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Posts Tagged ‘Effloresce’

1505

No doubt about it: 2012 was a difficult year for most of us. True to the Italian saying about leap years being unlucky, 2012 ran the gamut from weather-related disasters, wars and other acts of random violence to political malfunction and economic near-collapse, sparing almost no part of the world. There was no lack of disruption in my own little world either. In spite of all my good resolutions, the year started with a few weeks of less than stellar physical condition (nothing serious, but enough to grind most of my projects to a halt), and then I was hit by a double-whammy of bureaucracy-related problems that –  while obviously not tragic – caused enough distress to cast a pall over the remaining months.

It is not surprising, therefore, that in 2012 I have been less prolific a reviewer than in previous years, or that the views on this blog have somehow decreased, though not dramatically so. Constant stress can wreak havoc on inspiration, and at times it was hard to come up with a coherent sentence – let alone an 800-word review. However, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of worry and general annoyance, music has remained a source of delight and (as the title of this essay points out) comfort when things got really tough.

The number of progressive rock-related albums released during 2012 was nothing short of staggering. The second decade of the 21st century started indeed with a bang in 2011, and, at least for the time being, the trend does not show any signs of being reversed. Many of those albums were made available for streaming (at least for a limited time) by websites such as Progstreaming, Bandcamp or Soundcloud, allowing the often cash-strapped fans a “test run”. On the other hand, the sheer volume of new releases made it necessary to pick and choose to avoid being overwhelmed. While confirming the vitality of the genre, this also showed one of the downsides of the digital age – the oversaturation of the market, and frequent lack of quality control.

As my readers know, I do not do “top 10/20/50/100” lists, leaving this exercise to people who are interested in arranging their choices according to a more or less strict order of preference. From my perspective, there have been milestone releases, and others that – while perhaps not equally memorable – still deserve a mention. On any account, even more so than in the previous year, 2012 has emphasized the ever-widening gulf between the retro-oriented and the forward-thinking components of the prog audience. Sometimes, while looking at the reviews pages of some of the leading websites of the genre, I have had the impression that (to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling) the twain shall hardly ever meet. In the US, such a split has been detrimental to the festival scene – though the void left by NEARfest’s demise may lead organizers to step out of their typical audience’s comfort zone in order to attract a more diverse crowd.

Though I am most familiar with albums that I have reviewed, or otherwise own, there are others that have left enough of an impression to deserve a mention in this post. As my choices have been mainly informed by personal taste, I will apologize beforehand for any major omissions. While I may consider those albums essential listening, some of my readers will certainly disagree with me, and suggest their own personal picks –and this is exactly how things should be. Indeed, as the French would say, vive la différence!

Although I have built a reputation as a fan of the more “difficult” stuff, one of my favourite albums of the year (and one that is likely to be featured in many top 10 lists) is an album that, in many respects, is not even “prog” in the conventional sense of the word. However, Echolyn’s self-titled eighth studio album – unlike so many true-blue prog releases – is a masterpiece of songwriting, instrumentally tight without any concessions to self-indulgence, and packing a huge emotional punch. Another highly awaited, almost unexpected comeback – 18 years after the band’s previous studio effort – Änglagård’s third studio album, Viljans Öga, reveals a keen, almost avant-garde edge beneath its pastoral surface, well highlighted in their impeccable NEARfest appearance.

2012 was a milestone year for what I like to call the “new frontier” of prog – less focused on epic grandeur and more song-oriented. In the second decade of the 21st century, “progressive rock” and “song” are not antithetic concepts any longer, and going for 5 minutes instead than 15 is not a sign of sell-out. Three albums in particular stand out: 3RDegree’s The Long Division, a perfect combination of great melodies, intelligent lyrics and outstanding musicianship with the added value of George Dobbs’ Stevie Wonder-influenced vocals; the Magna Carta reissue of MoeTar’s 2010 debut From These Small Seeds, a heady blend of catchy hooks, edgier suggestions and Moorea Dickason’s stellar, jazz-inflected voice; and Syd Arthur’s delightful “modern Canterbury” debut, On And On – infused with the spirit of early Soft Machine and Pink Floyd.

As in the previous years, in 2012 the ever-growing instrumental prog scene produced some outstanding albums. Canadian multi-instrumentalist Dean Watson wowed devotees of high-energy jazz-rock with Imposing Elements, the second installment of his one-man project – inspired by the industrial Gothic paintings of Toronto-based artist Ron Eady. In the early months of 2012, French seven-piece Forgas Band Phenomena made a triumphant recording comeback with the exhilaratingly accomplished Acte V. Another two excellent Cuneiform releases, Ergo’s second album If Not Inertia and Janel & Anthony’s lovely debut, Where Is Home, while not immediately approachable, will gradually win over the discerning listener with their deep emotion and lyricism. In a similar vein, A Room for the Night by drummer extraordinaire John Orsi (the mind behind Providence-based collective Knitting By Twilight) provides a veritable aural feast for percussion lovers. On the cusp of prog, jazz and metal, the aptly-titled Brutal Romance marks the thunderous return of ebullient French power trio Mörglbl, led by Christophe Godin’s humour-laden guitar acrobatics. Leonardo Pavkovic’s Moonjune Records specializes in instrumental music of a consistently high standard of quality, and this year’s landmark releases were no exception: Indonesian powerhouses Ligro (Dictionary 2) and Tohpati Bertiga (Riot), Canadian quartet Mahogany Frog’s rivetingly eclectic Senna, and douBt’s towering Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love – all of them true melting pots of rock, jazz, avant-garde and psychedelia. Also very much worthy of exploration, Kotebel’s Concert for Piano and Electric Ensemble revisits and updates the marriage of classical music and progressive rock with a heady dose of traditional Spanish flavour.

The left-field fringe of the progressive rock spectrum was spearheaded by the tireless efforts of dedicated labels such as Cuneiform Records and AltrOck Productions. One of  2012’s musical milestones – the long-awaited sixth studio album by seminal US Avant outfit Thinking Plague, titled Decline and Fall – was released in the very first weeks of the year. Mike Johnson’s monumentally intricate, intensely gloomy reflection on humankind’s impending Doomsday was complemented by a Thinking Plague-related project of a vastly different nature  – the charming, Old-World whimsy of 3 Mice’s Send Me a Postcard, Dave Willey and Elaine Di Falco’s transatlantic collaboration with Swiss multi-instrumentalist Cédric Vuille. By an intriguing coincidence, almost at the tail end of the year came the stunning live album by one of the foremost modern RIO/Avant outfits, Yugen’s Mirrors – recorded at the 2011 edition of the Rock in Opposition festival in Carmaux (France). A special mention is also deserved by Cuneiform’s touching tribute to RIO icon Lars Hollmer, With Floury Hand (sketches), released four years after the artist’s untimely passing.

On the Zeuhl front, founding fathers Magma made their comeback with the short and unusually low-key Félicité Thosz, proving once again Christian Vander’s versatility and seemingly endless reservoir of ideas; while the US produced an astonishing example of Zeuhl inspired by Aztec mythology – multi-national outfit Corima’s second album Quetzalcoatl. Eclectic albums such as Cucamonga’s Alter Huevo, Inner Ear Brigade’s Rainbro (featuring another extremely talented female vocalist, Melody Ferris) and Stabat Akish’s Nebulos – as well as chamber-rock gems such as Subtilior’s Absence Upon a Ground  and AltrOck Chamber Quartet’s Sonata Islands Goes RIO – reinforced AltrOck’s essential role in the discovery of new, exciting talent on the cutting edge of the progressive rock scene. Also worthy of a mention as regards the Avant-Progressive field are the politically-charged Songs From the Empire by Scott Brazieal, one of the founding fathers of the US Avant scene; the exhilarating Sleep Furiously by English outfit Thumpermonkey;  the wacked-out return of cult Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat, titled Valta; and French quartet Jack Dupon’s energetic double live CD set, Bascule A Vif . The Avant-Progressive scene was also celebrated in the second episode of José Zegarra Holder and Adele Schmidt’s documentary film series dedicated to progressive rock , Romantic Warriors II – About Rock in Opposition.

The year was also noted for hotly anticipated comebacks from high-profile acts:  first of all, Rush, who were also finally inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for the joy of their substantial following. Their Clockwork Angels, while not a life-altering masterpiece, is definitely their strongest effort in almost 20 years. 2012 also saw the release of Ian Anderson’s Thick As a Brick 2, mixed by none other than Steven Wilson (also responsible in 2012 for the 40th Anniversary edition of King Crimson’s seminal Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) – a solid, well-crafted album, though not on a par with the original. While King Crimson seem to have been put on hold indefinitely, Robert Fripp has not been idle, and the elegant Travis/Fripp CD/DVD package Follow offers a complete aural and visual experience – suitably rarefied yet spiked by almost unexpected electric surges – to diehard fans of the legendary guitarist.

On the “modern prog” front, standard-bearers The Mars Volta’s sixth studio album Noctourniquet marks a return to form for the band, as it is their tightest, most cohesive effort in quite a long time. The Tea Club’s third album, Quickly, Quickly, Quickly confirms the status of the New Jersey band (now a trio) as one of the most interesting modern outfits, with a respectful eye towards the golden age of the genre; while Gazpacho’s deeply atmospheric March of Ghosts offers another fine example of English label KScope’s “post-progressive” direction. In a more accessible vein, Canadian/Ukrainian duo Ummagma’s  pair of debut albums, Ummagma and Antigravity,  will appeal to fans of Kate Bush, Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins with their ethereal yet uplifting feel.

Though I cannot call myself a fan of progressive metal, the debut albums by female-fronted German band Effloresce (Coma Ghosts) and Israeli outfit Distorted Harmony (Utopia) made enough of an impression to deserve a mention here; while Diablo Swing Orchestra’s Pandora’s Piñata – the band’s most mature effort to date – transcends the boundaries of the genre.  At the very beginning of the year, Steve Brockmann and George Andrade’s opus AIRS: A Rock Opera updates the classic rock opera format while deftly avoiding the cheesiness of other similar efforts, concentrating on a moving tale of guilt and redemption interpreted by an array of considerable vocal and instrumental talent.

The thriving contemporary psychedelic/space rock scene also produced a slew of fine albums that combine modernity and eclecticism with an unmistakable retro touch: among many others, Øresund Space Collective’s mellow West, Space and Love, Earthling Society’s eerie pagan-fest Stations of the Ghost, Colour Haze’s Krautrock-influenced double CD set She Said, Diagonal’s fiery The Second Mechanism, Astra’s highly awaited (though to these ears not as impressive as the others) second album, The Black Chord. Fans of Krautrock, and Can in particular, should also check out Black and Ginger by Churn Milk Joan, one of the many projects by volcanic English multi-instrumentalist Colin Robinson (of Big Block 454 fame); while Australian band Tame Impala’s Lonerism will appeal to those who like psychedelic rock in a song-based format.

As prolific and varied as ever, the Italian progressive rock scene produced a number of remarkable albums ranging from the classic symphonic prog of Höstsonaten’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Pt. 1, Alphataurus’ comeback AttosecondO and Locanda delle Fate’s The Missing Fireflies (featuring both older and new material) to more left-field fare such as Nichelodeon’s live album NO, Stereokimono’s Intergalactic Art Café and Daal’s Dodecahedron. Another of Fabio Zuffanti’s many projects besides Höstsonaten, L’Ombra della Sera, presents an appealingly Gothic-tinged, almost completely instrumental homage to the soundtracks of cult Italian TV series of the Seventies. Aldo Tagliapietra’s Nella Pietra e Nel Vento, his first release after his split from Le Orme, a classy, prog-tinged singer-songwriter effort, boasts a splendid cover by Paul Whitehead. The prize of most impressive RPI album of the year, however, goes to Il Bacio della Medusa’s ultra-dramatic historical concept Deus Lo Vult, with side project Ornithos’ eclectic debut La Trasfigurazione a close second.

Of the many “traditional” prog albums released in 2012, one in particular stands out on account of its superb songwriting: Big Big Train’s English Electric Pt 1, an effort of great distinction though not as impressive as its predecessor, 2009’s The Underfall Yard. Autumn Chorus’ debut The Village to the Vale also celebrates the glories of England’s green and pleasant land with a near-perfect marriage of pastoral symphonic prog and haunting post-rock; while Israeli outfit Musica Ficta’s A Child & A Well (originally released in 2006) blends ancient and folk music suggestions with jazz and symphonic prog. Released just three weeks before the end of the year, Shadow Circus’ third album, On a Dark and Stormy Night (their first for 10T Records), based on Madeleine L’Engle’s cult novel A Wrinkle in Time, fuses symphonic prog with classic and hard rock in an exhilarating mixture. On the other hand, Pacific Northwest trio Dissonati’s debut, Reductio Ad Absurdum, gives classic prog modes a makeover with influences from new wave and avant-garde. Highly touted outfit District 97’s sophomore effort, Trouble With Machines, proves that the Chicago band is much more than a nine days’ wonder, showcasing their  tighter songwriting skills, as well as vocalist/frontwoman Leslie Hunt’s undeniable talent and charisma.

With such a huge wealth of releases, it was materially impossible for me to listen to everything I would have wanted to, and my personal circumstances often impaired my enjoyment of music, as well as my concentration. Among the releases of note that I missed in 2012 (though I still hope to be able to hear in 2013), I will mention Beardfish’s The Void, Anathema’s Weather Systems, Dead Can Dance’s comeback Anastasis, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (another comeback, released after a 10-year hiatus), AranisMade in Belgium, The Muffins’ Mother Tongue, Alec K. Redfearn and the EyesoresSister Death, and Motorpsycho’s The Death-Defying Unicorn. All of these albums have been very positively received by the prog community, even if they will not necessarily appeal to everyone.

As was the case with my 2011 retrospective, quite a few highly acclaimed prog albums will be missing from this article. This implies no judgment in terms of intrinsic quality, but is simply determined by personal taste. Albums such as The Flower KingsBanks of Eden, Marillion’s Sounds That Can’t Be Made or IZZ’s Crush of Night (to name but three) –although thoroughly professional and excellent from a musical point of view – failed to set my world on fire. A pure matter of chemistry – as further demonstrated by my lack of enthusiasm for Storm Corrosion’s self-titled album (which reflected my reaction to Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning in 2011), or Mike Keneally’s undoubtedly outstanding Wing Beat Fantastic, co-written with Andy Partridge of XTC fame.

2012 was also a great year for live music, with both big names and new talent hitting the road. While we missed some of the former (such as Rush and Peter Gabriel), as well as this year’s edition of RoSfest,  the one-two punch of NEARfest Apocalypse and ProgDay 2012 more than made up for it. Unfortunately, the all-out Seventies bash named FarFest, organized by a veteran of the US prog scene such as Greg Walker, and planned for early October 2012 – was cancelled due to poor ticket sales, reinforcing the impression that the era of larger-scale prog festivals may well be coming to an end (in spite of the announcement of Baja Prog’s return in the spring of 2013). On the other hand, the much less ambitious ProgDay model is likely to become the way forward, as are the smaller, intimate gigs organized by people such as Mike Potter of Orion Studios, the NJ Proghouse “staph”, and our very own DC-SOAR.

With an impressive list of forthcoming releases for every progressive taste, 2013 looks set up to be as great a year as the previous two. In the meantime, we should continue to support the independent music scene in our best capacity – not just by buying albums or writing about them, but also attending gigs and generally maintaining a positive, constructive attitude. I would also like to thank all my friends and readers for their input and encouragement, which has been invaluable especially whenever the pressures of “real life” became too hard to bear. If this piece has seen the light of day, it is because you have made me feel that it was still worth it.

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Crib (8:12)
2. Spectre Pt. 1: Zorya´s Dawn (10:34)
3. Pavement Canvas (8:58)
4. Undercoat (2:54)
5. Swimming Through Deserts (7:11)
6. Shuteye Wanderer (16:31)

LINEUP:
Nicki Weber – vocals, growls, flute
Dave Mola – guitars, keyboards
Sebastian Ott – bass
Tobi Süß – drums, djembé
Tim Ivanic – guitars

My readers will probably have noticed the near-lack of progressive metal reviews on my blog if compared to other blogs and sites. Indeed, even if I am a longtime fan of classic heavy metal, the cross-fertilization of the genre with progressive rock has always left me rather cold – with very few exceptions. On the other hand, I believe it is essential for a reviewer to be exposed to a variety of subgenres within the broader spectrum of prog, and to recognize quality even when a particular subgenre does not exactly set our world on fire. Like it or not, prog metal is here to stay, and its role in reviving a genre that is very much at risk of becoming stale or simply irrelevant – as well as drawing the younger generations to it – cannot be understated.

Based in the historic Bavarian city of Nuremberg, five-piece Effloresce were formed in 2008 by guitarist/keyboardist Dave Mola and drummer Tobi Süß after the demise of their previous band, Falling Nature. After releasing an EP titled Shades of Fate in 2009, the band appeared at the first edition of the Generation Prog festival (it was their first gig with new bassist Sebastian Ott), and were subsequently signed by the new Generation Prog record label, founded by Relocator bassist Michael Schetter. Their full-length debut, Coma Ghosts – mixed and mastered by Dan Swanö (of Edge of Sanity fame) – was released in February 2012. They were also scheduled to appear at the 2012 edition of Fused Festival in the UK, but unfortunately the event was cancelled due to poor ticket sales. A couple of months after the album’s release, guitarist Tim Ivanic had to leave the band, but was promptly replaced by Chris Steingen.

Female-fronted prog metal bands are a dime a dozen these days, and listeners might be forgiven for thinking that Effloresce are yet another outfit in the popular yet somewhat tired “Beauty and the Beast” vein. Now, while vocalist Nicki Weber (who also plays flute, and is responsible for all the lyrics) is definitely an attractive young woman, she can play both roles and deliver some mean death-metal growls to offset her clear, soaring tones. Though it would be easy to lump her with the ever-growing crowd of Tarja Turunen followers, her voice often suggests a folk background rather than an operatic one – especially when she tackles more subdued material such as the ballad-like “Swimming Through Deserts”. To be honest, I generally have little time for gothic/symphonic metal bands: however, I found Nicki’s singing genuinely pleasing to the ear, and could not help admiring her for engaging in one of the most controversial routines on the music scene, especially as far as prog is concerned. While her growling (very judiciously used) is not as ferocious as Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow’s, it does add an unexpected edge to the band’s overall sound – which is undeniably heavy, but always melodic and tuneful.

Though it is not easy for “traditional” prog metal acts to escape the all-powerful influence of Dream Theater, Effloresce manage to avoid the blatant plagiarism that dooms so many productions. They pay their dues to the New York titans mainly in the album’s opening track, “Crib”, where Dave Mola’s keyboards (including mellotron) play a more relevant role than in the rest of the album, while the catchy chorus anchors the song to the more accessible side of  symphonic/progressive metal. However, the Opeth influence emerges in the 10-minute “Spectre Pt 1: Zorya’s Dawn”, whose heavy. Sabbathian opening flows into a tense, guitar-led section relieved by the ethereal tone of the vocals and the gentle note of Nicki’s flute; growls, riffs and fast drum beats keep the heaviness quotient going. Similarly, “Pavement Canvas” juxtaposes melodic guitar with harsh riffing and blast beats, with percussion adding a faint ethnic flavour.

The short instrumental “Undercoat”, based on majestic keyboard washes overlaid with bell-like percussion and creaky guitar sounds, introduces the haunting “Swimming Through Deserts”, a melancholy piece inspired by Opeth’s Damnation album, with poignantly sweet vocals and lovely, mellow guitar work. The album is brought to a close by the epic-length “Shuteye Wanderer”, a remarkably cohesive, 16-minute piece that brings together the melodic and aggressive strains of the previous songs, spanning a range of such diverse influences as Opeth, Metallica, Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd, and spotlighting Nicki’s versatility as a vocalist.

Clocking in at about 54 minutes, Coma Ghosts goes against the current trend for long albums (particularly evident in the prog metal field), and its 6 tracks are tightly composed and quite filler-free. For a debut album from a young band, it definitely impresses, even if it is unlikely to convert those who are still on the fence as regards the progressive metal subgenre. Effloresce surely have enough talent to develop an even more personal style, and the potential to branch out and try something more challenging for their next recording effort. A special mention  goes to the professional quality of the album’s packaging, with a comprehensive booklet including lyrics and outstanding artwork (by Nicki and guitarist Dave Mola) and photography.

Links:
http://www.effloresceonline.com/

http://effloresce.bandcamp.com/

http://www.myspace.com/effloresceonline

http://www.generation-prog.com/

http://www.sunflowermedia.de/

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Bassist Michael Schetter (born in Poland as Michał Pruchnicki) moved to Germany with his family at the age of 7, and his now based in the German city of Nürnberg  (known to English speakers as Nuremberg), in the south-eastern region of Bavaria.  He made his recording debut in 2010 with the multi-national progressive fusion band Relocator, whose self-titled first album featured keyboardist extraordinaire Derek Sherinian as a special guest, and was very positively received on the prog scene.

The difficulties encountered by modern, non-mainstream bands and artists in finding live gigs spurred Schetter to try his hand at organizing his own festival, Generation Prog – a two-day event that took place in Nürnberg  in September 2011. A few months later, Schetter unveiled his latest venture – a brand-new label, called Generation Prog Records. To further the debate on the future of progressive rock, and support the endeavours of those who are striving to move the genre forward, I have approached Michael and asked him a few questions about his experience as a festival organizer and independent label owner.

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First of all, what prompted you to take the plunge and organize your own festival? Was it a spur-of-the-moment decision, or rather something that developed in your mind over time?

 It was something that developed over time. The original idea was just to play a few gigs with my own band Relocator – preferably with a decent number of people in the audience! And how do you do that when you have just one album out? You team up with other bands. We had already been working on plans for a small tour with a couple of other bands in late 2010 and, while that didn’t quite work out, we ended up using some of the contacts from that time to lay the groundwork for the festival. In early 2011 we put together a gig that teamed Relocator with fellow German proggers Effloresce and Dante as a test run. After that we figured that if we were going to do this, we should be going for something bigger than just two or three bands. After all, the ads in magazines and the posters all around town cost us the same, no matter whether it’s a tiny gig or a full-blown weekend festival.

Effloresce

Though the European situation, in spite of the well-publicized debt crisis, is quite different from the one in the US, I am sure my readers on this side of the Atlantic will be curious about the steps you took to make the festival come to fruition. Can you expand a bit upon that?

 We had been talking to a few bands about possible gigs together – Exivious (even back in late 2009!), Haken, Andromeda. When all of them had signaled interest in playing a possible prog festival in Nürnberg, I was convinced that we had a potential lineup special enough to attract people from quite far away.

The next step was finding a suitable venue. We had been talking to the staff of the Luise in Nürnberg before and my enthusiasm for this international festival finally won them over. It’s a great venue, but since it’s a youth center first and foremost, it can be quite hard to land a gig there – unless you’re a punk band composed of local 16-year-olds.

Then came the search for sponsors. We got some great press for the Relocator/Effloresce/Dante gig and I think that helped a lot – I managed to secure some financial support from the city of Nürnberg, and then some local music companies (Meinl, BTM Guitars, Musik Klier) helped us out with gear –it’s not easy to find a rental drum kit that will satisfy the typical prog metal drummer!

I also managed to secure a collaboration with our biggest local newspaper, the Nürnberger Nachrichten, and both Eclipsed magazine and local radio afk max officially presented the event, so we had quite a bit of support from the media.

Exivious

 

I remember that, when you were in the process of putting the lineup together, you stressed that you did not want any old-timers on the bill. What can you tell me about the band selection process?

The initial idea was simply to team Relocator with some bands where our music wouldn’t seem totally out of place. As a fellow instrumental band, Exivious were always my first choice, so I was very happy to have them on board. But I didn’t want too many instrumental bands on the bill, so the idea was to add bands who have great singers, but who also know how to write gripping instrumental sections within their songs – that way we’d satisfy those fans who want vocals in their prog while (hopefully) having many of their fans appreciate our material as well.

There were other considerations as well: If I was going to stage a prog festival, it would have to be a platform for the newer bands shaping the prog scene right now! If people want to see any of the more established bands play, they can just attend their tours anyway. But if you look at a band like Andromeda, who I think are easily one of the best progressive metal bands on the scene, they had four albums out when the festival took place – and yet the last time they had played a gig in Germany was in 2006! Haken were lucky enough to score a slot at the Night of the Prog festival last July, but other than that there was no way to see them live in Germany, and Exivious played their first gig on German soil at our festival. So it was a pretty special combination! People easily forget how unique these things can be – maybe the next time you’ll get to see a band, they won’t be playing those great songs from their current album anymore? Or maybe some key members will have left? Or they will break up before you ever get a chance to see them? People like to get nostalgic about gigs from some prog legend’s classic period – well, for some bands that future “classic period” is right now! Maybe if people were supporting them instead of buying some 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition reissue of an album they’ve already bought twice, there would be more gigs for the current bands to get nostalgic about a few decades down the road.

Andromeda

So I was very aware how few good opportunities there are for bands to present their music to an appreciative audience, both as a musician and as a fan myself. Most of the time, the bigger bands who can afford to tour either bring their own support act (often picked by the label and not a particularly good fit musically) or just play all by themselves. I think it’s a shame and it makes it really difficult for newer bands to get noticed. That leads to another idea that played a part in the band selection: Since a prog festival won’t draw thousands of people, adding local bands with a following can really make a difference. So in the end we ended up with a 50/50 ratio of international and local bands. I’m not sure it’ll be possible to do that again without too many repeats (the regional prog scene here isn’t too big), but we certainly take our local bands seriously.

Ocean Spout

The festival lineup was mostly oriented towards progressive metal, which is somewhat controversial among older prog fans. As you are also a jazz and fusion fan, what made you decide to keep to more or less to a single subgenre, rather than branch out?

First of all, I somewhat disagree with this assessment. We had only three bands who were decidedly metal: Andromeda, Effloresce and Exivious – the latter even with a strong fusion element to their sound. The other five bands had some metal elements to their sound, but I wouldn’t say those were predominant. For example, Subsignal are hardly a heavy metal band, but they don’t shy away from a nice riff if it works for the song. And I think that actually goes to show why metal had such a presence in the overall sound: It’s just quite hard to find a modern prog band who doesn’t assimilate at least some of that into its sound. After all, being open to different musical styles is what leads many people to prog in the first place!

Subsignal

But all that aside, I think your preface already answers the question: prog fans tend to be picky and often dismissive of certain subgenres. If you mix things up too much, there will be a lot of coming and going between bands. With really large events that is not much of an issue, but with the smaller audiences that prog gigs usually draw it can be a real problem. I didn’t want an event where the total numbers were satisfactory while individual bands ended up playing to just a tiny fraction of the audience. I’ve seen that happen at local gigs too many times, it’s just frustrating for the musicians. I wanted a lineup that maximizes turnout while keeping the audience somewhat homogeneous throughout. I might actually put together some fusion festival at some point, it would just have to be separate from the prog metal stuff.

 If you had to mention the most frustrating and the most rewarding aspect of the whole festival organizing experience, which would you choose?

Most frustrating: Doing accounting work in the back office while Haken were playing their headlining set on Friday was pretty frustrating. But the worst was clearly the fact that not ONE website, magazine or newspaper actually sent anyone to cover the whole event. Quite a few told us they were going to, but for various reasons in the end none of them came. So while we ended up with lots of photos from the event, there was not a single review. Very disappointing!

Most rewarding: Getting off the stage with my own band Relocator and getting our backs patted (literally and figuratively) by the guys from Andromeda. It was quite daring to schedule our set right between the two main bands on Saturday, but rather than flee the scene, the audience stayed with us until the end and gave us a huge applause. It was great!

Haken

Have you already started planning the 2012 edition of the festival? Will you be implementing any changes, or are you happy with the way things worked in 2011?

I’ve been working on some plans, but it’s too early to tell if there’s going to be a 2012 festival. I don’t necessarily want to stage an annual event at all costs. Sure, it would be nice, but if I can’t get the right lineup together for a 2012 festival, I’d rather skip one year than put on a show that I don’t fully believe in. It’s just too much work – to a certain degree, I am doing this for myself.

How did you get the idea of starting your own label? Was it a consequence of the festival’s success, or something that you had already been thinking about?

It had nothing to do with the festival, although obviously expanding the “Generation Prog” brand to include the label was the logical decision once it all got started. No, the idea was born out of the experience with promoting the Relocator album on our own and from discussions with some other artists (especially Effloresce, who became the first to join the label). It’s pretty hard for a single band to generate some media interest all on its own and buying magazine ads just for a single album (with little distribution) rarely makes sense financially. A label can run ads for several bands at the same time and it has more than just one CD to advertise and to distribute, so it makes a lot more sense. The idea was for this to be beneficial for everyone involved.

Theory of Elements

You have two bands signed to Generation Prog Records so far – Relocator and Effloresce. Have you already approached other bands or solo artists? Are you planning to concentrate on local acts, or provide a haven for bands from other parts of Europe (or even outside Europe)?

I don’t care if the band is local or European. I have been talking to some artists and I have been approached by a staggering number of bands, but I don’t want to rush things, my day only has 24 hours, and on top of that I am pretty picky when it comes to the music. But there’s one band in particular that I would really like to work with and unless they get snatched up by a bigger label first, we might well end up putting out their album later this year.

On the label’s Facebook page it is stated that Generation Prog Records specializes in “modern progressive music”, and, as also pointed out on its official website, Relocator and Effloresce occupy different ends of the prog spectrum. Are you planning to sign even more diverse acts, or rather concentrate on the fusion and prog metal side of things?

I’m open to all sorts of things, but I tend to dismiss bands that I would classify as more regular (non-prog) metal or pop, for example. It’s not necessarily because I don’t like the music, but the whole label idea only works when there’s some sort of synergy. If I promote a bunch of stylistically somewhat similar bands, I can deal with mostly the same media in promoting them, and hopefully some fans of one band will discover a few of the others through the label affiliation. Ideally, you end up with a label whose name implies a certain style and quality level. That won’t work if I end up working with death metal and pop/rock bands, no matter how good they may be, and they would be worse off because in many cases I wouldn’t even know where to promote them.

Are you planning to release physical CDs, or rather opt for a digital format?

Ideally we would always have a physical CD release, but I could imagine some things like live recordings being download only.

Are there any independent record labels that you would like to take as an example for your venture, or would you rather want to provide something unique?

I don’t want to emulate anyone, but I’ve always been a fan of Ken Golden’s labels – The Laser’s Edge, Sensory and Free Electric Sound.

You will agree with me that it takes some courage to start a new independent label at a time when artists are threatened by the seemingly uncontrollable (and uncontrolled) diffusion of illegal downloading. Do you think it is still worth bothering with record labels in this day and age? Do you see Generation Prog Records as a sort of mission to help fellow artists?

1. Yes (don’t even get me started…).

2. Yes, if both the label’s and the artist’s expectations are realistic – then it can be mutually beneficial. If not, it can be a very bad idea.

3. Yes, but there’s only so much we can do, and it has to be a collaborative effort.

What are Relocator’s plans for 2012, and possibly beyond that?

Right now we are preparing for a couple of gigs – on April 13 we’ll be playing at a smaller Generation Prog live event (a bit of a mini-festival, if you will) with Dreamscape, Counter-World Experience and Effloresce in Nürnberg, and on April 14 we’ll be joining the mighty Haken and Flaming Row in Rüsselsheim. Two gigs in a row – for us that’s a record!

After that, we’ll hopefully start working on our second album. Stefan [Artwin, Relocator guitarist and co-founder] has been writing new material, and right now there are six tracks in various states of completion. It might be enough for an album, especially once everyone starts adding ideas to the basic demos, but it’s too early to tell.

Relocator

And now for the million-dollar question… From your unique perspective as an artist/festival organizer/label owner, how do you see the future of the progressive rock scene? Do you think that the genre’s popularity has already reached its apex, and a decline is inevitable, or do you still keep an optimistic outlook?

First of all, there’s probably no such thing as *the* progressive rock scene, which is what makes these events so much more difficult. You have various sub-groups of people who all consider themselves prog fans but who couldn’t agree on anything. But I think the music itself is doing quite well. There’s a lot of variety to the prog of today and no matter whether you want your prog to be adventurous and fresh, or just the way you know it from the 70s, there’s a lot of music being released. I think one of the most interesting aspects of prog is the openness to new influences, so I think (the retro bands aside) the music remains as interesting and modern as ever if you know where to look – especially since the technological advances make it possible for even obscure bands to put out albums that sound quite professional. So there’s no lack of interesting new music. If anything, I’d say these days the abundance of well-produced recordings is becoming a problem – there’s only so much music that listeners have the time to deal with! And with every year, a new band has to compete with even more classic albums out there.

But while there’s a lot of recorded music coming out, I think there’s a striking lack of gigging opportunities for prog bands, especially the newer ones. It’s pretty bad, because so many people have been convinced that playing live is where bands make money these days (a popular excuse for piracy). The reality is very different for most prog bands. Decent gigs are rare. Decent gigs that you don’t lose any money on are even rarer. But at least I’ve seen quite a few new people promoting prog gigs in their region recently, so maybe the situation is about to improve?

 Thank you very much for your patience in answering my questions, and all my best wishes for your new label! I will be looking forward to reviewing some of your releases.

Links:

http://www.generation-prog.com/

http://www.relocator-project.com/

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Progressive metal may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is definitely a phenomenon that is here to stay, and that has also brought a much-need input of new ideas to the often stale prog scene. As a result, an increasing number of events specifically dedicated to this subgenre are cropping up both in Europe and America. Europe, however, seems to have the edge in this respect, also helped by the fact that it is relatively easy for festival organizers to get public funding, and therefore avoid imposing steep ticket prices on would-be attendees.

The latest addition to the roster of progressive metal festivals, Generation Prog 2011 is an ‘inside job’, so to speak, being the brainchild of Relocator bassist Michael Schetter (formerly Pruchnicki). The event, scheduled to take place on September 23 and 24 in the historic  German city of Nuremberg , will see the participation of 8 European bands, including local acts Effloresce, Ocean Spout and Theory of Elements, as well as Relocator (whose live keyboardist, Sergej Schamber, is also a member of  Ocean Spout).  The line-up will be completed by two British bands, To-Mera and Haken, ground-breaking Dutch ‘jazz-metal’ combo Exivious, and Swedish outfit Andromeda as Saturday night headliner.

As the schedule is not yet 100%  final, I would recommend that anyone interested in attending check both the event’s website (which is in German, with a shorter English section) and its Facebook page for the latest updates.

By way of a conclusion, I would like to praise Michael Schetter and his collaborators for taking the plunge, and investing so much time (and possibly money) into the organization of an event that will serve as a showcase for up-and-coming bands, as well as more established ones. In my view, this is the way to go, if we really want the progressive rock scene to survive and prosper for a long time.

Links:
http://www.generation-prog.com/?page_id=41

https://www.facebook.com/GenerationProg

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