This gig happened three days before the 24th Wave Gotik Treffen and Gothic Pogo festivals in Leipzig where both Agent Side Grinder and Minny Pops appeared live, so naturally we regarded this as a predecessor of these festivals and the beginning of a period full of interesting gigs by great bands from all over the world!

From the early Japanese Korg drum machines to the minimal music of the 1980s

A few hours before this mini festival started, Minny Pops announced at Twitter their exact stage time and if 23you think it would be 30′ past the hour or at the hour, well … think again. Minny Pops assured their followers and fans that they would play the first note of their setlist at exactly 8.28pm! …and strangely enough they were punctual indeed, starting exactly at that time. This was not the first time I was seeing Minny Pops perform live, as in 2012, 31 years after their last live back in 1981,  they performed upstairs at  The Garage. However that gig in 2012 was far less impressive and less theatrical in terms of stage appearance and performance than this one at The Lexington. This is a cold wave/minimal electro band that released its first album en19titled ‘Drastic measures, Drastic Movement’ in Plurex Records in 1979 and has released several EPs and the album ‘Sparks In A Dark Room’ in Factory Records and Factory Benelux (the Belgian sister label to Factory Records that was set up by Michel Duval and Annik Honore). The band has opened gigs of Joy D20ivision, has worked with the notorious Martin Hannett and has shared the stage with A Certain Ratio. Minny Pops have been inspired by early drum machines produced by Korg, called Minipops which were widely used in the 1960s and 1970s. The band disbanded in 1986 and it was not until 2011 that they started performing live again.  Minny Pops nowadays are based in the UK, consist of 11 more members apart from Wally van Middendorp, Wim Dekker , Pieter Mulder and Gerard Walhof and since 2011 have reissued their first two albums through Factory Benelux. In 2012, Minny Pops released the 7” entitled ” Waiting for this to happen/Glistering”  through O Genesis Recordings, a label owned by Tim Burgess of Charlatans, James Spencer, Nikki Colk and Nick Fraser.I enjoyed their show very much and I kept three elements, the engaging, theatrical and dynamic performance of Wally van Middendorp, the dexterous and admiring performance of Iona Tanguay at the clarinet especially at the16 second half of their setlist and the pluralistic impression that the band created in terms of aesthetics. But let me take things from the beginning.

Wally presented each song in an original way apart from ‘Time‘ which was presented by its title. The rest of the songs were mentioned by their catalogue number and most of them were releases by Factory Records. My favourite song ‘Time‘ was third on the setlist. The band had no visuals but Wally was very responsive to the lyrics and the music in terms of 21movement. Thus each song was performed in an emotionally charged atmosphere which heightened each word of the lyrics placing each song  in a completely different dimension. His moves, his powerful gaze that penetrated the audience and seemed to be defying even the dimensions of the building itself, were elements that added more interest to the rhythms and the narrative of the songs. ‘Wong‘, a favourite song with a rather hypnotizing repetition of a powerful rhythm was performed very theatrically as Wally tied one of his hands in a piece of cloth and was moving in mesmerizing ways. This cloth at other times was covering Wally’s head and occasionally his eyes and in this way each song was given a different character and meaning. It is interesting to see the different ‘roles’ this cloth plays in different gigs of Minny Pops. For example earlier this year, in Scaledown #106 this cloth covered Wally’s eyes as he demonstrated his touch type skills using a typewriter in the first part of this very mystifiying gig. This spontaneity on what concerns the stage appearance is the embodiment of the creative spirit that the bands from the 1980s car22ry with them. The freedom of expression through movement on stage and the spontaneous and opportunistic use of any available object for the purpose of enriching the stage appearance, was characteristic of the punk and industrial movement and it has been rarely replicated since the 1980s.

I was very positively surprised by Iona Tanguay and her extensive clarinet playing (i.e. ‘R.U.21‘, ‘Monica‘) as it is not very common to see a musician play the saxophone for such prolonged periods. For those unfamiliar with this instrument I have to stress that it requires a high level of 24respiratory endurance therefore a musician needs to undertake a different type of practice almost similar to the one long distance runners are taking up. Iona was exceptional in saxophone which was a welcomed addition to the songs and I hope that we will see her again with Minny Pops.

The only element that stayed with me as a negative one was the aesthetic appearance of Louise Woodcock at the keyboards. Ms Woodcock has a multifarious and a distinct artistic personality which is expressed aesthetically in a very strong way. The music of Minny Pops on the other hand is coldwave and minimal. One could say that this music style is almost contrasting plurality and its rhythms and style focuses on the powerful and mystifying impact of simple but very powerful rhythms. The minimalist character of the music of Minny Pops is also expressed aesthetically through the stage appearance of the musicians. In the past, the band was 18even standing motionless during their gigs. Yes, Wally might put lipstick on and off in dramatic ways and he may even pour water on him in a ritualistic manner but above all he is presented to us in plain and simple clothes. I didn’t appreciate the stage appearance of Ms Woodcock so I chose to focus my gaze and my attention to the rest of the band.

Minny Pops finished their setlist with… and prepared us very well for the mindblowing show of Agent Side Grinder that headlined this mini festival.

17

K.I.D an up and coming band from Toronto

”…We like taking our experiences with cannabis and working them into the narratives of our songs,” Bobby and Kara said….We talk about the drug from the perspective of someone who’s maybe self-medicating, despair-ridden, melancholic. It’s interesting to take those gloomier perspectives and filter them through the parts of our brains that know how to KID_1structure a catchy record…” (extract from a recent interview by K.I.D)

Next on stage was a new and young band from Toronto, Canada, named K.I.D (Kids In Despair) who released two EPs in Universal Music Canada in 2015. I was not familiar with the music of the band but I soon realized that it would be welcomed by fans of R’n’B and house music styles. Bobby and Kara are the heart of this band the songs of which have a very realistic, yet adolescent dimension, as so far most of them are based on the experiences of the two siblings Bobby and Kara. Their setlist felt to be lengthier than Minny Pops and their music, stylistically and in terms of ideas, emotions and overall dynamics was in extreme contrast with both the music of Minny Pops and the sound of Agent Side Grinder that wereKID_2 to follow. This band had a dedicated audience that was fascinated by their music but the absence of a big part of the audience of Agent Side Grinder and Minny Pops from the room, couldn’t remain unnoticed. I decided to contemplate on the ways and reasons for the selected order of appearance of bands in a mini festival. So I found myself wondering, if there are any specific criteria for choosing the order bands should play before the headliners. I wondered if this is just a spontaneous choice with no criteria. I can imagine that certain people might not pay so much attention to this and my intention here is not to try and convince anyone about anything. I can imagine that the purpose of the support bands before a headlining band, especially in a mini festival, is to prepare the atmosphere so that the headliners will appear and take the evening at its zenith! At the same time, it seems that this can only be achieved when the support bands are of similar and/or comparable style with the headliners. This is why, for example Cypress Hill couldn’t (and probably shouldn’t) be a support band for Einstuerzende Neubauten! Finally it has always been pretty obvious to me that bands with a long history in music tend to appear after very young bands for various reasons that I can imagine and I do not intend to analyse here. While thinking about all these I felt awkward when the band covered the wall mounted logo of Agent Side Grinder in order to provide a surface for their video projections. This seemed to be an indication of poor organisation as it was clear that there was very little (almost none) consideration for the individual needs of each band.  I am sure that the music of K.I.D would be more appreciated in another context and not as part of a mini festival with minimal, coldwave, electro bands.

Agent Side Grinder or else music alchemy in practice!

ASG_6 Usually what everyone in the audience expects from a gig, is simply to be absorbed in an atmosphere created by the music and the stage appearance of the band. With the exception of bands that have strong influences and reference points from the theatre, such as Kraftwerk, the Band Of Holy Joy, Einstuerzende Neubauten, Rosa Crux and Clair Obsur, Current 93, Anthony and The Johnsons (to name a few), it is not often that bands succeed to transfer the audience to a completely different place. For these bands, to which I include Agent Side Grinder, the gig and the venue where it is carried out, are just a ‘meeting point’ between them and the audience. From the first note onwards, the band delineates a path which leads the audience to a spiritual and emotional place which has those ASG_4aesthetic characteristics that would favour the enjoyment of the music. This, almost imperceptible transfer of each one of us to this imaginary place, is only realized once the gig is over. This is exactly what ASG achieved, to transfer us to a kind of ‘ground zero’, to a post apocalyptic place, using as a ‘vehicle’ their equipment (lighting, sound) which was positioned on stage from the start of this mini festival.

Having read about the use of analogue instruments I was really looking forward to see and listen to this equipment so when I saw the various structures that were positioned on stage my curiosity was increasing by the minute. I approached the stage several times before the band appeared, just to observe the weird equipment and the two imposing rectangular structures that were positioned on either side of the stage. I was impressed by another weird structure with a central element resembling a giant spiral that was positioned vertically within a frame! The different symbols that decorated the sides of the two rectangular structures were both exciting and interesting.

After approximately 10′ had passed from the last song by K.I.D, the time had come for us to see ASG in action and understand where all the sounds and noises that we hear in their songs come from and what makes the music of this band so special for ASG_12a constantly increasing audience worldwide! The rectangular structures were actually stage luminaires with an appealing industrial aesthetic and various symbols printed on them, while the wall mounted logo was a neon light! The setting on stage was already approaching perfection in all possible ways. All the equipment that the band has brought with them during their European tour brought to mind my impression after watching the video from the recording of their song ‘  Life In Advance ‘. In this video, the room and the very careful way the band was handling sensitive instruments, gave off the impression that they operated in a chemical lab and the music is the product of various complex chemical reactions for the execution of which, extreme caution is required! This impression was also replicated on stage as I watched Peter Fristedt handling a tape for playing tape loops (a procedure which was extensively utilized by Steve Reich) wearing gloves. I found myself thinking that all the other structures that I was seeing on stage, were made by all the chemical elements and the components that the band somehow synthesized in their ‘chemical lab’. The illuminated neon logo of the band had a central position on stage and when the setlist started with  ‘Into The Wild‘, everyone started dancing almost immediately. I have said this before, I consider the audience in London to be ‘hard to engage’ during a gig. Well, guess what. Agent Side Grinder didn’t even have to try as the sound of the first note and the stage equipment had captured everyone’s attention immediately.

Having already listened to ‘AlASG_5kimia‘ more times than I am able to count, I arrived at The Lexington very excited to listen to this album and to ASG live. What I didn’t expect was to realize how creative ASG are and how every aspect of their songs has been thoroughly designed and thought for. The result was not just overwhelming but in a way ASG_9reassuring, making us, the audience, hopeful about the future of music. ASG released ‘Alkimia‘ in a period where most of the bands seem to exhaust their creativity by following one of the many revival trends (i.e. post punk, punk, gothic, folk, country etc). It is the second album that I listen in the last 6months which has combined so many elements in different and interesting ways that it has become an object in equilibrium just as the objects are in a painting by René Magritte. To be more specific, let’s try an exercise for the mind: Bring to your mind the music of Suicide, Krafwerk, Cabaret Voltaire, Einstuerzende Neubauten, Depeche Mode. Now attempt to think of a sound that is hinting at all these bands simultaneously. The ancient Greeks would define as hubris, every attempt (even spiritual) to surpass the perfection of the gods as a result of extreme self confidence. Luckily the world has evolved and hubris now is not punished but appreciated and considered to be a very powerful spiritual stimulus and the definition of personal evolution. Agent Side Grinder mixed all the elements that make up electro, old school industrial, post punk music of the past, with their magical creativity and produced ‘Alkimia’ for us evoking the wisdom of a great music alchemist!

ASG_8The setlist continued with the band performing ‘Alkimia’ almost at its entirety apart from ‘Last Rites‘  and ‘For The Young‘ which are duets in the album and the band was not touring with their guest singers. The version of ‘Void (The Winning Hand)‘ that was performed, put me personally in a trance. The song started in a very slow rhythm which gradually became quicker creating the impression that the whole space existed in slow motion and that the performance was part of some sort of initiation ritual. With ‘Alkimia’ being released just a few months ago, the fact that the band has already worked on alternative ways to perform some songs, is to me an indication of charisma and strong creativity. For the encore the band had prepared a surprise performance of ‘Wolf Hour‘ from their 2012 album ‘Hardware’ with Johan Lange replacing Henric de La Cour and the setlist closed with the older yet majestic ‘Die To Live‘ from their 2009 album ‘Irish Tape Recording‘.

Self release, self production, self sufficiency

Autonomy is a powerful word that might make some people wary but the alternative music industry is inevitably moving towards theASG_13 direction of self production following the abandonment of the more traditional way of releasing music through the big star labels. The reasons for this are plenty and can’t be discussed in this review. Music production and sound engineering have become more popular since the 90s and musicians who have a very clear idea of the kind of music they want to create opt for self production of their albums as this is the only way to make sure that no qualitative concessions are made to their work. The last few years, crowd funding has also made possible, the production of art by individual artists though the financial contribution received by their supporters. Agent Side Grinder are releasing and producing their albums themselves for reasons that they ASG_7shared with us shortly after this gig. ‘Alkimia’, as the previous albums of the band, was released by the band. It was only natural for ASG to take this logic of self sufficiency when it comes to releasing an album, one step further. Therefore in ‘Alkimia’ the band created the artwork for all the media and the stage equipment that accompany the music and complement the album. The stage furniture follow the aesthetic of the music and fits perfectly with the overall aesthetics of the band. The stage luminaires resembled weathered concrete columns which have been etched with alchemic symbols, thus transmitting some sort of ‘message’ from other dimensASG_11ions.  Treating music as a multidimensional spectacle and spending time carefully designing every media that complements this music, is an approach that I personally like very much. Because as an audience we are not used to seeing such a holistic approach towards music coupled with such an engaging live performance both at The Lexington and at  Stadtbad in WGT in Leipzig, everyone enjoyed the show very much.

Read our interview with Agent Side Grinder here: http://blaue-rosen.com/interview-agent-side-grinder-may-2015/

Blaue Rosen box

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