Black Celebration is a yearly all dayer showcasing the Industrial Underground and giving all the goths who graduated from the scene to shopping in CyberDog and having nice careers in IT somewhere to go. Now it's reached its 7th or so year, which makes us feel a bit old for a start, we headed up to Islington Academy to turn what should be a sleepy Sunday into a day full of something quite different. Often something of a curates egg, there's a nod this time round away from the ubiquitous EBM that's been looking increasingly stale of late towards the emerging UK FuturePunk scene.
Openers Modulate are straight in with some fierce apocalyptic techno. Very much in the currently in vogue Combichrist mode, and doing it well, especially as for a relatively new act (this is only their second live show) they've been picking up an enviable amount of dancefloor success in clubs across Europe of late. We're going to hedge our bets here and say that once they become fully comfortable with their live performance they could easily go off in a Lab4 direction, which is handy as Lab4 themselves seem to have jacked it in.
I Am Immune take things off in a guitar direction creating awesome, towering postpunkpop songs layered in electronica. It's like listening to The Killers produced by Trent Reznor, and this is a good thing. In a scene so often
populated by earnest young men shouting from behind laptops it's a real treat to see a bunch of lads careering around the stage knocking off riffs as though they were auditioning to be in The Spiders from Mars.
Deathboy return to the stage after a year working on new material with the likes of Rico and John Fryer, and as always the breaks and bile of their recorded output get mangled into something punkier. Again, it's nice to see an effectively electronic form of music deployed with a world class drummer, 2 guitarists, a bassist and keyboard player without losing it's roots. It's been said before, but there's definitely a real Tackhead / On U vibe to the way DeathBoy seem to convert their studio breakbeats into a runaway live groove these days. Very fine indeed.
V2A, who disappointingly it turns out aren't named after Changing at Baker Street, provide one of the EBM elements to this evening. As this is a side of the scene that we've lost some interest in here at Londonist it's probably just fairest to say that we didn't really watch them. There was
probably beer involved instead.
To rescue us from from our pints, Knifeladder grab out attention back, with the band veering off into another corner of the broad industrial church. Their guitar, drum and synth feedback instrumentals stand awkwardly, but beautifully amongst the rest of the days offerings and leave us fully approving of this sort of malarkey.
Black Celebration is also home to UK underground legends, The Chaos Engine's, last ever gig. Yes they quit once before, but returned only to quit again. Surprisingly they are the only band this evening to have paid attention to the fact that it's Guy Fawkes Day and arrive onstage to the sound of Hugo Weaving and The 1812 Overture and wearing V masks. This showmanship doesn't let up throughout an all too brief 40 minute smash and grab through their back catalogue. Plus for no reason other than, it would seem, the fact that they can - we're treated to a rather spiffy Gwen Stefani cover. The whole thing is an exercise in pointing out why God invented live music. They bleep. They make crunchy guitar noises. They fuck around with Air FX units. They hurtle around the stage like every end of game baddie you still haven't got the best of 5 years after buying the sodding thing - all wrapped around their secret weapon - absolutely perfect pop songs smothered in disaffected rage. If this truly was their last hurrah then they will be sorely missed, and not by us alone, judging by the amount of people who seemed to decide they'd had what they came for and left shortly afterwards.
Germany's XPQ21 continue to be a revelation with their combination of club friendly EBM pop being pummeled by an arthouse rock band, dressed as Droogs. Unlike so many contemporaries who seem to do well out of turning up and
standing behind keyboards whilst their backing comes off CD, XPQ21 are a genuine live band - guitar heroics, a world class drummer, and an electronics guy who is blatantly playing, looping and rewriting the fuck out of everything on the fly. We've seen them twice on their current UK tour and it's clear that they don't play the same song the same way twice. Their infectious mix of euro techno, thumping breakbeats and crunchy rawk guitar isn't a million miles from something your average fan of The Prodigy would find themselves dancing involuntarily to. But in Jeyenne they have a frontman who is at least as much Pete Murphy as he is Keith Flint. As we
say, a revelation.
And so, finally, to the headliner- Suicide Commando was the luckiest boy in all of Belgium, for he discovered an effects pedal that would allow him to find legions of fans without actually bothering to write decent lyrics or program decent music when he put everything through it. He's been doing this to commercial and critical acclaim for over 2 decades now, so if nothing else we can assume through his longevity that he's not exactly Spetsnaz. To be fair, there's nothing actually *wrong* about his sound if you listen to a track in isolation, but as a body of work it's easy to find it all a bit one trick.
Last time he played Black Celebration he was accompanied by a guy on keyboards who didn't so much mime as stand there holding onto the edges of his synth for dear life, not only that but he danced around on stage like your dad at a wedding. It's enough to make a chap rush out and buy a Coldplay album. This time at least there's a full band, or at least the illusion of it and judging by the newer material, to be fair, this appears to have doubled their musical range such that the effects pedal is now sometimes turned off as well. For all we know he might have started writing lyrics that are actually worth more than the cost of the ink used to scribble them down as well, but they lost all claim on our ears and time some way back and lifes too short.
It's a crushing shame that the Industrial Scene seems to have put so much stock behind acts like this and continues to remain at best ambivalent to some of the genuinely innovative music found lower down the bill.
Words by Mark Firman and photo courtesy of Andreas Beck