Faust Triumph in Edinburgh

Jonathon Romney

The Guardian, Jul 1997

You are all about to die

"I've been waiting 25 years to see this band," one punter enthused, a touch of religious reverence in his voice. He nearly managed to see Faust when he was 12, but his mother didn't think it safe for him to go. If she had realised what he would be in for tonight, she would have extended it to a lifetime ban. One of the most exhilerating things about a Faust concert is the thought that you've managed to get out alive.

ZappiThey were the first to develop the abrasive combination of drum battery and heavy machinery that influenced acts like Einsturzende Neubauten, Test Dept and Nine Inch Nails. They were canny conceptualists too, putting out their first album on transparent vinyl, and scoring a major British LP success by persuading 100,000 punters to dish out 49p apiece on a record most of them found impossible to listen to.

Faust have been newly active over the past few years, although only two original members remain. No one was sure what they plaaned for their performance in the Flux new music season. It was even rumoured they might go for the ultimate shock gesture - an evening of acoustic ballads. But you knew something was in store when you saw that the crash barriers had been moved further away from the stage for safety reasons. "For once," explained the promoter, "we were protecting the audience from the band, not the other way around."

Faust audiences have to be a little hardier than most: at their last British concert they pelted the audience with leaves from a threshing machine, and in Vienna they coated the walls with manure. Before tonight's show, they had to be dissuaded from wrecking the stage with a pneumatic drill (a feat, in any case, already achieved at London's ICA by Einsturzende Neubauten, who successfully broke through into a section of the Northern Line).

In the event, they didn't stint on the artillery. There were flares, fire-crackers, arc-welding devices. There was the bucket of unidentified material which, when ignited, filled the venue with opaque rank-smelling fumes, causing a panic-filled exodus from the upstairs gallery. And then there was their greatest assault weapon - the music itself.

Faust sounded as demonic as their name suggests, purveying an intense but complex onslaught centered around percussionist Werner Diermaier. This bald, barrel-chested Vulcan figure battered his way round an arsenal combining a conventional drum kit and several workshops' worth of spare parts - girders, dangling steel plates, iron bars, and a step-ladder from which he hurled green-painted rocks at a sheet of flaming metal.

At one point, before the trick with the bucket, Diermaier bellowed imprecations in German at the audience. I have no idea what it meant, but it could well have been, "You are all about to die horribly."

There were no songs, just an ebb and flow of densely textured sound - a single-minded bass pulse, loud but extremely abstract guitar and keyboards, and layers of background effects that at one point seemed to included masses of chanting monks. The line-up included a junior percussionist couched behind what looked like an array of hand-crafted knick-knacks from a hippie fete, and a benignly scowling doppelganger of Karl Marx, who never moved except to give Diermaier an emergency arm massage during the encore.

The music straddles the divide between late-1960's hippie jamming and 1990's industrial rock, but at its most inspired it recalled the electric-period Miles Davis, at the height of his Hendrx infatuation. As a conceptual package, it may no longer have the confrontational powere to shock that Faust must have had in their early days, when they were Dadaist dissidents subverting hippie head-music from within.

But even now, when we've seen and heard everything, Faust stand out for the intensity and focus of their performance - an alarming, emotionally exhausiting and strangely uplifting ritual, and probably the most intense live theatre of the Edinburgh fringe. Worth selling your sould for, in fact.

Jonathon Romney, "Faust Triumph in Edinburgh", The Guardian 1997