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Concert Review by Mark Bayross

LA2, London – 23 April 2000

Flag Promotions, the good people who brought us Black Celebration on Hallowe’en night last year, have put on another marathon day of quality electro-darkwave, although their choice of closing act must have had more to do with novelty value than anything else. But more of that later…

The first of the nine bands onstage, funnily enough called The Nine, were on at 2.30 in the afternoon, so God knows what they were like (and nor would many people besides the band at that time of day, I imagine).

I arrive in time to catch the end of The Borg’s set. They were pretty entertaining at Black Celebration, despite horrendous technical setbacks, and this time round they sound just as melodic and tuneful. Their oddly comical frontman, I am pleased to say, is still happy to gurn and grin throughout the performance.

Man(i)kin take a while to emerge, and seem to have sold quite a few copies of their debut album SEM(I)NAL since they last played (also at Black Celebration), judging by the size of the crowd and the reception they get when they arrive onstage. They pound their way through DEITY, DEAF EARS and FAITHLESS, all that much more enjoyable now people have the album and recognise the songs. They also play a new one, SACRAMENT, another stormer with a huge, overblown chorus that makes frontman Seth look even more frightening than usual. Full marks must also go to Ian (one of the drummers) for what appears to be an arse-to-top-of-head snake scale tattoo.

Angels & Agony are the surprise discovery of the day, a three-piece from Holland who play a highly tuneful set of cuts from their debut single UNITY and a collection of covers. They seem to be having a whale of a time, although guitarist Erik Wierenga spoils the effect by grinning with what appears to be embarrassment throughout. Nontheless, ONE, CHASER, DON’T BE AFRAID and a cover of Gary Numan’s DOWN IN THE PARK are thumping electro perfection. They don’t seem to take themselves too seriously – all three have their faces painted silver and one song morphs into a freeform medley of Front 242’s HEADHUNTER and BODY TO BODY. Still, it’s early days – watch this space.

The problem with assembling a line-up of electronic bands is that electro-fatigue starts to set in round about now – there’s only so much you can take in one go before you start to clamour for a bit of variety. And so it is with Intra-Venus. It doesn’t help that the two guys onstage are such 80s Goth throwbacks that even the most die-hard Cure fan would look on with suspicion. The singer is also so feminine that he looks (and seems to feel) a bit out of place with the beat-heavy music. Still, they seem to be popular, and the music’s pretty good, but the performance is considerably improved by not looking at the stage.

I had been waiting for Hexedene with considerable anticipation. As one of the many bands of the prolific industrial Brit hero Jonathan Sharp (he of New Mind, Bio-Tek and Cyber-Tec, among others), I was curious to see what would happen – for a start, would he remember which band he was tonight? He is joined by Reza and Alexis from Inertia, on keyboard and vocal duties, respectively, and plough through a set of quality EBM and occasional sonic brutality. Having gone for the female-diva-vocals-over-hardcore-assault option, though, I have to say the effect is not totally successful. It sounds original, and I admire them all for having the guts to experiment by collaborating, but Alexis’ wailing gets a bit monotonous.

Never mind – Evil’s Toy are fantastic. You would think they were headlining, such is the reception from the audience. Frontman Volker Lutz oozes charisma, bouncing around, goading the crowd and evidently enjoying himself enormously. They play much of the ANGELS ONLY! album, including the title track, LUCIFER’S GARDEN and BACK ON EARTH and add two songs to the end of their set: the electro-classic CO-EXISTENCE and the soft FOREVER?”. His voice is on top form, too – that Andrew Eldritch baritone still very much intact.

Mesh always guarantee a quality show, and as they open with I FALL OVER, the microphones go haywire. Evidently pissed off, Mark Hockings soldiers on, overcoming the technical problems with the sheer power of his incredible voice. By the end of the second song, THE DAMAGE YOU DO, all this is forgotten and the band get on with delivering a performance of their usual quality. Most of the songs come from their stunning latest album, THE POINT AT WHICH IT FALLS APART – NEEDLE IN A BRUISE, SELF HEALING LIE, and a beat-heavy IT SCARES ME, but they also play a few old classics (TRUST YOU), recent B-Side SAFE WITH ME and an early pre-FRAGILE techno slammer. They finish, as ever, with the beautiful NOT PREPARED, although the highlight of the set has to be PEOPLE LIKE ME, complete with ground-shakingly heavy bass.

The final band of the evening (billed as co-headliners with Mesh) is none other than Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Undeterred by the quality of the preceding bands, most of which are half their age, SSS are an instant time-warp throwback to the 80s and their 15 minutes of fame. With the exception of a couple of new songs (which feature some chunky beats), they sound like Carter USM without the insightful lyrics. Or the tunes.

The audience is rather divided, judging by the frantic pogoing at the front and the amount of cans being thrown at the band. “Don’t throw any more cans,” urges the singer, “…we’ve had enough beer”. That must explain their don’t-give-a-toss performance, then. They finish, inevitably, with LOVE MISSILE F-111, dragged out to ten minutes with a karaoke Rolling Stones interlude from the stetson-wearing American guitarist, and encore with a new song, SLAVE TRADE, which bizarrely, has one of the best intros I have ever heard.

Yet again, Flag Promotions have come up with a day’s worth of quality entertainment. It is encouraging to see the electro-darkwave scene gaining so much momentum in this country, and that so many of the acts here are home-grown. Only by supporting the likes of Mesh, man(i)kin, Jonathan Sharp, Inertia et al can we encourage quality bands like Covenant, Spahn Ranch, Apoptygma Bezerk and Evil’s Toy to keep coming over here.