Tower Transmissions IX @ 2019.09.15 / 16, Reithalle Strasse E, Dresden
Day 1: Lugola (PL), Am Not (UK), Antichildleague (UK), JFK (UK), Lille Roger (S), The Sodality (IT)
Day 2: Prelest (PL), Human Larvae (D), Bocksholm (S), Anenzephalia (D), Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand (A), Sutcliffe No More (UK)
Four years after its previous intsallment Tower Transmissions festival finally returned and did so with an incredible line-up, including several special shows by acts returning to stage after long breaks. And not just that, the festival also clearly levelled up with a new, bigger venue and a bigger audience than ever. Previously the Dresden-based festival was held at Club Puschkin and at first this one was also announced to take place there, but later on it was changed to Reithalle Strasse E, which was quite an upgrade: while Club Puschkin was a decent small- / mid-sized venue (beloved by the festival-goers despite its shortcomings), Reithalle E is much bigger, for… about 800 people? (just guessing here) There were pros and cons about the change (more about it at the end), but while the event was not completely sold out, there were quite a lot of people, clearly much, much more than what could fit into Puschkin, so the move was absolutely necessary to ensure that everyone interested could attend the festival. And actually it was really great to see such a huge interest in a festival that deals with such a marginal and extreme sort of music… that, of course, being power elecronics, death industrial, dark ambient and (for a certain extent) noise with a few additional acts connected to these styles one way or another.
Reithalle Strasse E is in an old industrial building situated far from the city center in a sort of neighbourhood every bigger city seems to have: the one with nothing but old factory buildings, warehouses and such, offering a perfect location for concert and party venues, with no residential area around. Still it was very easy to reach with direct tram connection from the center (but walking there was not big of a deal either actually). After entering the building and climbing some stairs you got to the merch area where both the performers and some stores were offering a very wide selection of goodies, then, thru a small corridor and the bar area you arrived at the the concert hall, which was a vast, old-school factory hall with classic red brick walls… and impressive sound and light equipment.
Day 1 (2023.09.15)
Day one started with a bit of a delay… fortunetaly. Originally the first act was scheduled to start at 18:00, but it was later moved to 19:00 and it was thanks to this, that I did not miss it, as my train, the one and only direct connection from Budapest to Dresden, arrived late and I ended up getting at the venue literally a minute before the show started. The first act to perform was Lugola, a one-man project from Poland, previously unknown to me. It had a very typical power electronics sound and while lyrically it was somewhat one dimensional (“you are not special”, “you are a failure”, “you are nobody” and so on), but musically it was rather decent and served as a perfect start for the festival.
Am Not (UK)
Tamon Miyakita‘s project, Am Not was up next with a rather similar sound, but with lyrics focusing on society, politics and conspiracy theories with a background video to match the subject. I already saw Am Not once, back in 2016 at the Will To Power:Electronics II festival in Mannheim and there I was not really impressed with the show, the one here however turned out to be a lot more powerful. Also, one of the tracks featured a guest singer and while I am not that familiar with Am Not’s output, I guess it was probably Irina Chkhaidze who appeared on 2018’s Incursions cassette release.
There were two changes in the line-up after the initial announcements: Pterygium cancelled its performance (and based on info found on Discogs, eventually ended the project) early on, which was quite a disappointment as the Australian project was responsible for some of my favorite dark ambient releases from the last several years. Then, as a last minute change, a day or two before the festival, the German experimental noise band Sardh had to cancel too due to personal reasons, but the organizers found a worthy replacement with ANTIchildLEAGUE stepping in, playing the first set of the festival that really delivered a punch. Massive, distorted, throbbing basslines and pulsing noise, complete with frantic singing… It was bombastic. Her releases othen balance between noise and power electronics most of the time with an emphasis on the former, but here she delivered a set in favor of the latter and it was a truly mindblowing experience.
Anthony Di Franco, the man behind JKF is better known in these circles as one half of classic UK noise / power electronics duo Ramleh (and also as a former member of Skullflower), but with this solo project he pursues a different, much more rhythm oriented sound. It is a lot closer to the rhythmic noise sound of acts such as Sonar or Converter and it worked especially fine on Reithalle’s impressive soundsystem. Definitely different from the rest of the festival’s acts, but it was a very welcome diversion after the previous acts’ massive dose of PE.
Lille Roger (S)
As I said this year’s line-up featured several very special shows and this one was probably the most unique of them. Lille Roger was Roger Karmanik‘s early project back in the mid-80s, before he launched Brighter Death Now and in 2018 all of the old material (all either long out-of-print or unreleased), was collected on a massive compilation. And this was a one-off Lille Roger show, with materil that haven’t been performed in long decades (if at all).
And while these “forgotten early material from xy well-known musician” sort of releases tend to be of… well, varying quality, the Lille Roger one was more than worth a listen. Yes, it was raw and rough and lo-fi, but that just made it even more powerful and other than that, it was the same style and quality as the later, legendary BDN releases: the best sort of slowly grinding, dense death industrial. And Karmanik made sure the live presentation was equally memorable: unlike during the BDN shows, where he always has someone to accompany him on stage, this time he was alone, standing in the middle with view from both sides blocked and all front lights off, so we were left with nothing but smoke and bright white light oozing out of the opening with his silhouette in the middle, while archive images were flickering in the screen behind him. Simple, but magnificent and a perfect backdrop for the slow, threatening music.
The Sodality (IT)
Another old project, this one from the ’80s and early ’90s that’s been inactive since… besides a one-off show in 2014. It was originally Andrea Cernotto‘s project that, beside others, also included Paolo Bandera and Eraldo Bernocchi, two key figures of the Italian industrial scene, best known as members of Sigillum S. However Cernotto was not part of the 2014 show which, besides the Sigillum S guys, featured Mark Solotroff (of Bloodyminded) on vocals. Now it was the same lineup, but this time Cernotto also returned providing enigmatic whispers from the background, while one track also featured another Italian key player, Andrea Chiaravalli aka. Iugula-Thor adding some disturbing screams to the already intense mix. I was not too familiar with the group’s output, only heard their one full-length (so not the singles and so on) and while it was OK, it did not impress me much. So I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turned out to be one of the best performances of the whole festival. The massive PE sound, the devastiting bass rumbles (again, the technicians and the venue’s soundsystem really made everything sound crystal clear and bombastic) with intense spoken and screamed vocals by Solotroff (who turned out to be a very charismatic lead) created and extremely vile, mean atmosphere. It would be nice to see them again and actually there might be a chance, as it seems that this time they unearthed the project for good and besides several remasters, they also released a new single (and both of its tracks were performed here… the one in the above video is actually one of the new ones, titled Sleaze).
Day 2 (2023.09.16)
Just like the first one, the second day also started with a lesser known one-man project from Poland, musically however Prelest was very different from Lugola, it had a lot more subdued sound, balancing between death industrial and the more intense and menacing sort of dark ambient. Characterized by a very dense, brooding, rumbling sound with occassional use of noises made with a massive chain, that added a somewhat creepy vibe to the mix. Being the opening act, Prelest started before sunset, so there was still light coming thru the hall’s windows, while this sort of music would have worked best in a much darker place, but even with that slight drawback it did an excellent job to set the mood for the day.
Human Larvae (D)
With Human Larvae we navigated back to power electronics territories and did it with quite an impact. Heavy, intense sound, unique compositions, agressive vocals and… maybe it was only because of the guy’s long-haired metalhead looks, but for me the whole show had a bit of an extreme metal intensity to it. Before the festival I actualy did not pay that much attention to this German one-man project, but it is definitely time to catch up with his output as his performance was very convincing.
Bocksholm was amongst the acts that I was looking forward to the most. This long running joint project by the classic Cold Meat Industry roster’s two Peter Anderssons (which makes it basically a cross between Raison d’Etre and Deutsch Nepal) was always something one-of-a-kind: it is all about the small Swedish industrial town called Boxholm, known for its steel industry, where they both grew up and they are creating a unique soundscape that evokes the city’s atmosphere. And in their interpretetaion, it is obviously a dark, industrial wasteland, with the nothing but vast, echoing halls of abandoned factories, where the only sign of life is distant, occasional chit-chat heard thru the crumbling brick walls. Even on their releases they do an incredible job evoking the haunting atmosphere of a somewhat nightmarish city and it works even better live, with archive news and documentary footages rolling in the background of the smoke covered stage. I already saw them live once, back in 2013 at Hradby Samoty festival and while that was also a very memorable show (actually I recorded the whole set there and it is up on youtube), it was somewhat ruined by Lina’s failing equipment, this time however everything was just perfect. For me, they were and are one of the best dark ambient projects and this show proved why. Also, as far as I could tell, they played mostly new material, so maybe there is a new album coming up sometime soon? I sure hope that’s the case.
Another one of my personal “headliner acts” and one of the most unique PE projects ever. Actually Anenzephalia officially ended in 2014, but was revived for a one-off show in 2017 at Tesco’s 30th anniversary fest (live report + gallery here) and now again for this festval. But this one differend from the 2017 revival in several ways. There, as in most cases, Brigant Moloch was joined on stage by Wilhelm Herich (his partner-in-crime from Genocide Organ and Ke/Hil) and they performed only “classics” from older releases. This time however he was joined by a young girl, who turned out to be his daughter and they not only shared noise-making duties (with one Korg and some other equipment for each), but also vocals and while Moloch performed the well-known and loved old stuff, the tracks (I think three of them?) with his daugher on the mic were new ones. So now we are left guessing if this means new, upcoming Anenzephalia material? Or maybe these tracks were made only for this performance? Or will she launch her own project? So many options! But what really matters now is that while old classics (of course including the incredible Final Pulse) were as great live as expected, the new ones were also PE material of the highest calibre, so I really, really hope they will be eventually released one way or another.
Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand (A)
After the way too early death of Albin Julius last May, the announcement that Der Blutharsch will play at the festival took some people by surprise. This Infinite Church incarnation of the band however always worked much more like an actual band instead of the “Albin & friends” form of the original Der Blutharsch and they already played a small show in Vienna last December (then wearing the classic uniforms of the pre-Infiite Church era) and announced around that time that they are planning to keep the band going. But then they kept quiet for a while and besides a show at a Czech festival just a week before Tower Transmissions, this was their first bigger scale gig, so it meant that it was actually the first time for a lot of people (especially those industrial fans who’ve been been following Albin’s work for a long, long while) to see them live since he passed away, which made it a very emotional experience for many. They did not go back in time to dig up the old Blutharsch material (which would be very strange without Albin anyways), which would fit the festival’s overall musical direction a lot more, but performed their very heavily krautrock influenced Infinite Church era tracks, so obviously they were musically the odd one out at the festival, but I am pretty sure not many people minded. It was a great concert, great dynamics between the musicians, performing some of the best songs of their discography… so I hope they will keep going and will eventually return to studio work as well.
Sutcliffe No More (UK)
The last act to perform was UK’s Sutcliffe No More and they closed the festival with a blast. I saw them at last year’s Tormentum Festival and there they were the biggest surprise of the lineup: while thier old Sutcliffe Jugend materials were vile and brutal, the releases since the name were very lacklustre and… well, boring. So, I did not expect much, but they delivered one of the best, most intense sets of that event. The material performed at Tormentum was mostly new and then unreleased, but since then they were eventually released back in February on a new album called Normal and while that was a really great one (honestly, one of the best post-industrial releases I have heard this year), it still could not replicate the intensity of that live performance and now, they managd to take that even further. It was terrific, and evil, mean wall of sound with hysterical vocals, with both the two guys on stage and the audience going crazy. They have a well deserved cult status of course and they absolutely live up to it and not by playing old material, but by performing brand new stuff, that is not “as good as the old stuff”, but actually better. A perfect closure to two amazing days.
And before the rest of the photos… back the the subject of the venue change: what I kinda missed in this new place was the direct contact with the performers, which is often an essential part of the more intense sort of industrial shows. At Club Puschkin the stage and the hall itself was much smaller, there was always more interaction during the shows and the whole atmosphere was more… tense and intimate, with a lot of movement and even occasional moshpits. Here however, due to the much bigger scale of both the stage and the hall and especially the distance due to the corridors at front of the stage, the atmosphere was a but.. sterile. With people just standing around, watching the performers from afar. Even during the extremely intense performances of Anenzephalia or The Sodality, there was hardly any movement (and I remember just how crazy the Anenzephalia show at Tesco 30 was) and basically the only act that managed to make the crowd explode was Sutcliffe No More, where as soon as they started a huge mosthpit formed (with ANTIchildLEAGUE’s Gaya Donadio at its center) and it never let down until the group’s frantic show was over.
So, this lack of intensity was a bit of a letdown, however what Reithalle lacked in atmosphere it made up to in sound quaility, lights and overall looks with its classic industrial interiors and surroundings. And as mentioned, the festival clearly needed this sort of leveling up as there were more people attanding than ever. So, the scene clearly needed a bigger festival, the sort of what TT has obviously become now and actually, if someone misses that more intimate feel, there are other events and festivals all over Europe that has that to offer. It was time to change and grow and actually, with Tower Transmission X coming up next, I wonder how will the organizers manage to surpass this year’s incredible line-up. It won’t be an easy task for sure, but I am so looking forward to see what they will come up with!
And to close this all, a side-note from me, which is definitely not at all a complaint (as obviously, concerts never existed for photographers), but this place also offered less of a chance for interesting photos than Puschkin or other venues where you are up close to the performers, so that’s why below you will mostly see more-or-less the same sort of “images taken from faraway” sort of photos of all the acts.