Review: E-Tropolis Festival 2014

E-tropolis started back in 2010 and has always been a Berlin festival, taking place at the Columbiagelände. For technical reasons, the organisers never managed to set up an annual date for the event, which took place successively in September, June and March. After running for three years in the same venue however, it seems that the place was judged too small, too impractical, or too something else. The result being that the german festival is now held on the other side of Germany, in Oberhausen. The venue, the Turbinenhalle, is definitely a good bet compared to the Columbiagelände, but damn it, how obscure and complicated it is to find one’s way around in the most welcoming Ruhr area…

The Turbinenhalle is a gigantic venue located in one of the industrial areas of the city (yes one of them, given that Oberhausen, and pretty much the entire region, is made out of industrial areas), obviously perfect for the noise levels. Once inside, we realise the efforts made and the impact of the Amphi Festival on the organisation. This doesn’t simply look like a small one day festival anymore, but just like a mini version of Amphi Festival. The token system has been implemented at last; food and drink (and mead!) are available onsite, and there are 3 merchandise areas well worth checking. The actual venue, well… gigantic would be an appropriate description. Both venues are large and well displayed, the only problem being the passage from one to the other, only possible through the cloakroom, resulting in amazing traffic jams through the narrow corridor. That may be one small downside toit all. The main venue is accessible directly from the entrance of the building, is wide and high, and even has a vast balcony accessible via stairs at the back of the room where you can sit down and enjoy the show from afar. So here we are, on the 22nd of February, in the Turbinenhalle of Oberhausen, it’s half past one in the afternoon and we are 4000 strong. The atmosphere is already warm and electronic, as the first bands are already playing. In the main venue, this is Chrom, a German duet from Düren. One can hardly identify and follow the melody of the songs in the chaos that’s still animating the beginning of the festival. However it appears clear quite quickly that Chrom’s singer can’t sing. Oh well, it happens I suppose. The band’s sound remains a pretty generic kind of electropop. In the second venue, Steinkind is giving quite a different show. Not that the Steinkind’s music is life-changing, but the singer adopts the “madman” attitude made popular in EBM by Peter Spilles. As always, this attitude does an honorable job in entertaining the crowd, as the singer stares insanely at the public, runs around the stage and does his best to look awkwardly threatening. 

Back in the main room, [x]-RX is now playing, for the second time on the E-tropolis stage as they were part of last year’s program in Berlin. [x]-Rx’s music tends to the aggrotech side of EBM, with all the aggressivity that this implies. They do have one almost melodic song, but the rest remains mainly to be some synthetic hardcore, just like the song “Hard Bass Hard Soundz“, with poetic lyrics such as “hard bass in your face, this sound must be loud”. No one minds anyway, and [x]-Rx receives a very warm welcome from Oberhausen. 

The dancing crowd seems to be made out of anything and everything, from the guy who wears his sunglasses at night to Alice in LSD-land, the mad hatted and a large variety of masters and servants. A majority of black clothing obviously, yet some glowsticks are to be seen here and there, as well as the neon gear of the traditional cybergoths (yeah, they’re rather traditional by now) and Alice, who’s dressed in blue. The harmony in disharmony that the Goth scene represents nowadays always puts me in awe. But it was already time for the next band, and the Faderhead crew soon declared ownership on the main stage. Faderhead and the boys, or rather Faderhead and his boys, definitely set the place on fire in this late afternoon, with songs about sex, alcohol, violence and other great stuff that talk directly to the animal part of people. The song title “A Fistful of Fuck You” gives you an idea of the refinement of the band’s universe. This is precisely what the modern EBM scene wants. To be told about their dream life. The sex they don’t have, the crazy rockstar life that is not their own, the tough badass that they have never been. I’m getting to wonder what is the problem with the EBM scene in general, that they all want to think they are so tough. We all know that the Goth and EBM heads were just awkward kids. No need to play it badass. 

So far, the program on the main stage has not been outstanding. It’s 5 p.m. and Aesthetic Perfection get on stage to change the deal. God bless America. 

Aesthetic Perfection are as always, regular and coherent. There was actually nothing special about the Oberhausen show, for they always give a professional and satisfying live performance. Daniel’s presence is hypnotic as always, his wide smile and his enthusiastic energy is enough to get everyone up and dancing. The setlist, a great blend between the new album and Aesthetic Perfection’s biggest hits, makes for a perfection of this live performance. One more to their CV. As Aesthetic Perfection was ending their show, I had to run to the second venue. Why? because THE band was playing. Well not quite a band, a one man project. The amazing Dive. Dirk Ivens, whom I mentioned -quite abundantly- in the Infest live report, was also part of 2014’s E-tropolis program. And well… Dive was amazing once more. Still sticking to his insane stage behaviour, Dirk looks like a madman, tormented and restless, hangs himself with the microphone cable, twists his own body and yells at his beloved megaphone, all this with strobo-lights full blast. A most amazing sight to see. The unexpected Fad Gadget cover, “Back to Nature”, only made it better, proving once more the amazingly eclectic influences of Dirk Ivens.

 

Agonoize and Hocico, the evil combo. The glorification of hardcore industrial. Probably the near orgasm moment for the most industrial part of the crowd, as the dancing was at its peak through the overexcited fans. One must admit the music didn’t change much from one band to another, but it was probably a choice of the festival organisers to bring together the two hard industrial bands so that the dancers would not suffer a break in their groove. 

This electronic madness took place on the main stage, and in between bands, Poupée Fabrikk was on the smaller stage. Poupée Fabrikk played the role DAF had to endorse last year: get the electro-punks dancing. And needless to say they filled the position pretty well. Their minimalist, merciless beat got part of the crowd starting a mosh pit soon enough, quickly joined by some more people (including girls and teens) as the security guys were growing mad and trying to stop what they thought to be a fight. The happy celebration went on, slowed down by a couple of interventions from the bouncers, only to start even better again . The swedish hit well, and hit hard. A very satisfied crowd went for a beer when the two northerners had left the stage. 

And as Hocico was ending, it was Rotersand starting in the second venue. Rotersand opened the show with their massive hit “Merging Oceans”. Their soothing music after the industrial attack earlier on kept most of the dancers on the move for a slower beat. Rascal Nikov’s positive stage presence carried up both the music and the crowd and I’m sure this was very nice for all the fans. Personally I was bored so I left for the merchandise room. 

The vinyl stalls were one of the best I have seen in a festival so far, offering a very wide variety of bands from Electropop to 80’s industrial and Minimalist Electronic. Finding Frank Tovey’s records next to the Covenant ones kind of felt priceless. The clothing section and the merchandise stalls were not to blame either, all well supplied with the most Supergoth accessories. The only thing missing was more variety in the choice of bands among the t-shirts for sale. Not that they were limited to the bands playing on the day, for Nachtmahr strangely had almost an entire rack for them. However I would have considered nice enough to also have some classic band t-shirts (from And One and VNV Nation to Nitzer Ebb and Sisters of Mercy), and not only covering the modern obscure industrial scene. 
Still wandering on the commercial side of thing, one can also learn about the latest “must-have” in Goth fashion. So it seems that the new trendy haircut in EMB is a sort of long “And One” (I’m talking about Steve Naghavi’s haircut here, of course). It is not bad, even if as always, once someone innovates a bit, everyone soon goes for the same. 
Everything else however, from the latex pants to the fake white contact lenses, hasn’t changed a bit. 

As I was still roving within the crowds, Rotersand was closing to the end of their show, which could only mean one thing: the most awaited show of the day was about to start, Apoptygma Berzerk on the main stage. I found my way through the doors of the biggest venue along with the ardent crowd, eager to see the Norwegian band at last. After a bit of waiting, not much, the forever young bands of boys (no, I didn’t say what you think I said) made it on stage under loud cheers. As expected, this is a celebration of the most famous hit songs by Apop, from “Non-Stop Violence” and “Love Never Die” to “Kathy’s Song” and “Burning Heretic”. And I have to admit, that apart from some boy band lyrics (okay, now I said it….) on some songs, “Love Never Dies” among them, the Apoptygma crew seem to be the best band of the day, as much for the stage presence than for the actual musical contents which is solid, coherent and very strong live. 

The last band to play on the main stage was to be the giants Die Krupps, and between the two bands, the belgians from Suicide Commando were playing on the smaller stage. I ran out of the main venue a couple of songs before the end of Apop to have a chance to catch the beginning of the legendary aggrotech band.
Upon arrival, I find the expected flustered Suicide Commando fans, ready for an hour and ten minutes of frenetic dancing. But as the band was taking place on stage at last, ranting at the crowd to get them even more excited that they were, and finally starting the set, I’m beginning to wonder. Suicide Commando, the very respected EBM band that acquired quite a reputation on the scene as the mean side of dark Electro, does not quite pull off a sense of evil presence on stage. The singer Johan van Roy, one of the most edgy frontmen I have ever witnessed, performs an awkward dance involving high knee lifting and finger pointing everytime he has a spare moment, and one could hardly find that evil. A quick glance at the crowd makes me understand that once more, I’m just too old-school for this, that I should simply go back to my Post Punk bands and shut up. Suicide Commando were receiving the highest cheers by the Oberhausen fans as I was leaving to catch Apoptygma’s last songs. 

Around 22:50, there was an air of termination for E-tropolis, and the last band of the festival, Die Krupps, was finally stepping on the stage ground, under thundering cheers of a tired, yet happy crowd. On their tour The Machinists of Joy, Die Krupps have adopted very mechanic aesthetics, like a sort of raw Steampunk atmosphere, which adds lift to their industrial sounds. Happier than ever, the gang of three offers a very energetic and boosted performance despite the late hour. The singer Jürgen Engler is all smiles, Marcel Zürcher on the guitar is… a bit less (but come on, we’re Goth, aren’t we?), the beat is there, the atmosphere as well, the crowd gives all the energy left to cheer the very last band and this truly feels like a party. Die Krupps ends this E-tropolis edition with legendary tracks and pure musical energy. Reveling exhaustion kicks in, and as night has enshrouded Oberhausen for several hours already, it’s finally time to disperse and go home.

Review and photos by Marie Lando
More pics in the gallery.

 

 

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