Assemblage 23 @ Islington O2 Academy

With Cybercide, Das Fluff, Analogue Angel, 14th July 2012.
Review by Victoria Fenbane

America’s Assemblage 23 are back on our shores as part of a European mini tour. Tonight they are in London, after having played Glasgow and Manchester the two previous nights. Tonight’s gig has been moved from the 800 capacity O2 Academy Islington, to the smaller 250 capacity room upstairs. Last year the same headliner played in the larger venue; which is a worrying development, but one which could have several explanations, such as: the continuing recession, A23 playing Amphi Festival a week later, good old goth apathy and/or an aging scene with other financial responsibilities?….Opener Analogue Angel have accompanied A23 down from their hometown Glasgow, supporting them on all three of the UK dates of this tour. It is surprising to see them lowest on the bill, considering how long they have been on the scene (since the 90’s in various forms and as AA since 2009). Furthermore they have appearances at both Infest and WGT under their belts. AA are best described as synthpop with an EBM edge – the kind which is extremely popular in Germany, which explains their prestigious festival appearances. The songs are well constructed and tightly performed. Nothing particularly fast or pounding, just steady rhythm throughout and pleasing to the ears, easing us into the evening’s musical entertainment. Definitely one to check out on CD, could grow to be a firm favourite.

Das Fluff are next up, where they stand out as a slightly odd addition to tonight’s line up. What first catches the ear are the Siouxie / Queenadreena style vocals. They appear to be too high in the mix, thus overpowering the music. In fact it is jarring and puts me off them, however it could be intentional seeing as class themselves as electro sleeze pop. There is a definite trip hop and punky vibe here, backing a dominant electro-cabaret style of the kind common in the London scene in the late 90’s early 2000’s, even down to the progression to a 90’s guitar industrial sound towards the end of the set. The music sounds unfinished but this could be down to dodgy sound engineering and wonky sound levels. Despite not wholly enjoying their set, Das Fluff held my attention by playng a set where each song possessed its own style. This kept me watching in the hope that I may find something I liked.

Cybercide have been away from the live circuit for over a year, and live appearances in the UK were becoming sparse before, making their inclusion on tonight’s bill is a real treat. Cybercide have gone through a few changes in their absence. Most apparent is Eddy’s more ‘goth’ appearance; gone is the white blonde spiky look and in its place long darker hair – probably a shock to some fans.

Their sound has changed along the same lines as the aforementioned vocalist’s hair – it now comes across darker and meatier…dare I say it…more gothic (Gothercide?) Cybercide are joined on stage by a rather unexpected guest, providing an even more unexpected collaboration. Tim Chandler of goth-pop band Manuskript and the undeniably gothic rock Pretentious Moi? Appears on stage. For a minute the onstage banter between Eddy and Tim makes has an air of a Manuskript gig. Banter over, they launch into a collaboration which takes me totally by surprise and made this goth very happy.

Cybercide covering ‘Sense in Segments’ by Tim’s Pretentious Moi?. Few of the audience respond with familiarity to this ‘cover’, what with it being more of an ‘electro’ audience but it was certainly a treat for those in the know. It was great to see Cybercide back in action; they all looked like they were really enjoying being back on the live scene, perhaps Eddy was a little too enthusiastic and excited but seeing as it’s been a while we’ll let him off….. It will be interesting to hear which direction their newer material will take. The London scene has been edging back towards goth’s rock roots in recent years, perhaps a sign of fatigue with beats and glosticks.

Then it was time for the main attraction. A23 take the stage with Tom Shear, the sole brains behind the operation, backed up by live (electronic drums) and keyboards. The front man appears very relaxed and happy to be there. For an act so heavily reliant on electronic sounds they definitely have a live sound, which is a refreshing relief from experiencing the CD perfect ‘live’ experience of numerous electronic acts. The trio runs through the set without a hitch, and a good experience is had throughout. Interesting omission of ‘Smoke’ and ‘Alive’ from the last album ‘Compass’, but interesting to find ‘Impermanence’ has remained from last year’s setlist. Despite being album track.

‘Impermanence’ is popular with fans, exemplifying how A23 are well aware of the emotive nature of their songs, and nicely balance the dance floor hits with the slower paced songs which have special meaning with many fans. All of the old favourites are given an airing tonight, including ‘Let Me Be Your Amour’. Despite the most recent album ‘Bruise’ being well received and topping alternative charts, it is notable that a large proportion of the audience are less familiar with the newer material.

Quite a surprise in these days of downloading being common practice, and a preview of the album being available on the website for some time. Out of a 16 song set, five are from the latest album (more new material included than last year), some of those previously mentioned fans who appeared unfamiliar with newer material, may have enjoyed the gig a little less as a result (and have since checked out ‘Bruise’ and realized what they missed!) The set ended with the very downbeat ‘The Cruelest Year’ from the previous album.

Personally not a good ending for me and it appeared so for some others, but in all it was an excellent gig and probably better than last year. Good to see A23 can still consistently produce top quality music, without compromising their style. It is just a shame to see the audience numbers dropping.

The Last Mistake
The Other Side of the Wall
Over and Out
Let the Wind Erase Me
The Noise Inside My Head
Let Me Be Your Armor
The Cruelest Year