The great thing about having good friends is that they’re, well, rather good to have around. A common interest, for example, is highly conducive to spending hours talking about a mutual favourite topic. And if your residences happen to be geographically close then the likely instances of sharing those interests thoroughly increase.
I have one particular friend who lives just three minutes’ drive away and when I called him the other day the conversation went something like this.
“Hey mate, how’re you going?”
“Yeah pretty good. Hey listen, do you have a spare sombrero I could borrow?”
“Sure. But I’m leaving in 10 minutes.”
“No probs, I’ll be there in three.”
Admittedly it was more like four minutes — the one traffic light on the way delayed me — but I got there in time and he was more than obliging in allowing me to choose one of his half a dozen hats. The occasion was Fiend Fest Festival: the biggest gothy industrially darkish alternativey festival ever held in Australia, consisting of a long streak of bands, an extensive dark fashion show, and the always-awesome twice-annual (I think) event that is The Black Market.
I love the fact that this kind of subculture even manages to still exist, let alone manifest itself as a big all-day party, but I wasn’t actually attending the last two components. Specifically, I was seriously looking forward to Mexican electro-industrialists Hocico (if you haven’t heard of them, make an effort to look them up) which also happens to be the reason I acquired a sombrero. I covered mine in industrial tape because, you know, that would make it an industrial sombrero.
Yeah, not many people got it.
Yeah, not many people got it.
This sombrero is industrial.
There’s a lot to be said about Hocico and it deserves a lot more space than I’ve got here. There’s the fact that two poor, Mexican teenagers who just happened to be seriously into their Skinny Puppy subsequently became one of the most influential acts in aggrotech or terror EBM or whatever the kids are calling it today.
There’s the fact that they do a very cool and unique blend of what I think is particularly dark and energetic electronic music, which somehow still remains awesome despite its generally un-polished production.
And then there’s the fact that they are reputed to do amazing live shows. Legend has it (in other words, I can’t confirm this story) that Hocico’s first European tour saw them support several better known bands who, after witnessing Hocico’s ball-tearingly awesome and energetic performance, are said to have unanimously decided that they take the top spot for the remainder of the tour.
Yeah, there’s probably some extreme embellishment there but I still like that story. And even if it’s not true, the fact is they are a major drawcard on the European festival circuit in this kind of music.
That last point — the quality of their live performances — was seriously hyped up before the gig and so I, along with almost everyone else there with even a half-arsed interest in the band, had some very big expectations. Most of them would thankfully be met, but the whole caper came perilously close to unravelling as a result of some serious audio gremlins that had started before I even got there.
I’d hate to be accused of spreading lies and rumours so I hope I’ve got this right. It would seem that one of the earlier bands on the bill had their PA die after three songs; another band had another serious problem with a foldback speaker (subsequently, the main area had a noticeable whiff of electrical-fire smoke); and there may even have been further assorted audio problems. It seemed the venue worked around the problems as best they could but it all caused considerable mayhem to the band schedule. Consequently, Hocico started late.
Not that it mattered much to the crowd. The noticeable sense of expectation was all there, but then within two songs the dreaded audio bug reared its ugly head! I imagine that the sound mixer along with the stage manager were by now chowing down box-loads of maximum-strength aspirin, as the speakers seemed cut out. For a moment there the punters parked at the front of the stage directed their displeasure at the audio booth, but interestingly enough — and a sure sign that the crowd was filled with appreciation — everyone kind of started clapping in unison to those beats, almost as if to compensate for the drop in audio. Fortunately it got fixed, and that’s when the fun really started.
And the fun seriously begins (pic: Tarley).
There we were, with a blinding blaze of strobes, disturbing backdrop visuals, and a little Mexican guy jumping around in some rather large almost GWARish or Lordi-like shoulder pads. And that’s when I realised what made this band so great.
When you see live bands that you don’t avidly follow, it’s so often a case of getting into those songs you recognise and maybe even liking a few you don’t recognise. “They’re not bad,” is as absolutely stock-standard behaviour at a gig as is having a vaguely appreciative and not-very-responsive crowd for much of the time. But not so with these guys. I own a few Hocico releases and yet I can honestly say I recognised all of two songs that were played. Yet at every moment there was this powerful you-had-to-be-there energy, this awesome, dark, killer world complete with sensory-depriving lights and visuals. At the risk of running off an old cliché, it was much of a case of you could “feel” it rather than just see and hear it.
Cool backdrop (pic: Tarley).
The only down-side for the night? Other than Hocico playing a short set and not getting around to doing an encore?
I groaned vigorously the next morning at my fiancée about how my lower back ached. I couldn’t figure out how it got so sore until she pointed out that (along with me getting old, of course) I did my fair bit of jumping around. It was the only plausible explanation I could think of until, still buzzing from the gig, I swayed back and forth mildly (I think I was brushing my teeth and was reminiscing about it all) when oh boy, that’s when it hit me. Sharp, jabbing pain, right there where I’d been moving around (not jumping) all night.
You see, the thing about a sombrero, even one wrapped in industrial tape, is that it’s kind of light. You can’t headbang like you’d normally do because it will fall off, so instead you have to do a kind of keep-your-back-straight-while-moving-your-head- forwards-and-backwards-type of motion. Turns out, doing this repeatedly is very bad for your lower back.
Anyone who is genuinely into dark and heavy music knows that a concert-induced injury is worn as a badge of honour. I wouldn’t have minded so much if I got cut from a spike or bruised from someone’s boot or even severe whiplash from too much headbanging (though not to the extent experienced by Jason Newsted and Tom Araya, who both had to stop headbanging due to nasty neck injuries).
No, my latest concert injury came form wearing a hat.
Yeah, I must be getting old.
I'm at the bottom right of the shot, slowly receiving a mild back injury (pic: Tarley).