Nekrofest descended on Birmingham’s Barfly to present a treat that featured three quite different bands from the Electronica/Industrial scene. Representing the UK, Carlisle based Novus UK opened the night with a hard-hitting sound and strong vocals that got the small Barfly crowd to take interest. Vocalist Sarah Jane teamed up with Agents Aconite and Crimson to form a 3-piece outfit that ploughed through their half hour set with relative ease. Sarah Jane showed great stage presence, having started off a little stiff, but loosened up quickly to strike cheeky poses on beat that were entertaining to watch. On occasion the vocals were a little harsh and flat, but when softened slightly, it created a pleasant contrast to the electro beats and electric guitar riffs. Visually it was a little static at times, however the introduction of Crimson’s angle grinder creating sparks made people look up and take notice. Incorporating more effects like this and perhaps additional lighting could enhance their performance. Coupled with catchy songs such as ‘The Closer the Net’ and final song ‘Liberty’, a bigger visual impact could make Novus UK a formidable live act.
The atmosphere took a slightly more moody turn as the first Out Of Line Records act, Ashbury Heights, took the stage. The Swedish duo alternated lead vocals and a position at the front of the stage, starting with Anders Hagstom followed by Yasmine Uhlin taking the lead with ‘Die by Numbers’. Even though visually a mist that evoked a mysterious, dark atmosphere surrounded them, their sound was light and energetic. With more bass and a modern twist, their sound is reminiscent of the 1980s New Romantic scene with memorable repetitive chorus’ and distinct electronic beats. Unfortunately, three songs in the synthgroup suffered technical difficulties that briefly stopped them in their tracks. They were charming and apologetic as they tried to rectify the problem, and on the third attempt rebuilt the tempo and continued as they had started. Songs such as ‘Cry Havoc’ and ‘Corsair’ got the patient crowd to tap their feet and nod their heads in approval. ‘Morningstar in a black car’ from their latest EP had a more blues; funky feel to it, and their traditional final song ‘World coming down’ got the audience moving. It was pleasing to watch Ashbury Heights perform as both were full of energy and really looked like they were enjoying themselves despite their early technical hitch. Their movement around the stage did not compromise on giving a clean professional sound as their voices entwined and overlapped effortlessly with each song. Upon leaving the stage Yasmine shouted for Combichrist to take their turn, leaving the growing crowd warmed up and ready for the headliners onslaught to commence.
In the build up to the headlining act, smoke completely covered the stage. The crowd moved forward and an excited tension was evident as the fans, labelled as ‘The Combichrist Army’ waited in anticipation. I was not sure what to expect from this self-named Techno Body Movement (TBM) act, but the electric atmosphere suggested a high tempo energetic performance. That was exactly what it was. The crowd roared as the smoke cleared slightly to reveal the band ready to play on stage. Combichrist launched into their first song ‘Shut Up and Swallow’ and the Army moved to every beat. If you like a band to create a rapport with the crowd through banter between songs, then you will have been a little disappointed. Instead vocalist Andy LaPlegua spoke on occasion and engaged with the crowd through piercing stares and Cheshire cat grins, that emerged through the smoke. No Combichrist member stood still as they ripped through each song, and this was reflected by the crowd’s response to dance relentlessly and as hard as the band played. LaPlegua bounded across the stage as he roared his way through ‘This is My Rifle’ and ‘Electrohead’. The echo effects accompanying his shouts added to the quality of the somewhat busy sound. As the more commercial sounding ‘Get you Body Beat’ gradually built up into a high tempo frenzy, it was evident that Combichrist are all about creating danceable techno and electronic beats made heavier by additional live drums to add more force and aggression to their sound. The band often completely disappeared behind smoke but by this time I noticed that most to the crowd were completely lost in the music anyway, which must have satisfied the band that they had achieved what they had set out to do.
Strobe lighting had been a major component of the set, but half way through it subsided and a red mist descended upon the stage. A darker more industrial sound took over with ‘Red’ replacing the glow sticks with hair swinging movements around the room. They then played two new songs, including new single ‘Sent to Destroy’, playing at the same ferocity as their older more established material and so didn’t break the momentum already created. Having left the stage for a short break, Andy returned announcing that they ‘only came back to dance’ which was followed by the vocoder lines of ‘Intruder Alert’ from their 2003 album ‘The Joy of Gunz’. They finished with ‘Blut Royale’ followed by ‘This S**t will F**k You Up’ where Andy welcomed crowd participation by handing the mic over to those in the front row to sing a line. Combichrist ended their almost flawless performance with all but LaPlegua leaving the stage as Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ blared out. Andy sat elevated at the back of the stage and conducted the audience, who gladly humoured him by joining in, before he sang a couple of lines himself and departed the stage. The crowd were left to dance the night away to an electro industrial DJ set that was planned to finish as 2 am. It was a shame that they had not drawn in a larger crowd, as Combichrist have created music and a live performance that hits hard and gets everyone’s feet twitching and heads nodding from the first to the very last beat. The repetitive lyrics and synth sounds leave you humming long after they left the stage and their energy coupled with their rock and electronic beats could convert any neutral to become a fully-fledged member of the Combichrist Army.
Review – Karen Trenbirth
Photos – Ian Dunn