Over the weekend: Vendetta Festival

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Saturday, September 26, 2009
Bar Standard
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Exdo Events Center

This past weekend marked the third annual Vendetta Festival, a gathering of some of the best industrial and dark dance acts from around the world. We made it to two out of three days of the fest, the biggest of its kind in this country, and caught a number of more than thirty acts who performed. Here's a complete rundown of what we saw.


The Horrorist, 11 p.m., Bar Standard
What It Was Like:

Being clobbered by sound without the pain.

Oliver Chesler, aka The Horrorist, was an immediately commanding figure dressed entirely in black like some kind of militant figure from the final sequences from The Wall -- armband included. Before he performed, the MC asked the audience if anyone liked Nitzer Ebb and Front 242, and then told us that the Horrorist took it to the next level -- which he then did. The electronic percussion didn't just provide a driving rhythm track -- it was a nearly abrasive assault on the senses. A lot of EBM these days is tame, uninspired drivel but the Horrorist explored the possibilities of the genre and made it exciting and almost scary again. I'm sure that if someone unfamiliar with the use of fascistic, authoritarian imagery and performance techniques to subvert that mindset saw this show, that person might think Chesler was an adherent to Goebbels and Hitler but that is not what this music was about.

Chesler used a bright utility light as a prop and kind of a special effect like Diogenes toting his lantern about Athens looking for one honest man, illuminating the truth. And like Diogenes, Chesler was a provocative figure, one that inspired engagement and being awake to the horrors and possibilities of life in the modern world. During the course of the set, the Horrorist performed his infamous "One Night In NYC," and while it was as creepy as I'd heard, it was clearly not a celebration of its subject of a fifteen-year-old girl being brutalized after a night on the town trying to have fun and hooking up with the wrong guy.

Verdict: A lot of electronic music is pretty sedate and merely loud. The Horrorist's intense and energetic performance really made this a show worth going to after a long night.

Terrorfakt, 12 a.m., Bar Standard
What It Was Like:
Going to metal shop class in ninth grade with cool kids instead of mostly jerks.

This was a five-member edition of Terrorfakt, and before performing, a couple of the members set up what looked like an old oil barrel converted into a drum and a shopping cart filled with metal items, including an arm and ball from a truck hitch and a satellite TV dish. When I saw the hand grinder on the floor, I had no idea what these guys had in mind except that maybe they'd do something like a smaller scale Einsturzende Neubauten type of show.

The music began as textured noise, white and otherwise, effected from synths, laptops and other devices, all punctuated by electronic percussion and samples from movies. One member initially hit the oil barrel drum but soon picked up the grinder and set it to the barrel, sending a shower of sparks and tiny metal flecks into the audience in a great arc. The contact of the grinder with the metal created a unique sound that wasn't really percussion but clearly had a physicality to its tone because it wasn't strictly sustained, but somewhere in between. The spectacle of the sparks became a focal point for the audience and its visceral and visual character enhanced what was essentially truly industrial noise music, as good as it was. At one point, another member of the band that looked like a crazed, post-apocalyptic zombie took to the grinder and sent waves of sparks in the same sorts of arcs and straight ahead sheets off the barrel, the shopping cart and especially off the satellite TV dish. The childlike glee with which he took to this task made for an unforgettable impression of fun-loving destruction.

Verdict: Not since I last saw Einsturzende Neubauten have I seen a group make such a creative use of unconventional sounds and mixed it in so well with more straight ahead industrial music.


Hardwire, 6:15 p.m., Tracks Stage
What It Was Like:
A cyberpunk band.

Although Hardwire, from Phoenix, Arizona, is adding something to the genre of industrial rock and is definitely not a boring live band, it reminded me a little too much of some of the music that came out of the mid- to late- '90s. Fortunately that music was one of the few exciting things going on at that time, and in moments, it sounded exciting again. The distorted vocals and robotic voices mixed in with the onslaught of sound was reminiscent of Rammstein, but these guys weren't nearly as theatrical -- in this case a good thing.

Hardwire was on tour with the famous Mexican industrial band, Hocico, and like the latter, Hardwire's lyrics definitely leaned toward arch social criticism and the political. If memory serves, it's those qualities that kept Hocico out of the U.S. during most of the Bush administration. Even though I thought Hardwire had fairly straightforward industrial rock with the relentless metallic guitars, pounding electronic percussion and treated vocals, its lyrics made up for its fairly derivative sound.

Verdict: Somewhat predictable industrial rock with intelligent lyrics and good stage presence.

The Spiritual Bat, 6:45p.m., Heaven's Lounge Stage
What It Was Like:
An Italian The Vanishing.

Rosetta Garrì, the singer for this band from Italy, had dreaded brown hair like any number of Gothic-leaning women I've seen at these types of shows and wore a white dress to accentuate her ethereal image. But once she began singing, any of the obvious visual cues didn't matter much because she had a strong voice that soared over Dario Passamonti's, intricate and dreamy, Robin Guthrie-esque guitar work. Overall, I thought the band sounded a bit like the better, but less punky, Sioxsie & The Banshees material with a bit of The Vanishing mixed in with the Cocteau Twins -- the Head Over Heels-era when some of the band's music still had teeth and hadn't gone completely gauzy.

Rosetta told us she had played drums on a track the band performed when the song was released in 1998 or so, and the live drum sample bore that out. It was during this song, as well as the excellent, "Through the Shadows," that it dawned on me that Dario's guitar was also somewhat influenced by that late-'80s Hawkwind sound along with early Christian Death -- very razory, trippy and on the verge of going over the edge.

Verdict: Not being familiar with this band at all before checking it out on a fluke, I was impressed with the songwriting and the duo's ability to make emotionally charged music that surely won over some new fans including myself.

Diverje, 7:45p.m., Tracks Stage
What It Was Like:
An industrial punk band.

This Albuquerque band opened with "Unleashed." At first I thought it was another case of mid-'90s industrial rock not really evolving out of a bygone era, but it quickly became obvious that at least this group was trying expand on the core of an aesthetic. The singer wore a bandanna and often went into the audience, erasing the barrier between performer and spectator.

Diverje performed noteworthy songs like "Stitched" and "Tear It Down" (which included a great use of a George Carlin sample, one of his more misanthropic yet humanist quotes). In a high energy performance that did not let up except when the songs shifted dynamics, it was nice to see this quartet not just use distorted, intense vocals but also both ethereal and strident backing vocals from Krissy, the band's female bass player. Tommy, the singer, at one point asked the crowd to clap like we would at an Ozzy show, and he demonstrated the gesture for us, which inspired laughs from the audience.

Verdict: With a charismatic stage presence, incredible energy and creative use of humor and samples, Diverje was an engaging band that didn't bore me even if I was not necessarily that much into the music otherwise.

Dismantled, 8:15p.m., Exdo Stage
What It Was Like:
A bombastic EBM band with a good singer.

This three piece from San Diego was the first act on this stage for the evening. Even though it was three hours after the allotted time (due to a production company not showing up) and despite initial technical issues with the P.A., the band put on a dynamic performance. Sure, it was pretty standard industrial-influenced dance music with distorted vocals. To me those vocals sounded a bit on the melodic punk side but as the set went on, Gary Zon, the singer, sounded more like he was channeling Trent Reznor without quite ripping him off -- Zon could also at least sing and didn't have to resort to screaming to make the music exciting.

With an acoustic drum set instead of relying purely on electronic drums (though there was plenty of that), Dismantled was capable of moments of great visceral power. The music had a thick sonic signature and came out like boiling bursts of noise that never relented. Songs I recognized during the course of the set included a lively version of "The Whore Inside Me," and a visually provocative, due to the background projection, rendition of "Breed to Death."

Verdict: Even though I wasn't exactly knocked over by the music I respect a band that makes the best of things and puts every ounce of energy it has into its live shows. Dismantled did not skimp in this regard.

Rome, 9:15p.m., Exdo Stage
What It Was Like:
The future of neofolk.

I expected this Luxembourg band to be good but it exceeded those expectations admirably. Once the band sorted out the sound issues on the stage with an excellent short song that was probably intended as a sound check. The set proper started with, I believe, the stirring and haunting "To Die Among Strangers." Jerome Reuter's voice had the unique quality of it matching the gravity of his lyrics and the tone of the songs while also being warm above and beyond evoking a melancholy mood. Nikos Mavridis' violin, treated with just the right amount of delay, played the role in this band that a lead guitar might in another. Reuter's and Patrick Damiani's guitars complimented each other in gorgeously layered atmospheres and rhythms that one rarely hears in a rock band though more often in well-thought-out folk ensembles.

Other songs performed included "The Accidents of Gesture," "The Secret Sons of Europe," and that great, martial early track, "The Orchards." There was definitely something indefinably great about the band's presence and playing and I wouldn't surprised if the guys in this band were familiar with 16 Horsepower. While Rome's songs are sonically very different and rooted in a different type of folk music, there was that deep sense of connection to some spiritual force forgotten and rediscovered through the sheer power of the songwriting. Even though Rome had to cut its set short, the trio treated us to one last song and graciously thanked the highly appreciative audience before leaving the stage.

Verdict: Arguably the best performance I saw during the festival and certainly a beautiful performance by any standard.

Imperative Reaction, 11:00p.m., Exdo Stage
What It Was Like:
One of the best industrial rock bands in the world.

This Los Angeles-based band definitely looked like it was straight out of a movie about a successful industrial rock band. Fortunately, that would have been a credible movie instead of any number of movies where the band we're supposed to think is exciting is essentially boring. Imperative Reaction was anything but that. These guys had an acoustic drummer who played like a madman and everyone in the band poured his guts and soul into this performance.

Sure, it was a bit like Nine Inch Nails on a jag of unrelenting intensity of rapidly pulsating music with brutal beats and melodic yelling for vocals. Alex Vex, from Denver, played keyboards like his life depended on it. Ted Phelps yelled "Denver" one too many times like any rockstar would at the town he's in but it never quite felt like he was pandering to us. At times the band's synth work reminded me of vintage Frontline Assembly but amped up quite a bit. There was never a dull moment in the set though this music can seem kind of samey after a while. But the members of the band were so much into the songs that you never noticed that until well after the set was done.

Verdict: Imperative Reaction reminded me why I got into industrial rock way back when.

Fiction 8, 11:45p.m., Tracks Stage
What It Was Like:
An excellent melding of The Cure and an industrial band.

For years I wrote this band off as overrated and never that interesting to begin with. And yet, I was disappointed that it didn't look like Fiction 8 was going to play the Exdo stage once it got up and running. Turned out the band's performance was rescheduled and I got to catch it. Right away I had to reassess my original opinion of the band because the guitar work was elegantly beautiful and while borrowing a bit from The Cure and Cocteau Twins, was very much its own thing. That and Mardi Salazar's rich voice was well served by this particular P.A. and she sounded commanding and confident in a way that not nearly enough singers are.

Eric Isbell of Blackcell was filling in for Steven Hart on keys and along with guitarist Michael Smith and Salazar's able bass work, the trio created some of the most beautifully sweeping and emotionally powerful ethereal music I've had the pleasure of seeing live in some time. It was late and I was getting cranky but Fiction 8 broke through that and impressed me with the excellence of its performance.

Verdict: This stalwart of the old goth scene in Denver proves it's still relevant and interesting.

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