Genre can be a dodgy subject when it comes to the personal work of artistic human beings. There’s a sense in which slapping a label on something that has taken up an artist’s soul, sweat, and salary is a violation. Yet often there is little doubt that a band or artist is part of a movement or subculture. All three of the bands that played Venue this past Tuesday displayed some degree of affinity towards industrial and goth aesthetics, suggesting themes of disillusionment and despair at the sight of a decaying world. Synthesizers buzzed and drums cracked with cold liveness, simulating the gloomy atmosphere of an abandoned shop or factory.
As to what it all meant and how evocative it actually was, that depended on who was playing.
Vancouver dark wave duo Koban took the stage first, using a simple complement of guitar and bass over pre-recorded backing tracks, similar to Godflesh’s live setup. It’s really quite impressive what a sound results when a couple of musicians know how to use their gear. Gargantuan bass riffs, paired with sharp, mechanical drum machines, form the basic core of Koban’s sound, with guitars and synths making up the high-presence atmospheric layer. Guitarist Samuel Buss and bassist Brittany West share vocal duties, although rarely do they “lead” by singing: the human voice is but one of many in their choir of clanging machines. They achieved a balance of mood, image, and song, neither overwhelming the music by overstating their stage presence nor stripping down their style to the bare bones and losing the feel.
Soon after came the return of Left Spine Down after a three-year hiatus, apparently not satisfied to leave the world well enough alone. To get an idea of what they were like, try this: combine all the things you wish you could forget about emo-pop, nü–metal, and post-grunge in a blender, pulse for the entire duration of a Cybergoth jam, and add two extra-large Red Bulls. Consume straight out of the blender and chase with a double of watered-down Crown.
Finally, the Soft Moon hit the stage. They made a big impression using a stark setup and a focused but intense (as well as downright sexy) performance. Musically, there is obvious industrial influence, but it’s blended with pop in a way that suggests more Nine Inch Nails than Skinny Puppy. Luis Vasquez’s guitar style reminds me of Keith Levine from Public Image LTD.: at once lead-oriented and minimalist, wrenching every bit of harmonic value from just a few repeated notes. The strongest material tended to come from 2015’s Deeper, including such outright gems as “Far”, “Wrong”, and “Try”, songs that have the brilliant hooks and emotional content needed to really stick in the minds of their listeners. In contrast, the older material had more value as mood-setting music and didn’t quite communicate the way the new songs did. However, the bad-ass moment of the night was Vasquez’s display of his percussion skills on both the bongos and a metal garbage can. Clearly, he has a lot to offer, and if his songwriting and performing continue to progress, the Soft Moon could become a mainstay of industrial rock.