The Rise Of The Pre-Order Bundle

I love stuff. Things. Merchandise. Tat. When Bring Me The Horizon decided to make dick shaped silly bands available on their last tour, I was one of the first to the merch desk, cash in hand, close to wailing ‘Fine sir, my life would be enriched with the purchase of overpriced elastic bands that I’ll never open and ultimately leave in a drawer somewhere!’. When My Passion released a delightfully lurid, gold plastic mac for their golden tour, I too decided that I’d spiral into a pit of depression should I not dress myself in a massive metallic bin bag. But my money-scattering doesn’t end with novelty rubbish.

I go to a lot of gigs, I binge, I feel guilty, but then I want more.  It began innocently enough. When I was twelve, I somehow persuaded my mother to take me halfway across the country to see Meatloaf. Naturally, I wanted to get a t-shirt to commemorate the gig, to show my friends how much I loved that chubby warbler (hey, I doubt your first ‘proper gig’ was much cooler). Stupidly and relentlessly, I carried on with this perceived necessity for merchandise well into my teenage years and beyond. As I left home for the first time, I found that I could travel, live out my dream of following a whole tour and see so many bands that I’d wanted to for years. I went mad, travelled everywhere and bought everything. Then it happened. I came home, bought my new life back with me and unpacked it. Have you ever seen a family stage a drug intervention? Seen a mother hold up a small bag of something white and powdery and ask why? Well switch that bag for over one hundred and twenty t-shirts and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the situation. While I’m cold turkey on shirts, I still regularly splash out on pre-orders. Oh merchandise, I just can’t quit you.

When many bands now announce the release date of their new album/EP/single/bowel movement, they also announce the various options by which to pre-order it. We’re no longer offered a CD, the music itself, no! We’re offered the DVD (some of which can be rather good), the commemorative t-shirt, the flag, the belt buckle, the bottle opener, the pencil sharpener and the lenticular poster. Will we ever use them? Of course not. When was the last time you thought ‘What I really need in my life is a commemorative jam jar for the B side of a dodgy single release’. It’s the exclusivity that drags our cursor over to the PayPal button, the threat of missing out on one of fifty. The very idea that we’d miss out on the album with commemorative baseball cap fills us with fear. Our enjoyment of the release will be severely dampened should we not shell out another £15 for things we don’t really want. I for one was sure that I wouldn’t be fully appreciating the full experience of Polar’s Iron Lungs if I didn’t buy the commemorative print. And I certainly wouldn’t enjoy Cradle of Filth’s Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa without the art prints and the uninspiring t-shirt.  In short, add ‘limited’ to the end of any old thing and you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself a sale.  Add a countdown to how many are left and you’ve got even more.

It’s hard to figure out which invented the beast of the bundle; the label or the musician. Musicians are more often than not, ‘starving artist’ types, so any means of capitalising on their product is sure to be embraced. But moreso nowadays, even small, unsigned bands are offering their own ‘bundles’ and limited releases. All of which is neither here nor there, but the whole focus of many bands, both established and otherwise, has shifted considerably. Firstly, take My Passion. Opposed to establishing a small merchandise section to their online presence, they formed ‘My Passion Fashion’; a standalone merchandise website that at one time held around twenty t-shirt designs. In the end, following the end of all Inside This Machine promotion, the dust began to settle and My Passion Fashion crumbled. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the times when non-official band merchandise becomes available; the plectrum or the setlist of the online world. Every now and again, the opportunity arises to own something from a video or from an artist’s personal collection, and this is where prices begin to skyrocket.

All of us at TwoBeatsOff are big fans of Kickstarter-esque self-funding/fan-funding options, but when the options go beyond pledging to buy the CD or offering a small financial boost to an artist, lines begin to blur. Take Yashin’s largely fan-funded We Created A Monster. Through Pledgemusic, fans were able to preorder the CD, get their name in the album sleeve or even attend a meet and greet- all for a price. But many options were beyond self indulgent; fans were able to buy t-shirts worn by the vocalists for sums approaching three figures. This is both frightening both in terms of future trends and of sheer money-grabbing behaviour, especially when you’re aware of the young and impressionable ages of many of your fans. Bring able to own a piece of your favourite artist’s world is, for want of a better term, fan crack. With more bands picking up on this financial power, the distance and power balance between fan and artist may birth a further problematic and destructive relationship.

Cradle Of Filth – Cambridge Junction, 2/8/12

Cradle of Filth are undoubtedly an English institution. Despite their revolving door policy on band members, Captain Dani Filth has steered his creation through two decades of dark and murky music, stopping only to piss off the BBC and write a book in the meantime. Now, regardless of the nationalities of past and present band members, the music that Cradle creates is unmistakably British. British in tone, lyrical content and ultimately in promotion. British, British, British.

So, can someone please explain why they haven’t graced our shores for a full tour since 2007? It’s not for lack of releases, that’s for sure. Two triumphant albums (2008’s Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunderand 2010’s Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa) and two questionable EP’s have passed, so one could be forgiven for thinking their homeland had been forgotten. 2008 brought about a European ‘Filth Fest’ tour which saw Cradle share the stage with Gorgoroth, Moonspell and Septic flesh, but a short headline slot in December is hardly anything to rave about. Saying that, my personal experiences of the UK’s dalliance with Filth Fest are largely clouded by the ingestion of unholy amounts of vodka. Merry Christmas indeed. And Bloodstock 2009? A gobstopper the size of a snowball swiftly cut that set short.
So here we are, 2012. Filth-less while the rest of the world (especially North America, you lucky buggers) is bathed in the stuff. But thankfully, like manna from heaven, we are granted one singular date. A Wacken warm-up show in the dark, spooky depths of…um…Cambridge.

While Cradle’s black metal credentials are all but gone, this was not the case of fellow Ipswich chaps, Eastern Front. Covered in corpsepaint and possessing gurns so grim that they looked they were passing a kidney stone, they certainly looked the part. Musically, while they were very standard, both in execution and content, they did possess a certain amount of charm. While I find a lot of modern black metal uninteresting and dirge-like, they managed to hold my interest with some incredibly captivating guitar work and some fast, unfaltering drums. Despite all this, with songs based solely around 1940’s war efforts and stage names including terms as ‘holocaust’, I found them to dance between stereotypically laughable and naively offensive. However, this may just be an example of my personal preferences interpreting aesthetic choices in a different manner to the way they were intended.

Cue an overly-long darkened stage and some classic Cradle intro music, and then those filthy beasts took to the stage.

To their credit, their setlist proved to be a pretty accurate representation of their entire back catalogue. With oldies such as Ebony Dressed for Sunset and Funeral in Carpathia set against newer offerings like Thank Your Lucky Scars, it worked well and every track was performed with the same professionalism and passion that originally bore them. Also, more vocally challenging tracks such as Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids were performed incredibly well by Dani Filth, which proved to be quite a pleasant surprise considering the inevitable wear and tear his vocal chords have undergone through over a decade’s worth of screaming. Guitarists Paul Allendar and James McIlroy proved to be so adept at their instruments that the very act of watching them felt like a great privilege, and this coupled with their effortless charisma and practised stage personas, I soon felt as though I was no longer watching human beings. Drummer Martin Skaroupka and new bassist Dan Firth (not confusing at all) followed suit and performed effortlessly and mesmeric ally throughout. While Dan Firth certainly impressed with his first official outing in Cradle, it was such a shame to say goodbye to Dave Pybus; a firm fan favourite and incredibly talented musician.

Crowd pleasers such as Guilded Cunt and From The Cradle to Enslave just about brought the venue to its knees with the sheer ferocity of the audience’s reaction, yet newer songs such as Lilith Immaculate and Honey and Sulphur were met with a somewhat flat response. Cradle of Filth’s audience has undeniably changed over the years; the fans that drenched themselves in corpsepaint in 1994 seemed to dwindle by the time 2004’s Nymphetamine appeared, and now we’re left with an odd soup of fans – some baying for nought but Cruelty and the Beast, others content with whatever’s flung their way and others that spend the set screaming ‘Dani! Dani!’ at a pitch only dogs can hear. Whatever your preference, the clear message from the majority of the Cambridge set was that although the musicianship is faultless and the songs perfectly good, the raw unbridled passion from earlier works is second to none on a live platform.

Song choices aside, the performance itself was spectacular. Cradle of Filth, stripped of the gimmickry of demonic puppets and half naked dancers, proved their worth a thousand times over. Dani Filth, the domesticated father and husband channelled the bowels of hell once more and stamped it on his homeland. Those of us that witnessed Cradle’s long-awaited homecoming were more than a little privileged, and put it this way; I spent my 22nd birthday queueing from 9am for this gig, and I don’t regret a damn minute of it. Cradle stole my soul as a pre-teen and I certainly don’t think I’ll be getting it back any time soon.