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Substance Festival At The Belasco, Sunday November 28th 2021

Substance Festival
HEALTH at Substance Festival

If Saturday was a goth dancefloor at Substance Festival, Sunday delivered more glam, as many of the performers were quite artsy and some of the performances were very theatrical: from Spike Hells’ hard raging industrial EBM to Lydia Lunch’s terrorizing set to Riot new Grrl Patriarchy, there was plenty to see, although the grand art prize would probably go to Geneva Jacuzzi for the most creative performance ever.

I arrived just in time to sample Omen Awry’s brand of death metal, and their music was so deafening and furious that nobody in their right mind would have stood too close to the stage at the risk of permanently suffering from tinnitus.

It was a full contrast with Riki’s sexy electro beats. Her saxophone-heavy set was an ethereal ‘80s postmodern dancefloor, floating like the black faux-fur/faux-feather boa that she was wearing over a gold bodysuit – “Gold” is the title of her latest album. Her performance was a breath of fresh air among the loudness and heaviness of the festival, a haunting darkwave meets dream-pop production with romantic shades of Madonna or Lykke Li and more pop hooks you would have expected from a somewhat underground act.

Spike Hells brought us back to heavy and fury, as the male-female duo raised hell with electronics and a pure punk approach in front of an ecstatic audience. With elements of industrial, new beat, and techno, they started a riotous noise rave party, even rolling their back on the floor in the middle of the crowd.

Geneva Jacuzzi’s set was beyond creative, a clever art installation for dreamers, a sort of DYI Broadway mega-production that had transformed the main stage into an undersea décor thanks to a profusion display of aluminum sheets. It was pure shiny eye candy with giant silver inflatable tube balloons moving in all directions and a stage in constant motion. The entire set was something beyond music, a creative art collage with sea monsters, crabs, and giant jellyfish (or transformed umbrellas) swimming on Geneva’s synth-driven disco-pop sound. She and her crew went in the crowd a few times like a tentacular sea creature, sharing their silver dream for a few minutes.

I am truly terrified of Lydia Lunch, her insane anger has no boundaries, and she gave one of the most ferocious sets of noise rock of the day, no question! Aggressive is an understatement when it comes to describing the no-wave trailblazer. Wearing a short black dress and high heels, she was raging because her expensive glass of white wine was not coming soon enough, while she had a unique way to abruptly shake her mic stand with her tongue out. Her guitarist was jumping with insane energy, and Lydia Lunch Retrovirus’s entire set sounded like “don’t mess with me or I am gonna eat you alive.”

Once again in full contrast, Choir Boy looked and sounded like their moniker, with layered guitars, glittering synth, and a drum machine. Their frontman Adam Klopp had an operatic and intensely emotive croon, soaring with an impressive vocal range while performing some disarticulated but skilled dance moves. Their dreamy set was romantic and nostalgia-laced, and a few of their songs had traces of the Drums meet Boy George or the Killers.

But the riotous mood was definitively coming from the women, and LA-Based multidisciplinary artist/filmmaker Patriarchy (real name Actually Huizenga) didn’t disappoint. The tall blonde in leather short and a completely see-through shirt looked as sexy as a Blade Runner replicant or a reincarnation of Nancy Spungen/Ziggy takes his guitar. Anger fueled her set of dark metal/glam rock from start to finish and she was a destroyer of everything around, keyboard included. She was so theatrical, so wild and so fun to watch that I forgot a bit about the music: her last album “Reverse Circumcision” is a collection of remixes by Bon Harris of Nitzer Ebb, Drab Majesty, John Fryer of This Mortal Coil, Light Asylum among others.

John Maus was a one-man show with a computer, but he had the energy of a full band and was producing a big choir with the very participating crowd. He was screaming his straight-shooter short lines on a mic, jumping in his two feet, and he got soon drenched in sweat. The entire thing looked like a bounce party at the sound of an amalgam of music ideas – not unlike Ariel Pink’s own collages – turned into anthems and served by his popular baritone. However, much more than his music, his presence in Washington DC on January 6 (with Trump supporter and best friend Ariel Pink) was in many people’s minds when commenting on the festival lineup. Substance Festival posted a statement (that I cannot find anymore) supporting Maus. and basically explaining that he was in DC because of a documentary while he had declared to Vice in 2017 that he had always considered his political views to be “left of left of left of left. John Maus supporting a right-wing insurrection was an idea difficult to reconcile with him screaming “Right now, rights for gays” or “Let’s kill the cops tonight” … or is it? In any case, people around me were joyfully jumping with their phones in the air, not caring much for Maus’s DC awkward adventure.

After Pictureplane’s electronics, throbbing beats, and a performance flirting with hip hop, HEALTH closed the festival with an electrifying performance, a bit earlier than the two previous days – it was Sunday night after all. The noise rock trio has this unique dichotomous sound, with frontman Jacob Duzsik’s melancholic almost monotone vocals over almost calm melodies suddenly growing into explosive dark soundscapes, heightened in energy by the strobe lighting. The music stayed abrasive and on the experimental side while guitarist John Famiglietti’s long mane was elegantly banging an array of pedals and switches and Benjamin Jared Miller was drumming like a titan. After a frantic and charismatic performance, they closed the festival with a past-midnight industrial bang that sounded like an intense alarm… I had been an immersive sonic experience at the image of these three days of Substance Festival.

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