Concert Review by Mark Bayross
Camden Underworld, London – 1 May 1999
Had you been fortunate enough to get into the Camden Underworld on May 1 1999 (and many weren’t), you would have witnessed a display of electro-industrial energy that proved the scene is very much alive and well here in the UK. The bill featured three very different acts, all home-grown, playing three distinct styles of music.
Narcissus Pool got the ball rolling, whipping much of the audience into a dance frenzy with their mixture of thrashy guitar and hard electro rhythms. Only the Rocky Horror Show campness of the lead singer, a lanky male version of Siouxsie Sioux, spoiled things.
Emerging to the sound of an air raid siren, VNV Nation took the stage and launched into a muscular rendition of JOY, Ronan leaping around like a demented ringmaster, egging the crowd on, while Mark pounded out the rhythm. As the closing strings of the opener died away, the audience let out a phenomenal cheer, and Ronan was visibly touched – he seemed to not quite believe the strength of the crowd’s reaction. There’s no doubt about it – VNV Nation are going to be huge. RUBICON, PROCESSION, HONOUR and an ecstatically-received SOLITARY all flooded out of the speakers, along with SERIAL KILLER, the sole representative of 1995’s ADVANCE AND FOLLOW debut, and a powerful FORSAKEN, whose meditative beauty was marred only by a sound technician crawling onstage halfway through and the audience clapping before the closing sample finished the song off. VNV Nation weren’t headlining, but the audience wasn’t going to let them get away without an encore. They returned with a slamming cover of Front 242’s CIRCLING OVERLAND, then disappeared, leaving Mesh with a hard act to follow.
Nonetheless, follow it they did, and with considerable style. Mesh seem destined never to be as famous as Depeche Mode, their most obvious musical influence, but they deserve to be. The band’s live sound was superb: the expertly-crafted melodies mixed perfectly with Mark Hockings’ rich voice. They opened with I FALL OVER and ran through a mixture of old and new material, taking in I DON’T THINK THEY KNOW, FRAGILE, PEOPLE LIKE ME, THE DAMAGE YOU DO and NEEDLE IN A BRUISE along the way. They introduced IT SCARES ME as the next single to an appreciative cheer, and pumped it out bass-heavy and beat-laden. CHEERS, muttered Mark as the song ended, “That has extra drums on it or something…” They made it all look so easy. Mesh finished the set with racy melancholia of NOT PREPARED, rounding off an evening of pure quality.
As I made my way into the night, two things stuck in my mind (well, three, as Mesh’s closing NOT PREPARED seemed to have taken up residency in my head): firstly, mega-stardom beckons for Ronan and Mark of VNV Nation; and secondly, this evening was music for everyone – goth, punk, indie-kid, techno nutter, accountant – taking in thrash-techno to electro-pop and everything in between. It proved to me that not all British music has to be tedious dirge like Oasis. If only people bothered to seek out more than just the Radio One playlist.