What’s in that dark cloud overhead…? V98 review

Well, if it’s August, it must be time for the Chelmsford festival of all things pop, and V98 held for this undiscerning punter the following mixed bag…

Saturday – A nice fluffy summer’s day

  • iggypopIggy Pop – 8/10 Dinosaurs live longer these days (Main stage)
    ‘Lust For Life’ isn’t just a song title you know. It’s as much information as you need about Iggy Pop. For he’s still larging it, bouncing around and whipping the audience into a frenzy in a way that puts to shame many of the ‘new’ stars on parade. Iggy opted for a bit of crowd diving and was nearly sucked under, his microphone momentarily giving some karaoke quality time to an able and appreciative fan. The Popster must have Inspector Gadget sprung heels, as with more energy than Calvin & Hobbes he bounces and twists his way across the stage and back, leaving the appreciative audience short of breath and frankly wondering quite how he manages it. Exhausting stuff!
  • Gomez – 7/10 Interesting in a different sort of way (NME stage)
    Spinning out of some unnoticed field, neither left nor right, Gomez fills a a musical snack gap that you hadn’t realised existed. It’s not Oasis, nor Kula Shaker. It’s not one of the many thing that I shan’t bore you by listing. They play good music well. There’s light and shade, pace and emotion in there too. On stage the band enjoyed it, and so did we. Keep an ear open for Gomez, I don’t quite know where they’re going, or what they’re up to, but it’s going to be fun finding out.
  • Saint Etienne – 4/10 Too cool, too uninvolved (NME stage)
    The two backing singers where great. No really, they were. Playing percussion, dancing to every track, goading the audience along, and generally busy having a whale of a time. It’s a bit of a shame therefore that the rest of the band didn’t look behind them to see how it should be done. Whilst the Saint’s threw out their carefully controlled and constructed pop with precision, there was too little passion, too little committed involvement – the attitude seemed to be ‘oh yes I’m a pop star’ and to shrug in some ‘it’s just something I do’ way. Now, where did I put that dry ham role and my can of warm, flat cola?
  • Catatonia – 9/10 Oooh, there’s lovely isn’t it (NME stage)
    ‘Oi listen, you know the best thing about playin’ festivals in Britain?’ she called out, swigging the last drop from a bottle of wine, ‘The audience’s more pissed than I am!’ Cue fit of rolling laughter. Pumping the audience into life they kicked off, we responded and Catatonia rocked their way through a tight and varied selection that delighted all and when they strode into ‘Road Rage’ the audience went ballistic. For full-fat contrast during a slower number, when the power went on the accompanying guitar, she just sang on, and we all loved her for it. ‘Thanks very much for your help.’ afterwards she waved happily to us. Brilliant.
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain – 4/10 No singer, no style (NME stage)
    Having been barely audibly as he mumbled and moaned his way through the opening numbers, when the lead ‘singer’ sat down, to be hidden by the monitors and played his guitar it pretty much summed the whole gig up. Oh sure they play tight, slick, pumping guitar rock, but they’ve all the stage presence of recent road-kill and absolutely no singer at all. I advise them to watch any number of the other bands on display for that essential ‘how to perform and project’ guide, because we deserved better. What a waste, what a shame, what’s next?
  • The Verve – 7/10 Did they lip sync? (NME stage)
    I’ll be honest, I don’t much like The Verve. I’ll be more honest, I am not a fan of any of the Smiths-stylie navel retentive toss. And before you ask, I didn’t like the Smiths either, so stop pulling that face. Never the less, the Verve played well and keenly, the fans seemed by and large contented if not fantastically happy, it’s just that they don’t hold (for me) broad appeal enough to headline at a big festival. Sorry boys, but I expected better.
  • Underworld – 7/10 Play sequence 1, 2, 3 and 5, and repeat, fat boy (NME stage)
    Lager lager lager lager. Lacking any particular visual appeal other than that of the average nightclub they kicked out enough hippy trippy techno to get a good 80% of the audience dancing like loons. Nothing wrong here.

Sunday – Noah would have looked worried

  • Rialto – 7/10 Is John Lennon your dad? (Main stage)
    In that nothing-to-lose early afternoon slot Rialto managed to involve and excite a sizeable portion of an audience that, in all honesty, probably just happened to be milling about when they fired up. Good varied, toe tappers rolled out and soon the audience numbers standing and paying active attention were on the increase. To be honest whilst I can’t recall any song particularly, what there was of their classic style guitar, MOR rock worked admirably.
  • Feeder – 5/10 Fun, if you go that way (Main stage)
    Although their first three tuneless little ditties blurred into one, the surging jumping (not terribly large) crowd down at the front didn’t seem to care. Their heavy rock, nearing Korn territory, didn’t seem to be bringing many (or any) intrigued passer’s by and I didn’t stay. Hey-ho.
  • Heather Nova – 8/10 Ooh she’s gorgeous and BLIMEY can she sing! (NME stage)
    Carol King, erm, no, Cheryl Crow, erm no, that one who sings to the Lord for a Mercedes, no. Look she reminds me of someone (and someone damn good) but I can’t work out who, or indeed why. Obviously it doesn’t matter. Heather’s voice is strong, clear and effortlessly ethereal when needed. But this chick rocks, and is ably supported by a damn fine band – special mention goes to the lead guitarist, and the girl with the electric skeletal oboe: wired weirdness. No one-riff tricks here, it was a good set that seemed well balanced and drew a warm response from a curious and growing audience. Good stuff and here’s to the next time because I suspect her name went into many a mental notebook.
  • Stereophonics – 7/10 I remember thinking they were good (Main Stage)
    There’s nothing else to say really. I remember thinking at the time that they were good, it’s just that I cannot recall a single thing about them now. And yes, I’m worried.
  • James – 9/10 Good value (Main stage)
    I think that every lead singer should watch James, and particularly (obviously) the lead singer of The Jesus and Mary Chain. File the experience under ‘on stage charisma and audience involvement’. That they managed to elicit the response they richly deserved from a rain beaten crowd said a lot. Lively and entertaining they didn’t falter not even when one guitarist got caught full face with a bottle (plastic but full) and went down – this dangerous practice really is NOT part of the ‘festival experience’. As welcome as a hot meal on this cold, wet and windy day, James were excellent festival fare.
  • Republica – 10/10 Oh, just leave them on stage (NME stage)
    ‘Let’s be facking ‘avin’ ya then!’ screamed the hi-energy pocket rocket with the two tone red/black mop top. Like some demented Toyah Wilcox pumped high on adrenaline, Red Bull and life she ripped through the songs with lusty gusto and would have kicked the ever living daylights out of the surging, bouncing, ecstatic audience – fortunately the man-mountain security crew protected us. Tight, sharp and DeFiNiTeLy UP for it, the band rocked, the audience bayed for more, and the Essex Girl kicked ass. Hook her up to the national grid, we could all do with some of that sort of energy. Fackin’ fantastic.
  • Morcheeba – 8/10 Lovely (NME stage)
    ‘Let me see all those heads nodding.’ she sweetly mocked with a Cheshire’s grin, ‘Come on, bend your knees, it’s not difficult.’ For this is ‘Black Music’ for the ‘Middle English’, and we all duly and politely assembled to applaud and, yes dammit, nod gently along in time. Beguiling us with their warm charm the ‘cheebas took a stroll through their excellent two albums, the only vague disappointment was that they didn’t (noticeably) choose to put a spin on any of their numbers. Still, pretty much everyone in the audience had and knew the discs – albeit unable to sing along when requested. We all shrugged, their lyrics aren’t really sing-a-longy. We didn’t care, and I don’t think they did too much, for we were all too busy having fun.
  • PJ Harvey – 9/10 Darkly intense like rich Colombian coffee (NME stage)
    And like heady and bitingly strong coffee you either love it or don’t. The worryingly quiet crowd loved it, every little drop. Delayed by interminable setting up problems some disgruntled shouting was soon rubbed away when Polly Jean arrived, as in a rapt silence we drank deeply from her well of dark songs sung strongly. The thin drizzle swirled diamond glinting about her where smoke, spotlights and raven hair combined to frame her pale pale skin and ruby ruby lips, as out powered out a deep-set rhythm that savaged the psyche’s soft underbelly. The talented band threw the m├ętier of their medium around with slick precise ease. Not enough, never enough. not when it’s this good. Disturbingly brilliant or brilliantly disturbing, take your pick.
  • Texas – 5/10 Nothing here to cause offence. (Main stage)
    Now I have to be careful here, because a) I’m not a fan and b) I was huddled under a tree whilst it rained – did I mention the rain yet? But then again this is where I watched James from, so here goes. With a nice sensible bob cut, big-message tee shirt, the lead singer seems crinkle cut from self-rolling dough, the perfect icon for middle management thirty somethings to come home to after a hard day at the office and relax with – just like the music, the band and the whole thing. When in a fulsome Scottish accent she declared that, in answer to some never heard question, she could rock, I kind of dreaded what would follow. So whilst intoning slightly some saucy lyrics she touched her groin, I and the rest of the audience seemed quietly embarrassed rather than excited. All in all, pretty pointless.
  • Ian Brown – 1/10 Oh, just GO AWAY! (NME stage)
    What musical creature is Ian Brown? I asked myself this question many times during his set. He’s got the personal charm of a verruca, the dance technique of a hill-walking rambler and an obvious fetish for wanting to be mistaken for ‘one of those naughty boys from Oasis’. Seeming to plagiarise everything current thirty months ago down to its lowest common denominator, this was ‘brit pop’ for the tone deaf. Out of the large audience a low percentage seemed to be actively enjoying it and a lot voted with their feet. I quite liked (aka felt sorry for) the band right up to the point the lead guitarist used his teeth to play a riff – well if they want to flush their obvious talents down the toilet this way, then that is their business. Rubbish.
  • Fun Lovin’ Criminals – 10/10 Super smooth, as cool as a Latin nights, bro! (NME stage)
    How to explain this. I’ve been trying to find the right words. How about these ones: cool, fun, sophisticated, energetic, Latin, smooth, rocking, beaty, involving, entertaining, slick, talented, funny, punk, controlled. Well there are enough words to be getting on with, so, without irony or use of negatives, construct as many sentences as you need containing these (or similar) words for that build-your-own-review experience. For the record they passed through Scooby Snacks, Smoke ‘Em, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and King of New York on their way to completing a top quality show. What was new sounded good, what we knew sounded great. Me, I’m still speechless – wow! 100% Pure Colombian bros!
flc

To sum up V98, the site was well organised, the stages set in natural amphitheatres and each far enough apart to make them (almost) unintrusive for the other. For me the Sunday line-up was always going to be better, and so it proved. I missed Moloko, James Brown and All Saints to name but a very few, but that’s the way it goes. There was plenty of food available, almost too much choice to be honest, whereas the queues at the beer tents on (sunny) Saturday were bad enough to discourage casual drinkers – beer oddly enough wasn’t much in demand on Sunday, or rather Rainday.

To be frank, if I’d been camping, I would have hated Sunday, because it rained or drizzled pretty much the whole day. Any decamping would have left you with sacks of wet (not damp) gear and rain up to your elbows, although the previously bone dry ground took the rain pretty well and didn’t get anything more than slippery/slimy.

So was V98 better than V97? I’d say so, although it is a close call. Lacking the likes of the truly world class crowd-pleasers Blur and the likes of Kula Shaker, the ’98 vintage pulled ahead by virtue of its full bodied appeal – particularly on Sunday. That said, this year’s dance tent looked very slim – Bjorn Again (98) vs Sneaker Pimps (97) anyone? I’ll also confess to thinking that the running order looked questionable at times, as did the content – witness Catatonia, who I would prequalify as almost sure-fire crowd-pleasers on the alternate stage and lowish on the running order. Is that sensible in any language? I am left wondering how much influence the record or management companies have on the scheduling of the stages.

Well, that’s all in my humble opinion. I wonder what brew they’ll cook up for next year, and what delightful ‘Heather Nova’ style surprises will be in store? I can’t wait.

Jim McLennan is…tee-total

Er, hello… My name is Jim…
[“Hi, Jim!”]
…and I’ve not had a drink for four days.
[APPLAUSE]

Four days down, 27 to go. I refer to my annual month of sobriety, which kicked off on Wednesday. It was going to be Monday, but I forgot and bought a four-pack on my way home from work — and the best way to avoid temptation is to drink it. There is now no beer lurking on my fridge shelves — except for the remnants of some terribly dodgy French beer which a friend brought round six months ago, and which is so bad that it poses no threat to my will-power.

So why am I embarking on this strange pursuit? It’s actually my third year of doing this — after a failure to quite make the whole month in 1996, I managed it quite easily in 1997. It’s partly my annual sacrifice to the health gods – “I’ll be good for one month if you let me pummel my liver into submission for the other eleven” – though the actual benefits to my well-being are probably somewhat limited. Instead of beer, I inevitably find myself drinking a variety of sickly soft drinks, whose E-numbers are probably more of a threat to me than a natural blend of barley, hops, water and yeast. I also tended to make up for a lack of beer by consuming chocolate. This is not so good when I mean matching stomach volumes…

It is also partly an assertion of my superiority over the demon drink. I am fierce in defending my independence, and refuse to submit to the control of anyone, be they psychotic Japanese ex-girlfriends, film censors or Tony Blair, without a really good cause — such as a large, monthly pay-packet. This applies to chemical substances as well and, perhaps due to attending too many Victorian melodramas during my formative years, I am well aware of the perils of alcohol. By abstaining for one month, I show that I don’t rely in any way on it.

This naturally has an interesting effect on my social life. Some things, such as karaoke, are out right away, simply because they are no fun at all sober. Others have a lot less appeal; it’s surprising how much less fun it is to go down the pub and sip an orange-and-lemonade, when everyone else is slamming back the beers. It’s true, of course, that you don’t need to drink to have fun, but when you’re with people who ARE drinking, the novelty of watching their.. sentences…. get…… slower…….. and………. slower………… will eventually wear off. And you realise that alcohol may be a depressant, but no alcohol is still more depressing.

For while drink may fuel aggression, it also increases tolerance — like all drugs, it doesn’t so much expand your mind as shrink the rest of the universe. Your standards drop alongside your reaction time. This becomes painfully clear in the field of film; there are plenty of movies where the pre-, during- and indeed post-consumption of alcohol is an essential part of the leisure principle. Thus, for the next month, a large percentage of my collection will be off-limits, and I will be forced to watch quality productions. This may yet prove to be the biggest test of my will-power — can I hold out during the long, dark Hong Kong “comedies”, without a nice, cold Stella to see me through?

I have, however, carefully scheduled things to lessen the impact. While in previous years, it has been a straight calendar month — first to thirty-first — this time it overlaps. I didn’t want to make it August; one of the delights of last week’s trip to Bradford was buying two pints and still getting change from three quid [that, and cloakrooms which cost a whole twenty pence!] September is out, as old schoolfriend Phil is probably coming down: beer will be consumed. In October, Chris, TCs American Ambassador, will be visiting and it would be terribly anti-social not to drink alongside her. November is the start of the Christmas party season. And alcohol is not a luxury, but a necessity to get through December — see the current TC for details [I won’t explain further. Go buy it]. So that’s it for the year. The only good thing is that the ‘month’ now ends on a Friday: don’t bother trying to call me at 23:59 on Friday September 18th, because I’ll be on the phone to the speaking clock, bottle of Kriek in hand.

So I am sitting here, with a nice cold glass of Diet Apple Tango by my side – actually, it doesn’t taste too bad for a concoction which is, in all likelihood, chemically closer to washing-up liquid than apple juice. A quick nutritional tip here: the ultimate diet drink is Dr Pepper, which contains no calories whatsoever. This is simply because no-one can bring themselves to drink it. However, with 27 days still to go, there’s only one conclusion which can safely be drawn.

I think for the 1999 Exercise in Will-power, I’m gonna go for February…

Gother Than Thou 2: Beavis & Butthead Do Bradford

I am blessed – or cursed – with an ability to fall asleep anywhere. When my brain decides it’s time, that’s it. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve dozed off in the cinema, but I’ve managed it in nightclubs too, and now also at an Alien Sex Fiend concert.

This was part of In-Fest 98, a selection of Goth, industrial and electronic bands which took place in Bradford the weekend just gone. Went up with Rob Dyer, ‘Dark Star’ editor and veteran of the previous TC trip to Hamburg (yeah, I’ll get round to reporting on it eventually). We took the coach — not a difficult decision, given that the train fare was exactly three times as expensive. It was just about survivable, though I think five hours on a bus is about the limit for me.

Our accommodation was in halls of residence, and this took me back a few years it must be said. All those little things I’d forgotten about — like having to take your keys when you went to the bathroom, and having a room at which an Inspector of Prisons would look disapprovingly. But, hey, for fourteen quid a night, who’s complaining? And most of the rest of the floor was packed with like-minded people, so it was a bit like attending Goth U.

For despite the title, the audience was almost exclusively Goth in appearance. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, for there were plenty of Winonas to admire i.e. small, cute and dressed in black — readers are referred to ‘Beetlejuice’ for an example. While there were a couple of serious hippos on view, the general opinion was most favourable: as Rob Dyer pointed out, “Goth girls *know* how to dress”. Though the perpetual scowls were not particularly enhancing; how are you supposed to tell when Goths are enjoying themselves? Are they looking miserable because they’re unhappy, or just ‘cos they’re Goths? I suspect the latter, going by the way the song which got the dancefloor most packed was that Goth classic, er, ‘Barbie Girl’…

However, the most memorable sight of all was actually a bloke. From the shoulders up, he looked like a card carrying Hell’s Angel, and possessed enough tattoos to get him executive membership at any Yakuza golf club. This was nicely counterpointed by the leather corset, PVC trousers and platform soles. That, was a man extremely confident of his sexuality. Though precisely WHAT that sexuality was, I wouldn’t begin to contemplate. Instead, I just remember the Douglas Adams quote: “the things…the people…the things are ALSO people.”

Friday

  • Dust to Dust. Turned up a bit late, due to an essential stop for a local curry (and very good it was, too), so only got three of their songs, all covers — a Goth tribute band?
  • Leech Woman. Impressive percussion, using such things as acetylene cylinders and an angle grinder, which sent showers of sparks into the audience. Vocals disappointing, with all the intelligibility of Napalm Death.
  • Ultraviolence. Hardcore techno. One man and his sequencers, accompanied by Leech Woman’s angle-grinder and two go-go dancers, one of whom was also a fire-eater. Press your head against the loudspeakers, and wait for the nose-bleed. Me like.
  • The Horatii. Almost traditional Goth, yet also possessing a quirky sense of humour, which was endearing. Hell, maybe it’s just a big joke after all. Vocalist again a little underwhelming, but not bad, and had a nice rapport with the audience.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early…well, bright, anyway. Headed into town to explore a bit, pausing for the obligatory greasy breakfast. Bradford town centre is compact, and hilly, with plenty of character, and a good selection of shops. Rather nice. A copy of VR Baseball, four Xena comics, a book about Lara Croft and some pine kernels (don’t ask!) later, it was back to the campus for a marathon ten-hour session.

Saturday

  • Sneaky Bat Machine. SOOOOOO Goth they had to be a parody, though it was some time before we were sure. I think flinging rubber bats into the audience gave it away. Doom-laded electro-pop, bonus marks for particularly insistent merchandise flogging, even trying to sell the window behind them.
  • Man(i)kin. A real find, perhaps the band most likely to make it, with an excellent wall of electronic sound. Their vocalist, looking like a young Dave Gahan, needs work but, remarkably, this was their first time live, so we’ll give them the benefit. Most impressive.
  • Passion Play. Maybe it was just in comparison, but this lot were utterly forgettable. No stage presence at all, and nothing new or of interest, though in their defence Goth music is perhaps not at its best on a bright and warm August afternoon. Next, please.
  • Squid. Replaced Libitina (out due to an “industrial accident”): thrash-goth, worth catching before the lead vocalist commits suicide or his throat explodes. The former seemed more likely, until they did the theme to “Dad’s Army”, which made up for missing Libitina’s notorious ‘Gothic People’ cover.
  • Nekromantik. A fairly lifeless duo, one on vocals, the other on keyboards. Their more upbeat numbers worked well enough, yet the rest proved insufficient to keep our interest, and we retired to find seats and played ‘Count the Babes’ for a while.
  • Alien Sex Fiend. A long-time veteran of the scene, having been around since the 70’s, yet Mr.Fiend’s pasty-faced keyboard-backed doodlings were not what was really needed at this hour. Even at about ten minutes per song, it took him half an hour to deliver anything with a beat. From standing, I sat down with my back to a pillar; then closed my eyes to listen to the music…the next thing I know, a security guard is kicking my feet and asking if I’m alright.

Picking myself up, I managed to remain conscious for the last couple of songs, and then meander home experiencing a Bradford kebab. Something of a first to have one that comes in naan bread, and very messy it is too, with the assorted sauces spraying out over the vicinity. Trekked back to the hotel and crash out — the next morning, we discover Man(i)kin are actually just down the corridor from us!

Bradford city centre was almost deserted on Sunday, save for ourselves and a few other stray Goths wandering round, blinking in the sunlight and trying to find anywhere open that sold food before getting the bus back to London. Net result: shattered, hungover, broke, and having had a rather good time. Roll on In-fest ’99.

…to the shady side of the street

I’ve already bitched once before about the weather, but hey, I’m British, and so am allowed to find it a perpetual source of fascination. At least we HAVE weather, rather than a climate. As our American ambassador says, there they have two seasons, summer, and waiting for summer. Compared to this, the vagaries of the British climate are a delight to behold.

Personally, I wear it as some kind of badge of honour that, on the hottest day of the year, I crossed the doorstep for all of 15 minutes, preferring instead to lurk inside in the (relatively) cool shade. This is why I am writing this editorial at nine-something in the morning; normally, it’s not a part of Sunday with which I am usually familiar, but in this case, I decided to try and beat the heat. It’s warm enough as it is, without making things worse by being in a room with several hefty electrical devices.

It’s always struck me as somewhat odd that people slag off Michael Jackson for trying to make his skin lighter, and then spend hours and money attempting to get THEIR skin darker. I’m sure it’s not natural, the skin is just reacting to an unwelcome stimulus from the outside — there’s no difference between a suntan and a bruise, in these terms, but you don’t see people going round hitting themselves with mallets to get that healthy “battered fruit” look. You’re either white or you’re black. Deal with it.

Still, any excuse to avoid the centre of town. If one thing’s worse than a hot summer day, it’s a hot summer day on the tube. There are times when I am really glad that I don’t have to take the underground to work, and this week has been one of them. Concepts of personal space collapse, like matter round a black hole (and due to similar reasons of pressure and temperature), and you find yourself pushed into far-too-close proximity with people whom you’d rather not care to know. Needless to say, all the attractive actresses go around in chauffeur-driven limos rather than on the Tube, so the odds are against your newfound, extremely close, personal friend being a pleasant experience.

Above ground, things are unlikely to be much better. Summer brings two unpleasant plagues: wasps and tourists. Hard to tell which one is more unpleasant; at least wasps don’t clog up the pavements. Careful observation has revealed the general rule of intelligence at work: the combined IQ of any tourist or group thereof remains constant, regardless of the number in the group. Thus: single tourists are fine; two are bearable, but once you get beyond that number, you are dealing with people who appear to have the savvy of an upland sheep. And in some cases, that’s AFTER said animal has been carved into slices and placed on a plate with two veg and mint sauce.

This is largely why I choose to avoid Zone 1 during the summer months, as it become an unpleasant ordeal to fight your way along Oxford Street. But why the hell do tourists bother to GO there — “Oh, look, there’s a McDonald’s”. Don’t they have shops selling overpriced tourist tat at home? This also helps explains why most Londoners have never been to places like Madam Tussaud’s: a) it’s full of tourists, and b) it must therefore been an overpriced rip-off. I’ve BEEN abroad, and I KNOW they don’t charge a quid a can for Coke over there, so why are people apparently happy to pay it here? “Europa Food and Wine” are the past masters of this: a chain of food stores located wherever tourists congregate, specialising in heinous over-charging. I’m sure they’d claim it’s because of the rent in these “popular” areas, but you don’t see Books Etc doubling the prices in their Mayfair branch.

London is actually a fine city to live in…most of the time. But there are definitely occasions when it’s a place more to be endured than enjoyed. And when the temperature kicks up into the 80’s is definitely one of them.

Oh, and next week’s updates may be a little late, as I’m off to Bradford. On the other hand, this may mean they’re actually a bit early…but I wouldn’t count on it!