Industrial summer camp take two: the dust is just starting to settle on Calgary after the explosive dark electronic music festival that has become a landmark of the Canadian west coast.
Before we dive into the performers, I have to call out again what an incredibly tight ship our gracious hosts run here. Artists took to the stage back to back in perfect cadence, and each sound, each lighting cue, each projection was just perfectly coordinated.
Six years of successes culminated in this production of Terminus 2017 and we can only hope the tradition is perpetuated with the next edition: Shockwave.
THE BLOOD OF OTHERS
Opening the festivities is no easy feat, and being a lit nerd I had high expectations of a band that borrows its name from a morbid existentialist drama; I was not disappointed. Kurt’s music is ominous, the marching hymn of a band of necromancers on a mountainous pilgrimage. The sound was boilerplate industrial percussion offset with folksy influences, muddled in a deep reverb that lent the production an ethereal and unsettling aura.
Online culture has conditioned me to associate upside down letters and crosses with hammy witch house, so you can imagine how excited I was when STRVNGERS turned out to be a really wicked coldwave & post-punk inspired medley. Mixing retro synth lines and electropop beats, this act had a ghoulish perkiness that was simply indelible. Above all, Edmonton native KC has so much energy and is just an all around hilarious character that made our weekend very entertaining.
After their campy antecedents, VOWWS put the darkness back into Terminus electronic music festival. Rizz & Matt brought clipped electro guitar riffs set to a cinematic horror melody and cut with crisp and supremely lyrical vocals. Their performance had a mature streak that is the hallmark of well-versed musicians. On stage VOWWS are demure and restrained, but their music is emotionally potent, a self-possessed and – dare I say – cherished insanity reminiscent of the late Cornell’s Black Hole Sun.
COMADUSTER is a genre of his own, and to see Réal Cardinal on the Terminus stage was a dream come true. Even if you don’t dig industrial and dark electronica, you’ve likely heard his work on the soundtracks of the most consecrated video games of our generation. Bioware’s secret sonic weapons team that gathered on stage were the definition of intelligent dance music; there is an unparalleled atmospheric depth to their sound design that transports you to alien mindscapes. Cardinal’s Terminus set artfully covered all of my favourite electronic music niches, from glitchy dark ambient to well-bred industrial madness.
Metropolis headliners BELLA MORTE were the perfect foil to an evening of brooding electronica bringing us a prim and grim gothic flavour. Andy is a superlative vocalist and a fantastic stage presence; his playful energy sweetens the heavy melancholy in the music. BELLA MORTE’s sound is a shrewd fusion of the extremes in synthpop and deathrock – boneyard ballads of love lost and sorrow set to upbeat tempos and speared by heavy guitar riffs. Their reputation far precedes them – you could hear their song choruses echoed from every corner of the audience.
If you don’t know the lyrics to breakthrough single Body Burn you can just GTFO my blog now. In the early 90s CUBANATE and their shortlist collaborators from Nitzer Ebb to Sheep on Drugs were everything that mattered in London’s music scene. Call it what you want – dancepunk, techno metal, sonic terrorism – CUBANATE is a living legend to anyone who grew up banging on pipes and sampling ball bearings in a dryer. Singing Junky on the Terminus stage, Marc Heal started an adorably apologetic Canadian moshpit: sorry about the teeth mates, hope your veggies are soft boiled.
And for the survivor’s of Cubanate’s pandemonium, a special treat: LA’s rocketing rockstars, 3TEETH. Lex & co were catapulted into notoriety by their tour with Tool but they are by no means a supporting act: they deserve every shred of their fame, their production is utterly impeccable and their sound absolutely legendary. 3TEETH are the natural successor of Ministry and KMFDM – they live and breathe raw industrial might. Truncated, mechanized lyrics blueprint the prophesies of a coming apocalypse and hammering drums set to brutal overdriven guitars are the anthem of man’s final stand in the war against the machines.
Poisoning this well of consciousness – the tagline is a perfect descriptor of the HAEX experience. Opening Day 2 of Terminus Festivities, the trio’s entrance on the stage was akin to an arcane summoning ritual. From smoke and sorcery they conjured an occult dark electronic sound with chilling atmospheric nuances. Too often we seek meaning in our music through lyrics so I particularly enjoyed the purely instrumental tracks from HAEX.
Nick got on stage and I thought “WTF is Yann doing Terminus?” Then Nick started playing and I thought “WTF IS YANN DOING TERMINUS??!!!”. He’s not. We don’t need you Yann. Move over Iszoloscope, there’s a new force in town, and I swear I’m going to make my entire life about it for the next few months. If this is your first visit to my blog, for all the euphemistic reviews I give all sorts of artists, noise music is the only thing that actually matters in my world, so excuse my blatant bias when I tell you FRACTURED TRANSMISSION was the best bloody new thing I’ve heard all year. Viola’s been kicking around for quite a while, banging out amazing rhythmic noise and I should be utterly ashamed I’m only tuning in now. If you’re a fan of the Ant-Zen, Hands Productions & Tympanik catalogues from Asche to Winterkälte, follow this faithful man into dementia because his style is a synthesis of everything you can love about harsh distortion and digital neural destruction.
Terminus usually does a great job of interspersing a diversity of electronic genres, but this one faithful Saturday evening they said f*ck it eat two hours of powernoise you lillies. So now I need a new pair of feet. Who’s gonna pay for that? CERVELLO ELETTRONICO is hardly a new face in the industrialite canon, but his newest album took a headlong dive into the rhythmic noise division of aforementioned DE label Hands Productions and I would very much like him to stay in that distorted and concussed state because his music is brain-surgery-6Al-4V-grade titanium. Experimental and tribal influences sneak their way into his power electronica sound, a vestige of his lucrative partnerships with some of the best known acts of the genre like Needlesharing, Terrorfakt and Blush Response. I’m done apologizing for the editorial bias: FRACTURED TRANSMISSION & CERVELLO & IVARDENSPHERE were the height of my festival experience and I can only hope the audience’s reception inspires more organizers to BOOK NOISE ARTISTS!
GLASS APPLE BONZAI
And then there’s these clowns. Sometime between the Terminus 2015 appearance and today, GLASS APPLE BONZAI found their feet, their vision and their lord and saviour Satan. The duo emerged on the stage cloaked in cultist robes and stood in ominous silence for the price of a two minute long infernal incantation.
Have you met Daniel? The man is a joker par excellence. In the ensuing half hour we were subjected to a sock puppet show, Brian of the GOTHSICLES in cheap plastic devil horns thrusting centerstage, a remix of the Ghosts & Goblins theme song and more notably a guest appearance from the gentle soul of HELLO MOTH. Lately GAB’s sound has taken on a sombre note, delving into the dark thematic waters of depression and loss, yet their sound still has that memorable vintage synth pop jukebox appeal.
GAB’s Monty Pythonesque take on Beelzebub might’ve accidentally summoned the real deal in the form of LUDOVICO TECHNIQUE. Their name does not lie, they are quite the multisensory experience, with a stunning stage show, lavish costumes and entrancing choreography set to a visceral new-school harsh industrial rhythm. LUDOVICO TECHNIQUE are a great crossover band from the world of metal to the shores of EBM and their sound and performance continue to evolve with every incarnation.
You hear goth and you think demure black lace, red wine and candle-lit poetry soirees right? Yeah, right. Enter GOTHSICLES: UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A SELECT START.
In the stratified milieu of alternative culture, Brian is the class clown. He’s a consecrated nerd who stole a mic, snuck onto a stage and made us all laugh so hard we instantly came to love him. He’s our Screech, a totally absurd goofball who actually happens to make some pretty kick a** EBM beats, and loads them full of geeky gaming references. “ok ok, I’m gonna sing a song about DOS games now” he slurs – ok bring it buddy! Hands down the most fun performance of the show, GOTHSICLES knows how to work a crowd – and we secretly know everyone of his lyrics.
Tom’s been making music since the year I was born and by this point ASSEMBLAGE 23 is an essential part of dark electronic music culture. Basically anyone who’s set foot in a goth club from Atlanta to Warsaw has heard their music, and with such massive success, it’s astonishing how well ASSEMBLAGE 23 have maintained their notoriety and continued to inspire new fans. They are a landmark of EBM style, among the inventors of that arpeggiated synthesizer tune that defined the futurepop genre for generations to come and we are so grateful to have them perform in Calgary among their North American tour dates.
THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE
Toronto heroes THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE had their cake and ate it too on the Terminus stage leaving the crowd utterly raptured with their potent blend of adorable frights. If somebody could clone me a dozen pocket sized Chibis, I’ll move ’em faster than hot cakes. THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE make superlatively beautiful music, a new wave rock sound set to emotionally charged lyrics and all the deceitful cuteness of a teddybear stuffed with razorwire. Their stage antics are equally renowned and the energy they brought to Terminus surely won the hearts of our entire audience.
2017 is clearly the Year of the Geek: Day 3 of Terminus opened with yet another retro gaming inspired performance by Alberta’s chiptune artist GREYSCREEN. After two days of hardcore partying, Kevin climbs onstage with an GameBoy in tow and tosses an NES controller to the audience to play Mario on the main projection screen. I’ve seen some crazy things on that stage, but never before an 8-bit music artist blowing cartridges. GREYSCREEN was a total treat!
Another west coast delight I had never heard before, WIRE SPINE are synthpunks at their core, offering minimal beats paired with haunting vocals akin to Faith and the Muse. Their stage presence was of a surreal transient beauty, impactful but apprehensive all at once. WIRE SPINE‘s visual accompaniment was also among my favourites, a mix of obscure video snippets, stark geometric renderings, and a silhouette of what I can only hope was my childhood love, the 1964 cartoon feature Thumbelina.
Vancouvarites ACTORS were like a cool drink of water in the heat of the night. Classy and minimalist they are coldwave excellence, a mature sound born of a heartless urban landscape, encased in chic chrome. ACTORS performance is a shining example of Art Rock; they are at the same time very modern in their aesthetic and sound, yet carry a deep European post-punk influence that chimes of Ultravox and the new romantic style.
THE RAIN WITHIN
One of the best parts of a monolithic festival like Terminus is that you inevitably get permutations of band mates playing together with their side gigs, which lends a whole new perspective on their musical prowess. THE RAIN WITHIN is one such act, bringing together Bella Morte’s Andy Dean and KC from Strvngers supporting on drums. This act had a chillwave vibe that is slick like 80s neon, and it’s a great outlet for Andy’s dreamier pop inspirations.
IVARDENSPHERE: SINGULARITY vs BORYS LIVE PA BATTLE
Two years ago IVARDENSPHERE put eight taiko drummers on stage and played an insane show that included guests This Morn’ Omina. How do you even follow that? With an actual metric tonne of gear, that’s how. Scott & BORYS brought their shiniest toys, modular synths, drum machines, built patch upon patch upon patch, stretched them on two wedding sized tables and dragged them onto the dancefloor.
You want epic? THIS is how you do epic! Every time I see him Scott outdoes himself, and the 2017 Terminus performance was another powernoise technical knockout.
Whoever shot the full length video of their show, please send it along because this was a one of a kind show that must be documented fully. Here you go:
MR KITTY is the new standard of synthpop – there was no shortage of the genre at Terminus this year, but Forrest is unlike anything you will ever witness. I’ve loved him dearly since Aftermath a couple years back and he continues to rock his performances like no other. Synth arpeggiators, tape delay, the unmistakeable fuzz of distortion and his vocals that range from reverb driven whispers to electro screams are an rare treat. MR KITTY makes adorable robot love songs, he plays with sadness and joy alike batting them together into a tangle of trancey techno tunes.
Gothic shoegaze is a thing and it lives in DRAB MAJESTY. On stage they looked like the thralls of some extraterrestrial force attempting to communicate its cosmic melancholy through their voices and dexterous hands. The delicate blend of deep bass lines and echoing guitars creates a retro-futuristic style that is uniquely captivating. Deb DeMure is a strange muse with a mesmerizing vocal tone. DRAB MAJESTY‘s metaphysical beliefs glimmer through each track, and connect the audience to another plane of existence.
People were very excited about WULFBAND, but nobody warned me – so my initial reaction was along the lines of “what the actual f…”. The Swedish duo got on stage following the most lackadaisical performance of the weekend and for the first two minutes I thought they had lost their minds. I’m still not convinced they’re all there. These guys are just batsh*t insane. They’re two pissed off Germans that have refined pissed-off-germanism to an art form. The first impression of their music was of screaming swearwords to utterly pounding percussion – and when they were done each cathartic rep, the frontman would stand awkwardly on stage in complete silence and occasionally scream an unintelligible *AAAAAAHHH*. They call their music EBM and that’s the best joke of the night: if EBM walked into their neighbourhood it would get its teeth kicked in and its boots stolen. WULFBAND is like Eins Neb on PCP. I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this. I think it’s the fatal flaw of industrial music lovers: when a Deutschman shouts angry things and bangs on a chunk of metal at 160 BPM, your feet start moving and you love it in spite of your better judgement.
We got screwed out of a PIG show by bureaucracy and that’s a shame, but to fill the void of Watt’s absence, EN ESCH put together a killer set of KMFDM classics and not a beat was missed. We wanted German industrial rock, we got it! With the impromptu backup from Gottesman (you just couldn’t stay outta the limelight eh?) the show was flawless and we sang every anthem breathlessly to the final riff of the night. En Esch is legendary, and the fire in his heart nearly burnt Dickens to the ground. The final performance was the perfect send off to the best music festival I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.