Fans of dark alternative music gathered together over two nights earlier this fall for Substance, a music and visual arts festival created in partnership with Spaceland Presents, Restless Nites, Sex Cells, Part Time Punks, Revolver and Das Bunker. Festival highlights were Gary Numan and Boy Harsher, respective headliners for the Friday and Saturday evening offerings of live performances. An event like this gave music fans the opportunity to check out emerging acts like Ritual Howls and Odonis Odonis along with well-known acts like ADULT. and A Place to Bury Strangers.
Kanga, having recently concluded a tour with Gary Numan, opened the festival on Friday evening. Xeno & Oaklander and ADULT. were also on the main stage Friday night. One of the challenges of attending an event with concurrent performances is deciding which band to see. This necessitated constant movement among the crowd and provided a chance for attendees to explore the other areas of the event which included a proper club room with a DJ and bar as well as an interactive art installation.
The headliner Friday night was Gary Numan, a veteran of the dark electronic music scene and a clear fan favorite of the night. As few other acts at Substance did, Gary performed with a full band, driving the electronic music he is known for into a heavier and richer tapestry of sound for his live set. Highlights of the set included performances of “Down in the Park”, “A Prayer for the Unborn” and a personal favorite from Exile (1997), “Absolution”. Watching Gary work the stage along with his guitar and bass players who maintained their own animated stage presence was in bold contrast to the majority of performances featuring a simple setup with one or two performers. In this way, Gary Numan continues to lead the pack with his understanding of how to make “cold” electronic music feel exciting and even dangerous.
Berlin-based sinister dark wave act Kontravoid was one of the ’emerging’ acts to perform at the Ballroom stage. The smoky ambiance and masked performance by Kontravoid’s Cameron Findlay created a gritty vibe drawing a large crowd and providing ample distorted, dark beats to get the crowd dancing.
Back at the main stage, A Place to Bury Strangers created their own dark, brooding vibe befitting the wall of sound the band is known for using visual projections and stark lighting. The absence of any light at various points in their set along with strobe lights matched to heavy guitar and percussion effectively made the band members appear in silhouette and created a sound bath of sorts for the audience to be immersed in.
Experimental electronic artist John Maus performed on the main stage with feral intensity in his movements set against the synth sounds accompanying his vocals. A fascinating artist in his own right, Maus certainly has his own dedicated following and was a unique and eccentric addition to the lineup for the event.
Saturday’s headliner was Boy Harsher, a band that has ample name recognition and heavy song rotation at dark alternative club nights. With the sonic minimalism crafted by Augustus Miller and the ethereal chants and wails of front woman Jae Matthews, their live performance featured a sparse setup that focused audience attention on the dynamic between the performers themselves and the simple beauty of the music.
Events like this may seem overwhelming to fans that want to catch every act. What is so impressive about Substance is how organized the event was and the lineup– it is clearly a love letter to electronic music fans, showcasing various aspects of the genre and inviting listeners to check out a new band if they dare or deepen their understanding of the connections between various bands performing at this unique event.
Coming up soon, Substance is presenting TR/ST on New Years Eve at Regent Theater in Los Angeles along with a custom A/V experience by Taran Allen. Keep up with Substance via their social media links at Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.