Festival Review: Infest 2013
Some festivals are just not what we expect them to be.
For any first time Infest goer, the beginnings might be a little confusing. First of all, the place. For Infest takes place in the small town of Bradford, North England, within Bradford University. And not in the whole university but the Student Centre only. Downstairs. Quite puzzling still, to step into a university, years after having left school, dressed in shiny Goth drags, without the slightest idea of where to go. The most amazing of it all would be that everyone, from the security staff, the random policemen around town and the few students haunting the walls of the empty university would be ready to help at all times. I suppose most of them would have had the time by now to get used to seeing their little town hosting this sort of strange celebration every year. The surprise doesn’t quite stop right at the door of the venue though. Once inside this strangely massive Student Centre – and the way found towards the actual venue downstairs – we realize two things. First, this is actually big enough, and quite amazing already. Second, how, and why the hell are there four bars in the basement of a Student Centre, right in the middle of the renowned Bradford university? But hey, know what, nevermind. This would just make easier the way to the first pint.
The other strange, yet very cool phenomenon to observe even before the official start of Infest festival: many among the presents know each other already. On many occasions I would have the impression to be attending a family reunion more than a music festival. It’s hugs and laughs everywhere, group pictures taken and Goth gears showing off, pint grabbing and cheering time. It’s not even 6 o’clock and the atmosphere is warmer than on your best Christmas day.
Yet the actual event would definitely start eventually, and surprisingly on time, one thing that all attendants will have to get used to all along the week end; at Infest, they have better things to do than being late. Yes, we’re rebels, and so what? The new punks are wearing tight shirts, clean cut moustaches and are always on time. Get over it.
The first band to remind everyone that three days of pure electronic delight were about to unfold is Metaltech, stepping on stage at 7:30 and owning the crowd at 7:32. All in Metaltech’s looks made me think right away they would be – excuse my French – fucking cool. Someone, somewhere behind me shouted “Industrial KISS!” as the band members were quickly spreading around the front stage. The singer then got closer to the microphone for the first time of the night, and casually replied “Is Kissdustrial the word you’re looking for?” Right then, at that time, Metaltech had already won. And the kick in of their awesomely weird and happy Industrial Rock, with a massive amount of Electronic beats and Metal hints just enforced my idea all the way through their set, short but great, as happiness was leaking from them through the crowd via glowsticks, bubbles, madness and heavily saturated guitars. The thirty minutes show went in a flash, and they left behind them the most enthusiastic public. Enthusiastic for this amazing band most of us hadn’t heard about before, but also for what was now left to come.
The London act Inertia took over, and their 20+ Depeche-Mode-fan sound was already a bit more familiar to most people in the crowd. There is and always will be a good thing and a bad thing about Inertia, the good thing being their sound, that is… well, good, but the bad thing being that unfortunately their songs all sound pretty much the same. And it reflects on stage the same way; Inertia offer a nice, yet monochrome live experience, pleasant and comfy, but away from the exciting fields of experimental oddities. The singer’s mimics are never too far from reminding us that he really, really likes Depeche Mode and really really wants to be Dave Gahan (although I can hardly say this is a bad thing), and even though the man knows what he’s doing and does it well, it is a refreshing change when he sits behind the electronic drum set while the drummer Alexys B. grabs the microphone to sing a couple of tunes. Inertia’s new single “Lies”, sung on that night as a tribute to Sophie Lancaster, ought to be one of the most intense seconds of their set, especially as she had shared a similar bullying experience a couple of months ago in Dirty Old London Town. Strange world we’re living in.
Soon the lovely guys from Inertia were leaving the stage to make room for one of the most interesting acts of the whole weekend: a one man band created by the mind behind the EBM pioneers The Klinik and Absolute Body Control, Dirk Ivens, a.k.a DIVE. Yet he simply arrives on stage and starts setting up his strobe lights and all the crazy stuff he brought up with him to murder our eyes with insane lighting effect. Dirk Ivens is a lovely man who could talk about New Order, Nitzer Ebb and Front 242 over a pint for hours. Dirk Ivens is also an ferocious showman that will blow your mind if you ever have the occasion to see him performing. And yes, it will all start with strobe lights. (It always starts with strobes lights.) Black screen, white screen, we would only be able to see his silhouette alternatively through the smoke that had invaded the stage, as he would creep up on the floor, about to tear his shirt off, or as he would scream through a megaphone right at the microphone, crying like crazy, moving to the beat. That beat. That unhealthy, insane beat that would get absolutely everyone in through the venue. The entre show, lasting a little bit over than an hour (the public asked for an encore) flew way too fast, and I knew already this would be among the most interesting things I would see over the three days.
The temperature increased significantly as Pride and Fall, the most acclaimed Norwegian band which was also the last band of the day, was about to kick in. No surprise then, as for the very warm welcome the crowd gave to the three Nordics. They swiftly took place on stage as I sat there waiting, not knowing what to expect, given I’m not a huge fan of their studio music. Yet I know how things can change in a single live performance. On that night though, it really isn’t a live band that I was about to discover upon the Infest stage. For song after song, each of them receiving great cheers for some reason, I had the impression I was listening to the same song over and over again; same chords, atmosphere and vocals, similar lyrics and, needless to say, quite a static band. The singer would greet us with some words between the songs, but I couldn’t help noticing a very confusing lack of enthusiasm from him, to a point he almost sounded annoyed. The set eventually came to an end, and as the afterparty was already running in full swing, I simply wondered if this was simply a bad hair day or if I had just seen the normal Pride and Fall.
As day two of Infest started shaping up (around 2-3 o’clock in the afternoon), I decided to have a look through the festival shops. Quickly though, something becomes relatively obvious: you know, this kind of festival you would save money up to three months in advance for in order to renew your Goth gear wardrobe? Well that’s no Infest. As a reflection to the size of the festival, the market is tiny. But given that the entire festival takes places in the basement of a Student Centre, it is quite amazing already to have two entire rooms totally dedicated to the nice little variety of shops anyway. The merchandise corner was quite well supplied however, which in theory should satisfy any music fan in a music event. So forget about your shiny fancy boots and buy a band shirt, for fuck’s sake. But it was already time for the first band of the day to meet the stage, and the Infest troops peacefully migrated towards the venue to welcome the almost Mancunian band, AAAK (As Able As Kane). My knowledge of the band being limited to listening to a couple of their songs on Youtube before the festival, I really had no idea what to expect. A quick look around me made me realise the feeling might have been shared. On their arrival, I couldn’t help thinking they kind of looked like a Hardcore band. After ten minutes had passed, I couldn’t help thinking they kind of sounded like a Hardcore band. Next to me, my average modern EBM fan, puzzled, confesses in a faltering voice that they might be a little to “Rock” for him. Unfortunately for AAAK in such an electronic-specialized festival as Infest, he might have not been the only one feeling that way. They kept on going, though, receiving an honest support from the public, but having the context against them, they definitely were not among the most unforgettable live performances of the weekend.
At that stage though, I was already too busy looking forward to the next act, Wieloryb. Wieloryb being an electronic experimental “band”, all my Noise hopes were with them. Plus they’re from Poland. The tables, cables and laptops gotset in no time, and the two Wieloryb members took their position behind the decks. And the noise started. A blissful rain of perfectly coordinated chaos. Pulling switches and twiddling knobs, those Eastern Electro representatives rocked out Infest without even touching a guitar. Noise has this amazing power to put people into this sort of ecstatic trance coming from the acceptance of an almost unbearable sound bumping at the back of our brain. Wieloryb perfectly got that, hence the massive support they received from a crowd that, for the most, had had barely heard of them, and were still asking for more after the encore.
Very satisfied by my Polish protégés’ performance, I yet had more to look forward to, as two French bands were scheduled on day two of Infest (yes, sometimes I am a little bit patriotic), and I was still wondering if they would be any good. Chrysalide being the first to pass the test, I went ahead, setting aside my preconceived notions about the French scene (those aren’t patriotic I’m afraid). Chrysalide proved to be one of Infest’s surprises. Yes, I always have to give out on the French scene for having too much of a “funny” approach on music, too ironic, not intense enough. Yes, this was the large whack I was hoping for. Chrysalide is intense. Their two mud-covered, soaked in blood and insanely over-excited singers might be the best proof of that. While they clearly draw inspiration from things as different as Dubstep, Metal, and Noise, still they bring up a sound that is such a clever mix it feels both natural and new. They are definitely worth your interest and I truly hope to hear about them again very soon.
Was following a band that this time, I had a lot to expect to, the pioneers of dry Electronic Click Click. Well, I dare say they went beyond my expectations. As soon as Click Click’s odd looking singer Adrian Smith stepped on stage, the tone was given, the band gradually spread their quiet insanity over the crowd, quite unsettled at first, but slowly getting to enjoy it. Even if most of us had no idea what was happening. Smith, shades on, so calm it was disturbing, was simply hypnotizing, sometimes playing the melodica (sort of keyboard the size of a toy you have to blow), sometimes randomly shouting in the microphone, or simply awkwardly dancing at the back of the stage. Probably one of the strangest performances of the weekend, and clearly one of the best.
All good things end, and the Click Click aliens leave the stage to make room for one of the Alternative Electronic scene’s new sensation, yet another French project: Da Octopusss. Sorry I meant DA OCTOPUSSS. Yeah, three “S” were not enough, better go all caps. (Oh, subtlety…) The French invasion was definitely on this Saturday, and my only hope was to be as positively surprised as I had been by Chrysalide. As expected, the two members of the maritime act showed up as their usual squid avatars, which was apparently irresistibly cool given the amazing support they got from the crowd. Their high-voltage Electronic sound with massive Dubstep and House influence were probably one of the other reasons, coupled to their energetic stage performance, even stuck behind nerdy DJ decks. The only real thing I was not happy with though, was that they went for this very approach I’m not fan of, making music for fun – making fun of music -, with irony and unnecessary attitudes. That French spirit was striking me again, as if we, the French, would be too cool to really be into something, and we had to cover up all spontaneous enthusiasm with cynicism. Ok, I stop.
But soon it was Saturday’s headliner, Imperative Reaction, which was taking over the stage for the last show of the day. The Americans were quite the big name on Infest 2013 bill (naturally, after Covenant), and the reason why some people made it to Bradford for this 15th edition. I have to admit I was never a fan, and unfortunately their performance on that Saturday night finished putting me off, although the whole venue was sinking into a absolute general bliss. But hey, I do love Electronic music. And of Electronic, Imperative Reaction would simply take some standard synthesized sounds. However, they remain a Rock band, in their attitude and their musical approach. A simple, yet grabbing music, and an easy and straight-forward live performance. The result is more than honest and it’s a pleasure to see how enthusiastic they are on stage. They do deserve their popularity indeed. And I’ll simply go back to listening to my strange experimental bands and stop annoying everybody with my old-fashioned standards. In the meantime, yet another day of Infest was ending, and there was only one left before the return to reality. But before that, there would be Covenant…
In all festivals, the morning of the last day is always a little bit bitter. First because we are always tired as fuck, but also because of this eternal fear to see the real world appearing again. Thanks to Infest’s really good organization regarding accommodations though, at least I was not tired. And most of the Goth invaders had, like me, chosen to stay within Bradford university, using the students’ accommodations kindly made available by the university.
As soon as I arrived at the venue though, all bitterness vanished in a split-second: familiar faces, friendly figures of people I had only met two days ago… Yeah, Infest definitely has this little family thing that makes it very special. Filled up with a new energy, I went off to the first gig of the last day, Autoclav1.1.
Yet another band I was looking forward to see. And if watching Autoclav1.1 live is a bit like watching a bunch of programmers having a Lan party on stage, it remains nonetheless among the interesting sounds of the weekend. It’s aerial, instrumental and lightly electronic, almost comparable to chilling music, if there wasn’t for some subtle melancholic moments to remind everyone those people had probably be listening to the Cure a hell of a lot. Which is a good thing.
The Germans from Future Trail soon took over. Not much futuristic going on here, as the Dresden representatives generally offer a mix of sweet Pop and soft Electro. Nothing wrong with that, will you tell me. Of course not, will I tell you. What is wrong, it is to have yet another band that sound like a Sunday afternoon at grandma’s while everyone’s taking a nap. We are quite far from the experimental realms with Future Trail indeed, although their nice little melodies adorned with casual romantic lyrics had proven somewhat successful upon the Infest stage. Hence, once more, me keeping my venom for myself and skipping to the next show.
The softness left with Future Trail, as the next band was to be the Dutch from XMH and their harsh Industrial inspired by KMFDM, Hocico and likes. The thing is, with the over-excited, jumping-all-over-the-place XMH singer, half of the show is already guaranteed. The downside – if one – can be that a happy bouncy industrial singer might not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially given that their music, even if decent, is not gonna change the history of music, or even of Industrial. Or of the last decade’s Industrial. Yes, I’m an ass.
On my way back from the “Goth” garden located at the back of the venue where I spent a little while waiting for the next gig, I was still wondering what to expect regarding Sono, next on the bill. It was really one of the few bands I didn’t have the time to make my mind about prior Infest, and truth be told everything went better than expected. The German Sono was to be the quality Pop touch of Infest 2013 – also partly because no one else had proven able to be so. Their nice, catchy, cheeky stage presence coupled with their sweet, yet sadistic/romantic songs definitely gave a sort of “modern 80’s” taste to the mixture, and the singer’s luster – who’s got more of a latin lover than a teutonic warrior – was clearly one of the reasons. But the thing that definitely won the public over is their sincere enthusiasm and pleasure to be there, so much that the crowd asked for a totally unplanned encore, which was granted.
The penultimate band of the day, and therefore of the 15th edition of Infest, was yet another alien of a band, Cervello Elettronico. As the name doesn’t suggest it, this project originally from the Underground New York scene produces a sound halfway between 90’s electro and our good old and beloved Industrial. Interesting concept indeed, yet one more disconcerting start, as two even more huge decks than before were brought up on stage. Well, around the stage would be more exact. Each on one side, the middle and front of the stage left perfectly empty. Given the obvious need for the band members to be behind the decks, everyone was starting to understand that we would be staring at an empty stage for 45 minutes. And it is what happened. And you know what? I think I was not the only one enjoying it very much. Their sound filled the empty space, the puffs of smoke floating over the stage ground, and within them, revealed by the lights, the vibrations from the sounds. A sound so powerful, it raised everyone’s adrenaline level up, in a way only interesting electronic can do, and blew up in our faces when we expected it the least. I wanted Cervello Elettronico to be good. They went beyond that.
On this last day, at half past ten, as the dusk had already covered Bradford ages ago and the hour of the wolf was getting nearer, I had only one word in mind: Covenant. Infest was almost over, I knew it, yet I just couldn’t think any further than the next hour, as I would be having some of the most amazing songs ever created been played right in front of me. I know, I’m biased. Synthesizers, cables and other details were being sorted out on stage while we were waiting much longer than for any other band. No one would have thought of complaining, though. As this festival was about to end, even if most of us were tired enough to sleep 18 hours in a row afterwards, no one wanted this to actually come to an end. Eventually though, the wait came to an end. The light became right, and the Men appeared on stage.
People say Covenant have highs and lows regarding live performances, it seems I have always been attending highs so far. Or is it that I’m slightly partial? Nah. Not only the band was magnificent, but so was the playlist they had made up for the occasion. Bringing up all time standards to the newest of their songs which already feel like classics, most probably that night’s setlist made most of us realize something if it wasn’t already done: Covenant are one of those bands that have such a wide catalogue of massively popular songs, they can easily put on an hour and half show only based on hit tunes. Of course they could not get away without “Call the Ships to Port”, “We Stand Alone”, “Bullet”, “The Men” and such, but also allowed themselves to a little trip back in time with four songs off Dream of a Cryotank, and two songs off the new album, that are killers already.
Putting on a show both esthetic and moving, Covenant proved once more to be one of the pillars of today’s Alternative scene. Hearing my first ever Covenant song, “Theremin”, on that night, was for me one of the strongest moments of the festival. And I believe that many different people, at different moments of the set, felt that too. There was something bittersweet, yet quite magic in this ending on Sunday night, on the dramatically subtle music of Covenant. Then the lights went off. Everyone stayed for three more hours, dancing endlessly, trying to forget through the physical pain of dancing, that after 3 hectic days, this would soon be over. Eventually the music stopped and all parted, swiftly, almost silently, to where each usually belongs, bringing back with them something they might not have had on their way up to Bradford. No, I’m not talking about merchandise.
Infest is the kind of place to meet old friends and make new ones, the kind of place where you feel totally safe, as you get to meet pretty much everyone at least once over the weekend, where you could share a dance and have a relaxed talk with the same people you would have been crying your heart out for an hour earlier, as they were bringing it down on stage. Some festivals are just not what we expect them to be. Some are just much more.
Review & pictures by Marie Lando.
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