VNV Nation + Empathy Test @ The Electric Ballroom, London

3 February 2019
Review & Videos by Demitri Levantis
Photography by Dimitris Karagkounis

VNV Nation, the musical group who brought electronic beats and chimes to a whole new impression in the 1990s, showed they haven’t mellowed at all tonight, as they packed out Camden Town’s infamous Electric Ballroom.

 

The crowd swelled nicely with fans from all walks of alternative life: Goths, Punks, Metallers, Club Kids to name just a few – enough to tell that VNV Nation are a band adored across the music spectrum.

It wasn’t long before the opening act was on stage, telling me the evening was off to a flying start that pulled no punches. Empathy Test, an electronic music duo from the capital took to the stage to heighten the hearts and minds of the pleasantly hyped crowd.

Dreamy but heartfelt keys chimed into the audience from Empathy Test, making full use of the synthesisers played by Sam Winter, married well to the flowing, emotional vocals from Isaac Howlett.

Even though I’d never heard of Empathy Test before tonight, I could see a strong appreciation was alive and well in the ranks of the crowd, for everyone applauded and called for more and more songs as they progressed. Live drummer Chrisy Lopez offered more than enough in terms of talent for her mix of acoustic and electronic percussion had the band bopping to one strong and precise beat – just what the crowd were asking for.

Topics ranged from city life to the everyday anxieties of growing up and what goes on in the minds of keen electronic music lovers. Empathy Test showcased a versatile range of talents, the kind of band you can expect to sound completely different on any studio release.

An excellent choice of the opening act and for this critic: one excellent new discovery. Keep up the good work, Empathy Test.

Darkness fell and the cries went up as a small group of men, fronted by a bald man in a dark shirt, ascended the stage – not quite the kind of people you’d expect to burn the proverbial fire that was about to commence.

Lights flickered and danced like an electrical storm before lighting up VNV Nation’s Ronan Harris centre stage like a charismatic leader addressing a rally. He might have been on the road for a long time and changed, but Ronan was quick enough to tell us he hadn’t lost his sting.

 

The control he held over the audience was so powerful it felt like being in an electrical chokehold – each song commanded us to dance and sway as VNV Nation blasted and crackled tune after tune from their nearly three-decade career and in celebration of their eleventh album, Noire.

Ronan Harris was the man on this stage, he spoke to the audience as the experienced and wise forefather of EBM and futurepop for which he is known. I was very pleased to see him ask the audience politely to not use flash photography when taking pictures of the band and how he dealt with a heckler at the very start of the set.

VNV Nation is indeed a veteran band, and their experience has added much strength to their musical mettle. A sense of humour rang out as well as the numerous tracks that felt like you were being catapulted into another world: a kind of science fiction or alternative reality land where anything is possible.

I was also reminded of the great nightclubs in Germany where VNV and their peers reign supreme, so it was almost like they turned the Ballroom into the Bergheim for an evening.

This concert was a celebration of all things electronic; a band who helped darken the genre but also bring enlightenment to the lovers of synth and drum machine driven tunes. VNV Nation is an intelligent band founded by an intelligent man who performs with a fine sense of humour and did not let a cold he’d contracted ruin his night.

Overall, Camden saw firsthand that the band who have been making a wide range of dark, dreamy and futuristic electronica for nearly a generation is still alive and well; nothing will stand in VNV Nation’s path and tear them down from the pedestal upon which they stand.

A wonderful night was had, and it was more than amazing to have Ronan and his bandmates bid us farewell.

See you again soon, VNV Nation.

Setlist:

A Million
Retaliate
Armour
Space & Time
When is the Future
Honour
Sentinel
The Farthest Star
Illusion
God of All
Epicentre
Chrome Control
Homeward
Immersed
Resolution
Nova
Standing
All Our Sins

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