Peterlicker, Vienna Waves Festival, 1 October 2011

I guess I wasn’t really part of the Waves Festival’s target market (market being very much the operative word here), which probably explains why I found myself being riled by practically every aspect of this event. In the first place, its corporate logo-infested identity did a great job of concealing its unique selling point (gah, it’s catching): the bringing together of artists from all over Europe to the city that stands at the crossroads of eastern and western Europe. Plus, if pan-Europeanism was the key, it was depressing to see how narrow and constrained the programme was. The most important musics coming out of eastern Europe these days incorporate significant elements of improvisation and radical performance practice, but you’d be hard pressed to find any challenging sonics in the endless ranks of twee indie boys and pale, waiflike girls who dominated the schedule. Not to mention the crap organizational arrangements which made being a paying punter at this festival a very dispiriting experience.

For reasons best known to themselves, most reviewers of Saturday’s line-up made no mention at all of Peterlicker’s appearance on the romantically named Opel Corsa Stage, opting to write instead about the empty bombast of British Sea Power which followed. This is my small attempt to redress the balance. Peterlicker, of course, are the latest group to hit the reunion trail, a little-remembered Austrian outfit from the late 80s and early 90s who just happened to include in their line-up a young Peter Rehberg. A track recorded live at their first ever concert, in Vienna on 9 November 1989 (also the night the Berlin Wall came down, fact fans), surfaced last year on Neonbeats, a compilation of Austrian new wave and post-punk music on the Klanggalerie label. That compilation appearance not only got the members of the group talking again, it provided the impetus for them to produce a new album, Nicht, and to play live again.

For a group who hadn’t played together for over 20 years, Peterlicker certainly went about their business with an air of confident swagger. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Pita were Franz “Hergo” Hergovich on voice, Der Standard music critic Christian Schachinger on guitar and Gregor Weissegger on bass, who together produced a sound that was utterly crushing in its totality. Schachinger and Weissegger were like evil axe-wielding twins, the former’s monstrously dense riffs hovering like black clouds over the latter’s doomy, effects-damaged bass progressions. Every so often Schachinger would hold his guitar up and knee it in the groin, each blow reinforcing the impression of barely controlled violence emanating from the stage. The studied, outwardly calm Rehberg issued wave after wave of electronic venom from his laptop, while Hergovich was simply a star. Coming over like a cross between the abject self-abasement of Michael Gira and the assaultive malice of William Bennett, this tall, well-dressed figure threw himself trancelike around the stage while delivering himself of abstract, tormented vocals. Basically, Peterlicker were out to obliterate everything in their path, and did so without any hesitation.

For those who remain sceptical of the static, anodyne approach favoured by so many contemporary Noise musicians, Peterlicker offer a wholly convincing alternative, one predicated on immense physical engagement and collective presence. Welcome back, guys, and please try to stick around this time.

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