First up to open the festival are “the ones with the biggest hats”, Northern melodic goth rockers Rhombus. With several fantastic well-crafted, energetic and catchy songs, we have been looking forward to their performance for a while. Tonight they do not disappoint. They crash straight in with driving bass and stomping percussion for ‘Open The Sky’, and the set is packed with energy and drive all the way through. The dual male and female vocals of Mya and Edward Grassby are powerful and spot-on throughout, and the band and crowd alike are dancing. The closing song ‘Anywhere’ also gets the crowd accompanying the title lyric with hand actions.
Next up are pop-rockers from Leeds, Eureka Machines, this is the rather contrasting project of East Yorkshire’s own Chris Catalyst (of the Sisters Of Mercy). This collective are known for their wit and energy on stage, and tonight sees them jumping about like lunatics making it rather a challenge for our camera’s focus function to keep up. The set starts abruptly with a short announcement from Chris of “We are going to play some songs, starting about now”, followed by new album title track ‘Champion The Underdog’ immediately crashing in. The band wear matching suits, use old-fashioned style microphones and leap in formation with their instruments, whilst sounding like a cross between the Manic Street Preachers and Green Day. Later in the set, the band move into popier numbers such as ‘The Beginning Of The End Of The World’ and ‘(I’m) Wasting My Time (Yet Again)’, which sees the crowd willingly participating in sing-a-long “woahs” at a charismatic Chris’ suggestion. This band deliver an energy in their live performance and it left us feeling more enamoured with this rather jolly band.
Performing at DV8Fest for the second year in a row, follows (the much anticipated by us) Jay Smith’s Industrial project, Deviant UK. Last year’s brilliant performance saw him adopting live drums, crossing the performance over into the arena of alternative rock. However this year’s act consists simply of “egomaniac” Jay…maniacally commandeering the microphone, a guitarist, and a flame-haired lady on synth and laptop providing the stomping soundtrack. It is strongly an electro-industrial set, and this time, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Jay’s vocal style strongly resembles Gary Numan, and there are influences of Rotersand and Project Pitchfork, the latter of whom Jay has worked and toured with before. The distorted vibrations move our feet with the beat for the entirety of the set, along with the crowd’s, as Jay’s incredible presence struts across the stage, wields the mic stand and pulls faces at individual audience-members. The stand-out track for us is the closing song, ‘You Will Burn’ from new album ‘Very Bad Things’, which has (amongst other songs) the crowd singing (or rather shouting in this case) along. This combination of high sound quality, heavy beats, powerful vocals and Jay’s magnetic showmanship has drawn us into the Deviant UK world of sex, synths and of course deviation.
We had been looking forward to the return to DV8fest of long-running gothic rock band Nosferatu’s set, part of their tour to promote their new album ‘Wonderland’. Having started out in 1988, this unashamedly goth band have numerous dark releases spanning the decades and retain one original member, lead guitarist Damien DeVille. Having been moved by the dark romantic sounds of the ‘Wonderland’ album, and frontman Louis DeWray’s deep, haunting voice, we are expecting great things from tonight’s headliner. Disappointingly though, this band’s live performance of their new songs does not compare to the warm, deep sound on their recordings.
The band make an entrance with atmospheric pre-recorded “intro music”, which is then let down by following set consisting of poor sound and often unclear vocals, although we are informed by a long-standing fan that this is part of a goth tradition where you had to be a genuine fan of Nosferatu to know what was being sung at a gig [really? Pfft – Ed]. The title track ‘Wonderland’ is one of our favourites on the album, but poor live sound quality kills the soft, ethereal nature of this dark ballad. Certain instruments that are key to the romantic feel of the song, (such as piano and tinkling bells), are missing from the performance. The seventh song of the set stands out as a highlight, but unfortunately we can’t tell you what it was called as, like the other songs, it is unannounced, and we can’t catch the lyrics, although we suspect it may have been ‘Monument’. To add further detriment to the performance, the instrumentalists are very still and dull on stage, in direct, noticeable contrast to the previous three energetic acts, and this is reflected in a less-energised crowd. On a more positive note, conversations with various audience members indicate that some Nosferatu fans did enjoy the performance and were not disappointed themselves.
Now the festival is really getting started, with four stages hosting a variety of great music. We begin at Stereo where electro-goth maestros Last July kick off the evening. The threesome are fairly new, with a fantastic EP ‘Nothing Else But You’, released in erm, July last year and full of extremely well-produced and well-crafted songs, and now have a new single ‘Glamourous Parasite’. The crowd is quite small, but the spot-on musical performance does not disappoint and the crowd are very appreciative. Front-lady Alix is charismatic, friendly and smiley, in fact this band seem to genuinely be enjoying themselves, with a permanent smirk on the face of synth player/laptop operator Dvae also, and all members moving to the beat. The songs mostly consist of heavy electronic beats, beautiful vocal melodies, deep lyrics, strong guitar riffs from Nevla (which serve to give the live performance more “oomph” and depth than the more electronicised recorded guitar sound) and some lovely melodic guitar and synth solos too. The band swiftly solve “fuzzy noise” technical issues towards the end of the second song, and Alix forgetting the words to ‘Nothing Else But You’ would have gone unnoticed had she not admitted to it at the end of the song. An audience member who had seen them perform in Huddersfield last year, without a live guitarist, stated that they were brilliant then, but much improved since. We look forward to their next performance on November 4 at Whitby.
We are so wrapped up in the performance of Last July that we fail to realise until the end of the set that the running order is approximately 45 minutes behind schedule (it had started about half an hour late). Forsaking plans to check out next up spooky rock and roll act The Scaramanga Six, we rush off to Fibbers, today the EBM stage, to catch new surgical-themed harsh EBM act Surgyn, only to arrive during the final song. However we still feel this freaky plastic twosome with the motto ‘Fashion Over Function’ are worth a mention. We were there long enough to witness high-delay vocals, surgical fetish PVC outfits, mad dancing and harsh heavy beats that have the crowd dancing and cheering, and us wishing we had arrived earlier.
Next up, on the EBM stage are Sheffield industrialists Uberbyte. Having perused their Soviet-inspired artwork-filled website and discovered a silly, yet humourous overtone to the whole aesthetic, we are looking forward to a not all too serious performance. That is what we get, coupled with surprising musical brilliance. We should not however be so surprised when we know that the group have recently toured the USA with Nachtmahr, and lead “Uberman” Richard Pyne has varied musical experience of writing and performing in a variety of contrasting genres, including fronting goth rock group Killing Miranda. The lineup is interesting – Alpha on two large drums, Deadboy on a digital box, Carbonel on a small synth, Ubergirl on two synths and backing vocals, and Uberman himself on lead vocals. And everyone (in the band) on silly dancing. The whole set is bouncy, energetic, crazy and charismatic, with extravagant black and red uniforms (which gradually get removed as the set progresses), dancing on stage, comical lyrics, and anecdotes from Uberman adding to the energy. The main beat is provided by Alpha’s relentless bang-on-time war-robot-like battering of what looks like two giant floor toms with epic motions, and this is accompanied by pulsating synths, giving an overall live sound far more hard-hitting than the pre-recorded sound on their albums. Lyrics to ‘Break You’ are altered on stage to “this mic stand – I’ll break it” as Uberman’s mic-stand flailing succeeds in exactly that outcome. This is followed by the mic lead also breaking in such a way that the mic has to be held comically high in the air for it to work, and at this point we learn that an Uberbyte gig which doesn’t result in something getting broken is a rare occurrence. The stand-out track from this set was iconic anthem ‘Industrial Bitch’, which this time included samples from The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, and the audience joining in, with the help of Ubergirl’s (mostly unnecessary for this crowd), lyric-teaching skills. The set ends with international hit ‘Money Shot’, and the audience shouting “pussy, pussy cock” (they’re the lyrics, honest) before being showered in confetti.
Headlining the Industrial stage, competing for attention with new act O. Children over on the trad. goth stage, are Dutch harsh EBM/Aggrotech monsters Grendel. The three-piece enter to symphonic intro music, before the noisy synths of ‘Harsh Generation’ take over. The heaviest and harshest act so far, they have the crowd going mad, and growing wilder with each song which feels heavier and more banging than the preceding one. Very quickly we have given in to the beat and are stomping and flailing madly with the rest of the crowd. A combination of the noisy and distorted with clean and soaring synths are accompanied by live electronic drums by M4RC and distorted vocals (and facial expressions) from VLRK. Standout track is ‘Dirty’, with strobe lighting adding visual terror to the dancefloor, which is what Fibbers has become. Another popular piece is a cover of ‘Zombie Nation’, which is unfortunately followed by a large section of the crowd leaving for the Barbican due to the late-running of the proceedings. Those who stay put are rewarded by hit ‘Chemicals And Circuitry’ which has us screaming for more.
Next, everyone rushes across to the Barbican for arguably the main attraction of DV8fest, iconic electro maestro Gary Numan, and we arrive just in time. Gary has been busy working on new albums ‘Splinter’ (in the making) and ‘Dead Son Rising’ (due for release in September), and recently also touring as a DJ. Tonight’s show is absolutely thundering, with excellent sound quality, soaring synths filling the vast space, epic light shows and Gary’s phenomenal voice. A long set-list ranging from brand new compositions such as ‘The Fall’ and ‘When The Sky Bleeds, He Will Come’, to songs from recent album ‘Jagged Edge’ such as ‘Haunted’, to old favourites like ‘Cars’ and ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’. The band, all styled similarly to Gary himself, dance around full of energy at the beginning of the set, but we notice that their movement wanes somewhat as the set goes on. The music, however, is unfaltering, and Gary himself leaps about wielding the microphone stand (when he isn’t playing guitar) throughout the set. Old songs are rehashed to further dramatic effect, with particular use of drop-outs to build tension, and loud verses and choruses replaced by soft ones with different parts and/or instrumentation than previously-known. This is typical of Gary’s habit of reinterpreting and re-developing old material to make it new, and it certainly keeps the crowd on edge. Particularly notable is the aforementioned ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’, where verses consist simply of a single (and sometimes double) piano line and soft low synths accompanying Gary’s vocals. This has the crowd “woah”-ing along and waving their hands – cheering when all the instruments kick back in, then going mental at the end of the song as the band leave the stage. Chants of “Numan” and “Encore” soon bring them back however, and ‘I Die You Die’ had us positively headbanging to close.
We begin our Saturday at The Duchess stage with French post-punk/coldwave band No Tears. Guitarist/synth player/programmer Paul Fiction runs an independent record label Str8line Records, and tonight’s set consists of highlights from the band’s second and latest two albums, ‘Obsessions’ and ‘Fragments’, as well as single ‘Robert’s Eyes’, inspired by The Cure’s Robert Smith. Some of the songs are in French, and we are pleased and impressed to find that the band kindly provide handouts with English translations. With welcome live drums and two guitarists, this group deliver great rock music but with one disappointing let-down: out of tune lead vocals, which seem to grow worse with each song. Seeing as the vocals are in tune with themselves, but not the rest of the instruments, we feel this must be a result of poor sound on-stage, and perhaps also not helped by the large amount of delay FX on the signal, but it does sufficiently ruin the performance. This is a great shame, as they are polished on all released albums and singles, and the songs themselves are well-written.
Next, we head off to Fibbers for Mandr01d, self-proclaimed martians from the (rather retro-looking) “future”. Consisting of two high-vis jacket and silly headgear-wearing vocalists whose monotone chanting sound like a bad but amusing karaoke act, a plastic guitar-hero guitar player, and man in the background operating the futurepop soundtrack and visuals, they are incredibly silly and comical yet their music is well-produced and danceable. They have us chortling many times with their songs with titles such as ‘All I want For Christmas Is A Burned Out Car’ and ‘Nuclear Is Cool’. They also perform comical industrial covers of Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ (with lyrics altered to reference the TV game show ‘Countdown’), and ‘The Sound Of Music’s ‘My Favourite Things’, with the lyrics changed to portray the nightmarish future from whence Mandr01d came. Each song is accompanied by a humourous video projected behind the performers to reflect the lyrics. The fifth song of the set consists entirely of a long silent guitar solo by Arfur Daley on his plastic Guitar Hero guitar, composed “out of the range of human hearing”, which the fellow band-members called “atrocious”. Arfur spends the rest of the set similarly bouncing around playing his silent instrument, and leader Doktor Power frequently addresses the crowd as “Bradfield”. Mandr01d are extremely well-received by a venue that had previously hosted the loudest, harshest EBM acts, thanks to their combination of brilliantly produced futurepop-style industrial, humourous lyrics, stage presence, outfits and visuals.
We now head to the Stereo stage, which tonight plays host to a “steampunk spectacular” of music, and the venue is packed out and stiflingly hot. It all becomes worth it however when York-based gothic three-piece Alice Moving Under Skies take to the stage. We are blown away from the outset by an electro-beat with heavy guitars, and Penny Dreadful’s powerful and expressive voice, accompanied by dramatic dance-like movements. This is a band with dual male and female vocals, and when we first hear Mark Dreizehn’s voice opening the ethereal synth-accompanied song ‘Emerald Goddess’, we are equally impressed by his musicality, his voice reminding us of Rogue from The Cruxshadows. The two also sing impeccably in harmony, and Penny alters the accent of her voice to give different sounds – she is clearly a very accomplished and versatile singer. Aside from their original compositions, the group perform a cover of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’, to promote their covers release. This is to be given away free with the first 50 copies sold of their new album which is due for release in November, at the request of fans. We are incredibly impressed with this particular cover, which, with heavy guitars and an electro beat, we feel is performed far more excitingly, expressively, and with more spirit, variation and vocal technical prowess than Gaga’s release. Their closing song, the Labyrinth-inspired ‘Dear Faith’, includes a long section of musical vamping where bassist Rob Webley performs for us some startling tricks including sword swallowing, and eating razor blades then withdrawing them in a long line from his mouth. Chatting to him after the performance, we discover that he almost forgot what to do mid-trick, so he may have had a lucky escape.
After a much-needed break in the fresh air, we head back inside to catch the latter half of Ghostfire’s set. Dubbed as steampunk, as well as “folky and sea shanty”, they certainly have the look, complete with piratesque outfits, goggles and bowler hats. Vocalist Mister E certainly has the presence too, entertaining us by leaping and stomping around the stage in ways that remind us of a cross between Fagin in the ‘Oliver Twist’ musical and Willy Wonka of the Chocolate Factory. Musically, they keep the arrangements simple yet effective, with a ban on “instrumental wanking”, resulting in an organic vintage sound. Their music is dark folk with gothic influences, and lyrical subject matter concerning the treatment of Victorian criminals, legends and sea shanties. Despite the dark subject matter, the music is jolly and lively, and has the crowd swaying, bopping and waltzing around, despite the limited space.
Headlining the steampunk extravaganza is American soloist Voltaire, whose dark yet comic folk songs and charismatic personality wow a large crowd (literally spilling out of the doors) made up of loyal fans and new listeners alike. Boasting an all-star collective of instrumentalists (including fiddle and accordion) on his recordings, tonight Voltaire appears alone with an acoustic guitar and a bottle of rum, although he is joined on every song by merrie and overly-responsive fans raucously singing every word along with him. Firmly in the folk tradition, each witty song tells a dark story, played out through its verses, and Voltaire changes words and adds new lines apparently on a whim as these songs develop, much to the amusement of the fans. There have been many attempts to define Voltaire’s music, including the terms Steampunk, dark cabaret and gypsy punk, and most recently as described by one fan, “Riding a black unicorn down the side of an erupting volcano whilst drinking from a chalice filled with the laughter of small children”, which has become the title of his forthcoming album. On this said album, Voltaire is accompanied by David J of The Bauhaus on bass, Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls on drums, and Melora Creager of Rasputina on cello amongst other experienced musicians. Highlights of tonight’s set were ‘Twilight’ pisstake ‘Vampire Club (Twilight Version)’, which receives a phenomenal applause, and the long and multi-versed, yet witty, ‘Death Death (Devil. Devil, Evil, Evil song)’. As a finale, Voltaire is joined on stage by a “philharmonic choir” of audience members to sing this song with him, most of whom know all the words, and we cannot get this song out of our heads for the entirety of the following day. As the set ends and the merch table is swamped, we only now realise that the Darklands club night that follows is starting well over an hour late!
We stay and wave goodbye to all inhibitions on the dancefloor for a few hours, appreciating the additional company of guest loonies bouncing, stomping, floating and flailing alongside the Darklands regulars who have not deserted their favourite York goth club on this night. DJ Batastrophe’s mix of Mittelalter (Medieval electronica), EBM and traditional goth rock does not disappoint, as always providing a variety of goth genres to satisfy everyone present. Before we know it it is 2am and the end of a third fantastic, varied festival day.
Before we know it, the final day of DV8 is upon us! We begin at the Duchess, anxious to see what Sheffield mellow goth-rock act Dyonisis have to offer. Frontwoman Nel Cave appears in a romantic, floaty white gown bedecked with flowers and blue and white fairy lights, lending itself to the dreamy, ethereal, fae nature of their music. It is rather difficult to pidgeonhole this group’s sound into a genre, but we would say chilled out ambient, melancholy rock with a bit of a light electronic feel. Dyonisis uniquely feature the dual female vocals of Nel and Lou, whose voices are contrasting – Lou has a powerful, operatic voice, and Nel a softer, yet highly expressive voice in some ways akin to Tina Root of Switchblade Symphony. The two voices blend expertly to create an absolutely heavenly bubble of vocal bliss. Also appearing on the stage are guitarist and bassist/programmer Tom and Marcus. All elements of the music blend perfectly and take us on a magical journey, Nel’s voice and face full of passion, and on the closing note of ‘Lunatic’, we just do not want the set to end. Dyonisis’s second album ‘Intoxicated’ is available now on Sheffield-based Singed Records.
With that cry, we now welcome one of the older and more traditional bands in goth culture, The March Violets. Having started out back in 1981 alongside other key artists such as label mates The Sisters of Mercy, and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, they are now re-formed, but impressively have back three original members. Those present at last year’s DV8Fest may remember vocalist Rosie Lugosi, who compered the Duchess stage, now appearing with other original March Violets members vocalist Simon Denbigh and Tom Ashton on guitar, together with new member Jo Violet on bass, and the ever-faithful drum machine. The band rock through many of their old numbers including ‘Crow Baby’, ‘Children On Stun’ and ‘Long Pig’, and have a large crowd dancing away like nobody’s business. Being new to the March Violets live experience ourselves, we have nothing from past performances to go by, but the sound balance does not feel like the best compared to previous bands on the Duchess stage, and Rosie’s vocals could have blended better and are a little flat in places. The band themselves feel the technical weaknesses, as ‘Crow Baby’ is restarted due to members being unable to hear the drums or the click on stage. Although there is lots of upbeat energy in the music, effort and wit from the performers, and each song makes a great tune on its own, we do find the songs in the set to be a tad repetitive. Part-way through the seventh song we decide that we have more-or-less heard it all, so go next door to check out headliners Mesh before they finish. When we reach Fibbers however, due to very late runnings, Mesh have not yet started, and there is quite a large and eager crowd gathered. As the Bristol electronic geniuses launch into 2009 album-opener ‘If We Stay Here’, and we are blown away – for the wrong reasons. Not through the fault of the band, but the sound levels are terrible, with ear-splittingly loud bass. This is a really great shame and disappointment, as listening to Mesh’s recorded material, particularly most recent release ‘A Perfect Solution’, the sounds are blended wonderfully, with driving guitars and powerful drum beats (both electronic and acoustic) supporting catchy, rhythmic retro-esque synths and strong, well-delivered vocals from Mark Hockings, with memorable lyrics.
Sadly, the sound tonight does not improve as the set moves on, and we last as far as the sixth song before acquiring some rather appropriately-cyber-looking neon earplugs from the bar, which the venue kindly provide for free. Although our ears are now less painful, it does nothing to help the sound balance, with the low-end frequencies of the drums and bass swamping all other sound. Occasionally we catch a welcome surge of a high synth, but for the most part, the synths are smothered by the overpowering drum beats. Sadly it is so difficult to hear the other elements of the music, that we are unable to comment on how the music is put together, or the band’s prowess in this. Despite all these problems, the band get an extremely good reception, with a large crowd dancing dramatically throughout, and the first encore we have witnessed all weekend, aside from Gary Numan. The band respond with popular hit ‘Friends Like These’, changing the lyrics to ‘Friends Like You’, which the crowd love, and the stage is briefly invaded by a merry Martin Degville of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Crowd favourite is the single ‘Crash’, a really banging electronic anthem which stood out to us as one of the best songs and got the crowd bouncing wildly all over the place. The spirit is upheld into ‘From This Height’, the last song before the encore, and the dancing only seemed to grow more enthusiastic.
By the time Mesh finish, the venue is running an hour and a half late, so we decide to return home, exhausted but on a high from a musically fantastic weekend. We have thoroughly enjoyed this year’s DV8Fest, and are thankful for the extra day added this year allowing us to hear even more great acts and prolong the enjoyment. We are very impressed with, and thankful for, Chris Sherrington who has done an amazing job, putting on this event in our own ancient city of York, something to be most proud of, and somewhere where we can all be together and not have to choose between one weekend or another, as has sadly happened with Whitby this year.
There is of course room for improvement, the main point being that venues running behind schedule means that we miss some of the acts we want to see. If this is solved, perhaps with acts scheduled further apart and beginning a little earlier, then that just leaves a few sound issues to sort out. If these things were perfect (which festival has ever boasted perfect sound engineering throughout?), then there would be no way of faulting this festival. Overall, the sound in all venues was impeccable, with only a few bands that we saw, unfortunately two headlining the last night, suffering from poor sound balance. This is certainly an improvement on last year, and an improvement on many other festivals of the same ilk. We are now eagerly anticipating next year’s DV8!
For more information visit the official DV8 Festival website.