Tower Transmissions VIII @ Club Puschkin, 2019.09.20 / 21
Day 1: Kollaps (AUS) / Moral Order (ES) / Uncodified (IT) / Acherontas (GR) / Grim (JP)
Day 2: Sadio (FIN) / Screaming It (D) / Burial Hex (US) / Stromstad (NOW/FIN) / Lydia Lunch & Marc Hurtado play Alan Vega & Suicide (US/FR) / MZ.412 (SWE)
While I usually never write live reports here to accompany the photos, still, I have done so in a few cases when I went to industrial festivals abroad. I wanted to do it for the 30th Anniversary of Tesco and for Will To Power: Electronics 2, but ended up skipping it due to lack of free time, however I did review the Wroclaw Industrial Festival XV and even Hradby Samoty IV back in 2013 (when I was still taking photos with my cheapo old camera). So, to continue this tradition, here is a not-that-short rundown of the excellent Tower Transmission VIII festival that took place in Dresden on 2019.09.20/21. The first TT festival was held back in 2011 and they have been running it ever since at Club Puschkin, a very nice venue that’s easy to reach from the city center, but still located in a desolate area, that suits the festival extremely well. The organizers skipped 2018 for some reason, but this year the festival was back and one of the first acts they announced was Jun Konagaya‘s monster ritual industrial project, Grim. I, unfortunately, have not attended any of the previous Tower Transmission festivals (and haven’t even been in Dresden before), but this one announcement alone guaranteed that I will be going this time. And the later additions to the line-up just reinforced this decision, including some old and recent faves, exclusive shows and first-ever performances.
The club itself was probably a former factory or storage building, with a concert hall with an approx. 500 capacity (I am just guessing here), a garden with a grill bar and a bonfire and of course the a bar / merch area, where you could buy stuff from the performers and also from L. White Records and Loki Foundation (where I ended up spending most of my money, picking up some CDs from my want list along with several issues of Noise Receptor Journal, including the distro’s last copy of the otherwise sold out #4). And the festival itself started with…:
Day#1 / 2019.09.20
Kollaps. I actually saw the Australian trio just two days before the festival, during their tour’s Budapest stop and for me that was one of (if not THE) best show of the year. I already saw them in Budapest the previous year and while that was also a fine gig afterall, it was marred by equipment trouble, bad PA and a generally crappy venue. The album they released since (Mechanical Christ) is their best material so far and with the small, but packed, almost claustrophobic venue in Budapest, accompanied by the ultra-loud sound and violent performance made it an incredibly powerful show. So, my expectations were extremely high and they only fell a bit short because at the bigger, more spacious stage and hall of Puschkin, the show just couldn’t be as impactful as in the small club in BP that hardly had a stage, so we could experience the band’s insanity up-close-and-personal. But other than that it was still ranked as one of the festival’s best performances. If the BP show was 10/10, this was about 9.8/10 for me.
The next act, Spain’s Moral Order is the noisier side-project of Fernando O. Paíno, probably better known as one half of darkwave duo Da-Sein. And even thought Moral Order had three releases out in a year, this was the first ever live performance. As for nearly all of the acts, we had some visuals running on the screen behind the performers, enhancing the dark and threatening nature of the music that in this case was a nice mixture of dark ambient and power electronics. At one point Fernando was joined on stage by Da-Sein’s other half, Kas Visions, who also sang at some of the studio releases and overall, while it was nothing revolutionary, it was a very decent performance, and especially strong for a first live appearance.
They were followed by the festival’s probably harshest noise act, Uncodified, Corrado Altieri‘s solo project from Italy. As it is often the case with noise acts, the performance itself wasn’t much to write about with just him standing behind his gear, but the heavily layered noise itself, combined with the massive volume was simply overwhelming. Just maybe a bit too short and by the time I really got into the vibe it was already over. And speaking about the volume, it is worth to note that the sound during the whole festival was simply flawless. Clear, bombastic and loud enough to perfectly emphasize the power of the performances, but never too loud, so you did not have to worry about hearing damage.
Next up was Acherontas, the odd one out. They are a black metal group from Greece and honestly I was a bit lost about them being there. Yes, I know that the singer’s dark ambient project, Shibalba played at TT in 2017, but still… There are several extreme metal acts that incorporate noise and industrial in their music (the excellent Full Of Hell and Endon comes to mind as some random examples off the top of my head), but Acherontas itself has nothing like that. It is just a simple old-school black metal band and honestly, based on just this performance, a quite clichéd one at that, both musically and lyrics-wise (with lyrics that seemed to be going something like “Satanas luciferum baal-tiamat satanicus…” and so on and on). And it is not me being against black metal, as even though I am very picky with that genre, there are several acts that are very dear to my heart, but Acherontas just did not work for me and they did not at all fit into the festival. Sure, there were some people that enjoyed their show a lot, but I felt that I am not alone with my feelings as many others also left the hall during their show to hang around in the garden and bar areas instead.
As Grim was the main reason why I came to the festival, obviously my expectations were quite high. I already saw them during their first ever European visit at Will To Power 2 in 2016 where Jun Konagaya and co. were headlining both days, doing two very different sets both music and line-up wise. Then he came with more supporting musicians (a guy on guitar and on the 2nd day a girl on vocals as well), but this time it was down to the basics: just him and Masahiko Okubo (who, under his Linekraft moniker became a pretty significant player on the international industrial scene in recent years). So, I guessed that this one will be a rather brutal, noisy and rhythm based set… and indeed it was. It started out with Linekraft doing noise while Jun was handling out the “Grim Cans” (little, marked and numbered cans with pieces on metal inside to make noise when shaken) to the audience, then he finally took the stage and the fun began. As usual Jun looked like a strange mixture of a factory worker and a mad monk off the high mountains and this monk-like feature was further empathized by his gestures and his frantic chanting, while Okubo was either behind his gear, in control of the heavy power electronics sound or was hitting the oil barrels, evoking the old days and ways of industrial music. The stage was covered in thick smoke for most of the show, which further added to the ritualistic, almost mystical atmosphere of the performance and overall it was another perfect and very special show from a truly one-of-a-kind act. The audience loved it, which resulted in an encore… the only one during the whole festival. I couldn’t really identify any of the songs though, so I guess most of the material they played was new, either from the upcoming LP on Tesco or the recent CD out of Steinklang. I have not heard that one yet, so I am not sure, I was hoping to pick up a copy at the festival, but unfortunately there was no Grim merch at all and even the t-shirts that were made for the event were lost by the post somewhere between Japan and Germany.
Day#2 / 2019.09.21
The second day also had a very intensive start as the first act on the bill was Sadio, the Finnish joint noise project of the somewhat obscure Kommando Skingraft and the one and only Mikko Aspa, better known as Grunt (and Nicole 12 and Clinic Of Torture and so on)! Sadio is a newish project, releasing stuff since 2015 and this one was their first ever live performance… and what a performance it was! The festival’s by far most entertaining show featured three guys in balaclavas / leather masks, with Mikko on mic, one guy with your usual set of noise gear piled up on a small table and one handling contact mics attached to or rubbed against some unusual objects including tape measure, chain, the massive pillars at front of the stage and.. a hairy belly! When not manning the mic, Mikko randomly went to the back of the stage, grabbed a bunch of stuff from a plastic bag and threw them to the audience (these included: two types of Sadio posters / flyers with vintage bondage imagery and a CDR, that I unfortunately could not catch a copy of, but reportedly it contained the same material as the new cassette, that was first sold at the festival). It was an amazing and amusing show and while I had no expectations originally, it turned out to be one of the surprise highlights of TT8.
Just like the next act, Screaming It. It is a collaboration of two German performers: Dr. Nexus known for his experimental vocals and Greta Christensen, who on the other hand is known for deconstructing turntables and playing manipulated and broken vinyl. Here the latter was the case, so before the show started she was handling out protecting eyewear for the first rows… and they were more than a necessity as soon tiny pieces of plastic were flying all over the place. The short performance (it lasted for about 15 minutes I believe) consisted of two parts, in the first Christensen was throwing and smashing the vinyls against a contact mic’d metal plate on the ground, resulting in sudden bursts of noise, then, when all the vinyls were lying around broken, she started to put the pieces on a turntable, generating a very different kind of heavily effected noise and all this was accompanied by the hysterical breathing and screaming done (and also heavily effected) by Dr. Nexus. It sounds quite random, but actually the resulting sonic cacophony, along with the performance by the frantically grimacing Nexus and the stoic Christensen was extremely captivating in its own special and weird way.
They were followed by Burial Hex, which is US resident Clay Ruby‘s solo project. I already saw Burial Hex at WIF XV in 2016, but it did not impress me then at all. However, even then I had the feeling that it actually had more to do with it simply getting lost in the huge hall and stage than the music and performance itself. So, despite that not so good first impression I was looking forward to see him again and it was just as I expected: here, in this smaller, enclosed space, the strongly ritualistic and personal nature of the performance really came through. The music was slowly shifting thru menacing dark ambient soundscapes, sudden bursts of noise and quiet moments with ritualistic chanting and screams, with the smell of burning incense and countless flowers scattered around the stage further adding to an experience that was attacking all senses at once. And it worked real well, so I’m glad that I had the chance to set things right and experience a Burial Hex show the way it was supposed to be.
It seems that this festival was about “first time ever” performances as after Moral Order and Sadio it was time for yet another introductory show by Stromstad. It is a Norwegian / Finnish joint project by Kristoffer Oustad and the two members of STROM.ec. Their only release so far is the New Devoted Human album from 2017 which was a very good and powerful work, coming from the grey areas between dark ambient and bleak, aggressive, yet atmospheric industrial music. The live performance however left something to be desired. As expected, the concert was more than decent musically, but the performance itself did not really make any impact, it did not have anything that would make it really memorable and things even got a bit awkward when Toni Myöhänen could not find the right sheet of paper in the big stack of lyrics piled up at the table beside him. Still, as I said it was a good performance, but for me it was definitely not amongst the festival’s most memorable ones.
While I was extremely happy, I was also somewhat surprised when the duo of Lydia Lunch & Marc Hurtado doing Alan Vega & Suicide covers was announced as one of the headliner acts. Listening to Lydia for the first time had a huge impact on me back when I was still just getting into the weird side of music and her 13:13 album, along with the Hysterie compilation was a true turning point for me and they remain amongst my favorites to this day. I have seen her four times so far, always with different projects, but still, it was kind of strange to imagine her playing at a noise / industrial festival. But I guessed that them being invited had actually more to do with Marc Hurtado, one half of seminal French industrial act Étant Donnés, that already played at the festival before. And I guess I was right as his renditions of the old classics were a lot more noisier, a lot more “industrial” than the originals, so musically they not just fit in 100%, but eventually turned out to be one of the acts with the harshest sound. They started out with a couple of Alan Vega tunes, then switched to the Suicide ones, wrapping it up with Frankie Teardrop. I have already seen Lydia doing Frankie Teardrop during the Retrovirus tour and that was already quite an experience, but this version was even more brutal and hysterical. Lydia was in her element, her typical, cynical vocals added an additional edge to the songs and actually the only thing I was kind of missing was her usual banter between songs, that she wasn’t really doing now for some reason.
And after this it was already time for MZ.412, the closing act of this year’s Tower Transmissions. I’ve seen Nordvargr twice so far, first under his own name in Mannheim, doing a very atmospheric ritual dark ambient set with some power electronics mixed in for good measures, then in Wroclaw, doing a lot more aggressive and impactful show under his Folkstorm alias. Both were defining experiences, so I was looking forward to see him with what probably is his best known project. Especially as this was their one and only performance this year. I’ve read about and seen some videos of the shows of the “black industrial originators”, so it came as no surprise that it was very static. Three figures in priest-like costumes, with head and face covered, standing still behind three tables full of noise gear, laptops and ritualistic decoration, only moving when messing around with the equipment or in the unrealistically tall Nordvargr’s case when he occasionally grabbed the microphone to do some deep, growling chanting. Not too surprisingly the show was centered around Svartmyrkr, the group’s album from last year that was also their first full-length studio material since 2006’s Infernal Affairs. It was massive, atmospheric and I absolutely understand why they were so important and why people love them, but it seems that I not only prefer the recordings by Nordvargr’s other project, but I also prefer his other live acts as well. It was still great and was amongst the festival’s many highlights, it is just that the two previous performances I saw from him left a much more lasting impression.
So, that was it, two days of glorious industrial and noise goodness with great acts, nice people, perfect organization and a very decent venue. But while I was already thinking about returning next year, it turns out that this might have been the last Tower Transmissions for a while based on a post the organizers made a few days after the festival (“We are taking a break for now, who knows what the future holds.“). And now, the photos (if any of the performers want to use them online, it is fine with me, just please credit me on FB as @infinitebeat.hu, on IG as @infinitebeatphoto or drop me an email or msg if you want to use them elsewhere).