Agent Side Grinder released a really strong record earlier this year—Alkimia, their fifth album, marks a change in the band’s musical direction. Starting off as an experimental outfit with their self-titled debut album in 2008, the band made some shy, yet undeniable steps towards a more accessible, sometimes even catchy and pop driven sound with 2012’s Hardware – and their pop drive was even more clear after the release of Alkimia, with This Is Us as a first single. I do not think that it’s only me who was slightly bewildered by the band’s new style – a band that created bulky EBM-like tracks like Look Within or off kilter synth tracks like Mag 7 now prefers chord shifts to frequency shifts? Apparently a good idea after all, though as Alkimia needed to grow on me, displaying all it’s shining glory on a later date. It is quite rare that I say that I was completely mistaken about an album in the first place, but the shift from “What the fuck?” to “Fuck, that’s amazing” within a few spins can definitely happen. So I was looking forward to the band’s show at Urban Spree on October 16, once again, presented by DEATH # DISCO, who brought the five-piece to Berlin on various occasions before.
But before Agent Side Grinder started, a band that I was already fond of opened the night—the Italian Darkwavers Ash Code started the night with melancholic, onward driving songs heavily influenced by 80s Electro Wave, notably Clan of Xymox on their creative peak, or The Frozen Autumn. Yet, they do not just rely on the effects synth pads can have on human emotions (hint – it’s bleak), but give away some punchiness that makes them a very pleasant live band – Tracks like Dry Your Eyes, that can easily be considered their breakthrough hit, Crucified, Waves With No Shores or Unneccesary Songs are party fodder, while Void or Oblivion contrast the BPM driven body hammers with calm, melancholic counterparts – A set that’s been excellently rounded up by a cover of The Sound’s anthem I Can’t Escape Myself, a song I considered as uncoverable before seeing Ash Code live. Nearly exactly one year after the release of their excellent debut album Oblivion, the band, certainly well deserved, gathered new fans that wait with me for a certainly excellent second album.
But despite Ash Code’s undeniable qualities as a live act – Agent Side Grinder easily were the cherry on the cake of an excellent night. As mentioned previously, Alkimia wasn’t really my favourite album of ASG before giving it a few more spins. But this album is like a long-lasting relationship – knowing each other for a long time before actually getting to something serious. And despite being a fan of their experimental efforts I could not really resist the glory of tracks like Giants Fall, This Is Us or New Dance for long. Bridging the gap between a distinctly 80s influenced sound, some Post Punk weirdness and a modern production, the band transmutes those, admittedly, dated but well beloved influences into something that does not sound dated at all – making Agent Side Grinder a standout act among a pack of Swedish acts that gained some attention in this decade. Principe Valiente, The Exploding Boy or The Mary Onettes, to name three of them, are amazing bands, for sure, but Agent Side Grinder’s very unique and modern approach on 80s sound makes them the best of the pack.
Another thing that differs them from many other live bands is the crooner quality of singer Kristoffer Grip. You rarely see some elderly goths follow instructions that usually are more common at big arena gigs (“Raise your hands for Agent Side Grinder!”), but having an audience under control like this is an amazing quality that is way too rare in the underground scenes, and for sure, that is something that will make the Swedish five-piece cross the border from an underground act to something that can actually grow into something that fills big venues. The band certainly deserved it after playing small clubs throughout their career; they already have a big back catalogue of tracks that are, to the very least, underground club smashers (Stranger Stranger, Life In Advance, Wolf Hour, basically the whole Alkimia album…) and they managed to leave me unsatisfied after a more than one hour long gig, with a very special guest with whom they started the encores – Pure Ground‘s Greh Holger entered the stage to perform the result of a collaboration between Agent Side Grinder and Dirk Ivens of Absolute Body Control, Dive and The Klinik – Go (Bring It) Back, mashing up Bring It Back and The Klinik’s Go Back. In case you missed out on that, shame on you, my friends. Shame on you, you likely missed one of the best gigs this year.