The Metro, Chicago, IL – Friday, 09/25/2015
By the end of the first night of any festival, there is always a question as to whether attendance will continue to grow or if the energy of that initial hit will leave the audience too spent to maintain for much longer. Thankfully, ColdWaves IV’s Kick-Off party – while delivering a rather intense triad of industrial aggression in the form of Die Sektor, Rabbit Junk, and Acumen Nation – was a smaller, more intimate affair; one that did well to start the proceedings off loudly and proudly, but also allowing for the more voluminous crowd of the main event to fortify itself. For the third year in a row, Chicago’s eminent industrial festival honoring the memory of Jamie Duffy and raising awareness for suicide prevention held court at one of the city’s most revered venues: The Metro; a large, multi-level concert hall that has for decades been a haven for the best acts in underground music to perform and make their mark in the home of American industrial.
Taking things a step further with each passing year, organizers/curators Jason Novak and David Schock not only partnered once again with the Hope for the Day foundation and Schecter Guitars, but this time added to the communal atmosphere by allying with Kuma’s Corner and Revolution Brewing, as well as the G-Man Tavern next door; now, patrons could grab a burger right around the corner of The Metro or grab a drink at the G-Man and still witness the night’s musical offerings by way of the ColdWaves Lounge, joining in the party without having to miss a single note or fear of overexertion. Of course, what festival is complete without a little physical overload? As the audience grew in size with each performing band, the first night of ColdWaves IV’s main event made for a truly and darkly ambient night that stands out from anything the festival has seen in the past.
At face value, the list of acts performing on this first night of the main event might seem like a mostly esoteric engagement, with the noisy and experimental sounds promised perhaps seeming out-of-place given the past focus on primarily industrial/rock. However, it is precisely this willingness to break free from the constraints of the namesake and incorporate these stranger, darker, more mysterious styles that exemplifies the attitudes that led to coldwave in the first place – even within the parameters of rock, there was a need to play with different moods and techniques, such that to not pursue such a sonic array would be a disservice to the goals of the festival. As Schock had stated in ReGen
‘s InterView earlier this year, “that is actually what our personal tastes in music have been as of late,” and he would further elaborate on this in an emotionally charged address to the audience the following night… but we’ll come to that later.
Regretfully, this writer did not arrive to the venue in time to witness Sanford Parker – a.k.a. Two from the Eye – begin the night with his expansive brand of ambient noise, but if the recordings available via Bandcamp are any indication, it was quite a meditative introduction; a series of veritable tone poems in the grand tradition of COIL, steadily building in character as each oscillating wave gives rise to rising frequencies of distortion and dissonance, as if to play soundtrack to the opening of otherworldly portals to realms unexplored… and perhaps best left so. Alas, it can’t be said from the writer’s personal experience, but from the opinions relayed by those in attendance prior to our arrival, it was a certainly auspicious if unorthodox start.
Lab Report then took to the stage, and from the onset, it was clear that the night was about to take a very artistic and unusual turn; with the performers adorned in masks and costumes that simply had to be seen as a description in words would not do them justice, a series of vibrantly colorful imagery projected on the backdrop, and the music encompassing a lush and brazen turn toward experimental ambient bombast, Lab Report’s performance was something akin to witnessing some ancient ritualistic faith from another planet. Subtle rhythms worked their way in amid the howls of cacophonous vocals, coming across like a cross between the nightmarish fantasies of witch house and the spiritual diatribes of gospel, resulting in a visceral melding of avant-garde classical and dark ambient. Did I mention COIL before? Lab Report’s set, which from what this writer had heard from some fellow attendees was to be the group’s last ever, certainly recalled the magickal predilections of COIL, as well as The Knife, and just a touch of Juno Reactor, albeit less tribal in tempo. Perhaps it was to the group’s benefit to have been on the bill so early in the night, the venue not yet filled to capacity and the audience not quite in the unsteady yearning for the full-on industrial onslaught; still, Lab Report’s set was quite an experience, to say the least.
Noise as a musical genre in any form is simply not for the faint of heart or the sensitive of hearing, and Dominick Fernow – a.k.a. Prurient – has been for nearly two decades one of the most audacious and incendiary of its practitioners. Where Two from the Eye’s noise on record was perhaps steeped more in the lower ranges to affect bodily motions and gradually give rise to harmonious if bleak atmospheres, the sound of Prurient is much more immediate, angsty, and furious; rising, seething
frequencies of static and overdrive that seem to continuously ascend to higher points of the stratosphere, topped off by Fernow’s distorted screams, ensured that Prurient’s performance was a dynamic yet uncomfortable entry in the ColdWaves IV lineup… but that is partially the point. Driven by his manic and spastic motions on stage as he punishes his gear, giving the appearance of a man in the throes of mental breakdown – or perhaps attempting to exorcise his own demonic possession – and aided by strobes devoid of color to aide in the horrific haze, Prurient would seem like uncompromising noise in the tradition of Merzbow if not for the layers of melody and structure hidden amid the decay and audio ruin. Those without the constitution for such a display of such scarring audio debilitation gravitated to quieter areas in and outside the venue, but if you could withstand the sonic torture, there was something almost beautiful in the unpleasantness of Prurient; something primal, direct, and pure.
Some might argue that once you’ve seen and heard one Author & Punisher show, then there isn’t much else to behold; however, given the breadth of creativity involved in Tristan Shone’s particular brand of industrialized doom metal, composed by way of his dub and drone machines as opposed to the standard instrumentation utilized by most in the genre, this writer would argue the opposite. Indeed, the very fact that there aren’t many outside the likes of Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten that are daring enough to design and build their own tools and defy the conventions of music and instrumentation is enough to make any show from Author & Punisher a worthwhile experience, which may account for the artist’s return after last year’s ColdWaves. Performing four extended soundscapes of metallic melody and percussive punishment, the blend of Shone’s organic body manipulating these synthetic monstrosities is perhaps the purest example of the industrious spirit that gave the industrial genre its name; it’s as close to watching a cyborg onstage as you’re going to get in this day and age, the true demonstration of the unity of man and machine.
That said, it is an arduously apocalyptic journey that Author & Punisher invites the audience on. During the first song, most are banging their heads and shaking their fists as one would expect at any metal show. By the second, most are still rocking out, but some begin to take notice of the arsenal of machines and start to become impressed by the artistry and ingenuity on display. The third song kicks in, and that impression gives rise to a sense of wonder as to the level of precision and control Shone exhibits, while still conveying a sense of abandon to the atmosphere and leaving many perplexed at just how the hell he’s accomplishing this noise. By the end, the music starts to fade, and the cybernetic mastery of Author & Punisher is still assimilating its way to the darkest corners of the mind; the music, almost an afterthought to ambience of despair augmented by the technical marvels just witnessed.
Having taken a break after ColdWaves II, the legendary Paul Barker makes his triumphant return to the ranks with his newly resurrected Lead into Gold; one of the long lost projects under the WaxTrax! banner that many have been waiting for. Backed by guitarist Lorrie Kountz and DJ/keyboardist Joshua Holley, the darkly sensuous noise/rock vibe of Lead into Gold takes to the stage, given a psychedelic backing as the manipulated projection of Barker at the mic stand repeats into a vibrantly colored infinity. The audience is almost immediately transfixed as his tenor voice resonates throughout the venue – sometimes warmly melodic, sometimes shadily acerbic – amid Kountz stylish riffs and licks that scrape and seethe amid unrelentingly mechanical rhythms, Barker adding to the harshly inviting sound as he shifts between his familiar bass and baritone guitars.
With underground favorites like “A Giant on Earth,” “Faster than Light,” and “Age of Reason” being heard live for the first time in over 25 years, Lead into Gold’s return to the stage exemplified one of the many factors that makes ColdWaves a standout among industrial music festivals, celebrating the history of the genre (and indeed, Chicago itself) while signaling a shining light toward a hopefully less decrepit future, and the audience simply could not have been happier, making it one of the best sets of the entire night.
Some experiences seem better in retrospect than in the moment; such can be said of the one-man audio/visual haze that was Lustmord’s set. Given the infrequency with which Brian Williams performs live, there was something immediately novel about seeing him stand behind a laptop producing his dark ambient soundscapes as projections of mangled nature in symmetry – from cloudlike formations to pillars of fire, instilling a sense of motion that contrasted with Williams’ stoic demeanor quite intriguingly – added to the visual stimuli. In contrast to Prurient’s spastic, summoning menace, Williams almost bore the reverence and majesty of an ancient shaman, the summoned deity. And yet, as unfortunate as this writer found it at the time that Lustmord’s sparseness in being seen seemed an injustice to the audio journey upon which we were embarking, it was quite arresting in retrospect; several in the audience seemed to share this opinion upon my speaking with them, and yet, greater than any sense of disappointment was the compulsion to remain to see and hear where Williams would take us, for better or worse, his skilled production enhanced by the natural ambience of The Metro’s spacious hall, even managing in more than a few ears to hit that elusive “brown note.” If nothing else, Lustmord’s disturbed yet tranquil brand of darkly sonic mood was an effective respite before the unabashed aggression of the night’s approaching headliner.
The lights dim, the feedback hits… it’s all been building up to this as the pioneers of mechanically driven doom and apocalyptic metal fright take to the stage: Godflesh! To see and hear this band live in a configuration as simple and yet so powerful as this, so much the way it was when Streetcleaner
first graced our ears in 1988 was a treat beyond words. G.C. Green’s guttural yet steely groove on the bass simply can’t be understated as his sense of rhythm and precision matches with the caustic energy of the programmed tracks quite brilliantly. While this has always been impressive, there’s something uniquely gratifying to see and hear it from veterans who practically invented it and who have only gotten better over time, making for a near perfect fusion of man and machine. Speaking of the machine, credit must be given to Godflesh for the sound mix as each percussive hit clanks and pummels through the speakers with a force equal to any live drummer, yet still retaining a decidedly synthetic sheen that keeps it grounded within its core sound.
And then it’s all topped off by the mercurial bombast and assault of Justin K. Broadrick, his signature juxtaposition of growling rage and eerie melody – amplified through both his voice and his guitar – is as breathtaking as ever! Many in the crowd unleash their own metalhead fury in the moshpit, their gyrations and brute force threatening to tear down the barricades, while others simply shouted and roared in approval of the band’s industrial/metal magnificence. The sound is as inimitable and as monolithic as ever – huge riffs that build upon themselves, dissonant yet melodic, clean in their technicality yet overpowering in sheer volume and might, with newer songs like “Curse Us All” playing seamlessly beside the likes of “Like Rats.” The simplicity of the Godflesh formula is so expertly and confidently displayed by Broadrick and Green that it’s easy to understand how many have tried (and mostly failed) to replicate it – the crispness of sound, the clarity of intent, the purity of force!
There is usually too much to absorb into one’s psyche on any ColdWaves night, and this first night of the main event was no exception, complete with a bit of onstage comedy from prominent Chicago DJ Jeff Moyer and bartender Dann Szymczak, and the requisite raffles, including one for a guitar provided by Schecter. To sift through the abundance of classic albums offered on vinyl in the makeshift WaxTrax! store in the merch area near the Metro entrance is overwhelming in and of itself; industrial music history right at one’s fingertips, surrounded by fellow rivetheads and outcasts, adding to the communal atmosphere. And right next door at the G-Man, Chicago’s own DJ Mutilato – better known as the incomparable Jim Marcus (GoFight, Die Warzau, Pigface) – spun a complementary set for patrons to dance and drink along with, keeping the positivity flowing even amid the most bittersweet memories. The dark ambience of the artist roster performing at The Metro did little to dissuade people’s resolve to have a good time; quite the contrary, it was an effective invitation to reminisce on those moments that have left us all feeling the most vulnerable, decayed, and hopeless… the heaviness of human frailty matched by the heaviness of the music, giving us a shining light that is best experienced together as a unified scene; all the while, the specter of Jamie Duffy could be felt, undoubtedly smiling with approval… such has been the whole point of ColdWaves. And it’s not over yet!
Next: Main Event, Night 2…
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Hope for the Day
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The Metro, Chicago
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Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Photography by MizTabby Patton (MizTabby)
ColdWaves IV – Main Event, Night 1 (09/25/2015)