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Substance Festival At The Belasco, Saturday November 27th 2021

Substance Festival
Nitzer Ebb at Substance Festival

On Saturday, the lineup of Substance Festival was dominated by dance music, and I am not only saying this because Nitzer Ebb was headlining. The entire night was a giant dancefloor from Second Skin’s analog synths to Nuevo Testamento’s synth-pop, to Twin Tribes’ gloomy post-punk, to Provoker’s bouncing pop party, to finally Nitzer Ebb’s cutting-edge EBM… the goths have the best dancefloors.

I arrived just to catch the end of Houses of Heaven’s set, a drum-oriented post-punk act that had already gathered a large crowd for an early evening, while, on the main stage, a young band named Second Skin seemed to unite the past with the present thanks to their synth-heavy sprawling soundscapes. They had big hooks, and some high-energy numbers, plus the powerful commanding vocals combined with soaring ‘80s dancefloors gave me a sort of Billy Idol-Top Gun vibe. After an over-the-top epic ending, Fearing’s throbbing dark guitar and bass combo and moody tones were a change of tone, as their layered music had an almost claustrophobic vibe with reverb-soaked vocals, producing an anxious, dense and dark atmosphere.

I barely ventured into the basement because of a lack of time between the schedules on main and the upstairs stages – plus the lighting was very dim down there – but I got a glimpse of Future Blondes and their experimental electronic noise engine combined with reverb beats and aggressive cyborg vocals. They played without any interruption and were quite a convincing trance-inducing machine.

VR Sex ended up being somewhat puzzling: the five-piece band, with matching white shirts with black ties, played a straightforward highly dynamic punk rock set delivered with a fearless urgency. I remember frenetic guitars drowning in an extraordinary fuzz and a frontman with some restless energy, but it was not the industrial/new wave/synth rock combination expected after reading a bit about them. However, they played so fast that they finished their set about 10-15 minutes earlier?

Nuevo Testamento had everyone on the floor dancing with their coldwave bass lines, minimal synth melodies, energetic drum pads, and sweet female vocals. They had infectious grooves and their nocturnal dance music could have been a cross between Gossip and New Order.

Eyedress probably played the weirdest set of the day, an act I barely understood as the two men frenetically played guitars to the crowd’s great excitement, with two women dancing in the background… although one of them seemed to be a crossdresser? Then, they stopped, seemed to have sound problems, and never finished their set, as they started to break a guitar and threw pieces off the stage. I couldn’t tell if it was part of their act or if they were really pissed off because of the sound problem? The entire thing looked like a stage joke that Odd Future could have done, chaos-trigerring at a punk hip hop show with the crowd cheering despite the shortened set.

I don’t want to say that Twin Tribes were Robert Smith wannabe because it sounds pejorative – they were actually pretty good –but that’s exactly the vibe I got when I entered the room, partly because of the sophisticated goth look and the white-face-dark-eyeliner makeup. The crowd responded with some unexpected burst of energy to the coldwave/gloomy ambiance and the barked vocals over a high-pitched guitar, but most people were here to body-undulate along their Depeche Mode meets The Cure vibe running over a drum machine.

Squid’s set was as perplexing as expected, a quirky chaotic weirdness with plenty of people and instruments on stage. Center-stage, the singer was drumming with firing energy, and the band gave us a manic set delivered with a rare urgency, a chaotic cacophony that stayed upbeat all the time. They were sometimes reminiscent of Matt Watt’s jazzy-chord-charged punk experiment, except there was a trumpet in the mix. Plus, the grand finale was a pure cathartic adventure in static. Upstairs, Provoker’s bouncing pop party was a very crowded one for a post-punk ambiance with an indie-pop twist, that could have just landed between the Drums and Mac Demarco. I just regret that N8NOFACE was playing in the basement at the same time as the legendary band Nitzer Ebb, but I am certain his visceral hardcore punk electronic and robotic moves drew a more than decent crowd downstairs.

Nitzer Ebb brought the Belasco down with a high-energy show – that stretched till 1:30 am – despite a minimalist lineup. There were only two people on stage: singer and cofounder Doug McCarthy was a no-show and Bon Harris had stepped in to perform lead vocals, while David Gooday was behind programming synthesizers. At the end of the performance Harris told us that they “were Nitzer Ebb for tonight,” and this could have been an allusion to McCarthy’s absence. Never mind, Bon Harris did a fantastic job, he was shouting, moving, dancing on the almost empty stage, owning the place with an almost comical despotic aesthetic, while his look and gestures were not without reminding me one of these crazy Lethal Amounts’ Sex Cells nights. The music was a hard industrial-electronic dance affair, throbbing and immediately putting everyone in a deep dancing trance. Meanwhile, restless Harris was the loudest person around, pacing furiously back and forth across the stage, repeatedly shouting Nitzer Ebb’s bullet-like lyrics… “Join in the Chant,” “You,” “Down on Your Knees…” to a sea of fists in the air. Nitzer Ebb’s tough macho aesthetic was as provocative and satiric as ever, a visceral Black Flag delivery over industrial dance music and imagery vaguely flirting with totalitarian homoeroticism. Despite the simpler lineup, these EBM pioneers effortlessly demonstrated why they are regarded as one of the most influential bands of the genre. The goths have the best dancefloors.

 

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