London, United Kingdom, Underworld, 28/09/2012
Camden in London is where even on the sunniest day you could stroll down the High Street sporting your entire haunting, industrial panoply and still easily fade into the crowd. It’s where artsy meets the edgy and where, frankly, none of those terms apply. On the last Friday of September, it was here where this humble writer awaited for the return of British industrial rock heavy hitters Sulpher who since the 2001 debut album Spray remained strangely silent. The entire night, headlined by the Rob Holliday lead quartet turned out to be unforgettable genre debauchery with each subsequent act ratcheting the excitement and expectations.
Albeit often the case, none of the bands that preceded Sulpher’s return felt out of place and instead, together crafted a gig that felt in every possible way complete – coherent but subtly varied. Je$us Loves Amerika, playing to an only just arriving audience, hit hard and with a surprising consistency. For some time now, this Glasgow born act could be spotted setting up the scene for some of the biggest industrial legends. Although much about their blend of harsh electronica and jittery guitar work felt overtly familiar, the scattered crowd seemed mesmerized by this mix of Prodigy-like bounce and the rage of dynamic industrial rock despite some unenviable, misfired hints of the nu metal tradition present in the stage routine.
Following them, Officers arrived on stage basking in the visual appeal common to virtually every contemporary British rock outfit, but anyone who was deceived by this tight denim clad routine was quickly swept away by the endless wave of melodic alternative rock. Unlike some of the countless rip off bands, Officers displayed a soul and energy as if something elemental in their sensibility was constantly propelled by the immaculate songwriting. Melodic rhythms and loud, offensive deployment of guitars made up some of their most memorable songs like “Co-Education” and “Good Day (to Die).” Deliberate like the best of progressive rock but stomping and powerful, they offered a brand of metal steeped in British moodiness in the vein of 4AD but with a textured, layered edge. Officers’ confidence and charisma was justified by their musical abilities and in that night’s setting, the band seemed to be like a bastard child of this country’s rock routine – noisier and more powerful than standards would usually allow.
As if aural borders were constantly transcended and challenged, Jayce Lewis arrived on the scene like a threatening brute, indistinguishably merging properties of metal and an acoustic, drumming equivalent of the EBM beat; all of this seemingly translated into a fantastically dynamic and punchy set. The industrial energy was present in its most refined and raw form during his performance and his hit single “Electric Medicine” was immediately recognized and embraced by the audience. He himself filled the stage with magnetic energy and like a metal influenced disciple of Gary Numan, he flourished in the rocking fury that filled the club. “Wrath” from Lewis’ upcoming second album was defined by the violent resonance of aggressive guitars and revealed the future path of the Welsh artist that always mediated between easily digestible hits like “Solitaire” and the weightier, noisy gravity of tracks like percussion heavy “Paradox.” Jayce Lewis materialized like a ghost of the industrial past, ready to take the genre artifice down and demolish all musical structure, and yet, like Reznor 20 years ago, he is embossed in the prevalent mainstream appeal. His own manic drumming during the show cemented his skill, style, and commitment.
With such a superb follow up, Sulpher had much to prove and though it might have seem that further escalation of the already intense atmosphere will be impossible, they managed to stimulate the audience effortlessly. Rob, Monti, Tim, and Andy unleashed a rage disproportional to their snug appearance (though it might be a stretch in the case of the rugged Rob Holliday). Not for a moment did they play like a band who fancies themselves rock stars, but they constantly epitomized this very image. Loud and relentless, Sulpher reanimated the material from Spray and unleashed it with unstoppable force with Rob spitting and swirling across the stage, burning through guitars faster than one would be able to count. Songs like “One of Us” and fan favorite “Problem” sounded better than ever with the vocal work heralding new and exciting things once their sophomore release is complete. Sulpher played the set without any physical restraints, pushing themselves hard while maintaining a visible onstage chemistry. And even though Rob Holliday remained a man of few and carefully intended words, he continued to instigate chaos and Sulpher’s performance retained the precious and rare, unpredictable momentum absent from many of carefully orchestrated rock concerts. The music was deafening, pulsating sounds of “Misery” reverberating in this writer’s head long after the song was finished, but ultimately, the band proved how vital the “rock” part of the industrial rock is.
In the environment populated by diluted, crowd pleasing aesthetic, an experience that relies so heavily on energy and noise is precious and hopefully crucial to the evolution of the form. Whenever Sulpher is ready, the audiences should also be prepared – the band continues to push the envelope and rock harder than ever.
Damian Glowinkowski (DamienG)
Photographs by Dulcie Faure Walker