By Jen Wilson (Ladyspythenight)
IAMX at Crucible Madison, WI, June 18, 2023
Chris Corner, the singer, writer, and producer known as IAMX, is a force of nature. Having started out by forming popular trip-hop band The Sneaker Pimps in the 1990s, Corner has since evolved into one of the most exciting artists in dark electronic music. But before continuing my review of IAMX’s most recent album, Fault Lines1 and a stop on the Fault Lines1 tour, I must give full disclosure that Corner is my favorite artist and that I’m part of the IAMX Patreon group (who call themselves the Tribe or the Cult). Needless to say, I am beyond thrilled to be able to include his answers to some interview questions so that you can also hear about the album and tour directly from the man himself.
The Fault Lines1 album
Fault Lines1 exudes raw emotion. Its unique beauty within the IAMX discography lies in the increased urgency of that emotion, reflected in the kinetic sounds and explosive voice. Combined, they show an artist deeply disappointed by human beings while staunchly refusing to giving up on them. He seems to be communicating his deepest concerns about what becomes of us once we give in to the darker thoughts that fuel our division. The beats are harder, the synths more frantic… and although the lyrics are damning of the “fanatics” Corner mentions, there are still passionate pleas not to give into our darker impulses of division in an age where we are too often being forced to think of those we disagree with as “the enemy” the media around us.
Corner relies on confessional lyrics that are often highly introspective and self-reflective. After commenting that this album feels like a raw response to the world since 2020, I asked Corner how changes in life since then have affected his writing.
“Covid changed us all. It felt like a pivotal historical turning point in many ways for western culture. Yet personally I felt very comfortable leaning into the quiet and reclusion that covid brought. I’m a very selectively social person anyway so lockdown was just a more intense version of my life. But it did give me more time to be obsessively observant and being exposed to all the world’s issues every second of every day just confirmed what I’ve always seen in humanity. The ignorance, the self-destruction, the fracture and division. Unfortunately, the modern media and hunger for car crash sensationalism just amplifies everything into a grotesque caricature. The scum keeps floating to the top and even more so in a culture yearning for cheap dopamine hits and echo chamber affirmation. What happens out there has to become a catalyst or motivator for the opposite. I feel the pushback will increase. The altruism, deep self-love, need for peace and balance and openness. This record is a tiptoe into calling out the horrors and signaling the need for change and personal growth.”
Disciple, the hard-hitting opener, throws us into the harder edges of IAMX world. The higher notes of his chorus are more raw than any in the past, soaring urgently, yet backing off just at the last moment as if to rein in his growing desperation. We move onto the first of a few direct social commentaries in Fault Lines. IAMX offers a dizzying dance between exhaustion at the ridiculousness of the times we live in and pushback against the fait accompli of our immovable division in this world. As we enter the softer pulsing synths in the next track, In Bondage, we see a submission to the flesh “in the dark arts” as being the only answer. It leaves us with a haunting mantra, “Nothing changes but my blood flow,” slowing down the song to an increasingly halting heartbeat. The X IDmoves on to ask the listener to find self-love and revel in the basic fact of our existence with a rousing and emotive chorus and bridge, screaming through distorted vocals…
I am alive/I am alive/Oh say it to yourself say it to yourself!
IAMX then slides gently into Radical Self-Love, showing us the delicacy and beauty with which he can touch on some of the darkest questions the times are forcing us to ask ourselves. This song is a ballad in the vein of This Will Make you Love Again and Alive in New Light, sliding between tenuous to fierce piano and soaring vocals that softly question before climbing towards a call to action on taking one’s own mental health seriously. The choruses are written with a call and response, internal dialogue that depicts the conflict we have when trying not to hate those who are doing so much to harm us and the wider society we are trying to exist in.
Breathe slow with me/When our darkness turns us into total enemies/Find your mercy/When the anger grows and it overwhelms me
Show me your, show me your/Radical self-love
He asks further how we are meant to function in this state of mind:
Conflict junkies/Our judgment kills the feeling there’s a you and me/Find your mercy/When the anger grows and it overwhelms me
All of these questions feel urgent, heartfelt, and so very relatable.
The title of a favorite later track, Thanatos, uses the Greek word for ‘death.’ But, in classic Freudian psychology, it is also the drive within and among individuals between Eros, the positive drives of life, love, creativity, sexuality, self-satisfaction and species preservation, and the opposite drive of aggression, sadism, destruction, violence, and death. I read this in the lyrics and sound, feeling an undeniable sense of watching our progress towards Thanatos with a growing sense of horror. The screaming chorus: Do you bury your dreams in apathy? seems to me a clarion call to action. This is paired with the most urgent, driving beat and synths of the album. Starting out menacing but muted, they rise toward a climax of frustration at allowing ourselves to be so overwhelmed that we choose to do nothing.
These questions and pleas to give a damn and look after our mental health are no surprise to those familiar with IAMX’s work, deeply informed by his own battles with mental illness and insomnia. He is a passionate supporter of The You Rock Foundation, which works with musicians who have struggled with their own mental health challenges, and has often held mental health gatherings recent tours, this tour included. This album feels like an acknowledgement of our shared mental struggles against the increasing darkness we’ve faced since 2020.
Fault Lines1 tour stop at Crucible, in Madison, WI
After I Speak Machine had to bow out as opener after a few shows in on the tour, Madison’s own Carrallee stepped into the opening spot. Her show highlighted her lovely, sensual vocals that slide over dreamily distorted synths. She is a welcome and rising force in the darkwave scene, after having been a folk singer/songwriter. I look forward to dancing to her noir-informed beats on songs such as Morning Sun and Heaven or Hell.
The large crowd grew in its excitement as the time approached for IAMX to take the stage. The energy as they burst onstage was electric. All three masked, the slow lead into The X ID was punctuated by Chris asking the audience, “How do you feel?” through distortion that he would use off and on throughout the set. The song was a gorgeous way to start the show, setting the tone for a high octane experience. Launching into the luscious Sailor, Janine Gezang, longtime IAMX band member, collaborator, and Queen, amped up the energy as only she can, stepping in front of her keyboard to do a shimmy in her body suit and mask. The vampish interactions between Chris and Janine began in earnest and the crowd ate it up. Dramatic builds and pauses leading up to a chorus would prove to be a regular feature throughout the set. The final chorus ended with Chris releasing all his vocal prowess into I wanna be a sailor screams.
Photo courtesy of Fe Gaffney
I had asked Chris about the trials of looking after your voice on tour.
“It’s not easy to find a solution to truly feel secure with vocals on tour. It’s often a source of anxiety and pressure since really the whole thing pivots on the relatively fragile muscle in my throat. Not just how practiced or fit it is but the shit that goes in there night after night. The stage fog, the unclean public venues, the screaming sweating audience throwing billions of bacteria into my face! It’s amazing that it survives one show when you think about it. But fun aside I try to rest a lot, retreat a lot, hope a lot, and warm up like crazy. Somehow I get through.”
Photo courtesy of Victoria Jayne
Shortly into the set, the masks came off, and the visuals suddenly came into focus. Two video screens strategically placed at either side of the stage showed off a mix of natural elements and phenomenon that so often show up in IAMX videos as well as clips of the band and BDSM imagery. These added to the drama and energy of the show, and are so appreciated by a visual nerd like myself when so many bands I see live do so little in that area.
I was thrilled to hear them do Screams. This song is beautiful and delicate storytelling and, with a lovely extended build to the chorus. At the end, before the last chorus, he hugged a fan at the front and let the song end with delicate drums and piano. There were other hugs and shouts out to the very dedicated fans, and the gratitude from the band was tangible.
Next was a major highlight, starting with Janine’s menacing German nursery- rhyme-style vocals that weave their way through I Come with Knives. This song really allowed live bandmate Jon Siren to show off his incredible drumming skills with a heavier focus on the beat. The energy between Chris, Janine, and the audience was electric.
Speaking of Janine, her constant enthusiasm and musicianship is such an integral part of the IAMX experience. Whether she’s doing really cool stuff like her muted bass beat to lead in Exit, to her constant dancing, she’s a joy onstage.
Photo courtesy of Victoria Jayne
Chris donned an Elizabethan ruff, offered by a tech, to launch into his cabaret-style, waltz-beat work, including President and Bernadette. The chorus of President was joyful and cathartic.
Happiness and No Maker Made Me seethed with defiance and rage, especially in their choruses. For me, they proved exceptionally cathartic. Whenever Chris screamed, “Liar!” or “No maker made me!” repeatedly, it felt like so many moments of rage I’d felt in recent years were being summoned… and expelled, if only for that moment.
The band took on a softer tone for the final song of the night with This Will Make You Love Again.
As any musician will tell you, touring since Covid is such a different beast. But IAMX had a surprising response when I asked how it feels in 2023.
“Oddly It feels settled for the first time. During Covid I experimented with faceless electronic modular synth tracks and managed to do a few solo shows. Just me and my modular. Back to the roots of early IAMX. This laid the template for the new record and the edited band performance. I feel I have more control over my sound and leaning out the band elements has somehow created more power. It all feels like streamlined IAMX on steroids. Similar but smarter and meaner. I admit that Covid really fucked with us as an independent project. There are new financial and practical challenges in our industry and specifically the alternative scene. But on a more positive note I’m very happy with the shows and I sense the hunger growing out there again in my beautiful people.”
Courtesy of Jen Wilson
As the last notes of the show were played, I looked at my fiancée, feeling thrilled, refreshed, and so grateful to finally have seen my favorite artist, with her, in my home away from home, Crucible. No other artist has moved me so deeply, and sharing in that live experience after such a long wait meant the world.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know another one of The Tribe, Fe Gaffney, who had driven hours to get to the show. I asked her to share what her favorite thing is about seeing IAMX live.
“My favorite thing about any IAMX show, next to seeing the band and hearing my favorite music, is seeing familiar faces. The fans feel so deeply for his words and music, we all have this near tangible connection to each other, this overt belonging. I’ve never quite felt a connection to an artist so strongly as IAMX, and this is an overwhelming sensation being in a room with so many others feeling the same way. Over the years, so many familiar faces have connected and contributed to this online community, forming a tribe. Chris and Janine recognize this incredible collection of fans and have more than shown their respect for their fans over the last few albums.”
The head and the heart are constantly challenged by IAMX’s work. This translates beautifully to the live experience, creating an invigorating exchange of energy. I asked Chris what he gets back from the audience each night.
“It’s difficult to put into words the intensity of the emotional exchange we feel. It’s the superpower source of the purpose of IAMX. It’s visceral sexual universal unspeakable love. It makes me feel accepted, understood and hopeful for humanity.”
Look out for a second album to pair with Fault Lines1, set to come out later in 2023…
You can see IAMX live in North American again this year at Cold Waves, Chicago, on Friday, Sept 22. They will then embark on the European leg of the tour (dates below).
A link to the You Rock Foundation can be found here.
Crucible Madison setlist:
The X ID
After Every Party I Die
I Come with Knives
No Maker Made Me
This Will Make You Love Again
Remaining North America and European 2023 Tour Dates (link here for tickets):
22 September Cold Waves Festival XI, Chicago, IL
26 September Bratislava, SK
28 September Prague, CZ
29 September Budapest, HU
30 September Graz, AT
01 October Vienna, AT
03 October Sankt Gallen, CH
04 October Munich, DE
06 October Barcelona, ES
07 October Madrid, ES
09 October Brussels, BE
10 October Paris, FR
11 October Cologne, DE
13 October Leipzig, DE
14 October Hamburg, DE
15 October Copenhangen, DK
17 October Utrecht, NL
18 October Frankfurt, DE
21 October Berlin, DE
22 October Warsaw, PL
24 October Wroclaw, PL
25 October Brno, CZ
27 October Stockholm, SE
28 October Gothenburg, SE
30 October London, UK