Who here has ever heard of St Lucia’s Day? Unless you’re from Scandinavia or Italy there’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of it. This year it fell on Friday, 13th December. Not being religious types, State bypassed the venerations and headed straight for the main course of industrial electro with whatever-you’re-having-yourself-as-long-as-you-wear-black type of affair at the Electric Lucia festival in the Swedish city of Malmö.
It’s lucky there’s a festival to go to at all in fact as the original event, ElectriXmas was cancelled a few weeks earlier due to a dispute over the liquour license. Credit must go to all involved then for managing to get an alternative event up and running in such a short timeframe with most of the original line-up in two different venues more or less down the street from each other.
Strolling into Deep Nightclub, we’re just in time to catch British musician Jamie Blacker aka ESA: Electronic Substance Abuse. It’s just himself, a laptop and some electronic drums, but he makes one hell of a racket. Banging in-your-face beats pummel the crowd mercilessly as the music brings an unmistakable sense of menace to proceedings. Reggae this ain’t.
Next up are Danish act Leaether Strip consisting of front man Claus Larsen on vocal duties, while husband Kurt takes care of synths. This project has been going since 1988 and as such they are regarded as legends on the EBM and electro-industrial scene. Early single ‘Japanese Bodies’ goes down a treat with the crowd singing the refrain “We’re only Japanese” with gusto. They finish with a cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘No Disco’ after a storming set that leaves everyone in the venue grinning like Cheshire cats. Brilliant.
The last act of the night is a guy that goes by the name Nordloef, a dreadlocked Swede who wears a balaclava while performing. His own website says that his “live shows are best described as a mixture between a one-man punk show and a sweaty DJ set, but instead of using two turntables he uses two original Game Boys. Nordloef uses the softwares Live mode and rearranges the songs on the spot. The Game Boys outputs are fed through external effect and tweaked live”. With us so far? Good. Having only read all this after the fact, State had no idea what to expect so when he started into an 8-bit cover version of ‘Buddy Holly’ by Weezer we went from ‘What the fuck?’ to ‘What the fuck!?!?’ in the space of 20 seconds.
This really shouldn’t work. In a live setting, however, it not only works, but it’s fantastic entertainment. Nordloef bounces around the stage, dreads flying with a Game Boy in each hand, bleeps and beats coming at a furious pace, sending the crowd wild. A cover of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ follows, and if you think you’ve heard it covered before, you haven’t heard it done like this. This is simply incredible. He finishes his set to loud applause.
Having survived a Tetris attack then and gone unaccosted by Super Mario we take ourselves off to church the next evening. Well, a former church anyway, now a venue called Babel where Irish/ English duo VNV Nation are headlining.
Support tonight comes from Icelandic band Legend, responsible for the best album of 2012 in our opinion with the album, Fearless. They come on shortly after 8pm, by which time there is a large crowd gathered. Front man Krummi Bjorgvinsson takes to the stage covered in greasepaint while Halldór A Björnsson fires up the Virus T1 synthesiser for opening number ‘Amazon War’. The air is filled with impending doom as their live drummer lays down some menacing beats before the next number ‘Virgin’ is unleashed upon the unsuspecting Swedes. ‘Runaway Train’ follows and by the time their last song, ‘Benjamite Bloodline’ is belted out the crowd have been converted to the dark electro stylings of this great band.
VNV Nation are one of these Irish bands that have a huge following elsewhere in Europe but are virtually unknown at home. They sell out big venues in mainland Europe, and VNV Nation are almost regarded as Gods in Sweden. Promoting a new album, the excellent Transnational, singer and Dublin native Ronan Harris takes to the stage and immediately engages the packed crowd with his lighthearted approach. “Are you cold?”, he asks a punter up the very front who is clad in a big jacket even though the venue is roasting. “You must be from Luleå” (a town in the far North of Sweden). This has the audience in stitches and sets the tone for the night – brilliant songs interspersed with one-liners and funny stories. The other half of the group, Mark Jackson, is on live percussion duties while they’ve also brought along an auxiliary member to play synth. Opener ‘Retaliate’ sees Harris bounding from one side of the stage like a man possessed before we are treated to the excellent ‘Epicentre’. Where he gets energy from is beyond us as he barely stands still for the whole 90 minute performance.
‘Chrome’, ‘Primary’ and ‘Illusion’ follow and then there is some shenanigans involving a security guard and a Santa hat before a slightly bizarre moment in which the whole crowd sings not one but two Swedish folksongs. It means a lot to this band to have fans this loyal and Harris delivers a speech outlining this exact fact before we are treated to the final song, the sublime ‘Perpetual’ with its refrain “Let there be, let there always be, never ending life”, which sees us lifting our hands in unison one last time before they depart to a sea of cheers and whistles. What a show.
Leaving Babel we make our way down the road to Deep, where German act Patenbrigade: Wolff are first on the bill. Having checked out this Berlin based band before leaving home, we knew they were going to be good. However, we were totally unprepared for what follows. This five-piece arrive dressed as construction workers complete in orange overalls and hard hats with the whole stage area decked out like a building site, complete with flashing warning lights, hazard tape, goggles, traffic cones and even a big builder’s radio in the corner. They land a crate of beer down on the ground and proceed to delve into it.
Trying to nail down their sound is somewhat tricky, however, as the set varies from banging industrial, to experimental electronica, to ambient complete with samples in German that sound like speeches made during wartime. The four guys in orange are joined by the fifth member a couple of songs into the set, a lady dressed all in black called Antje Dieckmann who brings some nice vocal lines on site.
Shortly after, things get a tad crazy and it’s clear that whatever building site this band learned their trade on they didn’t bother obtaining a safe pass. A metre long pipe, the type used to build underground sewage systems is produced and placed aiming at the mouths of the punters in the front. Beer is then poured down at a furious rate covering the audience in booze and making for one sticky floor. All hell breaks loose then as the stage is covered in booze and empty bottles, when one of the guys on synth grabs a hammer and goes crazy belting the living shite out of his instrument sending pieces of it flying everywhere. He lays into it with such a ferocity we are actually terrified that the head of the hammer will come off and hit someone.
By the time they depart the stage is an absolute mess. We’ve seen building sites that are cleaner. They aren’t getting away that easy though as the crowd road for more. Back they come then to give us a storming version of ‘Der Brigadier trinkt Bier’ and we all raise our fists and shout the chorus. Electronic Building Music is how they describe themselves and we can honestly say that we’ve never seen anything quite like this before and that’s a rare statement these days. Crazy as shit and absolutely brilliant all at the same time.
It’s some ask try and follow an act like that, but Etage Neun do their best with their own blend of upbeat synthpop that even includes a song about the aforementioned ElectricXmas festival. Formed in 1986, interrupted by compulsory army service (Sweden is neutral but still has national service) in 1990 and back together since 2008 this duo manage to get feet tapping and restore an aura of normality to the venue after the madness which ensued beforehand.
The final of the night then is Stockholm’s Trakktor who add a fairly aggressive form of EBM to proceedings. Sounding a bit like Combichrist with a dash of Suicide Commando they do their best to blow the ears off everyone in the venue. This works well for the two ladies in the front row wearing the band’s t-shirts but not so much for the guy beside us down the back fast asleep with this mouth open and a pint balancing precariously from his fingers. We catch a few tracks from them until the need for sleep overtakes us too and we saunter off into the Swedish night with the moon lighting our way home to dream of electro industrial sheep.
Image by Fredrick Johansson