15th December 2011
Electric Ballroom, Camden
First published in Clash Music Online on 19 December 2011
It’s been a long time since most of us last saw Death in Vegas. September’s Fabric show was the band’s first appearance in seven years and much has changed in that time. Richard Fearless has effectively gone solo and this year saw the release of new album ‘Trans-Love Energies’, which has received widespread praise. So it is anyone’s guess what tonight will have in store and there is a sense of anticipation as the predominantly middle-aged crowd tries to work out which Death in Vegas they will be seeing. Will this be a new start or a triumphant return for the pioneers that were once so important to the intersection of electronica and rock music?
It is unmistakably Death in Vegas, but not as we’ve seen or heard them before
Opening with the first single from the new album – ‘Your Loft My Acid’ – it is immediately clear that we are not attending a reunion gig. The synthesizers are minimal and spacious, the bass is tight and the sample of Katie Stelmanis’ haunting vocal complements these to striking and sublime effect. The band members are new, youthful and note perfect. It is unmistakably Death in Vegas, but not as we’ve seen or heard them before.
This is juxtaposed by the seamless flow into the familiar opening chords of Dirge. The crowd is audibly pleased to be hearing an old classic so soon. Still the sound is subtly different: a new band with a different take on the song and you know what? It sounds better for it. It is a clever start and one that sets the agenda perfectly, announcing that there will be new ideas, whilst simultaneously easing the fears of the die-hard fans that have come to hear the songs they know and love.
So it is surprising that after such an intelligent opening that the next three songs are fairly uneventful. We hear the familiar clipped arpeggios and lush waves of synthesizer, and Fearless’s vocals (on ‘Coum’ in particular) are impressive, but something is missing. This is reflected in the crowd’s movement with pockets of dancing in view but no single consciousness of movement yet perceptible. It is not helped by the fact that the songs are slow (it’s as if someone has turned the BPM down on the sequencers) and Fearless seems uncomfortable at points in his new multi-instrumentalist and vocalist role. There appears to be a craving in the room for the more organic and intense kraut flavoured energy associated with the past and one can’t help but feel that the gig is drifting away.
‘Death Threat’ sounds fuller and more ferocious than ever
Just in time, the situation is remedied with the arrival of ‘Flying’. The crowd’s relief is noticeable and the room instantaneously acquires the energy that has been so severely lacking for the last few minutes. Then we finally get what we’ve been waiting for and all hell breaks loose with the eruption of ‘Death Threat’, which sounds fuller and more ferocious than ever before. It is an awesome show of raw brute power and there is no turning back.
From here on in, we are propelled over the tipping point and every track is muscular and full of fire. ‘Aisha’ is unrecognisable from its previous incarnation, with only the original sample remaining over the top of a thundering decimated bass riff. This hardly matters, as the song has lost none of its guts whatsoever. To add to this the encore break is framed with songs that display a dynamism that the early part of the set was deficient in. After a pitch perfect ‘Hands Around My Throat’ the band closes with ‘Rekkit’ (again almost unrecognisable from its original manifestation) culminating in a barrage of sound and a strobe lighting display that would be capable of hospitalising even the most hardened of gig veterans.
And with that it’s all over before we’ve even realised what has hit us. Tonight we doubtlessly witnessed a new band showcasing new material – material that has teething problems and needs space to refine and grow. More importantly though, we witnessed a band demonstrating that not only do they have the ability to do justice to what Death in Vegas always were but that they are capable of realising it in a more authoritative and organic way than ever before. Far from being strangled by the weight of the past they are breathing new life into it and proving that Death in Vegas are not just back but that they are still as important as ever.
Photography courtesy of Matt Wash
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As nation states ruled the 20th Century, now digital corporations are positioning themselves as the rulers of this. And much like the early 20th, where a physical arms race led to a world war in the second decade, we are now in the middle of a digital arms race that is placing us in the midst of a new threat. The culmination of this threat however, will not be played out on Flanders fields in trenches and physical fighting, no it will take place across the information super highways and be coded in binary going on unseen to most casual observers.
For years now Google has been king of the online world gathering an unprecedented knowledge of its users and using that knowledge to target its services and advertising model accordingly. The profits have rolled in. It is clear Google is not happy with the expansion Facebook has enjoyed of late and there is concern at the effect this could go on to have on Google’s established staple revenue streams, particularly online advertising.
The rise of Facebook from simple social media network to worldwide behemoth and fully immersive lifestyle platform threatens Google’s position and bottom line. This threat has become particularly prevalent as Facebook moves to structure its experience so users (and their hard earned cash) never leave the confines of the network with the development of brand pages and integration services such as F-Commerce. The result being that there is now a real risk many users entire shopping experiences will take place through Facebook and all of those big advertising budgets will be redirected towards Facebook’s ever deepening coffers.
It was clear Google had to act and act it has with this autumn’s launch of the much anticipated Google+ platform.
Google+ is the corporation’s most serious attempt to establish itself as a credible social media network to date, with many of the features being specifically designed to aid content sharing and brand promotion. It has dabbled in this area before with the release of its much maligned (and ultimately failed) wave and buzz services but this is the first time you really feel Google is taking Facebook on at their own game so directly.
Facebook obviously has a head start with over 800 million active users and development across its platform rife. However Google can lay claim to being a genuine contender as it has the added advantage of an already established and fully integrated email platform, superb analytics and search marketing offerings and the unique position to pull all of these things together in a way that can really create a seamless experience.
The question of who will ultimately win this battle is for another time and will most likely create the content for countless more blog posts. I for one will be watching intently and look forward to seeing how things develop.
The question I am really interested in posing today though is what does this ultimately mean for us as both users and citizens?
Well as users it means party time. Competition between manufacturers and suppliers always means rapid development, improved services and more choice doesn’t it? Well in one sense yes, the two giants of the web will be forced into upping the ante and increasing the speed at which they develop ever more useful services with better integration across third party applications than ever before.
But at what cost will this come to us as citizens? I would like to posit the notion that it will be a high one.
Facebook has been amassing personal data for years now. It holds information about your friends, family, education and work history. In addition it collects data relating to your personality. Through integration with third party apps like Spotify and The Guardian it knows what you are reading and listening to and records what you post to “walls” and “like” across the web. All of your personal messages and “chats” are stored, too, even if you delete them. In a similar vein Google has records of all of your search history linked to your IP address and through iGoogle and its gmail platform can link this to personal information it has about you.
This has massive implications for your personal privacy with these two companies arguably holding more useful and relevant information about you than even the Government. In my opinion that is a lot of responsibility for an unaccountable corporation to hold. Facebook has already come in for a lot of criticism over its seemingly blaze approach to our privacy and it is only recently it has appeared to take this in any way seriously.
So surely then a genuine rival to Facebook will be a good thing? Each provider will be forced to offer improved privacy protection and effective profile restriction settings. It will force both Google and Facebook to take our privacy seriously or we may defect to the other camp. This is true and will of course mean our online data will become safer from prying eyes and to corruption by external forces than ever before.
So the net effect of this battle seems to be that our personal data will be safer than ever before. But to me this misses the most crucial consideration in all of this and that is, who will be checking up on the people who control all of this data themselves? Both Google and Facebook will hold details on virtually every aspect of our lives and at present there really is no play book to follow in ensuring this is handled in a way that respects our privacy and rights as citizens.
This is the issue we’ve been overlooking with most conversations about online privacy choosing to focus on the dangers around loss of data and not the threats posed by increased corporate retention of it. The elephant in the room if you will is the fact that over the course of the next few years each of us will, out of our own choice, happily give over ever increasing information about ourselves to two giant, all powerful yet ultimately unaccountable corporations. At the moment they promise they are not misusing it and the regulators are working hard to ensure it is protected. But for how long will this gentleman’s agreement hold out?
This shift is inevitable. The increased competition of Google and Facebook’s battles will lead to more integrated services resulting in more of our lives taking place online and ever more of the information that details who we are being held in the data banks of these two companies. Competitors will be swallowed up (See Google’s acquisition of YouTube and Facebook’s purchase of Gowalla as relevant examples of where this is already taking place) ensuring any potential data capture and revenue streams will eventually end up in these same centralised resources.
Furthermore with the rise of smart-phones, each of us now carries a mini GPS in our pockets (synced up to our applications) meaning even our location and movement is now trackable. More and more of our lives will be known in real time and the potential for misuse of this increases to a level only before contemplated in the land of fiction and sci-fi.
And it will not be an accountable, electable Government who will know all of this data about you. Where you are and who you are with. What you are reading and what you are planning. No, it will be a Google or a Facebook (or even an Apple).
But it’s ok as our elected Governments will regulate them won’t they? Our Governments will ensure this data is never misused, that it is only used for the purposes it was signed over for? We’d like to hope so but history tells us different I think. Armed with all of this knowledge and power I would hazard a guess these companies will develop ever increasing abilities of leveraging Governments to do their will and these will eventually include relaxations on the way personal data can be reused. Think about it, If you need to be elected you’re going to need to take seriously the views and wants of companies who hold so much sway over our personal, daily information and the economy are you not? It will be a repeat of Thatcher and Blair’s cooing to Rupert Murdoch’s News International but on a scale unlike any seen before.
And so we return to my original point. The defeat of Nation State rule and Government absolute power will be complete. The baton of control of the 21st century empires will have passed wholly to the Corporations, to the Google and the Facebook of the not so distant future. And as the Nation States warred across the 20th Century for our loyalty a war between these corporations will be raging constantly in an unseen place throughout this. The greatest irony in all of this being that unlike in previous times where we have fallen foul by rule of force, this time by buying into the services they provide we will be implicitly consensual and willing in our own subjugation.
We will love our Big Brothers with all our hearts.
Sound familiar at all Orwell fans?
Now why not share this on Google or Facebook ;)
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