2010 was an eventful year, for sure. But nothing stops when a calendar gets chucked. And sure enough, 2011 was almost as busy. Gig-wise, the key feature of this year was the increased merging of my DJing with my gigging. Four times I played the role of support DJ at live music events, and hence some of these memories reflect as much my own role in the event as my ‘man in the crowd’ observed role.
One other fact – it was the third consecutive year where I attended no overseas festivals or gigs. This isn’t something I’ve given up on, it’s just I’ve had other demands on the money of late. InFest, the low-budget indoor festival in Bradford, was still an option, however.
April 2011 – What Is Your Function In Life?
My return to the DJ booth in the role of between-bands DJ came at the first ‘Dark 7′ event at the Camden Underworld, run by Synchrotrax. I’d done a bit of inter-band work in my student days, but that was nearly a decade ago. Anyway, as the name suggested, 7 bands were playing and my job was to fill in the gaps. Having listened to online streams beforehand and soundchecks on the day, I knew well enough what I was faced with and dug out what I believed to be the most relevant tracks to play.
After an initial burst of industrial rock prior to ‘Ghost In The Static’, relevant generally meant various electronic forms of industrial music. In keeping with the theme of the festival, I gave a number of UK bands (Deviant UK, Skinjob, Modulate, Digicore) an airing, most of them for the first time in a set of mine. What I played seemed to be well received, but of course there needed to be at least one curveball.
In this case, it was before the headline band. My long-standing friends in System:FX were topping the bill tonight, I’d never missed a London show by them and now I was their support DJ. But in addition to an airing of ‘Be My Enemy’ (somewhat pre-emptive of what would come the following year), I’d agreed to preceded their set with The Inkspot’s ‘I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire’. Probably the oddest request I’d ever had, but anyone’s who’s played Fallout 3 (a game we have a joint taste for!) will associate that song as a prelude to some High-Definition Violence.
And with that out of the way, it was time to leave the booth and (finally), let some energy loose down on the dancefloor. Six month later, and I’d be back in the same venue to play the-bits-between-the-bands at Cybersonik.
August 2011 – 8-Bits!
Between Dark 7 (actually a little before) and now, I’d been busy. Really busy. In the process, I’d neglected my health, physical, mental, emotional, financial, the lot and hence arrived at InFest 2011 a broken man. Despite everything I’d achieved during the year to date, it had come at great cost. So I made a decision. Have one last 3-day bender, one final weekend of irresponsibility, get it out of the system and then pull myself together and get on with life again. Dosed up on vitamin pills to alleviate the need to ever care about my diet over the weekend, that was indeed the case….
The event as a whole remains something of a blur. I can’t really remember which bands played this year or last, nor how much money I spent. I do remember giving the karaoke machine a go, singing Sham 69′s ‘If The Kids Are United’. In an obscenity-laced London accent. In the middle of West Yorkshire. I probably sung along to VNV Nation even louder, but I believe that’s the idea at their shows.
And earlier that day, I’d finally seen mind.in.a.box live. I’d heard very varied stories about their live shows so far (not that they’d played many), and my curiosity was piqued further when I saw them setting up guitar, drums and other ‘real’ instruments – rarely seen at InFest. They appeared on stage and I was even more confused – were they supposed to be a kind of ‘progressive futurepop’ four-piece, or some kind of synth-enhanced Pink Floyd tribute band?
It’s at times like this that the alcohol really serves it’s purpose, because I stopped caring about genres and realised that whatever it was they were playing, I actually really liked it. I was tripping out during the quiet bits and dancing wilding whenever the drums kicked in. I did, however, long for a no-holds barred anthem. mind.in.a.box are a very ‘technical’ band, which does sometimes impact the ‘instant appeal’ nature of their music. How the hell were they going to end their set on anything other than a drawn-out anticlimax?
Oh, 8-Bits. Not exactly typical of their style, but a perfect set closer, and it still worked surprisingly well with the addition of ‘real’ instruments. Cheered to the rafters (or whatever it was holding the roof up), there was no time for an encore, even if the band had had one to play (looking at tour setlists, they probably didn’t). But my must-see band of InFest, one who had a varied live reputation so far, had delivered the goods this time.
October 2011 – Shine, Shine Your Light On Me
InFest had given me the drive to get my life back on track, but a couple of months on and I still felt there was something missing from my life. In a year of practical achievements, I was feeling increasingly hollow inside. My body and mind were on the road to recovery, but my soul remained on ice. I was a walking, talking automaton. Something had to give.
My epiphany came from a quite unexpected source. A VNV Nation concert. Unexpected, because I’d seen them many, many times before, and whilst I regarded their recent ‘Automatic’ album as a ‘Return to Glory’ release, I wasn’t expecting anything more than some bouncy music interspersed with the between-song chit-chat that’s something of a feature at every VNV gig. And so it was….new songs mixed with (relatively) old ones, nothing pre-Empires, though. Dance a lot, sing along with favourite choruses and go nuts during the instant hit and current set-closer ‘Control’.
And then came the encore. Having cancelled a gig the night before due to voice issues, we had no idea how long Ronan was going to last, but there was enough left in him to manage a quartet of songs. Including one new track that I’d previously heard at InFest but not really appreciated the true nature of until tonight. The song was ‘Nova’. And when the song burst into life a minute or so it, with the trippy LED backdrop as accompaniment, I finally realised what I was missing.
“Shine. Shine Your Light On Me. Illuminate Me. Make Me Complete”
Who was this aimed at? I don’t yet know, presumably someone I’ve yet to meet. But within the confines of this song, I had found my direction again. There’s a long way to go, but was no longer adrift and lost. Back on track for sure.
October 2011 – New Era Is Coming Now
My last of four acts of interband DJing in 2011 was also the longest….the Renaissance II festival. 4pm to 11:30pm, nine bands, a whole range of different styles, and I’d offered to piece the whole thing together. I like a challenge. I’d familiarised myself with the band’s musics before the event had occurred, though some had a clearer musical direction than others. Transitioning from one show to the next was going to test the collection.
The final setlist is of course recorded elsewhere on this site. But what that doesn’t tell was the vibe I felt being able to hop between so many different styles over the course of the day. Some bands had pre-show requests, which in this role you naturally try to play, or at least get as close as possible to. NIN and Gary Numan I could handle. But a request that goes ‘Can we have something relevant? Like some blues.’ was a challenge to say the least. I know modern rock music is all essentially a child of the blues, but most of the types I play have been pretty heavily bastardised along the way. That said, cobbling together a set of Cash, Cave, Cohen and a bit of Velvets, it was both perversely relevant and completely off-the-wall.
In amongst this, I still got to see most of the shows. Whilst the bill-toppers Die Kur, MaxDmyz and Global Citizen were all friends already, the rest of the set represented a real sampler of previously-unknown parts of the UK scene. At least the parts of the scene that hadn’t played the two Synchrotrax festivals earlier this year (come to think of it, Global Citizen were at Dark 7 too!). Which, of course, I’d also DJed at. And to play festivals from both sides, to get the chance to cover the ground I did, that meant a lot.
That’s the end of the story for now. More will follow with each passing year, until I see every band I like or I pass from this mortal coil. If you started here, you really should go back to the start and read the whole tale.