zondag 11 juni 2017

Wave Gotik Treffen 2017: literary ambitions, Cola mit Spee and pitch-black music

The WGT. Wave Gotik Treffen. The biggest black festival in the world and an unforgettable experience every time again. A gathering of like-minded creative and eccentric people, individualists who exceptionally blend into a larger whole.

It's my ninth edition already, and I see no reason to leave it after it. This year - like every year - there is some criticism of the program. Not enough big names, perhaps. But are we not here to discover new things, and to see bands that we will never see in our own country?

The program is very eclectic. There are numerous stages throughout the city, but there are also exhibitions, lectures, guided tours, parties... I intend to make it a total experience. As the performances start only about four or five o’clock, it is impossible to see more than five concerts a day. On the other hand, you have a lot of time to experience other things.

The first day

I begin in a very classical way at the Agra. This is the beating heart of the WGT. The largest concert hall with a capacity of 5000 people, the camping, a wide variety of food stalls and a large market with clothes, discs and accessories. Ideal to do some purchases - you want to look good, don’t you? - and to add some jewels to your CD collection.

I rush to be on time at the Schauspielhaus - the theater that will be my favorite place in this edition - to see Herbst in Peking. That did not prove to be necessary. Against my expectations, not so many people wanted to attend the concert. You may not know Herbst in Peking, but they are legendary here in the former GDR. They played a role in the fall of the wall. Herbst in Peking was one of the many punk bands that existed in the GDR, and they had a small hit with 'Bakschischrepublik', or backsheesh republic, a tremendous criticism of the GDR.

The DDR government didn’t like it, especially since they thought the name of the group referred to the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, a slaughter that didn't want to be mentioned. In fact, the name from a book by Boris Vian's with the same name, and the band carried this name since 1987, long before the slaughter in Beijing. However, Herbst in Peking was banned. The ban did not last long, as the wall fell soon afterwards.

A punk band in a theater room. Isn’t that exceptional? It will soon be clear why that is the case. Herbst in Peking has never restricted itself to punk. For instance, they also made songs with metal percussion à la Einstürzende Neubauten. But nothing of all this tonight. Here they play atmospheric music with a lot of attention to the lyrics. The band always had literary aspirations, as was also widespread in the alternative GDR scene (today Herbst in Peking play a song based on a poem by punk poet Bert Papenfuss, a central figure from the DDR scene). I'm surprised that the singer starts in English, but he switches to German regularly. Those who came to hear the old work might have been dissapointed, but it was an intense and successful performance nevertheless.

The crows call Jarboe welcome. Once upon a time she was half of the misanthropic duo Swans, today she plays here alone. Not entirely alone. A folk guitarist accompanies her. Consider the guitar as a drone - sometimes the guitar literally plays only one chord per song - supporting captivating female vocals. It's original, but it’s a hard stretch to keep the public’s attention for a longer time. Many people leave half way the concert.

In Gowan Ring used to be part of World Serpent - the record label of Death In June, Current 93 and many others - and so they are sometimes counted as neofolk. In reality, they are pure hippies making music for a world of harmony. A big difference with the world of perdition and misanthropy that is called neofolk. Masterbrain B'ee - who lives in Leipzig - tells about the drugs he took during the previous edition of the WGT, and how the hangover following that was the inspiration for a song about his childhood memories, which is now performed here a year later.

No big attendance for Andi Sex Gang. It needs to be said that he will perform again with Sex Gang Children on the next day, and they are the real thing, off cource. Anyone who thought Andi would perform his solo work was at the wrong address. Almost the whole set consisted of Sex Gang Children songs, performed with Matthew J. Saw on the guitar. It was somewhat amateurish. The sound check took too long and so the organizers decided that the performance had begun. In Leipzig, everyone must start and end on the announced time so that people who change stage are sure they can see the bands of their choice.

The two gentlemen want to leave the stage, but are told to play. Andi complains that he left his water is backstage and asks for a new bottle, which he does not see, however, until a staff member puts it in front of his nose. As a final disaster, Andi let’s his guitar fall, breaking his reinforcement element. An additional micro is added to amplify the guitar in a hurry. Strangely enough, the performance will be very good from then on, though it remains the question why this performance had to take place with songs that will sound much better tomorrow with the whole band.

The second day

One of the many exhibitions free for visitors to the WGT is 'Modern Times' in the history museum of the Altes Rathaus (Old City Council). This gives an overview of Leipzig's history in the 19th and 20th centuries. We begin in 1815 - the victory over Napoleon in the Völkerschlacht in Leipzig - and get an overview of the 1830's hunger riots, the 1848 revolt (smashed in blood), the German unification after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the tremendous Anti-Semitism, the rise of socialism (of which Leipzig was a bulwark), the First World War, the rise of Nazism (of which Leipzig was also a bulwark) ...

There are links with our scene. The fire in the Reichstag in 1933 - featured in the number ‘Feurio’ of Einstürzende Neubauten - led to a process in Leipzig. Besides the arsonist Marinus van der Lubbe, a number of prominent Communists had to stand trial. The latter were released in the trial, but the Nazis kept writing in their publications that the communists caused the fire. Communist Willy Münzenberg wrote a rebuttal of this statement from Paris: ‘Braunbuch uber Reichstagbrand und Hitlerterror’, or ‘Brown Book’, a major and controversial record of death In June (forbidden in Germany because it contains the Nazi party song ‘Horst-Wessellied’). We also read that the euthanasia program for mentally and physically disabled people - the subject of Samsas Traum’s ‘Poesie: Friedrichs Geschichte’ - started in Leipzig with the killing of 'Child K'.

The exhibition also shows the fall of the wall, which began with tens of thousands of Leipzigers demonstrating weekly with the slogan ‘Wir sind das Volk’. Remarkably, this slogan - meanwhile taken over by the hateful Pegida - was often accompanied by ‘Wir wollen raus’ - ‘we want to go’ screamed by people who wanted to leave the GDR (while the current Pegida is against migration).

The exhibition ends with a small room with 'Szene-Erinnerungen', which shows some material about the early gothic scene in Leipzig. Actually, it is a small follow-up of the 'Leipzig in Schwarz' exhibition held last year for the 25th anniversary of the WGT. There is not much to see, but we learn that the museum is still looking for material for a next exhibition about the theme. We are looking forward to it.

The Stasi Museum 'Runde Ecke' is also showing an exhibition about the early goth scene, in particular explaining the prosecution of subcultures by the Stasi, the state security of the GDR. There is also a 'reading', which is actually a performance of a piece by two actors. The topic is a research by the Stasi about the wave group ‘Schadestof’. First, a student is called to become Stasi ‘Informele Mitarbeiter’ - there were hundreds of thousands of ‘IMs’ who spied on their co-citizens in the GDR - in order to gather information about the band.

That's how Sabine is approached, a brilliant pupil who appears to be close to the ‘Gruftis’ - a German name for tomb-people or wavers - also dressed like them and attended various concerts of Schadestof. The performance is based entirely on true documents of the Stasi, of which only the order was slightly modified to clarify the story line. Sabine eventually accepts to become Informele Mitarbeiter. The presentation ends with her written report to the Stasi, the last sentence of which states: ‘All Gruftis drink their cola with Spee (laundry detergent which, according to some, has anesthetic effect in combination with cola), but they do not have to do if they do not want to.’

You can also read through the numerous Stasi reports about Gruftis. It's obviously terrifying to see how the police state kept watch of the youth, but it's also funny at times. For example, reference is made to 'Codix' or 'Goortik', wrong names that found their origin not only from the Stasi but also from the young people they interviewed. There are also references to 'Kürfans' and 'The Chur', as well as to 'New Menticks', 'Depache Mode' and 'Depesche Mode'.

It's even more threatening when it comes to fights with skinheads that took place regularly. Skinheads attacked wave parties to cut off the hair of Gruftis, in which Gruftis were also wounded with knifes. The Stasi acknowledged that the violence came from the the skins in the first place, but found that Gruftis were also guilty of violence and injuries, ‘usually in response to provocations of other youth groups as skinheads.’

There is a strange story about Gruftis who wanted to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday on 20/04/1989. Luckily, the Stasi concludes that the story is unfounded. The Stasi recognized that Gruftis are usually against violence and neonazism. Perhaps there was confusion with Robert Smith's birthday a day later on April 21, which of course was celebrated. The Stasi also concluded that Gruftis, when hearing the voice of Robert Smith, raised their arms and fell on the ground in ecstasy. Hmm, yes ... can be.

Should there be more music? Of course! Let’s go to the Taubschenhalle. This is the place were mohawks and deathhawks unite. And you know what that means: deathrock, postpunk, batcave ... Delicious. Singer Suzy Sabotage of Masquerade looks like a young version of Siouxie with bleached hairs. Also, her voice and dance moves reminds us of this great lady, even though it must not be intentional. Together with her companion and bassist Saph - both have another deathrock group in which Saph sings: Virgin in Veil - they bring a mix of punk and post punk, which unfortunately does not totally convince me.

‘After 26 years it's not easy to find new groups,’ the introducer to Soviet Soviet told us. Soviet Soviet - the council of councils - is such a newcomer. It's one of countless bands playing postpunk without having something to do with the black scene. They can bring forth some interesting elements, but they repeat them endlessly until you’ll ultimately get bored with them. Totally unnecessary performance.

I didn’t hear anything from The Scary Bitches for a long time. It appeared no one heard from them in the last five years. But here, the ‘Lesbian Vampires From Outer Space’ are back for their first concert since 2012. They are working on a new album that should be released next year. They already play a song from that album, but rest of the show consists of classics like my favorite 'You'll End Up Looking Like The Scary Bitches'. Nothing to take seriously, but enough to get a smile on our face once every five years.

The first performance that really touches me today is Bloody, Dead & Sexy. I remember when I first saw them in The Steeple in Waregem, as an opener for ... Sex Gang Children! What a coincidence. Today, the band celebrates its 20th birthday. For the occasion, a compilation was issued: 'Crucifixion, Please!' They play a lot from this new CD, so it is actually a 'best of' set. It seems like time stood still, since it is as overwhelming as the first time I saw them.

Yesterday, I wondered why Andi Sex Gang had to perform solo with Sex Gang Children songs. Today, everything becomes clear. Sex Gang Children also has a new compilation - "Electric Jezebel", which collects singles from 1982 and 1983 - and they play this in full, and with the original guitarist Terry Mcleay in the band. Matthew J. Saw was referred to the bass for the occasion. (The chance that the original bassist Dave Roberts will ever play in the band is nihil after the rumors he has spread over Andi Sex Gang.) The performance thus consists of the classics of the first years of the group: 'Times of our Lives', 'Salvation', 'Sebastiane', 'Oh Funny Man', 'Mauritia Mayer'... Just genius!

The third day

On the third day I wake up with a gigantic hangover in the afternoon. I’ve been staying too long at a dark-romantic party this morning. The musical offer available today does not excite me much. I've heard enough of all the postpunk and electronic groups, so I opt for something radically different: black metal. The Felsenkeller offers a fascinating bill in the genre. It starts with Nachtblut, a band that is clearly very popular here. The trio looks fantastic, with bodypaint and extravagant hairstyles. The singer spits his lyrics into the audience as the German version of Dany Filth. Add some orchestral and acoustic elements to it, and you have a particularly powerful and varied performance.

From the dark hollow holes deep in the black forest comes Unlicht, who like to call themselves 'The Black Forest Hell Ensemble'. They also wear bodypaint and should be careful not to hurt themselves at the long nails hanging at their arms. Where Nachtblut brings their black metal with elegance and melody, the intention here seems to be to produce unsustainable noise. They manage to achieve that, to the extent that leave halfway through the concert.

Back to my favorite hall: the Schauspielhaus. Myrkur recorded her first ep entirely on her own, as is required in black metal. It contained black metal prolonged with idyllic heavenly singing that quickly got attention. Her original intention was to stay anonymous and not to release pictures of herself, but it was inevitable that the world realized that the beautiful Danish photo model Amalie Brunne was behind the project. From black metal to neo classical, a big step for humanity, a small step for Amalie Brunne. She is assisted tonight by a guitarist and two singers, and accompanies herself on piano, nyckelharpa and drum. The result is beautiful.

We’re in for even more beauty. Moon Far Away mixes Russian folk music with electronic elements. Count Ash has included four accomplices for this performance, including a singer with a beautiful voice. Count Ash's folk guitar and its multitude of effects is also central, as well as electronics, bass and percussion. Call it folk, neofolk or post folk, but take it from me that it's fantastic.
The fourth day

Pentecost. All good things come to an end. There is no consensus about the bad things. It's the last day of the WGT, and today I really want something really dark, something pitch-black.

The hall of the Haus Leipzig is already full when I arrive in time for the ‘reading’ of Oswald Henke. Henke will perform songs from Goethes Erben accompanied by piano. It seems a good concept. Oswald is still singing his dark songs very expressively and theatrically. In addition to two songs from the fantastic recent musical theater 'Menschenstille', the emphasis is on the older work: 'Ich liebe Schmerzen', 'Das schwarze Wesen', Kaltes Licht', '5 Jahre' and 'Der Weg'. A wonderful set. And really dark, so I am happy.

I leave, still impressed by the performance of Henke. On my way, I pass a table of books, with titles like 'Gespräche mit Goth' (conversations with Goth) and 'Ich war ein Grufti' (I was a Grufti). Their author is Thomas Manegold, and he is the next guest here. He trickled my attention and I turn right back to the room I just left. Manegold presents his book ‘Gespräche with Goth’, an episode novel that consists of several short stories that are connected.

The main character is a former DJ and music journalist who struggles with a burnout. Manegold appears to have a particularly sharp pen and a wide range of humor. His description of the self-centered amateur music journalist who cynically looks down on the people he interviews and sees himself as an indispensable link between the artist and the public must undoubtedly cause some teeth cringing at the Dark Entries editorial board.

When I finally walk into a concert hall and see Vain Warr at work, I have to think about my late grandmother. She often complained that the young generation of artists did not bother to articulate. It is a generalized cliché that you hear more often in the French-speaking world. I came here for an additional portion of pitch-black darkness. The program promised something inspired by The Sisters of Mercy. Well, the drum machine sounds like Dr. Avalanche on a lesser day and the guitars are reverbing and delaying like they should. It's not overwhelming, but it's not bad either.

I was initially afraid Holygram would be the next thirteen in a dozen postpunk band, and it turned out to be true. The singer sings his lyrics as if they were terribly boring, and that turned out to be true too. But hey, at least he’s articulating. Actually, this is a good performance, at least if you have drunk some beers and do not give too much attention to the lyrics (I'm better at the former than at the latter).

Back in my favorite concert hall I notice two cops looking carefully around. After all the reports about terrorist attacks on concerts, I get anxious thoughts. Suppose a freak with bad intentions has has entered the place, how do you distinguish him from all the other freaks? It's a question you should not think about too long.

I'm here to see Theodor Bastard. I saw them when they played pitch-blach darkwave. Meanwhile, they have seriously evolved towards world music, and the result is impressive. How do you mix Dead Can Dance with goa, folk, world music, dark wave and industrial? Theodor Bastard knows the secret, but will not tell you. You can enjoy it, though, without limits.

As a closer for the festival, Corde Oblique is a safe choice. It’s not pitch-black, but rather consists of infinite beauty. A combination of tiredness and excessive drinking makes me unable to enjoy the performance in a good way, but from experience I know that the neoclassical group around classical guitarist Riccardo Prencipe sounds heavenly, and in my moments of clarity, I am reaffirmed in this opinion.

Time to go to sleep then? Indeed. This edition will have me suffering from the inevitable Leipzig Blues for the next few days. But I'm returning home with a suitcase full of great experiences, CDs and books that will keep me going for a while. And my decision is already clear: I will be back again next year.

Setlist Oswald Henke: Ich liebe Schmerzen / Das schwarze Wesen / So weiss ich doch wärst / Traumsuche / Keine Farben / Lilien / Kaltes Light / Der Abschied / Stadt der Träumen (Artwork) / 5 Jahre / Der Weg

Xavier Kruth


Pictures: Luc 'Who Cares' Luyten

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