A goth's paradiseConcert
07/06/2015, Xavier KRUTH
April 30th 1988. Twenty goths have a meeting in the Potsdam Café Heider to celebrate Walpurgis Night. But instead of 20, some 150 goths attend from all over the GDR - the then communist East Germany - and even from West Berlin, crowded into a cafe that is primarily known for its cabaret performances. The message had spread completely through word-of-mouth, without any help of Internet or mobile phones. The aim was to celebrate the night in the ruins of the Belvedere on the Pfingstberg, but the East German Volkspolizei ruined that plan. They arrested the major part of the attending ‘Grufties’. Some managed to hide in the woods and the pagan festival finally occurred in the presence of around fifty goths.
What this has to do with the WGT in Leipzig? Well, the meeting in Potsdam is often regarded as the precursor of the Wave-Gotik-Treffen. After all, it proved that there was a large scene in the GDR that could easily be mobilized. When the first WGT took place in 1992 - after the fall of the Wall and the reunification of Germany - more than 2000 goths came to Leipzig, now the unofficial capital of the movement. And again: just by word-of-mouth. And so, the biggest gothic festival in the world started. It now welcomes about 20,000 visitors each year. A quarter of them come from the Leipzig area, a large part comes from Germany, but countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands are also well represented, and yes, there are even people from the US, Japan, Brazil and other exotic countries. 221 performances take place this year and in addition, there are lots of parties, lectures, exhibitions and classical concerts to attend at no less than 55 locations throughout the city.
We’re also present, of course. We booked a hotel in Plagwitz, a former industrial area that now excels in creativity with arts centres, squats, painted murals, alternative bars and cinemas. In one of those cinemas, there is a performance on Thursday evening - before the WGT - by the neoclassical project Bacio di Tosca. The evening begins with a biographical overview of the project, which includes the screening of the clip for ‘Einer Toten’, filmed during the performance in the crypt of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal at the WGT 2008.
Alas, since then, the WGT didn’t pay any attention to Bacio di Tosca, though the band kept insisting. That’s why they organize their own event. Anyone who is acquainted with Bacio di Tosca knows that it will not be a simple performance. No, the screening of ‘Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens’ will do better. It is a piece of film history by Friedrich Murnau dating from 1922, and masterly accompanied tonight on piano by Demian Ewig. The second part of the evening is the actual performance by Bacio di Tosca. It would have been wonderful If they had used the presence of an excellent pianist to play a few songs acoustically, but apart from that I have nothing but praise for the wonderful compositions and singing of Dörthe Flemming.
On the first day... gothic rock
The official first day started with searching the bracelets that give access to all the activities. We have to travel to Agra, the beating heart of the festival and the place where the biggest names play. However, it is quite a bit away from the city centre. Throughout the journey, we notice more and more extravagant goths, at every bus stop, in every snack bar or restaurant or just on the street. Once the administrative formality is settled, we move into the pagan village, within walking distance from Agra. It's the only place where there’s already music at noon. Moreover, you can eat delicious (vegetarian) food. The medieval market is even larger than in past years, and after the purchase of much needed coats of mail and ivory cups, we leave for the Clara Zetkin Park, where the Victorian Picnic takes place. What began years ago as a social gathering of Victorian goths, has now grown unexpectedly large (to the extent that the original initiator - our compatriot Viona Illegems - organises a more intimate event in another location). More than a thousand Victorians, steam punks and other elfish or monstrous creatures now visit the picnic. We enjoy not only the great-looking participants, but also the concert of the German neoclassical group Diodati, that takes benefit of this sunny afternoon in this beautiful spot to play an acoustic set.
We have been longing for a fresh dose of gothic rock for quite a time, and the Felsenkeller - one of the 55 locations - seems the place to be for fulfilling that need, as it is fully dedicated to this subgenre. Sweet Ermengarde gives the kick-off in a nice and hard way with sharp guitars, pounding drums and the sinister sepulchral voice of Kuba Achtelik. PostScriptum from Germany doesn’t exactly play gothic rock, but it sometimes comes near. They are not astounding, but neither are they out of place on the bill. The French of Soror Dolorosa are masters at the game. They have mainly slow, constructive and compelling songs in their repertoire. I once described their music as a mixture of anger and despair, and I still see no better description. A very intense show.
Two Witches is - unlike what the name suggests - a group with a male singer. We know them especially as the original band of Anne Nurmi, before she became a member of Lacrimosa. I remember that I was not very impressed with their music at that time. But now they have a new album and it might be time for a new evaluation. Well, the female members still seem recruited for their appearance rather than for their musical performances. The music is played tightly but is still brimming with clichés. So far for the new evaluation. We are now watching Nosferatu again, the band this time. They were one of the flag bearers of the second wave of British goth rockers in the 90s. It is the first appearance with two new singers, after the departure of Louis DeVray in 2014: Tim Vic and Gonzo, a veteran of Love Like Blood. Tim Vic seems to want to remain incognito as he hides behind sunglasses, a beret and a beard. Gonzo's appearance stays limited to ‘Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun’, an old Love Like Blood classic and a song that is even played a second time as an encore, as the new band - Gonzo is a member for only 4 months - doesn't seem to have rehearsed much more material than played here.
On the second day... death rock and minimal wave
Concerts in Leipzig only start in the late afternoon. That is OK, as there is a lot more to do than just the concerts. At the Agra, for instance, you can do some shopping in the huge market. Or watch extravagant goths walking by, since there are a lot of them around: death rockers, cybers, steam punks... Or consume a healthy lunch. The festival food is not limited to French fries or burgers. Here, you can find pizzas, Asian meals, barbecue and lots of vegetarian options (vegetable pans or the dishes from Vegetarisch im Berlin). The drinks seem a little more expensive at first sight, but that's because you are paying a pawn, a sum of two euro that you recover nicely if you bring back your cup. Because of that, the festival remains very clean compared to most festivals in Belgium.
The first group we see at work today is Döppelganger (in the Täubchenhal, a beautiful hall where death rockers are at home). They are probably the best-known deathrock/post-punk band from Russia, but nevertheless not really exceptional. Anyone interested in Russian post-punk better looks up Kino or Notchnoi Prospect. And those looking for more experimental things get what they want with Theodor Bastard, Lamia Vox or Moon Far Away. The singer of Ghost of Dawn, a German deathrock band, looks really impressive with his spiky hawk of at least 40 cm. The performance is not only visually appealing, but also very strong musically. Albeit being around since 1988, I had never heard from them. Now I shall never forget about them.
Deathrock, great, but there’s more to the WGT. Minimal wave, for instance, a genre that has rapidly gained popularity in the last years. In the Stadtbad, we can observe the latest wave of bands. And that's impressively good, especially if we go to see the French duo Miniut Machine. The concept is simple: melancholic and danceable synths topped with female vocals. The result is fantastic, however. Automelodi also comes from France and offers more rhythmic songs with melodic guitar and a male voice. Headlining is Agent Side Grinder from Sweden. They are five and play a mix of electro and post-punk. Despite the line-up, the sound remains minimal. It sometimes seems as if singer Kristoffer Grip is trying to convey deep thoughts, but then again, who knows... We understand nothing of what he says.
On the third day... minimal wave and neoclassical
The bracelet of the festival also gives you free access to several museums. As the performances will only start at 4 or 5 o’clock, visiting one of them seems a pretty good idea. We opt for the renowned Museum of Visual Art in Leipzig. There is an exhibition devoted to Paul Klee, an avant-garde painter who worked at the Bauhaus (the art movement, not the band) and Der Blaue Reiter (the art movement again). The Nazis labelled his work ‘degenerate art’ and he therefore returned to his native Switzerland in the 30s. There is also a display of Klee’s compatriot and fellow genius Max Klinger, besides a permanent art collection that goes from the Flemish masters to contemporary conceptual art.
Musically, we start in the Kuppelhalle, a former communist event hall close to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. The Spanish trio Ash Code opens the dance there. The WGT seems to always program a more known act first so that people show up early. Ash Code - however - is only two years old. The popularity of the minimal wave genre and the twist they give it to express their feelings of alienation and isolation, made them very popular in a short time. But Ash Code is actually breaking the rules. Real minimal wave wave bands must be duos. Like Schonwald from Italy. Drum machines and synths are programmed, the singer plays bass and guitarist guitar. Thus, they create dreamy wave with a serious 80's feel. Or Keluar, raising the level with more experimental and complex rhythms, in a genre in which most groups limit themselves to a basic boom-tak-boom-tak rythm. Their main trump card - however - is singer Alison Lewis: a beautiful appearance blessed with a warm voice, but also a singer with the same passion as - let’s say - Anja Huwe of Xmal Deutschland at the time. An overwhelming performance.
My girlfriend dares to say that all these wave groups sound very similar. There’s some truth in that and it’s time to show her that gothic is more than bass-guitar-drum or synth music. The Schauspielhaus (City Theatre) offers refined neoclassical acts, and that’s where we’re heading next. The Italian Ashram reminds me of their compatriots Corde Oblique, though this is a virtuoso trio in which piano, violin and vocals meet each other. Although they exist since 1997, they only released two albums. They are currently working on a ballet performance, though, from which they have invited some dancers to make their excellent show visually appealing. Unto Ashes - however - sounded better on paper than live. This trio from New York is known for dark wave and acoustic performances of both traditional and original compositions. On their latest CD, they recorded covers of bands like Sisters of Mercy, Covenant and Christian Death. But these songs sound barely inspired when brought live. The many lullabies don’t miss their purpose, and those who don’t leave between the songs w wiilll sossooon ff ind d thee......... Hmmmm... What? Is it over? Let’s go to bed.
On the fourth day… electro
We start the last day with a visit to the gigantic gothic-market at Agra. The intention was to allocate an hour or so to do some shopping. But you know: fitting a dress, another one and still another one, finally deciding on one but with the need to find something that fits with it; researching all the CD stands thoroughly… we ended up spending three hours and more money than we had planned. No regrets, however. The exceptional choice of gothic clothing, footwear, jewellery and CDs can be found only here. And since we are stuck on the Agra - a miserable little rain has made the pagan village a little less attractive - we look up what the Agra-hall - the largest concert hall with a capacity of 5,000 people - has to offers.
I decide to introduce my girlfriend to the joys of industrial-electro music and make our favourite electro editor quite jealous by attending Terrolokaust. I expected that we would be leaving quickly, but to my big surprise my girlfriend is quite impressed by this handsome and virile young men, contrasting greatly with the queery goths she has seen so far. You may safely deduce that Terrolokaust is a band that does well with the ladies. And not just with them. Even I have to admit that I enjoyed the performance. Our attempt to get to the Schauspielhaus at time for Die Kammer and Qntal ends in a failure. There is already a queue when we arrive and we know from experience that it makes little sense to walk in line. So we drive to the Moritzbastei, where a number of electro bands will play. Alas, they are that mediocre that they are not even worth mentioning.
We want to close the WGT in beauty and look for an alternative. Diorama in the Felsenkeller? Don’t think twice, it’s all right. Singer Torben Wendt used his status as friend and former keyboardist of Diary of Dreams to propel his own group to the forefront of the darkwave electro. The melancholic lyrics and melodies are accompanied by very danceable rhythms, thus creating a wild atmosphere from the start. We even get an exclusive track from the CD Diorama he is currently working on. The performance leaves us stunned and we are already craving - since this morning actually, even though WGT 2015 was still under way - for the next edition. 362 days left to go.
- Girl in the museum (Lioubov Melantchouk)
- Diodati on the Victorian picnic (Xavier Kruth)
- MAGxico Ghost of Dawn (Lioubov Melantchouk)
- In the streets of Leipzig (Lioubov Melantchouk)
- Cybers in the pagan village (Lioubov Melantchouk)
BALTIMORE • Baltimore
THE CHURCH • Islington, O2 Academy 04/06/15
RIDLEY SCOTT • Blade Runner
PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT • So This Is Permanence
SCREAMING PARENT • The Completist
REICH • A Mexican Punk band to discover
GEOFFREY SAX • Frankie & Alice
MICHAEL ALMEREYDA • Cymbeline
LAKKER • Tundra
ANDY THE KID • Linchpin