It has been a week since Maschinenfest closed for another year, and I think my liver has finally come to an agreement with me around vodka based diets and I’m not to do it again… until next year! As I have said for many years though, festivals aren’t holidays, they’re endurance tests – if you come away from one a slightly battered version of your usual self, then you did it right. They’re just not healthy environments, and I am naturally very okay with this – no matter how long the bangover lasts (noise & booze hangover = bangover).
The point of this though is to basically fangirl royally at one of my favourite festivals in the world – and I have travelled extensively for such things, but still find myself returning to Oberhausen most years. In fact, this year was my fifth Maschinenfest. I don’t even think I’ve been to Infest that many times, and that’s only a couple of hours up north on the train; certainly a much easier logistical choice. I remember one year at Maschinenfest, I think it was the 10 year anniversary that went on for 4 days – getting home on the Monday was one of the most painful experiences of my life – utterly destroyed, not much in the way of sleep all weekend, food mostly replaced by booze, and I eventually started bawling my eyes out at Dusseldorf Weeze airport (not an easy place to get to I can assure you – 1 taxi, 2 trains and a bus!) out of sheer exhaustion. I look back on this with amusement now as no matter how bad I feel, and last Monday I wasn’t feeling especially spectacular, I have felt a lot worse and endured a much more traumatic journey home – a Eurowings flight and an hour on the tube was sedate when put against this.
What’s so special about Maschinenfest though? There’s this sense of belonging; a family sort of feel if you will. I don’t know that many people who go, but the people I do know there I look forward to seeing a lot as I only really see them at festivals, they’re not a part of my every day, unless they see the rubbish I post on Facebook, and to be fair to myself, that doesn’t portray everything about me. It’s also good to be surrounded by people who know the music I love. Even if they’re not quite in to the same stuff as me, they get it. It’s amazing how hard it is for me to describe the music I love to people who aren’t in to anything vaguely heavy – my rock friends don’t really get it but they’re accepting of it, my housemates are mostly amused by it (strangely enough, not too bothered by Throbbing Gristle, as in will happily listen to them over something more rhythmic noise), and my work colleagues overall not too sure, although I do have a colleague who likes more mainstream industrial stuff so there’s a meeting of the minds half way. If you can understand Nine Inch Nails, then there is probably a path in to further industrial noise music if you choose to follow it.
This year the line-up was pretty close to perfect for me, although the addition of Niveau Zero was definitely the clincher to me going broke for a month so I could go. I was erring on the side of not going before that, mostly for personal financial reasons, but I soon found a way to get myself there once the announcement was out – it’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it; So thank you Retox for sorting the booking! I was pretty much prepared for one of the usual bands to be in my top 5 of the weekend but surprisingly enough, Blush Response was easily my favourite, with Sonic Area and Niveau Zero an extremely close joint 2nd.
I’ve seen Blush Response before, last year, supporting The Soft Moon and whilst I enjoyed his set there I was a bit bemused. The first couple of Blush Response albums are actually more EBM – with Joey singing, and I actually love quite a few songs of his, by the time he was supporting The Soft Moon he had definitely switched gear in to the analogue synth techno thing and it was not what I was expecting at the time. Having had time to watch his development I was greatly looking forward to his set at Maschinenfest and he did not disappoint – he is very much heading towards Orphx and Perc territory which is definitely the sort of techno I like; it’s as brutal as some of the early noise that got me to here in the first place and I’m really enjoying seeing these sorts of acts at Maschinenfest. There was a point where MF was starting to get a little bit samey – i.e. you could usually guess who the headliner would be on any one night – It was either going to be Winterkalte, This Morn Omina or Synapscape. I have to admit that I get hugely amused by the excitement that everyone in the UK gets when any of these bands set foot on British soil, but then I’ve seen these bands so many times now that I’m past saturation point, but that’s what I get for being a regular at both Maschinenfest and Elektroanschlag – not everyone does the same festivals as me. Also they’re not bad bands, not even close. That’s why you could guess they would be a headliner. They’ve got there through hard work and being hugely supportive of the scene in general so they deserve to be headlining, but for me, I like a little more variety when I go to festivals, which is why this year’s line-up was so exciting for me – it was a mixture of the usual and decidedly unusual.
I also enjoy going to a venue where the sound system is actually capable of handling noise music. On the first night I was stood watching The_Empath (totally amazing by the way!) and I could feel the music in my hair – it was the weirdest and most amazing thing; like little electrical finger tips stroking your hair. I’m used to going to dingy little clubs with the most basic sound system set up which never does any of these bands any favours. It doesn’t do the punters hearing any good either. I only needed to wear ear protection once all weekend, the sound was crystal pure, and it didn’t hurt in the slightest. I also love the video elements of the sets now. Up until a couple of years ago there wasn’t much in the way of video or projection work (which is probably why you get the occasional whinge about men bopping along behind their laptops) but now, most of the artists had some element of video design going on behind them which made the sets all the more exciting. Dirk Geiger’s set was just beautiful with the added artwork really adding another level of depth to his work, but Sonic Area’s was outstanding.
Sonic Area I’ve loved for years – comes with the territory of being an Audiotrauma fangirl first class! I think what I like more is the change in his stage presence over the years. He builds a character for each album, at least that’s what I’m seeing. His earlier work was very much him, but Music for Ghosts brought some sort of Victorian medicine man with glowing absinthe bottles, and now with ‘Eyes in the sky’ an almost alien like creature with what looks like a mirrored mask – I was mostly amazed with how Arnaud could see through the thing! With the imagery of his character, and the projections behind him, the whole set was entirely otherworldly – it was this glorious trip through science and space, and with the vocal samples of Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’, I was just entranced throughout – in fact, I could have experienced that set for much longer so was quite annoyed when they got him to stop – particularly for Test Dept Redux who basically went on about half an hour too long for my tastes, and clearly had a much more complicated stage set up with all of their metal percussion pieces to move around. I quite like some of their tracks, but was a little annoyed with the hot girls dressed in military gear doing the percussion – leave that to Nachtmahr or whatever!
As Niveau Zero was the act that got me there in the first place it would be remiss of me not to mention him. His set was brutal!! Anyone who can do dubstep and Machine Head (Let Freedom Ring) at the same time is totally my sort of noise. I originally got in to industrial from a more rock/metal background so I admit to getting quite excited when I hear samples from my years growing up – like perhaps we grew up with similar music, and it’s entirely likely that we did. The dubstep that Niveau Zero performs is like some rabid industrial version and it really does have a place at Maschinenfest. I’ve missed out seeing him on two different occasions, but I could not miss him again. He threw himself in to his set and I’m surprised a mosh pit didn’t kick off it was that hard. I would very much like to see him again, maybe with one of the MC’s that he’s worked with on several tracks, just to see how he works with another person on stage. Usually I’m dead against MC’ing (mostly because the ones I’ve seen have been shite, and tend to drown out the interesting music going on behind them) but I think it could be quite interesting – having said that though I didn’t enjoy Igorrr with vocalists – he is definitely better doing his own thing, but his music is already quite a mixture of styles so more added elements can be quite abrasive. A death metal singer with Nivea Zero would be a thing of beauty…well for me at least.
Seeing ESA lay waste to Maschinenfest was pretty special for me, mostly because I’ve been interested in Jamie’s music from the beginning (I have his first demo at home) and seeing how much he has grown as a performer, let alone showing what the brits are capable of made me feel very proud. There’s very few artists in the UK right now who have the ability to really make it on to the Maschinenfest line up – it would be awesome to see more, but there’s so few to choose from it might be a few more years until someone else gets to do the same.
Overall though, I had a fantastic weekend – tiring, and with aching legs (bouncing around on solid concrete for 3 days definitely hurts) but it’s so worth it. I am getting to the age now where I would kill for a comfy chair and a bucket of coffee half way through the night, I didn’t last one night through to the very end, but if that’s the only complaint I have then it’s nothing really.
Until next year Oberhausen 🙂