Memory of a Festival: 025: Cold Waves IV

After an epic holiday in Chicago – ostensibly to do Cold Waves and catch up with old friends – last year (review in the box), there wasn’t ever really any question that we wouldn’t make it back to Chicago again – and so a year on, here we were once again, in blazing September sunshine and loads more things to see. We managed all that, I managed three days of Cold Waves. Next year, though, I’m not flying back the following night, as I was paying for that decision for days afterwards.

Cold Waves IV

Double Door, Chicago
24-September 2015
Metro, Chicago
25/26-September 2015


Cold Waves IV Facebook
Cold Waves III Review

Anyway, here’s my take on the festival as I saw it – once again brilliant fun, and while a number of concerns from punters were addressed from last year, the lack of available seating in the venue for anyone with a normal access ticket seems insane, particularly with the lengthy time allotted each evening, and the short gaps between bands. I appreciate, though, that this could be a Metro thing more than anything else. Still – on with the bands, but before we got to Metro, there was Thursday night at the Double Door, which felt part of the festival much more than last year’s Thursday event did.

Cold Waves IV: Thursday

Acumen Nation
Rabbit Junk / Cyanotic
Die Sektor

I have to say that I was impressed with the Double Door as a venue. Loads of space, well-laid out, and tons of room at the bar to get served (not to mention loads of choice, too), and most importantly an exceptional sound set-up for a smallish venue (something many other venues of it’s size could take note of).

For the first band, though – Die Sektor – that maybe worked against them a bit as many people arrived a bit later and left the crowd looking a bit sparse, at least to start with. Not that it appeared to faze them, as they tore into their harsher industrial sounds from the off. In many ways, Die Sektor were an outlier across the entire festival – the only band of this style playing, and in some ways reflected the way tastes in at least one part of the scene seem to be moving. What saved Die Sektor, though, from being just yet another growly, harsh industrial band was that they have least attempted to broaden their sound somewhat, and the new songs were most notable – much less reliance on vocal treatments, at least live, and there was a distinct groove to the forthcoming single that is absolutely going to make it worthy of picking up.

Rabbit Junk/Cyanotic setlist:

Rabbit Junk:
Pop That Pretty Thirty
February War
Crutch (2014)
What Doesn’t Kill You Will Make You A Killer
Break Shins To This

Signal The Machines

Things really came to life once Rabbit Junk took to the stage, though: a thirty minute jet-engine blast of a set that reminded just how brilliant they are. As was billed in advance, this was JP Anderson with the assistance of Sean and Chris from Cyanotic (and they played a couple of songs themselves at the end of the set, of which more in a moment) – and also the role of SumGrrl was taken up by another guest, Nadia G from local band Ganser (whose last EP was track of the month here earlier in the year).

The whole thing came together to absolutely kick ass. There was barely a moment to take a breath as the band ripped through a set concentrating mainly on newer material, but with a couple of old favourites thrown in too. Crutch is a long-time fan favourite, of course – and it’s themes about drinking too much seemed rather apt at the beginning of a weekend where most of us really did – and the crowd bellowed along with that, as well as another REframe track, the unexpected appearance of February War that also sounded glorious live. Indeed, JP mentioned post-show when I caught up with him that he’s keen on digging into his back catalogue a bit more and mixing up his sets. Long may that continue!

After the sound issues that hampered last year’s Infest appearance – where we couldn’t hear the backing vocals at all, for a start – it was a revelation hearing the newer songs here. This was aided enormously by the full-force SumGrrl role of Nadia, who threw everything into her vocals and prowled the stage like she’d been singing the songs for years. And there was also proof, if any more was really needed by now, that I-D-O-N-T-G-I-V-E-A-F-U-C-K is the best industrial-punk-pop track you will ever hear.

Cold Waves IV: Chicago: Rabbit Junk

(You can even see for yourself just how great it was – as Gigity filmed the whole Die Sektor set and most of the RJ set – although sadly missing most of the epic RJ closer and the two-song Cyanotic set, but we can’t have everything, eh?)

Another opportunity to catch Cyanotic live was short and sweet – JP moved to the synths, while Sean and Chris were joined by bassist Kevin to do a couple of Cyanotic tracks that were certainly no filler. Signal The Machines has evolved a bit live in the past year, gaining even more muscle to become a monster of an industrial groove machine, while Alt.Machine continues to punish dancefloors with a relentless momentum and metal riffage that makes it basically the closest thing to a “classic” Cubanate song that has come since they split first time around. More would have been nice, but I’ll just have to come back to see Cyanotic again sometime.

The main event for Thursday, though, was a second chance for me to see Acumen Nation – this time for a show to mark the twentieth anniversary of their debut album Transmissions From Eville, which they played in full. The influence of this album on most metal-tinged industrial that has come since – particularly the newer “Cold Wave” movement – has always loomed large, so it was great to see the whole thing performed to show their followers how it’s done.

Acumen Nation setlist:
Gun Lover
The Worms
Father in the Wall
Noarms Nolegs
Chameleon Skin
[something from Lord of the Cynics]
Liquid Hater

Much like last year, the band got their heads down and blasted through the set – but with the length of some of the songs on the album, maybe they were running up against a curfew a bit, particularly with a lengthy encore too! – although here this suited the punishing feel that the album has always had. Particularly with Gun Lover nearly breaking us all just a few songs in – I still can’t get over how brutal that track is live. It wasn’t the only one, though, as the later pairing of Noarms Nolegs and (especially) Anchorite left me having to lean against the wall to take a breather!

Elsewhere, The Worms took us into grinding, groove-metal territory, while the retro-90s feel of FWM [that’s “Fucking White Man”] – those synth samples! – unleashed a whole ton of hate and disgust on the titular character amid a surprisingly danceable rhythm. There’s the thing, though. Acumen Nation were always an angry band. Their abrasive industrial-metal hybrid moved over the years to emphasise one side of the coin over the other at various points – with varying degrees of success at times – but on this album they got it spot on, and Jason Novak used the heavy duty backing to unleash weapons-grade fury at various targets too, and songs like FWM are sadly still relevant.

The four-song encore continued to take us down memory lane, too, with a song each from the other albums in their first ten years. My memory is hazy on what two of them were (please let me know if you can fill the gaps), but the two I did know were damned awesome. I’ve long-loved The 5ifth Column as an album, so to get Liquid Hater was a joy, and there were loud cheers for the roar of Ventilator, too. Even better, post-show, was the discovery that there was a new track from the band on this year’s Cold Waves IV compilation – and Insurgent Collective is the best track they’ve released in many years – not to mention the first in seven). More on that this week in Tuesday Ten 243, and here’s hoping there might be more to come from an apparently rejuvenated band.

Like last year, there was a particular split of styles across the main two nights at Metro – and Friday night was very much the more intense, harsher side of industrial, at points straying into noise and it was perhaps understandable that attendance wasn’t as high on the Friday as it was on the Saturday – this was the kind of music that, in many cases, you either love or hate.

The night opened with a couple of artists that I know little about. First up was Two From The Eye, who didn’t really have much to watch onstage – one guy in a black hoodie (hood up) hunched over a table of electronics – but the music generated was quite interesting, all told. It started out as slow-paced, dark ambient, before gradually making things harder and heavier like a machine grinding into life – but like so many artists like this, it is desperately hard to keep a crowd’s attention when there is nothing to watch, particularly if the music is unfamiliar.

Cold Waves IV: Chicago: Lab Report

That was one accusation that could never, ever be levelled at Lab Report. Their set was a visual feast, with extraordinary outfits and imagery – including a guy dressed all in white (and painted white too) throwing flower petals everywhere, one guy steadily dressed over the course of about fifteen minutes into a spectacular crow mask and suit of matching feathers, the female singer painted blue from head-to-toe, wearing a dress and accessories resembling a peacock, and a fourth member in a suit, also painted blue, lighting various incense sticks and candles onstage. There was much to watch and admire, therefore, and happily the music matched the sumptuous visuals. Dark ambient soundscapes morphed into relaxed, tribal rhythms and middle eastern-influenced vocals – my friend reckoned there was a Dead Can Dance vibe, I was hearing echoes of Trans-Global Underground – and it was a rare early act where the allotted half-hour was nowhere close to being enough to satisfy a rapt audience.

Cold Waves IV: Chicago: Prurient

There has been a hell of a buzz around Prurient‘s latest album Frozen Niagara Falls since it was released earlier in the year, and with good reason – it is basically the best “noise” album I’ve heard in ages. It is a monster of an album to digest, though, with two CDs and a two-hour running time, and naturally is not an easy listen. Thus it was not surprising at all to find that onstage it was equally harsh, with pummelling, noisy soundscapes scraping the walls and his vocals delivered like a punk singer, thrashing all over the stage and leaving those of us in the photo pit with the fear that we might be in the line of fire if he started whirling around any faster. The intensity of the performance, much like the album, was staggering, and remarkably this performance hit even harder than the harshest points on the album as it was so “in your face”.

I’m more than familiar with Author + Punisher, at least, so I knew what to expect here. The third time I’ve seen Tristan Shone’s exceptional industrial-doom-noise project live, the set-up is still the same, if not a little refined with new elements – so the superbly-engineered mechanical contraptions, that allow him to control his electronics in a more organic fashion than just standing behind a laptop, were all present and correct. One thing that has changed, perhaps, is that it is even fucking louder than before, the sound enveloping you as you stand in front of the stage – but for those who could stand it, it was well worth catching as much of it as you could. It also should be noted just how fantastic the recent new album Melk en Honing is – adding more song structure without compromising the power.

One of the artists I was really keen on seeing was the return, after many years, of Paul Barker’s project Lead Into Gold. The thing is, unlike many of my friends who came back loving it, I’d be lying if I said I did all that much. It was ok, I guess, but really didn’t grab me like the recorded material did, and more than anything, it rammed home just how much Al Jourgensen missed from Ministry once Barker left. It would not be a stretch to say that Ministry were never as good again. The other massively anticipated artist from the evening also left me a bit cold, and that was Lustmord. Putting a dark ambient act so far up the bill was always going to divide opinion, but as amazing as the soundscapes – not to mention the glorious, detailed visuals that dominated the stage – were, personally I found quickly that I would much rather be listening to it on great headphones, in the comfort of my own home.

Godflesh setlist:
New Dark Ages
Shut Me Down
Life Giver Life Taker
Towers of Emptiness
Christbait Rising
Crush My Soul
Like Rats

On the other hand, I’ve always been amazed at how well Godflesh work live. For just two guys and a sampler onstage, they make an extraordinary noise and are riveting live – and since their live return a few years back, have gradually pared back the old songs in favour of playing more from their “comeback” album, without any real complaints. That’s because, basically, the new album is great, Godflesh back exploring their terrifying niche in industrial that relies on crushing, cyclic riffage and beat sequences apparently programmed with large hammers. Exhibit A: the opener New Dark Ages, which is as heavy as Sunn O))), if you sped their sound up, and live is like being slowly run over by a bulldozer.

Cold Waves IV: Chicago: Godflesh

Maybe the reason why that new album – entitled, ominously, A World Lit Only By Fire – works so well is that it is Justin Broadrick and GC Green investigating their early sounds again, but with better hardware, something once again reminded by the firestorm of Like Rats that ends proceedings. A howling end to a brutal, full-on evening of some of the harshest artists contemporary industrial has to offer, it is perhaps no surprise that my ears were ringing the next day.

Saturday, at least to a point, was much more accessible in terms of the bands on the bill, with a few unexpected appearances and some old favourites featuring equally. Opening the bill on Saturday was relatively new band Human Traffic, who I believe are from Kansas City, and from what I’d heard prior to this show (recent track My Body Is A Mechanism featured on Tuesday Ten: 232 – and it was great live here, too), had clearly been fans of Atari Teenage Riot’s golden years in the nineties, and the live set did nothing to change my mind on that front. One guy on electronics and synths was to the side, with two vocalists (one male, one female) taking centre stage. The male vocalist even looked a bit like Alec Empire, and semed to be stretching every sinew to deliver his screamed vocals, while the female vocalist was more circumspect, for a fair time hiding herself in her hood and revealing her eyes only rarely – which only added to the unsettling atmosphere when we realised she was wearing white contact lenses, too. Yes, some pretty deep mental scars appear to have influenced their chaotic, unfocussed sound – part ATR, part punk, part Witch House, really – with vocals switching from whispered asides to primal roars in an instant, but it was wholly fascinating stuff and the EP onsale – that I didn’t even know existed – has piqued my interest yet further. An album is in the works, according to one of the band that I spoke to later in the evening, and I’ll sure as hell be picking that up. Re:Gen did a really interesting interview with them recently that sheds far more light on the band, too.

Cold Waves IV: Chicago: Human TrafficSadly Rorschach Test cancelled at the last minute – another reformation that I was intrigued to see – but in some respects one band dropping out worked well, as it gave some other bands slightly more time onstage, and otherwise lengthened some rather short intervals inbetween. This meant, too, I had a fighting chance of a breather before one of the bands I’d travelled 3,950 miles to see – High-Functioning Flesh.

High-Functioning Flesh setlist:
Touch Oblivion Icon
Whispered Steel
Hunger Cries
The Plunge
Mistakes Were Made

I wasn’t disappointed, either. Coming from what appears (to an outsider, anyway) an astonishingly fertile scene in Los Angeles at the moment, they are hardly the only artists from there to emerge taking eighties industrial and EBM as a reference point, but remarkably each of the bands doing so are taking very different angles. For example, last year it was the punk/hardcore-influenced EBM attack of Youth Code that played at pretty much this exact same point in the weekend, while HFF take a more electronic-based template, with influences made fairly clear from the off. So, if you like mid-eighties Cabs, or portion control, you’ll find much to like here.Cold Waves IV: Chicago: High-Functioning FleshWhat felt like a set that was oh-too-short – but in reality was more than half-an-hour – was a condensed introduction to the band that stripped away any fat and left us with all of their best moments, covering from their original demo tape (the slithering synths of opener Touch Oblivion Icon, still one of my favourite songs of theirs, comes from that) right up to the recent, exceptional, album Definite Structures, happily including the call-and-reponse really-should-be-an-EBM-anthem of Whispered Steel, and best of all, the slower-paced, Cabs-gone-to-LA of Mistakes Were Made, by far the strongest track the band have released yet.For some, Susan Subtract’s sneering vocals may be a dividing line, but in my opinion they provide a steeled-edge to the smoother tones of the electronics that the band use. There is a feel of a band having immersed themselves in eighties dance music as much as industrial/EBM of the time, and having gone for a style that uses both elements, they’ve ended up with material that is extraordinarily accessible and this set absolutely made new fans of a fair number, my partner included.

Cocksure setlist:
Hi Talez
Severance Package
Skeemy Gates
Silikon Suckaz
Klusterfuck Kulture
Razor Invader
Guilt Speed and Carbon
Assault on Cocksure 13
Cattle Grind

Remarkably in the past year or so, I’ve now seen Cocksure four times, in three different countries – and this was the second time in Chicago after their performance last year that was hampered in a number of respects (apparently Chris Connelly wasn’t well, which certainly explained a few things). There were no such issues here, with the best performance from Jason and Chris that I’ve seen yet, a set with plenty of bite and belligerence and of course some great songs. I’ve written at length about how much I like this band already – and my opinion has changed for the better on some songs, for sure, after repeated listening – and Conelly’s swagger across the stage this time was a hoot, particularly as he introduced himself as “Chris’s dad” (dressed, er, appropriately in a dodgy-looking suit) and proceeded to rip into the person blowing bubbles in the crowd as he “fucking hates bubbles”. The tracks from new album Corporate_Sting once again were utter killers (especially Severance Package, rapidly becoming a crowd favourite too), while Razor Invader seems to get heavier every time I hear it (and check out the stellar Cyanotic remix of it on the CWIV CD – it gets a monstrous, robotic upgrade into a dancefloor stomper), while remarkably the usual close with an old RevCo track (just Cattle Grind this time) actually felt superflous this time as I’d rather have had more Cocksure!

Severed Heads setlist:
Now, an Explosive New Movie
Goodbye Tonsils
Harold and Cindy Hospital
Hot With Fleas
Greater Reward
All Saints Day
Big Car (Retread)
Heart of the Party
Pilot in Hell
Dead Eyes Opened
Wonder Of All The World

Still with Cocksure, actually, their recent album had a nod to the next act in what is the first cover of a Severed Heads track that I can think of. No wonder, really, that covers of them are so rare – as, to put it bluntly, Severed Heads are not like other “industrial” bands. Or many other bands full stop, actually. Tom Ellard’s work is, well, quasi-surrealist at points, both in the curious lyrics/song-titles, and more importantly, in the gloriously bizarre video work – that as the commentary below the video for Hot With Fleas notes, was done on primitive hardware, with astonishing results that were frankly some way ahead of their time.As was the last time I saw them (at BIMFest 2011, billed as their “last shows”. Hmmm!), the visuals are the centrepiece – Tom Ellard and his bandmate off to the edge of the stage, behind a bank of laptops and synths so as not to block the view. Rightly so, too, as every song across the set has jaw-dropping imagery to go with it, but let’s not forget the music. Very much grounded in early techno, for the most part, many songs don’t have too many vocals, or Ellard’s vocals are dropped into the background, leaving the pounding rhythms to do the heavy lifting.It is those moments where things go off the beaten track, though, that are really fascinating – and for me, Harold and Cindy Hospital, the track Cocksure covered, is the one of most interest. A slow, ponderous and heavy rhythm dominates the song, with narrated vocals and distorted horn samples, not to mention it’s frankly mad video, makes for a deeply unsettling listen and a still-brilliant song. Of course, Dead Eyes Opened – kinda the precursor of all of those industrial songs in the past twenty-five years or so that use samples about death and create a spooky atmosphere – comes near the end, and while Ellard has inspired some dross, at least he did it right.

Pop Will Eat Itself setlist:
The Incredible PWEI vs The Moral Majority
Wise Up Sucker
Everything’s Cool
Dance of the Mad Bastards
Watch The Bitch Blow
Nosebleeder Turbo TV
Can U Dig It?
Ich Bin Ein Auslander
Get The Girl, Kill The Baddies
They Can’t Take (What You Won’t Let Them Have)
Preaching To The Perverted
Their Law

One of the most surprising announcements for Cold Waves this year – at least to this Brit – was Greebo-heroes Pop Will Eat Itself, a band recently resurrected and now onto their second album post-(second)-reformation (the excellent Anti-Nasty League). The excitement that greeted their announcement of their first US shows in nearly twenty years (it ended up being part of a larger tour) was quite something, and there was still a heck of a buzz when they took to the stage – and tore into pummelling old favourite Wise-Up Sucker.Oh yes – this was not a night for promoting the new material. Yeah, there were a couple of songs from ANL, and one from the previous album, but the bulk of the set was from the early-nineties, giving a quite mad crowd exactly what they wanted – the hits. Squeezing thirteen songs into a fifty-five minute set meant they were short on stage-banter, but heavy on old favourites, including a few I’ve not heard live in many, many years – probably since their incredible Reformation shows in Birmingham in 2005 – and the crowd simply got rowdier and rowdier, so by the time Ich Bin Ein Auslander echoed across the room, it was one heck of a ‘pit.Cold Waves IV: Chicago: Pop Will Eat ItselfWhat was great about this show, though, more than anything, was that the band clearly were loving it. Yeah, so Graham Crabb is the only original member, but Mary Byker fits in so well that it is nigh-on impossible to notice that it isn’t Clint Mansell anymore, and he’s gone onto much bigger things nowadays anyway. But bands enjoying themselves this much generally help to get the crowd even more psyched, as was the case here, and by the time the now-customary Their Law was unleashed at the end, everyone went absolutely batshit. Even after all these years, the Poppies sure as hell Can still Dig It.

Front Line Assembly setlist:
Final Impact
Neologic Spasm
Killing Grounds
Shifting Through The Lens
Mental DistortionEncore:

The final band of the weekend was headliner Front Line Assembly, a band who have had nothing to prove for some time now really, but then also released their best album in an age a few years back in the form of Echogenetic (lest we forget, the album of the year 2013). Aside from a remix album and some classy re-issues (that Hard Wired/Live Wired boxset really is a thing of beauty), they are still promoting that album and so it wasn’t a great surprise to find that the set was broadly the same as when I saw it a year or two back.But that didn’t mean that this show wasn’t of interest – far from it. For a start, at my ninth attempt, this was an FLA show at last with Rhys Fulber on synths, and he made quite a difference. The electronics sounded much clearer in the mix, the sound generally more organic, and yes, it slayed. From the old, old songs to open with, to the still jaw-dropping Killing Grounds (the only dancefloor track FLA have released to even touch the awesome power of Plasticity), to the never-gets-old drum attack of Resist, that’s hard to believe is now twenty-five years old, to the staggering synth-led grooves of Deadened, to the all-out industrial metal of the evergreen Millenium…Front Line Assembly didn’t put a single foot wrong all set, and were awesome from end-to-end.In fact, I’m happy to agree with others that this was the best set I’ve ever seen FLA do, and it would be quite something to see them better it. What is more remarkable is that with more material to come, as interviews over the past year or two have confirmed, they are a band in rude health as they near their fourth (!) decade. Next time up is my tenth FLA gig, and it can’t come soon enough.What we saw across the weekend was a useful positioning of the new, old (and Severed) heads giving us a quality snapshot of at least one corner of the wider industrial scene that has had a hell of a shot in the arm of late. There are a number of fascinating city-based scenes either thriving or now cropping up in North America, and something similar happening in the UK and Europe, too, suggesting that Industrial Isn’t Dead after all. Maybe it just needed a bit of a pick-me-up, and festivals like Cold Waves are doing a fantastic job in doing so.If you’ve not made it across to Chicago yet from wherever you are for Cold Waves, do so next year. It’s a whole ton of fun, with a great city to explore as well, and absolutely worth the time and expense in doing so. Next year is going to be busy, but I’m going to try my best to make space to do Cold Waves V next September. See you there?

2 thoughts on “Memory of a Festival: 025: Cold Waves IV

Leave a Reply