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Concert Review: VNV Nation

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VNV Nation was founded in the early 90s and quickly made a name for themselves with their brand of electronic music influenced both by Pop and Industrial (quickly dubbed "future pop"). Their breakthrough happened when they founded their own label "Dependent" with three other influential bands (Velvet Acid Christ, Sucide Commando and Covenant). Playing live has always come natural for them right from the very start and after releasing their brand new album "Matter and Form" with the help of great German produce Humate, they hit the road in the USA again.

The charms of being involved with any “underground” movement, be it political, artistic or both, can be bittersweet. Alongside your compatriots, you celebrate the smallest triumphs as joyous victories and ignore the elephant in the room, the truth that what you adore isn’t quite yet ready for prime time (or, more actually, vice versa).

In these times, the rock underground is fully owned and operated by unsung techno bands. Punk has come and gone to a large extent, its angry spirit annexed and packaged for mass consumption by the very corporate leviathans who’d stood as its original targets. Speed metal is nowadays a slam-dunk investment opportunity for entrepreneurs prepared to weed through thousands of hokey press kits searching for the bands with the largest local followings to guarantee the numbers. Meanwhile, the form of indie/CMJ rock which gestated in the late 80s and early 90s is the new Big Thing, its Animal Farm appeal a wolf’s disguise as it works desperately to replace an omniracial, watered-down rap as the darling of Billboard.

Against this backdrop, futurepop veterans VNV Nation took the stage at Axis in Boston this horrifically muggy Sunday evening.  The air conditioning was broken, which made the packed, mid-sized house a dangerous place in which to breathe, but the crowd maintained a friendly atmosphere. Let’s back up a second to the term ‘futurepop’. One of the great things about the techno underground is that it’s still working the bugs out of its nomenclature. Techno freaks argue back and forth about whether a particular song is “industrial,” “EBM” (electronic body music), “darkwave,” or some other term they invented themselves (never mind that when these particular animals eventually take over the farm everyone will term it “techno” or something equally non-toxic). Given VNV Nation’s uncanny ability to touch the heart as adeptly as they do the ears, “futurepop” is the correct label for the band – one need only hear a few lines of Ronan Harris’s smoky Phil Collins/Steve Winwood baritone to see the potential for things much bigger than nightclubs with busted air conditioners.

The members of the studio duo – Harris and drummer Mark Jackson, playing an expensive-looking stand-up set of electronic percussion – were flanked by a pair of low-key European hired hands playing synths, and their energy was inspiring as they swung into set opener “Chrome,” a robotic club-stomper from the band’s new Matter & Form album on Metropolis. Going by his stubbornly positive lyrics, I’d been expecting Harris to come off as either a religious zealot or pompous ‘arteest’, but the man’s a born comedian. The length of time between songs grew in proportion to how farcically Harris could bait the crowd in his light Irish brogue; at one point he reeled in a few physics students with a phony lecture before spouting a sermon on individuality within the industrial scene: “Yes indeed, every one of us is different.  You can tell because we’re all wearing black.” 

Against a projection-screen backdrop consisting mostly of sped-up storm cloud footage and hypnotic shapes, the four concentrated mostly on material from their last three albums, “Joy” from Praise the Fallen being one of the few exceptions. The set list was exactly what any newer fan would have wanted to hear: “Kingdom,” “Standing,” “Legion” and “Darkangel” from Empires; a clutch of songs from Future Perfect (including club hit “Epicentre”); and the sweet spots of Matter & Form (heart-tugger “Endless Skies,” the Coldplayish “Arena,” “Perpetual”).

VNV Nation is a train that mainstream folks should try catching early. Even with no AC, melted chocolate bars in vending machines as the only food source, and plenty of hot Vampiras around, this is as cool as it gets.

By Eric Saeger

Hate mail, indie label release announcements, and utter silliness are always welcome.  Email

Homepage: VNV Nation

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