Tower Transmissions V Festival: 25th/ 26th September, 2015
Club Puschkin: Dresden, Germany
Friday night: Madagan, C.O. Casper, Clinic of Torture, Inade, In Slaughter Natives, Bastard Noise
Saturday night: Puce Mary, Bizarre Uproar, Sardh, Brighter Death Now, Goatvargr
With my attendance of Tower Transmission V being in conjunction with a 3 week European trip (from a far-flung corner of Australia no less), it stood to be a potential musical highlight of 2015, particularly given the number of high calibre acts booked to play and with Genocide Organ headlining the second night. Yet with only 3 days to go it was announced that Genocide Organ had canceled their performance, which for me personally was a particular disappointment as it was to be first time I was to see the infamous group live. However given the cancellation was due to the death of a close family member of one of the group, under the circumstances it was completely understandable.
Although the saying goes ‘the show must go on’, given the late announcement of Genocide Organ’s cancellation it was still surprising that the festival organisers managed to secure another high-profile replacement act at such short notice; being none other than the Swedish death industrial/ power electronic leviathan Brighter Death Now. Evidently the call to Roger Karmanik requesting him to headline the Saturday night was made on the preceding Thursday, so quite fantastic that he could assemble the live troops in less than 2 days.
As for the festival venue Tower Transmissions V was held at Club Puschkin, located on the peripheral outskirts of the residential neighbourhood to the north side of the Elbe River. The venue constituted small to mid-sized nightclub with an estimated capacity of around 300 in the main room including elevated stage, and dedicated sound booth and sound-system. Immediately adjacent to the performance space was the bar area, where a number of small distro stalls were set up selling a variety of wares (myself included with copies of Noise Receptor Journal offered for sale). A further separate ‘chill out’ room and expansive outdoor garden space provided more than ample circulation space to accommodate all attendees, where it felt busy but never overly crowded; estimating that there was around 250 attendees on each night. But apart from socializing and perusing the record stalls for items on offer, the live music was always going to be the main focus of the event.
So it was the new comers Madagan were given the opportunity to kick of the festival and warm up the gradually increasing crowd size. Madagan being a male/ female duo of M.K.Vermin and Guldur, they presented a focused set of German styled heavy electronics and power electronics type material; complete with focused samples, video backdrop and barbed wire strung across the front of the stage. Predominantly the set involved a balaclava clad male behind noise equipment and the female member out front presenting heavily treated/ processed vocals, who held a strong yet unstated stage presence. On a few occasions the male member also approached the audience and mimed along with some backing speech samples, however the presence and stage presentation of the male figure felt slightly forced and was effectively replicating hand gestures and body language of the Genocide Organ front men. As I understand it this was Madagan’s first live performance and regardless of the music being of a relatively typical approach for heavy electronics and power electronics styles, they positively handled the opening festival slot.
The supposedly ‘legendary’ C.O. Capser then followed, but was not to my liking as it was some form of Dadaist nonsense, involving goofy performance art styled improvised experimental music. For the performance it involved two individuals; one sitting at a table of effects equipment, and the other (C.O. Casper) dressed up in garb looking like a medieval serf/ monk, with his face wrapped in gauze. A further mask was also employed which was reminiscent of Jacques Lecoq’s ‘Basel masks’, where the mask itself being a homemade microphone device. C.O. Casper then spent the performance yelling unintelligible vocals; beating on a floor tom drum; randomly dancing around the stage; cutting off the face gauze with a machete; playing homemade noise instruments etc., while the second member delivered a scattered experimental improvised noise backing. Although the music and performance was far from my personal tastes, noting that C.O. Casper is 79 years of age it is commendable that he is still recording and performing, regardless if the end result was not to my liking at all.
For me personally Clinic of Torture were one of the Friday night highlights, which I did not quite expect, given I had not previously checked out this project of Mikko Aspa based on its ‘harsh noise’ tag (which is not a personally preferred musical style). For the show Mikko was clad in the leather S&M mask, standing behind a smaller table of equipment and contact mic’ed sheet metal. Coupled with a projected backing video and heavy wall of smoke, Mikko coaxed a controlled set of slowing building industrial noise, including louder and sharper and higher pitched ‘needling’ textures, which were gradually built up to a much harsher segment late in the piece. With Mikko becoming more animated and deranged in stage presence during the final harsher segment, the piece was ‘tortured’ towards an elevated sonic climax which was then be abruptly cut off to conclude the set to raucous applause. Although not a long performance, it was an expertly controlled set and one, which if I understand correctly, was built up from scratch and not relying on any elements of a pre-recorded backing (apart from the utilised screaming samples).
Inade were next to take the stage and having seen live footage from the duo previously, Knut Enderlein and René Lehmann delivered a set of exactly what was expected, being a set of controlled meditative ritual dark ambience. Apart from replying on laptops for sequenced playback, additional live elements were incorporated including vocals, bells/ chimes and ritual horns, all set against a synched video backdrop. With a calm and understated stage presence both Knut and René demonstrated a total mastery of their approach and delivered an all-encompassing set of monolithic ritual dark ambience and which due to the sound-system delivered a sound typically louder and far more powerful than what I normally associate with the group. Essentially it was a set as expected and with no surprises, but still amounting to a strongly executed and highly enjoyable set.
In Slaughter Natives followed and as with a number of CMI related bands I have seen in the past I expected this to be more of an audio playback with live vocal type show. This ended up being reasonably spot on, save for the additional use of live keyboards by a female counterpart which added to and augmented the pre-recorded backing. Jouni Havukainen presented an impressing figure on stage, but with the vocal sections being sparsely spread throughout his bombastic neo-classical music, there was a lot of standing around looking serious and grim. In Slaughter Natives’ set was also marred by a less than ideal sound volume as well as major feedback issues which continued throughout the set. Although I do really appreciate In Slaughter Natives on record, given the performance being mostly based on pre-recorded playback, coupled with the niggling sound issues, I ended up listening the second half of the set from the bar rather than from the audience.
This then left headliner Bastard Noise to conclude the Friday and easily won as the loudest act of the night. Being none too familiar with the expansive catalogue of Bastard Noise, Eric Wood playing solo immediately demonstrated his ability to amplify his sound, being at least 25% (or more) louder than any act preceding him. Although I am not sure if it was serious or perhaps halfway joking, Eric commenced his set by stalking the stage and talking to the audience, as well as ranting about the volume not being loud enough etc., and all the while pouring and guzzling cups of coffee from a thermos flask. Regardless of intent this was quite entertaining, before Eric knuckled down to building a wall of droning noise and then ramping things up to feature squalling static, blasting feedback and aggressive screamed vocals. Generally speaking the set came across as loose and chaotic and perhaps partially improved and although I do not listen to this type of power electronics/ noise in a home setting, it was at least entertaining live and made all the more potent by the sheer force of the volume (although somewhat tellingly I did not stick around for the entire set).
Returning on the Saturday evening, just in time to catch the opening act Puce Mary (solo project of Frederikke Hoffmeirer), she was easily the youngest performer of the festival. Without putting too much of a point on it, I had quite high expectations of seeing Puce Mary live for the first time; and evidently so did many other festival attendees as the room was full for her show. Noting my own personal expectations, pleasingly Frederikke blew these away with an absolute standout performance of the entire festival. With a no frills approach (i.e. no props or backing video and just a table with a Korg synth and associated equipment), Puce Mary delivered a devastating set of clinical tinged industrial noise/ power electronics tracks. Displaying total dedication to her craft there was a meticulous level of precision and control to how she coaxed rhythmic structures, distortion and feedback from her equipment. Sonic dynamics were also on display where tracks were built to tensile peaks before detonating bass toned explosions, whilst during the sporadic sections of vocals she stalked the stage to deliver a harrowing vocal barrage. Displaying such confidence and control, it was clearly demonstrative of Frederikke’s skill and the obvious amount of time she puts into practice and rehearsal. Simply put, her performance was totally on point and set a very high mark for the second day.
Bizarre Uproar followed by delivering a hammeringly intense set of grim, slow churning/ building noise filth, all set to an appropriately grim video backdrop, including a selection of ‘slideshow’ types images and in the later segment the set the infamous Bizarre Uproar video associated with the track ‘Kusi Paska Veri’. In the live setting Bizarre Uproar included the inputs of main project member Pasi wearing a latex mask, who was assisted by live member Pekka in a pig mask. The first section of the set was left up to Pasi to build the slow churning noise from a large table of distortion pedals and associated equipment, whilst Pekka stood on stage unmoving with arms folded. As the intensity of the set was gradually constructed, layered and elevated, Pekka then took to ‘playing’ a 44 gallon drum with a contact mix, then later moving onto the bass guitar. With a number of tracks being built to interlink into the set, on occasion Pasi took to delivering a roared and slightly treated/ echoed vocal barrage, who cut an imposing and aggressive figure on stage with sweat pouring out of the nose and mouth holes of the latex mask. Without doubt Bizarre Uproar were another festival highlight with their brand of sickening industrial noise filth.
After the amazing sets by Puce Mary and Bizarre Uproar, Sardh (whom I was not previously familiar) were going to have difficulty in matching such focus and intensity. Yet rather than seeking to compete, Sardh effectively shifted stylistic approach by delivering a more restrained set of experimental industrial to ritual drone styled music, which included chanted vocals during the later segment. Featuring 5 members on stage with a large array of noise equipment and homemade type noise contraptions (including a modified hair dryer etc.), the set was broadly calm controlled and understated which made for a change of pace from Bizarre Uproar and prior Puce Mary sets. Personally I felt the set to be fine overall, but equally not all that engaging for my own tastes, where I again listened (rather than watched) from the bar, noting that despite 5 people being on stage there was not much of a show or performance.
Given the obvious disappointment for many that Genocide Organ had cancelled, at least Brighter Death Now were a suitable high calibre replacement. For the show main man Roger Karmanik had brought along two live members, including Thomas Ekelund of Trepaneringsritualen and Lina Baby Doll of Deutsch Nepal (both featured on bass), and thankfully there was none of rather silly dress up antics associated with the Brighter Death Now from the early 2000‘s. Commencing the set with the opening track from latest album ‘With Promises of Death’, Roger providing sermon like vocal chants and approached the front of the stage to touch people on the head like some sort of demented preacher. Whilst the set was just getting going and heading in the right direction in terms of volume, it also became apparent that the group were battling various sound issues which continued throughout the majority of the set (including a lack of audible bass from both Thomas and Lina; sound volume wildly varying between vocals and sound layers; and both sound and vocals sporadically dropping out). Much later in the show Lina seemed entirely resigned to the fact that the sound issues were unable to be fixed and instead opted to take swigs from a liquor bottle and more generally seeking to ramp up the crowd.
Despite these technical sound issues Roger and crew persevered through a strong set of tracks from the latest album as well as selection of classics from ‘Innerwar’ and ‘May All Be Dead’ (including: ‘I Hate You’ and the fantastic industrial waltz ‘Pay Day’). Although the set was good overall, the sound issues clearly detracted from what could have been and had the dual bass approach worked as intended, this would have resulted in a much more punishing volume (at one stage during the show I could hold an audible conversation within metres of the stage which is something I would NEVER expect from a Brighter Death Now show).
Later in the set Puce Mary joined as a guest and interestingly she was able to quickly sort out a few of the sound issues and things took a noticeable step up (at this point the volume went up by at least 15% and was a case of the ‘newcomer’ again demonstrating her technical skill and prowess). From here both Roger and Frederikke presented aggressive dual vocals and with Roger playfully ‘abusing’ Frederikke. Although I did enjoy Brighter Death Now, clearly the technical issues marred the show by preventing Roger and cohorts from delivering a set of punishing excellence.
Following Brighter Death Now as Saturday night headliner, Goatvargr has been enlisted to close out the musical performances of the festival. Noting that Goatvargr was essentially a collaborative project between Andy O’Sullivan (Goat) and Henrik Bjorkk (Nordvargr), at Tower Transmissions V it involved Henrik performing solo. Likewise with the presented set focused exclusively on rhythmic focused material mixed with a harsh electronics noise edge, it somewhat deviated from two Goatvargr albums which displayed an industrial/ harsh noise approach (with only sporadic rhythmic elements). As such the material presented live could be described as something like harsh rhythmic noise, but being far from the type of rhythmic noise which might be associated with Ant-Zen and the like. Pleasingly Henrik delivered a set which demonstrated new avenues for rhythmic noise, noting I find what is normally associated with that sound to be rather stale and played out in 2015. On the presented material the rhythmic beats had more in common with a dark techno sound than typical industrial leaning, which then mixed with harsher noise elements made for a powerful and direct sound.
Featuring only a tiny sonic unit, Henrik quickly sorted out some initial volume levels and delivered a punishingly loud set, also taking the opportunity to deliver imposing vocals and also getting offstage amongst the crowd to menace attendees with his imposing 7ft+ Nordic frame. Concluding his performance with an encore of a recent Folkstorm track, Henrik effectively delivered the surprise set of the festival, but perhaps should have also been expected given the length of time that Henrik has been performing live.
With myself residing in Australia the opportunities to attend festivals of this calibre are few and far between, thus upon reflection Tower Transmission V was a pleasure to attend to see so many acts of interest perform live, as well as providing the opportunity to meet many people face to face, whom I have only previously known via email. Although I have highlighted some of the niggling technical sound issues (not sure if this was down to individual projects or the sound technician?), it also did not take away from it being an absolutely enjoyable festival at attend. Tower Transmissions V was also a success in terms of management, coordination and execution, for which the organizers should be commended for the efforts.
As a final comment, noting that the acts booked to play at Tower Transmissions V were hardly the type to make the promoters huge profits, which effectively translates into it being a festival targeted to fanatics by fanatics – and of course this is exactly as it should be for death industrial, power electronics, noise and dark ambient styled music.
Reviewer: Richard Stevenson
Photo credits: All Friday photos by GAndy_EA, except for the 3rd Madagan photo and Bastard Noise photos by Nero Azzolut. All Saturday night photos by Nero Azzolut.
Video credits: videos by Jan Kruml