Wasp Factory Album Launch - Underworld, December 3 2000

Review by The Rattler.
Originally posted to uk.people.gothic on December 4 2000

There's a bit of a buzz in the Underworld tonight (oh no, the wasp puns have started already) for this spectacular showcase event in which the leading lights of the Wasp Factory label get together to remix each other's songs *LIVE* onstage. *Eight* (count 'em) bands are up on the bill, so you'd be forgiven for thinking this was perhaps an overambitious concept to pull off within a few hours in the confines of the Camden Underworld. Maybe it would be for lesser acts, but there's certainly strength in numbers here and the Wasp Factory "family" pull together admirably and ensure that it's pulled off with great style.

Opening the proceedings we see a return to the stage for performance poet and all-round cross-dressing nutter Tarantella Serpentine who is, for tonight, working with Brighton electro-terrorists Freudstein for a truly monumental half an hour of explosive techno mayhem. Where to begin? The first track, Tarantella's own "Super Class One Laser Product" is an outburst of pure adrenaline, reshaped into a far more bass-heavy, almost Chemical Brothers-esque slab of Technoid Hell and even if most of the audience are restrained for now (it's not even 8'o'clock yet!), the same cannot be said for those onstage. Anyone who's seen Tarantella live will already know what to expect - a sinister menace wrapped in "FRAGILE" tape, tonight wearing some of choker that appears to be made of Blackpool rock and a flamboyant technicolor dreamcoat. With a seemingly new found super-confidence (perhaps as a result of having other people onstage with him, for a change), he contorts himself into various shapes whilst shouting, speaking and occasionally even singing over the top of Freudstein's techno meltdowns... and as for Freudstein? Who are these guys? And how on Earth can they be so Goddamn *cool*? There are only two of them - the long-haired Freud stands behind a PC, armed with various clicky/punchy things to thwap every now and then whilst his shorter- haired companion operates some kind of keyboard/mixer thing (excuse the technical ignorance!) at the front. I couldn't help but think they looked like how the Chemical Brothers might do had they taken *ALL* the wrong drugs. This aside tho, their energy is boundless - the long-haired one especially is a joy to watch, waving his arms around like a true mentalist, jumping about, punching the air, clearly having an absolute wail of a time. He even does a bit of very gruff, 'evil EBM'-style vocals on one song. Oh, and shouts a fair bit too. At random interludes. Result!
Photograph by Uncle Nemesis
The set comprises of roughly half-and-half of Tarantella's material (which, being familiar with it, I can vouch for how much more 'full-on' it sounds having being remixed by the Freuds) and Freudstein's (which was all totally new to me) but is all of an amazingly high quality. Amon Arkham pops up midway to yell his merry way through a really energetic ATR-ish track which sees Tarantella on the mixing/keyboard thingoe and the short-haired Freud thrashing away at a guitar, but the real high point of the set was the final song. I'm told it's a Freudstein number called "Mark of the Devil" and it is GODLIKE! Not only does Tarantella get a rare chance to *SING* (and boy, can he sing! Yes, I was surprised too!) but the music is just ... just ... impeccable! Words fail me! It's as spooky, as colourful and as gloriously over-the-top as the classic 70's Eurosleaze flick it takes it's name from - it's like horror-techno for want of a better term. The synths are spine-chilling and the beats are hard and nasty as a nine-inch splinter through the eye... and to cap it all off, it has *structure* and a *chorus* - a soaring monster of a chorus at that! The quality of the song coupled with the absolutely *boundless* enthusiasm coming from all three chaps on the stage (I thought long-haired Freud's arms would fall off if he waved them around for much longer!) ensured that they left the stage with a bang and to some substantial applause.

Arkham Asylum are up next and have been selected to go head-to-head with Goteki (formerly Sneaky Bat Machine). The Arkham boys come out alone to begin with and burst into "Corporate Anthem" which sounds fairly class... well, until the guitar breaks - oops. Even despite the technical problems, I must say I do have a lot of time for these guys. Their guitarist manages to get a nice, harder-edged GBOA-style sound, the vocals are a surprisingly very effective cross between Zach de la Rocha and Pete Murphy, while keyboardist Bug, now with far shorter hair than the last time I saw them, is even starting to *LOOK* a bit like Alec Empire as well as constructing similarly destructive breakbeats. Tonight they don't *explode* like the last time I saw them, but I think this is as much as anything down to the cluttered stage which doesn't leave too much room for their usual Red Bull fuelled leaping about. They bring the famous Dr A (of Goteki and Arkham fame) out (and a whole room goes *swoon*!) for a run through "Machine" that sounds, er, just like the original really - then the other Goteki bods (Sneakybat and, er, "Crash 303" (formerly 'Evil C')) appear for a sorely under-reheased version of "Daddy". It might've sounded better if Sneakybat had learnt the words but even putting this aside, the sound coming from the stage is way too cluttered by this point.

I'm trying to forget what happened next but I think it's been imprinted on my brain for life already. Yes, they covered "The Final Countdown". Yes, the one by Europe. I said last time I saw SBM do it that it was bad karaoke when you closed your eyes and tonight the shambolic nature of it escalated into almost unlistenable overcrowded pandemonium. Bless their little cotton socks for trying and, in fairness, it went down a storm on the dancefloor but for me it did very little I'm afraid! After this one, Bug and Angel Arkham leave the stage as Amon races through "Boneshaker" with Goteki. Probably the only song where they've even tried to make it sound a bit different rather than just two bands playing the same thing, Amon's vocals seem to be fed through some kind of pitchbender/vocoder to varying effect.As he leaves, Goteki finish the set with their new song "We Can Rebuild You" and it's exactly what you expect. Good quality catchy space-pop very firmly in the highly tongue-in-cheek SBM stylee you've become accustomed to. The trouble with this whole set tho is that the best bits were at the start, when it was just Arkham Asylum and at the end, when it was just Goteki so the purpose of the "collaboration" (and in this case, I've gotta use the term lightly) fell totally flat. That said, all six of them onstage at once was the closest I've ever come to seeing "The Muppet Show" being re-enacted *live* in front of me. :)

In the bravest move of the night (besides introducing themselves as "The Skin Engine", that is!), Lee Chaos and G Skinflower decide to open their sets with one of the latter band's folkier numbers - just G on the guitar/backing vox and Lee on vocals. This naturally leaves a lot of people scratching their heads but it sounds awesome nonetheless. Their voices really go well with each other and the song itself reminds me of Radiohead's rare good bits. The rest of The Chaos Engine, along with R Skinflower, file out shortly afterwards and burst into a two-bass/two-guitar version of the superb but oft-neglected early Skinflowers song "Thrillseeker" and it sounds KILLER! It's so difficult to pinpoint just *what* it sounds like but with ten extra strings than are normally used, it definately gets a ballsier 'rock' vibe going which escalates into the utterly *FURIOUS* assault of "Employee Of The Year" sounding bigger, meaner and downright harder than *EVER* before (God, I sound like a DAZ advert -"Now with 20% more noise!")! Lee, clearly ecstatic from the massive 'beefing up' of the Chaos Sound, is flinging himself everywhere, getting ridiculously into it whilst G Skinflower ("He used to be such a nice boy" ;)) clearly is enjoying his transformation into 'Rock God', which becomes more apparent as he throws off his guitar and trades vicious lead vocals with Lee in one of his own songs that sounds crushingly heavy and surprisingly (due to the use of a drum machine) very rhythmic. Major credit to them for not letting the programmed percussion get lost under a haze of guitar. I shudder to think how bruising it would've sounded with live drums!

After a truly crushing reworking of "Purge" that sounds like Ministry at their best and most brutal, the crowd-pleasing (and now *way* heavy) "888" fills the dancefloor up before (unpredictable as ever) they finish with a 6 or 7 minute 'space rock' version of the Skinflowers "I Don't Need More Money, I Need More Time" featuring THREE guitars (Lee, Kelly and G), one bass and the amazing Dr Who-esque talents of Huw Chaos on the keyboards! Rar! Corking stuff. It's a great song anyway with an truly astounding chorus (again, think of the *good* parts about Radiohead without the whining) but morphed into this monster of a rendition it sounds even better. Epic is the word I'm looking for. Undoubtably 'The Skin Engine' are the hardest to define collaboration on the bill tonight and this in itself is a massive compliment. There's bleeps but there's serious rock. There's techno but there's also metal. There's unquestionably a seriously punk attitude going on, but hang about, didn't they just play about seven minutes worth of space rock? And wait a minute, they opened with a folk song! Seriously top stuff all round and refreshing to see a set that leaves me at a total loss to properly describe. As with Freudstein and Tarantella, this seemed like a very 'natural' combination with the two bands playing well off of each other and obviously very much enjoying putting such a different (and always effective) spin on their songs. I think John Peel would've approved of this, had he been there.

So the final drill through the eardrum comes in the much anticipated form of Hydra -vs- Leechwoman. It's lunchtime the next day as I write this and I'm still throbbing - I feel like my head is stuffed in a goldfish bowl and somebody's pushing their finger and in and out of my brain through my ears. Having seen both bands (who essentially comprise of *almost* the same line-up anyway) before, I knew to expect force, to expect deafening brutality and unrestrained aggression. But even that couldn't prepare me for what I got. It was all of the above, no question about that, but turned up to previously unchartered heights of extremity. Nick from Hydra handles vocals for the first few songs (all Hydra material), standing in the middle of the stage, dancing like the angry industrial bastard he is, shouting out agitated polemic in a way I haven't heard since the likes of Conflict. Naturally this is all very pleasing to me in itself but what I love about Hydra is that they take the spirit (in the purest form I've seen for awhile) and indeed the vocal style from old-school anarchopunk stuff then mash it up with a totally contemporary groove, backed by distorted samples used as rhythmic noises and the incredible junk-metal percussion of the unstoppable Rog. If you think of Test Dept at their angriest, then multiply it by 23, you're in the right region. I can't even describe the sheer *force* of it on paper. Even if you don't listen to the lyrics (an inspired collection of politicised soundbites/slogans), you only need to hear a few seconds of Nick in action to know he's sorely pissed off about *SOMETHING*.

There aren't many bands that could do justice to such supreme agitation, but Leechwoman, a band for whom "melody" is a dirty word, create an gloriously *UGLY* sonic assault that sounds more like a blood-soaked tribal riot in your skull than anything remotely musical.

When it comes to their own material (occasionally helped with backing shouts by Nick), Leechwoman turn far sludgier, like early Godflesh at times, but way more rhythmic - anyone who's ever seen them before will already be aware of the incredible tribal pounding that they're capable of. When they get to "Section 13" and start letting rip with the most unbearably loud bursts of static/distortion, intermixed with tortured screams ("ALL MY LIFE! BURIED HATE!") and Rog pounding seven kinds of shit out of a dustbin, people are covering their ears and leaving for the bar in droves, fearing for their safety! Some angle-grinding and flying sparks later and they bring out Lee and Huw Chaos to pound into an oil drum with BIG FUCKING STICKS (rarr!) while Alex Leechwoman and Nick Hydra trade screams of "LIES!!!" at each other. It's not long before Alex is pulling strings off his bass and throwing himself around the floor, screaming wild-eyed at anyone who hasn't run away. The vocal repetition (essentially just "LIES!!!!!!") is made ever more punishing by the fact that each time he screams, there seems to be more echo and reverb forming on his voice, building up to what no longer seems like a human sound, more just one horrifyingly ugly and downright shit-your-pants-frightening noise.

The part that hurts the most is the silence between this and the encore. Boyd Rice, who once claimed that the ringing in the audience's ears is an integral part of the gig, would've been proud as even tho there was *nothing* coming from the stage, the 'silence' *hurt*. The tension (and indeed terror) that mounted as the band returned to the stage and stood in silence for about 30 seconds was remarkable. They eventually break it (with sledgehammer subtlty) and finish with "Tool" which is about the closest Leechwoman are ever likely to get to an 'anthem' and the reaction from people I spoke to afterwards seemed to range from "wow!" to "ow!" both of which are very valid adjectives when it comes to describing this collaboration. Downright brilliant by my mileage tho, there's no doubt about that. For a relentlessly primal expression of unadulterated, remorseless brutality in it's purest form you can get no more in-your-face than this.

All in all then, the gig was a raging success IMHO. It's great to see bands who *are* willing to experiment like this, try something a little different and even better to see them actually pull it off. Also the diversity of the acts involved was a fantastic reminder (as if the brilliant "Working With Children and Animals" compilation CD, for which of course this gig was the 'launch party', wasn't enough) that Wasp Factory, although currently still in it's fledgling stages, is a label to be reckoned with, well-stocked with bands who are clearly unafraid to be truly 'different' and indeed groundbreaking in possibly the most derivative era of music we've ever known.

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