Oct 2012 01

New York City, NY, The Gramercy Theatre (Cybertron), 06/09/2012

 

It’s a sticky summer night in NYC and the streets are crowded with good time zombies. A van pulls up in front of the Gramercy Theatre and a shady assortment of musicians start to spill out led by Jet Berelson. They grab a quick smoke while scrambling to get their gear unloaded from the busy corner of East 23rd and Lexington. The cheerful Tim Van Horn (Aesthetic Perfection’s drummer) can be seen politely greeting people waiting to get into the show, including the annoying guy bitching about how much he paid for VIP treatment. For some reason, the security person makes [X]-Rx open their suitcases for inspection before they can load their equipment onto the stage. After a few more minutes of frantic rushing, the DJs start pumping out the tunes, and Cybertron has begun.


 

From Phoenix, the duo BlakOPz made for a very strong opening act of the evening. Backed by a heavy blend of EBM and aggrotech, vocalist Alex King had an impressive stage presence, pacing like a caged fighter during memorable songs like “Domino (One by One)” and “Brainwashed.” He definitely brings a more punk/metal style of vocals to the dance floor as opposed to just creepy whispers or demonic screams. Behind a bank of audio gear, the ninja-like Mike Weir (a.k.a. DJ Mindbender) sliced and diced pounding beats together with hyperactive European flavored synth leads. BlakOPz was a late addition to the Aesthetic Perfection / [X]-Rx tour, but the band fit in perfectly. Their sound will appeal to fans of heavy, in-your-face, dark electro and industrial cyberpunk (i.e. Hocico, FGFC820, Shiv-R) and the way they raise the envelope with new sounds makes them an exciting band to keep an eye on. In concert, they definitely leave a lasting impression with a fresh sounding spin on the typical militaristic EBM genre and intelligent lyrics that are not overly mangled by effects. They don’t just sit back and let the distorted four-on-the-floor rhythms play on ad nauseam; they slap the beat around, twisting it up and reversing it, making it work harder.

 

Picking up right where BlakOPz left, the German duo of [X]-Rx came prepared to shatter eardrums with the force of their newest release, Activate the Machinez. Avoiding meaningful lyrics or any kind of message, [X]-Rx songs instead focus on the pure joy and cathartic release of the music itself. The band makes it clear from the first song, “Escalate,” that they are all about having fun and delivering fresh hard beats. The approach is simple but effective – no keyboards, just back-to-back laptops, and an external controller for manipulating the EQ and chopping up the sounds. But what they lack in musicianship they make up for in energy, of which they seem to have an unlimited supply. The track “Hard Bass, Hard Soundz” (which could be the Webster’s Dictionary definition of the band) shakes the floor of the old theatre as the crowd surrenders to a frenzy of dancing. Lead vocalist Pascal Beniesch sounds a bit similar to Andy LaPlegua (Icon of Coil, Combichrist) when shouting and Jan Teutloff adds another layer with death metal sounding backup vocals. Not that there are a lot of vocals since the music is predominantly instrumental, with Pascal and Jan getting the crowd worked up. [X]-Rx is indeed addicted to pounding bass drums and frantic twitchy arpeggio synths. “Stage 2” is a regular club favorite with robotic samples giving instructions “1… 2… 3… dance with me…” The song “Beat the Drums” was a highlight of the show, with Pascal confessing to being a compulsive drum abuser, screaming, “My body is forced to hit the drums” over and over like a madman. Between verses, he stares out into the sea of faces as if he stuck his finger into an electric socket too many times. Under normal circumstances, chanting “Push it to the Limit Baby” and beckoning the crowd to “party with you” might be laughed at by people who take EBM seriously, but by that time, [X]-Rx had already won over the crowd. They feed off the energy of their creation and send it out to the audience, bringing a sinister playfulness to the stage.

 

Then, after a brief lull to transform the stage, the Gramercy Theatre falls eerily silent. The poignant piano intro of the Aesthetic Perfection song “All Beauty Destroyed” begins to play, the tortured melodic voice of Daniel Graves echoing throughout the theatre. He steps onto the stage and is greeted by an enthusiastic cheer from the audience. But after only the first chorus, the plug is pulled on this eerie ballad. Drummer Tim Van Horn rushes onto the stage and the duo launches into the raucous “A Nice Place to Visit,” which is about as far from a piano ballad as you can get. Mr. Graves clearly doesn’t mind showing off, flipping the switch between traditional harsh industrial vocals to silky emotional rock & roll singing (often in the same song). After all, if you could sing, why wouldn’t you?

 

In an interview with ReGen Magazine, the talented Mr. Graves spoke about how he ended up being both his own tour manager on the All Cities Destroyed tour, and the headline act. “I’m taking driving duties, I’m tour managing, I’m actually running lights for [X]-Rx during their show, [X]-Rx is running lights for us during our show. It was more about necessity instead of really what I wanted to do. A lot of our crew kind of fell through at the last minute. We were presented with an option: Do you continue the tour or do you cancel it for a lack of crew? So I thought about it and I decided, okay… you know what, I’m just going to… I want this tour to happen. I’m doing this for me anyways so I’m just going to bite the bullet and do everything that I can.”
Some hard line industrial fans may have criticized Aesthetic Perfection’s straying from their purely harsh electro origins into new musical territory, but to songwriter Daniel Graves, this has been the plan all along. “All Beauty Destroyed was kind of the… I don’t know… the shock that I’d always want to deliver to people; just something that is extremely diverse, and at times maybe a bit abrasive, and something to get used to.”
On the increase of actual singing into his songwriting, Graves said “You know, I tried to do that with my first record, Close to Human. The album was written and half of the songs were what ended up becoming Necessary Response (Blood Falls Not Far from the Wound). I was told, ‘Ok, I have to create a synthpop record, I have to create a harsh electro record. But I couldn’t do it together.’ And maybe in retrospect, those two sounds or those two records didn’t fit together, but it was what I had always envisioned.”

 

Quite simply, the merging of both sides of Graves’ styles allows him to entertain the audience with more variety. He swings effortless back and forth between sensitive moments like the piano ballad laced album title track, to harsh the fist pounding “Devils in the Details.” He flashes his trademark Cheshire Cat smile on the shuffling beat of the party anthem “Hit the Streets.” As always, Van Horn drums with flair and skill, keeping time with an electronic precision, bringing a necessary live energy to the show. And on “The Ones” and “One and Only,” the crowd actually sings along with the choruses; something that a one-trick-pony harsh EBM band couldn’t achieve.

 

Lüke Haughwout (Mechanical_Harvest)
Photographs by Mandi Martini (Mandi_Martini)

 
Aesthetic Perfection

 
[X]-Rx

 
BlakOpz

 

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