches the center of the stage and starts singing. Unfortunately, no signal comes from his microphone for a few seconds, leaving him performing silently aggressive body language for a bit. Then the sound from his microphone reaches the speakers at last, and the aggressive vocals are finally added up to the singer’s physical demonstration of virulence.
The lyrics are as rough as the vocals, even if borderline nonsensical sometimes, which is not so much of a big deal in EBM generally.
“Fascination, Expectation, Recreation”… Feels like they were stuck for words in “-tion”.
The singer is strolling left and right non-stop, like in some sort of trance, tearing off his mask to the ground with rage, singing with rage, dancing with rage. In the meantime, the biggest attempt at moshpitting of the day occurs in the crowd, i.e. 6-7 big hairless blokes in the center of the audience.
Unfortunately FLA didn’t quite reach the expectations of the rest of the crowd, and several groups of people left after a few songs. Indeed, FLA’s performance on that day lacked spark, energy, felt mechanical and, in a word, dim. The singer was not really understandable, not present, and it was all a bit like watching a video of a gig with the volume turned down because, well, you’re not getting into it anyway. Let’s hope FLA’s show at Amphi Festival this summer will meet the fans’ expectations a bit more.

DIORAMA
As we are waiting for Diorama, an announcement on the big screen for September 2016 is displayed, and given the picture and my lack of German skills, I conclude it has probably to do with a contest of “who can raise their chin the highest while staring straight at the camera”.
Then Diorama shows up, and the band waves politely at the crowd before picking up their gear and throwing in their first notes.
The band is in good shape, storming through bitter melancholic tunes led by the electrified single-gloved frontman, as surrealist paintings succeed to a few of Diorama’s holiday pictures on the beach.
It’s a clean and close to studio interpretation that the band delivers, while the tension is maintained by a very motivated singer, whose signature move is standing on tiptoes and looking slightly electrocuted on the spot (but it’s nice!). A positive, vibrant performance.

HOCICO
Hocico initiates the harsh industrial round that will later on be followed by Suicide Commando, and as an introduction, two big, black human-sized *horrific* flies with mexican masks take up the stage on a 90’s B-movie version of what a hellish music should sound like, and start beating hard on a bass drum each, using arm-sized matchsticks with lit up tips. Already, the Hocicans are over the moon. And as the big black man-flies hit the beat, the scarred face of the singer appears grotesquely huge on the big stage screen, like a horror vision from the bottom of Arkham Asylum.
The video breaks between the singer sequences, only to show hanging baby dolls, domestic violence, death, images suggesting teen pornography, as well as melting… things and other disquieting images. “Nothing pretty”, they probably told their tour manager, when asked what kind of stuff they wanted for their shows.
After the quite lengthy human-flies intro, the singer appears physically at last, all geared up in his shiny PVC shoulder armor. And the ear blast begins. Hocico delivers exactly what their fans desire: material to dance savagely, moshpit to their heart’s content, kick the air and perform other display of hostility in no general direction. Hocico filled the contract perfectly and offered a show on point, that left no fans disappointed.
Note: the fly moment made me come to the realization that Hocico’s high-pitching aggression does sound like a fat fly buzzing nastily in your face. That thought made me irrationally happy for a bit.

SUICIDE COMMANDO
A few cliché war samples layered with a some blasting alarms indicated the kickstart of Suicide Commando’s show.
Then, loud bullet shots resonate through the hall as the singer storms on stage, and he feigns to receive them in his chest as they go “bang”, which triggers the crowd’s jubilation. A savage grin and a finger up the air, the singer starts trotting off, on one of his traditional stage strolls which makes him look like a mad serial killer (see E-Tropolis 14′ review).
Faithful to their fans and their style, Suicide Commando gives another perfect performance of their hyped up, minutely-executed aggrotechdustrial. Zero mistakes, professional as ever.

AND ONE
And One was of course set to play last, and conclude this glorious day filled with beats, synths and boots.
The anticipation was great, as the venue was becoming as packed as it could possibly be: quite sensibly, the E-Tropolis organisers set the one before last gig (Suicide Commando) to finish on time for the crowd to move to the main venue without missing the beginning of And One’s show. Enjoyable tension, laughs and gleeful conversation were flowing, when suddenly And One’s intro beats resonated in the great hall, and a shiver of electricity ran down the venue as the army of photographers quickly filled the photo pit.

Then, as abruptly as the music started, jumpy Steve Naghavi bursts out of nowhere, and the show starts like a hurricane on “Black Generation”.
This is undoubtedly the best sound we have had all day, the beats are loud and clean, the music perfectly in place in the mix, while Naghavi’s voice is simply overwhelming. An incredibly smart echo effect was used on the vocals: it is basically incremental as the song tension goes up. In other words, the chorus effect peak at the highest point of the song chorus. Simple, but phenomenal.
Meanwhile, Steve swings around and rocks the stage, all by himself (most of time, when the drummer doesn’t join in for duo vocals), and he is simply magnetic, as graceful as he is cheeky.
“Wir sind And One, aus Berlin”, he says, quite unnecessarily.
Steve is on fire. Himself and his drummer jump around, stand on the subwoofer blocks in order to be closer to the crowd, and electrify the venue with the old-school EBM-esque “Männermusik”. Drummer which, by the way, looks like a glorious 90’s alternative dancefloor king, his foot game being simply mind-blowing, although it’s quite impossible to compete with Naghavi’s mad air kicking, so high he could almost take off.
Simply watching his feet is an entertainment in itself.
Naghavi is part of the few real rockstars/divas of the scene, along with Eskil Simonsson, Malecki from Welle:Erdball (and a few others I forget), and he proved it once more on that evening in Oberhausen, by setting the place on fire.

He made us laugh, hold our breath, scream, dance, and left us with an amazing feeling of happiness and positivity.

This wrapped up the festival in a best way possible, and it’s on the sound of laughs and loud, enthusiastic recollections of Naghavi’s jokes and antics that the crowd slowly moved to the second venue, where the afterparty was taking place. The evening continued a bit for some, on the beats provided by the party DJs, while for others it was time to go home, but I’m pretty sure there was to be stars in the eyes of most of them that evening.
E-Tropolis has once more done good, getting full marks on both music and organisation, rising as one of the best one-day festivals out there.
That was a good party.

Review by Marie Lando. Pics by Stefan Linke. More in the Gallery.