VNV Nation, Cubanate & Leechwoman

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Concert Review by Mark Bayross

LA2, London – December 1999

I’m afraid the doors opening at 6pm precipitated me missing the opening act Saints of Eden. When I did arrive, as Leechwoman were starting up, the LA2 was still pretty empty, so I shudder to think what kind of a four-blokes-and-a-dog audience Saints of Eden had to contend with.

I had seen Leechwoman live here only 6 weeks ago on Hallowe’en night (see the review of BLACK CELEBRATION on PHASE9) so this time I knew what to expect. Tonight they are even tighter; their two drums and bass assault thundering along, with the occasional break and tempo change kicking the audience out of their trance. Of particular note, apart from the bizarre dual slideshow going on behind them, is the fact that the main drummer, a dreadlocked semi-naked giant with a fetching goatee beard, is actually pummelling out the rhythm on a dustbin and two gas cylinders!

As VNV Nation prepare to take the stage, the hall fills up, and when the band appear, shrouded in smoke, to the sound of FIRSTLIGHT, the crowd goes wild. “In case any of you don’t know…”, yells Ronan, “we are VNV Nation!” before launching into the thumping techno of JOY. This kind of sums up VNV Nation’s position. They have become gods of the darkwave / EBM scene and with music as good as theirs, it’s easy to see why. They have more material to work with tonight than when they sold out the Camden Underworld in May (see the review of that one on PHASE9 too), so it was a case of which ones would get left out rather than which ones would they play.

After JOY comes KINGDOM, then a slightly improvised RUBICON, then a kick-ass rendition of PROCESSION, with Ronan leaping around the stage, goading the crowd on. To bring down the hyper-tension, the beats subside and twinkling synths herald the arrival of FORSAKEN. Ronan’s delivery is heart-stopping. This man really feels his music, and I have heard the song a hundred times, but still I am almost moved to tears.

Throughout the performance VNV Nation also take the visual aspect of their music to another level, with excessively tall drummer Mark striking V poses at the points when the beats relent and the orchestration sweeps across the speakers. New single “Standing” sounds awesome and is followed by HONOUR then DARKANGEL. They leave the stage in the full knowledge that the crowd won’t let them get away without doing an encore. “I love doing London”, shouts Ronan as they return to perform a victorious SOLITARY. VNV Nation are always powerful, on record and on stage, but tonight they are on fire.

Cubanate know they have the unenviable task of following the mighty VNV Nation. Somehow the spirit of competition seems to have had the effect of making them deliver a sterling performance. For once, Cubanate manage not to be shit. That’s the thing with Cubanate – it depends what mood you catch them in. When they supported Front 242 on their 1997 Re:Boot tour they were awful. Here, they are fantastic.

Confrontational meathead singer Marc Heal opens the proceedings by wandering on stage, rambling on about “making decisions” and handing out playing cards to the audience. While the crowd tries to figure out what he said, the band launch into an incendiary EXULTATION. With two axe-hero guitarists and, for what I assume are circumstantial reasons, the drummer from Leechwoman, accompanying the pounding techno rhythms, Cubanate seem to have found a way to deliver their music with the intensity it needs.

The techno-metal of BARBAROSSA, OXYACETYLENE and BLACKOUT deliver swift kicks to the audience’s collective groin, although they balls up the fantastic “Body Burn” by trying to play it differently. God knows why – this is Cubanate, not Metallica. By the end, Marc Heal is starting to rant more than sing, holding his head in his hands and admitting to “gay urges” for one of the guitarists (confusing a rather psychotic moshpit).

They close with IT, the drum n’ bass frenzy that opens their last album INTERFERENCE and leave the stage without playing an encore. Rather odd, considering their support band did, but then, their support band was VNV Nation. Brave men, Cubanate…