For the third year running – although it was a bit touch-and-go this year with the wedding and everything else, and my wife chose not to come along this time – the last weekend of September meant a trip 3,960 miles to the west of London. To the city of Chicago, to catch up with friends from far and wide, to enjoy a cool city…and attend Cold Waves, a festival of industrial music that commemorates, and celebrates, the life and loss of Jamie Duffy. It also raises a ton of money for good causes, and is generally a hell of a good time that has become a fixture in the calendar for many of us, no matter how far we have to travel.
Double Door, Chicago
23-25 September 2016
My own visit to the city this time was truncated a bit (partly as I was coming over solo, and partly because I return to the US as part of a three-week honeymoon at the end of November!), and my arrival into O’Hare on the Wednesday before was delayed a bit by some spectacular weather events in the area. But nothing too drastic, just a longer flight than normal.
I was fighting fit by the time of the opening night the following day, though, and with good reason we were there in good time for the first band.
Opening the festival were an up-and-coming Chicago band, Ganser. I’ve been following this nominally post-punk band for a while (early track Sun Ghosts was Track of the Month on Tracks: 221), and so I was really stoked to find that they had been added to the bill here – the chances of me seeing them live otherwise were rather slim.
Being on the bill at such an anticipated show, too, worked in their favour, as the crowd was *big* by the time they came onstage – although I did clock vocalist Nadia take a deep, deep breath before they took off with the striking, jagged riffs and soaring chorus of Audrey, suggesting that they were painfully aware of how big a deal this show was for them.
Happily, though, they seemed to shake off the initial nerves and delivered a strong and fascinating forty minutes, with their live sound providing a new perspective on many of their songs – with some impressive guitar squalls adding new textures, and pretty much everything sounded rawer and oh-so-intense. New single Pyrrhic Victory is out now, and more on that next week.
In addition to KMFDM themselves, three alternative versions* of their career effectively exist, and two of those played cold waves this weekend (*: En Esch, <PIG>, and Skold, since you’re asking). What do I mean by alternative versions? Basically, all of these artists are playing KMFDM songs in their sets, mainly as they were involved in writing them or performing on them, and if you see all of them live, it kinda works out that you get a better-rounded view of KMFDM’s career than if you only saw the “actual” band, as in recent years, KMFDM have rather settled on a set and repeated it.
Hallelujah [Slick Idiot]
Idiot [Slick Idiot]
Merci Beaucoup [Slick Idiot]
Rule the Mob
Leid und Elend [KMFDM]
Go to Hell [KMFDM]
Still, I have to say I wasn’t really expecting En Esch to be as great as he was. His long-trailed new album isn’t complete yet, and only two of his own songs (under his solo moniker) were played – the belting, catchy 12345, by miles the best song he’s done, and then the much older Rule The Mob – and the rest of his set was devoted to what might be best described as crowd-pleasers – Slick Idiot and KMFDM material.
It’s been a long, long time since I last heard Slick Idiot, but it was certainly quite a joy to hear the bludgeoning, super-fast beats of Hallelujah in particular, while the big surprise to me came in the choices of KMFDM material. The “hits” were eschewed for some old, old songs. Friede and the roof-raising, closing Go To Hell came from the classic Naïve (now 26 years young, and still bulletproof), while the biggest eye-opener was hearing the glorious grooves of Leid und Elend, which was rather more joyous than the title suggests.
This was very much a set that had the right tone for a festival such as this. Celebratory, fun, and very, very good indeed.
Celebratory is perhaps not a word you’d have associated with Stabbing Westward back in the nineties. A band that very much had song after song that wallowed in the misery of human emotions, of suffering, of terrible relationships and the messy aftermath.
So it was very much a surprise to find the band, from the moment that they took the stage until the moment that they left it, in good spirits, laughing and joking with each other, and with the crowd – seemingly enjoying each other’s company and playing the songs.
So Far Away
Sometimes It Hurts
The Thing I Hate
What Do I Have to Do?
Waking Up Beside You
Violent Mood Swings
Which, with the emnity that seemed to exist after they split in the early 2000s, seemed very surprising indeed – but, then, I guess, people change and reflect over time. And they’ve had time, too, with Christopher and Walter (the original core of the band in the first place) having already reunited on the last, and quite great, album from The Dreaming, which in many respects was Stabbing Westward in all but name (see also: 2015: Best Albums). So, maybe this reunion was easier than we might have thought.
Anticipation was seriously high for this, too, with an absolutely packed venue (it was so, so warm in there, too, with sweat literally dripping from the ceiling by the end), and a crowd that was buzzing before they took the stage, never mind when Walter Flakus conjured up the twinkling synths that heralded opener Drugstore.
I have to admit that over the years, I’ve never really loved Darkest Days as much as the earlier albums Ungod and Wither Blister Burn and Peel, but maybe this show has changed my mind a bit. That album was probably way too long, for a start – a mammoth sixteen songs, and a fair bit of filler – but the band wisely stuck to the strongest moments here, and paricular highlights were the thrashing, furious The Thing I Hate and the slower, introspective murk of Sometimes It Hurts.
That introspection – that perhaps resulted in the band being mocked for their unrelenting misery – was noted by Christopher Hall a few times during the set, particularly as he noted when introducing one song, joking about his oft-repeated subject matter and wondering how he managed to write so many songs on the same subject (!), and introducing at least four songs as “this is a love song”. Well, they were, of a sort…
Sometimes that introspection resulted in some furiously angry, heavy songs, and many of them got played here to amazing effect. The quiet-really fucking LOUD dynamics of Falls Apart resulted in the first moshpit of the night, while Lies and Nothing (both from the breakthrough debut of Ungod) resulted in the biggest singalongs of the night, reminding us that while the wider world probably appreciated the later albums more, many in the room wanted to hear most of the older stuff.
And that got delivered in spades, with just one song from the generally unloved fourth album, and the whoops of joy as various older songs were rolled out were very noticable. After all, though, this was a celebration of their thirty years, and there was no question of new material, but there was one surprise, in the shape of Plastic Jesus, the only track from the original 1990 demo that never got fully released and re-worked (the other three were all played), which has been dusted down and re-recorded for the festival compilation, and was aired in the encore here.
They ended on a hell of a high, too, closing out with bruising, savage takes on Violent Mood Swings and Shame, the volume of vocal assistance from the crowd leaving a number of sore throats afterward, I’d wager.
This was a hot ticket – given away months ago by the show selling out in about three minutes – and happily, the band delivered everything anyone there could ever have hoped for. They are, by the way, doing one other show (so far) as part of this reunion – Dracula’s Ball in Philadelphia at Hallowe’en, but I do wonder how long the members of the band want to spend looking back. But then again, if the demand is there… Either way, I was privileged to see this exceptional show, and it would have been show of the weekend, except… well, more on that in a bit.
Cold Waves Friday
Friday saw us move, as is usual, onto Metro (with most of us ducking and weaving through the hordes of happy drunk Cubs fans that had not long since poured out of Wrigley Field – good thing the Cubs are having a good end to the season, eh?), and while doors opened a bit later than advertised, broadly things ran to time regardless. Although, the tight schedule left a bit to be desired, in my eyes – I’ve said this before about festivals, that just fifteen minutes between each band leaves little time for anything else in crowded venues – toilet breaks, getting a beer, food, buying merch. It becomes a trade-off between seeing the whole set of a band or doing something else, and considering the social nature of these events, this can become a problem.
Still, there were bands to be seen, and all of the above to do, so we dealt with it and got on with Friday night. First band on were local Chicago band HIDE, who have had a striking set of videos and releases over the past couple of years, culminating in the outstanding single Flesh For The Living earlier in the year (see 254: Tracks (March 2016)).
It seemed to be rather an outlier, though, and this was perhaps reinforced by the fact that the band didn’t play it. Instead, we were treated to half-an-hour of enigmatic, murky electronics that was enthralling to watch, particularly as vocalist Heather Gabel (also a visual artist) spent a fair amount of time playing with perceptions. How? Well, hiding under a black hood for the first half of the set, with next-to-no lighting other than two strobes, will make a mark, for starters. It was dark, difficult music that was well worth seeing and absorbing yourself in, that was for sure, and it was perhaps no real surprise that opinion was a little divided afterward. Some, like me, thought it was great, others were entirely nonplussed.
Also local were Polyfuse, an intriguing industrial act playing their last show. The entirely instrumental set felt like a sinuous whole, moving effortlessly across different musical styles along the way, and reminding that – as we found with the brilliance of displacer at Infest – there is still a place for this kind of music, and it can still be very good indeed.
I’ve seen CHANT before (Infest 2015), and here they delivered a different set, but with much the same results. The drum-led industrial attack – three drummers, at point – is an amazing sound on record, but live it really is taken to another level. Just powerful rhythms, though, would potentially get boring after a while, and it is testament to the skill of Bradley Bills that he writes excellent, enjoyable songs and the set was stuffed with them from start to finish.
The really quite great debut album by Vampyre Anvil – a new project from Jason Novak (Acumen Nation, Cocksure, Acucrack) and Sean Payne (Cyanotic) – meant that their live set was going to be a must-see, and happily their dark’n’dirty grooves translated well to the live arena. The more I think about it, the more I’ve realised that this is some kind of logical follow-on from Acucrack, taking that project into much darker, grimier territories. The beats are distorted to all hell, the sonic equivalent of digital glitching on a visual feed, and they hit the gut like the titular anvils. But, rather than sinking the sound into a dull morass of bass hit after bass hit, Novak and Payne add a tuneful groove to all of it, making it danceable, and even enjoyable, despite the darkness that hangs over every song like a thundercloud.
Talking of darkness, The Black Queen delivered a different shade of it to follow. Still a very new band, populated by older, wiser heads, it is remarkable just how fast that they nailed down their style and sound, particularly live (I saw only their second show back early in the year, and it was a hell of an assured show even then), and like that show, this one oozed confidence.
That Death Cannot Touch
The End Where We Start
Ice to Never
Now, When I’m This
One of the things I still find curious about their sound is what appear to be the root influences. Smooth eighties soul appears to have been as important as more modern synth-(insert suffix here), not to mention the poppier end of industrial, too – all of which come together in spectacular style on recent single Secret Scream, which like on the album, was very much one of the highlights here.
They were so good that I did consider going to see them again in London on Monday night, but jetlag (and a wife that would have been very unimpressed indeed after she’d chosen not to come to Chicago with me!) put that idea out of the question very quickly.
I was really looking forward to Clock DVA, too, but this time around, something just didn’t click for me. Unlike their fascinating BIMFest 2011 show, which felt immersive, with the band hemmed in by screens and close to the stage front, here the three band members were stood stock still behind laptops, with little to watch and a fair amount of…challenging newer songs. That said, Soundmirror (even if most of the words were omitted) and The Hacker (in whichever version they choose to play it) are still works of experimental industrial genius, and Adi Newton and his bandmates have earned the right to explore the realms of electronic music in whichever way they choose.
Jetlag caught up with me by the time Meat Beat Manifesto took to the stage, mind, and I saw little of it in the end. I have seen them before, though, and reports from others who did catch the whole of this one were generally positive.
Cold Waves Saturday
Ok, so first up, an admission. The first few KANGA songs I’d heard, really hadn’t done a lot for me, and I was left wondering what I was missing out on. Thirty minutes here at Metro filled in the gaps.
This was a powerful, brilliant performance, and most importantly, I see what the hype has been about. There is something of Nine Inch Nails in there (the processed guitars, those synths on Something Dangerous that sound suspiciously close to Somewhat Damaged, the catchier edges of industrial that feature here), there is also (unexpectedly) something of the quasi-bubblegum-industrial-pop of bands like Ayria, too, not to mention her voice rather sounding like Kelli from Sneaker Pimps (Becoming X era).
But anyway – it was a performance of impressive intensity and confidence – even including an exceptional cover of Numan’s Metal if I’m not mistaken – and I’ll wager that KANGA made a whole load of new fans by the time that they closed out with the exceptional Vital Signs.
Possibly the most unexpected band on the bill were Bloody Knives. An Austin-based band, they fall well outside the usual “industrial” sphere by being a noise-rock/shoegaze band, really, and on record at least they have a complex, multi-layered sound that adds all kinds of interesting electronics and synths into the mix. Live, though, it was – to my ears at least – a very, very loud noise-rock performance that relied on volume than any subtlety whatsoever, and rather lost so much of what makes the band interesting in the first place. The new album I Will Cut Your Heart Out For This really is great, though, and I can’t recommend that enough.
Like at Infest last month, Dead When I Found Her put in another stellar set, and as I watched much of the Infest set from the photo pit, I decided to keep the camera in the bag this time and watch from the heart of the crowd. This turned out to be a good choice, as Michael and John put in perhaps an even better set than last time, even though it was shorter.
Maybe this was because the shorter time allotted meant that there was only time for highlights, and what we got was basically six of the best DWIFH songs, covering from their debut to their forthcoming album – nothing I haven’t heard before live, but it all seemed punchier, and with a better sound mix. Particularly Fixer Fixed, where the guitars sounded better balanced in the mix (and so it didn’t seem as out of place). The highlights once again came in the form of the pulverising new track Tantrum – think Worlock-era Puppy remixed by Rhys Fulber circa. 1992 and soundtracking a particularly twisted dancefloor – and the still staggeringly good Spitting Seeds. We have six weeks or so to wait until Eyes on Backwards is released, and I’m close to counting the days.
The wait to see 16Volt live has been a very, very long one. To my knowledge they’ve never made it across the Atlantic to play live, and until now I’d never been in the right place to see them live (I was at the Kinetik after they played, and then they played the first two Cold Waves, and I started going at the third…) – and indeed I thought my chance had gone entirely when they split a couple of years ago and suddenly morphed into Black December. I’m not totally sure what went on there, but the return of 16Volt turned out to be pretty quick, and certainly the new album The Negative Space is vastly better than the Black December album, which I think I got through the whole of it once. At most.
The Electric Pope
Cables and Wires
Somebody To Hate
The Infernal Paramour
Become Your None
The Cut Collector
It was no surprise, either, to hear them open up with the anthemic new track The Electric Pope, but it was even better to find that Eric Powell and his band then ripped into Cables & Wires in double-quick time. Probably my favourite 16Volt track, I was rather surprised to note that it is already nine years old.
There wasn’t a lot of the new album played, actually – the only other song from it being the album highlight The Infernal Paramour, a bass-heavy, slower groove with one of the best choruses Powell has ever written. Indeed it’s up there somewhere with the similarly structured Alkali, also played, and broadly otherwise there was a quick reminder of why we all loved 16Volt in the first place, with bruising takes on Machine Kit and a final, group singalong (with additional guest vocalists onstage, and most of the crowd joining in too) through The Cut Collector. All-too-short, but a brilliantly enjoyable set, and it scratched a long-time itch for me.
The most anticipated show of the whole weekend, though, was the return of Cubanate. It’s been a long time coming, too. I saw what turned out to be their last show, in December 1999 (supported by a then “up-and-coming” band called VNV Nation), before Marc Heal pretty much left music altogether for some time, and Phil Barry eventually resurfaced with his new (and still current) project Be My Enemy, which in many ways was continuing on a slightly different path to where Cubanate had been heading. Sporadic activity from Cubanate began again about six years ago, initially abandoned quickly, then resurrected after Marc Heal released a well-received EP with Raymond Watts of <PIG> (The Compound Eye Sessions, which rather worked out as heralding a return of both artists), the reunion becoming official in an interview with amodelofcontrol.com about eighteen months ago.
Lord of the Flies
Kill or Cure
Mooted dates in 2015 didn’t materialise, mind, and the announcement of this show in the Spring of this year caused an awful lot of excitement – and maybe a bit of trepidation. Seeing as Marc and Phil now live on opposite sides of the world, were they going to be rusty? Would it work out? Would it still sound any good?
The answer to all of this was no, yes and yes. Emphatically yes.
As the duo – ably assisted by the machine-like precision drumming of Vince McAley (Go Fight, Die Warzau, Dead on TV) – roared into opener Lord of the Flies, with a level of aggression and fury unmatched by any industrial band any of us have seen in years, it was amazing to think that Marc Heal hasn’t performed live in seventeen years. It looked like he’d been performing all of that time, fighting fit and ready to take on the whole crowd once again.
What was even more amazing is that this power and intensity (and volume – fuck, it was loud and heavy – I’d forgotten just how much bottom end there is in Cubanate’s beats) was sustained across every one of the forty minutes they had alloted. They rolled out the hits – Body Burn saw a bellowed sing-a-long from the crowd, and I’m sure you can guess the reaction to the inevitable closer Oxyacetalene (clue: the roof nearly came off when the instantly recognisable intro emerged from the speakers) – and some interesting choices of album cuts, including a turbo-charged Kill or Cure and – to my delight – the floor-shaking breakbeats and pounding fury of It, to name but a few.
Perhaps the only moment where things dipped slightly was during Joy – a complex, multi-layered song as it is – where the ripping chorus didn’t quite have the bite it should have done live, and this might have been due to the apparent insistence of the band to perform as much live as possible without relying on everything on backing tracks (so the multi-tracked chorus, of course, was impossible for Marc to do all of!). This, mind, was a minor complaint, and otherwise this was by a country mile the set of the weekend, and the whole venue was absolutely buzzing – and looking rather shellshocked – after this forty-minute aural airstrike closed out. A staggering return, and we can only hope that they might want to do this all again sometime – in the meantime of course Marc Heal has his own solo album The Hum out very soon, and single Adult Fiction imminent.
It fell upon Raymond Watts and <PIG> to attempt to follow that, and you know what? They were absolutely great. Yes, it was hammed up a bit, and there was the odd technical issue, but Watts and his band kicked ass, roared (or maybe squealed) on by a large proportion of the evening’s crowd wearing various porcine-themed T-shirts. There were a whole lot of <PIG> fans in Chicago this weekend.
The Diamond Sinners
Found in Filth
Missing the Mainline
Ojo Por Ojo
Juke Joint Jezebel [KMFDM]
The Fly Upon the Pin
Find It, Fuck It, Forget It
Ably assisted by, among others, his ex-KMFDM partners-in-crime Günter Schulz and En Esch, this was the second band of the weekend to remind how one-dimensional KMFDM are nowadays, and how much more can, or could, be done with their sound.
The new <PIG> album, The Gospel, returns at least in part to the quasi-gospel-meets-industrial-rock that Watts had such a hand in before, with opener The Diamond Sinners resulting in a swaying choral practice for the crowd from the off, before we were wallowing in the sleazy, glorious Found In Filth. Indeed a fair bit of the new album was played – the deliciously nasty Viva Evil also being a later highlight, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t time for looking at the past.
And Praise the Lard, the old songs were well chosen. The groovy industrial rock of Wrecked sounded fucking great, as did the closing, light-speed throwaway of Find It, Fuck It, Forget It. But the big surprise for me – as someone who’d never seen Watts and his band live before – was the airing of two KMFDM songs I never thought I’d hear.
There was the chugging industrial metal glory of Flesh, yeah, but even that was eclipsed by the airing of one of the greatest industrial dancefloor tracks of all – Juke Joint Jezebel. It is a song that is twenty-two years old, hasn’t aged a day, and went down an absolute storm here, with the crowd assisting with all of the choral elements – unsurprisingly not far off note perfect. The crowd went nuts from the off for this – including me – and was one of my favourite five minutes of the weekend.
I have to say that I was a little surprised at just how great <PIG> were. Watts was a flamboyant, engaging and hugely entertaining presence at the centre of things, with Schulz and Esch kinda being his more serious foils either side, keeping things grounded as Watts reached for the stars. Here’s hoping that – like some of the other bands I saw for the first time this weekend – I get another chance sometime, as this was fantastic fun.
The overrunning of that set meant that The Cocks took to the stage a bit late, not that anyone appeared to be complaining, not least as there was no shortening of the set. True to the form of Revolting Cocks – as this band was in all-but-name – there was a bit of people shuffling on-and-off stage, with Richard 23 and Luc Van Acker doing the first half (with Paul Barker, Jason Novak and a drummer who I recognised but couldn’t name staying on all the way through), before Chris Connelly joined them once Big Sexy Land was dispensed with.
Big Sexy Land
We Shall Cleanse the World
Attack Ships on Fire
You Often Forget
(Let’s Get) Physical
Stainless Steel Providers
Beers, Steers & Queers
Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, with their reputation of old, this was a chaotic, hugely entertaining show that never took itself too seriously. Richard, Luc and Paul in particular looked to be absolutely loving their dip into the past together, the former pair especially grinning like loons for most of the time.
Of that first album, a thundering, pumped-up Attack Ships on Fire had the whole room jumping, while the dirty grooves of No Devotion seemed the ideal way to end the first section, and pass the baton over the Chris Connelly. After which we got what might be called a “best of” RevCo, culminating in a raucous Beers, Steers & Queers, and better still, an encore of pure filth, as they returned to their destroyed and rebuilt version of Rod Stewart’s Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, becoming a chaotic, glorious sing-a-long that seemed the perfect way to end a mad, mad weekend.
While the Friday, for me, petered out a bit after a impressive lower order, the Saturday was another deal entirely, and was easily the best single day at a festival I’ve ever experienced, never mind at Cold Waves. New and old bands, side-by-side on the bill, with most if not all of the bands out and about mingling with friends and fans amid the crowds all night. A great atmosphere, too, with no trouble that I was aware of, instead many new friends made, and new musical loves found.
In fact, I can think of no better way to spend my late September weekend, than heading to Chicago to do this again. See you next year?