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Culture Reviews
IX Moscow Synthetic Snow Festival
By Martin Richardson
There's a moment during "Will you be there?" when suddenly one of those visionary insights drops from above. If only Kraftwerk had been fronted by Morrissey, the result would have been Deine Lakaien. Vocalist Alexander Veljanov, a Macedonian based in Germany, straddles the same fine line between self-indulgence and excellence that the former Smiths frontman has veered across throughout his career, while behind him Ersnt Horn rattled up a fusillade of pounding electronica which wouldn't have disgraced Ralf Hutter and the boys. Yet Deine Lakaien's set - a new one, which combined several acoustic numbers with their trademark technology - wasn't quite the perfect ending to the festival. Partly that was down to logistics - a gig which had been scheduled to finish around midnight inevitably over-ran, meaning the crowd thinned alarmingly as the witching hour of Metro o'clock hoved into view.

But it also reflected the difficulties Deine Lakaien, a band which tends towards reflective rather than uproarious music, would have in following the powerful industrial performance of Mexico's Rabia Sorda. Both acts are impressive in their own way, but after the latter really got the party going, the Germans risked ending things on a downbeat. That would be a harsh criticism of the band, which produced strong versions of "Over and done" and encored with a chilling take on 80s synth symphony "Round and round", but reversing the running order might have been a smart move from the organizers.

Why? Because Rabia Sorda was simply magnificent. While the group is a solo spin-off for Hocico frontman Erk Aicrag, and is felt to be the outlet for his more reflective music (it's electroclash rather than aggrotech, for those who like their labels), nobody would mistake it for easy listening. On stage, Aicrag is a captivating figure, wild-eyed and spikey haired, leading his audience into an industrial frenzy with echoes of Rammstein (an act heading to Moscow early next year). There was some serious stage-prowling going on up there as well. The music contrasted sharply with much of what had gone before, and lifted the bulk of the crowd from discreet toe-tapping to vigorous pogo-ing. Even the girl in ultra short zebra-print shorts became excitingly animated for a few moments, which was surely worth the entrance money on its own.

The high-octane approach was a welcome contrast to the slightly monotonous sets of both Solar Fake and Cause and Effect. The latter, flying over from the US, were hit with technical problems at the start of their set and never quite recovered. On the other hand, kicking off a show at a synth festival with a solo track for acoustic guitar was quite an audacious stroke, even if it was only because the laptop had crashed and the electronics were lost for the time being.

Solar Fake had more luck, and a bit more life about them. However, it was striking that their most successful track on the night was a cover of "Such a shame", originally by English 80s synth-poppers Talk Talk, and later covered by Sandra, who took it high in the German charts. Not a bad song, by any means, but compared with the contrasting artistry of those who came later it highlighted a slight blandness among much of the genre.

For veterans of previous Synthetic Snows, the move from Tochka to Pipl prompted some questions, mostly about the distance from the metro (and, perhaps, the slightly intimidating stroll through some ill-lit, run-down backstreets which felt like out-takes from a Kino clip) and the smaller crowd than previous years. But those who did venture out were rewarded with an intriguing line-up and, after a slow start, some memorable performances.

06.12.11
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