Frankly Iceage could cover The Hollies and make it sound like the world is ending and Fenris the wolf is unchained, such is the honest, “there for all to see” drama they create.
And I thought it was just me.
Thomas, a friend of ours remarked that whenever he comes to Den Haag, it rains. It was raining as we spoke. It’s uncanny, this “raining in Den Haag” thing. It always seems to rain when I come here to see bands, too; last week it rained when I came to see Sweet Release of Death at the Paard café, and thinking back I can remember that it’s rained at the State X festivals, other Poprondes I’ve been at, even when I’ve just come to get a Chinese meal and take in a film… Is there some microclimate issue I should know about, centered round the Grote Markt? Inclement weather or no, we were here to catch the ReWire festival, a hip set up, (lots of outsider art, challenging bands, etc., etc.), and a sort of continuum – in spirit if nothing else - of the State X / New Forms festival from a few years back. The first night Incendiary chose to hang out round the “mothership”, the Paard van Trooije to catch a whole load of Gothic and out-there electronic sounds.
First act to take in were Black Marble who seemingly hadn’t set up or sound checked. A more incongruous beginning to a gig you couldn’t wish to see; especially from an American band as Yank acts normally seems so sorted in these “showtime” matters… Nope; the duo sauntered on, mucked about a bit with pedals and leads and then just started off. It’s the sort of diffident beginning to a show you’d expect in a Dutch squat, but not a festy’s opening act. Still, once sounds and sound levels were sorted, matters gradually started to warm up. It did take a while, and we were on the point of going to the bar, thinking that when you’ve heard one slab of mid-paced, maudlin, ‘80s style coldwave you’ve heard them all; but the band perked up a bit, and someone had the good sense to make everything that bit louder and abrasive. Black Marble have some good solid songs too, their LP A Different Arrangement is pleasingly maudlin and they have good pop tracks such as Static, A Great Design or Pretender. There are also some catchy hooks lurking behind the gloomy, gloaming textures, hooks that caught this reviewer by surprise once or twice. So, yeah; it was good, by the end, they’d won us round, and those who stuck about danced away in a pleasant, if constrained manner. Maybe that’s how Goths dance. I wouldn’t know.
Following another trip to the bar it was time for The KVB. Now I felt a bit guilty, as one of our bunch had started chatting to them when we walked in, (they were standing desultory manner by their merch stand, sort of challenging people to look at them or talk to them it was hard to decipher which, precisely), and as I’d not dug their gig at the fabulous Sound of the Underground festival OT301 earlier this year, I thought it wasn’t really right to come out with all that introductory “hi you must be the band” gush. You see, I couldn’t fathom what the fuss was about at OT301, though could see what people made a fuss about, (given that they tap into sounds that are perennially attractive, and the way they look), but at the same time, given OT301 was packed full of scenester types who drop bands that aren’t fashionable like hot coals, I didn’t really trust that kind of fuss… you dig? ANYWAY… we all got chatting and ended up having a fag and a beer and a chinwag. All the while I thought, Oh God, I’ll review it, and they’ll see it and think what a two faced twat I am…
Luckily the KVB were blinding, and totally, unexpectedly sexy. I mean they are young, and sufficiently sylvan to do all the sexy looks they want, they could buy twin plug adapters and look sexy, but I’m not really bothered about that. What I mean is that at times, their music had sex dripping from it, like treacle from a tin. In fact, let’s revel in the giddy beauty of realizing something you didn’t care for is something you really dig and (by way of explanation) brazenly extend the treacle metaphor. I’d contend there’s a new, thick, glossy darkness about their songs which is incredibly attractive; the way they’ve nicked the Glitter Beat for a couple of tracks and used it to power a Gothy, bedsit version of glam was, on this showing, brilliant. They have opened up their sound, stopped hiding behind mid textures and pretty, pretty walls of noise (a real cop out if you don’t go all the way in my opinion, as it’s the equivalent of Laura Ashley wallpaper), and adopted a harsher, more daring approach to the guitar. No longer just washes of sound, there is menace and poise present; it’s as if they inject it into the sound at the tenser moments and use it. On the night we got slower numbers which again were not expected and damned refreshing to take on board; especially a track with a sort of Nightclubbing beat, something with plenty of kick and hip grind, something which should serve them well. So there you go; it’s nice to have your expectations confounded, innit.
A short break, then Iceage. This was what I was waiting for more than anything, as I’m a big fan of this band. I own none of their records, but I’m not that arsed, as I think that analyzing their songs, (or even just recognizing their songs now and again), misses the point. They are about the moment, the performance, and the spectacle. Markers for some kind of unformed malcontent, they come across as a sort of action theatre group masquerading as a punk band; one who happen to be deadly serious AND fucking ace. Frankly they could cover The Hollies and make it sound like the world is ending and Fenris the wolf is unchained, such is the honest, “there for all to see” drama they create. The bit where the lupine singer wiped his snotty nose clean on the drums was somehow fucking grotesque and perfectly fine at the same time. It’s the sort of image creation a thousand stage coaches can’t teach.
The idea of “the spectacle” stuck in my mind on this night as I watched an incredible standoff between a passive, laid back audience who were quite happy to watch (in fact, not even bothering to clap between songs) and a frenetic, moody band; one that was intent on making hell freeze over. This lack of interaction and physical gap (no one dared or bothered to go near the stage) was one that clearly wound Iceage up. And I can see how at times it would, as when I first saw them in Utrecht a few years back all the trend hounds in the crowd were desperate to jump in and bond with them. Maybe they’re now old hat… But how anyone can’t love this lot is beyond me; as well as the bristling, razor sharp grind and gristle of their noisy punk there’s a Nick Cave abandon and an incredible sense of space and melancholy power to their slower tracks like Morals. Nothing really got the audience going. And to add insult to injury, some early birds for the main hall’s dance event came in and tried hamming up some dance moves in the space between the audience and the stage; something that rendered the gig even more irrelevant and brilliant. So why did they not get the all-out adulation their gig deserved? Well, quizzing pals afterwards got a really interesting remark; “I find their music really calming, you can drift off to them.” I hope that Iceage see that idea as a feather in their cap. But weird, huh?
Holly Herndon brought a whole new angle to proceedings. A small, sprightly, ever so slightly preppy presence, Herndon started to make weird Vocoder style noises into the mic, which we took as the signal for the beginning of the gig and sounded like a female counterpoint to those weird voices in Uranium on Radioactivity… The most noticeable thing about her live set is the massive presence the bass and lower register sounds have. On record it’s academic, precise music that sometimes flowers into a skippy, snappy dance, but here it felt full and rich, sensual; in fact at times the throbbing took over the whole room, making a warm enveloping sound that was difficult to escape. Sadly just at that point, the point where we could have happily sat in a trance to take in this beguiling gig, we had to get the train, missing Stella Om Source who is a big Incendiary favorite, and on the basis of the recent shows we’ve seen her play, possibly the highlight of this line up. Decisions, decisions, eh?
Oh and by the way, it was still raining when we left.