Infest 2008: From the Godfathers of Cybergoth to, er, Rick Astley...
Infest isn't just a music festival, writes Infest regular Adam Williams, it's also a big social get-together in a less-than-fashionable location - Bradford University...
Front 242 @ Infest 2008 © Simon White
Still, at least with it being mainly indoors, it didn't get washed out like so many other festivals. And with decent places to stay for many - Uni Halls or local hotels - even a shower and clean toilets too! It isn't 'just' a music festival in other ways, too. In addition to the bands on the one stage in a large hall there are also a whole host of stalls selling many things relevant to the needs of the Infest attendee - CDs, band merchandise, clothing, accessories, and many other things that you didn't even know you needed. And its small size (well, not far over a thousand people) and the broadly friendly nature of the scene that spawned the festival means that you are just as likely to be stood next to someone you haven't seen for a few years at the bar as you are to be stood next to one of the weekend's performers. Indeed, it's not unusual at all to be able to have a chat with one or more of the performers as they wind down before (and after) their shows.
This relaxed nature works wonderfully for the festival. It is exceptionally rare for there to be any trouble (indeed, in nine years of attending I can only recall one or two unpleasant incidents, both minor in scale), and indeed the fact that there are few people there that *someone* doesn't know just adds to the friendliness. Oh, and the fact that with it being at a Students' Union, the drinks are cheap. Which can hardly be a hindrance...
And One @ Infest 2008 © Simon White
So what about the bands? And, indeed, what kind of music? The festival's tagline should give you a clue: "Alternative Electronic Music". That does - and has - covered many, many bases over the year, and nowadays you don't really mention the G-word (ie Goth) much. This year was a particularly varied year, too. And the pattern for 2008 - entertainment - was set by first, and local, act Coreline. In the past, the opening slot has been something of a graveyard slot, and usually a band that was either very poor or just nothing to write home about - something that The Gothsicles last year put right in some style by being one of the highlights of the weekend. Now, I've seen Coreline before. I (and many others) knew all about the cardboard robots and minor stage show but, really, nothing could have prepared us for this. The whole set was an awesome show - featuring Chris himself in a robot suit, Keef Baker as a carrot-clad ninja, another percussionist and four dancers in robot outfits. No, really. The music, by the way, was bouncy industrial/drum'n'bass/techno/stuff, and the set closed with perhaps the most surreal cover of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" that I've ever heard. Yes, Infest got Rickrolled.
Following that fell to Australian scene-legends Snog, who have never really got the attention they deserved. Perhaps being based so far away from the European scene hasn't helped, perhaps not. But either way their heavily anti-corporate message, coupled with their slower-than-perhaps-many-expected beats (oh, and the crazy country-esque interlude) went way over the heads of many. No such problems for Friday night headliners Grendel, who stomped their way through an hour or so of heavy industrial-EBM [Electronic Body Music]. If you've never heard this kind of music before, you would perhaps recognise their cover of "Zombie Nation" (an old dance hit) if nothing else. While hugely popular with many, they bored me rigid - I've seen them before, and this didn't provide anything different.
Heimataerde @ Infest 2008 © Simon White
On to Saturday, and it was time for another local act, Manchester industrial artist Skinjob, to take to the stage. Hampered by what turned out to be probably the weakest sound set-up of the weekend, in retrospect, the impact of their sleek take on classic synth-based industrial (with actual songs and everything!) was lessened somewhat. Shame, as the songs are pretty good. 100blumen, a one-man noisy industrial act from Germany, took as many pointers from punk as he did from electronics, which made for a very different sounding set indeed. Very different again - but for me for all the wrong reasons - were Santa Hates You, a side-project from the singer of a much bigger European EBM act called Project Pitchfork. I'll save any unpleasant comments by simply saying I'd much rather have seen the latter rather than the half-baked idea that is Santa Hates You.
Back to that whole idea of entertainment for Heimataerde, another German act whose aggressive industrial-EBM beats were merged with medieval folk melodies and a stage show straight from the re-enactment field. Yes, this lot came on stage dressed as the Knights Templar, and a little surprisingly, the odd mix of sounds worked spectacularly. It was just a shame for them, perhaps, that 5F-X followed them. Now this was how to put on a show. It doesn't sound like much when you break it down, though - two guys dressed in alien outfits (one as a very furry, eight-foot tall Moomin, the other in a purple and silver cloak with a five-foot-long box on his head), with lots of spaceship-like debris across the stage that lights up on command. Then the furry guy wanders out into the crowd and dances like mad. With members of the crowd. It didn't matter that the (admittedly brilliant) soundtrack to this wasn't really live - most appeared to be on playback - due to the fact that the show was so brilliantly entertaining to the point that people didn't shut up about it for the rest of the festival. Saturday headliners And One didn't really try to up that - they just did what they do best, and that is bring big, brassy synthpop tunes. Including covers (I'm still not sure about their cover of the Pet Shop Boys' "It's A Sin" though), and a good run through their back catalogue, covering all of their big hits other than the glaring omission of evergreen EBM dancefloor hit "Panzermensch", which seemed to get the chop from the set when no encore was played.
On to the last day, Sunday, and the day was opened once again by a local act, Deviant UK. Another Manchester band, they have built up quite a following (it was reported when they were added to the lineup that they were the "most requested band" for this year's festival). Thus, they got quite a crowd when they came on. I've seen them many, many times before, so nothing they did was particularly new or groundbreaking, but their show is very slick and polished now. Their sound certainly benefited from the bigger stage and system than the usual smaller venues they play in. Next act Marsheaux, from Greece (hardly a hotbed of notable electronic acts, really) were a big surprise for me. I was vaguely aware of their synthpoppy sound, but when onstage they reminded me hugely of Ladytron (the same, icy-cold electronics and two female lead singers, the two guys on the electronics hidden behind them), although not so much rock-orientated as them. Still, the songs were marvellous, which made their slightly static stage presence less of an issue. Tyske Ludder shook us out of synthpop heaven with a jolt, with a jackboot to the face in the form of military themed industrial that shook the foundations of the building for 45 minutes. Very intense, very heavy, all a bit one-dimensional. Better on record, perhaps. And the same could be said for Noisuf-X, who offered nothing onstage other than two people behind laptop stanchions who didn't really move much, "playing" tunes that got the whole place going.
Tyske Ludder @ Infest 2008 © Simon White
Well, except me, perhaps, who was bored very quickly, got the photos I needed and headed back to the bar. Mainly to refresh myself in time for weekend headliners Front 242. Somewhere near scene godfathers, they coined the term (or are at least attributed it) EBM. Which, I suppose, suggests that this is music to dance to. And that they delivered...in spades. With a live drummer pounding out thunderous rhythms, two vocalists often working in tandem to deliver the barked vocals and hooks, it was impossible not to dance along. And while the show wasn't perfect, it covered almost every corner of the band's long career (they first started out in Belgium in 1981). As they approach the end of their third decade in music, you get the feeling that people in the scene will never tire of such evergreen EBM meisterwerks such as "Moldavia", "Welcome to Paradise", and of course "Headhunter", a track that became something of a worldwide hit upon its release back in 1988, and still hasn't lost an inch of its majesty even now. The sight of everybody's hands in the air, counting the "One, you lock the target. Two, you bait the line" (etc) of the chorus was truly one of 'those' festival moments I'll never forget.
And after a lengthy evening of dancing and, if you will, pounding, pounding techno music, quite a few more drinks and saying goodbye to all those far-flung friends you may only see once or twice a year, that was that. The end of another weekend of probably one of the friendliest festivals going, one that gets little mainstream attention, and in some respects it is perhaps better that way. I mean, we wouldn't want everyone coming along - there would be no room for all of us! But seriously, it's less than a year now 'til the next one...
last updated: 19/09/2008 at 15:25
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