Time to resume the story. An ankle injury scuppered any hopes of a wild and crazy end to 2003, but 2004 started with a fresh and promising collection of gigs to look forward to. One short-lived but welcome venture was the ‘Pity For Monsters’ nights run by the Devlish Presley duo and a number of allied friends. Despite ties to London’s deathrock revival scene, the bands they put on were varied in style and fanbase and it was one particular hidden gem that provided my first truly memorable gigging moment of the year.
February 2004 – We Are The Universe, Under A Broken Sky
The Wasp Factory label was another movement that tied in neatly with the PFM ‘indies go it alone’ movement, and in February they joined forces for a four-band billing at the Water Rats. Faetal came and went as a proficient but not yet fully confident opening act, but then the murmurings started that the next band, Earth Loop Recall, were about to take the evening up a gear. I wasn’t convinced – I’d seen them once before and found them musically adept but lacking a certain spark. I should had known not to judge a band on an opening slot at the ‘Upstairs at the Garage’ Scout Hut.
What we received was a half-hour set, a mere five-song sample of ELR’s latest album. And one of the tracks (the title track, no less), wasn’t even ON the album. Yet those five songs delivered some of the most intricate, hard-hitting and dynamic electronic rock I’d ever heard. Compared to the competition, they just had more of everything. The highlight was the eight-minute epic, ‘Like Machines’, an almighty expanse of the song that defies all of the verbal description I have attempted to give it over the years. As for the show, I’ve never made it from the stage to the merch stall so quickly. I was bagging one of those CDs. To this day, it remains one of my favourite all-time albums.
Later on, we’d see Devlish Presley get a stage invasion and Deathboy get a mosh pit, but both acts were humbled at what had just preceded them. Scott Lamb (the Deathboy himself) summed up the feeling of the night by yelling out “BUY EARTH LOOP RECALLS FUCKING ALBUM!!!”. A variant on a cliché, and one that summed up the feel of the night.
What we didn’t know at the time was that within a year, ELR would have ceased to exist. Despite a brief revival a few years later, the project was terminated more permanently in 2008. Sometime shit just happens, you know?
March 2004 – Endurance Festivalling
Invitation 2004 in Ghent. 3 days, and only a short drive from Calais. A bit of a no-brainer, this one.
Imagine a festival line up consisting of: Tanzwut, Diary Of Dreams, [:SITD:], And One, DAF, Wolfsheim, VNV Nation, Icon Of Coil, De/Vision, God Module, Kirlian Camera, Clan Of Xymox, Qntal, Decoded Feedback, Covenant, Pride and Fall, Elusive and Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio. Reads like one of my DJ sets, doesn’t it?
Imagine having Belgian beer on tap during the whole event.
Imagine feasting on a Belgian hotel breakfast each morning.
Then imagine not being able to get a taxi back to the hotel after each day had finished. Had I not been in the aftershow DJs party and hitched a lift in a minibus, I suspect I would have spent the Saturday night of the festival sleeping at the venue.
July 2004 – Wish I Had An Angel
Nightwish might had made all the wrong impressions the first time I saw them at the previous year’s M’era Luna, but I did eventually pick up one of their CDs on a ‘what the hell?’ basis, probably subconciously realising that there was something in their sound I liked after all. And in July 2004, their ‘Once’ tour hit the UK. Nightwish were not a big band at the time, which meant the 2000-capacity London Astoria was called into play once more. The venue is now of course gone, as has any chance to see Nightwish in a venue this up-close and personal. Which makes the capturing of my own experiences even more important.
At the time, the venue had once of those screens you could send a £1 text to and have your message displayed to all present. A rather naff gimmick, but on this occasion it was used to host something of a popularity contest for metal bands. People kept txting messages like ‘Scream if you love _________’. The audience response wavered throughout this process (reaching a humorous low when someone suggested Cradle of Filth) until the inevitable ‘Scream if you love Nightwish’ appeared. And everyone did. Just as the lights dimmed.
It may seem odd, but that whole process seemed to take up the atmosphere rating by a few notches. A band who were probably puzzling as to why they weren’t as big in the UK as they were everywhere else in Europe arrived to find they had a rapturously fanatical fanbase after all. And me, the wannabe music critic, realised that the enjoyment of a band is just as dependent on the surroundings and circumstances as it is on the music. And from now until forever after (or at least until Tarja was dumped from the line-up 18 months later), Nightwish had captured the hearts of the notoriously hard-to-please UK metal audience. The gig was pretty much the same show I’d see them do a couple of times again the following year, but this time it just seemed to matter more.
August 2004 – More M’era Medicine
Another trip to M’era Luna, and this time we were going by plane. As it happened, I’d never travelled by plane before prior to this day, and we almost missed it due to huge amounts of messing about trying to get parked near Heathrow. I began to get the feeling that I was the only one of the three in my party that actually wanted to go to the festival, or had any idea who was playing. Anyway, my first experience of flying involved lifting off from Heathrow at 6:45am, zooming down the Autobahn at 200kmh in an Audi A3 Turbo Diesel hire car, then suddenly finding myself in the midst of a festival site that had previous taken a massive drive across Europe to reach. Air travel has it’s benefits.
The story of the festival itself is best summed up by the tale of one particular show. In the two years since I’d seen them at this very site, I’d become a massive fan of the band In Extremo. They never seemed likely to make it to UK soil, so this would be my first chance to see them actually knowing how the songs went. What I didn’t realise was there were around 10,000 people who knew the songs even better than I did.
From the opener ‘Kuss Mich’, I knew this would be a special performance. A trawl through the backcatalogue, peppered with pyrotechnics, acrobatics and an assortment of other stage antics. By the time we got to the finale of ‘Vollmond’, EVERYBODY was singing. A French poem adapted into German doesn’t make much sense to someone who only speaks English, but I got caught up in the atmosphere and sung as loud as anyone else. Many more excellent performances would be seen throughout the weekend (even though Saturday night headliners Wolfsheim bombed spectacularly), but nothing could equal the feeling of unity and celebration that In Extremo provided on this day in August 2004.
That, my friends, is what M’era Luna is all about.
The remainder of 2004′s gigs would best be summed up by the phrase ‘tried hard, but not quite’, with the highlight being Rotersand’s UK debut at the otherwise-disappointing 2-day Black Celebration festival in October. I’ve got plenty of stories to tell about Rascal and co later on, but not before we move on to 2005………if this is the first part of the story you read, suggest you go back to the start.