K17, Berlin, Germany
23rd March 2013
Dark Spring Festival: Soror Dolorosa, Silent Scream, The Last Days of Jesus, Golden Apes, Fliehende Stürme, The Beauty of Gemina
Berlin's K17 Club was the setting for the fourth annual Dark Spring Festival, on a bitterly cold night in late March. A varied and international line-up of quality bands meant that attendance was high from the moment the doors opened, a lively and expectant atmosphere right from the start, something usually lacking in similar events.
Kicking things off were French band SOROR DOLOROSA. Swamped by dry-ice, they had the look of a Vision Thing-era SISTERS, and a sound that at times threatened to sink into Goth-by-numbers. A JOY DIVISION bass-line here, some Eldritch grumbling there, and when vocalist Andy Julia lets rip on the high notes, an apparent love of THE CURE too. There were some good moments of genuine gothic melodrama here, and the band as a whole threw some interesting shapes and used the stage well, but whenever things started to sound interesting, the thunk-thunk of another dirge let them down. And having a live drummer who sounds like a drum machine was simply bizarre. Still, everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves, and Andy's understated observation 'It's cold for a Spring Festival' helped thaw any remaining ice. // http://www.sorordolorosa.com / https://www.facebook.com/pages/Soror-Dolorosa/185417498164481
Next up, from Finland, were SILENT SCREAM, an altogether different proposition, and proof that despite obvious influences, it is still possible to sound both modern and original. They have enveloped the tribal battering of early KILLING JOKE and elements of SWANS which run violently throughout their post-punk din. Playing songs mainly from new album ‘Public Execution’, they were still wise enough to air the powerful and brooding 'Cinema' off album number one, a stately rumble of dark theatre that sounded cavernous and feverish. Sharing vocal duties, Antti and Matthew had an excellent stage presence and raced through a set that was gnarly and angry. 'Meat', with its coda of “We will tear the meat from your bones” was particularly impressive, and final song ‘Skull Face Child’, a truly chilling and bleak closer. Perhaps a few more changes of pace would have really buoyed things, but on the whole this was an assured and spirited set, by a dynamic and dramatic band. // https://www.facebook.com/pages/Silent-Scream-Helsinki/113354838733929 / http://www.myspace.com/silentscrm
The Last Days of Jesus
Visually striking, Slovakia's THE LAST DAYS OF JESUS took to the stage and wasted no time in getting some movement from the crowd. Their music is injected with energy, a Batcave stomp reminiscent of THE CRAMPS, ALIEN SEX FIEND, even DEVO. This is music to pogo to, and singer MaryO was clearly having the time of his life, pasty face and oversized glasses giving the appearance of a demented clown, his movements belonging to some manic wind-up toy. What was essentially slick, good feeling rock 'n roll, would have benefited from more audience anticipation, although that was hardly the fault of the band. It felt if just one or two more people really let themselves go, the rest would follow. But undeterred, they ploughed swiftly on through an excellent set, the staccato drumming and snarled vocals of ‘Corrupted’ a particular high point, and the pure horror-punk insanity of ‘Connected’ or Infected a joy to behold. Highly watchable, fans of THE DAMNED, CHRISTIAN DEATH and THE CRAMPS will find much to enjoy here. // http://www.thelastdaysofjesus.sk / https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Last-Days-of-Jesus/123908979194
Germany is represented next, with GOLDEN APES unfolding their solid, modern gothic-rock with a confident swagger, which is to be expected from a band enjoying current success with album number seven. And nearly every song played tonight was culled from new album 'Riot', a bold move but a wise one, as it gave a cohesion to the setlist and showcased what is essentially their finest set of recordings to date. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly the unmistakable sound of GOLDEN APES, but the sonorous voice of Peer Lebrecht certainly holds it all together. Even more impressive live, the well-crafted lyrics are sung with passion and resonate powerfully through each song, a deep, warm voice that never fails or falters throughout. He makes for an excellent frontman too, eyes closed at times, a handsome and rugged face, knowing when to move and when to stand stock still in concentration. Indeed, the band as a whole look good, which can only ever be a good thing. Highlights were opener ‘Devil’ with its throbbing JOY DIVISION bass, the strangely hypnotic waltz of ‘White Days’ and album closer ‘Riot’. At nearly six minutes long, it has all the time it needs to build into a stately wash of guitars and passionate vocals, a swell and swirl that is simply gorgeous. A stunning end to an enjoyable and dignified set. // http://www.goldenapes.com / https://www.facebook.com/GoldenApes
A tough act to follow, but German band FLIEHENDE STÜRME certainly have the pedigree to be non-plussed by such things. With roots going back as far as the eighties, there were clearly no nerves on show, and the crowd response to them, as they emerged from the clouds of dry-ice, was lively and appreciative. In fact by now, some movement at the very front of the stage had spread to other sections of the crowd, the bands brand of post-punk Goth-rock seemingly hitting all the right notes. I couldn't help feeling underwhelmed at times, there was almost a sense of arrogance, that the songs were strong enough to speak for themselves, which simply wasn't the case. The band seemed too comfortable, too sure of their place on the bill, but a long set of increasingly same material needed some rescuing. A bit of variation or charisma, anything really. It didn't come. A workmanlike performance then, neither here nor there. // https://www.facebook.com/fliehendestuerme
The Beauty of Gemina
No such problems for tonight's headliners, Swiss dark-rock band THE BEAUTY OF GEMINA. There is charisma in spades from frontman Michael Sele, tall and slender, a shock of tousled white hair, he's instantly recognisable and a striking vocalist. The band, looking every part the main attraction here, arrive on stage to the theatrical intro to old favourite ‘Victims of Love’, and proceed to tear through an opening trio of songs that leaves the crowd breathless. It's a wise choice, the set-list allowing no time off, no dip in the pace or intensity, and as a performance it felt complete and assured. As a band, the playing was tight, older songs such as ‘…Goth DJ’ and ‘One Step to Heaven’ sounding as fresh and vibrant as ‘Dark Revolution’, off 2012 album ‘Iscariot Blues’. Almost a Best Of, songs from each album from the GEMINA canon got a look-in and for a festival such as this, it worked perfectly. The singing was excellent throughout, especially impressive on the always popular ‘Rumours’ and the stunning ‘Kingdoms of Cancer’.
A recent highlight off acoustic album ‘The Myrrh Sessions’, the song was restored to its original format tonight, blustery, angsty and intense. Live, it seems to grow from strength to strength and was enthusiastically received by everyone tonight. In fact the scores of devoted ‘Shadow Dancers’, the band's loyal and well-travelled fan base, were clearly enraptured by the whole show, and by the time final song ‘Last Night Home’ thumped its way into the room, there wasn't a person in attendance who wouldn't have wished for more. An excellent finale, the song brought to a close a stellar set, THE BEAUTY OF GEMINA proving once again why their reputation as a live act is so strong. // http://www.thebeautyofgemina.com / https://www.facebook.com/TheBeautyOfGemina
Occasional problems with the sound, and a shambolic end to the after show party did nothing to detract from a successful and hugely entertaining festival, and one that was well organised and run, a real credit to all those who were involved. Long may it continue.
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All Photographs by Stephen Kennedy