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Wave Gotik Treffen [Festival Review (part 1)]

How do you review an event that takes place over four days in multiple venues, includes numerous styles of dark music and if done properly takes the rest of the month or more to recover from?

To review all the styles systematically would require a team and they'd need to prosper on little or no sleep. Regular WGT visitors learn to pace themselves and not to fret too much over the inevitable clashes or missing the acts unlucky enough to be playing at five in the afternoon when many of their potential audience were still partying at five in the morning for the third successive night.

increasing numbers of children scarcely old enough to walk

Yet as well as the hardcore party types there are also the dark families. The event includes kindergartens, yet despite this you see increasing numbers of children scarcely old enough to walk at the gigs.  Most but not all wear industrial ear protectors. A few seem to be enjoying it but many look bored, bemused or distressed.

You don't have to be a reactionary conservative to believe that a loud gig full of drunken moshers isn't a healthy or safe space for a young child. Some people seem reluctant to live with the consequences of their parental status. They want to party as before even at the expense of their offspring and of fellow audience members who feel more wary and self-conscious in the atmosphere-killing presence of the little ones. Perhaps I'll receive a fatwa from the German gothic family association for saying this but this trend is increasingly ridiculous and irritating.

this year WGT began to feel less safe

This seems all the more unwise as this year WGT began to feel less safe. Anecdotal reports from the police suggest there were increasing numbers of attacks on festival goers at what has traditionally been a very relaxed and peaceful festival. The culprits seem to be local teenagers who must have grown up witnessing the annual dark invasion of their city and have finally decided to try and reassert some territorial and (anti)-cultural control.

Yet the problems were not purely external. Small but increasing numbers of people from outside the scene seem to pay to get in just for the party atmosphere and the abundance of scantily/fetish-attired women. In another incident, fans of the risible German group Nachtmahr doled out some racist/sexist abuse to a visitor who wandered into “their” gig.  That said, these incidents are still rare and unusual enough to be comment-worthy, most people's experiences are far more positive.

German group Nachtmahr doled out some racist/sexist abuse to a visitor

Numbers were noticeably down this year: like the violence directed against visitors, this is probably partly a reflection of the worsening economic and social tensions that are shaping 2012. In some ways, WGT 2012 felt a little like a hangover from WGT 2011. 2011's stellar line-up was so incredible that it would have been impossible to match for a second year running. Yet even with a less spectacular line-up the schedule was still punishing, even for those with enough stamina and organisation to travel between all the various venues.

As WGT has grown it has secured some of the largest and best venues in the city and a Gothic, industrial or EBM fan coming from London is instantly struck by the quality and size of the Leipzig venues, especially as they're used to back rooms of pubs or overpriced and/or hostile venues.The best London venues are rarely available to music of the type presented at WGT. 

The luxurious surroundings of the Volkspalast a.k.a. Kuppellenhalle and is one of the main locations for WGT's industrial audiences. Volkspalast is one of my favourite venues anywhere and London can't really compete with it. It's a circular mock-classical temple in a beautiful domed building on the old Leipzig fair grounds.

London can't really compete

The first act we catch there is the German dark ambient duo Galerie Schallschutz, known for ominous bass heavy atmospheres exploring themes such as sonic and other classified weapons and the controversial U.S. HAARP research programme. It was a beautiful May evening outisde and some daylight was still creeping into the back of the hall, but nevertheless they introduced an ominous chill to the evening with a finely executed set.

Taking the stage next was William Bennett's  “afro noise” project Cut Hands. I'd heard good reports but had imagined something more ethno-ambient and atmospheric than the full-on rhythmic assault that ensued. The African percussion is processed and regimented into a surprisingly technoid whole that really needed to be playing in a dark basement at 2AM rather than on a summer evening in the Volkspalast.

The formal stage arrangement and the fact that Bennett was located very far back turned it into quite a cold spectacle that the audience didn't always fully relate to. There was also a populist surprise, perhaps for the old Whitehouse fans in search of some sleaze.  About half-way through, Bennett's girlfriend came on stage in a short gold dress and began to grind (un)rhythmically to the beats. It's hard to know whether this was a deliberate parody or maybe an attempt to prevent the set being too serious or arty.

The consensus afterwards was that this didn't really work and it seemed to detract from what was a very impressive performance. As the set drew on colder drones came to the fore and the videos became suitably disturbing. They seemed to show men lost in states of ritual trance or posession and introduced a much darker and more ominous note. What exactly the agenda is remains unclear: is it another example of the Western obsession with what it sees as the African “heart of darkness”, an example of post-colonial guilt or a serious post-Whitehouse prank? The truth (if there is one) is probably somewhere in between but it's undeniably impressive.

It's only with the closing act In Slaughter Natives that the hall fills up and an atmosphere builds. Lead vocalist Jouni Havukainen is a master at creating an atmosphere of controlled hysteria and malevolence and wastes no time in establishing control. The formula is simple and distinctive: crashing beats,  martial percussion, symphonic elements and harshly whispered vocals. When he rasps at the audience “You…are…all…liars!” they lap it up.

In a sense it shouldn't work and some people can't get beyond the melodramatic vocal presentation, but combined with the harsh soundscape it does achieve a certain fascinating grandeur. Although the audience are all willing converts and noone is actually going to be terrified by it, this is surely one of the darkest and most “Gothic” performances at WGT.

Part Two of Alexei Monroe's report covers the rest of the festival, including Thorofon, Brighter Death Now, Autopsia and Bad Sector, and will appear on June 28th

In-text images: Alexei Monroe, Sidebar Image: Vera Bremerton


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