Wave Gotik Treffen 2018
27th Annual Wave Gotik Treffen
The world’s greatest festival of goth culture takes place in Leipzig, Germany, during the five days leading up to the Monday of Pentecost, which follows Easter by 40 days. Wave Gotik Treffen begins on Thursday and concludes on that Monday, which is an official holiday in Germany. Leipzig is an ancient city, a traditional commercial center since the Middle Ages, rich in European history, art, music, and architecture, boasting famous medieval churches, two grand opera houses, ancient and modern town squares, the oldest restaurant in Europe and countless museums, music halls, cafes and entertainment establishments.
Attendees at WGT have to resign themselves to the fact that they will only be able to catch and enjoy a tiny fraction of the vast array of entertaining and educational experiences that the festival offers. This report is based upon our hectic experience of trying to see and do as much as humanly possible during the five-day festival. Making the acquaintance of trans-Atlantic friends, meeting, socializing, dining and drinking with people from back home in the States fills every minute between performances and events that one attends.
The central theme of WGT is music. Although post-punk, goth and industrial are the main agenda, dark electro, experimental, classical, baroque, opera, chamber music, church organ, folk, world, variety, modern dance, ballet and cabaret are all presented. Performances number in the hundreds. There are around 30 music venues — big and small — some of which have multiple spaces within, such as the fortress-like multi-level stronghold, Moritzbastei or the cavernous Agra. In addition to the massive music hall, Agra also contains a huge shopping mall where items of clothing, costumes, fetish accessories, footwear, helmets, headdresses and the like are for sale. One of the great delights of the festival is to stroll through this section browsing and occasionally succumbing to make purchases of unique items. It also contains an ongoing exhibition featuring grotesque works of explicit art.
Besides standard music venues, there are churches, parks, theaters, restaurants, cemeteries, hotels, monuments, and even ancient ruins that serve as attractions and performance spaces, hosting exhibitions, lectures, films, shows and presentations. There are around 10 participating museums to which there is free access for attendees ranging from fine art to Egyptian to a museum documenting the activities of the secret police, the Stasi, during the Cold War era of Communist domination of East Germany, the DDR. Even the main train station hosts opening events and concerts.
In addition to brochures outlining the many venues and participating institutions, and an exquisitely illuminated hardcover program book, there is an extremely helpful smartphone app that presents the entire schedule, lists the artists and the performances, providing samples of the music at each event and directions on how to get to each venue. Public transportation is free to WGT attendees wearing their identifying wrist bands.
Festivities began with welcoming parties at Moritzbastei, the multi-level complex very near the town center and other venues on Thursday, May 17, the night before official opening of the festival. Free entry to the various museums also became available that day.
A nice place to ease into the WGT scene is the Absintheria Sixtina, a friendly bar that is open 24 hours a day and features a small menu of beers and wines, but over 250 types of absinthe and a near infinite variety of cocktails derived from them. One afternoon, we sampled some absinthe while a rock band, Nietzsche and the Wagners, performed on the small indoor stage. Outdoors, in back of the bar is a yard where beverages bratwursts and similar fare are served at tent-covered picnic tables.
Performances and Events
On Friday, things got serious. That afternoon we attended a massive gathering of thousands of festival-goers, with a sprinkling of tourists and local gawkers gathered at the Clara Zetkin Park for the annual Victorian Picnic. Participants wearing their finest appropriately-themed attire settle in groups on blankets to socialize and dine in highly civilized fashion from picnic baskets, while around them is a promenade of costumed strollers wearing gothic styles ranging from Victorian, Steampunk and Baroque to the most outlandish sci-fi, fantasy and fetish outfits.
By the time we found our way from there to Taubchenthal, a large music hall with a resort-like courtyard and surrounding food stands, the Beauty of Gemina, a Swiss gothic rock band was underway and sounded fantastic. The venue was so packed, however, that the crowd couldn’t enter thus blocking the entrances and milling about outside, unable to get in and see the stage. We met up and socialized with our New York celebrities, Sean Templar, Matt V Christ and glamorous Serena Goss while sampling the local fare.
From there we headed over to see dark electro duo Boy Harsher at the Stadtbad, a large building that had once been an enclosed official public swimming pool now paved over and serving as a music hall. This dark electronic duo, with roots in the U.S. south, mesmerized us with Augustus Muller’s minimal dance beats and grinding synths and with Jae Matthews’s eerie, ethereal vocals.
At 11 p.m. we caught the avant-garde, neofolk (or “apocalyptic folk”) combo, Rome, out of Luxembourg. Singer/songwriter Jerome Reuter plays acoustic guitar while crooning deliciously morose, and poignantly poetic, English-language lyrics in his emotionally-wrenching baritone, supported by emphatic percussion and occasional industrial samples.
Things really got rolling on Saturday down at Agra. Having taken the twenty-minute tram ride it takes to get from Leipzig town center down to Agra, we were treated to the onstage performance of German industrial hard rockers, Oomph!, whose bombastic style enthralled the crowd with high-energy, Rammstein-style rock. The audience revealed their devotion to Oomph! by knowing and lip-syncing the lyrics to most of their songs, while frontman Dero Goi energetically led the crowd like a conductor as he sang in clear, perfectly enunciated German and in English.
Oomph! was followed by Canadian electro-industrial originals, Front Line Assembly, whose underplayed performance fell below our expectations.
The reward for the night came with Norse, ceremonious, traditionalist ensemble, Wardruna, whose grandiose use of ancient instruments and solemn chanting enraptured listeners with ominous percussion and pompous horns that are recognizable to those who are familiar with their soundtrack contributions to the series “Vikings.” Great music by which to burn witches!
On Sunday we took the 12.5 km (a 25 Euro cab ride) to an event at Kirchenruine Wachau, the magnificent, still-standing ruins of a gothic-style church, the interior of which has been entirely gutted to serve as a meeting place and music venue. Tall, ivy-overgrown stone walls bearing the remaining framework of pointed-arch cathedral windows towered over the crowd and the Swedish neo-classical, darkwave band, Arcana. The audience was tightly crowded into the capacious space under a blistering sun. Peter and Cecilia Bjärgö, supported by guitar, percussion, keyboards and backup singers, took turns thrilling those within and those gathered in gardens and cemetery grounds outside the walls of the church ruins. Medieval, ecclesiastical and oriental style songs were sung — mainly in English — creating a transcendent, otherworldly atmosphere that was both somber and uplifting.
Afterwards, back at the Stadtbad we caught three great EBM/industrial acts back to back. Spark! from Sweden featured a lovably clownish duo whose irresistible, compelling music caused a wild mosh pit to form. Next, Sturm Café continued in the same style, but darker and even more furious. The third was an original industrial pioneer, Belgium’s Vomito Negro, whose delightfully nasty, deep bass beats and vicious, repetitive lyrics were perfectly matched by creepy, projected video images.
On Sunday evening, the next to last day of the festival, German two-man synthpop group De/Vision took the stage at Agra, and it was a welcome experience to hear Steffen Keth’s smooth and pleasing vocals as he belted out songs with inspirational and positive lyrics.
During late mornings and early afternoons we took the opportunity to visit museums and galleries. The Egyptian Museum (Aegyptisches Museum) had extraordinary pieces, grand and small. The most remarkable of these was a perfect cast of the Mesopotamian stone column bearing the text of the legendary Code of Hammurabi, carved into the stone in cuneiform script.
On Monday, the last day, we toured a local gallery where one section featured acrylic paintings with mildly transgressive imagery and another, more secluded section, displayed small, life-size and larger sculptures representing female genitalia, some crafted in metal to serve as costume jewelry such as pendants and brooches.
Composer Felix Mendelssohn’s Leipzig home has been preserved as a museum of his life and work. It is not an official, free-admission item in the WGT festival, but was well worth the small charge for a visit that shed light upon this remarkably gifted human being. Mendelssohn’s masterful paintings and drawings came as an unexpected surprise to those of us who only knew of his great musical compositions. In previous years we have toured Leipzig’s spectacular Johann Sebastian Bach Museum, which likewise is a non-participant, therefore, requires a small admission fee.
The last night at Agra provided a sensational experience which included Dutch band Grendel, whose thunderous EBM style was electrifying, highlighted by superb, savage vocals. They were followed by Floridians, God Module, whose pitch-dark, demonic growling vocals, grim themes and pounding rhythms were occasionally spiced with cinematic samples and grisly backdrop videos. For lovers of this kind of entertainment, this provided the perfect conclusion to the five-day festival.
Phantom of the Opera
The Majestic Theater
New York City, 2018
Although Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” premiered in the U.K. in 1986, it made its Broadway debut in 1988, making this year its 30th anniversary in the States and the 30th anniversary of winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. It is arguably the most successful work of gothic-themed mainstream-crossover performance art ever, as it continues to extend the longest run of any show on Broadway.
It is based on the long out-of-print, Gaston Leroux novel (1909). It shares, with other stories of the gothic genre, the theme of a flawed, demonic-yet-sympathetic villain who threatens to corrupt an innocent woman. The time setting places the action in the turn-of-the-century world of Steampunk. The gothic status of the work is established early when in a parody of a scene from the opera “Hannibal,” a diva strides to the front of the stage displaying a decapitated head with simulated blood dangling from it. As in most gothic drama, there is a suspicion of the villain’s having supernatural powers, but his ability to appear and disappear is explainable as theater tricks and pranks of a deranged but focused mind. A piano plays by itself. He employs his “Punjab lasso” to ensnare and kill with lightening agility. The final resolution of the love triangle that constitutes the plot is both touching and tragic.
This musical leads — and has eclipsed — a long list of works of literature and drama that are definitely categorized as horror. The vast scope and depth of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation goes farther than any prior versions, including Lon Chaney Sr.’s famous silent movie; the 1943 Technicolor motion picture with Claude Rains; the Hammer production from 1962; Dario Argento’s Italian movie; as well as a musical by Ken Hill, who wrote English lyrics to the music of classical and opera composers. Some have suggested that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score can be classed as rock music, and at least one aria, “Point of No Return” has a rhythm that fits the description. But not all goth is rock and not all rock is goth. Certainly the heavy, minor key melodies place the score of “Phantom” music into the category of gloom and melancholy.
Thus, despite the overwhelming mainstream success and acceptance of “Phantom of the Opera,” it seems appropriate to place it squarely in the pantheon of goth icons.
The Red Party
On Saturday, May 12, The Red Party presented the 10th Annual Joy Division Party at Mercury Lounge! Called The Atrocity Exhibition, there was live music at midnight. Back to the stage was Disorder, “A Tribute to the Sounds of Joy Division.” This edition of the Red Party served as a pre-Wave Gotik-Treffen warm up party!
As usual the Red Party was hosted by the Red Queen, Mandana Banshie Templar. As always it featured goth, post-punk and deathrock, with special attention given to the music of Joy Division, and was served up by DJs for the evening, Sean Templar, Jarek Zelazny and special annual guest, Frank Deserto, aka teardrop (The Harrow).
Excitement occurred when a disorderly (no pun intended) patron began to mess with Disorder‘s stage equipment, specifically the stand and cables serving the keyboard. Vocalist Mike Strollo proved up to the task of neutralizing the would-be vandal with one hand while still manning the microphone with one hand. Stage manager Pete Mele quickly removed the stage crasher, and with the assistance of yours truly, had him escorted from the premises.
The show went on without interruption and concluded with enthusiastic approval by the audience.
Human Music 2
Plague Productions and NewRetrowave presented the second, two-day Human Music festival on Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27 (the night before Memorial Day) at QXT’s Nightclub in Newark, featuring line-ups of top listed, international artists who are prominent in the Synthwave scene.
Synthwave is the relatively new and post-millennial genre of music that distinguishes itself by emphasizing electronic, mechanistic, and computer-based sound, drawing heavily from the aesthetics of the 1980s and the assonance of popular music during that era. Thus analog synthesizer instruments and samples from video games, synth-pop recordings and sci-fi film soundtracks are reintroduced, but updated to the 21st century sensibilities. Thus, the term “retrofuturistic” is applied. The emphasis is on rhythmic, danceable cadence with a fabricated, computer basis, in which the human participation is cyborg-like, almost a mere option, in support of the over-arching electronic entity. Calling it “human” seems to me to be ironic use of the term.
The opening performer on the first night was Glitbiter, a one-woman project of gifted vocalist Florence Bullock from L.A. Those who arrived early were treated to original and mesmerizing beats, ethereal melodies and operatically-trained vocals as well as the appealing stage presence of a stunningly attractive young woman. This set the stage for one spectacular band after another.
Korine’s androgynous look brought a New Romantic flavor to the synthwave style and the Encounter was admirable in their mastery of the electronic instrumentals. Brooklyn-based Aeon Rings, just back from conquest of Wave Gotik Treffen, brought ferocious energy and dance-burner intensity to their performance. Protector enhanced the theatrical aspect by wearing a flying saucer-like helmet with laser light adornment that went further in emphasizing the predominance of sci-fi and computer electronics over flesh-and-blood participation.
Over the course of the evening, Neoslave, Betamaxx and headliner Timecop1983 turned in mind-blowing and energizing performances of equally enjoyable sight, sound and rhythm.
Time constraints made it impossible to attend the second day of Human Music 2, but reports are that the nine-band line-up of groups from the U.S., France and Mexico met with equal success and were as well received as those of the first night.