22nd – 24th August 2014
Review by Victoria Fenbane
Photography by David McKnight
Infest festival is in an institution within the UK goth/industrial scene, which was started in 1998 by three students at Bradford University.
The festival is still held in the university’s student union to this day, a venue which contributes to uniqueness the festival .
The line-up in the early days featured gothic rock and industrial bands, but came to be dominated by more dark electronic sounds after the first couple of year.
This shift in music policy matched the growing demand for a new kind of sound, with the explosion of ‘cyber’ into the goth scene at the turn of the millennium.
Pretty much all of the big names of the EBM-Industrial scene have appeared at Infest, including Covenant, Suicide Commando, VNV Nation and Front 242 but Infest always champions side projects and new names too.
Many of which, have later gone on to be well known within the scene themselves. As a result Infest has a reputation as a leading alternative electronic festival, this along with the slick organisation means that bands jump at the opportunity to perform there and happily return to repeat performances.
2014 was the 16th installment of the festival. Some of the unique features of the festival were different this year, while others remained the same. The option of accommodation in the university halls was once again available. At far less than the cost of a night in a hotel for the whole weekend (£50) it remains a popular option. Cheap accommodation without the need to camp is has contributed to the popularity of the festival, as it makes it accessible to most people.
This year there is a new accommodation block in the form of The Green, which is is a development of 12 room houses, with spacious kitchen and living areas. It’s a great way to hang out with other festival goers away from the main venue, there there is no need to drag your hungover arse out of bed for a hotel breakfast and you get a real bed and clean bathroom facilities. This year also featured a new bonus of free ‘Infest’ wireless, which was available throughout the accommodation and main festival site. Great for streaming music while getting ready or updating the rest of the world via social networking.
The venue itself has undergone changes over the years, but still provides student union drinks prices, a break out area with pool tables and another with vendor stalls. The walk from the accommodation to the stage is only a few minutes. Basically Infest’s got a pretty damn sweet setup and we haven’t even got onto the music yet.
Friday 22nd August
Dreams Divide from the South of England, open the festival.
They have gathered a loyal following over the past few years thanks to their debut album ‘Puppet Love’, which is packed with catchy synth tunes.
David and Gem played part of their set in on an unlit stage due to lighting issues. They were also let down by the mixing; the sound was pretty bad when compared to the recorded material. I am partly inclined to say their music doesn’t translate well live and they need to work on the live show.
With them being an electronic act, you’d expect the live sound to be closer to the recorded output than a rock act. Simply belting out what they created in the studio without adjusting for a live environment, disappointed this fan at least. Despite the issues, the venue was packed for the opener and the crowd loved them. Great choice of local grown opener.
Acucrack were next up. They hail from Chicago and are probably best known for having collaborated with Curve front woman Toni Halliday, on ‘So To Speak’.
A song which went on to feature in an episode of HBO series True Blood, along with three other tracks. Their show took the form of a live PA, against a backdrop of old school 90’s style industrial visuals. Their sound and vocal style is of the same era, brought bang up to date.
Think of a 21st Century KMFDM/Skinny Puppy blend. If those references mean nothing to you, then imagine music as close to metal as you can get, without being metal. The PA format of the show lead to each individual song running into the next, like a DJ set and kept the pace, and consequently the audience in their place.
Acucrack are a, hypnotic live experience and took me by surprise as I expected to not enjoy them as much. They are the kind of surprise Infest is legendary for: peppering a lineup with unfamiliar names, which you check out, because there is a probability of discovering something new about your taste in music in the process.
Cyanotic brought along more industrial guitar sounds and also a familiar face, in the shape of Sean Payne, who assisted Acucrack with their set. Since members of Rabbit Junk had been enlisted for this performance, the set switched between Cyanotic and Rabbit Junk material.
Think Fear Factory and Static X combined with the harder industrial sounds, which fill dance floors these days.
Personally I found them intellectually unstimulating, especially when compared to the rich sound-scapes created by Acucrack . To me they were more ‘noisy’, however for those dancing like crazy, the ‘noise’ is what they came for.
Haujobb are is German electronic act, well known in more mainstream electronic music circles but they have always maintained roots in the industrial scene. Their Infest set showcased a lot of their industrial material from the mid-90s, which was perfect for the kind of crowd there.
Having not enjoyed Haujobb much when they supported Front Line Assembly recently, I was surprised that this time round I got those all too rare tingles from their performance. Like the previous two bands, their equipment consisted of a number interesting looking boxes with wires protruding.
Saturday 23rd August
Another day and another UK band to open proceedings. Many people including myself were looking forward to enjoying The Ladder‘s melodic trancy future pop sound live. Unfortunately they ended up being biggest letdown of the weekend.
Seemingly let down themselves by technical sound problems, or perhaps another opening band on the bill let down by mixing. Their decision to perform a near karaoke cover of Apops ‘Until The End of the World’ seemed to annoy a fair few punters too.
The unsuccessful set is a massive shame, because their recorded material sounds great. Hopefully they didn’t lose too many potential fans as a result and will get a chance to shine in the near future.
Being a fan of Cubanate in the late 90’s, before the appearance of the ‘cyber’ scene, I was looking forward to Be My Enemy who are fronted by former member Phil Barry. Phil is backed by Debs and Steve Alton (drums and guitar respectively) from System:FX and Keef Baker on electronic double bass.
After having heard them online, I was disappointed that they just didn’t have the power I was expecting them to have live. Be My Enemy’s sound is an acid rock D’n’B mash-up but live they did not come across as meaty, or as heavy as I expected from the Cubanate pedigree.
This also explains why their reworking of ‘Oxyactelyne‘ sounded flat to me. They played a very tight set, which resulted in a slightly too perfect sound, which made their performance bit sterile, without a great deal of live passion. I would not have expected this from this kind of music, but as all of my perceptions of them were based on preconceptions it just shows that doing your research is sometimes not a good thing. I think I would have enjoyed them more if I had experience them live first.
Xenturion Prime have arisen from the ashes of Code 64, an act who created dance floor fillers ‘Leaving Earth’ and ‘Stasis’. The band suggested that the Saturday should be a toga party, a gimmick related to their name, which is a Roman/Transformers fusion.
The small group who has decided to take the plunge and look slightly ridiculous for the day introduced the bands set in their togas. Xenturon Prime, who are hairer than the previous incarnation, is pretty much two guys with keyboards and the expected verse-chorus-verse structure of EBM-Synthpop. Fans of Code 64 loved it and of course their performance included a cover of ‘Leaving Earth’. They are a band for the fans but nothing much new here.
I missed the next two bands due to interviewing dutied, so I can’t cover them in this review, however they were captured for IV and best photos have been included here:
Legend from Iceland, create immaculately crafted Industrial Synth-Rock tunes with a strong vocal element. They were a new name to many at Infest and ended up gaining a lot of new fans.
Ambassador21 had to pull out of the festival due to visa issues and were replaced by one of Daniel Myer of Haujobb’s many projects: Architect. Emese Arvai-Illes joined Myer on stage.
To me Juno Reactor were an odd addition to the line up. I can never recall them being played in clubs and knew them only as a soundtrack band, who contributed to soundtrack of The Matrix trilogy.
Despite this, people had been making a lot of noise about them in the run up to the festival, which made it apparent the organisers knew their crowd well.
As a consequence of their popularity and the position of the stage it was pretty much impossible to catch a decent view, unless you had wedged yourself into a good spot early on. If you did manage to grab a spot, you would have seen the spectacular show Juno put on to showcase their world/tribal/trance sound.
Juno Reactor are not just musicians but a group of performers, including dancers amongst their large troupe. Their show was of particular interest to older goths, as the live drumming was performed by Budgie of Siouxsie fame.
Those in the pit lost themselves to the spectacle which took place against a backdrop of trippy visuals and emerged mesmerized. The success of Juno Reactor at Infest is an example of how Infest is a varied festival, which attracts those open minded enough to try out music outside the classic EBM/Industrial boundaries.
Sunday 24th August
The final day kicked off with Syd.31, Punk/Techno/Industrial from Manchester.
Think 90’s instrustrial, yet more punky with 8-bit and even reggae sounds mixed in. A bit of a weird mess if you’re not keen on punkier rougher sounds but still entertaining to watch, even with a hangover.
Mr.Kitty is just that. One guy from Austin, Texas. When it was time for Mr. Kitty to take the stage, it became apparent that the awkward looking Witchhouse guy who looked like he’d taken a wrong turn out of Shoreditch, was actually Forrest Avery Carney.
He a bit of a musical virtuoso, performing all of the material solo, including singing. We’ve all seen plenty on one man bands at Infest but Mr.Kitty nearly pulls off a whole show on his own. The songs are catchy, but not quite enough for a lone performer to keep my whole attention.
Carney imparts the impression of a Japanese hikikomori recently emerged into the world after spending the time in solitude writing this music and practicing in front of the mirror. It’s a little bit creepy and yet kawaii. Mr Kitty’s music is more suited for reflective evenings, than dance floor fillin, but besides Heretics, Mr.Kitty goes down as one of the best Witchhouse artists have heard. Infest once again shows me a new favourite artist.
E.S.A (Electronic Substance Abuse) was a last minute addition to the line-up, replacing the injured Le Moderniste. ESA’s addtion to the line-up was so last minute, that this replacement did not make it onto the official festival merch.
The replacement of Le Moderniste was a like for like swap in terms of genres, both being purveyors of rhythmic industrial noise. Like the preccceding act ESA, is actually a solo artist. Jamie Blacker’s stompy structured noise is exactly the kind of noise I enjoy, but I was unable to give it the concentration required to enjoy the set because I was impatient for the synthpop sounds I had waited for all weekend…
Solar Fake are an act I had been hoping would play Infest since their inception in 2007. Three albums later and they finally arrive in Bradford. Solar Fake is the synthpop side-project of Sven Friedrich, the voice of German bands Zeraphine and Dreadful Shadows.
The music created under the banner of Solar Fake is not groundbreaking, but it is great music performed by seasoned professionals. As a fan of Sven’s better know projects and also synthpop, Solar Fake naturally provide some of my favourite sounds.
Solar Fake brought just their sounds to Infest, they have one of the most minimal stage set ups of the festival. No backdrop, just a straight-forward set up of a keyboardist and Sven performing the vocals.
This a quite statement for a band high up the bill, however as someone who has fronted higher profile bands, Sven has no need to gimmicks and fills the stage with ease. The duo ran though a CD perfect set, which was ecstatically received by many fans as excited about this rare UK performance as myself.
Ashbury Heights are back from the near dead. They were quite a surprise addition to the festival lineup, despite being requested by the Infest regulars for years, due to their apparent slip away from the limelight.
After the release of the LP ‘Take Cair Paramour’ in 2010, a dispute between Anders Hagström and his record label caused AH to be disbanded, apparently never to return. In a welcome turn of events, there was a reconciliation between artist and label and since then Anders has taken time out to regroup.
The result of this turbulent period within the act’s history, is that Ashbury Heights have come back stronger, in part due by the gorgeous Tea Time (Tea F Thimé) coming on board as the new female vocalist. The biggest change resulting from this new line-up is that for the first time, Ashbury Heights songs are a written as a partnership, when previously all songwriting duties fell to Anders.
The 2014 iteration of Ashbury Heights is more mature and sassy than ever. Tea has a rich voice and great stage presence. Infest was only her second live outing as the other half of Ashbury Heights, but she pulled off the gig with nerves successfully hidden behind a pout. This was not the only eye candy on stage; exclusively for Infest, Tea and Anders created a film backdrop, perfectly synced with the music, which elevated their set from gig to a ‘performance’ . This arty spectacle was sound-tracked by a set heavy in new material (5/9).
Even familiar and much loved songs, such as opener ‘Crescendo’ and ‘Spiders’ sounded different. AH have been forced to rework their back catalogue for live shows, due to the original sound files being lost with no means to recreate them. Different resources has been employed to reach a similar result and a gives Ashbury Heights a meatier, refreshed sound for this new era.
The tweak in the recognizable songs had a strange effect on me, in that it caused the as yet unreleased new material to feel familiar already, despite it being the first time I had heard it. It was a tantalizing hint of the album they are working on, which currently has no release date. Songs such as the smartly titled ‘If you’re shooting with your left it means the right side is working’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’ will be well worth the wait. They are back, look different and sound different but are still very much Ashbury Heights.
Project Pitchfork unfortunately had to pull out of headlining Infest due to illness. VNV Nation stepped in as the closing act, resulting in a last minute surge on day tickets, while other’s such as myself, were very disappointed.
Infest made a smart move with the choice of replacement act, VNV have many fans happy to see them again and again, even in the same venue. Personally they did not make up for Project Pitchfork and even the prospect them playing a set of greatest hits could not lure this sulking Pithcfork fan.
I made my way to the bar to be sociable. I’d had an excellent festival experience and was ready to wind down. This was once moment when the old layout of the venue was missed.
In the old days of the festival you could catch a band’s set while chilling near the back , but now is is an all or nothing choice.
My positives of festival were as follows: unique, cheap well located accommodation, atmosphere, good mix mix of bands, a single stage so no clashes, cheap bar prices and great traders to spend the beer savings on.
Only negative: A wish that the DJs had not played, so much weird stuff between bands!