Front Line Assembly + Die Krupps + Tension Control @ O2 Academy, Islington

Sunday 19th September 2018
Review by Beandog
Photography by David McKnight

Tonight’s gig at Islington’s O2 Academy marks the beginning of a double heading tour that will see Front Line Assembly and Die Krupps team up and tear across Europe for a run dates they have dubbed the Machinists United tour.

The tour’s title no doubt refers to both bands heavy use of computers, samples and technology to create a blend of techno, punk, dance, metal and electro that has endured through the several decades. Front Line Assembly were formed in 1985 and Die Krupps 1980 – This legacy is reflected in the mixed crowd tonight.

Notably, there is a healthy turn out of older fans. The die-hards. Many are filing through the doors looking like they have dipped into their gothic-techno wardrobe for the first time in a while. The hum-drum uniform of the day job has been cast aside, in favour of studded collars and tight, fishnet t shirts – all black, of course – and it’s great to see. There’s nothing more joyful than when music reflects a lifestyle and vice versa. Its a complete testament to the passion and commitment of the fans.

Another indicator of this is the fact that tonight is a sold-out show. However, the venue isn’t quite full yet as the opening band, Tension Control take the stage to warm up the arriving crowd.

Tension control at Islington academy

The German band perform with a very limited setup. There is little on the stage other than a small synth/sequencer and the two musicians who divide their skills between triggering the samples and delivering the lyrics – occasionally they both take centre stage and let the sequencer play out unmanned, providing a backing track over which they both tag team their vocals over a fairly solid EMB set.

The only real problem here is this music is much more suited to the packed, early hours of a club-night than it is to a seven-thirty start time of a gig that people are still arriving for. Arguably, dance orientated music is an art form that can only be truly complete when there is a floor full of people reacting, uninhibited, to the sound. Unfortunately, at this stage in the event and in an environment that has more of a “gig” aesthetic, even despite their admirable efforts, Tension Control are little more than a curiosity to those buying their first drink of the night.

In the break between the bands, the crew assemble a more elaborate back line for Die Krupps. A full drum kit is uncovered, a bank of synths sits among the amps and curiously, what can only be described as an imposing, industrial glockenspiel that takes up the front and centre of the stage.

By the time Die Krupps walk onto the stage, the venue is full and there is an immediate surge in energy levels from the moment they blast in with the Dawning of Doom.

Die Krupps

As soon as the rhythm takes hold it becomes immediately clear the band on good form. They sound huge and look completely committed to the task of tearing the roof off. Nils Finkeisen and Marcel Zürcher’s riffs mesh seamlessly with the bubble and squelch of the electro elements and Jergen Engler commands the stage with the energy of a man half his age.

Die Krupps
By the time Engler takes up his metal drumsticks and starts beating out a heavy metal clatter on the aforementioned glockenspiel – Which, in reality is five metal bars bolted to a hefty frame – the party has well and truly begun. The crowd thump along to Germanic and Black Beauty White Heat and give an extra hearty cheer for Fuck You, which is given a dedication to Donald Trump.

I’m impressed by Die Krupps command of the stage. The guitarists switch positions, the drummer looks energised and when Engler isn’t beating his thick, steel bars he is standing on them, raising himself up, over the crowd, appearing to be ten feet tall. None of it seems contrived, it looks brilliant and transcends the limitations of this moderately sized venue.

Robo Sapien is a hightlight and Nazis Auf Speed maintains the techno pulse to which the crowd responds accordingly and with enthusiasm.

It’s an invigorating set, after which the band return – looking pleased and proud of a successful performance. It’s been good, I feel any of us could go home now and feel completely satisfied, but we still have Front Line Assembly due on stage to finish the night off.

Before they begin, Front Line Assembly’s stage is adorned with military-style camouflage netting, so it carries as much of an air of a guerrilla manoeuvre as it does an electro-crossover gig. Two rigs of synths, augmented with computers stand at either side of the performance area and the only hint of live instrumentation is an array of drums at the rear of the stage. An imposing looking kit with two strategically placed floor-toms in front of it, no doubt set up and prepared for a beating from Bill Leeb.

Mr. Leeb is actually the last to make an appearance. Following a seething dubstep instrumental to set the tone, he makes his entrance and Rhys Fulber briefly exclaims, “Hey! new song” before they launch into the steady throb of Eye On You.

Sufficiently warmed up, the crowd are taken in straight away and everything settles into a pounding, rhythmic measure that gains traction nicely until at an early stage, problems start to occur.

A distracting crackle starts to permeate through the music and Rhys looks troubled. It appears equipment failure is hampering the performance and sure enough, even though the band maintain their momentum, the sound thins out and the song seems to lose something. Fulber gives a helpless look to Leeb and shrugs as if to say, “It’s fucked!”

If the reaction of the crowd is to be taken into consideration, any on-stage problems seem to have gone unnoticed because people are loosening up, moving around and dancing, but from where I am watching, there’s an air of uncomfortable tension on the stage.

Professional enough to continue through Neologic Spasm and Killing Grounds, the vocalist appears distracted. He makes a few visits to his bandmate, trying to ascertain what the problem is and in a further unfortunate moment, Fulber’s explanations to Leeb are all broadcast via the nearby microphone – meaning there’s an excruciating moment when their troubled exchange can be heard over the music complete with Bill Leeb’s “what? WHAT?!” as he struggles to hear his bandmate. On cue, to add to the slap-your-forehead moments, the video screen behind the band announces that the batteries are running low on the laptop that is evidently generating the images.

It’s a real shame because following Die Krupps’ flawless, energetic performance, Front Line Assembly are struggling to reach the same exhilarating level and it’s not really their fault – impeded, as they are by the very machines that they named their tour after.

Things do get better. The second half of the set finds a reserve thrust and we are treated to versions of Plasticity and Deadened that are delivered with enough power to prove what many in attendance already know to be true – that Front Line Assembly are a forceful and credible live band.

They sign off with Millennium and leave us waiting, but ultimately, despite playing just half the number of songs Die Krupps played, they do not return for an encore.

Regardless of the troubles written about above, I actually leave the gig having had a brilliant time. However, if this gig had been a football match, the score would be Germany 1 – 0 Canada.

Die Krupps Setlist:

The Dawning of Doom
Der Amboss (Visage cover)
Fly Martyrs Fly
Black Beauty White Heat
Fuck You
To the Hilt
Metal Machine Music
Robo Sapien
Nazis Auf Speed


Machineries of Joy

Front Line Assembly Setlist:

Eye On You
Neologic Spasm
Killing Grounds
Shifting Through The Lens